French Alps, Day 4

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. 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, what next.

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.

20130623-120114.jpg

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.

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Lost in the Alps, Day 3

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….

30 miles into Kent to find a Pub

Well it was a pretty grim day staring out the window, grey clouds blocking out any chance of the sun poking its head out.

Five of us headed off in a southerly direction from Tooting Bec, I had a vague idea of where we were heading having studied the map, and this being the route V and I had planned for the Xmas ride that never happened. Five minutes in and I ended up taking the wrong turning so had to think on my toes. No…not really about ten minutes after that had the trusty iPhone out trying to figure out the best route stopped in the middle of god knows where and still no countryside in sight.

Castle Inn

Castle Inn - Round the Back

Rolling on a bit managed to guide us through Croydon which I was specifically trying to avoid at all costs but it seemed inevitable…we ended up riding over these tram lines…I remember thinking to myself ride perpendicular to the tracks otherwise my wheels are going to get wedged into the tram line (easy to get into but not so easy to get out of) next thing I heard a thud and turning around saw V in a heap on the floor…she had done exactly what I was trying to avoid…ouch!

So all in all not a good start…we did eventually get out of London and headed into Kent at a pretty slow rate, with all the stopping and starting…my terrible navigational skills, although in my defence this was meant to be a recce ride and was only originally going to be V an I. Was great having others along though…just covering my ass.

The weather continued to deteriorate, getting pretty foggy and being hard for motorists to see us we grouped together with the riders with the most visibility being at the front and back. No getting into a steady pace a couple of riders two of you in fact, don’t worry I won’t mention names, sped off in front and missed a turning. Having tried to find them but having no luck and eventually contacted them via phone with limited mobile reception, the norm it seems for O2.

People were cold and the split contingent decided to find the closest train station home. By this time we had ridden through some absolutely stunning location in Kent, aptly named the “Garden of England”. 3 of us carried on to our final destination which was about 5 miles away from the point we had lost our other two comrades.

We eventually cycled into the town of Chiddingstone,which is one of the smallest villages I have come across in my not so frequent travels into the English countryside, with a very beautiful church. After doing some reading on Chiddingstone and described as “being the perfect surviving example of a Tudor village in the county”.

An absolute gem to visit and the ‘Castle Inn’ the pub we found was spot on good grub friendly people. Lovely lovely lovely…!!!

Dessert I

Dessert II

Bike, Bat and Trap (Kentish style)

Day started with a 45 mile cycle into the beautiful county of Kent. Three of us set off from Clapham Junction at 08:30 and arrived in Maidstone just before 12:00 through some exquisite English countryside, and what a beautiful morning it was after a week of solid rain…bliss! We were welcomed into Doug’s folks house, who are fantastic hosts I have to say! With an amazing spread of food, wine and everything you could want…we started off with both plain and cheese scones…coffee and tea. Sitting in the back garden along side some apple trees with the sun dancing between the clouds! Smells of smoke and meat braaing (bbqing) in the background…summer as it should be! I was planning on cycling back to London at some point but after champers, a full belly and a few bitters, decided, stuff that…

About twelve of us walked down the road into this amazing park next to Doug’s folks place…we were on our way to find a patch of grass to play this very unique game, unique to Kent that is…called “Bat and Trap”. Now I am cricket fan and play every now and then. If you know cricket this is another take on that. It started in local pubs in Kent so I am told, and after some research this game is “ancient”, so it goes way back if you didn’t know what ancient meant. There are even leagues amongst the pubs in Kent. Which I found pretty interesting…anyway if you still interested and I have not bored you already, bat and trap is played with about eight people, four aside. Although we stretched the rules and played five aside. Each team gets a chance to field and then bat. The batting side takes turns with this contraption made of oak, trap, (see image) the bat is also made of oak and is similar to a ping pong bat but thicker. The contraption is long box with a type of see-saw bit in the center. On one side you place the solid rubber ball (similar to a lacrosse ball) the batters aim is to hit down on the other side of the see-saw which fires the ball up into the air and then you have to hit the ball in the direction of the goal and fielders.

The goal is set up with two sticks which are about 4 meters apart from each other and about 13 meters or so away from the trap. The fielders have to stand behind the goals and their aim is to catch the ball as it comes flying towards the goal, goalkeepers. If caught the batsmen/batwomen is out (is there a superhero called batwomen???) if they manage to score a goal through the two sticks, the fielders get to nominate a thrower who tries to hit a little, very little target on the front of the trap, if they manage to do this the batsmen is out. So the object of the game is to score as many goals as possible before all batsmen are out and then the fielders get a chance to score more goals. It is quite hilarious watching everyone trying to smack the shit out of this little ball…I know for a fact I was trying too. All in all was great fun and very amusing to learn this new sport. One to add to my accolades…

Bat and Trap

We retired from bat and trap, few people with sore shins putting their bodies on the line and decided to play a game of football, three aside which as always is great fun! I am not the biggest football fan, but do enjoy playing, then again that is the case with most sports for me…all in all a great day in Kent!!!! Meeting new people and having a jolly old time!

fixed to the saddle for over 260k

The buzz of people as we trundled into London fields on Saturday evening of the 24th of July, was an awesome sight. Over 1000 cyclists gathered in anticipation for this 190k overnight cycle to the Suffolk coast in the east of England. After grabbing a piece of paper for vital directions and scoffing down a much needed banana about seven of us headed off around 8ish following a stream of cyclists out of London.

