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Thursday, July 9, 2009

The Last Post (!)

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

Day 1

Joux Plane 5,546 ft

Colombiere 5,292 ft

Day 2

Aravis 4,874 ft

Saisies 5,436 ft

Cormet de Roseland 6,453 ft

Day 3

Iseran 9,085 ft

Day 4

Telegraphe 5,138 ft

Day 5

Galibier 8,678 ft

Izoard 7,746 ft

Day 6

Vars 6,916 ft

Day 7

Allos 7,370 ft

Cayolle 7,629 ft

St Leger 3,510 ft

Day 8

St Raphael 2,873 ft

Bleine 4,720 ft

Day 9

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

480 miles

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)

9 days

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…..

Friday, July 3, 2009

Day 9 - Valbonne - Cannes

The last leg! Re-started my ride from Valbonne after fortifying dose of caffeine.. busy main road with a few gentle slopes, down to Cannes. The whole effort took around and hour, but as the temperature was getting on for top twenties I definitely needed to have a dip in the sea on Cannes beach and rinse off under the chilly beach shower, before finding the bar....... Vive La France!!............ Or maybe I took a wrong turn and have somehow ended up in Melbourne?

Thursday, July 2, 2009

Day 8 - Puget Theniers - Valbonne

This morning I discovered the little altimeter/ computer I have been using had died – guess it did not appreciate the rain from the thunderstorm last night. Neither did I over the top of the col – arrived completely soaked and cold at the auberge. So I can only estimate roughly from the map that the height cimb was around 5,000ft. Two main cols, smaller than previous ones as the mountains are not as high in the far south but with a lot of up and down in between. Col St Raphael at 875 metres and Col de Bleine at 1439 metres. As expected the back roads over the last mountains were tough, lots of up and down and incredibly hot – that is until the thunder clouds gathered again. Must have been well over 30 degrees C with no breeze. Scenery was exceptional though – mountains cut through by deep gorges with sheer slopes and villages hanging to the sides of the valleys. By the time I reached the last col it was raining hard and the rain continued all the way down a huge 15 mile descent over 1,200 metres – through yet 2 more gorges. By the time I reached Valbonne, a very pretty village with lots of restaurants within a few kilometers of the coast food and accommodation beckoned so I called it a day. Dinner at a great restaurant in the centre of Biot – an artistic village a few miles away. The restaurant itself had its own gallery in the cellar – donations from artists the owner had befriended over the years.

Thur 2 July – morning. We have found the French equivalent of Fawlty Towers the main residents it appears are very old and fat dogs and cats. As I write this at the breakfast table on the patio one of the dogs has just lifted its leg on the plant pot next to the table….

In a short while I’ll take a gentle cruise for the last few kilometers down to the coast and celebrate with a drink at one of the shore side bars – maybe at Cannes. I’ll do a complete summary of the ride in a day or so.

Total climbed to date – (estimate only as the stupid machine died): 50,000ft

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Day 7 - Jausiers to Puget-Theniers

Total climbed today 6,990 ft; total to date 44,942ft

Out of Jausiers/ Barcelonnette there are three potential pass routes south – Cime de la Bonnette, Col de Cayolle and Col d’Allos. Cayolle is the col designated for the Route des Grandes Alpes, but I also need to be mindful of Judith driving the car: all 3 routes are on much smaller roads than previous passes and there are some pretty big drop offs with no safety barriers. We drove up Col d’Allos and down to Foux d’Allos the ski resort on the other side as I knew from skiing here before there was an easy road out. I then cycled back up to the col and down to meet the start of the Col de Cayolle. One of the photos you can see the road down from Col d’Allos – twisting along the edge of a cliff for a couple of miles. Very wild. Cayolle is a beautiful pass – a long gentle ride up a gorge and then finally up and over the top at around 7,600ft. It’s much warmer this much further south and the vegetation has changed with the dryness. Dryness is not a term to be associated with yesterday afternoon – as with the previous 3 days clouds were gathering by 3 and by 5 pm there was a major thunderstorm going on. I had planned to try to ride from Cayolle to Bonnette on a rough connecting track but the weather and a local farmer saying the track was still blocked with snow changed my mind about that. Ended up with 2 hours ride in heavy rain down the valley and then an hours climb up to 3,000ft and the village where Judith had found an auberge to stay at. Spectacular ride up (yet another) gorge and then over the col at the top, very unpleasant again as another thunderstorm had developed with lightning everywhere.

