Monday, 2 July 2012

Col de la Madeleine

Col de la Madeleine In a couple of weeks time, Wiggins et al will be charging through La Bathie on the the same route we are taking today, up the Col. Absolutely sweltering heat last night. Managed to find a curious site, very few and far between here, just off the autoroute, behind a truckers stop. Very popular with a group of French people, who said they returned here every year, staying for two to four months. Now there's quite a bit to do if you're keen on cycling and walking, but I could n"t stay here for two nights, let alone months! Sat with my feet in a bucket of cold water, trying to bring my temperature down. At which point, our enterprising French neighbour came across with a product his friend, from the Pas de Calais, was selling. Basically smelt and had the same effect as Fiery Jack! It turned out that some of them were traders, selling their wares at local markets. They were very friendly, but bored, and seemed intrigued by us and our comings and goings! The night was extremely hot, only cooling in the middle of the night. Promised myself that the col was out of the question in this heat! Very noisy night, situated so close to the motorway. Woke in the cooler morning, determined to do the Col, as it was likely to be our last trip into the high mountains. Set off at about 8am again, as the day was forecast to be another steaming one. At this point, it's worth mentioning that back home, they have had the wettest April, May and June, since1910, when records began, coinciding with the announcement of a hosepipe ban in parts of UK! Col de la Madeleine was a classic climb, which we were pleased to have done. Caught up with Ian, on his way back down, with 6km to go. The route climbs steeply up through the trees, through Bonneval and other villages, before climbing steeply again up the hill and onto the summit. Shame that the views were marred by steamy conditions, and the summits of the surrounding mountains looked bleached! But savoured the descent, knowing it was likely to be the last mountain descent for some time! 15mls of ascent, av 6%, 5000ft actual climbing. 45 miles in total, from site. A fast cycle 40mins down the road to La Bathie. Glad we explored here, because I was ready to write it off as a busy, industrial area, with motorway running through and massive cement and gravel works nearby. But 15 mins cycle down the road are little old villages, lived in rather than empty, and stunning hills and mountains. On returning, another quick shower, farewell to the neighbours, who have chosen to stay most of the summer here, and brief drive down the road to Annecy, to a site with a swimming pool!


Mont Blanc from Saisies
Beaufort 2012 Another very hot day forecast, so up at 7am as usual, and cycling by 8.30am! Ian was going up Col de Joly, via Col de Saisies, and me reliving the ascent of the Cormet de Roselend, but from much lower down than I'd done it before from les Sources, 4000ft ascent, 12.5 miles, average gradient 6.6%. Enjoyed the climb up through the trees, and the view of the Lac du Roselend. Felt strong as a climbed up to the summit and then descended to the lac, across the barrage and then back up the steep little ascent to Col du Pre. An omelette at the restaurant at the top, expensive and not really catering for cheapskate cyclists like me, but with great views towards Mt Blanc and the curious perpendicular mountain, PierraMenta. Down into Areche, again with lovely views over meadows, filled with wildflowers, and pretty chalets, cow bells tinkling and flies buzzing over head! Ian had a fast ascent of Les Saisies but found the ascent of Joly tiring. Back for a rest pm., catch up on blog etc. Tomorrow, Saisies for me, with a shorter day, returning via Hauteluce. Ian deciding to do what I did today. Have you noticed, we don't do much together! Ps ...did Saisies in 1hr 32mins, and worked hard all the way to the top. Lovely views of Mont Blanc, with the summit covered in cloud. Another blisteringly hot day today, 34deg! So had to get out cycling by 8am. Back in time for a quick shower, and drove down the valley to our next cycle venue, La Bathie, near Albertville, where the Tour goes on its way up to Col de la Madeleine.

