Climbing Up Like A Spider – Alpine Echoes – Part 4.

Climbing Up Like A Spider – Alpine Echoes – Part 4.

Total Distance: 25 km/15 miles with 1,046 m of climbing
Riding Time: 1 hours 55 minutes
Average Speed: 13.0 km/h
Temperature: 29℃

Route & Ride Profile

l’Alpe d’Ease

Time for one last hurrah, one more brief spin out, before breaking down and packing up the bike for the return home. Steadfast and the Hammer have disappeared for solo ride’s, off up the valley, the Big Yin is, I believe treating himself to a ride up the Col d’Ornon, while Caracol is riding Oulles and the Col d’Ornon as a warm up for another assault on the l’Alpe d’Huez.

That leaves six of us for a slow-paced amble back up the Alpe, complete with multiple stops and a vague plan to arrive at the top in time for a relaxed lunch. From there, thoughts go no further than a quick zip back down the mountain to the campsite.

Not a very taxing day, but for me it’s going to be enough. I remember doing the exact same thing last time around when, the day after the Circle of Death, I felt someone had poured concrete into my legs. Things weren’t as bad today, but I was still mightily tired and anything beyond a slow-paced amble was completely beyond me.

All traces of the bad weather from yesterday had blown over and it looked like being a good ‘un, the sky a backdrop of deep blue, scratched with a few gauzy, high altitude contrails and dotted with bright, primary coloured highlights from a handful of drifting paraglider wings.

So, up we went, slowly spinning the legs back up to speed, as chains rolled up cassettes, again and again and again. And again. We initially rode en bloc, at a comfortable pace, enjoying the sunshine and chatting away quietly.



We stopped every three or four corners to enjoy the views and watch the sparse, but steady flow of riders heading up, or zipping down. Crazy Legs felt our presence kept those descending honest, as no one wanted to misjudge a corner and mess up in front of a critical jury of smart-arse cyclists.

C’mon Paul!

We greeted and encouraged those clambering upwards, they were almost unfailingly cheerful, despite the rigours of the task they’d assigned themselves. What is it about bikes and mountains that makes us want to ride up them and makes us happy to do it, too?

After exchanging pleasantries with one fellow-Brit, he then looked behind and shouted down words of encouragement to his companion, toiling upwards in his wake,”Come on, Paul.”

We immediately took up the chorus, encouraging Paul to greater efforts,

“Come on, Paul!”

“You can do it, Paul!”

“Dig-in, Paul!”

As he drew level, no doubt wondering who this bunch of piss-taking, miscreants were, Kermit gave it one last shot.

“Come on, Paul,” he paused for dramatic effect, “We’ve heard so much about you!”

As we dissolved into giggles, Paul hauled himself past and around the corner, shaking his head and no doubt cursing the lolling, goggling, gaggle of lazy, smart-arse cyclists, who didn’t even have the ability to ride up on their own without stopping at every corner.

Recovery ride?

Undeterred, at some point we resumed our super-relaxed ascent and I found myself riding alongside Ovis as the others stretched away out in front.

We were just discussing whether riding up a mountain was actually a good choice for a recovery ride, when Ovis jinked into my path. This forced me toward the low wooden barrier, that was all that stood between the road and a precipitous drop over the other side. I had visions of him body-checking me over the edge as he quipped, “Oh yeah, try recovering from that, then!”



Apparently though, this was just my paranoid delusions and we pressed on without any further overt attempts on my life.

At the next stop a German couple seemed hugely amused by our antics and banter, I suppose for them it was almost as entertaining as spotting a troupe of wild Barbary apes cavorting across the Rock of Gibraltar. They must have eventually decided that we were mostly harmless and possibly even trustworthy, so they co-opted Ovis into taking a few photos for them.

On we went again, all the way up to the village of Huez, where a little leafy shade perfectly framed what we determined would be our final stop before the summit.

Running Up That Hill

After another suitably elongated rest, replete with idle chatter, off we went again, slowly catching and passing a runner pounding her way resolutely upwards. Crazy Legs had a brief chat, learned she was a visiting American and she gave him the answer to his most burning question: what would she do once she got to the top? She said she was just going to turn herself around and run straight back down again!

