Friday, 8 September 2017


As usual, here are some statistics from the trip.

I cycled a total of 900 km
I expended around 23,000 calories
My average speed for the entire trip was 20.3 km/h
My maximum speed was 66.9 km/h
My total elevation gain was 20,046 metres, or about 2.3 times the height of Everest
I turned the pedals 166,045 times

The Final Lap

With today our last day in the Alps, and the need to do some shopping and packing, we restrained ourselves to a short ride to end the trip. We repeated the lap around Lac Verney, which includes the first km or so of the Col de la Croix de Fer. We were both wary after yesterday's exertions, but in the event, both felt better than we had feared. Even the climbs were fine.

L'Eglise d'Allemont and the War Memorial
This time, I managed to avoid missing the church and war memorial in Allemont, by dint of following Andrew, rather than my nose.

The Activity for this ride is available on Strava.

We were back in Le Clapier by lunchtime, having collected a series of PBs along the valley. A leisurely lunch in Bourg followed. Then we hung around for a bit for the news agent and gift shop to open, and I was finally able to acquire the tartiflette dish I've had my eye on for some time.

We went to Casino to buy lunch for tomorrow and the final, perishable comestibles, and then it was back to Le Clapier to pack. I'm going to miss this place.

Thursday, 7 September 2017

Col de la Morte and the Ornon

The local tourist office here has a booklet entitled 'Cyclo en Oisans', with lots of suggested rides. All the usual ones are in there, of course, as well as one called 'Le Tour par le Plateau Matheysin'. This is a loop of about 100 km, from Bourg, that goes over the Ornon and the Col de la Morte. I was looking for one last fairly big ride before going home, and this looked like a good candidate.

Shawn suggested riding it in the opposite direction to the booklet. That way I could ride down the main road towards Grenoble, rather than up it, definitely preferable given the traffic. With that advice in mind, I duly set off on the usual time trial across to Rochetaillée, but instead of heading for Allemont, stayed with the main road to Grenoble. This descends gently but steadily alongside  La Romanche river, and through villages based around some of the very first French hydroelectric schemes. It's a fairly long and tedious section, but at least reasonably fast, despite the nagging headwind.

Finally, at Séchilienne, it was time to leave the main road, and head up towards the Ski area at Station de l'Alpe du Grand Serre, which is the top of the Col de la Morte. It quickly became apparent that doing the ride in this direction was a really good idea. The bottom half of the climb, some 7 km or so, had been top dressed, but not yet swept. It was covered in patches of gravel. Not good for descending.

The Col de la Morte is quite a challenging climb. It's ramps are normally in the 8's and 9's and occasionally surpasses 10%. It starts in a forest, but further up, views over the Romanche valley and the road to Grenoble appear.

The route to Grenoble
The ride eases towards the col itself, as the valley opens out and the ski station is reached. It's all very quiet at this time of year.

At the Col de La Morte
At this point, there is still some 60 km to go. The route from the col is initially downhill and fast for a while, but then becomes rolling and has a few little climbs within it. Thoughts about how long it might take to get back began to loom large in my thinking, especially with needing to climb the Ornon. I needn't have worried, as it turned out.

For this section, overall, the route gradually descends through Lavaldens and splits to become the D114A down to Oris-en-Rattier, before meeting the D26 in Siévoz. It remains a mainly rolling, downhill route all the way to Valbonnais and Entraigues, where it finally starts uphill. Again the gradients are generally quite modest at of a couple of percent.

Le Perier
Even when the first signs for the Col d'Ornon appear, the gradients shown are shown are small. I kept thinking that this couldn't last, and indeed it doesn't.
Rush hour on the Ornon. Just like Wales!
At one point, a large herd of sheep were being driven down the road. It's getting to the time of year where they are moved off the mountains, and taken to market or to lower pastures for the winter. Deep within this flock was a large goat with enormous horns.

The 45th Parallel crosses the Col d'Ornon.
A few km from the top of the Ornon, there is a set of fairly long switchbacks where the gradient finally gets up in to the 7% region. A couple of km from the top, the road crosses the 45th parallel, or 45 degrees north as we tend to term it. In the field next to the road are two lines of stones, arranged in what looks like really low dry stone walls, heading off in roughly the direction of the parallel.
Seemed rude not to celebrate it!
The final approach to the Ornon is easy from this side. The total amount of climbing is much less than coming up from Bourg.
Last Col of the day
There is quite a lot of work going on now on the road down to Bourg. They are laying cables to connect the various communities on the Ornon and the nearby valleys for better communications. This involves digging a trench in the middle of the uphill lane for the entire length of the climb. Fortunately, it doesn't really affect the descent. It's as much fun as ever.

