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Ride Summary – Two easier major climbs that were just part of the pros stage 9: Col de Aravis – 2, Col de les Saisies –1
I started the day with mixed emotions about being nearly done with the cycling part of our trip. On one side of the argument, hammering the days of hard climbing wasn’t a sustainable habit, and elements of my gear (cleats and shifters) were whimpering too. On the other side, the views from the bike were spectacular, the rides were great, and getting off the bike meant being that much closer to my office chair back home (which had only entered and immediately exited my mind the previous day on the Col de Romme as a concept of comparative suffering).
We pedaled away from the hotel as a group, and promptly were directionally challenged at a roundabout where the GPS (“Jeeps” if you’re Australian) was ambiguous. We stood around scratching our heads a bit, and I took my best guess at the road and offered to ride a quarter mile or so and come back. Turns out the GPS got back on track with that road, so we were good to go. The altitude profile pointed up pretty quickly, and I was by myself again in short order. I saw the remnants of a bike accident in a small town St Jean de Sixt, where there was a bike in the road separated from its bottles and a cursing Frenchman who seemed to be fine. I felt pulled to try and help out a fellow bicyclist, but there were already plenty people there who had it under control and actually spoke the language of those involved – so I kept on. Col de Aravis wasn’t bad. http://www.climbbybike.com/climb.asp?Col=Col-de-lAravis&qryMountainID=6028 There was a little breeze, and you could see the route of several switchbacks up a canonical Col – nearly a perfect topological saddlepoint. The climb is rated a category 2, I think because its not terribly long, and isn’t as steep as other climbs we’d been riding. It also probably helped that I had decided to ratchet back my gusto, and climb a little more comfortably that day. I justified it as a mixture of savoring the time, not drilling my legs into the ground, and arguably to reduce the risk of cracking my cleats. Maybe that last reason was just a psychological ploy – but I had at least decided that the cleats were bad enough to where I should not sprint.
The ride down on the south side of the Aravis was the toughest descent of the trip. Lots of hairpins, reducing radius turns, and some of it a little off camber and roughly paved. I was glad not to be in any hurry, since that kind of technical descending isn’t something I’m very good at, and I don’t like to push it. A few places, the corner of a building came directly up to the road. That’s not the kind of turn you want to overcook, and end up in someone’s living room.
The climb up the Saisies was another category 1, but probably the easiest category 1 of the trip because it didn’t feel as steep, and has break of a descent in the middle of the climb. I didn’t see a lot of retail that morning, so I was on the climb with dwindling water supplies. I probably should have stopped earlier, but started to really scout for a water fountain or somewhere to get a drink. Then I started calculating the time left to climb and whether or not I’d dehydrate too seriously. Signs pointed toward that conclusion (another steambath of a day), but I wasn’t seeing anything other than wishfully thinking that various recycling cabins would have a fountain or would be retail. Finally, I did see a restaurant that said it was open – but the French lady tending the place was just outside having her coffee and sweeping. I went in to order something, but nobody came, so I went to the bathroom, and filled my bottles, and said ‘Merci’ on the way out. She gave me the impression that she was just about to come help me, if only I’d lingered in the dark restaurant by myself for a few more minutes. But she didn’t seem too troubled to have let me self serve some water for free.
The descent in the middle of the climb was a welcome sweeper, and was another place I could have gotten water if I hadn’t hit the other place. Climbing the last notch, I was horsing around and I thought I’d have good movie footage from my camera as I was riding, but it didn’t turn out as well as I’d hoped (like the footage from the Joux Plane – but with less huffing). In the last kilometer, a younger guy caught me and I snapped out of my gentler pace and back in to turning myself inside out to hold this guys wheel – which his companion couldn’t. Luckily that didn’t have to go on for long, and it was pretty fun. The scenery and ski lifts at the top of the Saisies were really cool to look at, and that altitude affords a good view.