I can’t help thinking running down a mountain would be as punishingly hard, if not actually harder, than running up one. And I thought cyclists were crazy …

Once more our group became naturally stratified by the slope and I found myself riding at the back with Ovis as we rounded the photographers. Yet again I got undeserved grief for hogging the limelight.



We had a bit of a chat about the possibility of extending our trips over a few more days, but given I was so deeply tired already, I wondered how enjoyable that would actually be. Perhaps we would need to plan a rest day in the middle, or, Ovis suggested, maybe we’d just need to avoid mega-long, multiple mountain marathon’s, like yesterday’s “Circle of Death.”

Then we were on the long straight up through the first ski chalet’s, following the road as it dog-legged left around one last corner and riding across the official-unofficial finish line with its barriers and bunting and podium.

Done. That was it for the day, there was never any intention of pushing through the town and up to the actual finish this time around. We clambered off and joined the rest of our group who’d already staked out a table in our favourite bar.

Here we would enjoy a few cold drinks, have a bite to eat and generally watch the world go by on two wheels.

POTUS Rising

One rider wandered past clad in a specially made, one-off, bright pink jersey, featuring a bigger than life, sublimated image of Donald Trump’s snarling face, all sneering mouth, tiny, piggy eyes and ridiculous, Shredded Wheat hairstyle. The rider was at pains to tell anyone who’d listen that he wasn’t a fan of the 45th President of the US of A, but then, we wondered why he’d gone to all that trouble and expense of making and wearing the jersey?

Crazy Legs told him an orangutan-orange jersey would have been much more appropriate, which seemed to be the only sensible response to this particular horror.

A few of our mob wandered off to do some souvenir shopping, while I sat with Crazy Legs, watching a large group of strapping, young men, all of a similar age and build, ride past. They all wore identical, understated kit, all-black, save for one red, white and blue, tricolour sleeve. I suspect they were from the armed forces, maybe French Marines or similar, speculation that was reinforced when one of them strode past later, with shiny metal prosthetic’s where an arm and a leg were missing.

We then idly wondered if perhaps we’d just been presented with the ideal way of coming up with a tasteful club jersey that could still pay homage to our established, traditional and sadly lurid, club colours of tangerine and green.

Crazy Legs reminisced about the last time we were here, when he’d had to break the news to a disbelieving Englishman that, although he’d crossed the unofficial-official finish line, with its barriers and bunting and podium, he hadn’t actually completed the climb.

We’d watched him quickly run through all the stages of grief: denial, anger, depression, bargaining and finally acceptance and resignation, before wandering away disconsolately. I’m not sure he liked us after that. He certainly didn’t seem inclined to hang around and chat.

It’s all downhill from here

Well fed and watered and with souvenir jersey’s and t-shirts safely tucked away, we rolled out and started our final, glorious, sweep down – a last twenty minutes of unabashed fun.

Around the first few curves and we passed Caracol pounding up the other way, cheering him on. He never did manage to better his time from the first day, but then again, after yesterday and his testing idea of a warm-up, it wasn’t a great surprise.

Back at the campsite, the bike broke down and packed away without any problems. I wandered into the chalet next door to find Crazy Legs and Steadfast watching the Tour de Suisse on their TV. I have to admit, despite wandering past it for 3 days, it hadn’t actually registered with me that we had a TV.

He wins it by a chin

It wasn’t a particularly interesting stage, but it did allow Crazy Legs to indulge in his rather unconventional dislike for the ultimate winner on the day, Luis León Sánchez Gil. Apparently, it’s all about the chin, as he bears no particular malice for the riders results, team, nationality, history or other physical traits and positively admires LL’s “older twin brother” (ahem), Samuel “Samu” Sánchez González…

Crazy Legs was only appeased by a brief cameo from one of his all-time favourite riders, Domenico Pozzovivo, who he much admired for his openness and honesty in clearly demonstrating he doesn’t give a rat’s arse, whenever he can’t give a rat’s arse.

Once the Tour de Suisse, boo-hiss pantomime was complete, we wandered into town for a Last Supper at the Dutch bar, once again deflecting the owners offer of a table for ten inside and even managing to persuade him we were trustworthy enough to fit ten chairs around a table for eight.

