A recap of the past few days.
The day after the tour, I rode into town with Chris to see the send-off of stage 19.
After the start we met up with Doug and Audrey and climbed the road on the opposite side of the valley from our house.
It was an awesome ride up – twisting, (pitch-black) tunnels, and crawling under roofs of overhanging rock. The views were amazing and made up for the six and a half miles of constant, steep climbing.
On the way to the top we passed through Villard Notre Dame and then climbed a gravel road over the summit before descending the backside of the mountain in really cold rain.
The following day was when Doug, Chris, Eric, and I did the ride I last posted about. It was an exceptionally long and tiring day, but had some of the best scenery we’ve seen yet. Unfortunately I didn’t bring my camera, but I did steal a few pictures from Chris and Eric.
We started riding out to Col du Glandon, which is about 28 miles away, and 20 miles of consistent uphill riding. The Col de la Croix de Fer is right next door so we rode up it, too. Our original plan had been to ride Glandon, Croix de Fer, and Col du Madeleine. Best estimates would have put this at a 12 hour day, however, and with a late start, flat tire within the first 2 miles of the ride, and a lack of enthusiasm, we cut out Madeleine.
At the top of Croix de Fer we were in serious need of food and water, so we followed Chris’ Garmin to a market about 10k away. 10k turned into almost 20 though, and to the top of yet another mountain. I had no water for the last 8 kilometers (uphill, on the mountain) but felt fine, though some of the team were really dragging by the time we reached the top. The market was closed, as almost all stores out here are, for lunch from 1-3:30pm, but mercifully we found a public washroom with ice cold water and a small snack stand with french fries and paninis.
We also discovered tiny horses and a lake on top of the mountain.
The way back was pretty murderous. Another 16k back up to the top of Croix de Fer (most of it at 8+% grade) in the blistering sun on weak legs, and then a section of 12+% coming out of Col du Glandon. Once we hit Glandon though it was mostly downhill the rest of the way home (until Alpe d’Huez, which always manages to be a tougher climb than I remember).
The following day I didn’t ride. Eric, Milica, Chris and I walked into town to get money and groceries. I say walk, but it was actually a pretty strenuous hike, including using cables bolted in to the mountain side to aid in descending.
We found a cool waterfall, got our money, groceries, french fries, and some bread in town before hiking back up. That night we all watched the final stage of the Tour as they rode into Paris together.
Yesterday, Chris and I followed a ride in a guidebook we have that took us across town and almost immediately up Col d’Ornon – a climb the Tour riders went up on the same day as their double-ascent of Huez. It was a rough wake up after a day off, and we made the mistake of trying to chase some guy to the top (we never caught him), but the long descent into the French countryside was awesome.
Chris even got to pee off a really high bridge:
and I got a sweet new euro haircut:
By lunch we were exhausted and hungry, but of course everything was closed. So we rode on, practically delirious in the 90F sun. Luckily almost every town here has a public spring/spigot that you can stop at for water, so we were never in much danger of running out. But after a week+ of intense riding, we’re all running a serious calorie deficit and it became very noticeable yesterday. We were able to forget about that a bit during the unexpected but incredibly wonderful 9 mile long descent we rode down from one of the mountain passes, and we made it back to town with time to stop at the pastry stop to refuel before the climb back up Huez to the house.
Today we had a rental car and restocked on groceries. Chris and I are about to head out to visit a town described as “at the end of the road, and literally at the end of the world.” I’m not so sure about that ‘literal’ part, but I’ll be report back if I don’t fall off!
I have a bunch of great pictures from yesterday’s ride (well, at least until it started pouring rain and we had to descend 12+ switchbacks in the freezing rain), but I am so exhausted from today’s ride I can barely think.
We rode to Col du Glandon and Col de la Croix de Fer this morning, and then ended up on Col du Mollard for lunch, before turning around and doing it all backward. Col du Glandon and the ride to it is beautiful, through other-worldly meadows that look straight out of a Lord of The Rings movie. Unfortunately I didn’t bring a camera.
It was by far our longest day in distance as well as toughest day of climbing (and most vertical ascending). I forgot sunscreen, which was a terrible idea over 9.5 hours in the sun at this altitude, but the ride was totally worth it.
