Chevauchée des Alpes 3

Chevauchée des Alpes 3

Day#4 – The Point of Return

Ornon or Ornoff

For a final act we’d chosen the Col d’Ornon, around 11km long with an average gradient just over 6%. It wasn’t a particularly difficult climb, the steepest sections being a little over 13% and had the benefits of being much quieter than the Alpe and providing stunning views off to either side.

Naturally, of course, we didn’t have the road all to ourselves. There were a few Porsche remnants to serve as a not-too-subtle reminder of noise pollution (and atmospheric, come to that) and several large road signs warned us that we could also be sharing the road with a cycling event.

This turned out to be the GFNY La Vaujany 2022, which the organisers promote as a race which lets you ‘BE A PRO FOR A DAY’® (their emphasis and registered trademark). It will even let you qualify for the GFNY World Championships in New York. Well, as long as you pay for the entry fee and your own accommodation and travel. Today’s event would see the riders take on a 145km ‘police-monitored’ loop with ascents of the Col de la Morte and Col d’Ornon, before finishing atop L’Alpe d’Huez. 

From what I could gather the entry fee is around €60, which also nets you a GFNY ‘vivid green’ jersey. This actually seems fairly reasonable price, until you realise that it’s not a dare and you have to actually wear the vivid green jersey in order to take part.

All Together Now…

Once again we had the full complement make the rendezvous and someone even mentioned we’d had no incidents, accidents, mechanicals, or punctures. They were obviously quickly hushed and we could only hope the cycling gods hadn’t heard and wouldn’t exact retribution.

We started the climb more or less together and were a fairly compact group over the first third, before gaps started to open up. I followed Steadfast’s wheel for a while, before dropping back to ride with Goose and Crazy Legs.

We had a brief respite when we were held up by a red light at some roadworks, with any thoughts of riding through the cones quickly dispelled with a look over the missing parapet to a vertiginous drop beyond. From the lights onwards, Goose and Crazy Legs gradually pulled away, until I was riding once more in splendid isolation, well apart from the annoying corona of flies buzzing around me napper, trying, without too much success, to ignore the pain in my legs and fully take in and enjoy the surroundings.

The final few kilometres were across a plateau or false flat, which seemed quite exposed and tackled into a headwind that made the whole thing a bit of a grind. I was more than happy find everyone encamped at a cafe not much further ahead and more than ready for the promised coffee. And that was it, for me. To all intents and purposes all the serious climbing was now behind me for another visit.

Someone got word that the race was about to go by and we wandered down to the road where Crazy Legs got to talking to a French cyclist who’d ridden up to support his mate, Gwen, who was a participant.

We naturally all got ready to cheer for Gwen, as a couple of motorcycles with flashing blue lights heralded the arrival of the head of the race – a small knot of maybe a dozen cyclists. Not realising at this point that this was a Granfondo-type event, I was expecting a riotous colour-explosion of different club jerseys, so was a little surprised when everyone who flashed past was wearing the same, anonymous green.

It didn’t help our companion identify his friend either, but he reported that he didn’t think Gwen was in the front group anyway.

“We would have seen him, because he’s …” He made vague, circular gestures with his hands.

“Fat?” Crazy Legs happily supplied, not quite knowing if big-boned would translate into French.

“No, no, no. Not fat,” long pause, “A … a … rouleur.”

Ah.

Gwen either wasn’t present in the first few groups that day, or we (and his mate) simply missed him.

(With a bit of amateur sleuthing on the results page, I identified that Gwen was probably one of the two Gwenael’s taking part. One of these was 15th overall, but in the 40-44 age range, so probably not best friends with 20-something cyclist we’d been chatting to. The other fit-the-bill for our guy, he was 20th at 37 minutes back and having identified him from the official event photos, it seems he also prominently featured on the post-event video. So, there you go, with a bit more practice, I could yet make a passably good online stalker.)

The mysterious and elusive Gwen? Does he look ‘rouleur’ enough?

With GFNY riders still passing, though now many minutes off the front, we decided to press on. Some of our group planned to descend off the Ornon, then climb the balcony road up to Oulle. Crazy Legs and the Ticker were, like me, done for the day and we were set on riding to Allemond straight from the bottom of the Ornon to go in search of lunch.

