These French mountain roads, like le Mont Faron, they weren’t designed for racing bikes.
In fact, they weren’t designed for anything; they evolved from animal paths into human paths into trade paths into auto paths into their destiny in bike races.
These roads are too narrow for two cars to pass; they are only just wide enough for a few cyclists to ride in a group. Their routes to the pass look as if some disinterested god cast a ribbon on the mountain and the road followed its path, loosely affixed to the rocky crags.
To the British and Continentals among you, the architecture of these roads might not surprise you, but to anyone coming from a country whose road system was largely designed as a utility for the motor vehicle, it is astounding how narrow these roads are. ‘Roads’, in this case, becomes a simile for ‘path.’
In the US, most roads are graded for the passage of heavy vehicles, meaning their gradients and road surface pass certain qualifications such as not being “ass steep” or “all busted up”. These sorts of regulations apparently don’t exist in Europe.
I love these ancient narrow roads – they remind me of where we came from.
They remind me that we didn’t always enjoy the comforts of our contemporary lives; our ancestors had to work hard for our right at the top of the proverbial food chain that we now enjoy. They are of a bygone era.
Cycling has its own bygone eras: legends of the sport have come and gone, and at the same time many iconic races have fallen off the calendar as the demands of an expanding global audience and commercial appeal has contorted the flow of money and riders’ attention.
Our sport has a troubled past when it comes to cheating in general and doping in particular; after the Festina Affair in the late nineties exposed the indulgences of the decade before, we all thought we were headed into a cleaner era as we entered the new millennium – another bygone era sorted.
Hindsight being what it is, we now understand that the first decade of the 2000s was perhaps the dirtiest ever, but one interesting development was that clean riders were starting to have a voice and were building an audience. One such rider was Davide Moncoutié.
Clean riders had a signature of sorts during this time, performing well in early season races, and then shining on a handful of select days throughout the rest of the season when the competition was properly ‘prepared.’
Moncoutié raced well in the early season with a focus on the smaller French stage races and the Vuelta mountains classification, which he won four years in a row.
He had a special love-affair with the now-defunct Tour Meditérranéen – winning the final stage on Mount Faron in 2003, 2009 and for the last time on this day, February 13, in 2011.
2011 was special for the fact that David played the perfect waiting game to allow a flurry of attacks to go up the road on the early slopes of the 5.5km, 10% strip of ribbon to the summit.
He waited until 2km to go before he dropped his fellow chasers in pursuit of a lone Jean-Christophe Péraud who was forging a path to victory ahead.
We’ve all been passed close to ‘the finish’, whether ‘the finish’ was a town line, the local leg breaker, or an actual race’s finish line.
It is as astounding as it is demoralising to be passed by a rider who seems to be motoring along at twice your speed, the effects of both being exponential based on how close to the ‘finish’ the passing happens.
This is surely how Jicé must have felt when Moncoutié came flying by at 350m to go and left him for dead, taking both the stage and overall win atop Mont Faron.