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Travel: Classic Climbs Of The Alps
Every now and then an assignment comes across your desk (or handlebars depending on what you call your “office”) you just can’t refuse. The other day I got just such an assignment. How can you say no to the offer of joining up with Bikestyletours for a week of riding all the classic Tour de France climbs of the French Alps?


Contributed by Simeon Green

The itinerary showed solid rides every day of between 80 and 140km, 2 to 3 climbs a day, all of them famous! I checked the long term weather forecast, hot and sunny every day; this was going to be a good trip. I packed my bags, cleaned my Specialized Tarmac, pulled all my PezCycling kit together and was off in a flash chomping at the bit for some climbing action!

Le Grand Depart Grenoble
The trip started in Grenoble in early August. It was in the hotel lobby over breakfast that I met the rest of guys I was going to be spending the week with. It was a small and very friendly group of 5 riders including myself, plus our young French lady support driver Gaelle.



The ride menu for the week looked pretty solid to me, but the other guys were enthusiastic and wanted to add a decent sized ride on our first day there. Fine by me. And so it was that we headed out of Grenoble into the surrounding hills on a ride that was not part of the trip’s planned itinerary for a “recovery” ride following everyone’s travels the previous day. Not so much “recovery” as we headed straight up some pretty mean, steep hills, but it was a good ride and a great opportunity to get to know everyone.

We thankfully got the week’s inevitable crash out of the way early without too much bruising. One of the guys had come over from Australia for the trip with some Carbon clincher wheels. It was a hot day, and on a pretty fast and steep descent, the carbon braking surface heated up and the tire burst in an all-mighty bang.



The two of us who were at the front heard it and stopped on a corner just in time to see Ashley come flying round an S bend corner riding the carbon rim at a good 40+kph, one foot unclipped. Ashley headed straight for the drop off the side of the road, corrected it last minute and went flying back across the road, still upright… STILL riding the rim. He headed directly for one of the other guys who was stopped on the side of the road. Just before plunging into the scared onlooker, Ashley tumbled to the ground with very minor bruises. That was the best save I have ever seen on a bike! Ashley’s “crash” was the stuff of legends. Needless to say, his carbon rear rim was totally destroyed, but the bike was OK and so was Ash. Nothing a quick replacement wheel wouldn’t sort out, and we were be on our way for a week of long hard climbs with no further incidents.

A Week Of Climbing
The rest of the week turned into a blur of long, hard climbs, sun-drenched scenery, good food, and great times. Each day was spent riding from one hotel to the next, taking in all the big Alpine climbs that have formed the foundation of Tour de France history over the past century.



Our first day took us from Grenoble to Chambery over a short course of “only 70km”. 70km might sound pretty short, but we did three climbs that day, the Col de Porte at 1326m, the Col du Cucheron at 1134m and finished it off with the Col du Granier at 1139m before descending to our hotel for the night in Chambery. A surprisingly tough day for only 70km, and I must say, the intense heat of the French summer didn’t help make it any easier. But it was a very satisfying first day and a great way to ease into the week.

For our second day, we awoke and had a pleasant breakfast in the morning sunshine before leaping on our bikes (we were still leaping this early in the trip) for a 100km day from Chambery to Annecy over the Col de Tamie and the Col de la Forclaz. Now, I hadn’t ridden the Forclaz since 2004, and I really wasn’t looking forward to it. I had horrible memories of this climb! It’s only 1150m in altitude, but has sections of 13+%!!!



That morning I told the guys about the last time I had ridden this climb. It was during a visit to the Tour de France, and the Gendarmes’ buses couldn’t make it up the steep climb. They had to get all the Police officers off the buses to try and get them going again on these ridiculously steep roads. Though I thought I was giving everyone useful information on the days’ climb, I think I just scared everyone instead.

We stopped for lunch in a little town near the base of our second climb of the day (the Forclaz) and enjoyed some much needed fare before undertaking the now infamous Forclaz. Though I hadn’t expressed this to the guys, I was secretly hoping that my memory had over-exaggerated the difficulty of this climb over the past 5 years… but it hadn’t! The climb was hideously hard, one of those everlasting grinds. It has to be said though, the view of Lake Annecy from the top was well worth the effort of climbing Forclaz.