The descent was a little technical in the beginning, with the balance of the day being much broader long sweeps down the valley to Albertville. My triumph in Albertville on Bastille Day was that I had studied the google maps location of the hotel, so I knew where to go – of course completely contrary to the GPS, which led to the wrong quadrant of the city defined by highway and river..
The French had largely abandoned the town for the day, and our hoteliers were keen to pawn waiting for the rest of their guests (our group) off on Julie. Julie was not agreeable to this. The hoteliers eventually backed down and sulked. Julie and I went for a hot walk in the town and got some great sandwiches. Take that Bastille.
Albertville was weird in its hot ghost-town state, and our walk around town was a little uneasy – but the highlight was seeing Taylor Phinney and some other non-TdF riders from RadioShack. Taylor had stopped to change out of his undershirt, and I immediately recognized him from seeing him at the Tour de Gila in New Mexico a couple months earlier. I called out a hello, and we exchanged a few pleasantries. I couldn’t think of the French word for ‘cycling intern’ which is stagiare, and he knew what I was talking about and reminded me – and said that technically that part of the season didn’t start until later in the season. He’s so approachable, like a fellow college student, so it was cool to see someone nice, cool for my cycling knowledge that I recognized him, and cool that he’s having that much success. Since I’m writing this entry so late, I just found out yesterday that he’s signing to race for BMC instead of RadioShack. Curious. Probably something to do with a beef with Lance or maybe more money at BMC. Still, he had a lot of support and success coming up through Trek-Livestrong. Best of luck, Taylor.
Everyone else got back later, especially with the bad directions, and for once I was the genius who didn’t trust the GPS. We heard a tough story of Claire having a bike accident before the trip, and Mike wrecked on the descent that day. Still, they were all generally going to do more biking in France after the trip.
Getting to dinner involved me slandering Julie’s map-reading, but we had a nice meal except my desert – which was some sort of ‘nougat’ which perhaps translates back to ‘lightly sugared cobwebs and dirt’. Everyone stood out to me like their Breakfast Club avatars: the Canadians extra scientific and Canadian, the Australians extra friendly and sturdy, the Bay Area folks extra San Franciscan… I was extra mouthy, and it was sad to be going separate ways the next day. But we did, and I heard the riding went well for everybody, and Julie and I had another nice day back in Geneva before heading to Italy. It was a great trip.
Ride Summary - Another pretty stacked day with four climbs, 2 easy, 1 famous, and one really tough but lesser known.
The group started together, but I split off on my own relatively soon on the climb out of Morzine. I think it’s a third or fourth category climb, which I’ve come to realize isn’t that bad. We’d had a lot of rain the prior night (and Spain win the World Cup), and parts of the ride were shrouded in fog. It was nice to be out of the sun for a little bit, even if it meant an early start. If I had to do it over again though, I think I would have waited around to see the pros start in Morzine and then followed them once the road was open. But at the time, I was thinking about the delays in getting on the road back down from Avoriaz two days before and didn’t want to start riding too late in the afternoon. It seemed like the right decision to start early. The other riders had scoped out that the Tour took a different route up the famous Col de Colombiere than our route did, and that the Tour way looked easier, so they were planning on going that way. I stuck to the route, even though that meant getting lost for a few minutes around Cluses, which of course is 40km away from Las Clusaz just to keep you on your toes. I’m not sure I can fault the GPS this time, I think I might have just taken a wrong turn for a second, but I was really close to where the GPS was saying to go, and all I could see in that direction was a cliff from the highway. I circled back around to the right road, and found out that yes, indeed the Col de Romme goes up that cliff in a series of leg-breaking switchbacks. It was a great climb, with little ‘villages’ of four or five houses. I did start to get concerned about how long this was going to take at 10+% grade http://www.climbbybike.com/climb.asp?Col=Romme-sur-Cluses&qryMountainID=7098 but checked the time and it seemed to be fine at around 9am with the pros starting around noon back in Morzine. I think Romme was the hardest and most scenic climb of the trip, so I was glad I did it. When I asked Bruno about it later, he said he thought it was classified as an HC (beyond categorization, or the toughest) climb, like the Joux Plane.
