French Alps, Day 4 (Rest Day)


We had a good nights sleep knowing we didn’t have a big days cycle ahead, although still pretty stiff climbing out of bed and hobbling down the stairs. Today was a rest day but not quite a rest day in the true sense of the word. For instance a rest day on the Tour de France still involves longish cycles, well I say longish for us mere mortals. To be fair every day on this trip is optional, so we do have a choice, to do or not to do things. Anyway I digress so those that choose to get up early and go for a run, did so. The guys had mapped out a 2.5 km route which I had done the day before as a little brick session off the bike, so knew the route. We decided not to go running with the early group as they were going for a longer run and we would head off a little later. Think they banged out over 20 km. Mike, V and myself decided we would do 2 laps of the 2.5 km loop. Well, actually Mike did 4 laps to get 10 km in. This wasn’t the flattest of runs, the last km (roughly) was pretty much up hill home so a hard slog.

I decided that because I did not do as much as the others on the previous day I should get out on the bike. Even though a few of the others also planned on doing this with Neil, they were going to head up Col de Familiar, as it got coined, thanks to me. So I did not really fancy doing it a third time…so Dom, my partner in crime, was up for a poodle. We did not know where we were heading and would just see where the day would take us.

A bunch of others were going to head to the closest lake for a swim. If you have not picked this up already, most of us are, or in my case were triathletes. So as you are beginning to see, not so much of a rest day. When it came to the choice of chilling, soaking in the sun or getting in some training. Training usually did prevail, then again this was a training camp and most people were training for something.

Dom and I geared up and headed off turned right out of the château as neither of us had been that way, we turned straight into a hill climb for 2-3 km, probably the only significant climbing we did on our 40 km outing on the bike. Two minutes into the climb a van comes up beside us with someone hanging out the van window shouting allez, allez…I honestly thought it was a local until they passed us and realized it was Ryan cheering us on, he was with the swim crew. After some very remote scenery, stunning views with the Alps as a backdrop we stopped for a coffee at a local bar / restaurant, had an awesome cappuccino well that’s what I thought I had ordered, they used a kind of whipped cream instead of milk

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The owner also kept a chameleon in the back, which kept giving Dom a beady eye from his fish tank, only in Montferrat, it seams! Chameleons in fish tanks.

After our tasty coffee we then realized that we were close to the only lake in the area Lac de Paladru so assumed that is were the others had headed for a swim session, on leaving the café Dom had an interesting conversation with the locals outside the cafe, who were slightly inebriated, about how cycling was bad for your testicales and having children, so we rode out of Montferrat having a good chuckle to ourselves as Dom translated the conversation for me. We headed for the lake looking for the swim crew. I have to say the lake was very picturesque, a deep turquoise colour surrounded by green rolling hills, the picture below does not really give it justice. We stopped for a bite to eat and to take in the surroundings as we couldn’t seem to find the others. As we headed round the far side of the lake Graeme pulled out of a parking lot in the van with the others, so miraculously we did end up finding them, it was great timing actually, if we had not stopped we wouldn’t have seen them.

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We carried on cycling and as they came past us Alan handed us two Jaffa cakes through the window…very grand tour like. We then made our way home following the route we had come out on. Our final decent which was a nice relief as we both knew we would finish on a downhill. The only downhill finish of the trip potentially. The roads were pretty wet so it looked like we had just missed a downpour which was also pretty lucky.

Will and Kelly had driven to ride up another col…Well known Col de La Croix de Fer a pretty nasty climb it was in our agenda but think it was decided against. It’s climb being over 25 so a good slog. Kelly and Will came back freezing having to stop twice to try and warm themselves up enough before continuing the decent, they both agreed it was not a very present experience.

The rest of the afternoon was pretty relaxed as we had super and with a few glasses of wine helping with that relaxing, listening to the race briefing for tomorrow’s adventure.

