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℃
Advertisement

Radiation Vibe

Radiation Vibe

Club Run, Saturday 22nd July, 2017          

My Ride (according to Strava)

Total Distance:                                  105 km / 65 miles with 436* metres of climbing

Ride Time:                                          4 hours 17 minutes

Average Speed:                                24.4 km/h

Group size:                                         24 riders, 0 FNG’s

Temperature:                                    17°C

Weather in a word or two:          Dreich


Untitled 1
Ride Profile

* Stop me if you’ve heard this before – it rained throughout the ride and my Garmin naturally had a hissy-fit in protest. The official route Crazy Legs posted up had over 700 metres of climbing and that’s not counting my clambering up Heinous Hill or the other side of the Tyne valley. Nonetheless, I officially managed only 436 metres.

The Ride:

7:10 Saturday morning and I’m lying in bed listening to the rain hammering on the roof and window and the noisy gargle of the overflow racing down the drain pipe. Another rain swept Saturday in summer, it must be a club run day.

45 minutes later and leaving the house, the rain has eased from torrential, to just plain annoying and I’m pulling on a light, easily stowable waterproof jacket in anticipation of it actually stopping at some point. It’s always good to travel in hope.

Still, I’m more accepting of the weather than I was last week, I’d prepped the Peugeot the night before, so rolled out with the protection of full length mudguards. I’d also combined the thinnest socks I could find with my waterproof winter boots, assured of keeping my feet dry, but a bit concerned about them getting too warm.

The ride across to the meeting point was totally unremarkable, no exotic wildlife, no homicidal drivers, no near misses and the noteworthy, but not altogether unexpected absence of other cyclists on the road. It was horribly wet.

I ducked into the multi-storey car park to join the only other early arrival, the Garrulous Kid and to wait for the intrepid and insane to assemble.


Main topics of conversation at the meeting point:

OGL was noticeable by his absence, having been called to attend some interminably dull, extraordinary general meeting for British Cycling. Someone wondered why G-Dawg hadn’t accompanied him and he visibly shuddered at the thought – explaining that not only would you have to sit through a long, boring meeting, but relive it in minute, forensic detail, blow-by-blow, in the car all the way back.

The Garrulous Kid proved he was in the running for a name change to the Hyperbolic Kid, declaring the Star Wars movies were the greatest film series ever made. Taffy Steve and I pondered if Chewbacca was still being played by the same “actor” Peter Mayhew and, rather bizarrely, the Garrulous Kid suggested Maria Sharapova, would make a great replacement Wookie.

“Only if she wears high heels.” G-Dawg drawled, while I tried to decide if in the Star Wars universe, dressing a Wookie in high heels was equated to a similar Terran expression about putting lipstick on a pig.

Jimmy Mac returned from a long absence and declared he’d qualified to represent Great Britain at the UCI Gran Fondo World Championship in Albi, in August. I had to express surprise, not so much because he’d qualified, more at the thought there was an actual Gran Fondo World Championship.

Still, if we wanted someone to represent us in a Gran Fondo World Championship, who better than the clean-cut, super-smart, highly practical, ultra-dexterous, unflappably cool, always in control, Consultant Vascular and Endovascular Surgeon and all round good guy Jimmy Mac.

Meanwhile Richard of Flanders reported that ex-club member, Arnold had completed the L’Etape du Tour and found it not only expensive, but massive, chaotic and very, very badly organised.

Richard of Flanders wondered about heading home to swap his good bike for his winter bike, but decided not to. He wasn’t alone and there was a distinct lack of mudguards on offer throughout the bunch. There were lots of ass-savers though – or perhaps they should be re-named i’m-all-right-jacks, or ass-covers – only useful for covering your own ass. I feel if you’re going to subject your fellow riders to the constant deluge of spray off your back wheel, the least you can do is accept your own share of the misery and discomfort and not hide behind these flimsy bits of plastic. Go on – take it like a man.

In spite of the weather, it was a surprisingly large group of two dozen riders who pushed off, clipped in and sallied forth into the deluge.


We hadn’t made it through Dinnington, when we had a puncture and all piled into a car park while repairs were made. Here Jimmy Mac found he could drag his wet buttocks across his damp saddle and create a fearsome squeal, akin to someone dragging their fingernails down a blackboard. Real squeaky bum time.

He took time off from setting my teeth on edge to compliment the Garrulous Kid who was now sporting the biggest, blackest chain ring tattoo I’ve ever seen.