The summit in Romme was beautiful, and I welcomed the fountain for refilling my bottles before descending down to Reposoir and starting the Col de la Colombiere. That’s where things started to go south. I started riding up the col, and the French police Gendarmes told me to get off my bike. So I walked a little, and asked the next gendarme what was up. He said the road was closed for riding, but I could walk and they would be closing the col in 45 minutes (5 miles up the road, I think) or so.
So I went in to polite civil disobedience mode and would walk when I could see a gendarme, then sneak on my bike and ride as hard as I could until I got kicked off by another gendarme. This wasn’t how I wanted to climb one of the more famous cols, but I was determined to make the cutoff. My method worked out. I made the summit in the time - it was maybe 10 or 10:30am at this point, but the gendarmes weren’t all on the same page. One said I could ride down on the left side at this point, but the next said I had to walk. It’s a long descent, and one that I could ride fast enough not to get caught by the cars of the caravan in any sort of rapid fashion, so this was really pretty absurd to me. I continued with my civil disobedience until I got to the first town of Le grand bournand. Here I was concerned because the GPS was already well off in the trees again where there clearly wasn’t a road, but it looked like the destination was another mile or two downhill. I stopped and asked a shopkeeper, and they confirmed that it was ahead a few kilometers. I called Julie and told her I could see a gondola coming from a town a mile or so ahead, would that make sense. Julie didn’t know (turns out the base was 100 feet from the hotel). I should have known better. So, with some trepidation, I continued my mostly walking downhill, and the caravan started coming through and tossing newspapers, cookies, gummi bears, etc. I stopped and enjoyed it. With breaks in the caravan I continued my downhill hike in plastic bottomed shoes, and took some shortcuts across fields in switchbacks an some side (and even one dirt/rock) roads. Eventually I got to the second village of Le Grand Bournand, and found the clock tower Julie had mentioned. Julie had camped out for a viewing spot at this point, and made me walk over to her to get the room key, which caused some friction with my accelerating transition to grumpiness from enjoyment. All the walking had destroyed my cleats to the point that it was questionable whether they would survive the next day’s ride.
I knew the pros wouldn’t be through for another hour at least, so I went back and ate, showered, changed, and walked the half mile back from the hotel to the main road (of course this wasn’t on the GPS) village intersection and watched the Tour fly by with Julie and Damien. We met a nice Labrador, and went shopping for groceries. It turns out that the gendarmes were letting riders through shortly after the last pros went by (David Millar was having a really tough day) - so it would have been much nicer (except for the temperature) to have started late and chased the Tour.
I felt a little conflicted with the ride being awesome, a hassle, a crazy story, and at times really peaceful - but looking forward to a day that didn’t involve riding up any mountains. This was the Tour day that Cadel Evans lost the yellow jersey to Andy Schleck because of his broken elbow, and Samuel Sanchez did an amazing descent down the col de la Madeleine.
Ride Summary - The toughest day of the trip with two really difficult climbs.