French Alps, Day 3 – Lost


Morning feed…CHECK…kit…CHECK…bike…CHECK…ready to go…CHECK…knowing the route to Columbier…not a chance!!!

Left the house at 0745 as day three was a big step up from day two so needed an earlier start…Col du Grand Columbier 18.3 km climb (average 6.9% gradient) with an elevation gain of 1255 meters, total ride 140 km…and defiantly a few red sections in this baby. We were all off with a bang then “it” happened…little bit of a commotion out the blocks. Will dropped his flap jack, which I picked up and I think Liz was having a slight issue with her bike so Neil and Eric stopped to help her out. Now I didn’t think I was that far behind everyone so I shot round the corner in pursuit, up ahead thought I saw someone turn off one of the side roads so I followed…2 minutes later I had a sneaky suspicion I had gone the wrong way. I turned round and tried the only other option but I was too late. I had missed the boat and had no idea what direction they had gone…after some aimless cycling around I sat on the side of the road defeated. I tried calling the guys sending them a text but they would all have been chain ganging it to the base of Columbier so no luck there…I had to swallow the bitter fact that I was not going to do Col du Grand Columbier that day, I would have to tackle that feat on another occasion.

Lucky my phone has a pretty good mapping system. ‘Here’ maps by Nokia…(no I am not advertising) one small download and I have a detailed map of the area, none of this iPhone malarkey of having to constantly chew data looking at Google Maps or Apple Maps…little dig over.

So I planned another route from my phone, I ended up going half way up Col de La Croix des Mille Martyrs (884 meters) and back down to Voissant. Same col we did on the first day or should I say half the col, as there was more to it. While I was climbing I got a call from Ryan, I was panting pretty heavily when I answering the phone. Anyway explained what had happened and told them to carry on as they were already about 30 km into the ride so it would have been crazy trying to link up. Had a chat to V to let her know all was well and I would be fine…and so I carried on with my little climb.

I had planned to do this climb a few times as I needed to get some climbing in as the following day would be a rest day and then another ramp up on distance and climb the following day so if I didn’t get some climbing in I would be at a big disadvantage, think I was already but had to deal with that and do as best I could. On my second climb of Col de La Croix des Mille Martyrs from Voisant, I went past the point we stopped on the first day and climbed to the top, passed that and went over the other side down to a village or town called Saint Geoire En Valdaine, which was not very far from where we were staying.

I had a quick feed which consisted of a banana, not sure of the importance of me telling you that but yeah it was a banana. Jumped back on my bike and went back up the col in the direction I came. The climb was about 8 km with a gradient of probably 6% on average (roughly), a category 3 climb according to strava, the section I did twice in the morning was apparently a category 2 climb, again according to strava.

Col des Mille Martyrs

So made it to the top feeling pretty knackered and thirsty, I had some liquid. What little I had left, I left some for the trip back which was roughly 20 km. (It was a hot day) Not having climbing in my saddle for more than two or three km before, the inside of my legs, just below my crotch were a wee bit sore by the time I got back to HQ, so I waddled around the place. I was laughing at myself as I couldn’t even bend over to pick things up off the floor let alone climb a flight of stairs. I was glad to be back, so had a good feed and chilled out on the couch watching the Dauphiné, or trying to keep my eyes open.

Liz arrived back before the others as she could not climb Columbier due to coming off the bike the day before. This I did not realise, she had bruised her ribs and found it too painful to get out of her saddle to climb so had decided to make her way home. She picked up an old school map from the tourist office and plotted her way back, pretty impressive.

Everyone arrived back pretty knackered themselves but it sounded like they had a good day out, all having an awesome sense of achievement. V made it up in 2 hours so I was proud of her, as many will know she hates climbing so an amazing achievement for her.

That night we had pizza’s for dinner, check out how many boxes of pizza we had, well we didn’t finish it all but it was still impressive…day four is a rest day before we tackle a bigger climb. But the term rest day is a bit miss-leading, watch this space to find out why…?

