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Five go the Alps: SCC Members trip to France by Geoff Caton

FIVE GO TO THE ALPS: DAY FIVE

We awoke to the mountain tops shrouded in Egyptian cotton giving the whole valley a sense of mysterySCC Club Members and magic. This is a quite wonderful place. If cycling through meadows and forests to the chimes of a hundred cow bells, whilst lizards scuttle across the road and eagles circle lazily overhead on vast thermals this is a place you must visit. Today we escaped from the frenzied slopes of the most famous cols, swapping them for the tranquil pleasures of the ride up to Villard de Note Dame. A stunning ride to a stunning location. Villard means fortress, and to reach it the rider must weave their way along a precipitous road with life threatening drops for the unwary, through rough tunnels that looked as if they had been hacked out of the rock many centuries ago…..to be rewarded with crepes in the rustic cafe at the summit.

The road ends here but a gravelly trail rises towards the sky offering some off piste cycling to……Villard-Reymond. Despite inappropriate gearing, inappropriate tyres and a general lack of ability on this terrain we duly picked our way across the top of the mountainside as though we were walking on hot coals.

Normal service resumed on the descent when the group took on the appearance of five gazelles as we wove down the mountainside. Accelerating adventurously on the straights, curving gracefully around corners, effortlessly easing around obstacles…our brakes largely untouched as we sped down at 40/70kph. One of the great joys of riding big hills are the descents that follow…..and today’s descent was probably the best of our week. After that another col to climb and another frenzied descent.
What a Sunday ride. Barely 30 miles, but 4,600 ft of climbing….followed by Aperol Spritzers in the Cafe de Paris watching La fete de Bourg d’Oisians. This could catch on.

But its over…..until next year…if any of this has whetted your appetite for a continental cycling trip let us know and let’s organise something…if it’s put you off, c’est la vie as they say in Bourg.

Hope to catch up with everyone on a bike somewhere soon.

FIVE GO THE ALPS: DAY FOUR

You will have noted that yesterday was a Rest Day; today we ratcheted things up and had a Recovery Day. Previous readers will have noted that we begin our days in French style at the Cafe de Paris with cafe au lait, and today was no different. Following much debate we agreed that a ride out to the Ferme de Cedre was an appropriate day to spend a Saturday as it involved little climbing and much talking. In common with Ferme de Cedres the world over, the conversation turned to our petty cycling likes and dislikes, in particular……..

The French man. He sails past, his bronzed torso has a barely a bead of sweat, and a faint whiff of eau de cologne transports you. Weighing less than 70 kilos he neither acknowledges you nor disparages you….you simply don’t exist. A flick of the wrist, half a smile, a cheery Bonjour? Non. These are not his style.

The English man. You ride up to him, instantly recognisable from his bulging stomach, and his beetroot infested face which sprays sweat and saliva on all those around him. Short sighted, he constantly shouts greetings to the ‘Lads from Stockport’ and seeks to engage you in conversation….mostly about the cols he has summitted. You ignore him and sail on by.

Campavan man. These are the continental cyclist’s nightmare. On the way up the climbs they grind and lurch around each hairpin, causing panic and consternation as they utilise both the left and right hand sides of the road. Frequently they lean out of their windows proffering optimistic comments about your chances of reaching the summit whilst also disposing of the dregs from this morning’s breakfast. At the summit they take every available parking space, parking their vans in front of the signs and monuments that mark your proudest achievement, ruining yet another photo opportunity.

But worst is to come. The descent. Campavan drivers seem to be of a certain age and disposition. They often set off at a heady 20k per hour before slamming their brakes on as they hit the first bend. All very fine, unless you are on a bike travelling at 40k. There now follows a game of Russian Roulette as campavan man moves to the middle of the road – should you try and undertake him or overtake him? Overtaking invariably results in a collision with an upcoming car, undertaking always results in being run off the road. Fortunately, campavan man is known to respond to hand gestures and if there are sufficient of these he has been know to pull over and let you through….before instantly stepping on the gas and driving 3 metres from your rear wheel for the whole of a 20k descent. Best avoided.

And now it’s fiesta time in Bourg….the tables are out in the square, the BBQ is getting started, The Churro van has arrived, the band are warming up….can’t think what to do with ourselves tonight.

FIVE GO TO THE ALPS: DAY 3

We’re beginning to flag so today has been a rest day. We can learn much from our fellow continental cyclists, in particular their tradition of not riding to a cafe but starting from a cafe….so we thought we’d give it a go. So our day began with cafe au laits at the Cafe de Paris in Bourg. A further tradition is to spend mulch time debating the various route options, a tradition we were happy to follow as the clock ticked by.

After much democratic discussion Chris decided our route which he determined to be suitable for a rest day. Unconvinced we started riding up Alpe d’Huez which led to some unpleasant flashbacks for a number of the group as we ground into those first unremitting bends. Having reached bend 16, where the climb eases considerably, Chris took us away from the hurly burly of the hoardes snaking their way up its slopes to ride across Les Balconies on a road that resembled a cart track in places, but deteriorated after that.
The Balconies is a stunning road, etched on to the side of the mountain, high above the valley, it snakes precariously like a silver thread with dizzying drops to the valley below. Oh to have had Wordsworth with us.

