2016 France (Pyrenees and Alps) Cycling

Discussion in 'Member's Travelogues' started by Shut Up Legs, 23 Sep 2016.

  1. Shut Up Legs

    Shut Up Legs Down Under Member

    Introduction (7th to 9th Sep).

    This trip report is dedicated to my Dad, who just recently has some health problems. I hope you enjoy reading this, Dad, I was thinking of you whilst I wrote it - Love, Victor.

    This trip report is in 9 parts: this introductory post, then 1 post per day of the 7-day tour, then a concluding post. I took heaps of photos during the trip, about 400 during the 7-day tour, and more than that either side of the tour, in Toulouse and then Geneva, so the photos that follow are a very small sample of the whole.

    Enjoy! :okay:

    I love riding bicycles up mountains, so much so that early this year I signed up for an assisted cycling tour taking me through the French side of the Pyrénées, then on to Mont Ventoux, then to the French Alps. In other words, I travelled over 17,000km (then the same going home), just to ride about 600km in 6 days. Sounds crazy, I know, but it's the only way I could do these iconic cycling climbs I've always wanted to do.

    The Tour.

    The tour is one of those conducted by a company called Le Domestique Tours (link here: http://ledomestiquetours.co.uk/ ), and the name of the tour is KoM TdF (link to tour here: http://ledomestiquetours.co.uk/tours/king-of-the-mountains-tdf/ ). The idea is to guide us through various mountain climbs that featured in past Tour de France events.
    Certainly, after doing this tour (or about 3/4 of it, since my legs couldn't manage more), my respect for the professional cyclists who do more than this in a week, and at far higher speeds, has increased.
    The tour company gives you the option of using one of their hire bikes during the tour instead of bringing your own, an option I chose, because it's just too inconvenient to bring my own bike across the world (and on several connecting flights), and I just would have been stressed about it getting broken. One of the others in the tour group (Will) chose this option also. The hire bike is a Ritte, a lightweight full-carbon road bike, and I found it quite nice to ride (except for the saddle on it).

    The entire tour is
    • over 7 days;
    • includes 20 climbs;
    • covers 760km; and
    • has 20,700m climbing.

    Shut Up, Legs!

    As I mentioned, my legs couldn't manage more than about 76% of the distance and 72% of the climbs (580km and 14930m, respectively), but I'm happy enough with what I did, considering that my training for this tour wasn't anywhere near as thorough as it should have been. I struggled with motivation for it, given that in the months leading up it, winter reigned here in Melbourne. Although it wasn't a particularly cold winter, it just reduced my motivation to train.

    My overall tour covered 6 days (I sat in the tour van for the 7th), and was as follows:
    Code:
    Day  Distance  Climb  Peaks
       1  58.67km  1556m  Hautacam
       2  96.5km   2954m  Col du Tourmalet, Col de Aspin, Col de Peyresourde
       3  42.84km   996m  Col de Mente
       4  95.39km  3337m  Mont Ventoux (from Bedoin, then from Malaucene)
       5  176.05km 2838m  Col de la Homme Mort, Col d'Espreaux, Col du Festre
       6  110.47km 3249m  Col de Parquetout, Col d'Ornon, Col du Glandon de la Croix de Fer
    The climbs I skipped were:
    Code:
    Day  Distance  Climb  Peaks
      2      28km  1000m  Luz Ardiden
      3   35.60km   600m  Col de Portet d'Aspet
      7  117.70km  4191m  Col du Telegraphe, Col du Galibier, Alpe d'Huez
    The reason I skipped the second climb on day 3, even though it was a relatively easy morning (because we needed to allow time for the long transfer from St-Girons to Bedoin for the Mont Ventoux rides the next day) is that the saddle on the hire bike was causing me a lot of pain, and this made the ascent up the Col de Mente so difficult that I couldn't take any more after that.
    For the Mont Ventoux rides the next day, I used my own saddle, which fortunately I'd had the foresight to bring with me, and the difference was dramatic! The bottom pain just vanished, and I got my motivation back. Even the climb from Bedoin up Mont Ventoux, considered a difficult climb, was a lot easier due to having a saddle I was used to, and that continued for the next 2 days also, so I'm glad I brought my own saddle! :rolleyes:

    I regret skipping that last day, since it was probably the most spectacular of them all (but I still took some photos of these peaks, as a reminder of what I could do in the future). Unfortunately, my legs were pretty worn out by then.