At the bottom of the climb, I took my jacket off as usual, and started cycling towards Bourg. Within a couple of hundred metres I realised that I still needed it, and put it back on! And that just left the time trial across the valley back to Le Clapier. That was enough to tell me that my legs are now officially empty and it's nearly time to go home.

The Activity for this ride is available on Strava.

Wednesday, 6 September 2017

Alpe d'Huez and Photo Bimble Over the Col de Sarenne

Today's main objective was to set a time up Alpe d'Huez. Whilst we're here it would have been rude not to. We rode to the foot of the climb, using the valley as a warm up.

The Activity for the warm up is available on Strava.

We started from the km 0 marker, which is the start of the official time trial course, and rode to the Tour de France finish above the village. We didn't try to ride together, each preferring to try and set our own time. I paced the entire ride on power, while trying to maintain an average speed of over 9 kmh. On the initial slopes, which are the most focused, it's hard to keep the speed up. I tried to maintain my power output at about 200 watts on each ramp. On this climb, technique is important. You have to take whatever the mountain will give you. Whenever the gradient eased, and especially in the hairpins, I changed up 2 or 3 gears, and kept pushing. Whenever my back started to complain, or my pace was dropping, I got out of the saddle and pushed to gain some recovery. I even managed to pass a couple of people on the way up to Huez village.

Above Huez, the gradients are a little easier as the valley opens up. Unfortunately, this was also the point where the headwind appeared, so overall there was little respite. I managed to smarten up and get out of the saddle for both of the professional photographers on the climb, and then powered into the village and past the finish for the local time trial. At this point, there is still 2 km to go to the Tour de France finish. I was in the big ring and pushing hard as I went past a group of cyclists, who had just finished their climb, and through the tunnel heading further up the village. The last couple of ramps are at quite modest gradients, and it's possible to push hard, before sweeping down to the final roundabout and sprinting up to the finish line. I was spent when I got there and gasping for air while hanging over the bars. 

The Activity for the timed ascent is available on Strava.

Once recovered, I chatted with a Dutch rider who had also just finished. I figured I had a little time before Andrew made it to the top. As  it turned out, it was less than I thought. He managed to slice a whopping 2 hours and 10 minutes from the time for his first attempt, and finished in 1 hour 40 minutes, only 15 minutes behind me! Not bad for only his second attempt.

Neither of us came close to matching the two young British riders who, on their first attempt, made it in around 54 minutes.

The boy done even better!
After a few photos, we ambled back into the village for an extended lunch stop, which included chatting with other folks who had ridden up. The majority seemed to be from the low countries, or the UK.

After appropriate recovery time, we decided to return via the Col de Sarenne. There is a short climb out of Alpe d'Huez past the airport, known as Altiport.

The Altiport at Alpe d'Huez. That is the runway, and it
does go over the edge!
The descent that follows is another slow route. There are breathtaking views around each bend, demanding to be photographed.

The final climb to the col itself is quite focused, but only becomes steep near the summit.

The bike at the top

Andrew nearing the col

He looks pleased!
Andrew held his bike aloft to try and get an extra metre of altitude at the summit!

The descent from the Sarenne is narrow and technical. The road surface is better than I remember from 2014, but still not great. The recent rain has also washed rocks into the road. It's a descent to take carefully. Which is fine, because more breathtaking scenery awaits. 

Further down, once the upper villages are reached, the surface improves and progress is faster.

Lac du Chambon from Mizoen

Guess where?
From Mizoen, a short descent brought us out on the main road up the Lautaret. This is the road currently closed by a tunnel collapse. It reopens in December. We crossed the barrage, and headed back down the gorge and via Le Freney, as usual.

What a nice way to spend an afternoon.

The Activity for the ride down is available on Strava.

Tuesday, 5 September 2017

Rest and Retail Therapy

Yesterday was quite a big day for both of us, so today we took it easy. Very easy.

After a leisurely breakfast, we spent the morning writing blogs and generally relaxing before heading in to Bourg for some shopping and lunch. Top of the list was wine and beer, in my case, some Crémant de Savoie for Christmas. We also picked up some of the beer we'd had with various meals, and some Leffe, as you do. With the current exchange rate, prices here are in line with those at home, but the selection in the local Casino supermarket is just huge!