But enough, these views were not our foremost aim. Our target was to complete the legendary Col de Pomme and I’m delighted to report that we maintained SCC’s reputation as a Cafe club. At the foot of the Col de Pomme we stopped at the Cafe de Pomme and ate the traditional apple pie, filled our bottles from the gurgling fountain and generally lingered.
Our reverie was disturbed once more by Chris who decided that doing The Alpe wasn’t enough for one day, and pointed us to Les Deux Alpes (2 Alps), a ski station situated high in the clouds. 800 metres of climbing later, we fully appreciated what a rest day is all about. However, what goes up must come down and a hair raising (well not for Chris) descent followed as Mr Hardy constantly attempted to overtake cars, his GoPro trained on their number plates, ready to report anyone who didn’t get out of his way to Merseyside Police.
And then we were back, having completed 4,800 feet of climbing in 35 degree heat, on our rest day.

Our reward? Back to the Cafe for beers, ice cream and more aimless conversation about life in general.

I’ve had some requests for photographs so that you can see what cycling in the Alps is all about, so take a look at these .. I’ll be amazed if they don’t inspire you to take the plunge.

 

5 GO TO THE ALPS: DAY TWO

Today was the day of the beasts. Three mighty cols put their reputations on the line, and so did we.
First we demolished the Glandon (about 1900 metres and 25k of ascent). There were times when our speedos exceeded 6 mph, but these weren’t frequent as these rushes of blood resulted in distress signals emanating from heart monitors. At this stage Mr Hardy spotted the Croix de Fer in the distance and decided to in for some unashamed col bagging and nipped to its summit for a lunch of chilled champagne and oysters. The rest of us stuffed down a few gels and began the tortuous descent down to the foot of the Col du Telegraphe.

The Telegraphe, as cycling aficionados will know, is merely an hors d’oeuvre prior to the main event, the Col du Galibier. Nevertheless with a thousand metres of climbing in 12k it was a decent warm up.

And so to the Galibier. At 2600+ metres it requires gillets, oxygen masks and ice axes for a successful ascent. Needless to say we didn’t have any of these items. This is a brutal climb. It starts steep, then lulls you by taking you gently through idyllic meadows were cows graze, marmots frolic, the scent of lavender wafts in the air….I could go on. Alas, this communing with nature abruptly ends. With 10k to the summit the road kicks up, and up, and up. The landscape changes to a moonscape. Gradients of 9 and 10 per cent are a regular feature until the last kilometre which kicks up even more steeply.

Riding (a loose description) one has constant reminders of the greats of cycling…their names stencilled into the tarmac in a kaleidoscope of colours….Froome, Bardet , Aru and….’Dolan Cycles#’! A great piece of marketing. If any of you would like your names etched on the TDF route, just let me know….for a small fee it could be arranged. But I digress.
I must confess that the Galibier found me wanting when I became afflicted by cramp 5k from the summit. Fortunately my team mates spotted my distress and immediately put the hammer down and ramped up the pace to 4.5 mph. It was a long 5k, details of which I’ll happily share with anyone who has an hour to spare.
In the end it was a grand day out. 100 miles of riding and 12,200 feet of climbing on iconic climbs and in stunning locations. Highly recommended to fellow club members.
Lastly I need to return to the beasts I mentioned in my opening paragraph. The beast of the day was undoubtedly Mr Stone, who in addition to all of the above, completed his day by riding up ‘The Alpe’ to take his total ascent to over 15,000 ft. So its chapeau to Chris on a fantastic ride…he’s not riding tomorrow as he has an appointment at the tester’s office. Bon nuit.

5 GO TO THE ALPS: DAY ONE

So he we are in Bourg d’Oisians, a large village nestling at the foot of Alpe d’Huez, or ‘The Alp’ as it’s known to those of us who have ridden its 21 hairpin bends. For those of you interested in these things, the temperature has fallen to 30 degrees….think Southport on a summer’s day.

Like a group of excited schoolboys we made our way to the foot of ‘The Alp’, but not before Ray Lyon had covered us in ‘all day sun cream’,which apparently lasts 6 hours…ah well. Various supplements were taken on board, pockets stuffed with gels and Mr Stone was asked to take a dope test. He passed.


To ‘The Alp’. Fresh from his success Chris Stone big ringed the first 200 metres before settling into a gentle rhythm to reach the summit in an impressive time…or so we are led to believe. Alas he took a wrong turn, so he tells us, and so his performance isn’t recorded on Strava….and as we all know if it’s not on Strava it didn’t happen.
I fared little better, fooled by a sign that said ‘Finish’, I stopped and had a coffee….only to be told that this wasn’t the ‘Finish’, and the ‘Finish’ was a kilometre up the road. Wonder if Chris Froome has these problems?


One col would have sufficed for me but not the rest so we merrily made our way downhill on a bed of gravel so that we could go uphill and climb La Sarenne….a rather frustrating climb which saw the silent assassin, Peter Scott, power past everyone to reach its 1999 metre summit. We discussed mixing some sand and cement to see if we could add a metre to its height, but Ray was too tired to take up the challenge.


The descent from La Sarenne, may have been captured for ever by our resident camera man, Colin Hardy. Colin readily admits that he is a novice in this field, and we support his opinion. However, if 3 hours of tarmac and sky is your thing , come to the clubhouse one Monday evening and prepare yourself for some Oscar winning camera work.
And now it’s time to go carbo loading as advised by Neil Robinson…apparently we’re doing something called the Glandon, and then the Galibier, tomorrow. Whatever, they all go up and then come down.

 

 

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