On the road again

Tour de France and hydro

Back in the day, I used to be a pretty enthusiastic cyclist.

I spent several days every year with thousands of other cyclists, enjoying Iowa hospitality -- and the corn fields -- during RAGBRAI, a seven-day, 500+-mile ride. After a couple of years, my husband (who was at that time just a friend) joined me.

For our honeymoon, my husband and I took a week to enjoy the verdant splendor that is western Ireland from the saddle of a bike.

I was newsletter editor for the Kansas City Bicycle Club for several years, and my husband was its president for a couple of years. My oldest daughter’s godparents own a bike shop, we volunteered to help repurpose old bikes into gifts for underprivileged children …

I think you get the picture.

Needless to say, the annual extravaganza that is the Tour de France was guaranteed to be watched in our house for the entire 21 days it lasts. (Although, being practical people who have children and full-time jobs, we had to record it and just hit the highlights.)

Since we moved to Oklahoma three years ago, cycling has taken a back seat to other pursuits. Where we live is not the most bike-friendly area, and I’ve always found it a bit hypocritical to put your bike in the back of your truck (or on the back of your car) and drive TO a location where you are then going to bike.

But, cycling will always hold a special place in my heart, so (and here’s where I get to the part where HYDRO is involved) I was amused to see a news story that Stage 17 of the 2016 Tour de France features a summit finish at Emosson Dam in Switzerland.

According to a news site called The Local, this dam, which impounds water for an 189-MW hydroelectric powerhouse [called Vallorcine Power Station], was completed in 1975 and is near the French border. It is accessible to the public via a road that is open only in summer.

Normally the route would end in a cul-de-sac, but “due to the construction of an underground pump-turbine power generating station, an access road has been built that will allow cycling teams to exit the area by travelling 180 metres beneath Emosson reservoir.”

The Local says the generating station, which I am pretty confident is 900-MW Nant de Drance, is scheduled to begin producing electricity in 2018.

According to The Local, “Tour director Christian Prudhomme, who has visited the 2-billion-franc project site, described the atmosphere of the area as ‘a James Bond universe’ and when the stage was proposed ‘we did not hesitate to take the step.’”

Given the fact that the Tour de France is so widely viewed, with an estimated television audience of 3.5 billion people in more than 185 countries, this can only provide favorable exposure of the hydropower industry to a global audience. How cool is that?

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