Packed my bike into a bike bag for the first time, hope its going to be treated well! (Adrian has taken his bike abroad on numerous occasions so knows the routine). Dropped bike with Adrian and arrange to meet en route to Liverpool airport. Slipped out of meeting with some European engineers and the holiday is about to begin.
Parked up in the car park, not under the lamp posts, I have seen the treatment that seagulls deliver to unsuspecting drivers. First coffee and cake break of the holiday as we wait for the final call on Easyjet flight. Great flight and we split up, I go to collect both bikes and Adrian rushes off to get to the front of the hire car queue.
I call Adrian to find out where he is, I am in the hire car carpark and he isn’t to be seen. He eventually turns his mobile on to find messages and texts. He is waiting for me in the car park. Unfortunately we are in different countries! He is in the right one - I am not happy!
We meet up not quite the arm in arm rejoice but at least we are in the same place at the same time now. Bikes loaded into 5 door car so no need to use the inflatable roof rack. Departing the French side in Geneva, we should have read the instructions as we didn’t turn to go back through the border and have a 45 minute detour on the French side of the border rather than racing along the motorway. Back on track just 30 minutes behind where we should have been, stopped to buy food and drink at the supermarket on the way to Bourg.
The trip to the campsite passes uneventful and we spot the hotel with the same name and nip down the lane and in through the exit, Adrian really must learn this right side driving. Priority is to get pasta on, wine open and then to unpack the bikes. The bikes are spotless, just like the pasta plates some hours later and third cake of the day we are packed and ready for an early start.
Up at 7am and French Baguette and jam for breakfast, I knew we should have got more cakes. The route for today is the Marmott, Col de Glandon, Col de la Croix de Fer, Col de Telegraph, Col de Galibier (103 miles and 4000m of ascent) minus the last hill, of Alp D'Huez, I hadn’t realised how famous the Marmott route is, as a sportive over 8000 trying it and many not succeeding. Anyway how hard can 100 miles be?
We head out of the campsite exit and turn right, a flat run upto the dam and then we are climbing for a long time, I didn’t count!!!.Cycling is very different here it is up or down and little in between. However the gradient is gentle not more than 12% and generally 7% and you can spin a compact with 28 comfortably, Adrian has a 30 and isn’t using it much. Part way up as we pass through Le Rivier d’Allemond and we see the road ahead drops down, well that wasn’t in the plan. We continue on and pass the larger lake with no name. I feel I should record some historic story about it but I only know it is full of water and unlike the lower one didn’t break its banks and destroy many villages and part of Grenoble. It looks great though. As we pass the dam the road drops gently and we can see the first Col of the day.
We summit out at Col De Glandon 1924m and take the obligatory pictures to email home instantly to those who didn’t come. Soon on our way and 2.5km later and a little more climbing, we are passing the 2nd Col de la Croix de Fer 2067m. No time to hang about, pictures taken of the Iron Cross and duly emailed to friends at home, funny the responses seem less than effusive.
We depart the col and have 25+km of descent ahead of us, now this is cycling as we max out at about 45mph. I enjoy passing the cars and they don’t seem to mind. I am now getting used to the sweeping bends and having my own bike and brakes on the UK side and feel confident (I came off in Mallorca earlier in the year when I applied the rear brake instead of the front, half way round a tightening bend, I still blame it on the continental brake set up). We pass through Villargondran back down at 700m and spot a supermarket on the way out.
It's lunch time so we must have been out for about 4 hours. I look after the bikes as we have both forgotten to bring bike locks and Adrian goes in for refreshments. He returns fully laden with water and orange juice and a sandwich ("where’s the cake?"). I eat and drink my share in the shade at the front of the building, much to the amusement of the locals.
We’re back on the bikes and heading down the relatively busy stretch, next to the motorway. We see signs for the Col de Galibier and take a right in St Michel de Maurienne, settling in for a 3 hour stint of climbing. The clouds draw over which is great for the temperature and have a slight tail wind. The Col de Telegraph 1566m soon passes. Ooh, and we took more photos and emailed them. A wee drop into the village of Valloire and then another 13km of ascent. We stop for a break just before we climb out of the valley and I drink but didn’t bother to eat, a big mistake. 30 mins later and 3km from the top, I hit the wall and have to stop for food and drink. Adrian sails straight by, I get back on but don’t meet up again until the top when he has the video out to film my arrival after him! 2646m at the Col and the air definitely seems thinner above 2000m.
The climbing is now hurting but I then realise there will be no more today as we have 20 mile of downhill or flat roads ahead of us, dropping from 2600m to 700m at the campsite. More photos and emails and we're off. I follow Adrian, a more accomplished descender than myself in the light drizzle. The lightly wet roads scare me but the rain passes and the roads dry. The initial descent is crazy and I watch as Adrian struggles to hold the bike upright when a car stops dead in front of him as he rounds a bend. Panic over, I revive my wrists in the straights from the vibration.