    The People.

    There were only 6 people in the tour group, including myself, so it was easy enough to get to know the others. These were:
    • Barton (from Colorado, USA);
    • Michael (from Colorado, USA);
    • Michel (from London, UK, and French);
    • Will (from London, UK, and English);
    • Steve (from London, UK, and English); and of course
    • myself (from Melbourne, Australia).
    Of the above, Michel was the strongest climber, with Steve and Michael not far behind, then Will and Barton, and of course someone had to be the weakest climber, so for this tour it was me. Overall build didn't seem to be relevant to the climbing ability, because Michel, Will and Steve were all my height (about 1.9m), but Michel I think weighed about what I do (78kg) while Steve weighed about 100kg (he mentioned it once).
    The tour was led by Kyle, another Englishman, a chef who also did competitive cycling, and seemed pretty knowledgeable about cycling in general, and had some interesting tales to tell about professional cyclists he'd met. He was also a good source of knowledge about the various climbs we faced.

    The Routes.

    The 2 maps and elevation profiles below show the route we took over the first 3 days, then the next 3.

    Days 1 to 3 route and profile:
    days1-3-map.jpg

    days1-3-elev.png

    Days 4 to 6 route and profile:
    days4-6-map.jpg

    days4-6-elev.png

    Getting There.

    About a week before I flew to France, I almost thought I'd have to cancel the trip (which had already cost me a fair bit, due to the tour fee, flight fee, etc.), because I got a cold! :angry: Fortunately, I managed to get rid of it in time, only to get a sore throat only days before departure. With the help of some antibiotics, I got rid of that, too, and remained in good health through the trip there and back, and the stay in France.

    On Sep 7th, I boarded the flight from Melbourne, which was 3 legs: 13 hours to Abu Dhabi, 6.5 hours to Fiumcino Airport near Rome, then 2 hours to Toulouse Airport in Blagnac, about 10km from Toulouse, France. I got a surprise at Toulouse Airport: the "queue" (if you can call it that) for passport control was huge! It was at least 10 people wide, and went for 100m or so. The airport even brought in a few extra staff to try to reduce the queue a bit faster.

    intro-toulouse-passport-ctrl.jpg

    I then spent the next 2 nights at the Holiday Inn Express near the airport recovering from my jet lag, and exploring Toulouse. It's a pleasant enough place, but not many landmarks. There's some nice old buildings, and the main square in Capitole (the centre of Toulouse) has a nice garden area, and a lot of park benches, used by many people. The atmosphere there is nice:

    intro-toulouse-capitole-park.jpg

    Another nice park is Square Boulingrin:

    intro-toulouse-square-boulingrin.jpg

    I also wandered down to La Garonne, and admired the river, crossed by the old bridge Pont Neuf:

    intro-toulouse-la-garonne.jpg

    The public transport there is good, too. I had no problem buying an all-day transport pass on the 9th, valid for tram, train, bus and ferry, which I used to go into Toulouse city centre and explore. I like what they did with the tram tracks, too:

    intro-toulouse-tram-tracks.jpg

    At about 10:30am on Sep 10, Kyle picked up myself, Steve, Will and Michel from the airport, then drove us to Lourdes, about a 2.5 hour drive, meeting Michael and Barton there, and the first ride started in Lourdes (see Day 1 link for this). The tour then lasted 7 days, from the 10th to the 16th, with the transfer back to Geneva Airport on the morning of the 17th.

    General comments on the rides.

    On some of the harder climbs when my legs got pretty tired, I'd have to make a conscious effort to stay away from the right-hand side of the road, on those climbs where that side of the road had a very long drop right next to it. Coming from a country where traffic keeps left, this switch of sides took some getting used to.

    French drivers appear to drive as fast as Australian ones, however I never felt unsafe, because they are (in my opinion) more considerate and better drivers, and are clearly used to cyclists. Not surprising, given it's a country with a very long pre-motor vehicle history, and with a much larger percentage of cyclists than Australia.