We had an extended discussion about where we could cycle next year with, naturally, no real conclusions reached.

We then tested Caracol’s knowledge of dead minor-celebrities, during which we (rather alarmingly) learned that much-beloved-by-grandparents, comedy double-act, Cannon and Ball were behind the book, “Christianity for Beginners.”

Someone wondered if Cannon and Ball were still working as a double-act and it was my sad duty to inform everyone that this was no longer the case, as I was pretty sure I’d heard that “Cannon fired Ball.”

That seems a suitably low enough point to draw a veil over this particular evening. We finished up and wandered back, only to be distracted by the moon rising over the mountain peaks. A suitably picturesque grand finale.



We were up early the next day to clean out the cabin, wash everything down and brush and mop the floors. This time around the nit-picking, cabin inspection Nazi’s were apparently on a day off, so we all passed muster quite comfortably, loaded up the vans and away we went.

Eye of the Spider

Our return trip was spent in much the same way as the inbound one, keeping an eye on the directions for our stalwart, designated driver, Kermit, while tuning to various radio stations to try and keep us entertained.

The highlight was undoubtedly Survivor, belting out one of their ultra-cheesey, Rocky theme-songs. (No, not that one). Google informs me (sorry, I’ve never felt the remotest desire to actually watch a Rocky film), that the song in question was Burning Heart, from the motion-picture, Rocky IV.

We listened in hushed awe as the complex, poetic imagery of this magnificent opus unfolded, until Biden Fecht turned to me, perplexed.

“Did he just sing ‘climbing up like a spider?'” he asked, somewhat bewildered.

“Ah, I think the actual lyrics were ‘rising up like a spire,'” I sadly had to inform him. Much more mundane. But then again, I was sure I could find a use for the phrase “climbing up like a spider.”

Wholly inadequate French signage had one more mean trick to pull, before I could escape its malign influence. We completely missed the turn-off for the French side of Geneva airport and ended up passing through customs at the border and trying to return the car to the Swiss side.

Luckily the car rental rep put us right, tapping the correct destination into my phone’s Sat-Nav with such efficiency and aplomb, that I couldn’t help conclude we were not the first to make this mistake and he’d probably had to do something similar for hundreds, if not thousands of confused travellers before us.

We back-tracked through customs again and immediately slowed to a crawl. We knew the junction we needed was here somewhere, but it was remarkably well hidden.

“Across there,” I was finally able to declare, pointing across the two lanes of traffic queuing to enter the customs checkpoint.

Kermit somehow forced us a way through to where an anonymous, unimpressive and almost apologetic, small, Secteur Français sign pointed the way.



We turned onto a characterless, unremarkable B-road that resembled nothing so much as the delivery entrance to a shopping centre, but we were at least re-assured by the appearance of the first car rental signs. What a bizarre route into a major international airport.

It wasn’t much longer before we could abandon the van and make our way into the airport to check our bike bags and boxes onto our return flights.

Homeward Bound

Things went smoothly enough from that point and it wasn’t long before we were airborne on the first leg of our trip home. The Big Yin send a couple of photo’s to our group chat, but they were too clever for me and I had to ask for a direct interpretation.



They showed, he explained, the passenger cabin altimeter and corresponding view out of the window as we reached 2,400 metres above sea-level – or, in other words, the height we attained at the top of the Galibier.

Steadfast left us at Heathrow, while the rest of us transferred onto the Newcastle flight via the Terminal 5 Wetherspoons pub. And then we were home and all our bike bags and boxes belatedly appeared, as the airport ground crew had to manually carry them up all the stairs from the tarmac. They didn’t seem all that pleased about it.

Still, all the bags were there and everything seemed intact, which was a major advance on last year.

So, another enjoyable trip and, even with the same rides, a different experience from two years ago.

By the numbers …

My flights, from what I can recall cost me £160, the three bedroom chalet/cabin was £115 each, van hire, fuel and road tolls around £100 each, so the trip cost about £375 plus food and drink.

