Three years ago I vowed to never document the Tour de France ever again. I had just photographed and written to the whole race day for day, every day, every stage. Every start, every finish, and at least one location in between. The only thing I didn’t cover was the last stage. Instead, my then-partner Emiliano and I drove to the airport, checked into a hotel and ordered hamburgers from room service. The point is, as much as I love this race, and I do, I really do love this race, I was so fucking over it. Documenting the grandest Grand Tour is one of the most difficult things I’ve ever done. Emotionally and psychologically speaking. And okay yeah, honestly, physically speaking too. It was gnar, I was a mess. You should have seen the rental car. The rental car was a metaphor for my post-TDF soul.
I’m not over it anymore. I’m into it. Also, this year it’s a race. A race that will most likely be decided on Col du Galibier during Stage 19 and/or Col d’Izoard during Stage 20—the only two stages of the 2017 Tour de France that Manual for Speed will be covering. That’s why I’m here writing this and you’re here reading this. To talk about Part One of our two-part TDF coverage.
The only problem is I don’t have a Part One to share with you. And I feel so bad about that. I feel a sense of despondency and profound dismay. I’m in a deep AF funk. You can close this tab now if you like, I won’t mind. There is nothing of any substance here, you can scroll up and down and look for hidden links if you like, but I wouldn’t because seriously that photograph of a lady sitting on a rock, that’s all we got for you. That and a brief timeline enumerating the sequence of relevant (and let’s be honest, this list is going to feature quite a few less-than-relevant items, too—but you know that raises the question: if everything affects everything, then who’s to say anything is irrelevant?) events that led to me writing to you from room 219 of Hôtel Crêt Rond in the village for Vallorie on the Route des Grandes Alpes—a legendary route linking Lake Geneva and the Mediterranean Sea—at the base of the climb that’s supposed to be inside my camera and on my website but isn’t.
- Even though the Tour de France is on our calendar and has been on our Calendar since January, inertia was against us coming. I need to be vague for first amendment reasons here but in an effort to get through number one in a reasonable amount of words let’s just say that inertia = money and corporate will.
- I wasn’t able to reverse inertia until four weeks ago.
- It turns out traveling in July is a “thing.” Manual for Speed paid Delta $2,100 dollars to get me here.
- For some reason even though the Tour de France is on our calendar and has been on our Calendar since January, our office neglected to apply for credentials before the June 4 cut-off date. For sensitivity reasons at this time, I need to be vague, but let’s just say that when I say failed, I mean that nobody did it, nobody applied for the creds.
Because of Tulsa Tough gate, because this race is a race, because I secretly love France even though I openly hate France, because I ABSOLUTELY LOVE THIS PART OF THE ALPS (because I love mountains in general and because these mountains are a mountains man’s kinda mountains), I was so excited about coming to this race. Also, it’s been a while since MFS was in the Grand Tour saddle. So yeah, I was fully pumped.
- The lack of credentials thing was discovered about seven days ago. We sent several emails, we begged, we pleaded but it remained a problem until about two days ago. In fact, on the flight over it was still a problem.
- The flight to Seattle was an hour, the flight to Paris was a little less than ten hours, the drive to Grenoble was about six hours. All in all it was an uneventful (which is good, you want airline travel to be uneventful) but very FULL 30 or so hours. We get provisions (almonds, cheese, hummus, etc) in a Marks and Spencers at Charles de Gaulle, we rent a Peugeot Clio or similar, it’s black, it runs good, we pay some tolls, I discover that AT&T’s new International Travel Plan is an exceptionally better value than ever before. Ten dollars a day and you can do whatever you want, even make phone calls! With that in mind I streamed new music the whole way to Grenoble and called Kiki from an Autogrill just tell her about the latest European Tourist Fashion trend; the Frontpack. The Frontpack is either a backpack that you wear on the front even though it wasn’t designed for that, or it’s an actual Frontpack that looks like a regular run-of-the-mill backpack but isn’t, because in fact it’s been designed specifically to be worn on the front. She didn’t pick up so I left a message.
- We get to Grenoble, we check into Hôtel des Alpes, it’s 90 degrees, I go for a four mile run. On my run I run along the Isere River on a concrete path that reminds me of a famous skateboard ditch in Hawaii called Wallos. Anyway, this path features all these banks with compound angles and ledges. Yes, you could lose your board into a river named after the maybe-Celtic word isara which means “the impetuous one, the swift one” but who cares because dudes, it would be so fun, sooooo many lines! Also, if that’s too risky I ran past an empty but pretty dialed skatepark.
