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11-08-2021 | Frank Minnaert

Tour des Stations: a confrontation with 2021's themes

It's August 5, and we're driving to Le Châble - Bagnes (CH). We are Dirk Beullens, Michiel Minnaert and Frank Minnaert. Dirk will participate there on 07-08 in the Ultrafondo The Everest (242 km - 8848m+). His goal was to finish, without aiming for a specific ranking. Less than two months after a collarbone fracture, that was already more than enough. Michiel will participate in the Marmotte Granfondo (133km - 4700m+). He wants to finish as far up front as possible, so I will supply him.

Around 10 pm we arrive at our apartment. First impression: everything is in perfect order and close to the starting point. One flaw: no wifi....After a drink in the cafe (with wifi!) near our accommodation, we go to bed.

Picture: Michiel (L) & Dirk (R)


On Friday morning Dirk and Michiel start their recon under a bright sun. They explore the first climb, the Col du Lein. In the afternoon, start numbers are collected. We make sure to do this around 4 pm, right in time for the Bambino Fondo, a race for children. A bit of support for Oscar, the son of friend Kristof Houben, who is here with the whole family and who will also participate in the Marmotte Gran Fondo on Saturday. That Bambino Fondo, a great initiative, because it's fun for both adults and children!

Early rise 

In the evening we go to bed early because Dirk has to get up at 3 am since the start of the Ultrafondo is at 4 am.... When I get up at 4.30 am, Dirk is already gone and on his way.... strange feeling. Around a quarter to six it is our turn to start, Michiel to the start and myself with the car to the first agreed point to give water bottles, during the climb of Mayens de Vernamiège (after about 58 km). It is still dark, it will only be really light 15 minutes later. So Dirk had to climb and descend in the dark for 2 hours.... Hopefully he came through.

Then it's waiting time. At the finish, Michiel and Kristof were in a leading group of six, a few hundred meters ahead of a larger group. They had ridden away in the descent of the first climb and had taken a minute's lead. Much too early to continue, of course, so now the group slowly came back. After Michiel got his water bottle, I headed for the next point of supply, Hérémence. After a good 10 minutes I suddenly receive an text, sender: Michiel. Ai, that does not look good ...: "I'm standing along the side, completely parked, my legs feel like lead. You'll have to be patient for a while before I get there. Sorry."

Top notch organization

For me, this news is not so bad. As a companion/father you are always thinking about possible crashes and serious injuries. Michiel must be bummed, but it could have been worse. I decide to stop immediately after the descent and look out for Michiel. Where I stand, I experience the professionalism of the organization. I have stopped between a number of works where alternative traffic is regulated by traffic lights. By the time the participants come along, the traffic lights have been turned off and replaced by people with signs who regulate traffic based on the passage of participants: priority is given to the participants.

Michiel finally arrives. He had received his second vaccination on Monday and apparently he is now suffering from an adverse reaction. We decide not to force anything anymore and let the body do its job. Michiel gets in the car and we drive back to the apartment. We eat something and Michiel goes to bed. Meanwhile, I see the Belgian team at the Olympics jumping a bronze medal.

Dark sky

After the rest we start to wonder where Dirk would be in the meantime....The weather is starting to change: the wind is already blowing heavily, the thunderclouds are getting darker and darker. In the morning there no clear signs yet (except the weather forecast), because there was bright sunshine and it was about 30°. At that moment we already decided to pick him up in Verbier, so he wouldn't have to do that descent in the rain. We went to the local café to follow Dirk on the internet. After the first climb he was in 80th position, after that he dropped 40 places for a while, but we have the impression that he is systematically moving up again. At Thyon 2000 he is back in 80th position!

After the race we learned that Dirk's decline was due to two Dumoulin-like emergency stops! For the rest he had always kept a constant pace and had gained the necessary energy in every provisioning. These supplies were in tip-top shape by the way: gels, bars, sweet and salt were everywhere! Suddenly there was a phone call from Dirk...aiai, what's going on? The organization has decided to stop the race because of the apocalyptic weather conditions. Dirk is stranded in Nendaz.

We hurry to the car, having first grabbed towels and clothes from the apartment. As soon as we drive into the mountains we get an impression of the real conditions: the water flows down the slope in small rivers, the temperature drops noticeably, visibility is limited.

At the top of Nendaz we see the stranded participants, totally chilled, all looking a few years older than they really are.

The organization has gathered them in a kind of greenhouse.


Dirk has stripped off his clothes and is waiting for us in a thick coat with a plastic bag over it, offered by the organization. He has been given a hot soup and the table is full of provisions. Dirk is relieved and grateful to see us. We are happy to see him back without injuries! The misery had started at 1 km from the top of Thyon 2000. Then the heavens opened and the descent in the pouring rain, with thunder and lightning was life-threatening. When he came down he was freezing and wanted to take shelter, but then it got even colder and he decided to use the next climb (Nendaz) to warm up a bit. We already know the rest of the story. COVID-19 and extreme weather conditions, they are the daily themes of the news.

In this Tour des Stations, we have been confronted with it a bit ourselves, but all in all this is peanuts compared to the people who have become really ill from COVID-19 (or worse ...) and those who have lost their entire lives due to the extreme weather conditions. We are glad that we can start our journey back to Belgium on Sunday, safe and sound! On to the next sporting challenges.

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