Tour de France Etape

Col du Mollard
Saint Jean de Maurienne and Col du Glandon, Col du Mollard aka Tour de France 2012 Drove over the Col du Telegraphe on a wet, misty morning and landed on St Jean de Maurienne. We'd been through here last year on a long, miserable road section on the way to the Telegraphe, and I just remember that I couldn't wait to get this bit over with. We'd dropped steeply and precariously down into this concrete jungle. Massive infrastructure, roads, hydroelectric dams, thundering river, a working, large town. St Jean was a good base but I didn't expect much from it! Wrong! After two nights there, I would feel very differently! Both decided to have today off, in view of the weather, and what the cycling we had planned for the coming days. So we pitched the van at the excellent municipal campsite, Camping des Grands Cols. Very friendly and efficient staff and excellent facilities. Bread could be ordered each morning, bar and snacks open pm. We wandered into town and walked the St Jean way around the cathedral, and admin buildings, following little pointing finger studs in the pavement. But the town itself is not greatly interesting, apart from the fact that this year it hosts the Tour de France. They go from Albertville up the Col de Madeleine, from La Chambre up the Col du Glandon, onto the Croix de Fer, down to St Sorlin, across to the Col du Mollard, down to St Jean, then finishing on the summit of the ski village of La Toussire. After an evening spent "enjoying" the delights of Jersey News on our neighbours radio!, we set off down the six mile main road to La Chambre. Busy and intimidating with lorries, it soon came to an end in green, rural, old villages. From there the road works it's way, relentlessly climbing following the river Glandon, through little villards, to the Chef Lieu, St Alban des Villards. Time to take a breath as the road flattens off for a kilometre, before climbing continually up through the meadows eventually reaching the Col du Glandon. The last three kilometres are nasty, 10, 11 and finally 10%!!! Chatted to some of a group of French guys from Alsace on the way up, and kept passing and being passed by some of them. They even asked me if I'd like to join them, taking pity on a lone woman! As usual, Ian's doing a similar route but at a different "cadence", ie. faster! The rest of the final ascent from Glandon to Croix de Fer is easy, as the road sweeps round at a gentle gradient. Time for a buttty, hot chocolate, and take in the views, not quite as extensive as a few days ago, because of cloud cover. Then the high speed descent through St Sorlin, into the Arvan valley, on to St Jean d'Arves, and then climbing up through pretty, old wooden chalets perched on the sides of meadowland, Belleville, les Rieux and La Villette, with chickens roaming free in the gardens! Another climb onto La Mollard, but a glorious circuit. Time to pause and take in the views over the Belledonne mountains and the Massif de la Vanoise. There's a notice board at the top, telling one of the fables handed down, before TV and Radio killed the art of story-telling. It tells of a labourer who bought a new mule and took it up the Le Mollard, from a village right in the bottom. Half way at Gevoudaz, the mule started to shake and tremble, and the man told the mule that he hoped he hadn't made a mistake buying him. He promised he would make an offering of 5sous at the chapel, if the mule managed to get him up the mountain. The mule did so, and the man cheered at having got up Le Mollard, and not having had to spend his 5 sous, at which point, so the fable goes, the mule dropped down dead!! You must always keep your promises, especially if they involve chapels, sacred offerings and mules! Anyway, back to the route, now descending ferociously steeply. Hands suffering from brakeitis, forgetting to breathe, and balls of feet killing, trying to keep sore ar..e off saddle, whilst careering down lumpy road all the way directly into St Jean. That's me done for the day, 6700ft ascent, 40 miles. Amazing to think that the "tourers" do that plus Madeleine first, and then climb again all the way up Toussire. Ian finished there himself, and was chuffed but cream-crackered when he got back! I'm saving myself for tomorrow. I've persuaded Ian to do a slight detour and head for Beaufort from the east via Modane, Val d'Isere and Bourg St Maurice, so that I can experience going over another major pass between France and Italy, the Col d'Iseran, at 2764m, one off the highest passes, depending on where you stand on La Bonette. Now, we cheated really, doing it the shortest way up, already at a significant height when we set off from Bessans, near Bonneval, where the recognised climb starts. Only 8 miles, height gained is nearly 1000m, average gradient of 7.3%, and max of 10.5% . That's the stats, but the reality is a beautiful ascent up to the plat, where it flattens off slightly, and then through the tunnel of the Pont de l'Ouiletta, with views over glaciers towering above Bonneval. I met up with Ian descending, about 4kms from the summit. He was on his way down to collect the van, having parked up at Bessans. Time for a celebratory hot chocolate at the summit, complete with the usual motorcyclists and Dutch cyclists!
Col de L'Iseran
 After Ian picked me up from the summit, it was back down the other side to Val d'Isere and Bg St Maurice. A couple of hours later we were approaching Beaufort and our lovely site at Les Sources where we've been each year. Horreur! The site was closed. Tourist Info told me that they had stopped doing the site, but were alive and well and enjoying their retirement in Beaufort. Ah well! The municipal site down the road out of town would be fine. Actually very nice, but extremely hot day and desperate for shade!

Col du Galibier

Relaxing at Col de Lauteret
Valloire to Col du Galibier Once Ian had returned from a speedy ascent of Col d'Ornon, we set off on the short journey to the town of Valloire, in the region of the Haute Savoie. A grassy campsite, Camping de Sainte Thecle, near the centre. There's not much in town, being yet another ski village, deserted in the summer, with not much atmosphere. But it's the best place to cycle up the Col du Galibier from, a much shorter but steeper journey than from Bourg d'Oisan. After a rest day, I set off at 8.30am, getting a head start on Ian, both of us having to pause for a short time whilst sheep were herded across the road! A lovely sunny morning, with a slight nip in the air.
Kilometer markers
 A steep climb out of Valloire, and then out through the hamlet of Bonnenuit, onto the Plan Lachat, before climbing steeply up to Les Granges, and the farming cooperatives of Beaufort cheese, although we're about 50 miles from Beaufort itself. Still climbing up to the cafe near the tunnel, where cyclists then continue on up to the col summit. Feeling strong and comfortable, having reached the top in 2hrs 2mins, it seemed to soon to return to Valloire, and the views were spurring me on to spend more time at altitude. Nothing for it, but to follow Ian's suggestion and continue over the top and down to Col de Lauteret, about 8kms away. A coffee and a portion of tarte aux myrtilles and then it was back up the way I'd just come down, back up to the top of Col du Galibier for the second time. I was a bit worried that I'd bitten off more than I could chew, but was pleased that I didn't find the return climb too strenuous, but had to work hard on the last kilometre, which is 10.5%. Over the top for the second time and then an exhilarating descent down the mountain, all the way to Valloire, and a beer at the van! Really chuffed, having climbed 1800m and more importantly feeling good. Now I've climbed three of the highest passes, Col d'Agnello (2700m), Col de la Bonette (about 2700m) and Col du Galibier (about 2600m). The training up Mont Ventoux has definitely paid off, and I'm so thrilled with my "granny" gear, which has made all the difference between struggling and enjoying.