Pizza Time

French Alps, Day 2


Early start once again, everyone rushing around the house sorting out all their kit and having breakfast, massive pot of porridge brewing on the stove, I shovelled some down the hatch. There were loads of other breakfast options. Craig became the omelette king cooking his amazing omelettes every morning. Top notch I have to say! The general mood seemed a little quiet as I think everyone was a little nervous not knowing what was in store for the day. Well maybe I was just nervous as I was in-experienced in this so called col climbing. We weren’t completely unaware of the days ride. Neil would brief us of the next day events at dinner so we had knowledge of what was in store, plus Stephen’s profile graphs dotted round the house giving us an idea of the main climbs we were going to be doing for that day. Red red red…being +10% gradient. No reds on day two’s ride though as we were gently wadding into the art of ‘Col Hunting’ as Rhi coined it…you will hear a lot more of that later I am sure…back to the days ride. Day two involved Col du Cucheron (1140 m).

We set off from the Château at about 0830, headed through Saint Beron, and then towards Entre-deux-Guiers, it was originally planned that we would head for Saint Pierre d’Entremont and we would start the climb from there, but that route through the mountains or col was closed. So the plan was altered to go round the back, the way we would have come back.

So off we headed after a short refuel of some gels, bars etc…and headed for Saint Laurent du Point, just outside this village we started the climb, we basically followed the river further into the mountain range. It was stunning climbing through wooded area with a babbling river next to us, we went through two or three narrow tunnels on the way. The total climb to the top of this col was roughly 15 km although we stopped roughly 8 to 10 km up to re-grouped at a bridge. Ready for the final accent, which started to ramp up as we passed a few ski slopes and lifts, nothing to crazy.

Bridge to Cucheron

Seeing everyone clustered together was a welcome sight when reaching the top with a gorgeous back drop of the valley that we were supposed to climb up from, if that pass had not been closed.

Cucheron

Cucheron Sign

As you can see in the image above the altitude for this col was 1140 meters my first proper col, hence the photo of the sweaty pinkish man. After some much needed refuelling and a sambo we started the decent down, before doing this most of us adding a few more layers to what we were wearing on the way up, mainly arm warmers and a gilet or rain jacket, to keep us from cooling down too much on the 15 km descent. Not much peddling going on to keep your body toasty, so essential the higher you go. The decent was awesome, not much effort envolved and everyones favourite…’SPEED’, well it’s not for everyone but I enjoyed it. It’s amazing how long it takes you to get up there an hour for me with a stop at 10 km but the downhill was done in 15 – 20 minutes, bang!

On the way down we stopped at a café for a coffee and to soak in some sun, the owner did not speak much english, no problems there as quite a few people knew the native tongue as some will know I am rubbish when it comes to French. The café was very accommodating for us 17 cyclists, they were running around putting together a large table for all of us and café au lait all round, as you will see Rhi slurping it down after his little stretch session.

Cafe

On the way back to HQ we started up a chain gang I was pushed to the front just as we hit a hill so I packed out and had to pull back and get the guys to pass me so that wasn’t ideal and probably mildly annoying to the others. It really started to warm up getting close to home. We all shot past the turn off which was at the back end of a downhill so easy enough to do. Getting home from the first day out was a good feeling and we were all very keen to get cleaned up and get some food down us. I had a good sense of achievement.

After all the feeding and cleaning shenanigans we were all lounging in the garden soaking in some amazing French sunshine and ended up sitting round the BBQ with a few beers watching G-man (Graeme) cooking up a storm for some hungry peeps.

