Last Christmas after a breezy ride on the East Yorkshire Wolds, my oldest and most recently retired pal Mark told me he planned to head to the Alps in the summer to do a bit of bucket list ticking. Fancy it? he asked. Of course, brilliant, put me down for that. After a couple more pints we went our separate ways back into the real world. Two weeks later came the text, right, found some accommodation, flights and bike hire, first week of September good for you? At this point I thought it prudent to ask my long suffering wife, Emma. Fine by me she said, September being more than half a year away.
Well 9 months later…
Day One. A long day travelling with Mark heading from Beverley and me from Ilkley. Supposed to get on the same train at Leeds, finally managed to meet at Manchester Piccadilly! Train, plane and automobile later and we arrived in Bourg d’Oisons just after dark to locate our landlords at their restaurant in the middle of town. The room was small, but had all that was needed, including a handy external bike lock-up that also allowed us to keep toxic cycling kit out of nostrils reach.
Day Two. Picked up the rental bikes and after a little fettling set off to get The Alp out of the way! Not much of a warm up as our accommodation was about 500 yards from the start of the climb. Brother in Law and fellow cyclist Toby is a regular holiday maker in this area with his family. He had only said one thing, start The Alp easy. The first three ramps need to spun up not attacked, then it’s plain sailing the rest of the way. Good advice indeed and he had also set me a time of 1hr 12min 48sec to beat. This was to be my downfall. I had bought my own saddle with me, a Brooks C13. I thought I had fettled it in the correct position but it was a little too far forward. I felt this acutely by about corner 4. But I couldn’t stop and readjust. I had a time to beat. So on I foolishly went. By the time I got to the top my backside was in agony. No amount of dropping down and standing on the climb had helped. Neither had a time 48 seconds slower than Toby! A total failure? Not a bit of it. The sun shone, the mountains looked fantastic and we were in the Alps. Utopia. Mark arrived shortly afterwards and had had a similar painful experience, but also wore the same broad grin. After a coffee and a commemorative photo we headed off over the Col de Sarenne. This road in contrast to the Alp was beautifully quiet complemented only by a pair of Dutch lads beautifully attired in identical Rapha kit. The descent from the Col was fun. The road is a little uneven to say the least and had been advised by a friend not to go down it. Not sure what all the fuss was about as it was perfectly fine (apart from one switch back) and we arrived safely down at the dam and the main route back to Bourg. It was at the dam we met an English couple who has suffered multiple punctures on the descent and had run out of tubes and patches. Fortunately we hadn’t so were able to provide them with the means to get home.
Day Three.The ride we classed as our big one of the holiday as in distance even though it was only 50 miles. The Col de la Croix de Fer. Interestingly enough the first stretch of this climb was very un-Alpine and more Yorkshire. A stretch of about 4 miles that went straight and steep up through the forest. No switch backs here just a constant tough gradient that my Garmin assured me seldom dipped into single figures. A re-group and a brew was called for we pulled over at the first available cafe and viewpoint to admire the scenery. The next section involved a cheeky descent down a section of switchbacks. Mark commenting on our way down that the return may not be as relaxing as we might have hoped! Up to the dam at the Lac de Grand Maison opened up yet another amazing vista another regroup then off we set towards the Iron Cross is simply glorious weather. On the descent we popped our heads over the Col de Glandon and peered down. Maybe next year.
Day Four. Staying local we had decided to ride the balcony road that is cut into the mountain above Bourg. Rather than slog up the first few bends of the Alp to get there we opted for the slightly longer and much prettier as it turned out Pas de la Confession. Up we climbed through the forest until Villard-Reculas, a classic Alpine village. We had been advised by the lad in the hire shop that this place was home to a great lunch spot. Having been separated on the climb Mark headed off following the signs to the restaurant meeting point while I chatted to a gang of Brits wondering where he had gone. After scaling a section of off road Mark was met with a ferme sign so made his way back down to the village looking far from happy with the extra climb on top of the climb! The Confession brings you out so you are looking down on the first section of The Alp. It affords a great view of the winding road and all the little ants on bikes toiling up it. Having dropped down to La Garde we headed up to the balcony road proper. Amazing experience. Sheer rock one side, sheer drop the other with a twelve foot wide slab of tarmac between. The views and vertigo were staggering.
Day Five. A temperature drop of about 10 degrees and a brisk wind down the valley gave this day a whole different feel. Basically more like the type of weather I’m used to riding in. The valley out to La Berarde follows a fast flowing river that is beautifully fed by lofty waterfalls along it’s whole length. Like the Iron Cross ride this was an out and back route. The breeze aiding us on the climb out and the descent aiding us against the breeze back. Pretty much the spot on way to finish out short but sweet trip. A climb up for a coffee in the mediaeval village of Venosc to look for houses for Toby’s dream world finished off the ride, then two happy old men packed their bags, set their alarms and headed home.