Sunday, July 10, 2016

Stage 9 Vielha Val d'Aran / Andorre Arcalis - Tiny Andorra, Oh How I Adore Ya

Stage 9 and the riders (minus Michael Morkov, who became the first abandonment of the Tour the day before) set out from Vielha Val d'Aran for the 184.5 km ride to tiny Andorra on the French and Spanish border.

Phil had been out early in the morning indulging in one of his favourite pastimes, fishing. There are many streams in this part of the world perfect for trout fishing. Phil came back with a sizable catch. That’s dinner sorted so Gabs started gutting and cleaning them and had baking the trout in herbs and bacon in mind.

But *sigh*, no butter. Look top marks for the bacon, everyone loves bacon (except vegans, don’t worry, they’ll soon tell you) but remember what you said about the year of the butter???

Out on the road the temperature was rapidly rising and the Moviestars where on the go from the get go, particularly on the descents.

Robbie came across a herd of cows on one of the descents on his morning  recon ride. He hoped they’d been cleared from the road. Don’t worry Robbie, I’m sure Nairo Quintana's ‘fixer’ was there to fix the cow problem even without the help of Christopher Pyne.

Looking at the roads from the Tour chopper there were many twists and turns. One hill looked like it was draped with a piece of squid ink spaghetti... oh sorry, I forgot we're not at the Giro.

As the mercury soared into the 30s, the road surface started to turn into soft, soggy tar. Soft soggy tar? Don’t you mean arsephalt Robbie?

And Robbie’s advice on dealing with a stage like today? Eat. Drink. Stay calm - and eat a banana.

The caravan of commentary had sunk so far into the soggy arsephalt Robbie had to put up the periscope to see what was going on. So, the caravan of commentary isn’t a caravan at all but a noisy Collins Class submarine.

Mattie and Robbie analysed Froome’s winning move off the Col de Peyresourde the previous day. No one knew Froome had the intestinal fortitude to pull off such a daring descent. Yes, he was shitting kittens but later confessed to having the time of his life.

Again, the topic of food and drink came up. Mattie explained Gabs’ philosophy of,“feed them until they’re full and then feed them some more”. Sounds like a ding-dong battle with online trolls.

The peloton was up and down all day long and if you think it’s hilly here, wait until they reach Andorra. Mattie reckoned that the only way to ride on the flat in Andorra is indoors on a KICKR.

Robbie and Mattie spotted some white water rafters. You can’t raft uphill to Andorra, well not unless without the assistance of a fish ladder perhaps.

The heat was really starting to get to the riders and they were looking at any way they could to keep cool. Good old ice stockings were handed out from team cars. Now the WAGS know where their stockings disappear to at the end of the European season.

Robbie saw Peter Sagan tip an ice bucket over his head. Robbie said he’d be cooler without the man bun. On that we can all agree.

Alberto Contador, who was still nursing his injuries from stage 1 and 2, had woken up with a fever. This didn’t stop him from launching a counter attack alongside Alejandro Valverde but it was clear he looked to be in trouble. We knew it was serious when the Pyrenean vultures started circling on the thermals above Contador.

Finally, Contador abandoned, along with Gabs’ commitment to the year of the butter.

The peloton struggled on in the heat to try to make it to ‘Old Andorra’ by sundown. Old Andorra sounds like one of those theme parks where they have actors in period costumes do knife fights and stuff. In all honesty, I have no idea what they get up to in Andorra but isn’t it famous for rabbits and as a tax haven?

Andorra's number one export, Angolan rabbits

Many pro-riders claim they live in Andorra because it’s a ‘climbers’ paradise’. Yeah right, like bankers in the Cayman Islands because they’re a bankers’ paradise.

As the riders approached the border of Andorra Robbie spotted Italian cyclist Fabio Aru with the distinctive tape on his face, which is there to stop his nose falling off.

The riders had their passports out as they sped through the border control into Andorra. Robbie said, “they don’t check passports at the borders in EU countries, unless they think you’re dodgy”. He must have learnt that from experience.

The Ps made their catch at 49 km to go and came across the Caldea Thermal Spa, which looked eerily similar to Superman’s Fortress of Solitude. Needless to say the thermal cameras used to detect hidden motors in bicycles went berserk.

Riders started to crack in the heat and claimed, along with Alberto Contador, Mark Renshaw and Matthieu Ladagnous. What the riders needed to keep cool was a series of mist emitting gantries over the road, just like you find in alfresco dining areas.

Paul had to bring out the T-bone Pinot motor circuit training story. Then he dropped an ‘Etixx – Quick Stop’ to top it off with 'Richie Froome'. Some things never change.

Spectator weren't exactly a big help. A roadside random in a green morph suit couldn't see where he was going and narrowly escaped a collision, No such luck for the spectator who stepped out onto the road on a blind corner to be collected by Kiwi George Bennett. The spectator hit the deck and didn't get up.

The climbers with, according to Paul, ‘thick pedigrees’ got themselves up front with 19 km to go. At 10 km to go the group was slapped in the face by Tom Dumoulin who rode away solo.

On the final approach to the finish at Arcalis, rain or spray from alfresco dining areas was spotted on the road. No, it was rain and pretty soon the heavens opened up and according to Paul it was, ‘raining jelly beans’ that he enjoys throughout the year.

The riders had prayed for more ice earlier in the day and the cycling Godz over delivered. Thank goodness the hail was jelly bean and not golf ball sized.

A wet and soggy Tom Dumoulin raised his arms at the line to win his first stage at the Tour de France. He was disappointed with his effort in the individual time trial at the start of last year’s Tour in his home country the Netherlands but the solo win in Andorra more than atoned for it.

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