What's Cool In Road Cycling

TOUR’15 St.16 Roadside: Big Dogs & Solo Wins!

Roadside Stage 16: Froome stays in yellow, that man Sagan is second on the stage, again – and all under a hot sun. It’s just a typical day at the 2015 Grande Boucle and we’re delighted to be part of it all. We expected a break, we got one, we expected a solo winner and we got one. And another chapter in the Col de Manse’s contribution to the story of Le Tour is writ.

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The Manse is where we spent our day. . .

It’s just an innocuous bend – one of thousands on Le Tour parcours but it ended the career of one of the generation’s best stage race riders – Joseba Beloki.

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It was on the run-in to Gap off the Manse in 2003 when Beloki came down, breaking his femur, elbow and wrist an injury from which he’d never recover. Lance did a spot of cyclo-cross to avoid him; zooming across a field to dodge the hapless Spaniard and missing out the bend. Some said he should have been disqualified because he didn’t complete the whole parcours. Well, eventually he was – so all’s well that end’s well. . .

We felt we had to have a wee look at the famous bend even though it meant climbing the Col de Manse twice. This ain’t the Giro and the race route is locked down tight, hours in advance – and to go against race route would get you tossed off the show, pronto.

The initial climbing of the Manse begins little more than a kilometre from the finish line but the coureurs then have to describe a loop of some 20 K over the Manse to get back to the red kite.

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At the top of the Manse is the Refuge Napoleon; this road is part of the famous Route Napoleon which the Emperor took to eventual defeat at Waterloo upon his return from exile in Elba. We had time on our hands – we were too late to collect our creds last night so drove straight to Gap this morning to pick them up.

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We had a lovely wee picnic breakfast over looking the bluest of lacs. And for once the press room buffet hadn’t been pillaged by Atilla’s hordes and we had time for some tasty local nibbles before we headed up on to the Manse.

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At the top of the Manse is the Refuge Napoleon; we’re not sure if old Bonaparte had a Cognac there or not – but it’s a nice thought. There were 95K to go as we sipped our beer in front of the plasma TV outside the Refuge. It was a big break – initially 29 strong – with many ‘baroudeurs’ in there; Tommy Voeckler (Europcar) , Adam Hansen (Lotto Soudal) , the remarkable Sagan (Tinkoff-Saxo) and one of my favourites, Pierrick Fedrigo (Bretagne-Seche Environnement) but it’ll be a few hours yet before they arrive so we best find our Tour groove.

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Now, let’s see, ah, yes, ‘doping’ – whilst there was no anti-Sky/Froome vibe that we could detect, we did meet this gentleman who had a full menu of doping products we should watch out for. Genuinely concerned, attention seeking or just plain crazy? Who knows?

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And, as usual, the locals had put their best feet forward for Le Tour. . .

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The Colombianos were there too; according to them that Froome character is in for a tough week – but they were on the local beer and it was pretty hot. . .

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Caravan time, why, when I’ve seen it dozens of times and got hundreds of pictures, do I take even more? Perhaps it’s because it’s so much fun and the kids of all ages love it.

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But I do have a soft spot for the Kleber boxer dog – and some of those PR girls are just so photogenic. . .

Then we had visitors, top cycling author, Richard Moore and ace photog, Jered Gruber – we wish we could tell you all the rumours but. . .

One thing we can say is that apparently Froome is amazed at how badly his main rivals are riding – and Cav almost certainly won’t be with Etixx – Quick-Step for 2016. And Christopher does have a point – the beings inhabiting Alberto Contador and Vincenzo Nibali’s bodies aren’t the ones we remember from Vueltas, Giros and Tours gone by.

Then there was the calm – followed by the storm. A Lampre!

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We didn’t expect that one – big Rubens Plaza with a gap that wasn’t coming back riding very strongly – the scent of victory is a wonderful pick me up.

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Sagan came over next in a little gaggle but would shake them all soon to take ANOTHER second place. Alberto might not be going to win this Tour but the Slovak has got them so much PR and with Majka winning a stage it’s not such a bad race for Tinkoff. The big break has shredded, Voeckler hobbles by; he’s not the man he was – and neither is my boy Pierrick; but none of us are getting any younger. . .

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The gaps are huge, we have time to watch Plaza win, on the TV at the Refuge; Sagan thumps his heart as he takes another second spot – there’s one in there, for sure.

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We’re back at the car by the time Vincenzo Nibali whizzes by – he’s trying to make time on that nasty drop off the Manse. He needs five minutes to get on the podium; not today but it’s good to see ‘The Shark’ back in the pool – he’s been ‘Flipper’ the dolphin of late.

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Froome isn’t far behind – still ‘stem staring’ and surrounded by his ‘Men in Black’ and the rest of The Bigs – Quintana, Contador, van Garderen.

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More gaps, big ones.

The autobus is massive – just like the Foreign Legion the ‘bus doesn’t leave it’s wounded and the breakdown truck which marks the end of proceedings is hard on the rear tyres of the last men in the big group.

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We did like the gesture by the rider who was stone last, Lotto’s Wellens carefully dropping his bottles right beside the kiddies opposite – nice. All that remained was for us to shadow the breakdown truck to the line.

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And whilst it was a good day for Lampre at the head of the race, it wasn’t so glamorous for them at the tail end with Matteo Bono having to climb the barrier to get to his team bus. . .

Rest day tomorrow; and that can only mean one thing – the Quick-Step mussel party! We’ll try to take it easy on the pils.

ciao, ciao.


It was November 2005 when Ed Hood first penned a piece for PEZ, on US legend Mike Neel. Since then he’s covered all of the Grand Tours and Monuments for PEZ and has an article count in excess of 1,100 in the archive. He was a Scottish champion cyclist himself – many years and kilograms ago – and still owns a Klein Attitude, Dura Ace carbon Giant and a Fixie. He and fellow Scot and PEZ contributor Martin Williamson run the Scottish site www.veloveritas.co.uk where more of his musings on our sport can be found.

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