I’ve been doing nothing but eating since we got back to the house, and plan to take tomorrow off to rest my knees. We’re also desperately in need of groceries, which staying 1/3 of the way up a mountain and not having a car make extremely difficult to sufficiently remedy. We might need to call a taxi…
Yesterday was great.
While the Tour broadcasts super early for folks back in the States, in France it doesn’t usually roll out until close to noon, sometimes later. With 110k to go before the riders reached Alpe d’Huez, we had plenty of time to sleep in and get ready for the walk to the road.
Above is a picture I took of the actual Alpe d’Huez, as seen from the mountainside across the valley on our ride this morning. If you click to enlarge the picture, you can see the road from Bourg d’Oisans (in the valley) snaking up to the town of Alpe d’Huez at the top center of the mountain. Midway up the road I’ve circled the town of La Garde in blue, between turn 5 and 6 (counting from the bottom). The green dashes represent the ~1 mile road from La Garde to our house, circled in red. This should give you a sense of how much riding/climbing we’re doing at the end of each day to return to our house, as well as a sense of scale of the mountain that the Tour riders had to climb twice.
Yesterday around noon we walked to La Garde (sidenote: I was less sore from 3 days of riding mountains than from one day of walking 2 miles). We got there just in time for the promotional caravan, which is basically a parade of ridiculous cars and trucks with beautiful men and women riding on/sticking out of them throwing lots of free junk at all the spectators. Exhibit A:
I didn’t grab much because I was busy.
Audrey (the patriot pictured below), Doug and I were sandwiched between two Australians and a bunch of Dutchmen, all of whom were SUPER excited about grabbing 9 piece puzzle magnets and tiny packages of dried meat. The beer coozies apparently weren’t as exciting, so I snagged one.
We were lucky to see the riders pass through twice, as the speed even at which they climbed the mountain was such that you barely had time to register their presence before they were gone. Everyone along the route was in a good mood, with Australian and German fans particularly animated and entertaining. Eric got in the spirit (and on TV) with his purple zebra skinsuit:
At some point it was brought to my attention that at the next turn up the road there was a Captain America trying to steal my thunder. So of course we went to find him.
Dan, from Salt Lake City, isn’t even a cycling fan, but he was on a 2.5 week trip with friends through Spain and France, taking in the sites and reppin’ the good ol’ USA along the way. Stampede hung out with Dan and his friends for the second pass-through of the racers before we took off for the house, possibly drunk, just in time to avoid the rain.
All in all it was an excellent day. Overcast enough to avoid sunburn, cool enough to be able to not have to drink water with my beer, and only one fat European woman who ran out in front of riders trying to grab a loose bottle and taking down 8 of them. It was close, it was fun, and it was the One Hundredth Tour de France! Quite a way to spend a day.
Today I took a break from watching the Tour de France.
**NOTE: If you’re interested in watching for me/us during the Tour stage tomorrow, I will likely be at switchback 16 in La Garde en Oisans on Alpe d’Huez. It’s at 59.5km to go and then again at 11.5km to go to the finish (if they ride the mountain twice (it’s supposed to rain so it’s possible this won’t happen)). I will be wearing very America-themed clothing.**
With that out of the way, here are some pictures from today’s ‘rest day’ of biking up the back side of Alpe d’Huez and then hiking down into (and back up from) town to get, among other things, beer, chocolate, and toilet paper:
With The Tour coming through, tomorrow should be a real rest day. It airs bright and early back in the states, but we don’t expect the riders coming through until after lunch here. Folks were already out partying this evening, and even with the rain they’ll continue through tomorrow. I think our group might split up while watching the stage, but given the nature of the fans I encountered today I suspect everyone on the mountain tomorrow will be new best friends that we just haven’t yet met.
Get off my face you stupid beautiful butterfly, I’m trying to climb a mountain.
Today we rode a total of 62 miles and climbed ~8200 feet, or nearly 30% the height of Mount Everest. 6800 of those were in the first half of the ride from our house to the top of the Col du Galibier.
I realized I lost my driver’s license, debit card, and ~€35 somewhere between leaving the town of La Grave for the summit of Galibier, and returning back to La Grave. While it took just 21 minutes to come back down the mountain to town, it had taken over an hour and forty minutes of non-stop climbing to reach the summit. Maybe you had to be there, but not turning back to reclimb in search of the cards was a no-brainer. Hopefully I have enough cash to finish out the trip.
