I'd L'Etape that
It’s pronounced “le tap” that’s why it’s funny, mmkay?
Sprocketman and I don’t get a lot of time off work; it sucks muchly, but that’s just the way it goes at the moment.
So you’ll excuse us if we seemed disproportionately excited to have a Friday off work to travel 5 hours to the Snowy Mountains in NSW during summer, joining 3,499 others to ride in the Tour de France event L’Etape Australia, a race under TdF conditions, 160km of fully closed roads with genuine TdF winners jerseys. Whoo hoo !
Best part of all that IMO? Closed roads. Love 'em.
Thursday afternoon I was under strict instructions to leave work early, so we could pack the car and take off that night, extending that exciting holiday feeling.
Unfortunately hiccups at work meant I only got away on time, but these days that is early for me, so I counted it as a win.
Arriving home to see Sprocketman had propped his race bike in the driveway was a “uh huh" moment.
This is the guy who essentially hasn’t ridden a bike for 6 weeks, let alone put any appropriate training in, who has had a chest infection of his own (tip o’ the hat to Nick from Optus) and so is supremely unready to race 156km up and down this.
But eh. Whatevs. We decided to go any way and enjoy the long weekend, the atmosphere of a small country town temporarily converted to an outpost of the world’s best-known bike race. And we'd ride our bikes along the trails, around the lakes and have fun. Jindabyne is beautiful, we don’t need to race to enjoy it. And we’d juuust passed the date where we could have got a 100% refund on the hotel room, so yeah, we were going.
But we’ll take a race bike just in case.
We loaded our car with 4 bikes for 2 people, a small bag of clothes each and our favourite sleeping pillows, you know, because we’re getting old and cranky about stuff like that.
A short delay while Sprocketman decided to wash the car (what is it with guys who do that) and we were off – two hours later than intended but able to see out the windscreen at least.
Driving along the motorway became a game of "see who else was going to l'etape", as we saw more and more cars with bikes attached, single bikes, pairs, multiple bikes on both rear rack and roof rack. Every bike got a quick assessment from Sprocketman, as one does.
"Ooh, that's a nice Pinarello..."
Sprocketman thought we’d reach Canberra that night, but come 9pm I was pretty sure another 90 minutes of driving was a bad idea, so we over-nighted at Goulburn, home of the Big Merino and a fairly decent bakery.
This is where a country town approach is delightful.
At 9.30pm, hotel mostly full with a film crew passing through, the receptionist told us confidentially that the night manager had put the room rate up to $299, but she was going to let us have it for the regular $199.
“I mean, what would you do if I told you it was $299 ?"
Damn straight love, I’d be on the phone to the 5 other hotels I could hit with a bread roll from where I was standing. What a sweetheart.
So we unloaded some of the car and 2 of the bikes into our hotel room, took a delightfully novel bath (at home, if you want a bath you have to clean the accumulated cat hair out of it first, and that does not impart a feeling of luxury and decadence), and fell asleep, ready for an early holiday depart.
Breakfast was at the nearest bakery, and we watched more and more bike-laden cars arrive and order bacon and egg rolls and coffee. Cyclists on their way to an event are like a gathering of the world's worst secret society.
I sat by the window and watched people stopping to perve on our bikes, which gave me a little chuckle and Sprocketman a feeling of pride - which he deserves because he never buys a bike complete, mostly because I'm in charge of our finances; so instead; he finds parts online, orders them from all over the globe, builds the bike himself from scratch and then tests and tweaks them.
He earns his hobby.
And I tell you, if you want to know what true love is, it’s watching your partner teach himself how to install and bleed disc brakes by watching a YouTube video and then getting on said bike and riding down a hill into traffic while he watches anxiously.
Anyway – we drove and drove and drove, because Spokesman missed a crucial turn-off, and so we approached Jindabyne is if sneaking up to attack it, i.e. slightly from behind and to the left. I didn’t get too cranky because we had discovered that Sprocketman had also forgotten his cycling shoes, so there was no way he was riding his race bike without those. The decision had sadly been made for him. Fate, Karma, bloody uselessness, call it what you will. I was disappointed for him, but he seemed relieved the call had actually been made, and that a leisurely holiday weekend of riding his recreational bike with me lay ahead instead of a gruelling race.
But the extra 2 hours in the car, so totally not worth it. I'm just saying ...
However – as a result we did arrive via a side road through Berridale and saw the sweetest thing ever, the residents had gathered every bike they could get their hands on, spray-painted them all green (signifying the sprint stage) and installed the bikes along the road for several kilometres, in clusters at intersections and on rural letterboxes – it was brilliant, and just a sign of how welcome we were. Chatting with one of the local volunteers we learned they had worked every weekend over the past 3 months gathering and painting these bikes and scooters. It was just one of the loveliest thing I have experienced. It was bloody adorable.
And for a bike rider from bike-hating Sydney, that was enough to make me want to cry like Sally Field at the Oscars.
Heading into the village and along the race route the bikes became TdF yellow and the carnival atmosphere ratcheted up another level once we hit the village proper, yellow painted wooden cut-outs of bikes were tied to every fence, I read the labels on some of them and cursed out loud; once I saw they been painted by local primary schools, I instantly abandoned my guilty plan to steal one as a souvenir for back home. I just couldn’t do that to them, l'etape is running for the next 3 years and we’ll be back. I don't want to be on wanted posters just yet. There were yellow plastic flowers stuck in every garden on every roundabout, twined through fences and up signposts. Man, these guys had hit the local $2 shop and hit it hard.
The hotel staff that checked us in had yellow manicures. Every shop had a yellow themed window display.
I had to stop taking photos because absolute everything was delightful. And yellow.
The bike out the front of our hotel? Bright yellow knitted cover, wheels and all. That is skill, and quite frankly awesome.
So thank you Jindabyne and Berridale, and Perisher and Cooma – which were the places I personally saw and was delighted by. I hope you had as good a weekend as we all did.
We had a ball riding around the partially closed roads the night prior to the race, exploring the village, riding the lovely bike path along the lakeside back to the hotel, and then around 7pm, with a wild look in his eye, Sprocketman gripped me by the upper arm.
“I’m gonna do it” he said hoarsely.
“Do what ?” I said, also hoarsely. Don’t forget we’ve both been sick for the last 3 weeks.
“I’m going to race tomorrow..."