My fitness plans were in tatters. Due to moving and being depressed with the house and the location, I’d done absolutely no training all year. No activities whatsoever. I’d barely left the house. I weighed 85 kilos.
On 20th May, I transferred to Bédoin and started training for the big event starting on the 14th of June when Andy, Gisli and Dave were due to arrive from the UK to do some epic col bagging, starting with Le Cinglés, the three routes up Ventoux.
Would it be possible? I packed in as many miles, as much food, and as much rest as I possibly could in three weeks…
The boys arrived from the UK on Monday the 13th, and we had a celebratory dinner at https://www.leflandrien.com/ to carb load for the next day.
14th June. Le Cinglés. 139.74 km 4,375 metres climbing
The three sides of Ventoux. First time up Ventoux in two years, and only three weeks after starting training. Would I make it?
Of course. But slowly and painfully. We started at 6am, and we all said we’d take it steady.
Gisli set off from km 0 in Bédoin in 53×14 at 25mph. I lost his wheel before we even got out of the village. I stayed with Dave until the Saint Esteve bend, then just settled in for two and a half hours of suffering. I was over an hour slower than my PB of 2019. It was like a billion leg presses.
It was too cold to wait at the top, so the boys descended to Malaucène for a snack and coffee. I met them at the café and after a short break, we began the second side.
Just as I was arriving at the top I saw the figure of a cyclist lying in the road at the summit, and said to the rider I had caught up and was riding with, “Oh look, somebody is a drama queen!”. It turned out that it was Andy with terrible cramps in his legs. He couldn’t actually stay on his bike. He managed to stretch a little and was able to descend.
There was a pro race going on that day, so descending to Sault took more time than usual because we had to stop to allow the race caravan and peloton and dropped riders to pass going upwards.
We stopped for lunch at the Promenade de Justin which is a great restaurant with fantastic views. We had a full meal with pasta and plenty of ice cream to give us energy for the final climb. We waited until the pro race finished, so it was a relaxing, long lunch.
The climb from Sault is not that steep, so I wasn’t feeling too bad with my extra weight. I managed to keep up with Dave and we caught Andy who was suffering after his cramp episode. Gisli of course just disappeared up the road.
We all caught Gisli up at Chalet Reynard where the road was blocked for the pro race. A soigneur for one of the teams gave us cans of coke, so it was quite a welcome break before the final hard section.
15th June. Rest day. Transfer to Le Bourg d’Oisans
Andy did the driving, it was a very comfortable and relaxing journey. We stopped for a superb meal at the Hotel de la Poste in Corps before continuing over the Col d’Ornon and down into Bourg d’Oisans.
16th June. The Marmotte (or not) 159.68 km 4,130 metres climbing
A Marmotte day in which I failed to complete the full route. I felt a bit better, but was still dropped on the steep parts of the initial Col du Glandon. I did manage to catch up with Andy in the last 2k with a huge effort. Gisli had been waiting for us.
Gisli of course nipped off to tick the Croix de Fer which was another few km of climbing away. He was strong enough to catch us all up later.
After an amazing descent, the valley road to Saint Michel de Maurienne was quite tough. It’s upstream up the Arc river valley, so a big chainring ride, but tiring. We stopped for an ice cream in Saint Mich, and then tackled the Télégraphe. This col starts fairly steep and gets easier. Again, at huge cost, I caught Andy up at the end.
After the annoying descent into Valloire, we started the Galibier. This was where my efforts and lack of base miles caught up with me. Everybody just rode away from me. I actually stopped after Plan Lachat and sent a text saying to go on without me. There’s no coverage up there so they were still waiting for me when I arrived. Gisli had been there for an hour.
The descent to the Lautaret was closed for tourmac repairs, but we “insisted” and climbed over the barriers. Not a great move. The tar was wet and sticky and we all arrived at the café with 3mm of road stuck to our tyres. We each spent an hour chopping and scraping the tar off before continuing the descent to Bourg d’Oisans.
I had decided not to try Alpe d’Huez with my state of unfitness. It would only totally destroy me and I had a 900km tour planned for the upcoming week. I turned off to go back to the apartment and book a meal for 8:30 when the guys thought they’d be back.
17th June. Bourg d’Oisans to Grand-Aigueblanche. 127.33 km 3,563 m climbing
First day of solo touring. The others drove to the Pyrenees for some more famous cols. I had a hotel booked in Grand-Aigueblanche, so I had to start early. I had to do the Glandon with baggage this time.
