Monday, 10 August 2015

Grande Route des Alpes

Thonon-les-Bains Depart
By Pete Tootill
Friday, August 21, 2015 - 14:00
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Geneva to Nice via the Grande Route des Alpes over six days; 754km – 16,212m

 

16 Redhill CC members recently signed up to do the Raid Alpine, which is a 6 day challenge to get from Lake Geneva to the Mediterranean following the Route de Grandes Alpes. The 754km route, encompassing 16,212m of ascent, combines quiet, rural roads with some of the most famous climbs of the Tour de France passing over a couple of the highest passes in Europe. Our daily routine was simple: all we had to do each day was ride our bikes over the big lumps marked out on the route card presented to us at dinner the night before. Ian and Julie at Pyrenees Multisport admirably took care of everything else. Yet nothing about each day was simple: in fact, it became progressively harder to jump back onto our bikes each morning and do yet another series of relentless climbs.

 

The Crew

 

Ian – Self Support

Julie – Life Support

Louis – Whippet

Audrey – Healing Hands

 

The Cast

 

Fiona – Bum Break

Nick – Rapha Daddy

Stu B – Nuts

Nathan – 911

Geoff – Smelly Socks

Brian – Leffe, Leffe, Leffe

Bruce - Diesel

Howard – Velominatus Bansteadus

Peter F – Style Icon

Olly – Best Dressed (Home Counties)

Stu G – Rule #5

Charles – Sept Parfums

Chris – Larry Lightweight

Pete T – Heatstroke

Andy – The Whip

 

The Extras

 

Dave S – Dulwich

 

Dave P – High Maintenance

Mark – The Bonnette

Charlie – Best Dressed (North of the Border)

 

Our journey was epic. Fiona B, the lone lady amongst us all guys, posted daily Facebook updates, all of which have been collated below. Some standout random memories provided by the guys are also included at the end of the report.

 

*** Warning - Tissue Alert Begins Here *** Suggest you read this part under soft lights with ‘Ain’t No Mountain High Enough’ playing in the background.

 

Day 1 - Thonon-les-Bains to Megève - 95 miles, 12,867ft

 

God, that was hard! And it's only the first day. I thought I was doing really well to begin with and completed a few of the Cols comfortably...then up popped the Col de Joux Plane....got a third of the way up, before being told by Brian C, who was coming downhill, that the top was blocked due to landslides.... So most of us did a mass retreat downhill to Morzine for a long lunch. I was very relieved as it was seriously steep, and after all, was it Lance Armstrong who hated this climb? But, reports came through from Andy W that he had got through. So instead of taking a nice leisurely route round the mountain, the good men of Redhill CC went up again!!! That was me shot. It was hard….I kept stopping, partly in protest because I was hurting so much physically, but also to gulp down water. The descent was just reward, however Nick and I got lost in Samoens, and bumped into Charles, Andy W, and Pete T who also didn’t know which direction they were supposed to be going in. Double confusion meant that we didn’t arrive at the hotel until well after7pm. Will tomorrow be easier? I have been told not. Argh!

 

Day 2 - Megeve to Val D'Isere - 74 miles, 12,546 ft

 

Set off at 8am in the hope that we would be able to arrive at the next hotel earlier than yesterday and squeeze in that extra pre-dinner beer! Feeling very apprehensive with regards the undercarriage considering yesterday's experiences. Sure enough, 8km into the climb of Col des Saises, the first of the four named climbs today, there were a few tears and I was scooped up by Ian in the minibus and taken 3km up to the top, WHICH I DID NOT LIKE AT ALL. That's called failure in my book. So Nick and I agreed that from then on, with each climb we would stop every two km for a quick “bum break” to get the circulation going again. It worked! I completed the rest of the day which included the Col de Meraillet and the breathtaking views of the Cormet de Roselend before doing the long long 22km drag up the first part of Col de L’Iseran in the 36c afternoon heat. I feel ever so proud of myself. It’s weird being here in Val D'Isere with no snow. It's absolutely beautiful! Right, I'm off down stairs to grab a well deserved drink!

