The back end of August saw a trip to
Switzerland for the Pascal Richard. The first "professional" Olympic
Champion at Atlanta in 1996.
This event takes place in and around Bulle;
which really is chocolate box country. How can the countryside be so
clean? As with all of these UCI Goldenbike events the organisation
is terrific and the goody bags just keep getting better and better.
The start takes place in the town square,
where the night before they had some fantastic kids races. The whole
town enters in to the carnival atmosphere with side shows, bands, food
tents and everything else you could imagine for a family-based party.
Seven-thirty next morning I'm up for
breakfast. It seems most of the others at the hotel, only a
kilometre from the start, are also there for the race. Just as we
finish the ubiquitous continental breakfast the chef brings out a massive
bowl of pasta. What a star.
After all the usual pre-ambles from the
local dignitaries and the photo's for the next day's paper we're off.
Riding at a steady 20mph through the neutralised section. Which is
20k to the foot of the first climb the Col du Mosses at Chateau d'Oex.
Everyone tries to get to the front and
somehow I find myself on the bumper of the Commisaire's car. Four
riders either side of me and 2,500 behind. What a feeling.
Then the Commisaire, standing Jean-Marie Leblanc style out the roof,
starts talking to me. I apologise for being English and he say's
something I can't hear. I can't hear because of the helicopter
overhead doing low passes to take film shots for the video of the race.
This is just like the real thing!
We get to the climb. Mr UCI waves his flag
and accelerates off in a haze of diesel. Like scalded rabbits they
follow. Me? I go backwards. I'll get them on the
descent. As we climb I grab the wheel in front of me. This
fella is quite quick but erratic, he has no rhythm, he's beginning to
annoy me. I know if I go past I'll blow. If I stay where I am
I'll be distracted. Just as we near the top he tires and I draw
level. He's only got one arm! He gives a smile, I give a wave
(which wasn't the most tactful thing to do) and realise I've been an arse.
I'll never complain again; I promise.
So it's straight off the Mosses and head
for the Pillon. The roads are as you would expect in Switzerland.
Billiard table smooth and totally predictable. I descend without a
care in the world then I remember my one armed friend. So how does
he get round these hairpins? I hear a photographers motorbike coming
up behind me. I wake up and jump on.
We scream down the mountain, I get through
on the bends and he gets me on the straights. We pass other cyclists
and come up behind a Commisaire's car. he dutifully sits behind as I
pass on the outside as we brake for a mild corner. I can see the
driver tut-tutting but I don't let it distract me. The car follows
me for another kilometre or so then I don't see him again until the run in
to the finish.
Now comes the second 1,500 metre climb and
the 10% haul to the Glacier Station. It's hot, it's steep and it's
in the middle of nowhere. And I mean nowhere. So why are
people standing at bus stops? I don't dwell on this conundrum as I
concentrate on getting to the station and the feed stop. Once over
the top and refreshed it's another perfect downhill to Gstaad, A
league of nations type group forms and we all head for the Col du Jaun
through some of the prettiest, and tidiest, countryside you'll ever see.
To get to the Jaunpass you also have to
climb some of the steepest. A monster climb rises from nowhere to
the clouds, through bend after bend. When you look up all you see is
more mountain. When you look down all you see is valley, hairpins
and cyclists. Home is the other side, as our musical friend once
said; "the only way is up".
Once again I climb the last mountain
exhausted. Then once again I find energy from somewhere to scream to
the finish. It's all over in five and a bit hours and it only seems
like a two hour race back home. I finish happy and I'm ready for
lunch. Not too tired; just right. A big bloke walks past and
says well done. "Maybe I'll see you later". He's either
mistaken me for someone he knows, or knows something I don't. It's
Dianne, who three months previous, never
even had a bike, has ridden her first event. A 45k flat
cyclosportive. Well look at the white profile below. Does it
look flat? I suppose it is for Switzerland. Anyway, she made
it around, never got off on the hills and finished with the leading groups
after the first climb sort out. She used all her gears but then so
did I. It was a defining moment.
Our new found friend heard her voice and
started speaking to her about the race. She said she'd already
finished and was waiting for me. She then explained that we're doing
all of the UCI events except for the South African race. He thought
that was a shame because he was the organiser! He lived in
Switzerland and worked for the UCI at Aigle. He said he hopes to see
us there next year! This is good he said but wait till you see
35,000 riders on the road. It must be a sight. I'll have to
speak to Russell, he's already done it.