A few extra freezing showers, a good dinner, and breakfast, and I was ready for the next day. This was a rest day for the pros, and an optional day for us since we were staying in the same hotel that night. But I really wanted to ride the Joux Plane and see what one of the toughest climbs in the Alps is like. The riders in the group had different plans for the day, some were going to do one of the climbs but not the other, and my plan was to ride the Joux Plane first instead of second, so I could really see what I had in me, instead of being at risk of being really tired at the end riding it second. So I set off to follow the GPS backward. Writing this a month later, I’m not sure why I would be so optimistic, but at the time, it was only the third day, and it was a GPS after all. After riding around town for 30 minutes trying to figure out what the GPS could possibly mean for a route (it pointed to going up a driveway and then offroad) and unsuccessfully asking several people how to get to the Joux Plane - I gave in to going the counter clockwise loop (which in the end was a good decision). I followed another group out of town and passed them on a small climb to Les Gets. The Col de la Ramaz was a steep bugger
, and was the first time I really used the easiest gear I had. But I was able to keep that gear spinning and made pretty good work up the climb to the first (false) top. There I met up with Mark and Mike, the two Australians from our trip and filled up with water and headed off with them to roll through the mountain village of Le Pras de Lys. At the end of the village the incline kicked up again, and I went ahead - apologizing that they might catch me on the eventual descent. The descent was really nice. It starts out with some nice sweeping turns before really plunging for quite a long while. I did not envy the pros coming up the other direction the day before. Going down wasn’t all roses either though. There was a tunnel on one of the really steep sections, and I braked a bit but entered it going maybe 35 miles per hour and went from blazing sun to utter terrifying darkness instantly. I had a really bad feeling. Peering over my sunglasses I could kind of make out the sides of the tunnel, so hopefully it didn’t turn and I wouldn’t hit the wall - but I couldn’t confidently tell if there was a curb, any ruts or holes, if there was a car behind me without its headlights on (which actually no driver would have been able to endure either), or when this nightmare would end. I think the tunnel is about half a mile long - Mike subsequently guessed a kilometer, and that’s a long time to balance not being able to see, being so scared I was starting to shake and speed-wobble my bike, and hardly daring to slow down much for fear of being hit from behind. Normally I can hear a car coming up behind me, but at that speed with the wind noise and in a tunnel, all bets are off. Finally, after maybe a minute of that torture I could see the proverbial light at the end of the tunnel and was incredibly happy to escaped unscathed other than the psychological wounds. I stopped and mulled that over with a granola bar before more and more gradual descending.
When I got to the town of Taninges, I was grateful to find a grocery later to become slightly infamous. It took me maybe half an hour to find and pay for water and blood orange juice. The store was organized really oddly, and had the slowest checkouts I may have ever experienced. I was also getting nervous, because they had an American Express sticker, but not a Visa sticker on their window, and I was out of Euros and only had a Visa card (dumb of me). The Australians caught up and came in the same place, so Mike kinda saved me by adding his stuff to my check out and paying for it with cash. Given the place, I’m pretty sure I didn’t want to have the conversation to find out if they did take Visa, or ask if any place nearby might. I also didn’t want to ride over to, and then up the Col de Joux Plane with half a bottle of water in searing humid heat. The three of us eventually had a small picnic outside the grocery and marveled at how odd and slow the place was. Then we had a nice ride along the flats over to the beginning of the Joux Plane - where we separated again.
The stats say that Marco Pantani (who died from a drug overdose) holds the record for riding up the Joux Plane in 33 minutes. It took me about an hour, which I’m really happy with, and sounds sorta close to 33 minutes - but isn’t. Its like running a 4 hour marathon compared to a 2 hour marathon. To run or ride that fast is nuts. Sub 5 minute miles for the whole marathon. That’s the kind of output, but compressed into a quarter of the time (so even faster). I felt pretty good, I even took a sketchy video where you can see me moving and huffing up the hill. I had a minute or so delay half way up where there had been an accident, but I got lucky not to get stuck there for long, and got ahead of a group that had been waiting. Turns out the helicopter flying around hadn’t been there to film me ride the col in an hour (or to paparazzi follow Lance around), but was for the emergency. I hope that person is ok. The climb is pretty relentless at 9-10+% grade, and a 23 year old British guy from the group that had been stopped caught me for the last kilometer. We talked for a bit, and he said he had ridden the col two years ago when he was 21 and it felt harder today - lamenting that he was supposed to be getting stronger at that age. Then he proceeded to ride ahead of me. I followed, but was glad the summit was in sight. At the sign for the summit I met Claire and Jason (representing the Bay Area on our trip) who had just had lunch after riding Joux Plane, and Gordon and Jenny rode up from the other side of the Joux Plane. We took some photos, and I mentioned that I needed to get going a few times. Then we took more photos. Then I felt bad about it, but decided I needed to get home and get some calories and a shower. There was one more quick climb, and then a pretty technical descent I was glad to ride alone. The GPS went off road and into the forest part way down - explaining why I couldn’t follow the route clockwise. Luckily, I knew where I was going, as that made it 0 for 3 for the GPS and finishes.
