A rest day reflection through a romanticised lens

On the flight over, there’s an Anthony Bourdain documentary I watch that opens with a reflection: you see a place through the lens of the media you’ve consumed before. At that point I was 30 or so mind-fracturing hours into a journey from the other side of the world, back to a bike race I’ve watched for as long as I can remember, and the observation gnaws at me. By the time I get to Geneva – a subterranean rabbit warren of an airport with terrible coffee – I’ve almost written it off entirely.

It takes all of 30 minutes in Morzine to realise that Bourdain was onto something, though. It might even have clicked before I got to town.

The Tour de France rest day is here, so the town is in full Tour de France mode. On the drive up from Geneva, in a road-fucked Mercedes minibus with 440,000 km on the clock, the clues are there from early on. In the middle of a roundabout in a sleepy village there’s bunting strung up to a pole, 50 fluttering paper jerseys in red, green, and polka dots. The Alps loom like emerald giants on all sides of the road.

On the road into Les Gets, Jumbo-Visma’s out for a rest day ride. They sweep across the B-road into a little side street, eight riders in neat little couples with a glistening team car in their slipstream. We drive on past a wrecking yard for cable car gondolas, and a bird of prey circles over the towers of rust and faded fiberglass.

Tadej Pogačar takes a rest day stroll. (Photo by OLIVIER CHASSIGNOLE/AFP via Getty Images)

A construction crew races against the clock to get a road ready for the passage of the race the next day, and as we’re stopped waiting for our turn through the roadworks a pair of Astana team cars glide the other way. Then we’re in the town. Sunburnt fans squeeze their way past the team buses parked on footpaths, and pairs of pros pick their way meticulously through the mayhem on their rest day rides. Half of Morzine’s locked down behind barricades but after some spirited discussion with a gendarme, the airport shuttle bus is finally allowed to drop off its passengers outside an old church next to a bridge.

As I’m waiting for a lift from my colleagues to our AirBNB farmhouse, Tom Pidcock and Geraint Thomas ride past. They don’t look like they’ve just raced their bikes across half a country, but I suppose that’s the difference between the pros and everyone else.

Finally, there are some familiar faces in a dusty rental car with media stickers on the window, and my journey’s at an end. At the AirBNB on the outskirts of town, a paraglider rides the thermals. We record a podcast on the steps outside and watch a sheepdog jumping like a dolphin through grass that its people are pitchforking into the air. Laughter rings across the valley.

When we go back into town for dinner, there’s the quiet of anticipation for the bike race that’s about to resume. When we get back to the house, I climb up the valley wall to where the sheepdog was and just sit there for a moment in the fading light, taking it all in. I can’t get a picture that’s not blurry, but that’s how I feel in the moment, kind of smudged, so it’ll have to do.

The Tour continues today, and there’ll be more towns and more long days. For the riders, it’ll get much worse before it gets better. But for those few hours in Morzine, I saw the place through the romanticised lens of the Tour de France, and it was beautiful.

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