 

Day 3 - Val D'Isere to Le Monetier-les-Bains – 93 miles, 11,440 feet

 

This is the big day that we had all been waiting for. We climbed out from the hotel to complete the remaining 20km of the Col de L'Iseran before dropping down and passing the Col de la Madeleine. The downward trend kept on going for almost 70km until we turned on to the 35km combination of the Col du Telegraphe and the giant of the day, the Hors Category climb of the Col du Galibier. Yep, I DID IT!! God, it was hard, particularly the last 8km of the Galibier which seemed to point to the sky. I followed same formula on all the climbs with 1 minute break every 2km Call it interval training! I have to thank Nick for patiently staying on my wheel all day. What amazing scenery, completely stunning. I had to actually remind myself to look up from the tarmac! Today was really really testing, but we finished off with an awesome terminal velocity descent from the Col du Lauteret to the spa town of Le Monetier-les -Bains where we are staying for 2 nights. Lots of beers in the hotel courtyard with all the Redhill CC guys tonight. The Alpe D'Huez ride tomorrow is cancelled as the tunnel to Boiug D'Oisans has collapsed so no traffic can get through. I have a massage booked instead. Yay!

 

Rest day

 

The only climbing I did today was up some stairs to the massage room, which was a treat. So, I've eaten, drank coffee, had lunch, slept, read a book, had a bath, and now about to go to dinner. Hmm, have just looked out the window...it is going to rain hard soon. It could well be wet tomorrow when we leave this lovely town... New day, new challenge! Bring it on!!!

 

Day 4 – Le Monetier-les-Bains to Jausiers - 68miles, 9016 ft.

 

Tired, soaked through, and so happy with today's ride. Set out this morning wondering how much of a protest my legs would make. But it was a lovely downhill run from the hotel all the way to Briancon and the start of the 20km Col D'Izoard, one of the famous Tour de France climbs. I realise that I'm actually starting to properly enjoy it. Stuart B suggested that instead of taking what was becoming my trademark bum breaks, that I actually shift up a gear and pedal out of the saddle to get the circulation going. Hmm. It works, but it now means I don't get breaks. Grrr…. I managed this all the way past two thirds of this very scenic climb, then I self imposed my breaks again, just for sanity's sake. Well, I'm a girl and I'm allowed! A quick stop at the top to put some warm clothes before an awesome descent to the main road which took us along a deep gorge through some tunnels to pretty Guillestre where we all tucked into a 'cyclist menu' lunch of lovely spaghetti carbonara and ice cream. Handed in all my wet weather gear before the start of the 19km Col de Vars climb as the skies were blue and it was sunny. How quickly things can change. In the last third up the mountain, the heavens opened as we passed through the ski station. And I mean, really opened! I kept plugging away to the top and dived into a cafe for a welcome hot chocolate before putting on arm warmers, gilet, caps, overcoat...but to no avail...it was freeeeezing! Fingers turned blue, feet sat in swimming pools and turning numb on a hairy technical descent to our next hotel in Jausiers, but here we are all showered and warm again and looking back on quite an unreal day! Hope to get all my kit dried overnight. We are getting closer to Nice so that can't be a bad thing.

 

Day 5 - Jausiers to Puget Thenier - 82miles, 9,516 ft

 

Wow, what a day! There were so many awesome moments. We climbed 5,300ft straight out of the hotel front door up the Col de Bonnette, one of the highest roads in Europe. There is even a celebratory loop at the top so you can see the view in a 360 degree panorama...and guess what? This time I didn't stop throughout the whole 23km climb through mist. The scenery was so beautiful and very much like the Lake District. However, it was so so cold. By the time we reached the top which was almost at 9,000 feet, my cochlear implant had gone on strike. Fizzled out, kaput. Fair enough, it was wet and freezing and it probably thought enough was enough. That's all very well, but it meant I couldn't hear for the rest of the day!! Grrrrr. The the descent is amazing and goes on for ever, but was rather scary. We were literally shaking on our bikes and my jaw was stiff from the sheer concentration of negotiating so many switchbacks. Our group arrived at the lunch stop looking like a pack of bedraggled rats. A lovely fortifying lunch in a rather nice restaurant who probably took sympathy on us, before taking on the next climb, the Col de la Couillole which was supposed to be easier, but somehow didn’t feel like it. The reward was the drop into the most beautiful Gorge du Cians. Awesome awesome awesome! Please do look this up on the Internet - http://www.dangerousroads.org/france/310-gorge-du-cian-france.html - and see some images, you'll see what I mean! It's been a hell of a day. In every respect! So happy to have experienced it! P.s. Changed the batteries, and said a little prayer...yep, the cochlear implant is working perfectly well again! Phew. So, tomorrow is the last day. We roll into Nice. It will be amazing to see the sea, after all this time spent in the mountains! I'm soooo excited!