We parked up in town, and went on the hunt for some specific souvenirs, but without luck. Still, we should be in Alpe d'Huez tomorrow, which will give us a further opportunity.

We headed back to Les Négociants for lunch. It was the 'happening' place in an otherwise rather sleepy Bourg, which definitely has an end of season feel about it. A group of 14 Dutch cyclists turned up, which enlivened proceedings massively!

We headed back to Le Velo Jaune, to get our shopping out of the heat. Then, after a bit more writing, I decided it was time for a quick ride, just to turn my legs over. I ended up riding the 40 km or so to Allemont and around Lac Verney, and was back in time for dinner. Most of the ride is in the valley, and very flat. There is a kick up for the first km or so of the ride to the Croix de Fer before the lake route doubles back along the side of the valley to re-enter Allemont.

The Activity for this ride is available on Strava.

Andrew headed up to La Bérarde, at the end of the road beyond Venosc, in the car. He's thinking of riding up there in the next couple of days and wanted to do a recce. And then it was dinner on the deck, and falling asleep in front of the recording of today's Vuelta individual time trial.

Monday, 4 September 2017

Mini Marmotte and a Real One

Today was the day to try for La Marmotte. This involves the Glandon, Télégraphe, Galibier and Alpe d'Huez. Given where we are staying, the option is to drop Alpe d'Huez, which leads to the 'mini' Marmotte. That's what I ended up doing.

After an early breakfast, I got going around 7:45 with the usual blast along the valley road to Bourg. This time I headed through the town, since the official Marmotte course starts there. After a confusing attempt to use the cycle paths on the way out, I eventually left the town and headed down the flat roads to Rochetaillée and Allemont. And then it was onto the unrelenting, and by now familiar climb up to Rivier d'Allemont and the first stop for food and water. It was very quiet, and even after the hairpins and steep drop down to cross the valley, I still hadn't seen any other cyclists at all. It was not until another short stop for sustenance  just before the final climb to the barrage du Grand Maison, that I was past by a rider. Once at dam level, the gradients are pleasingly modest, and spirits lifted in the sunshine. The swoop down after the lake is always a joy, and then there was just time to zip up and to try and look fresh for the photographer, before making the final ascent to the col itself.
And that's the Glandon twice in a week too!
The temperature was up, and there was no wind at all at the Glandon. It was stunning. There was just time to put on a jacket, and have something to eat before heading off down the steep descent into the Maurienne valley.

Stunning on the Glandon today
I started to pass riders coming up as I descended. At one point I shouted Bravo, to one, as you do, and he replied with an expletive that sounded like 'Crash'. Odd, I thought. Maybe there has been an accident. A couple of bends later I figured out that he probably shouted 'Vache'. There was a nervous and confused calf standing in the road! Thanks to the warning, I managed to avoid it. 

I really enjoyed the descent again, and made pretty quick time down to Sainte-Marie-de-Cuines
and along the valley, past the base of the Lacets de Montvernier, through Pontamafrey and on to the D1006 just outside Saint-Jean-de-Maurienne. This is the main road through the valley, avoiding the A43 autoroute. It is busy, and has no cycle lane for this first part. It's occasionally quite exciting! It runs through the industrial outskirts of Saint-Jean-de-Maurienne, and past a large marshalling yard. There are also a couple of level crossings, which are anything but! The ride down to Saint-Michel-de-Maurienne is over 15km, but thankfully, cycle lanes finally appear. Worryingly, the road appeared to be closed for maintenance, on Google maps. It transpired that it was actually subject to a couple of sets of traffic lights controlling the flow past some long term works. The road rises gently the whole way, so it was a relief finally to arrive at the familiar car park at the base of the climb up the Télégraphe.

That's handy, given that dinner is on the other
side of it!
This was my lunch stop, and the chance to replenish bottles again from the hand cranked archimedes screw pump in the car park. I also met and chatted with a couple of English guys, just about to go up for the first time.

The Télégraphe was its usual slog. There were quite a few big trucks going up with building materials for Valloire. With summer effectively over, and resorts closing, now is the time that the French press on with building and maintenance work.