I got back, cleaned up, and headed out for sundries with Julie and what will be known as the rotisserie chicken incident and coming back to see pro Bradley Wiggins getting interviewed on the Australian’s balcony.
Ride Summary - Gradual couple thousand feet of climbing over 40km or so, plus another 2600 feet of climbing in 14km from Morzine to the Avoriaz ski area.
I woke up well rested in Anthy and the whole group had a nice breakfast together before rolling out through some nice country roads where the only difficulty was keeping track of where to turn. We had a few missteps, but the gps was right on, and the group only went a short bit off course before noticing and trying to turn around gently enough to not derail the small train of riders behind. Going through a town (les Thesules, I think), we saw some faster riders, and I was tempted to jump ahead with them, but didn’t for a number of reasons including that I didn’t know where they were going, they were French so I probably couldn’t communicate with them, and that it’s a little uncool to leave your group. I was getting a little twitchy with the pace though, and I wanted to motor up to Morzine and have a shower and lunch before riding up to watch the Tour finish late in the day.
Not long after, there was a little more incline, and a slightly confusing intersection/ramp that did break up the group. I was ahead a little, and the route got on somewhat of a highway that had a sign indicating no bikes (but it was the right route). The road didn’t seem bad, so I continued, but I know there was some stopping behind. So I stopped at the next pullout which was a mile or so ahead and had a nature break and chomped a granola bar waiting for the group. After a few minutes, I decided that was enough and went on anyway. It was a nice gradual climb through a really green valley, and I felt good, so I pushed the pace and got myself in to a pretty good lather.
There was a wedding at one roadside stop with a river view, and I exchanged some words with another English speaker as to whether the guy singing as they walked through the small parking lot was serious or joking. I think he was serious.
There were a few tunnels which are always a little concerning to a cyclist, but these were generally pretty short, wide enough, and you could see the light at the other side - so they weren’t bad.
Soon enough, I was at the outskirts of Morzine and Julie and Damien passed me in the luggage van and stopped to say hello. We took a few pictures and Julie was a little grossed out that I was sopping wet. I figured I see them soon at the hotel.
That didn’t quite work out as planned. Damien had mentioned that there were two ways to go through town in the morning, and I followed his direction to take the first left after a switchback and rode though town following the GPS and some other cyclists until I was in the middle of town where the GPS track ended at another hotel. So I looked around a bit, rode around a bit in each direction, and decided to call Julie on the cell to ask how to get from where I was to the hotel. Now, you have to remember that our cell usage deal was $1 per minute in Europe, so calling Julie was $2 per minute, and I’m cheap, so this was not ideal. But I called, and could ask, I’m looking North at a gondola - which way do I go? Julie had no idea, but talked to me for a bit before putting on a British woman who worked at the hotel desk. I asked the British woman. She proceed to babble about not knowing - what with roads closed or being one way - and was I aware the Tour was coming through town? Exchanges went like: “Yes. That’s why I’m here. What direction is the hotel from the gondola?”
"Oh, I’m not very good with directions. Are you near the Palais de Sport?"
"Yes. Which way to the hotel?"
"Oh, I’m not sure how to tell you, with the roads and all and blah, blah, blah…"
"Can you even tell me which direction to go? (irritation mounting)"
"Blah, blah (not answering any question asked, not pausing to breathe in flow of Alice in Wonderland quality blather)"
"(Interjecting) Yes, but can you tell me, Up, down, left, right… anything?"
"Ok, I’ll figure it out myself. Thank you. Click."