After the descent, I felt I still had the extra energy for the Lacets de Montvernier, so I headed up the Arc valley for a few k until the start village, Pontamafrey.
It was extremely hard to reach the little village of Montvernier, so I was very pleased to find an excellent place for lunch, the Ô P’tits Lacets. A big meal of fish and chips followed by ice cream and plenty of water and I was ready for the last climbs, the Col de Chaussy and the Col de la Madeleine.
I bumped into Stefan, a german cyclist at the restaurant and he was heading for the Col de la Madeleine too so we rode together.
Stefan had this great shortcut to get to the Madeleine… via le Lac du Loup. Very scenic, but it was 10k of off roading to get to 2k from the summit of the Madeleine. Not terrible with the 32mm tyres on the bike, so quite fun. But bloody hard!
The Hôtel de la Cascade was a budget option for the night. Good restaurant though.
18th June, Grand-Aigueblanche to Annecy. 110.73 km 1,278 metres climbing
A good start to the day. Heading down the Isère valley, a training bunch caught me up. I managed to latch onto them and rode the train all the way to Albertville.
Heading down the D925 out of Albertville, I was caught by a guy out training. We got chatting in broken French, and I told him I was heading for Annecy. He modified his route to guide me onto the quiet bike track between Albertville and Chambery which was very nice. He then showed me the turn off for the Col du Frêne, and I started the climb.
I planned to stop for lunch in Leschaux, but had not realized that it was at the top of the Col de Leschaux. This was a very hard and hot climb and I was out of water.
Luckily there is a very good restaurant right at the crossroads at the top of the col. I had the best meal so far of the holiday at the excellent La Baratte
When I got to the bike bath round the lake, I was shocked to find out how popular e-bikes and various forms of e-vehicles are now. Everybody was steaming round the lake with zero effort. I managed to get “on” a guy on a fat tyre e-bike who then tried to drop me without putting effort in, but just by switching up the power on his bike until he was doing 40kph. No way was he dropping me!
The Annecy bike bath is a dangerous mess these days.
Another budget option. The Centre Jean XXIII is more like a hostel than a hotel. No check in until 4pm. No bar, no restaurant. I had to walk to a burger joint which was not satisfactory, but the only option in walking distance. The breakfast room had a good view though.
19th June. Annecy to Samoëns. 112.30 km 2,825 metres climbing
After a rudimentary breakfast I headed out of Annecy towards Thônes.
After Thônes, the climb to Saint Jean de Sixt was amazing.
A slight descent to Le Grand Bornand, then the climb of the Cole de la Colombière.
Cluses is quite a pretty town on the Arve river, but it was a heatwave and the valley was hot, and the air quality was bad, so I decided to have lunch up at the Le Café Du Col at the top of the Col de Châtillon.
After lunch, I planned to ride up to Morzine before “descending” the Joux Plane to Samoëns.
Well. The climb is to Les Gets, and Morzine is in the next valley. I had to climb the very steep, very hot Col de Joux Plane from Morzine. Again I ran out of water and was very pleased to see the Les Lhottys restaurant open at the top.
Fat downhill mountain bikers were arriving here on the fucking ski lift. A sport for slackers!
The descent is just breathtakingly gorgeous:
The Hotel Gai Soleil was a great choice. A nice garden with a pool, and a relaxing bar to hang out in until dinner.
20th June. Samoëns to Arêches. 97.36 km 1,912 metres climbing
I found this day extremely hard.
The climb back over the Col de Châtillon felt quite hard. I thought I’d recover on the false flat to Sallanches.
The turn off and start of the climb to Megève seemed to come too soon. The climb was very hard and exposed.
The views were amazing though.
Descending from Megève, I had thought I’d lunch at the col de Saisies, but I was knackered. I stopped for an excellent lunch of Angus beef and potato gratin with local Beaufort cheese at Restaurant les ronins at Praz-sur-Arly.
I found the climb to Les Saisies very hard and tiring.
I got a bit lost on the descent to Beaufort and lost some time. It was the hottest part of the afternoon when I began the climb from Beaufort up to the very nice hotel Le Christiania in Arêches. I was feeling feeble by the time I arrived. I had to have a nap with a wet towel on my head to gather myself to go onto the terrace for a beer.
