Stage 17 and the Tour resumed from the final rest day for 184.5 km ride to the mountains from Berne to Finhaut-Emosson in Switzerland.
With another hot day forecast, Gabs prepared a cool and refreshing cucumber and smoked trout terrine with some trout caught by Phil that morning. To smoke the fish Phil improvised by converting the caravan of commentary into a smoker by placing the time trial hot seat in there with some cuckoo clock wood shavings.
No butter in the recipe and with only a handful of stages remaining Gabs’ vow to make this Tour ‘the year of the butter’ is looking very shaky indeed.
The rest day was largely a relaxed affair with the riders cooling off with a dip in the Aare River that runs through Berne.
With the Olympics just around the corner it was time for some riders to take stock and consider whether to push on to Paris. Mark Cavendish answered the call from the British selectors to come home and Rohan Dennis called it quits.
When we joined the caravan of commentary the race was well and truly on. Warren Barguil was spotted sporting a torn-look jersey. Was he making a fashion statement? No, turned out he was involved in a crash with Borut Bozic, and Gorka Izagirre and the road surface, which acted like a grater on breathable fabric and skin.
The scenery was incredible with many oohs and aahs from the couch peloton. Switzerland, you hot mess of a country you!
If you thought the mountains were spectacular, the waterfalls (or cascades) were equally impressive – just don’t go chasing them, save the chasing for the breakaway. Oh yeah, whatever you do don’t go standing under La Cascade de Pissevache...
With a big cat. 1 and hors categorie climbs ahead, Robbie reflected on how difficult a mountain stage was in the final week of the Tour. To Robbie it was like, “you look down at your legs and all you’ve got is two barbecued sausages”. Now I’m not sure if he was referring to severe sunburn, legs burning red hot with lactic acid or a hunger induced meat-o-vision hallucination like in the cartoons.
The Ps made their catch at 36 km to go and came across some very impressive precision crop circles at Valais. Paul thought a farmer must have used a GPS guided tractor. The Swiss are known for precision but the execution of the lines and circles looked TOO precise for GPS.
Phil talked about his time when he encountered the famous canine breed the Saint Bernard. He had difficulty controlling them, they kept running away and rescuing people buried in snow and wouldn’t sit still long enough for Phil to pour a brandy from the barrel under its chin.
The riders reached cat. 1 Col de la Forclaz. Tony Gallopin went on the attack in the desperate hope he could try and get a French stage win. Alexey Lutsenko went solo but Rafal Majka made it first to the summit hoovering up more KOM points. Jarlinson Pantano was riding with the pride of Colombia on his shoulders for their national day and went over the top with Majka.
Back in the GC group on the Forclaz, Tejay van Garderen was dropped with all hope of a high finish in Paris gone. Post race he said he had no excuses. Phil and Paul thought he was suffering what Paul calls a ‘strange reaction’ to the rest day. Whatever it was in the end it was I beg your pardon, I never promised you a van Garderen.
Vincenzo Nibali nursed his protégé Fabio Aru up the climbs and I can’t seem to shake this disturbing image of a grown man attached to one of Nibali’s nipples.
Diego Rosa played a role as a booster rocket for Aru but was ejected when the job was done. Meanwhile Katusha rider Ilnur Zakarin was rocketing up the final climb to Finhault-Emosson.
Riding for Colombian on its own wasn’t going to do it for Pantano. Russian Zakarin has his bags packed for Rio but still doesn’t know if he’s going.
Zakarin crossed the line to win his first stage at the Tour and even I was exhausted just watching that uphill drag to the line in the final couple of hundred metres.
Back in the GC group with van Garderen gone it was up to Richie Porte to take the lead for BMC. Froome latched on to his wheel and Porte was working for Froome. Again.
All eyes were on Nairo Quintana with time running out for a Paris podium finish. CANtana do it? Adam Yates, Romain Bardet, Aru and Louis Meintjes had other ideas and left Quintana in their wake. Adam Yates must have been inspired by the ‘Yates You Can’ slogans that have been painted on the roads throughout the Tour. Sadly, for Quintana this Tour is shaping up to be CAN’Tana.
Froome increased his lead over Bauke Mollema to 02’ 27”. It’s going to be tough for anyone to try and pare back that lead.
When you’re out of gas in the final week of the Tour it’s a loooong walk to the next petrol station in the mountains.