First decent Café I spot I insist we go in for cake and coffee. It was great and with a good view of the glaciers Meije and Girose above us, unfortunately the village is called Grave and the cake was delicious and one that you would die for, perhaps that was why the village was named.
The remaining descent was glorious. The sun came out and the sweeping bend through the tunnel magical. Glad were doing the route this way round, it would be a pain to climb this relatively busy road. We sail through Le Bourg d’Osians (Bourg) on the way to the campsite to cook the meal for the 3 others joining us this evening. More cake whilst we wait their arrival.
Pasta and meatball feast bought from the local supermarket and we are ready to collapse, I don’t know who is more tired, us or those who have just driven from Geneva. 103 miles and approx 4000m was a testing ride as the first one in the Alps, but glad it is ticked off. Plans for Alp D'Huez are discussed over numerous beers.
Another comfortable night, slightly warmer than the previous one, which had chilled with the clear skies, a little cloud cover and warm all night long. We awake to a misty day and more baguette and jam. Adrian and I cycle off to Bourg to meet up with the intrepid three, we actually get to the shop first and have a coffee whilst we wait for the bikes to be fitted to their intrepid riders. Good spec and UK braking so all is good.
09:30 and we depart the shop and head down the street for coffee and cakes. 10:00 and the sun is showing itself through the mist and we head off to the lower slopes of Alp D’Huez. Two bends in and we break into the sun. 4 bends in we stop to remove the layers and tweak the hire bikes. Once finished it is everyman for himself as we all find a speed that feels comfortable for the next hour of ascent.
Counting the 21 bends down is easy and avoiding the local photographers handing out their cards after they’ve taken a picture of your best grimace is straight forwards. We got lost in the village of Alp d'Huez and ended up cycling back downhill past the official finish point!!!
More photos and emailing, plenty of water and we are on the way to Col de Sarenne 1999m. A small fast twitchy descent is followed by a further climb to the col. A well-earned rest at the top, and time for us all to regroup. We meet up with a group of 4 cyclists from Oxford touring in the area and have a pleasant few minutes sharing cycling stories. More photos and emails and we are off, brilliant descent, narrow road and excellent views all the way down to the main road at the bottom. We are back onto the sweeping descents back into Bourg and the weather is excellent. We stop off for lunch in Bourg before heading back to the campsite.
A quick shower and a few drinks and we head off to the local hotel about 200m from the campsite for something to eat. We're not too impressed with the hotel so headed back to the campsite and had a nice meal in the campsite restaurant.
A memorable date for many reasons. It finally stops raining at about 6 and the day is looking much more promising than the night had sounded. Today we're up for a ride retracing the first part of our trip on day one, with a 28km ride up to Col de Glandon. Adrian and I know what we are in for and we have promised the others an easier ride than Alp d'Huez, which it is, but that is without the climbing of the previous day still in your legs.
I was feeling much stronger today having had a short day before. We ride out and stick together for the flat section past the hydro station and then we hit the hill and each to their own rhythm, and climb away passing other cyclists and in turn being passed. We regroup first at the village before the steep drop. Unfortunately no one is in a mood for cake yet. We drop down a bit and up the steepest section and regroup by the top dam. On to Col de Glandon (1924m). We celebrate at the top and take the obligatory photographs and return quickly to Hotel de Glandon which is about 300m from the top for soup and cake.
There are about 20 other riders at the top and the ride up has taken its toll on a couple of people who fortunately have vehicle support, so their bikes are loaded onto the car and they are driven back down. The temperature has dropped a bit so we all put on a thin windproof top before starting the descent. An exhilarating descent sees the fastest speeds of the trip, with Adrian topping out at 49.5mph and myself a mere 48.6mph.
4 hours after starting, we are back at the campsite and planning the evening’s entertainment. It is agreed we are going out to Bourg for Sunday night. The hired bikes are returned and we all have a well earned coffee and cake. We hit the town a little early and have to wait for the restaurants to open at 7pm. There’s a lot of choice, but our decision is made quickly by the heavy rain.
Another rainy night, but Adrian and I awake to clearing skies yet again. Determined to use the morning, we choose a shorter and lower route to the Col d'Ornon 1367m. This is a great little climb with about 660m of ascent from the site and is completed there and back in less than 2 hours, including stops to enjoy the fantastic views. Each of the Cols we have done have a different feel and this one is no exception. A much easier gradient, shorter and lower, but none the less dramatic in the vistas it offers with the road clinging to the side of the cliff. The ride done and back at the chalet, it is coffee and cake before the bikes are packed, now a mere 20 minute job. The rest of the kit having been put away the night before, and the car is quickly packed and we’re ready for the trip back to the airport.
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