 

Day 6 - Puget Thenier to Saint-Laurent-du-Var – 78miles, 5966 feet

 

Over the Col de Bleine and the Col du Castellaras then down hill via Valbonne and Biot, and more climbing than I thought. WE DID IT!!! I cannot believe it really. It was strange. I thought I'd be ecstatic when I saw the sea. But in fact I had mixed feelings as I realised that I'd reached the end and there's no more tomorrow, just an early morning dash for the plane:-( What a journey it's been. I started last Monday thinking I could cycle (ish), then very quickly decided that perhaps I couldn't, and how the hell had I let myself be persuaded to come on a trip like this?!? A lot of tears ensued, mainly from the bewilderment of the task at hand then each day, feeling stronger and starting to even relish the task at hand and taking on each Col one by one. It's been such a challenge. I'm sitting here on this bed feeling a little sore and battered, our clothes are all packed up and everything is wet and sodden. The bikes are back in their boxes awaiting their flights home and will need a right old clean up! But what an experience! We've had a ball! And now it's time to sleep.

 

Day 7 - home And just like that, the next morning, after we’d lived on top of each other for a week, ridden together day after day, consumed vast amounts of beer, it was suddenly over. But Pete T, Peter F, Geoff, Howard, Brian, Stu, Stuart B, Nick, Olly, Nathan, Charles, Andy, Chris, Bruce, David and I all knew that we had shared something really special. Simply, it was a privilege to ride with you guys.

 

*** Tissue alert mostly over *** and after the smooth lucidity of Fiona there follows the staccato ramblings of the RCC & Dulwich & Edinburgh boys. Suggest you read this part under strobe lights with ‘Flight of the Valkyries’ and/or a selection of power ballads cranked up to the max…..

 

I want to thank both Ian & Julie for a truly memorable trip. The organisation, route, hotels and food were perfect. Looking forward to the next one!

 

Highs: Brilliant group, Dry descents, TdF air-horns on the vans

 

Lows: Insanely hot ascents, Wet descents, Colder & wetter descents

 

Best Col: the epic Col de Bonnette

 

Best Descent: the magnificent Gorge du Cains

 

Random Moments: Stu’s nut attack, Oscar hiding his baguette, Topless Bugatti Veyron appearing out of the mist and rain as we descended the Col du Vars, Heavenly rollerblader on the Heavenly cycle way, Andy hiding Charles’ pizza slice in his stomach, Charles eating the Coupe Mamma Mia with SEVEN scoops of ice cream covered in Chantilly and Raspberry Sauce

 

Descending through the Cians Gorge on day 5 was the most spectacular part of the ride for me

The range from 2c on Bonnette to 35C on the way to Val d'Isere

The views from Galibier and Bonnette

Reaching the olive trees and therefore the Med!

The descent from Galibier to Le Monetier Le Bains. Terminal velocity for a long time!

 

Starting off with the lows: The final ascent of the Bonnette made worse by the fact that I’d already decided not to bother. Then Costello told me to man-up so what is a man to do? Hang my head in shame and get on with it.

The descent off the Bonnette - what a wasted opportunity and a more miserable time I can’t imagine.

 

Highs Flying down the les Gorges du Cian with Oli Gin, saying to myself to hell with stopping for photos I can get those off the internet. Dancing in the streets of Puget Thenier having been ordered out of bed to come drinking by Mr C and Mr B amongst others The sense of achievement on cresting the Galibier riding next to my oft riding companion Mr Bunt.

 

Memorable moments.....

- Col de Joux Plane, ignoring the great retreat, pushing forth and conquering.

- Col du Pre, last 8k averaging 8.5% was intense

- Telegraph/Galibier combo, focussing on the 'eternal' summit.