At this point, I have all the endorphins from hammering on my bike, I’m baking in the hot sun, hungry, thirsty, drenched in sweat, and need to eat and ideally rest before riding up to a ski area. I’ve wasted 15 or so minutes riding around where the GPS says I should go before I made a call to my wife, who put on someone completely incompetent for directions who wasn’t answering my questions, and was eating up minutes on my cell bill. I had a pretty significant wave of anger. I’m not proud of it, but that was too many chained inexcusable demonstrations of incompetence that I felt like were actually dangerous to my health. I set further off on my own in a guess direction determined to ride every block of Morzine if needed, and after a little bit was rolling by the hotel with some folks outside who called me over and I believe heard a few expletives in my description of what I thought having the GPS direct you to the wrong hotel indicated to me. I really was furious. But I cooled off, went in and washed my face and slammed a little lunch, and headed up to Avoriaz. Plans for a rest and change were shot.
Riding up to a ski area is a pretty good way to let off some steam, though, and the ride is gorgeous. I wasn’t totally exact with the timing, but I think I did it 57 minutes, which is pretty solid for 14km. The climb was full of fans on the side of the road, some of which were grilling, drinking, and/or cheering for amateur cyclists like myself. There were a lot of cyclists heading up too, and one pair of guys passed me and stayed a hundred feet ahead of me for a while, before I passed both of them later on a steeper section. We were pretty close in pace. There were also two guys in pro kits for Euskatel Euskadi that passed me later, and they were flying. I think I was grinding out 9-10 miles per hour, and they were easily doing 16. There are times when you get passed, and you try to match the pace for a little bit - just to see if you can, and maybe for pride. This was not one of those times. I was at full output. They weren’t. The difference was impressive. Chasing after them would be like chasing after a motorcycle.
The climb flattens out near the top, which was a nice surprise, and I went into hunt, gather, and hide from the sun mode. I got a jam sandwich and a nutella crepe from a vendor who seemed to think I was retarded for asking for both and not wanting a ham sandwich. It did turn out to be a lot of sugar, but I had four or five hours to dose that out over. I also got three or four drinks and quaffed them pretty directly.
Then I was ready to explore a little and experience what its like to be at a Tour de France finish. The last couple kilometers were fenced, and sponsors rolled up and down the road in cars, on roller skates, and with push carts handing out hats, gummy bears, cookies, flavored drinks, big green foam hands for waving, blow up clapping things to bang on the fence, etc. You immediately learn to stick out your hand. I was really excited to get some of all of the above, and I’m probably most excited for my yellow LCL hat.
I did more walking around in my cleats than I would have liked, but managed to find a bathroom at the ski area visitor center and was able to fill up my bottles to stay hydrated over the several hour wait for the pros. Julie and our Australian friend, Mark, from the group came up through some combination of ski lift and hiking and we settled in to a spot 100 meters from the finish. Mark had an extra pair of flip flops for me to walk/stand in (a few sizes too big, but still really appreciated after being in soggy cycling cleats for several hours of the past couple days). Mark and Julie got pretty good loot as well, and we had a good viewing spot. A Livestrong rep came by, and we had our hands out - but this time had a twist that temporarily stunned my brain. The bracelets weren’t free - they were a Euro. I was a little conflicted about that for a second. I’m not really a yellow bracelet-wearing guy, and I had even thought before the trip about whether wearing one would garner French disdain for the American-tied icon. But I quickly figured at the time that retracting my hand from a bracelet after finding out that it costs a Euro and that the proceeds go towards fighting cancer… that not buying the bracelet would be more telling than buying one. I lost my father to cancer, and I am somewhat of a Lance fan (if I’m a little conflicted for some reasons, I at least think he’s done a ton for cycling in the US and the world), so I’m still wearing that bracelet a month later.
Interestingly, this was the first day that Lance really lost the Tour - just left no question. Fifteen minutes was stark. Andy Schleck won the day in a select sprint, and Samuel Sanchez who I had nearly brushed elbows with the day before was there. It was an exciting Tour - if incredibly disappointing for hope for an American win.