It was a smooth, fast and enjoyable descent, only slightly interrupted by some Granfondo riders and a large, slow-moving tractor. Halfway down, I slowed and pulled to the side to let a trio of hard-chasing, dangerously risk-taking GF riders through. Higher up the hill behind me, Crazy Legs couldn’t do the same without putting himself into the gutter so held his line resolutely and had to endure a tirade of complaints.

“Hey mate, it’s not like you’re going to win,” was his apt and succinct rejoinder.

Descending the Ornon

Our trio regrouped at the bottom and took a slow amble to Allemond, arriving just before noon and finding a promising looking restaurant in the town square. I would have to say we didn’t get an exactly rapturous welcome as we grabbed a table and sat down. On finding out we wanted to eat, the proprietor summarily told us we couldn’t order anything before 12.00 and couldn’t even look at a menu until this magic hour had passed.

“De l’eau?” we asked plaintively and were acknowledged with a grunt.

It was some time after 12.00 before a waitress appeared, a couple of menus were slapped down on the table and we were able to order drinks and ask for water again.

The waitress returned with our drinks and to take our food order. The Ticker summoned the temerity to ask for water. Again. Politely.

“Je n’ai que deux mains!!!” the waitress snapped angily, while Crazy Legs dissolved into a fit of giggles.

As she turned away, Crazy Legs pleaded with the Ticker to let him sit in his lap and stick his arms out under Crazy Legs’ armpits. Crazy Legs would then be able to wave 4 hands at the waitress when she returned. Perhaps sensibly, given that our food had yet to be served, the Ticker didn’t think this was a good idea and flatly refused and luckily, Crazy Legs was distracted when another Englishman rode up on that strangest of all sights, another Holdsworth.

We had a quick chat with the guy who was from Hertfordshire, then he wandered off to find a table in the shade and quickly incur the wrath of the waitress by daring to sit at one of the many, many empty tables set for four, when he was quite clearly on his own.

Despite the service, the food was superb. Halfway through we were joined by the Big Yin who’d baled halfway up the road to Oulle citing the poor road surface and extreme narrowness of the track and we left together to take the river road home, leaving the rest of our group to discover for themselves the delights that awaited them at the restuarant.

The Big Yin disappeared to explore another bike track that branched off the one we were following and we escorted the Ticker back to Bourg l’Oisans, before I turned around with Crazy Legs and we rode the entire length of the river route again, just because it was so pleasant. Then finally it was back to the hotel and to start packing and breaking down the bikes for travel tomorrow.

Ambling along the riverside route. Again. And again.

We returned to La Muzzelle for one last meal, each wandering off when we’d had enough. Once talk turned into grisly stories of nights spent in police custody, I knew I had nothing to offer and it was my turn to wander back to the hotel.

Fortified by one last breakfast and not too distracted by the waitress, we were on the road fairly early and airport-bound.

Returning the van we met the others at the baggage drop and made our way airside through security, dispersing across the terminal. I sat chatting with Captain Black, while Goose wandered off for some gift shopping, just killing the time until our flight was called.

We found Crazy Legs at the gate, where he’d been royally entertained by some radgee trying to force his way onto the flight for Marrakesh, an escalating verbal altercation that apparently only ended when the police turned up and carted him away.

A relatively short flight, the usual queuing and nonsense at Heathrow and we were finally on the last leg, heading home and discussing next year, where we may have to pick up some unfinished business with Italy.

Harder, Hotter, Longer, Steeper and Slower

So another fabulous, wholly enjoyable venture, even if everything climb seemed harder, hotter, longer, steeper and slower than the last time. Then again, I am several years older, which I can’t do much about. I was also at least a couple of kilo’s off optimal weight, which I can do something about, so maybe there’s an opportunity to make things a little easier.

The big lesson though is not to ride with a deformed saddle. It very literally is a pain in the arse …

And now for a proper holiday.


Day & Date:Sunday 19th June
Time:2 hours 43 minutes
Distance:55km
Elevation:698 metres
Average Speed:20.2 km/h
Temperature:23℃-31℃

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