Day 3: Hotting Up
Things were starting to hot up by this stage. The 3 previous days were starting to take their toll, and a look at the day’s ride over a calm and relaxing breakfast got the heart-rates kicking a little early. 125km over the Col des Aravis (1486m), the Col des Saisies (1650m) and finishing with the 30km beautiful climb of the Cormet de Roselend (1967m).



The Roselend is one of those rare climbs where the road takes you around a stunning mountain lake half way up the climb. A spot of rain at the top of the final climb of the day did nothing to dampen our spirits as we descended back into the warmth of the valley for a well deserved beer and much appreciated dinner of local cuisine consisting of Pate de Foie Gras and Gratin Savoyard in the little town of Bourg Saint Maurice.

It Just Gets Better
The next few days only got harder. With climbs such as the Col de la Madeleine, Croix de Fer, Col du Glandon, the very unpredictable (in terms of weather) Col du Galibier with the Memorial Henry Desgranges, the Col du Telegraphe, Col d’Izoard, col de Very Steep, and Col de Stunningviews to name but a few.



Each day we got more and more tired and yet also got fitter and fitter. It’s amazing how you actually ride into fitness on these trips. It gives people a real glimpse of how the Pros can keep riding day after day and how their bodies react. It’s a strange phenomenon, but that’s the beauty of the adaptability of the human body.



La Piece De Resistance
Finally, after countless meters of climbing, we arrived to our final day. The piece de resistance. Bikestyletours had saved the best for last and was going to send us out in a bang of fireworks, memories, sweat, and grit with a program of 145km including the much awaited Alpe d’Huez! We left our hotel in Briancon and started off with the Col du Lautaret at 2058m for breakfast. Despite our accumulated fatigue, we were starting to ride into some nice fitness and with such an epic day, we were all pretty fired up for today’s final hit out.



We devoured the Lautaret and turned the mountain into a mole-hill, barely glancing back at it as we shot straight down the other side leaving it in our wake. We shot down the descent, in and out of tunnels, round corners, through small villages with one thing on our minds… THE ALPE! We got to the foot of Alpe d’Huez in record time. We were ahead of schedule and shaking with excitement and anticipation. Needless to say, it WAS ON!



Everyone had read about the times posted by the Tour de France Pros up Alpe d’Huez. Everyone had talked to mates who had ridden the Alpe, and everyone had an idea of the time they wanted to beat. We sprung, jammed, and bounced our way up the famous climb, everyone bettering their estimated time with times from 50mins to 1hour 20 for this world famous hill. We then careened back down the Alpe and started the long slog along the valley road for the 50km ride to our final hotel in Grenoble.



Cyclic Symbolism
In a perfect symbol of cyclic harmony we had gone full circle and returned to our starting hotel from a week previously in Grenoble. Admittedly a little more tired than when we started, but with a few kilos less and some solid fitness in our legs, not to mention a plethora of stories and experiences to take home for all eternity.



Wanna Try It?
This is a trip that will stay ingrained in my mind, and hopefully a trip I’ll get to do again someday. If you are interested in this, or a similar trip, have a look at the Bikestyletours’ web-site and sign-up now. Bikestyletours.com will also put together a custom trip for you and your friends. So if you want a similar trip, but with different climbs, or with a little less riding, or, heaven forbid, with MORE riding, contact them directly and they’ll be happy to help.

If you do plan to undertake one of these trips, I’d advise you make sure you get in some good riding/training before hand. Make sure your bike is well maintained and equipped with a reliable choice of equipment. If you are not from a very hilly part of the world, don’t underestimate the difficulty of these climbs and come prepared. Bring some warm clothes, rain clothes, and a camera with PLENTY of memory cards, and whatever you do, don’t forget to look around you and take in the views. You are guaranteed to have a great trip. It’s pretty hard not to have fun in this game. It will surely be one of those once in a lifetime memorable trips.



Thanks to PEZ and to Bikestyletours.com for a great week in the Alps, now all I have to do is figure out how on earth I’m going to manage to land another gig like this one… I’m working on it, trust me!


 

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