After the top pros finish, they fly down the same road - while other pros are still coming up. Its weird to see. We watched the late finishers come in, and then Julie and Mark left to hike and chairlift down. I had to walk my bike the two kilometers before I could get on the road and ride down - which I did extra cautiously with all the fans, other amateurs, and occasional pros making their way down. The pros managed to pick their lines down in much more rapid fashion through the generally ordered chaos. I was surprised not to see any carnage, and was glad to get down safely and take a nearly freezing shower (purposely). In the crazy heat, one of my favorite things was showering as cold as the water would go - which I believe was lightly conditioned snowmelt. It was bracing, but I think it helped with swelling and recovery - like a poor man’s ice bath.
Ideally, I would have written ride descriptions each day - but I never really had the time during the trip.
I’m writing the riding blog info back in the US.
Day 1 Route Summary : A Loop Ride from Geneva into the Jura Mountains and see a Tour de France finish, then ride back to the lake Geneva town of Anthy by way of the ferry from Yvoire.
The first day of the real riding was pretty fun, but included some aggravations that would end up being pretty typical - and would probably inspire me to do all the trip organization myself if I were to do another similar trip.
We all left the Hotel Jade in Geneva together in really good spirits - the hotel was great, the breakfast was delicious, and everyone was eager to get started. Bruno - the guy who runs Cyclomundo rode with us out of Geneva and showed us a number of building like the World Health Organization, the UN, etc, and we went by some nice sunflower fields and quiet roads shortly after getting out of downtown Geneva.
The climbing started on the Col de la Faucille, which was a good opener. Bruno got a flat at the base in Gex, and I waited for him since the other riders were a little more eager to get a head start. After a flat change, I rode with Bruno for a few kilometers, and got to hear a bit more about the area - but Bruno was struggling a little at my pretty reserved pace so after a few bits of protest and soft-pedaling I went up the road alone. I think the Col de la Faucille is a really fun climb - because its not too steep, and not too long at 11.8 kilometers (~7.3 miles) and at an average grade of 6%. You get pretty nice views, and there are some water fountains and lots of greenery. More bike-geek details at http://www.climbbybike.com/climb.asp?col=Col-de-la-Faucille&qryMountainID=6134
So, I stayed in the middle ring (39 tooth) of the triple on the bike that I had, and felt pretty good - a comfortable challenge. From the pace of the initial ride through the countryside, I was a little surprised to have not seen anyone from our group further up the climb but I would later find out that the group, and Bruno had all stopped about 1/3 of the way up in a village where Bruno joined them and got a beer.
From the summit, the route (we had GPS) mostly went North with some squiggles toward La Cure and Les Rousses. I got screwed up at one intersection, and ended up heading down to Mijoux, where I realized I had gotten pretty seriously off course. I blame:
But I learned how that GPS worked in the process, it was a fun descent, and it wasn’t a bad climb back up. I dubbed the climb the Col de Imbecile as my own self effacement.
Back on track, riding through the Jura was nice, and I made it to Les Rousses pretty directly after that except one other detour that was off the GPS route but seemed to be in the direction of the Tour de France. I had lunch in Les Rousses and was happy to find out that there was a lake a few miles past Le Rousses - so I rode over there and went for a swim — in all my cycling clothes because they were so drenched with sweat I figured it could only improve things. I got a few funny looks for that. Then I basically tried to hang out in the shade for an hour or so, and pedalled back to Les Rousses to get groceries and hang out by the jumbotron that was showing the Tour. I also got some provisions at the local grocery.
After a couple hours of that, I started to wonder where the finish was (it didn’t seem right) - so I asked. Turns out the Tour de France finish was labeled Station des Rousses - which I think was in La Moura - clearly. That’s about 10 or 15 kilometers from Les Rousses - back through La Cure, and a good ways back toward the Col de Imbecile - actually taking the detour that I had stumbled on when going through La Cure the first time. So I rode over there and missed the finish by a few minutes, but got to see the riders coming back to their team buses. Samuel Sanchez of Euskatel-Euskadi rode right past me - and as I write this he’s in 3rd place with only a few stages to go. I’d like to see him win somehow.
