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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Wave Rider

Wave Rider

Club Run, Saturday 4th March, 2017

My Ride (according to Strava)

Total Distance:                                  101 km / 63 miles with 1,015 metres of climbing

Ride Time:                                          4 hours 21 minutes

Average Speed:                                23.2 km/h

Group size:                                         18 riders, 0 FNG’s

Temperature:                                    10°C

Weather in a word or two:          Wet and dry


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Ride Profile


The Ride:

The weather forecast on Friday night was predicting heavy rain throughout Saturday, which was due to last at least until late in the afternoon. Someone must have given the weather systems the bums rush though, as I awoke to find all the rain had seemingly swept right over us during the night.

Consequently, things were looking much, much better than expected, first thing Saturday morning. The problem was though that the rain due to fall in the eight or so hours of daylight had been compressed into a tiny window of a just a few pre-dawn hours. While the sky remained flat, grey and dull and we would escape all but the briefest of showers, the concentrated rainfall seemed to have swollen every watercourse, universally overwhelmed drainage and left the ground thoroughly sodden and saturated.

Our day then was to be punctuated by several notable, unpredictably placed encounters with huge lakes and lagoons of standing water that barred our course from verge to verge and left us no choice but to ford our way carefully through them, slowly, in single-file while hoping their murky, watery depths hid no potholes.

My ride across to the meeting place had proven unremarkable, except for a cluster of un-manned roadworks and temporary traffic lights that seemed to have sprung up out of nowhere. There were enough of these to delay me by a good five minutes, while every red light gave me yet another opportunity to wonder just where the accompanying workmen were.


Main topics of conversation at the start:

Queries about my debilitating malady last week led to discussions about the best way to slack off work, with the main conundrum being how you could periodically simulate some kind of activity and tap a computer key to stop a screen-saver kicking in and the network connection timing out. Someone suggested perhaps one of those dippy, drinking bird novelties, poised carefully over your keyboard might work …

A group from the club have signed up for the Tour of Ayrshire Gran Fondo in April, a qualifying event for the UCI Gran Fondo World Championships. Sadly, their hopes of competing as a team have been dashed by the realisation that while they have managed one entrant in each of the age categories, they actually only have one entrant in each of the age categories – so, about as useful as a Venn diagram where none of the quadrants overlap then.

Jimmy Mac suggested the Prof was old enough to be his dad and wondered just how tired he got filling in insurance forms online. In fact, he wondered if, by the time the Prof had managed to scroll all the way down to his birth year, whether he would be suffering from some form of devastating repetitive strain injury to his aged, mouse-working fingers and would perhaps have even forgotten what he was scrolling down to find in the first place.

Spiralling out from this conversation, we learned that G-Dawg had just managed to squeeze his creation date into the 1950’s – something I was amazed to discover as I was unaware cybernetic engineering had been quite so advanced, even late into that decade. “You’re the same age as Sputnik.” Taffy Steve gleefully informed him.

beZ arrived on a newly acquired old Trek that he’d adopted as his winter bike and took some grief from OGL who suggested the stack height above the stem was a potential hazard to his testicles. “Story number#6, please.” I muttered sotto voce to G-Dawg, expecting OGL to dial up the hoary old tale of how he ripped his scrotum open on a stem bolt when he crashed at a track meet. Surprisingly though, memory synapses failed to fire correctly and we were spared the full horror of hearing this particularly gruesome tale. Again.

Meanwhile, Taffy Steve tried to decide if beZ’s Trek was the same model as Szell had been riding, before he upgraded to his “fat lad’s bike.” He tried turning his back on beZ and occasionally glancing briefly over his shoulder, reasoning that this was how he most often saw Szell’s bike, something he said he hadn’t really had a chance to study before, because you got such a pain in the neck from constantly looking back at it!

“Is it time yet?” Crazy Legs enquired enthusiastically

“It’s only 9:14, official Garmin Time.” I assured him.

“But, you could at least start making a move toward your bike.” Taffy Steve encouraged.

“Gentlemen, start your motors.” G-Dawg intoned and as we prepped for the off, we tried to work out the purpose of that mad scramble to the cars at the start of Le Mans, as it obviously had no bearing on the outcome of the race.

We decided its sole purpose was to create the maximum amount of danger, mayhem and confusion possible and perhaps it’s something that Formula 1 should adopt to spice things up a bit. Along with Son of G-Dawg, I wanted to take this further and have all the pit lane berths unassigned, so cars had to turn into the first space available and the crews had to leg it down the pit lane carrying all their kit and spares. Perhaps we could actually make Formula 1 interesting and exciting again.

