The weekend rolls around again and as is usual in the Oisans in summer nobody can go anywhere because the roads are infested with drug-addled obsessives on overpriced pushbikes. Really, how am I supposed to get out to the garden centre for geraniums if the roads are going to be closed from midday onwards? You really can’t expect me to get out of bed early during the interseason.
This weekend’s pedal-fest is the Critérium du Dauphine which is run over eight stages, taking in a whole lot of very steep hills, and is a key part of the run-up to the Tour de France. (Don’t get me started on the Tour de France. It’s not coming through here this year, much to my relief.) For some reason, this involves closing the roads on two separate days, since they cycle from Briançon to Grenoble – past Alpe d’Huez – on the Friday, and then come back on Saturday afternoon to ride up to Alpe d’Huez. You’d think they could just nip up there on the way past. After all, a bunch of Dutch amateurs did it six times in a day just the other week, how hard can it be?
Still, at least they do close the roads for it. When La Marmotte comes through in July they don’t bother, and we all have to play dodgems with 7000 lunatics who are apparently convinced that all-body lycra and a polystyrene hat will somehow protect them if they come off that wafer-thin machine and hit the tarmac at 70kph. It doesn’t seem to occur to them to wonder why the bikers all wear full face helmets and kevlar-reinforced jackets.
None of this would matter too much if they kept to their own bit of the road, but they all insist on taking the racing line through the bends, which means you can be pootling up the hill at a perfectly law-abiding speed when all of a sudden some crazed cyclist pops up immediately in front of you, causing an instant heart attack and near miss with the ditch. I’d be tempted just to slam on the anchors and hope for the best, but having hit a wild boar one winter season I can imagine what sort of damage 80kg of flying Dutchman would do to both me and my car.
In theory I should miss most of the carnage, since I will inevitably be working on a Saturday in July and by the time I get home the survivors should all be off the road and safely in the restaurants scoffing piles of carbohydrate, though no doubt I’ll have to get up at crack of dawn to escape from the house before they start the race. I know from experience that it takes at least half an hour for 7000 cyclists plus hangers-on to go past the exit to the car park.