So that was less than ideal, but worked out ok. I saw one of the guys (Mark, an Australian from our group) there, and he headed back. I stayed for a bit, but then headed back to La Cure and on to the rest of the route back to Lake Geneva. I wasn’t really impressed with an itinerary of being outside nearly all day, but the swim had definitely helped. The weather was really threatening then, and I caught Mark at La Cure, where he thought to go one way (to Les Rousses), and I politely offered that I was sure we needed to go the other way - and I believe I was right. The route took me down to Yvoire, and I escaped a major hail storm that all the other riders got caught in only a short bit behind me.
The route there got sketchy, as the GPS completely did not show the way to the ferry, and actually implied that several blocks of the town were in the water. I found the ferry though, and so did everyone else - who were amazed I missed the golf ball sized hail.
We all took the ferry, and it started raining pretty hard. Resuming riding on the other side of the lake we were basically at a loss because again the paper map showed no detail, and the GPS file for the other side of the lake wasn’t on the GPS. After a bit, our group split in two with Mike and I going one way on a wild goose chase that took us all around the destination town (Anthy) until we found a local map sign, and sussed out how to get to the hotel using that. I was a little surprised Mike was angry about the lack of directions - but my good humor at the mapping snafus only lasted through the end of that day.
We returned home night before last and have not struggled too much with jet-lag. Eric was exhausted when we arrived to Albuquerque, though, on Monday night. A big reason for that was that he let me lie on his lap during the Rome-Atlanta flight, during which I slept for about five hours. So, because of that, he didn’t get to sleep very much himself. When we got home on Monday night, he went immediately to bed (we arrived home at about 9:30). Yesterday morning and this morning, we awoke pretty early, earlier that we usually would, and I think that is also a time-change consequence.
We are glad to be home and to be back with our Kirby, even though he is wearing a satellite-dish around his head right now because he has two hot spots! He had been licking the areas so much that he developed scabs, so my mom had to take him to the vet. He should be all better soon though.
Eric and I have been thinking about a few stand-out features of the countries we visited, so we’re going to compile something of a list of those, so here are some items that particularly stood out. This will get the ball rolling, and we’ll add more as we think of things.
a) People in Europe still seem to smoke a lot. We can tell a funny story about our “non-smoking” Barcelona hotel room to support this claim.
b) Despite the fact that it appears that some European towns do get very hot in the summer, one would think there would be greater saturation of air-conditioning in apartments, homes, and — particularly — hotels.
c) Europeans love ice-cream bars and eat a lot of them. They are such a popular item that well known celebrities (such as Benicio del Toro) are featured in advertisements for the newest ice-cream bars. See: http://insidemovies.moviefone.com/2010/04/22/benicio-del-toro-makes-ice-cream-ad-internet-blows-up-in-disgus/
d) We are well aware that this list might invite accusations that we are merely spoiled Americans, but we recognized that we really do, after all, really enjoy a lot of our American conveniences. For whatever that’s worth …
e) Europeans are much more friendly to bicyclists and sensitive to them when on the road.
f) When we use “Europeans” (such as in the items above), we know we are making gross generalizations, particularly because we are only referring to Spaniards, Italians, Swiss people, and French people — and the populations in those countries certainly aren’t homogeneous … oh well … they do all seems to like ice-cream bars.
g) We think Venice might very well be over-rated. It is kind of like Las Vegas in that it seems like an exaggeration. We did have a good time there, but maybe it was the fact that it was like 98 degrees Fahrenheit and humid as can be that it did not strike us as the most romantic city on Earth. The heat and the fact that sewage runs in the canals made us question the city’s “romance” reputation.
h) I have about 2.50 in Swiss francs that I will give to the first requestor.
i) Eric loves bread, but by about five days into the trip, we were both a little tried of bread.
OK, we’ll add more to this list later. And, Eric is going to be adding some entries of his own later that relate directly to cycling.