Across the 3-days we managed 249 kilometres, or 155 miles, with 6,831 metres of spectacular climbing and descending. Yet again, another brilliant trip, conceived, planned and successfully executed by our very own Tour Director, Crazy Legs.

Chapeau, old bean!


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The Effin’ Ibex Ride

The Effin’ Ibex Ride

Club Run, Saturday 26th May, 2018

My Ride (according to Strava)

Total Distance:                       114 km / 71 miles with 1,229 metres of climbing

Ride Time:                               4 hours 21 minutes

Average Speed:                      26.1 km/h

Group size:                              25 riders, 0 FNG’s

Temperature:                         20°C

Weather in a word or two:    Warm and cool


 

ibex
Ride Profile


WARNING: Parental Advisory: Explicit Content

A cool start to the day made arm warmers very much de rigueur as I dropped down the hill and started to push along the valley floor toward an uncertain river crossing. I don’t know if my encounters with burst pipes last week were a precursor to a systematic collapse of the entire system, but a major water main at Newburn had burst spectacularly, flooded the roads, inundated several cars and washed out much of the bridge surface.

The bridge over the Tyne was closed to cars for the foreseeable future, but the Internet informed me it was still open to pedestrians. I was hoping this was the case and a man and a bike might be able to squeeze over, otherwise I face a long backtrack and would probably have to race to make the meeting point on time.

All the Road Closed signs down to the bridge weren’t especially promising, but at least it kept the cars away, which was an added bonus. The second bonus was that the traffic lights on the approach to the bridge had been turned off, so at least I didn’t have to wait before attempting to make it across.

I threaded through a gap in the traffic cones and out onto the span itself. The road surface didn’t look damaged, but the far end was completely sealed off and I guessed this was where the water main had burst. There was however a wooden ramp built atop the footpath, so I stopped, unclipped and lifted my bike over the kerb and clopped my way up and down the ramp.

Another cyclist had followed my lead and I turned to him to suggest the lack of cars on the bridge actually made this one of the more pleasant crossings, despite having to stop and haul the bike on and off the footpath.

The north bank successfully reached, the rest of my ride to the meeting point was plain sailing.


Main topics of conversation at the meeting point:

Conversation at the meeting point was dominated by Chris Froome’s Lazarus act on Stage 19 of the Giro, where his long-range break on the Colle delle Finestre combined with the implosion of Simon Yates turned both the GC and formbook completely on its head.

The overwhelming reaction seemed to be one of incredulity and doubt verging on downright disbelief, or occasionally completely by-passing the doubt and heading straight to disbelief.  

I have to admit I’m no fan of Chris Froome, largely because I’m far too shallow to overlook his execrable, wholly ungainly style on a bike. I’ve no idea if he’s a clean rider and even though I don’t like the idea of him riding while under investigation I recognise his right to do so. I will say this though, his “miracle” ride in the Giro was utterly, utterly brilliant … for sending the Internet trolls into complete, frothing-at-the-mouth, unhinged, melt-down frenzy. For this alone, I salute him.

It also produced some memorable quotes from Kiwi George Bennett, who, when informed of Froome’s exploits, offered up “Bullshit!” and then proclaimed, “He did a Landis. Jesus!”

He would later row back his comments a little by suggesting, “I didn’t say that Froomey went out and railed a load of gear and came back and won the stage … I’m just saying he made a bigger comeback than Easter Sunday!”

Our other main reaction from this whole questionable affair was that Mitchelton-Scott had badly fumbled their game plan. They should have called up Adam Yates to body swap for his brother as soon as his charge started to falter on the upper slopes to Praternevoso.

The Red Max brought news of the Monkey Butler Boy’s latest racing exploits from a local criterium, where he’d apparently been, in contention until disappearing from the spectators view into the last corner. There had then be an elongated,  interminable wait during which the race was won and everyone else crossed the finish line, before the Monkey Butler Boy had finally emerged wearing the biggest, shit-eating grin known to man and declaring “I’ve still got a bike!”

Barged aside by another hard-charging rider, the Monkey Butler Boy had lost control and careered off the course and over a grass verge, where, much to his relief, he’d managed to recover without crashing and trashing his brand new bike.