No?

Thought not.


With the late addition of a rapidly vectoring in Ovis, 18 of us pushed off, clipped in and rode out for our advanced lessons in water dowsing.

All was progressing smoothly, until we turned off for the Cheese Farm, rounded a corner and were confronted by a mighty puddle, a road spanning lake, an inland lagoon. This mere of muddy brown waters, of indeterminate length and depth  – stretched up around the next corner and out of sight.


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There’s a road here somewhere…


We picked our way slowly and carefully through this unforeseen obstacle, slowly and in single file, watching as the water began to lap up over bottom brackets and wheel hubs, hoping it would rise no further and we’d avoid any unforeseen potholes or hidden debris luring in the murky depths.


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There it is!


Behind there was loud chorus of disgusted groans as cold water quickly washed through overshoes, shoes and socks, while those of us up ahead, smug and still dry in our winter boots enjoyed just a little bit of schadenfreude. Taffy Steve decided that while he might be riding a thrice-cursed winter bike he could at least enjoy his thrice-praised GoreTex boots and their stout protection from cold wet feet.

At the same time, we also decided that in tribute to many of our rides traversing the outer reaches of Northumberland, we should re-name this blog a blerg, in favour of a local idiom, particularly hoard around Eshington (aka Ashington):

Alert of ferk there know a beut a bared derg that jumped up at a deft kerb, making him furl into a hurl where he boast his fierce. (Rough translation: “A great number of people are aware of a story regarding a misbehaving pet canine that jumped up at a silly young boy scout, causing him to stumble into a cavity and injure his countenance.”)

For more of this delightful nonsense, try here.

Clear of the flooding, we were painfully, slowly and very, very cautiously overtaken by large silver 4 x 4, even as we singled-out and waved it through with the road ahead completely clear and empty. As it passed, someone mentioned how unusual it was to find cars on this stretch of road and wondered where they might be heading.

We caught up with the car perched in the middle of the road and halfway across the next junction, where its occupants, two woolly haired, perplexed looking grannies, took time off from myopically turning their map book this way and that to favour us with a sheepish grin. We didn’t know where they were going and I guess they didn’t either.

If anything, the roads appeared to be even more scarred, pot-holed and woe-begotten than we were used to, eliciting a strange, Tourette’s style conversation between OGL and his riding companion: “I use Ultegra wheels … Pots! … during winter, they’ve got … Pots! … cup and cone bearings in … Pots! … the hubs, so you can … Pots! … service them easily.”

A clamber up a hill and then sudden slowing suggested the front of our group had encountered yet another obstacle on the road ahead. This time it wasn’t a flood, but an enormous swan, that slowly unfurled itself, shook out its majestic wings to their full extent and clambered slowly upwards into the air. For several seconds it hung impressively above us, white and bright and magnificent against the grey sky, before tipping over to wheel away from the road.

We pressed on, sometimes slaloming around puddles and occasionally, when there was no way to avoid them, slowing to pick our way carefully through the middle. Several of the unbooted riders started unclipping, lifting their feet off the pedals and out of the water while they freewheeled across, saving their feet from another dousing. Luckily, everyone made it through safely and carrying enough momentum to reach dry road at the other side.

As we started the climb up to Dyke Neuk, the Big Yin punctured and with nowhere for us to stop safely nearby, he dropped off the back while we pushed on over the crest of the hill before pulling to the side of the road to wait. From this vantage point, we had a grandstand view of the next road-spanning puddle and could watch the way various drivers tackled it. A hot hatch blatted past at ridiculously high speed and we jeered as brake lights flared and he slowed to a mincing crawl to pick his way carefully through the water.

Then a large Transit van serving as a taxi ripped through at high speed, flinging a massive bow wave over the hedgerows and for a brief instant leaving a thin isthmus of dry road through the middle of the puddle, before the water came surging back in again.

Crazy Legs felt that if you got the timing right, you could have followed the taxi through the puddle, “like Mose’s parting the Red Sea” and kept yourself perfectly dry. Luckily, he didn’t try to attempt this, but was intrigued enough to ride down to have a closer look at this latest flood while we waited.

OGL decided he was getting too cold hanging around and set off for the café with a few amblers. The Big Yin finally re-joined and Crazy Legs skipped ahead to line up some action shots of the remaining stalwarts fording the latest flood.