All in all a very satisfying day 85 km cycle with 2374 m of climbing in total according to my ‘trusty’ Garmin. We were out for roughly 5 hours, moving time being just under 4 hours. Neil’s briefing struck fear into my little soul about the next days cycle. 140km cycle taking in Col du Grand Colombier which is an HC climb and a lot tougher than Cucheron. Stephen gave me a little pep talk at dinner which was relieving but assured me I would be fine. So I slept like a baby…

French Alps cycling trip, Day 1


Early start to catch the National Express at 4:50 am to Gatwick, so we were up and out of bed close on 3:30 am. Little worried our bike boxes where not going to get on the bus as there was a little confusion when reading the luggage policy.

Luggage

We got away with it even though the driver did mention that we should pay for excess baggage. Have to say it’s a very efficient way to get to the airport and a lot cheaper then public transport or a taxi, especially with all this luggage. Not to mention how close it is to our humble abode.

Will skip the boring airport malarkey and flight. So we arrived in France, only the second time I have actually stepped into France, I might add…landed in Lyon to be meet by Neil, Graeme and Eric. It was a fantastic day, the sun was belting down. Happy to be on holiday…well holiday is debatable.

After loading up a van full of bike boxes and headed off, all ten of us, in 3 vans. We stopped at decathlon for a few supplies and V picked up some much needed glasses for the alp’s descents, tough choice choosing the right pair but she found one.

We arrived at our humble abode Chateau Fossan, what an amazing place. This huge chateau with loads of lawn out the front, a barn at the back were we are storing our bikes, and were we spend a good deal of time this first afternoon putting the bikes back together after having to take them apart to get them in the bike, box. I managed to clean my head set, which I know, yes very geeky but it would have bugged me going up the cols as it was making a really annoying creaking sound. Anyway back to more important things.

Chateau Fossan

Chateau Fossan

Chateau Fossan

Chateau Fossan

Chateau Fossan

After getting all our bikes set up and Ryan, Alan, Will and Kelly arriving which probably took a solid 1-2 hours. Took my bike for a little test run up the road to check all was working okay.

On a side note you have to imagine this as I don’t think any of the pictures will give them justice, but we have cols (a mountain pass for those that are wondering) surrounding us.

Our first outing was planned as a short 37 km ride which took in a small col. We were all rearing to go when the heavens opened,so we hung back and waited for the rain to lighten, which it eventually did, so we headed out.

Boy I was puffing very quickly early in the ride…I will put that down to altitude, yeah whatever. Anyway what had turned into a gorgeous evening as we assembled at the bottom of the climb. Now bear in mind this was my first col and it was a little climb compared to what is to come. It felt tough, it was a steady climb with a gradient of about 6% for about 6 km, felt like it just went on and on, but eventually made it to the top and had the decent back down to look forward to. In total we cycled about 26 km with an elevation gain of roughly 591 meters.

The ride home wasn’t exactly flat either but absolutely stunning scenery, the Embrace guys have done such an amazing job finding this place, they are absolute stars. Dinner was an amazing feast of bbq chicken, macaroni cheese and salad, with a couple of glasses of wine that seemed to go down far to easily.

Anyway I had better get some shut eye as tomorrow is a bigger day and it only gets bigger and steeper….

Game of rugby explained.


Too true…

At Last a rational explanation of the Game of Rugby – (by Ockie Oosthuizen (ex Springbok prop)

It is largely unknown to players and followers of the modern game that rugby started off purely as a contest for forwards in opposition in line-outs, scrums, rucks and mauls. This pitted eight men of statuesque physique, supreme fitness and superior intelligence in packs against one another.

In those days, the winner was the pack that won the most set pieces. The debasement of the game began when backs were introduced. This occurred because a major problem was where to locate the next scrum or line-out.

Selecting positions on the ground for these had become a constant source of friction and even violence.

The problem was resolved by employing forward rejects, men of small stature and limited intelligence, to run aimlessly around within the field of play.

Following a set piece, the ball would be thrown to one of them, who would establish the next location either by dropping it or by throwing it to another reject for dropping. Very occasionally, a third reject would receive the ball before it would be dropped, and crowds would wildly cheer on these rare occasions. Initially these additional players were entirely disorganized but with the passing of time they adopted set positions.