The Colossus wanted to know if the Monkey Butler Boy had learned the fine art of twisting and contorting his body to put it in harm’s way between bike and road, sacrificing skin and bone to protect vulnerable carbon.

News from OGL was that he’d completed an epic 90-mile solo ride along the proposed Cyclone route last Sunday, into a fantastically strong block headwind that strangely, defied meteorological science and dogged him both out and back again. No news yet on whether he managed to successfully grapple with that instrument of Satan that people call Strava, or when conditions will be challenging enough for him to attempt the 106-mile version.

Meanwhile, the Garrulous Kid was in full, inquisitive mode, eyes darting left and right, in and around the bikes gathered around him, as his brain clicked and whirred and his mouth spat a series of largely unrelated questions.

“Have you found a use for that recess in your stem, yet?” he enquired of the Colossus.

“Perhaps you could keep pound coins stacked in it?” he decided.

“And then carry a small plunger to pull them out with?” the Colossus asked, but he needn’t have bothered, the Garrulous Kid had already turned his attention to the BFG.

“Why have you got a tyre in your bottle cage?”

The BFG patiently explained it was a tub.

“Will it not fit in your back pocket?”

The BFG handed him the tub, explained what it was and how it was too big to fit comfortably in his pocket.

He then started to explain about having to glue them onto the rims, when luckily we were saved from 1,001 other questions as Crazy Legs stepped up to outline the route for the day.

Yet again, numbers were sufficient to split into two groups and, yet again, the first group off was the smaller of the two. I weighed the options and joined the front group, along with 10 others as we set out.


Hooting and cheering from across the road highlighted Richard of Flanders, booted and suited and waving wildly as he headed in the opposite direction on a Mobike. Hmm, must have an interview with his bank manager to seek a loan for a new bike, or perhaps they’ve finally caught him and he’s due in court?

We set off at what seemed a high pace and maintained this by constant rotation of the front two. Alongside Ovis, I was doing my turn at the pointy end as we pushed through Mitford. Crossing the narrow stone bridge, we had just started to climb up toward the junction, when the BFG came roaring past in a sudden burst of energy.

He slowed and hesitated at the junction ahead of us.

“Right, right, go right,” we shouted.

“What?”

“Right!”

“Right?” the BFG questioned uncertainly.

“Yes, right,” we confirmed.

“Oh.”

As we started heading downhill, I think it finally dawned on the BFG where we were heading. A sharp, momentum-killing, left hand turn dropped us at the bottom of the Mur de Mitford and up we went.

Still recovering from his earlier burst, The BFG disappeared backwards, while I fought with a slipping rear tyre on the damp and greasy surface.

“I think I’ve just wasted a couple of good pedal strokes,” G-Dawg confirmed, acknowledging the same issue. I eased the pressure on the pedals, got the skipping, slipping tyre under control and began to pick my way upwards at a more careful pace.

Regrouping over the top, we took a seldom travelled route up Harelaw Hill, which was to provide our highest point of the day. As we crested the top, Biden Fecht glanced across to his left.

“Is that a fucking ibex?” he wondered aloud. I think the altitude may have been getting to him.

We determined it was just a goat with a bad haircut and overgrown horns and tried to reassure him.

“Hmm, there could have been a zebra there, too,” Biden Fecht concluded somewhat enigmatically.

After this moment of madness, we carelessly frittered away all our hard-earned altitude for a swooping, whooping descent down the other side, before our road started heading upwards again, through the Coldlaw climb, which runs parallel and provides an alternative to the Trench.


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At the top G-Dawg wondered if that was better or worse than the Trench and I think the consensus it was no harder, no easier and both were hateful.

I was at the back, chatting with Zardoz as we approached Middleton Bank and as the first slopes bit I dropped the chain off the big ring. There was a loud crack, a crash and the gentle tinkle of discarded metal bouncing along the ground.

I stopped pedalling immediately, convinced the back end of my bike had suddenly disintegrated. I looked back and could see nothing amiss and nothing left lying in the road. As my freewheeling speed began to die, I tentatively pushed the pedals around once. The chain bit and propelled me forward a little. I tried again. Still no problem. Odd. I picked up the pace and gave chase up the hill. Everything seemed to be working as it should.