- Ian and I both wake up early. We eat breakfast and drive to the start with HOURS TO SPARE.
- Without stickers and the ability to use words (#becausefrance #becauseamerican) it was difficult, but we found parking near the start and located the ASO media pick-up tent-booth thingy.
- As of yesterday, RIGHT UNDER THE WIRE, the credentials thing was solved. Thanks Fabrice!
- Buuuuuuuuuuut it turns out our physical credentials (the lanyard, our roadbook, the car sticker, etc) are at the finish, in Briancon. And not at the start, in La Mure, where we are. We are most definitely not planning to go to Briancon today—Briancon is at the bottom of the Col du Galibier and we want to be at the top of the Col du Galibier, also our hotel for tonight is just down the hill from Col du Galibier in the other direction—and maybe ever; even though tomorrow’s start is there, we are considering skipping it to ensure we get up Col d’Izoard before the cut-off time.
- Briancon is two hours away. And if we go there, we would have to go up the back of Col du Galibier to get to where we want to shoot the race. Because the race Caravan (a four-mile-long auto parade featuring water guns, t-shirt cannons, cars dressed like animals, free Haribo gummy samples and motley noise pollution) precedes the actual race by an hour and a half, driving the course in reverse can get complicated. As in sometimes impossible.
- If we don’t go to Briancon and get credentials (i.e CAR STICKER) there is a very likely chance we won’t be allowed to drive the course and get to Col du Galibier the normal regular way, and if we go to Briancon there is a very likely chance we won’t be able get up the back of Galibier in time. Plus. we will DEFINITELY need the credentials tomorrow. We are in a real pickle.
- On the way back to our car I take exactly one photograph roughly in the direction of the start area.
- We drive to Briancon. It takes forever. Narrow roads teeming with RVs and motorcycles. It’s the Alps.
- We get credentials, we begin the drive up the back of Col du Galibier, we miss the cut-off by eight minutes. We plead and beg with the gendarme. We are kind. We appeal to his generosity, his work ethic, his (presumed) love of cycling, and still he says what the French always say. That’s right, let’s all say it together:
“Theeese es not possEEbull.”
- Then he wagged his pointer finger at me several times as if to add, nononononononononoo, you are silly and stupid.
- Not wanting to stay in Briancon for five hours and only to have to salmon our way back over the mountain in the direction of our hotel we elect to drive through Italy—where I may or may not have a warrant out for my arrest—and a very expensive tunnel (Frejus, it’s like 65 euros or someshit) to go a different way.
- It turns out the different way is on the course. Of course it’s on the course. Why didn’t I think of that? No, seriously, why didn’t I think of that? Try as we might, and we do, we try for hours, we just can’t get up this fucking mountain.
- We’ve missed the start, we’ve missed the race on the Col du Galibier, and now, now we can’t even just go home and sulk.
- We make it to Valloire, where our hotel is, at six. With one “race” photograph in our camera.
- On the upside Valloire is adorable. It turns out we’ve been here before, for the 2013 Giro d’Italia. That year I had better luck: the top was closed to media because of snow and we missed the shuttle cut-off. A few rando dudes overheard us discussing our predicament in the parking lot and volunteered to take one of us up to the top. Because camera, I went. It snowed. One of the best days in MFS history. That race was one of the best races in MFS history.
- Our hotel has uncommonly soft towels, our room has balcony, the shower works like a shower (NOT A GIVEN IN FRANCE) and the wifi is strong. Even though we had to wait seriously 64 minutes to get them, our hamburgers from L’entrepot were delicious. Side note: lard payan means country bacon. I ran in the direction of Col du Galibier for two miles, then turned around and ran home. My average time sucked real bad but it was early evening in the Alps so… who cares I guess? This is me focusing on the positive.
“It’s hard to explain how demoralizing and stupid and sad and frustrating it is to drive around and around and around one of the most beautiful mountain ranges in the world, all in an effort to see and subsequently document one of the most beautiful races in the world, but fail.”
- On the one hand it’s wonderful to be here even if here means spending seven hours in a car literally circling but never penetrating your destination, and on the other hand blowing one of two days missing the race makes me want to set Manual for Speed on fire and focus on being a father or something. But since you can’t set websites on fire, I think, and since I already take my kids to soccer practice twice a week—they’re on the Eastside Timbers U-10 A squad, Otto plays left forward and Ollie is their keeper—I guess I will try again tomorrow.