- Col de Bonnette, completing the cime section with numb hands and wondering how on earth would get down.

- final day three hill blast and scenery/quietness of the mid miles.

 

And to think Rob starts it all over again tomorrow.... lucky bu**er!!

 

Standout random memories - There was something pure and liberating in that each day, we only had to think about one thing…… “today, we ride”. Nothing else mattered for those six days, and it was a privilege to share the experience with you guys. The memories of this trip will last for the rest of my life.

 

Highs - Riding the entire 754km side by side with Fiona. I am sure one lucky guy. - Arriving at Plan Lachat and seeing the road rear up steeply to the Col du Galibier. I told myself that this was what I had come for, looked around and immediately understood why John Leitch loves this place - Persuading Pete T that he was actually allowed to change his Bradley Wiggins top;-)

 

Lows - Rolling into a wet cote d’Azur and negotiating the coast traffic. On a sunny day, it would have been a very different emotion. - The last few km of the climb up to Val d’Isere. I was completely spent.

 

Best col - Col de la Couillole – must be one of the most under rated climbs around, the scenery was simply spectacular

 

Highs:

1. The wonderful company of a bunch of capable, competent 'grimpeurs' (and support crew) on the road and at the table.

2. Finest scenery ever seen regardless of conditions.

3. Sounds of crickets and cowbells and fete day fireworks accompanied by Pink Floyd over PA (Wish You Were Here!)

 

Lows: Just 30x25. - And airports. ATB and thanks all for such a memorable holiday.

 

Firstly I would like to say what an absolute pleasure and an honour it was to ride with you all, making it a very memorable cycling holiday and one I will never forget.

 

Lows:- As I am sure you will all realise my first was having the nut allergy attack especially after what was a great walk that morning. Thanks all for showing your concern and support. Thanks Nathan and Julie for all their help that afternoon. Descent off both the Col de Vars and the Col de Bonnette very wet and cold. Being stopped by a man in a camper van going down the Col de Bonnette asking if there was something wrong with my bike as the front was wobbling so much to which I replied no I am just so cold and shivering

 

Highs:- The amazing scenery from start to finish, absolutely breath taking. Standing in the square at Puget Thenier listening to Pink Floyd, which was requested by Brian, drinking and chatting about our trip so far when the fireworks started.......just a very special moment. Completing 754km with over 16,000m of climbing

 

Best Cols:- Col de Bonnette for the challenge of its length, difference in temperature from top to bottom, climbing up through the different cloud layers and the views from the top.

Col de Couillole for its dramatic scenery, narrow lanes and the long fantastic decent to the hotel taking in the Gorges du Cains

 

The Lows: Having a bad day where I abandoned due to fatigue (lack of sleep) oh and being useless. Riding into the Cote De Azure in the rain. Would have been brilliant in the sun.

 

Best bits. Finding my friends are true friends at a time of need. Standing on top of the Valloire with Howard after his fantastic help getting me up there. The wonderful party atmosphere on the 2nd to last night (great friends, wine, food and pretty girls)(firework night) The final days ride was just perfect for me. Would like to say a huge thanks to everyone including Ian and Julie for putting up with me, Nathan for his patience and keeping a wonderful humour. The scenery was just so grand, mountains or gorges. Want to go back and see more and less Tarmac. Have a much bigger respect for those pros who do 3 weeks up there. Chapeau to all.

 

Oh yes, bad bits - garmins My brand new 500 touring won't transfer info (water up the spout)

 

The highs:

- being part of such a great group, I loved the way we bumped into each other all over the mountain so we were seeing each other the whole time

- not having to organise anything: thanks Ian and Julie for providing great organisation, a fantastic route and for anticipating our every need

- getting through on the Col de Joux Plan

- and most of all the epic ascent, Cime and descent of Col de Bonnette, and later descending through the Gorge du Cains, unforgettable, what a day!

 

The lows:

- navigating our little group in a 20 mile wrong-way detour all the way back to Samoens on day 1: thanks everyone for your understanding with that.

- nothing else

 

Highs.