For instance, take the half-back. He was usually one of the smallest and least intelligent of the backs whose role was simply to accept the ball from a forward and to pass it on to one of the other rejects who would drop it, providing the new location for the forwards to compete. He could easily (given his general size) have been called a quarter forward or a ball monkey but then tolerance and compassion are the keys to forward play and the present euphemism was decided on.

The five-eighth plays next to the half-back and his role is essentially the same except that when pressured, he usually panics and kicks the ball.

Normally, he is somewhat taller and slightly better built than the half-back and hence his name. One-eighth less and he would have been a half-back, three-eighths more and he might well have qualified to become a forward.

The centres were opportunists who had no expertise but wanted to share in the glamour associated with forward packs. After repeated supplication to the forwards for a role in the game they would be told to get out in the middle of the field and wait for instructions. Thus, when asked where they played, they would reply “in the centre”. And they remain to this day, parasites and scroungers who mostly work as lawyers or used car dealers.

You may ask, why wingers? The answer is simple. Because these were players who had very little ability and were the lowest in the backline pecking order, they were placed as far away from the ball as possible. Consequently, and because the inside backs were so diligent in their assigned role of dropping the ball whenever they received it, the main contribution to the game made by the winger was not to get involved. Their instructions were to run away as quickly as possible whenever trouble appeared, and to avoid tackles at all costs. The fact that the game was organised so that the wingers didn’t get to touch the ball led to an incessant flow of complaints from them and eventually the apt description “whingers” was applied. Even though the “h” dropped off over the years, the whingeing itself unfortunately has not.

Lastly, the full-back. This was the position given to the worst handler, the person least able to accept or pass the ball, someone who was always in the way. The name arose because the forwards would understandably become infuriated by the poor play invariably demonstrated by that person, and call out “send that fool back”. He would then be relegated well out of everyone’s way to the rear of the field.

So there you have it. Let’s return to the glory days of a contest between two packs of eight men of statuesque physique, supreme fitness and superior intelligence. The rest can go off to where they will be happier, playing soccer.

Regards,

Ockie

First drive in the UK


Got my license converted from a Zimbo golden credit card to a boring pink UK one last minute (not complaining), just so I could drive up to Keswick for the mountain festival. Not my car, but meeting the owner up there as she was on a business trip. So license arrived last minute in the post so all the efforts to put me on the insurance were not in vain.

Having not driven in London, let alone the UK. Having lived on this here island for four years. Plus not having driven in probably close to a year. As you may well imagine I was pretty nervous and rightly so.

It took us over an hour to get out of London which is nothing new to anyone that has driven over here before. So we were on our way…M4, M40, M42 and then on to the M6 up to the lake district.

Coming from Africa I have never felt so anxious on the road before let alone a motorway, well to be fair I don’t think we have motorways back in laid back Africa, they would only get classed as highways. How true that is I don’t know, I can only speak from my experiences driving in the RSA.

Back to the driving experience, I constantly felt I was being sandwiched between cars and massive lorries which was pretty scary for little old me. You definitely have to keep your wits about you. Lorry drivers, yes massive lorries just pulling into the lane In front of me to overtake another lorry. Not worrying about giving a good enough distance between vehicles. Eeeish…this was exactly the same for some of the cars zooming up the motorway. Thinking about it, maybe there was something I missed getting my license, although as I mentioned before lack of motorways could be a pretty good reason for this lacking skill, if I can call it that.

Once past Manchester thing got a lot better…less traffic and beautiful scenery, god I love getting into the country. Although still on a motorway so not entirely countryside, but still better then cramped up London. Apologies to London lovers!

Arrived in Kewsick a good five or six hour later at our amazing little cottage nestled next to a beautiful noisy babbling river…highly recommended after a drive like that.

Keswick - Babbling River