We arrived safely at our home for the period yesterday. Ben, Ying and I took all the kit in two cars while John and Andy took a train from the airport in Turin to Bardonecchia and then rode over the col to drop down into Briancon and on to the house from there. We found that there is a steep climb up through the village which is going to prove testing at the end of each day!
After stuffing our faces with pizza, we had a quick photo shoot before heading for bed, conscious of the challenge before us.
Who will earn the right to wear a polka dot jersey to signify the leader of the competition each day? And who will win the trophy outright at the end of the competition? As Head of Race Jury I considered awarding John and Andy time penalties for showing off by getting a sneaky ride in yesterday, but that might have been a bit harsh!
In the end, John started in the polka dot jersey on the basis that he had won the two-up “prologue” against Andy.
As for the stage itself, well let’s hear from the Cycling Podcast who are covering the event.
Richard Moore: Where are we Lionel?
Lionel Birnie: We’re in Briancon Rich for the first stage of the Briancon 2018 King of the Mountains challenge.
RM: I’ve not hear of that before, is it a new event on the UCI calendar?
LB: No Rich, it’s five amateur riders who have just come to chase each other up all the climbs in the area and it sounds like a bit of fun too. They have a handicap system to try and make a race of each climb and if it all works to plan there could be sprint finishes at the tops of mountains like the Galibier.
RM: That sounds innovative. Maybe the Tour de France could learn from that.
Daniel Friebe: Well chaps, I think you’ll find that the Tour is going to try something similar on one of the Pyrenean stages this year with their grid system.
RM: Good evening Daniel, and yes you are right of course. This competition could be an early indication of how that may work out.
DF: I doubt that very much.
RM: Anyway, let’s hear about today’s stage shall we? Lionel?
LM: Today’s stage featured three climbs. A category 2 climb up to the the Lautaret where the riders stopped for coffee and croissants and then another cat 2 climb up to the top of the Galibier. They stopped for lunch after descending back down into Serre Chevalier before taking on the hors category Granon and then going home for tea. Sounds like my kind of ride. Without the hard climbing obviously! After all it was only about 100km but with about 2,900 metres of climbing.
RM: That’s all very well Lionel, thinking with your stomach as always, but what happened on the ride? Give us the tale of the tour please.
LB: Well they all set off within 20 minutes of each other from the bottom of the climb, Ying first followed by Ben, John G, Andy and John E. It’s a long climb, 26km but fairly steady.
RM: And did they arrive on that order or did it end in a sprint finish like Ben the organiser hoped?
LB: Not quite. John G managed to pass the two in front of him without being overtaken and so took the 10 points on offer and also attracted a one minute time penalty to carry over to the next climb. John E also managed to jump up a place as Andy had briefly taken a wrong turning.
DF: That’s a bit of a schoolboy error. Didn’t he know that the art of mountain climbing is that you keep going uphill?
LB: Well that’s a bit harsh Daniel, Andy simply started up the Granon too early. But yes, the Lautaret is clearly signposted.
RM: So that put John G into the virtual polka dot jersey. What happened next?
LB: Well after the aforementioned coffee and croissants …..
RM: Lionel …….
LB: Sorry. Sidetracked for a moment. The summit of the Galibier is another 8km. Once again John G managed to finish first and gained another 10 points and a further one minute penalty. Ben hung on for second, then John E followed by Andy but Ying slipped back to finish fifth.
DF: You mean last.
LB: I think fifth is kinder. He worked very hard and was one of the riders to have a NVE?
RM: NVE? Is that related to a TUE or something?
LM: No. A Near Vomit Experience. A sign of just how hard some of these guys were working.
RM: OK so the polka dot jersey is really slipping from John E’s shoulders at this point?
LB: Yes, and it got worse for him on the Granon. Even though he climbed 4 minutes quicker than John G, the handicap system played into John G’s hands and he won again. As it was a HC climb, this was another 30 points in the bag for him, though John E is in second place.
DF: This John E, John G stuff is all very confusing. Can’t you just call John G the Welshman of something?
LB: They’re both Welsh Daniel, so we will have to live with this I’m afraid.
RM: Thank you Lionel. What else do we know about the ride? Daniel, you were positioned about half way up the Granon. What did you see there?
DF: Well I saw John G closing in on Ben and had taken back two of the four minutes head start he had given him. Is was looking like this race was going to go to the line Rich, when inexplicably Ben stopped. John G unkindly said that Ben should take his pictures on the way back down but from what I heard later I think Ben was just trying to manage his heart rate. Probably sensible but it did hand John G victory on a plate.
RM: But Lionel said that John E was quicker up that climb?
DF: Yes, but not quite quick enough. Also, John E had an ACTUAL vomit experience. Four times!
RM: Sounds messy. Is he OK?
DF: Yes, but his bike needed a good wash this evening. And his bidons.
RM: We’ve been joined by Francois Thomazeau. Good evening Francois.
FT: Good evening everyone.
RM: You were also on the course today. What did you see.
FT: Well the entente cordiale is still alive and well. I saw John G and Ying having a nice chat with a local rider about 2km from the top of the Lauteret. We are used to seeing people chatting in the peloton, but not when the race is on with points on offer.
RM: That’s good to hear. Was there a danger of John G being distracted by this and losing out to one of his rivals?
FT: Well you know not really because I could see he was keeping an eye out for what was going on behind.
LB: Yes and I should just say that although they all started within 20 minutes of each other and the gap did narrow, thus vindicating all Ben’s work on setting the handicaps to a certain extent, it did only narrow to about 8 or 9 minutes between first and last.
RM: So how do we see this panning our tomorrow Lionel?
FT: Well firstly let me just say that most unusually they have not settled on what the route will be. You don’t see that in the Tour de France!
DF: Quite so Francois. How do they get away with that? You don’t see Team Sky or Movistar or anyone else who might have had a bad day picking and choosing what they are going to ride next. There should be regulations about this!
FT: Quite so you know, but actually I don’t think UCI or ASO are going to be too bothered.
LB: To answer your question Richard, the cumulative time penalties that John G has incurred will pull him a little closer to John E who is currently lying in second place and a little further away from Ben and Ying, so it is going to make it harder for him to get the wins on whatever climbs they decide to do.
DF: I’m hearing that climbing both sides of the Izoard is on the cards so that they finish by lunchtime and can use the hot tub and sauna at their house.
RM: Interesting interesting. But Lionel, do you think John E can claim back the jersey?
LB: You know I don’t like speculation Richard.
RM: Quite so. Anyway, we’ve gone on long enough and we do have our own dinner to get to.
LB: Quite right too.
RM: Ahem. So thank you Lionel, thank you Daniel and thank you Francois.
LB: Thank you Richard.
FT: Thank you Richard.
DF: Thanks Rich.
RM: And maybe tomorrow we will be joined by Ciro Scognamiglio.
DF: I think Ciro is going to wait until they visit Finestre or Sestriere. You know he prefers the beach to the mountains, but at least if the mountains are on the Italian side he might make one of his fleeting appearances!
RM: Thanks Daniel. We really must end it there and we’ll reconvene tomorrow.
Well I hope you all enjoyed that transcript of tonight’s episode. Let’s see if they are back tomorrow!
Meanwhile, some photos from today’s stage: