It feels appropriate to do a last post to wrap this blog up – my previous post, Day 9 does not quite complete the story anyway. It was great to arrive in Cannes at the end of the road but the weather had prevented me from doing a couple of climbs towards the end of the trip. Sure I had added a couple of others – like St Leger which was a spectacular climb to a totally isolated village in the mountains to the north of Puget Theniers and well off the normal route; but I still felt a bit frustrated and wanting to do a bit more. Our journey back through Provence on the autoroute took us close to Mont Ventoux – one of the most famous climbs on the Tour de France and irresistible for a last ride. The climb will feature again in the Tour de France this year – as a penultimate day down to the wire type potential finish. It’s a 5,300 ft climb to the top, not the biggest but one of the steepest once you start climbing seriously and it goes on and on and on! I’m very happy to say that having started in Bedoin at the bottom I didn’t stop until the top a long while later. Very lucky with the weather – the wind normally blows at nearly 60 mph at the summit for two thirds of the year but only a gentle breeze blowing.
That brought my total accumulated climb total up to around 55,000 ft (estimated as my altimeter didn’t like the rain in the thunderstorm the other night, nor did I). The big one I missed was Cime de la Bonnette at around 9,500 ft, but I’m very glad not to have been caught in a thunderstorm at the top of that one – cursed a 3 hour road closure that prevented me from trying but very glad I had not tried when I saw the weather later.
The best bits of the trip – lots of things were great or really enjoyable so hard to say. Getting to the tops of the cols of course, tremendous elation with that. I can’t start to remember the number of times I just pulled up to look at the scenery whether going down or up hill – snow capped mountains and glaciers, deep gorges, meadows carpeted in wild flowers, hilltop villages, Provence scenery with the smell of pines; just so much to take in. Generally I really enjoyed the climbing, especially when settled into a groove and feeling as though you could go on for hours (very deceptive!). The FOOD! Cycling is a great excuse to eat LARGE amounts and the food was almost all fantastic – maybe too cheesy at times (they love their local mountain cheese). At times you could stop and pick the wild alpine strawberries growing next to the road - fantastic flavour.
Great to see the wildlife - lots of birds of prey circling, regularly saw marmots (nearly hit one coming down a mountain) and deer. Butterflies everywhere. In the summer the cattle are moved from the low lands to the high alpine meadows - and you can hear the bells they wear around their necks from miles away. It's an evocative noise.
The worst bits – undoubtedly the FLIES! I guess early summer is the time they all appear and what a pain. A lot of cols no problem at all but several had swarms of the things. Col de Vars was by far the worst, plagued more or less from bottom to top. First they gather flying round your head – not a problem until they start landing on your arms, face, neck, nose and when really bad, eyes. Must have been a sight swerving from side to side with arms and hands flailing trying to get rid of them. I reckon half my energy used on that climb went on trying to kill flies. Ugh! Headwinds can be the nightmare of every long distance cyclist and are utterly demoralising at times - crawling along head down into a gale at 4 miles an hour with 20 miles still to ride is soul destroying as well as exhausting. I was lucky to have following winds for most of the trip but got caught on a couple of days with long rides down valleys. Even cycling downhill was an effort! At one point a valley narrowed up to a near vertical gorge and the wind got compressed into the narrow space with huge gusts that would more or less blow me across the road. Not comfortable with a drop of several hundred feet just a few inches away......
Sore legs and body – not nearly as bad as I thought it might be. I certainly got knackered by the end of most days but felt much better in the morning after food and sleep. The day off I had in the middle helped a lot, at least I was off the bike. Towards the end of the trip I started to get some pretty sore areas which would have been a big problem had I had to continue. Tried adjusting the saddle to reduce the rubbing which helped a bit. My knees hurt on and off for the entire trip but never bad enough to stop me cycling. Playing with saddle height helped here – this was a brand new bike so was expecting to have to play around a bit.
Finding food was sometimes a problem with very irregular opening hours of shops, and also due to the fact that the locations were very isolated, as well as being out of the normal winter (ski) season. Great to find the occasional restaurant open for lunch - not exactly very motivating for climbing cols after a big lunch but I did! Water was never a problem – loads of springs, fountains and rivers although you sometimes had to take a chance to drink it or not.
A HUGE thank you to Judith for driving the car over the Alps - you did brilliantly and drove that little car to places where cars are barely meant to reach..... could not have done it without you!
Thank you also to Tom Zimmerman for providing technical know how for the blog development including the pledge form.
For those of you who pledged a donation - well I've done it and the Kidney Foundation will be in touch! Thank you for your generosity and support.
Next year - the Hindu Kush (Don't tell Judith!)
Finally – a list of cols climbed and some numbers at the bottom.
List of cols climbed
Joux Plane 5,546 ft
Colombiere 5,292 ft
Aravis 4,874 ft
Saisies 5,436 ft
Cormet de Roseland 6,453 ft
Iseran 9,085 ft
Telegraphe 5,138 ft
Galibier 8,678 ft
Izoard 7,746 ft
Vars 6,916 ft
Allos 7,370 ft
Cayolle 7,629 ft
St Leger 3,510 ft
St Raphael 2,873 ft
Bleine 4,720 ft
Mont Ventoux 6,265 ft
(Don't forget these are summit heights and not the actual height climbed on each!)
55,000 total accumulated feet climbed
40,000 estimate of calories burned
48 hours in the saddle
35 very rough estimate of litres of sweat produced!
30 approx no. of croissants consumed for breakfast
16 cols (including summit of Mont Ventoux)
Couple of sore bits
0 punctures (although had to change a tube when I damaged valve pumping it up)
Too many Elderly French cyclists who overtook me looking like they were out for a gentle Sunday ride…..