“How did that happen?” the Garrulous Kid asked, I assume in all seriousness, as he looked down at his calf in befuddlement.

A bit further on and he’d added a second grungy, oily brand above the first, just to prove it was no fluke. I wondered if he always cleaned his chain on random bits of exposed flesh, but apparently not. Actually, I think it was probably foolish of me to assume he ever cleaned his chain.

Tracking through Tranwell, someone behind hit a pothole and went down in a clatter and we stopped again to allow everyone to pick themselves up and check for damage.

“Oh, they’re alright.” The Garrulous Kid declared from his vantage point 30 metres or so away from the accident and Jimmy Mac was forced to admire the assuredness of the declaration and acknowledge that the Garrulous Kid had exceptional X-ray vision to go with his 20/20 hindsight.

At the bottom of the Mur de Mitford we lost a large contingent of Grogs, as they by-passed the hill for a shorter route to the café, while the rest of us grappled with the slope, wheels slipping and sliding on the wet road as grip became somewhat negotiable. Topping out the climb we traced a new (to me anyway) route to the Trench passing around Stanton.

At one point I dropped off the back with Taffy Steve who was struggling on his thrice-cursed winter bike and we found Rab Dee patrolling the rear about 20 metres back. He confirmed this was the ideal distance to avoid both crashes and the showers of shit being spat off everyone’s wheels.


NOVATEK CAMERA


Down through Hartburn and rising up the other side, Jimmy Mac had a front wheel puncture and pulled over to the side of the road to effect repairs. Crazy Legs popped up to where we all waited to borrow Taffy Steve’s mighty frame pump and we were soon underway again. We even managed to make it round the very next corner, before a loud hiss of escaping air announced Jimmy Macs original repair hadn’t fared too well, the tyre had popped off the rim and the tube had gone again.

Yet another unscheduled stop had Crazy Legs urging everyone on to the café, while he said he’d hang back with Jimmy Mac. Only then did he realise he’d left his saddle bag on his other bike and wasn’t carrying a spare tube. He too, then decided to go with the larger group in case he needed assistance.

Biden Fecht donated a spare tube and I hung back with Rab Dee, Richard of Flanders and the Big Yin to provide assistance, moral support and a ragged, surely highly-prized and always welcome, running commentary of piss-taking. Rab Dee lifted the front of Jimmy Mac’s bike up for him and he set to work wrestling the wheel out of the forks.

Watching on, the Big Yin admitted he’d rather take a dump in public than have to change a tyre in front of an attentive and critical audience of fellow cyclists … then went back to critically and attentively watching his fellow cyclist change a tyre.

I do have a lot of sympathy with his view and tend to try slipping quietly off the back, rather than wrestle with tyres and tubes while a censorious “puncture congregation” bears unholy witness.

Extended wheel-wrangling left Jimmy Mac with filthy black lines and marks up and down his legs, that were even more embarrassing than the Garrulous Kids chain-ring tatt and it was suggested he looked like an SAS sniper covered in camo paint for a night mission. Fighting through the grit and crud and crap and mud on his wheel, somehow he finally managed to get the tube in and seat the tyre back in place.

Taffy Steve had left with the larger group, taking his mighty frame pump with him, so Jimmy Mac fished out his own molto piccolo, Leznye Pressure Drive out of a pocket, screwed the hose into one end of it and attached the other to his tyre valve.

As he set manfully to work, inflating his tyre, Rab Dee kept a careful eye on Jimmy Mac’s Garmin, reading off his heart rate and we were all super-impressed that after about 5 minutes of pumping it never rose above 128 bpm. That’s the kind of cardio-vascular fitness we’d all like to have.

Unfortunately, the tyre remained as flat as Jimmy Mac’s heart rate and after several more minutes he surmised his pump must be broken. Richard of Flanders took over and pulled out his own, identical Leznye Pressure Drive. He screwed the rubber hose slowly into his pump, sizing-up the errant tyre with a dead-eyed looked as he walked toward it, much like an assassin fitting a suppressor to his pistol muzzle before administering the coup de grace.

Jimmy Mac, our UCI Gran Fondo World Championship representative, the clean-cut, super-smart, highly practical, ultra-dexterous, unflappably cool, always in control, Consultant Vascular and Endovascular Surgeon and all round good guy, then watched as Richard screwed the other end of the hose onto his tyre valve and began to inflate the tube…

“Hold on, do you have to screw that end onto the valve too?” he pondered loudly. “I just thought you had to press it on …”

Oh. Dear.