1. Last Km & gradient marker on Galibier adjacent tunnel seeing Henri Desgrange monument

2. The provincial hotels, delicious evening meals & company

3. All the dramas on Col de Bonnette. (Weather, Stuart, chain snap, rescuing kids, altitude / exposure sickness, puncture on the freezing descent & wearing of my back brakes)

4. All the Gorges we went through

5. Drinking in the town square to the music of “Wish you were here” by Pink Floyd and the feast of the Assumption fireworks.

 

Lows.

1. Sleep deprivation, bodily functions timing out and undercarriage issues.

2. The wet weather into Nice and consequential slow descents

3. Realising that I need to invest in an expensive, warm breathable winter jacket.

 

Highs - quizzing with Geoff on the Galibier, great food - especially the cheese at Jausiers, excellent banter throughout.

 

Lows - the hot climb up to Val d'Isere, shrinking Howard's kit in the laundrette dryer

 

Best col - all the steep bits of the Col de Joux Plane!

 

Best descent - the Gorges of Cian

 

Standout random memories - window shopping at Nice airport's departure lounge

 

Highs

Climbing the Galibier

Drinks and evening meals

Nobody getting hurt

 

Lows

Wet descents

Ride into Nice

 

Scots Corner follows:

 

What a truly memorable trip and a massive thank you to Ian and Julie for getting it all just right and exceeding my (high) expectations! Thanks also to Audrey for resolving bodily pains and Louis (in absentia) for lending me his front wheel! Very honoured to be included in the Redhill hall of fame. You were all fine company and as my 'friends' raced ahead with whippet like efficiency I was often swept up and encouraged along by more sympathetic cyclists; you know who you are! Charlie mentioned something about inviting you all up to Scotland to show you some proper hills.... So my highs and lows;

 

Highs:

1. Every time I got to the top of a Col!

2. When you miss one of the km markers and suddenly realise you are ahead of the game.

3. The taste of that first pint of lager after arriving in the hotel at Megeve.

4. Great scenery, company, food, dry descents.... already nostalgia has set in!

 

Lows:

1. Crapping myself setting off down La Bonette... survival was everything!

2. Whilst on that subject, the time it took my backside to acclimatise to the saddle every morning.... 3. Looking round the dining room when we first arrived and thinking how hard core everybody looked! It felt like the first day at school.

4. Having the largest bill for spares - 1 tyre/5 tubes/6 CO2 canisters.....

 

As each day passes and I slip back into the normality of working life the memories from last week seem to be taking on a significance far beyond what I expected when we set out from Thonon-Les-Bains. An adventure that I suspect will retain a vividness long after I've hung up my climbing legs. Mark invited me to join him last November and I sold this trip to my long suffering bike widow wife as an early gift to myself for my 50th. I'm so very glad I did. To Ian and Julie - chapeau, everything was pitched at just the right level, much better than I expected and your company on the trip added to the enjoyment beyond that of simply tour organisers.

 

Highs:

1. Coming round the final shoulder of the Bonnette by myself and riding the flat km as hard as I was able before hitting the final ramp with a huge grin on my face.

2. Julie dancing beside the van or playing music as she drove past with a thumbs up (and the bizarrely uplifting affect of the van horns as they came up behind you).

3. Beers on the deck of the hotel in Val as the sun set.

4. Finding a pipe with running cold water on the climb to Val and sticking my hot head under it

5. Sharing the experience with 2 good old friends and with so many new friends, and being inspired by Nick and Fiona.

6. Climbing the Bleine on full gas with Mark.

 

Lows:

1. The wet dirty run in to Nice.

2. Ignoring Ollie's Garmin as we got to Megeve and spending an hour looking for the hotel

3. Sitting cold and wet under a dripping canopy in Isola wearing more gear than I wear in Scotland in winter

4. Waking up in Nice on Monday and realising it was all over.

 

Best Col - L'Iseron

 

Descent - Galibier

 

Until the next time.

 

Fabulous trip and fabulous company. Thank you all very much - and especially Ian and Julie for making it all happen. Returning to normality has been quite distressing. (That's normality in a city currently part populated by people dressed as Minions quoting Shakespeare).

 

Highs First climbs of the day in the cool of the morning (Saisies and Iseran in particular). Reaching the top of the Galibier after many years of waiting and then getting the warp factor 9 descent to Le Monetier les Bains. The whole Col de Colioulle/Gorges du Cians combination. Unknown to me but exquisite. The Hotel Sans Souci in Jausiers.