Today (July 1st) is the last day – thunderstorms forecast again but by then I hope to be installed in a hotel near Antibes. The route is a break from the official Grand Alpes route as it finishes in Menton further east. I’m going to take the very small back roads over the last mountain area between here and the coast – promises to be beautiful and very challenging. More later!

Monday, June 29, 2009

Day 6 - Mont Dauphin to Jausiers

A very frustrating day! First of all a long cimb up Col de Vars which was very hot and long - after previous climbs I thought this one would be easy but I guess theheat made it much harder. The other nightmare was the cloud of flies continually circling around my head and landing at any opportunity - drove me mad and it was a great relief to descend and leave them behind. Spent half the effort getting up the mountain trying to swat the stupid things. Just after getting to the valley floor and making for the next town (and turn off for the next pass) ran straight into a road block - road closed for next 3 hours as some sort of rockfall prevantative maintenance was taking place high above the road but this meant while it was going on large boulders were landing on the road. There was simply no other way round - this area was a very steep sided gorge. I gave up and went back up to the road to the very small local village and had a beer at the local bar. 4.30 the road finally reopens but by this time the storm clouds are gathering and therewas no point trying to start on another climb. Big thunderstorm tonight but should be bright and sunny in the morning. I'll see how I'm feeling then and decide what to do....

Today : Col de Vars. Total height climb 4,041ft today, 37, 960ft in total

Sunday, June 28, 2009

Day 5 - Col de Telegraphe to Mont Dauphin

Day 5 – Valloire to Mont Dauphin. Sorry for the slight break in blog posts - Saturday was a rest day from cycling after the first 4 days. Ended up doing a 5 hour hike instead, not exactly restful for the legs but at least different.

An epic day today with two huge passes – Col Galibier (8,665ft) followed by Col D’Izoard (7,740ft). Total climb around 8,000 ft. The legs are aching again. Galibier is steep and regarded as the real classic on the Tour de France, but doing Izoard after was much harder. This climb starts quite easily (though very hot today) but ends up as around 10 miles of steep grind. The descents off both are also exciting with narrow road and plenty of hairpins into the valley below. After Izoard you descend into a gorge with spectacular views and drops into the river below. A fantastically scenic ride. Tonight we are staying at a hilltop fortress town built around 1700 called Mont Dauphin which is a Unesco site. An amazing piece of history.

Figures to date: total climb 33,900 ft. Total distance 292 miles Total hours in the saddle: about 34 Total sore bits: quite a few!

So far on this trip the weather has been no problem at all - just a little bit of rain at the end of day 4. Contemplating cycling over a pass in a blizzard is not a pleasant thought. The temperature has been at extremes between the tops of the passes and the deep valleys - from just a few degrees at the top to around 30 C at the bottom but this was expected anyway. Hopefully the weather will hold up for the next few days, it is already feeling hotter as we get closer to the South of France.

Tomorrow: Col de Vars and (maybe) Cime de la Bonnette – regarded as the highest piece of road in France at around 9,500 ft

Friday, June 26, 2009

Day 4 - Col D'Iseran to Col de Telegraphe

Habits hard to shake -once again started and finished on a col. Massive descent down from Iseran to a 30 mile ride down a long valley (with a big headwind - actually getting blown around the road a couple of times and even though going down hill often felt like going up!), still descending and then straight up the side to another, lower col but the prelude to something much bigger. To put more perspective on the day the total descent was around 6,500 ft, or twice the height of Mt St. Katherine's. Then a 2,300ft climb up to the col over about 12 miles - so back up to St Katherine height once more! Total height climb so far 27,100ft - and my legs are hurting but not quite as much as yesterday, so things are looking up. What's getting bad is the weather - rain started just before top of Telegraphe and at this height it's cold! Tomorrow we're hoping to have a rest day but our planned stop in Valloire was slightly altered by the invasion of about 4,000 quad bikes in the resort for a weekend racing event - not exactly a peaceful place and hardly a room to be found anywhere. Rain is forecast for tomorrow too - and then thunderstorms after. It's not pleasant cycling in rain but at the tops of the passes this can be snow and make getting over them very nasty. Hoping it will not get as bad as this. Here's some photos of today, off to bed. Plan tomorrow - hiking, Sunday - Galibier, another big climb.