Le Tour de France comes to Samoens!
It all started on Tuesday 20th October 2015, a date which sent a flurry of excitement through the cycling community around the world with the announcement of the route for the 2016 Tour de France. For Samoens in particular, the news was extra special, Le Tour would be returning to Samoens and passing over the infamous Col de Joux Plane for the first time in 10 years.
So what's involved? The 146.5km of stage 20, starting in Megeve and ending in Morzine, took in 4 cols, including Samoens and the Col de Joux Plane. The total ascent for this stage alone was 3710m, and to give that figure some perspective, it's like riding your bike from the bottom to the top of the Grand Massif Express gondola in Samoens more than 4 times! In one day!
Since it's announcement way back in October, there has been a steady build up of excitement around Samoens, amongst locals and visitors alike. During the snowy winter months, murmurs of tour-related talk could be heard at a time normally reserved for all things white and fluffy. As winter turned to spring and the monochrome of winter rose higher and higher, as did the excitement levels. The enthusiasts were desperate to compare times on the famous Col de Joux Plane. The Tour novices, equally as enthusiastic, wondered what all the fuss was about. As the day drew closer, the steady, unrelenting stream of cyclists making their way through Samoens became a torrent with people of all nationalities and abilities coming to test themselves. Weeks before the event, there was a bristling atmosphere way up on the Col de Joux Plane as hundreds of sweaty, exhausted, triumphant cyclists ground their way up to 1700m. Amateur teams gathered around huge piles of bread, Nutella and seriously strong coffee. Couples posed for photos in front of the stunning views. Everyone joining together to share experiences, tips, and lunch. Excitement built up to a crescendo just a week before the main event when L'etape du Tour passed through the village. The event, run every year, picks one stage from Le Tour de France route and for one day only allows amateur riders to ride the very same tarmac as their idols on closed roads. This year, stage 20 which passes through Samoens was chosen, and 15,000 people braved 33oC temperature to take on the challenge!
Finally, the day arrived, and with it came thousands upon thousands of fans. Walking through the village that morning, there was a carnival atmosphere with bars and shops packed before the masses headed up the route to find their spot. The atmosphere on the climb up to the Col de Joux Plane was incredible, as it had been for the previous few days with mobile homes, tents and cars arriving early, squeezed into every possible gap. Some perched in the most frighteningly desperate positions! As the 'caravan' moved up the valley - a long chain of advertising vehicles who throw goodies to the crowds - a wave of noise could be heard moving up the valley with it. As the vehicles arrived, children scampered around gather to up the freebies, while grown men and women bounced up and down with excitement. Shortly later the first riders, grimacing and super concentrated, passed by at an incomprehensible speed to a background of wild, unbridled enthusiasm. As the heroes of so many continued on their way over the col towards Morzine, people reluctantly started to disperse, and Samoens slowly returned to tranquil normality.
For Tony, Lawri, Steve and Jayne who were staying in Chalet Toubkal, seeing Le Tour pass through Samoens has been a long time coming. As big Tour de France fans and regular visitors to Samoens for many years, they had been patiently watching the announcement of the route each year only to be left disappointed. This year, they finally they got their chance! As huge Geraint Thomas fans, they were holding aloft one of several Welsh flags spotted on the slopes around Samoens and the highlight of the day was very clear, "Geraint is a hero of mine and to get so close to him was just amazing!!". They also commented on the incredible atmosphere generated by Le Tour, "The whole atmosphere and build up to the day has been brilliant. Because we had the flag, we met so many other Welsh people who stopped for a chat". Let's hope we don't have to wait long to see it all again!
In the end the stage was won by Ion Izaguirre who pulled out a lead on the tricky final decent to Morzine after an enthralling fight on the climb up to the Col de Joux Plane. His winning time for the 146.5km mountain stage was a mind-bending 4 hours 6 minutes and 45 seconds.
If you fancy trying to master part of the route yourself, or experience the variety of amazing cycling in the area then visit our cycling page for more information.