Justin & I

I am gonna backtrack a bit here but thought it would be ideal to give a little history regarding this event. The event started back in 1993 when a couple of bike couriers decided to cycle to the coast one summers evening on fixed-wheel bikes. Over the years numbers have grown, due to these guys inviting anyone and everyone to participate. It has always been a “turn up and go” event (unsupported).

It was pretty slow going getting out of London which is understandable, although I seemed to blink and we were in the countryside. I am always amazed at the feeling I get when I realise I have crossed that line into the “country” don’t ask me where that line is, it’s there somewhere, it’s like a sense of relief that overwhelms me. Quite peaceful…I wonder what that means? Strange as I do love living in London, I think I would get seriously bored living in the country, the old toppy Matt will just have to wait!

My bike was stolen at the beginning of July…BASTARDS!…excuse my outburst! These things need to be vented. Anyway as I was saying I had recently invested in a cheaper single speed commuting bike previously I would commute on my racer, no good. Hence the title of this post. My new single speed commuter was the choice of transport. Well the only option I had really. Quite a fetching looking bike if I must say. Blue rims, silver frame and purple crank and hubs…some would say pimpified! I totally winged it that evening, not even taking a spare inner tube with me…I had faith…or just a tonne of luck!

The amount of people riding through the quiet country roads was astonishing…at certain stages you would just look ahead and see a trail or red flashing bicycle lights look behind you and you would see the same thing but little white twinkles. At stages of the evening when the yawns started to kick in there where no red lights to be seen to guide us. Which caused a bit of a panic so I would speed up, probably a good thing as I could have ended up nodding off and flying off into the bushes on the side of the road…if that is even possible…falling asleep on a bike, Nah!!! So speeding up did not help my mate as I kind of lost him. Only realising this after I had confirmed that I was still on the right route, thank god! So I stopped and waited for him on the side of the road waving to fellow cyclists going by…or more like they kept asking if I was okay. 30 minutes past and I decided to try and get hold of him to see if all was okay. I eventually got a text, he had followed a single red light off route and ended up getting lost which, fair enough, was easy to do. This all happened in the early hours of Sunday morning.

Ooooh…I totally forgot to mention some of the best parts, being side tracked by the whole light story. So Justin and I where about 10kms short of the halfway station. We stopped at a pub for last rounds and grabbed ourselves a Guinness each…well deserved I thought and a bit of a carbo boost! We were also waiting for a few other friends who we had been split up from…they ended up at the halfway station before us. So somehow we had missed them whilst enjoying our beverage, fancy that! No matter Justin and I hopped back onto our steads and carried on…missed the halfway house and ended up having to turn around and go back and find it. This was another great sight as we pulled in after midnight there were people and bikes all over the place and a queue for grub, just buzzing! We had provisions so just did a little refuelling and filled up our water bottles and headed out again.

Midnight Snack

So jumping forward a bit back to the early hours of Sunday morning and losing Justin, we made a plan to meet in the next town as it was quicker for him to get there then try find where I was waiting for him. So I headed on leading a few people with my little navigator map paper thingi. I was doing pretty well and would probably have meet up with Justin in good time. When I was flagged down for a pump by someone who looked familiar…It was the other couple that we had started out with, funny how I bumped into them of all people. Anyway now Justin was waiting for us, so…the tides had turned, the couple had been having puncture after puncture so had stopped to mend a puncture and managed to lose their pump in the process. So it was pretty good timing that I came past when I did, we sorted the puncture and headed for Justin. in the meantime the world around us starting to light up again.

The last 10 – 12miles were really really tough…bum was num, I felt mentally exhausted…my legs actually didn’t feel that bad though considering. There were a few winding hills and I kept looking to the horizon for a glimpse of the ocean but that was no where to be seen. I started to see a few cyclists coming back the other way, this was a good sign as it meant that we were getting closer. Arrival on the beach at 7am was a sight for sore legs…I know I know legs can’t see but hey I am writing here! We pulled up and headed straight for the pebbly beach…I don’t think I have ever seen an ocean so flat. Beside the point we all headed straight for the water, had a little dip as it was pretty fresh, climbed back onto the beach and crashed out for a good 40 minutes, man that was good! Crazy me had to wake up as my journey was not over, I had decided to do the event at such late notice, there was no room left on the buses back to London so the only alternative was to book a train from Ipswich, 30 miles back inland. So I jumped back on my bike after having a chat to Mark a fellow Chaser I had bumped into. The ride back to Ipswich was the longest and hardest 30 miles I have ever had to ride in my short lifespan. One word…OUCH!

I got to the station with no time to spare and zero energy, was really looking forward to a coffee and something large to eat. But had no time for that had to focus on getting on the train. Which did not happen as there were about 40 other cyclists also trying to get back to London. Awesomeness!!! I now had the time to eat drink and be exhausted! The gap between then and the next train was ample time to scoff down some grub. The big plus to getting the train back was the fact that I was home by 2:30pm and was able to crawl into bed with a big ass grin on my face, where as the peeps on the bus would only arrive back in London at about 5pm leaving the beach at 1pm, where as I had left at about 9:30…weight up the benefits and you tell me what you would rather do? I say again I am a nutter…

The Beach

The Beach

I would highly recommend this event and will try influence a few more people from the club to join me next year!