Installment #2 - December 28 - A baguette too many
European borders are funny things. You can be travelling along a road, cross a line on the road and bang - you are in another country. Suddenly, people decide it's a tops idea to speak a different language, behave differently and eat totally different cuisine. Montegenvre, France, the site of our next adventure, was a prime example. Despite being perched only a few hundred-metres away from the Italian border it was abundantly clear from the quantity of baguettes being consumed and the proliferation of pencil thin moustaches that we were no longer in Italy.
Acting on some prudent advice from an undercover source (my French masseur), our intrepid team (Tim Roch d'For, Duane-Paul Bútchér and Christophe Darlington) grew moustaches to enable us to slip across the border undetected. As it transpired, there wasn't really a border or even border police but hey, it's always fun to grow facial hair (Mocky, you will discover this joy in years to come). Fortunately the novelty quickly wore off; perhaps it was something to do with the jibes from Darlo (who incidentally can grow a beard in a coughing fit) about my resemblance to a certain German named Mario.
Despite being thoroughly omnivorous and not adverse to the odd carbohydrate, the sheer quantity of baguettes that we were expected to consume threatened to overwhelm us all. There seemed however, to be no alternative - indeed, the humble baguette appears to be the linchpin of contemporary French culture. It was a common site to see a local walking the streets gnawing on a plain baguette or skiers returning from a hard day on the slopes with skis tucked under one arm and a six pack of baguettes stashed under the other. Surely the French, supposedly the exponents of haute cuisine, can do better!
Aside from the questionable culinary habits of the French, the town of Montegenvre had much going for it. It would be remiss of me not to string together some superlatives to help convey the beauty of the French Alps. 'Majestic', 'expansive' and 'breath-taking' - there you go.
Our accommodation, La Rafale, was so Faulty Towers-esque that I would often wait in the foyer for Basil Faulty to come blundering in. The place would be condemned in Australia on the basis that it was defying gravity in just remaining upright, not to mention the fire hazard it presented. We were housed on the second floor. But when we got to our door and climbed our internal stair case we realised that the sneaky French had actually put us on the 2nd-and-a-half floor. The ceilings were low and the door frames even lower. Despite being one of the most vertically challenged on the team I still managed to nearly render myself unconscious on several occasions, courtesy of some over-exuberant attempts to enter our room. The toilet located in the unventilated broom cupboard just added to the charm of the place and led to the inevitable 'no number 2' rule. Debate within the team still rages as to whether this rule was contravened by a certain member of the team.
The purpose of visit to France, apart from the ongoing search for a wife for Christophe, was a weekend of Continental Cup racing. The French are making a resurgence at the pointy end of the field in Continental Cup and World Cup racing. With this in mind, along with the presence of a further 15 strong nations in attendance at the races, we knew we were going to be in for a tough couple of days. So it was a case of an extra dip into the fondue pot, careful waxing of the boards and, of course, the traditional wearing of the race bibs to bed the night before.
We woke the morning of the sprint to overcast skies and a brutally hard course. This was compounded by the fact that the race was held at 1850m. Italian sprinting gun Renato Pasini took the honours in the time trial. Best Australian was Roch d'For followed by Duane-Paul and Christophe, both of who paid for fast starts.
Next day we woke to find that Huey had done some casual pre-Christmas work. A fresh cover of snow had transformed our relatively flat and fast 10 km course into a bit of a slog. Duane-Paul decided to sit it out and watched with interest as Christophe and I wheezed our way around the course. Suffice to say neither of us won, however Christophe put in an admirable ski. Hopefully better things are on the way.
After a few celebratory drinks it was au revoir to France. Although none of us have forgotten Muaroa Atol, we are prepared to (begrudgingly) concede that France is a pleasant enough place.
Installment #1 - November 29 - The Fat and the Skinny
The Fat: The Australian Ski Team starts their European campaign. The core of the team is based in Fiesch, Switzerland and plan to race in Swiss and World Cup races. They are training well on a thin cover of snow under sunny skies. Team member and elected spokesperson Tim Retchford has little other useful information to report at this juncture. If you are employed in a non-government job please do not read on.
The Skinny: Uneventful plane trip; Melbourne to Singapore fat Indian lady insisted on falling asleep on top of me. Singapore to Zurich two German gay guys insisted on rubbing moisturiser into one another's feet and generally canoodling. Put me off my food for the bulk of the trip.
Despite an altercation with a Swiss bus driver, I made it to Finn and KT Calder's hotel, the Airport Novotel, unscathed. My welcoming party looked dashing in their his and hers Mountain Designs jackets. After trying to swindle myself a free breakfast and failing dismally, we picked up Esther from the airport and piled into our distinctly feminine looking Peugeot (sort of like the old Mazda 121 bubble cars but on steroids). It groaned under the immense load of skis, bags and breakdancing paraphernalia we were carrying.
Our destination was Fiesch, in the Valais region of southern Switzerland. It was to be our home for the best part of the next two weeks. We were guests of Marianne and Raoul Volken, sporting legends of the region. Marianne is a former Swiss ski champion and veteran of the World Cup circuit and Raoul, a former ski coach of the national team and experienced mountain man. In fact, he had just returned from a mountaineering expedition in Nepal. His chronic diarrhoea more than enough proof of his authenticity.
Fiesch is nestled in the Goms valley. The imposing mountains surrounding the valley, including the Jungfrau (of James Bond fame), provide a magnificent back drop. The ski trails are situated 20km up the valley in the township of Ulrichen at the base of the Furka. A name that provides fine fodder for the literarily savvy (Look at that big ……! nice work Finn!).
With amazing timing the first snowfall of the year coincided with our arrival. Many thanks must go to Mix Master Mock who allegedly agreed to sacrifice his first born in return for plentiful snow on our arrival!
A typical day starts at 7am. The team files off for a morning run whilst Finn searches for excuses to stay in bed. His heavily bandaged leg and wrist don't fool us. The morning ski usually commences at 9.30 am. The car trip is usually punctuated by playful (well at least initially) banter between KT and Finn about how much training should be done. "No KT I don't think you need to do intervals every day!"
After training we retire to our apartment. Culinary delights are produced, technique is analysed on the television, books are read and break dancing practiced. The township of Fiesch has everything you could ever want within easy walking distance. A pity it is all closed when you need to access it between 12 and 2 pm.
The afternoon usually proceeds as per the mornings. Our routine however, was rudely interrupted by the scheduling of the first race for the season. The opening Swiss cup race was held at Ulrichen. Due to thin snow conditions (Mocky, I am starting to think you hoodwinked me on the sacrifice thing) two skate races were held as it was decided that it was not possible to set classic tracks. Day one an interval start. Second day a mass start. KT Calder distinguished herself in both races, mixing it up with members of not only the Swiss National Team but also the visiting Russian Team. Apparently the temperature in Russia has been so extreme it is impossible to train so they have decided to move their operations to Europe for the next month. Obviously none of them have worked the salt mines of Siberia. Toughen up Russkis!
Our next race takes us to the streets of Luzern for a night sprint. It is here that our team swells to 5 with the addition of the enigmatic Duane 'The' Butcher. Fresh from a good result in a recent sprint race in Norway he will be one to watch in the street race.
Until the next installment here are some unsubstantiated rumours:
Pascal Grab is getting shorter.
Tim is a closet speed reader.
You could retire a rich person by melting down all of the Russian Teams gold fillings.
Johann Muhlegg is preparing to make a comeback in Torino at the Paralympics.
KT Calder is inconsolable following the tragic death of the 'gentle' Old Dirty Bastard of Wu Tang Clan fame.
Winter tyres are overrated.