 

Lows Looking down from the Col de Bonette and realising I didn't have 2.1" knobbly tyres and disc brakes for the descent - I think Pete and Charles saw my face after the first 500 metres. Soggy final descent to Côte d'Azur - even Grasse smelt of damp, not perfume.

 

End of Scots Corner and start of Tissue Alert #2

 

Now sitting at my desk at work for the third day, it still seems the wrong place to be, I would much rather be back in the Alps again, going through the multitude of experiences that I had up there and sharing it with a great bunch of people! First, thanks must go to Julie and Ian who absolutely made this trip. Thanks for lending me your saddle Julie, things suddenly seemed to get a whole lot better after that! And for sitting in a baking hot van trying to dry out my CI after the sodden ascent of the Bonnette...much appreciated! And thanks also to Nick who literally dragged me up those first few hills with encouragement. And to Stuart B for getting me of that saddle from time to time! For me there were only two lows...the first being the climb up to Megeve and not being able to find the hotel...but this low was very quickly negated once arriving and being offered a few hugs and a pint of cold beer!! Sorted! The second was asking to be picked up half way up that first second day climb...again though, at that point I then decided that failure simply was not an option!!! So it became a positive. After that, everything just got better and better.

 

Highlights:

1.Arriving at Val D'isere...seeing it without snow and watching the sun set with a beer (when did I start drinking beer??!) after a hard afternoons climb in sweltering heat.

2. Eating Julie's offerings of haribos at the 8km mark on the Galibier and seeing David head off vertically up the next slope, thinking our turn next!! I had at that point begun to realise that I was actually starting to enjoy the climbs...

3. Experiencing the cold and wet on the top of Bonnette, and tackling the descent in the freezing conditions. Just felt incredibly alive! And then having that wonderful slow lunch amongst families enjoying their leisurely Saturday afternoons who were perfectly happy for us to wander in considering the state we were in!!

 

Best of all though is sharing all this with old and new friends. I'm not going to forget this in a very long time.

 

Fiona xx

 

End of Tissue Alert #2

 

Lows –

• Coming back to work & continually thinking … what next / we should be back in the mountains

• Never enough time with a really great bunch of like-minded folk,

 

Highs –

• Some stunning new routes (esp. Couillole / Cian)

• The “fresh” descent from Cime de Bonnette – with a universal chorus of “Man Up!” / Rule #5 and Rule #9 !!!

• Eating loads of Ice cream without feeling (too) guilty …

• Plenty of work on Rule #64 and Rule #85 … might even get good at it one day (with loads more time on the Cols)

• A really good start on the Col-bagging Palmarès, only a 1000 left to go!

 

As someone once said it is not about the bike...and so it wasn't. Camaraderie, support (both given willingly and received gratefully), awe inspiring scenery, fantastic food, fire and ice type weather, liquid refreshment and great company...oh and a roomie who was far less trouble than I expected...thanks Stuart :) !...and an opportunity to get to know better, people I don't see often enough. I really enjoyed the ride along the way with all of you. Of course there were massive climbs and sweeping descents...my cycling highlights were most probably the Telegraphe and Bonnette...the latter being my strongest ride, and a fabulous 4 (5?) up TTT with Stuart and Stuart and David and (??! was there a 5th rider?!) on what was day two I think...full gas as Jens would say. There were no real low points (now that I am warm and dry and not shaking so much I can barely control my bike or so full of full fat coke that I can't ride...thanks for waiting guys.) Thanks Julie and Ian for the super support and organisation. You who have seen me across the Alps as well as the Pyrenees now...about 1300kms...thank you.

 

Lows: waking up to the smell of Geoff’s festering kit every morning; realising that Nick and Fiona were only having rests to maximize the number of times they came past me; descending Bonnette with no fingers and no brakes.

 

Highs: almost everything else.

 

Fantastic week, thanks everyone.

 

So, there you have it, 6 days of exertion and emotion which if you have got this far you may have an inkling of the pain and exhilaration which the participants felt in abundance. Like any drug though it just leaves you wanting more……. Shame it isn’t available on prescription :)