It was a long ride. And the day ended with our usual climb up 30% of the height of Alpe d’Huez, with my Garmin reading 103.6F. It made me wish for the beer hand-up I got on my ascent yesterday.
It’s been hard to find time to write about our trip so far. And even harder to actually type it on my netbook.
Our flight from Boston to Canada was uneventful. Passing through Canadian customs, which used printers from the early 90s, Chris wasn’t allowed through because he lost his boarding pass for the second flight. With only 30 minutes to boarding, we nearly planned on doing the trip without him. As is his skill, however, he reappeared from some random part of the terminal having secured a new pass and gotten through customs in time to catch the flight.
From Canada to Geneva was similarly unexciting. I learned that Gangs of New York is a nearly 3 hour film, and that one serving of wine on an empty stomach is enough to get me pretty buzzed. We landed in Geneva, Switzerland and discovered the giant Nutella jars from my previous post, and weren’t sure whether to be amazed or disturbed that every single airport ad was for watches.
In the airport we met Milica’s dad, and began what turned out to be a very long day of train rides. The short version is that after missing our first train and spending 1+hour in limbo between Switzerland and France, and then waiting another 1.5 hours between trains, and then making it to the car rental place with 3 minutes to spare after another train delay, we piled us and our gear into the van for the drive to the house.
3 in the front, 4 closed up in the back (including me), we arrived at the house only to discover that the local grocery store was closed (at 7.30pm!). Starving, we got an overpriced and underprepared meal of pizza and french fries from town and went to bed early.
Our first full day started with a trip to the grocery store. Having ridden in the back of the van to the house, this was my first time seeing our surroundings and the road to the house. Thankfully. If I had known what we would be driving up, I doubt I’d ever have agreed to ride in the back of that giant van. Our house is 20% of the way up L’Alpe d’Huez, and only about 3 miles from the grocery store, but coming back up those 3 miles (specifically the 2 miles on the mountain) are some of the toughest miles I’ve ridden. And the narrow roads and lack of guardrails making driving it in a van a less-than-comforting experience. The bike ride up, combined with a slight difficulty in breathing from the elevation, made for a rude awakening.
After unloading groceries (French grocery stores do not supply or sell any bags, so this was a chose), we set out as a group to explore. The views here are incredible. My pictures don’t do them justice. Mountain roads, tunnels, incredible hairpin descents, blue rivers and snowcapped peaks – it’s amazing. Most of us rode about 32 miles with 5,000 feet of climbing. Doug and Chris are crazy and also summited Alpe d’Huez on day one. The sun sets close to 10pm here, so dinner was late and we didn’t get to bed ’til near midnight.
Today we had to return the van. 4 of us drove to Grenoble, while me and two others rode in the direction of Grenoble hoping to meet them on the way back. We managed 22.4 for the 23 miles out despite a stiff headwind thanks to a slight downhill. We never did find the other group, so we headed back (this time at closer to 16mph). I got to town last, where Eric and Chris were waiting. They planned to ride all the way up Alpe d’Huez, while I had no interest. Telling them I was 90% ‘definitely heading back to the house,’ I left on my own to return home and rest.
The turn off for our house is at the 6th switchback (6th from the bottom; technically the 16th of 21 counting down from the top) on the mountain road. That turn off also has a restaurant and water fountain. I stopped for water and decided I felt good enough that I’d explore further up the hill just to see what it was like. The road eased up noticeably (from 9to10% to 7to8%) so I just kept going. By the time I hit the the 12th switchback I figured I’d put in enough effort that I might as well go all the way to the top. So I did.
I watched my heart rate and tried to take it easy, but there is nothing easy about riding up the mountain, especially in 90F heat. I spent a few minutes at the top (which was 77F thanks to the elevation) and then came back down to the house. We cooked a big meal of rice, lentils, and mashed french fries (long story) and are now ready to pass out.
Doug and Chris are scheming over a ride for tomorrow that is 30-50% more climbing than Alpe d’Huez, but I have neither the energy nor the trust in my knee to attempt something like that so soon. I’m not sure what the rest of the group is doing, but you can be confident it will include plenty more climbing.