Richard of Flanders made light work of inflating the tyre and we were finally back underway again.

Perhaps as recompense for delaying us, or perhaps to leave the scene of his shame firmly behind him, Jimmy Mac surged to the front and drove the pace up. As we climbed past Angerton, I glanced back, finding totally empty road and told him we were alone, had split the group and needed to ease up a little.

We managed to regroup around Bolam Lake, but Rab Dee and Jimmy Mac seemed intent on making up for lost time and lined us out again. I dropped into their slipstream and hung there as the speed ratcheted up, hanging onto the coattails as we swept through Milestone Wood, drove over the rollers, down the hill and onto the final climb to the café.

At some point along the final stretch we zipped past Taffy Steve and Szell, who had taken a longer route to allow Szell tackle his bete noire, Middleton Bank and face down his own personal demons.

As we passed the pair, I eased and let go of Jimmy Macs wheel, coasting through the finish flags planted at the end of the lane for some event or other sponsored by the GS Metro club – I don’t know what it was for and there was no one around to ask, but it was nice of them to mark the finish of our club sprint for us.


Main topics of conversation at the coffee stop:

Szell announced that his brand new dental x-ray produced no more radiation than you would get from eating 8 bananas and you didn’t even need to leave the room when using it.  I contrasted this to my last dental x-ray, where the dentist first put on a lead-lined apron and heavy duty goggles, before unspooling the remote-control trigger wire behind him as he left the room. I then heard the surgery front door open and close and saw him duck past the window, still unreeling the wire. A pause of about a minute, was followed by a deep hum, blinding flash and the smell of burning rubber. A few minutes later the dentist wandered back whistling nonchalantly, winding up the wire and declaring we’re all done.

We discovered that Banana Equivalent Dose was an accepted (well, almost) scientific measure of radiation exposure and eating one banana equivalent to roughly 0.1 Sieverts of radiation, while a flight from New York to LA was equivalent to 40 Sieverts.

From this Jimmy Mac concluded it was unwise to eat bananas on an aeroplane – and, never mind Snakes on a Plane, the next Hollywood low-budget schlockbuster could well involve aviation travel with everyone’s favourite Musaceae.

(Don’t worry by the way, a lethal dose of radiation is about 35 million Sieverts, you’re not going to get that from fruit – even if you’re in first class and constantly eating bananas washed down with daiquiris on a long-haul flight to Australia, or Hawaii)

The Big Yin was interested in organising a ride out to see the Tour of Britain, travelling on familiar roads somewhere on its route from Kielder to Blyth on Monday 4th September. It sounded like a reasonable excuse for a day off work and a ride out, although Szell raised the worrying spectre of us meeting other OGL’s from the all the different areas of Britain congregating on the same spot.

I dismissed his worries out of hand – there couldn’t possibly be other OGL’s out there. Could there?


On the way out, a quick word with the Red Max confirmed he could lay his hands on Tyvek overalls, a respirator and rubberised boots, should I ever find work in a banana plantation.

Given our puncture-crash-puncture-puncture ride interruptions, we were late leaving the café and it looked like we’d be late getting back. As we rolled down Berwick Hill I found myself on the front with the Red Max and encouraging his almost constant half-wheeling, even as Crazy Legs reported we’d split the group.

We kept going, nonetheless, up through Dinnington and around the the airport. Fast. I didn’t look back once and have no idea what was going on behind. I was still surprised, however to exit the Mad Mile without being caught and overtaken by a duelling G-Dawg and Colossus, sprinting for home and first use of the shower.

Just before crossing the river I tentatively removed my rain jacket. Oh well, better late than never and was soon heading uphill and home.

And that’s it for the next couple of weeks, as I’m off to Nice on a family holiday.

I think it’s just as well I’m leaving work before someone punches me in the face for being annoying. The trouble is, whenever I’m asked where I’m going, I can never resist:

“Where you off to then?”

“Nice.”

“That’s nice.”

“No, I’m pretty sure it’s pronounced Niece.”

It reminds me of the time a work colleague spent some time in Scotland.

“Where’ve you been?”

“Ayr”

“I SAID, WHERE HAVE YOU BEEN?”

Don’t worry, I’ve finished now and you won’t be subjected to any more crap jokes for a couple of weeks. Hopefully the weather will have improved by the time I get back too (Ha ha. Sorry, I promised no more crap jokes, didn’t I)

In the meantime, enjoy the peace.


YTD Totals: 4,609 km / 2,863 miles with 52,634 metres of climbing