21st of June. Arêches to Mont Cenis. Rest day.
After breakfast I realized that I was never going to be able to do the col de Pré, the col d’Iseran and the col de Mont Cenis today.
I went to the tourist office, and asked about taxi companies who could accommodate a bike. The Up & Down Taxi company are bilingual and work with skiers and mountain bikers so had no problem picking me up.
The hotel let me nap in my room until the afternoon, and the taxi picked me up around 3pm.
The taxi dropped me at the Hôtel le Malamot up at 2085 metres. The weather was cold and rainy and after a shower I had a quick beer and an early dinner and went to bed hoping that the weather would improve.
22nd of June. Mont Cenis to Les Ougiers. 144.77 km 2,886 metres climbing
The weather in the morning did not look inviting. But it had to get better. Didn’t it?
I put on my rain jacket and long gloves and started out. Luckily, there was a climb back to the very top of the col, so I got warm before I had to descend in the Rain down to Lanslebourg.
I time trialled down the Arc valley to try to keep warm.
By the time I reached Saint Michel de Maurienne, the storm had passed, so I took my bad weather clothes off. I heard from a local that the Galibier road had been finished, so I decided to go that way. The climb to the Tèlègraphe went OK in the warm sun, and I stopped at the col for a pizza again.
The Galibier was almost as hard as it was the previous week. But mainly because the storm returned. It got colder and colder the higher I climbed. But I had absolutely no choice but to get over into the Romanche valley to get to the next hotel. Just before Plan Lachat it started to rain and I put my rain jacket back on and continued climbing quite hard to try to stay warm.
Towards the top I was cold even though I was riding as hard as I could. I barely had the energy to get a summit photo but it had to be done!
It was so cold that I almost curled up into a foetal position and gave up. But I didn’t feel like dying of hypothermia, so I put my thermal jersey on, wrangled wet long gloves on and started the descent into stinging, bitterly cold rain and wind. I could barely control the bike I was shaking so much. I knew I had to get down to the Lautaret where there would be a café and maybe warmth. Once at the Lautaret, I just kept going, pushing hard down the descent to try to get warm. I didn’t take my cold weather clothes off until Le Freney d’Oisans right down in the valley.
I stayed in the great Hotel Au Bon Accueil again. I like that place. It’s run by cyclists, for cyclists. It has a hose and a bike washing station and a bike garage with tools for bike fettling. I forgot to take pictures. Probably too tired.
23rd June. Les Ougiers to Serres. 125.22 km 2,238 metres climbing
A fairly leisurely start. The weather looked great. I stopped in the valley to take one last look at its magnificence.
The climb to the Ornon seemed fairly easy. I caught and dropped an unloaded cyclist.
Again, I took the col de Parquetout to bypass a long slog on a main road to get to Corps. It’s 11%, but only about 7 k long.
From the Parquetout it’s all downhill to Corps where I had an excellent lunch at the Hotel del la Post. It was getting windy, and it was a south wind which was a headwind. It was bringing rainy weather with it.
After lunch I rode through the Shangri-La like Pellafol Valley. A fertile, well watered plain nestled between mountains.
Through the Défilé de la Souloise and towards the final pass, the col du Festre. A rain storm finally arrived, but I had checked the wether app on my phone and I knew the rain cell was small and fast moving, I sheltered under a tree from the worst of it, then continued in merely drizzle. It was a doddle compared to the Galibier the day before!
After the col it was mainly downhill to Veynes, then Serres where I checked in at the Hotel Fifi Moulin. Another good choice. Very nice rooms, and a good garage for bikes. No restaurant though.
I strolled down to the Café du Commerce for a beer and a meal. The meal was enormous. The starting salad filled me up and it was all I could do to fit the filet steak and chips in. No chance of a desert.
24th June. Serres to Bédoin. 100km, 936 metres climbing.
The climb to the col de la Saulce at the top of the Gorge de Saint May felt quite easy.
The “descent” down the gorge de Saint May wasn’t very much fun. Started fairly cold with heavy rain at the top, just merely damp at the bottom near Nyons. Once I got to Mirabel-aux-Baronnies, the clouds parted like a choir of angels had commanded it. The sun came out and I was in the Provence I know again! The land of warm weather, olive trees and vineyards.
I got back in time to get some groceries in and sit on the terrace enjoying my view!
Lesson learned. Get your base miles in over winter and spring!