The cow bells are out in La Clusaz this weekend, with the FIS cross-country (ski du fond) world cup taking place in Les Confins.
Pictured are the front-runners of the men’s 15km race on their third lap of the course. The fourth and final lap ended in a photo finish, with Alexey Poltoranin from Kazakhstan beating Russia’s Alexander Bessmertnykh by just a few centimetres.
But the real highlights came before the finish line. First up were the wandering mascots, dancing to the music of the wandering minstrels, and being chased by the dog with the little doggy coat and doggy snow shoes (yes, they exist; yes, the protect the dog’s paws from the snow; no, the dog has no traction; yes, the dog slides all over the place).
The mascots posed for photos and made their way back to the Le Grand Bornand marquee — probably to refill on some vin chaud.
And here is where the mascots ended up. This was one of many groups from Le Grand Bornand who had dotted themselves around the cross-country race course.
Notice the huge casks of red wine in the bottom left corner. I think they were all emptied into that massive steel boiler with other bits and pieces to form a quick vin chaud. Judging by the loudness and activities coming from the marquee, the boiler was empty by the time the race began. The guy in grey had a megaphone and those thick, leather belts around some of the others’ waists have cow bells attached at the front. You can see one on the far left.
That guy was not just ringing the bell when the competitors passed. No. That guy was doing giant, drunken, pelvic thrusts to make the bell ring any time a girl went past. Others joined in. The people near the marquee looked on bemused or embarrassed.
But let’s get back to the action. Poor Callum Watson! He was trailing the pack towards the end of the first lap.
Callum was the only Australian competing in the race, and everybody seemed confused by the green outfit in a field of reds, blues, whites and blacks. Who was this person? One person near me said “He must be the Australian” after hearing me yell “Go Aussie” as he went by. Others shrugged. A few people clapped.
For me, it was an odd experience. Us Aussies are normally successful at sports, but snow sports aren’t quite as accessible in Australia, making our champions few and far between. Callum was trailing behind the pack and was clearly in last place. If this event had been in Australia, those around me would have been clapping and cheering on every single competitor, regardless of where they’re from or their place in the race. In fact, the further behind, the louder the cheer!
Callum was cheered on when he rounded the popular corners, but most of the spectators elsewhere just watched. A couple of people around me gave him an encouraging clap, and I shouted encouragement each time he went past, but the air was uncomfortably silent. I wonder if the lack of enthusiasm that us Aussies are used to receiving hampered his race. He only completed two of the four laps.
Meanwhile, Ivan Perrillat Boiteux had an entire field of snow devoted to him. As you may have guessed by the name, Ivan is pretty much a local. His home town is Annecy, and he’s a member of the Le Grand Bornand cross-country ski team. Today, people had photos of him printed on their t-shirts, and his name written on their skin and their cow bells. Everyone was banking on Ivan. Ivan came 55th out of the 69 men who finished the race. Bigger love hearts required next time. I might make a few for Callum too.