There is a massive straw bike and rider sculpture on
the Télégraphe
Progress up the Télégraphe had been quite slow, and after the blast down to Valloire, it turned out that the climb up the Galibier was not going to be particularly pacey either. The Glandon had taken its toll! I stopped in various places, including at the top of the long straightish section away from Valloire, just before the first set of major hairpins. I heard a rustling noise, which turned out to be a Marmotte, the first one I've ever seen. It is a large rodent, a bit like a hairy, overgrown guinea pig. It moved behind a clump of grass, which turned out to be very effective camouflage. It was hard to distinguish from the rocks behind.

As I carried on up, stops became more frequent. My back and knees eventually started complaining. It did give me the opportunity to take a few more pictures than I had originally anticipated. The Galibier never fails to provide the opportunity.

Towards the top I ended up riding at about the same speed as a Dutch couple. We exchanged greetings each time we stopped or passed one another.

Just before the top I finally reconciled myself to the fact that I was probably not going to be able to complete the full Marmotte ride, and would need to settle for a Mini Marmotte. The Galibier would be the last climb of the day.
Third time this holiday. That's probably enough!
Just after I'd photographed the bike at the top, a rider arrived and started an earnest conversation in French. Once I'd established that I was English, we were able to converse more slowly. It turned out that he'd broken his chain right as he arrived at the top. I was about to offer a chain breaker and a repair link, when it turned out he had a 9 speed chain set. All my stuff is for 11 speed. He was lucky though. There was a support car at the top, and they had the requisite tools and parts.

Still stunning up here

The refuge on the Saint-Michel-de-Maurienne side
On went my jacket again, and I headed down. The descent to the Lautaret was fairly uneventful, apart from the obligatory herd of cows on the road. The electric fence seemed to have no effect at all. They were brushing against it while grazing the verge. A couple of bends above the Lautaret, though, an entire flock of sheep were crossing the road down a vertical bank. They were kicking rocks off the mountain side as they did, and leaving quite a mess on the road. Careful negotiation, with one foot out of the cleat, was required!

The descent down from the Lautaret was a joy, as usual. I even had a tractor move over to give me room to pass. At one point I was passed by a rider who seemed to have some connection with the team car that had helped the rider with the broken chain at the top. I passed him while he was removing his jacket. He caught me again, and for most of the refuge road and the top part of the gorge, we were passing and re-passing each other. He was quicker on descents but slower on the climbs and false flats. Eventually I left him behind, and stayed ahead right down to Le Clapier.

That was a truly epic day.

The Activity for this ride is available on Strava.

Sunday, 3 September 2017

Two Seats in the Balcony and Lunch at Alpe d'Huez

There are several balcony roads around Bourg d'Oisans. These roads run along the valleys, but several hundred metres up. They offer some outstanding views. 

Two, in particular, run on the north-eastern side of the valley. The first starts near Villard-Reculas and ends in Huez village, near bend 6 of the climb to Alpe d'Huez. The second is further down, starting in in La Garde, near bend 16, and working its way over to Le Freney, at the other end of the valley. We rode both of these today, and fitted in a trip to Alpe d'Huez for a spot of lunch.

We set out for Allemont, with the usual sprint along the valley through Rochetaillée. After climbing and crossing the dam, the route goes to the right, then takes a left turn, signed to Villard-Reculas. The first few ramps are quite steep, and are in the shade of the trees. Near the top of the hairpins, the vegetation thins and the first views of the valley appear.

Lac Verney
The view back to Lac Verney showed fresh snow on the peaks. That was the result of yesterday's precipitation, which fell as rain lower down.

The road to Grenoble

The eastern end of the valley

The climb eventually leads to Villard-Reculas, a pretty village perched on the mountain side at about the same altitude as Huez.
Villard-Reculas from the east.
Leaving the village, the road continues towards Pas de la Confession. We surmised that it might have this name as it was a good place to hold miscreants over the edge until a suitable confession was achieved! This part of the ride was very slow. The road, although narrow is relatively flat and well surfaced. The problem is that at each corner, there is an overwhelming desire to stop and take in the views.
The road leading to the Col d'Ornon

The western end of the valley

My bike, enjoying the rest!

Andrew at the Pas de la Confession

The road up to Alpe d'Huez

More evidence of the snowfall the other day 
Between bends 2 and 1, Andrew's front tyre deflated. Investigation showed he'd managed to pick up a nail. There are much worse places to change a tube than the road up to Alpe d'Huez, in the sunshine.
Well earned lunch in Alpe d'Huez

Eastern end of the valley

Andrew managed to enjoy the entire day
The descent into Le Freney is steep and technical, but then the blast back down through the gorge is excellent!

The Activity for this ride is available on Strava.