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Wheee!


We then took a route through Hartburn and toward Angerton, reasoning this would be the most likely flood- free run in we could find.  As we pushed past Bolam, Taffy Steve made up for the Red Max’s absence with an attack of the front. Jimmy Mac responded and all hell broke loose. I hung on as long as I could, wheezing like a pair of punctured bellows, before dropping down to a more sustainable pace and grinding up the last climb to the café.


Main topics of conversation at the coffee stop:

Taffy Steve resumed his campaign to get Marmite on the café menu, something he feels is indispensable to his enjoyment of toasted teacake. I think he’s ploughing a lone furrow, but you have to give him kudos for persistence.

Removing his helmet and cap the Prof revealed a precisely drawn line circumscribing his forehead, the gleaming pale skin above the line contrasting sharply with the grey and begrimed features below it. I suggested it looked like he’d had a lobotomy, but he was able to assure me this wasn’t the case, otherwise he’d be a much nicer person!

He recalled an ex-military acquaintance with terrible depression and anger issues, who’d pressed the muzzle of his service revolver to his head and blown a hole right through his skull. Waking up afterwards (with what I rather cavalierly suggested must have been “the mother of all hangovers”) the guy had not only survived, but had undergone a complete personality makeover and became kind, generous, patient and considerate overnight. If only we could guarantee the results, I’d willingly buy the bullets and load the gun.

This in turn led to a brief discussion about trepanning, replete with gory tales of people drilling holes in their own heads, both intentionally and accidentally. I can’t help but think the whine of a Black and Decker biting into my skull, replete with the smell of burning bone would probably be enough to dissuade me from such practices. Still, you can’t say we don’t have wide ranging and, well … different conversations when we’re out on these rides.

I don’t know what set if off, but Crazy Legs then embarked on a rant against all things Charlie Brown and Peanuts and he conducted a quick straw poll around the table to find that no one actually liked this turgid, sentimental tosh (IMHO). Crazy Legs then revealed a disturbing, overwhelming desire to rip Linus’s security blanket out of his pathetic, puny hands and set fire to it. Taffy Steve reasoned that if Charlie Brown was a Geordie (Chaz Broon, if you like) he’d probably smash Lucy’s teeth down her throat the first time she pulled that stupid trick with the football and he most certainly wouldn’t fall for it twice.

This led to recollections of another horror inflicted on British kids by our American cousins: Sherry Lewis and Lambchop. Utterly, totally, dreadful and unforgivable – especially at a time when you only had the choice of two TV channels.

Taffy Steve then revealed the deep emotional scarring he suffered when the family switched from a black and white TV to a colour one and he discovered for the first time that Bagpuss was actually pink!

In a discussion about American vs. British humour Crazy Legs revealed how much he’s enjoying “Parks and Recreation,” while I had to admit I was perhaps the only person who failed to see the comic genius of Ricky Gervais and “The Office.”

This reminds me of my reaction to “The Rider” the book by Tim Krabbe, which as a cyclist I think I’m supposed to like, but found hugely disappointing, disjointed, superficial and all a bit, well … meh. Maybe it’s because the book couldn’t possibly live up to the expectation generated by all the glowing and fulsome praise heaped on it. Then again, maybe the Emperor isn’t actually wearing any clothes…


At the café we were reunited with Princess Fiona, Mini-Miss, Brink, Kipper and a few others who had set out late to doubly-ensure they missed any lingering rain. They had apparently tried the road up to the Cheese Farm too, but being eminently more sensible had turned back at the first flooded section and found an alternative, drier route. They would now bolster our numbers for the return journey.

This return leg passed without incident and we found the roads largely dry and free from flooding, even in the one or two trouble spots where we were expecting the worst. It looked like the excess water was finally starting to drain away and Sunday looked like being a perfect riding day.

As I turned off for the solo part of my ride home, I even noticed the sky had brightened enough to throw a shadow down alongside me for some unexpected company.

The river, which had been high, full and racing as I crossed in the morning had now withdrawn to the middle of its course and acquired two wide shorelines of gleaming black mud, like giant basking seals. The traffic on the other side was relatively light and I was soon hauling ass up the Heinous Hill, suitably leg weary, but altogether content. That was fun, floods and all, but perhaps my enthusiasm is directly proportional to just how waterproof my winter boots are proving to be.


YTD Totals: 1,086 km / 674 miles with 11,447 metres of climbing