I closed on the group ahead, but was still well detached as we crested the top. The front group pressed on without easing and I was cast adrift, outnumbered and battling into a headwind. I gave chase, but it was futile and the gap only grew the closer we got to the café.


Main topics of conversation at the coffee stop:

Zardoz enquired about my gear-changing travails on Middleton Bank. He too had heard the distinctive sound of metal striking tarmac, but reassured me he often carried a pocketful of bolts and random bits of metal, which he discarded behind other riders to make them hesitate while he attacked.

I believed him.

The Garrulous Kid bounced up.

“We had two punctures!” he announced.

“So what, we saw a fucking ibex!” I countered.

“Well, to be fair, there was only one of them,” Biden Fecht quipped.

The Garrulous Kid looked from me to Biden Fecht and back again, understandably bemused and wondering what the hell we were on about.

Crazy Legs wandered by to declare he hated “that Chris fucking Froome” even before the rider’s implausible resurrection, which now looked set to scupper the lead Crazy Legs had carefully built up in the clubs Velogames Fantasy Cycling League (Giro edition).  

He was somewhat cheered when I told him his league position was safe, as not one of our number had actually bothered to pick Froome.  Crazy Legs felt this wasn’t a reflection on the Froomes chances of winning the Giro, but rather confirmation that everyone else shared his view and they’d rather lose than have any association, no matter how indirect, with the Sky rider.

I thought I might have sneaked an improbable, come from behind league win at the last, but Thibaut Pinot’s sudden implosion on the penultimate stage scuppered that. Rather surprisingly then, Crazy Legs held on for a win built largely on the performance of the indomitable, but somewhat comical, Domenico Pozzovivo.

The Garrulous Kid was in distress because his unrequited love interest (according to Taffy Steve and the Red Max – and who could doubt their veracity) – an older, ginger-haired, upper sixth former, was now finished her A-levels and had left school.

“Well, you know, you’re kind of ginger, too,” the Garrulous Kid mused, nodding at the Colossus.

“Woah, are you coming onto me, now?” the Colossus demanded, not quite knowing where this conversation was going and keen to head it off anyway.

Zardoz then declared the girl behind the counter secretly loved him. A love so secret apparently, that even she doesn’t realise yet.  He determined he could prove this by securing everyone at the table one of the samples of rhubarb and ginger scone currently being offered.

“Anyway, if I had a tray I’d get everyone a refill too …” he declared, rising and then quickly stepping back as half a dozen trays instantly appeared and were wordlessly brandished in his direction.

True to his word, Zardoz returned with both coffee refills and enough scone samples to go around. The verdict? Well the verdict was that there wasn’t enough ginger in the scone … oh, that? Well, I think we decided Zardoz probably bought the samples for cold, hard cash, rather than relying on his innate charm and puppy-dog eyes to schmooze them out of the café staff. In our eyes, their deep, abiding devotion to him still appears unproven.


We had a fast run back, forced a breakaway selection on Berwick Hill, hammered through Dinnington, and caught and passed OGL through the potholes again. I clung to the wheels through the Mad Mile and was catapulted through the roundabout to start my ride for home.

I caught another cyclist/TT’er at the lights down Union Hall  and we both dropped into the left-hand lane and started to pass inside all the cars queued in the middle lane to turn right.

Without signalling, obviously without looking, one of the driver’s suddenly decided he was in the wrong lane, or the traffic was moving too slowly for him and swung wildly out into our lane. He missed the TT’er by a hairs breadth, while I swerved away. I caught the other rider on the downhill run to the river.

“I thought he had you there,” I confessed.

“Yeah, you get used to that,” he replied, seemingly unperturbed. I’m not sure he realised just how close he’d been to being collected on the cars bumper, my reaction would have been slightly less phlegmatic.

Through the defunct lights out onto the bridge, I took to the footpath, saw that it was completely empty and rode up the ramp. It then served as a sort of impromptu time-trial start gate, I rolled off the end to an imaginary “3-2-1, Go” and struck out for home.


YTD Totals: 3,122 km / 1,939 miles with 36,814 metres of climbing