Saturday, September 20, 2008

European Cycling 2008 Saturday, June 21st


St. Jean de Maurienne—Chambre—Col de la Madeleine--Col du Glandon—Col de la Croix de fer-Le Bourg d’ Oisans

71.3 miles 11,310’ climbing

“Probability is like gravity. You cannot negotiate with gravity”. Sony Crockett as played by Colin Farrell--Miami Vice--the movie

Anybody that says the riding in the Pyrenees is harder than the Alps has not ridden where we were riding in the Alps. Last year’s crossing of the Pyrenees from the Mediterranean Sea to the Atlantic Ocean was nothing like what Tim and I were undertaking. Today, we climbed over 10,600’ in our first 50 miles of riding. Doing back to back HC climbs almost right out of the door will do that for you.

After a few miles of valley riding, Tim and I were at the foot of the spectacular Col de la Madeleine, a 5200 vertical foot climb that averages 7.8% in grade.

I guess it was appropriate that about two thirds of the way up the climb, I picked up a friend as I rolled through a small village. I tried to communicate with this fine specimen of man’s best friend as he trotted alongside of me, but he obviously spoke only French, and besides, I didn’t know his name. Just a little over a year ago, our cat named Madeline died at the age of 13, and for me, she was the greatest cat of all time. Here I was, riding the Madeleine for her…with a dog. My not-so-little buddy lost interest in me as I exited his little town.

Once on top, Tim and I had a chat with a couple of motorcyclists. One of them was riding a pristine example of a 1990 Honda CBR 1000 Hurricane in the same colors as the one I had ridden for three years or so back in the day.

La Madeleine was an up and back climb for us, the only one of the entire trip. Even on le Alp du Huez, we found a way to ride down the northwest side of the mountain, thereby saving a few miles, and avoiding a round trip via the south side.

As Tim and I started downhill on the long descent, the dog from the village below popped up over a little rise. He was summiting the col! He must have followed other cyclists after he left me, and he probably did this every day he could. He was a handsome beast, and a strong one. I wonder if he times himself!

On the way down the descent of la Madeleine, I had the only really scary moment of the entire trip. As I dropped into a tight, blind right-hander, a small car hugging the “racing line” came barreling up towards me. I hit the brakes while leaned over, and my rear tire stepped out just a little bit. The driver clipped his apex, fully in my lane, and I hugged the inside edge of the road and hoped for a good outcome. What a moron! Maybe he thought he had his radar on that morning, but if I was in the same spot just a few seconds earlier…Tommy Timing!

From the start, the Col du Glandon was not a very pretty climb, and it would get a lot uglier as we went up. The last 3+ kilometers of the Glandon averaged 10.3% into a headwind, not that the wind mattered much. I was going so slowly I couldn’t outrun the flies that were hovering around my face, and I didn’t have the energy to bat them away. It was brutal, and as usual, I didn’t look at my power or cadence for the whole climb. It’s a good thing, because it would have been demoralizing. I guess we were lucky the Glandon topped out at only 6300’, because it sure would have been harder at 9000’. On the flip side, you don’t see too many cows grazing at 9000’, and it would have been cooler.

Pictures don’t do it justice, but Tim was riding a beautiful all carbon bicycle, handmade by Simplon in Austria. I thought my rig was pretty light at 14.5# with pedals, but Tim not only out climbed me, he out “weight weenied” me. His bike weighed less than 14#!

The Glandon links up with the Col de la Croix de Fer near its top, so we rode just a short ways uphill on de Fer, but we rode a very long ways down the other side, the side we would be climbing after the Alp the next day.

As we were descending the Croix de Fer, Tim and I looked down the road and saw a cyclist coming up the other way. Even from a distance, something looked different about him. As we drew closer, we could see him weaving across the road, initially covering its full width, and then just the uphill lane as we approached. Hopelessly over geared and apparently incredibly fatigued, he was barely ticking the pedals over at about 20 rpm.

Tim and I nodded a greeting to him, and then we looked at each other at about 40mph. No words were necessary, as I could tell both Tim and I had no doubt that this rider was going to the top, one way or the other…and he was only about 25% of the way there. He was stuck in his own "personal purgatory". One of the great things about cycling is that one gets to choose one's own poison.

As opposed to most of the huge descents we had already done, which allow a rider to plummet non-stop like a stone, the Fer descent has several climbs in the middle of its 17 miles. They are not long, but they are steep in places, especially when it feels like your legs are now filled with concrete.

Like a true champion, Tim pulled into headwinds the whole way up the valley to Le Bourg. Tim, if you are out there in German cyber land, Thank You!

By this time into the trip, I was convinced that there couldn’t possibly be cycling as great as this anywhere else in the whole world. I also was starting to feel that the other aspects of this type of travelling had its downside.

We spent the night in Le Bourge, at the foot of the Alp Du Huez. Our hotel was called the Milan, and unfortunately for us, it was a dump, the first (and only) bad hotel of the trip. The Milan overlooked the main village square, and just below my window were three or four cafes, an ice cream shop, and of course, a bike shop. As it was Saturday, the village was humming with activity, and since it was too hot to stay in the hotel room, we took the opportunity to do a little strolling.

Somewhat surprisingly, given its location at the foot of the Alp du Huez ski resort; this was to be the least attractive town during my stay in Europe.

Shortly after we returned from a pizza dinner hoping to get a solid night of rest, the “amateur hour” of music commenced. Seemingly, every local from miles around would wait his turn to climb up to the little stage, play his instrument of choice, and wail (sing) away. About every 20 minutes or so, there would be a lull, and then the same local village idiot would get up and strum away at “Hey Joe”, singing the more famous lines in English, and the rest in French.

I’m a big Hendrix fan, but I think I’ll delete this one from iTunes.

It was just horrible! I couldn’t close my window due to the heat wave, and after I called Tracy back home (not to complain!); I just lay there and tried to read myself to sleep. I dozed off after they shut everything down at 1 or 2am, but I slept fitfully the rest of the night.

I have a feeling that Lance never spent a night in the Milan.

Not exactly a good night’s rest, given what we had been up to, and our plan to get on Alp Du Huez as early as possible the following morning, and follow that up with the Croix de fer to the north from whence we had come.

Quality 10
Difficulty 10+
Route 10
Scenery 10

1 comment:

laura said...

Ah, the Milan. Agreed, worst of the trip! Amazing that they are willing to keep their standards for the town and all hotels so low, given their tourist season and draw to climb Alpe d'Huez. Great review, was a fun day otherwise!