    The roads in France, or at least the ones I cycled on, appear to be very well-maintained. They clearly spend a lot of money keeping them in good condition. This was certainly helpful on the lengthy mountain descents, where the fewer bumps there are, the better! :okay:

    The French I met were unfailingly courteous, and didn't comment on my poor attempts at speaking French. I'm afraid I wasted an opportunity to learn more French: I work for a France-based multinational company, and am surrounded by French people at work (and various other nationalities, too). There are even regular French lessons held at work, of which I did not avail myself (silly me).
    Michel did do some translations for us during the week, and didn't complain about it once. Thanks, Michel, much appreciated!

    During the week, we rode through a lot of small, picturesque French towns, and they were all well sign-posted, with a sign on each road entrance with the town's name on it, and another on each exit identical to the entrance signs, but with a diagonal red line through the name. A win for logic and common-sense! :laugh:

    A lot of the better-known climbs were festooned with the names of various professional cyclists, writ large on the road, generally in light-coloured paint. Amusingly enough, one slogan that also appeared in various places on some of these roads was "FREXIT". It seems that some of the French are entertaining ideas of EU separation also.

    Cyclists in France have the option of wearing helmets, i.e. it's not mandatory like in Australia. Some exercise that option, and others don't, and nobody makes a big deal out of it. Australia (in my opinion) is definitely backwards in that respect.

    The hotels I stayed in at Toulouse, Geneva, and all the country towns in between, had one thing in common, unfortunately: hard mattresses! Well, that's fair enough, I guess, since if they were 4 or 5-star hotels, the tour cost would have increased accordingly. I was really glad to get back to my home mattress at the end of it, though: so soft!
     
    Last edited: 25 Sep 2016
  2. OP
    OP
    Shut Up Legs

    Shut Up Legs Down Under Member

    Day 1 (Pyrénées, 10th Sep).

    On day 1 we rode from Lourdes to Ayros-Arbouix, from which we rode up the Hautacam. After descending from it, we rode to our overnight hotel stop in Luz Saint-Sauveur, which was the Hotel Montaigu.

    The map and elevation profile are below:

    day1-map.jpg

    day1-elev.png

    The Hautacam is a 17.3km climb with average grade 6.8%.

    The view from the top of the Hautacam was spectacular, just the first of many to come this week:

    day1-hautacam-view.jpg

    The views coming down were pretty good also. I took this snapshot from the video I recorded on the way down:

    day1-hautacam-descent-view.png

    I recorded my descent from the Hautacam down to the town of Ayros-Arbouix on the GoPro Hero3+ video camera attached to my cycling helmet:


    Luz Saint-Sauveur is nestled amongst various mountain peaks, and is actually a good base for local cycling climbs. This was the view from just outside the hotel the next morning, just before we left for the next ride:

    day1-luz-saint-sauveur.jpg
     
  3. OP
    OP
    Shut Up Legs

    Shut Up Legs Down Under Member

    Day 2 (Pyrénées, 11th Sep).

    On day 2 we rode from Luz Saint-Sauveur to our day's climbs, then to our overnight hotel stop in Bagneres-de-Luchon, which was the Hotel d'Etigny.
    These climbs included Luz Ardiden (for some of us, anyway), then Col du Tourmalet, Col d'Aspin and Col de Peyresourde.

    The map and elevation profile are below:

    day2-map.jpg

    day2-elev.png

    The Col du Tourmalet is a 19km climb with average grade 7.4%, the Col d'Aspin 12.8km at 5% and the Col de Peyresourde 10km at 6.6%.

    I wasn't the only one in the group who skipped the Luz Ardiden climb, preferring to save our energy for the Col du Tourmalet and the 2 climbs that followed it. Will also skipped Luz Ardiden and I think one of the others also skipped it.

    Col du Tourmalet.

    Just as I reached the summit of Col du Tourmalet (and its spectacular views), another cyclist reached the summit at the same time. I wanted someone to take a photo of me at the summit sign with "Col du Tourmalet" on it, so I bravely asked "Parlez vous Anglais?" and it turned out it did, because he was from Brisbane, Australia! :laugh: So we exchanged greetings, and took photos of each other in front of the sign. Here's mine:

    day2-tourmalet-me.jpg

    I think that cyclist above me needs to put on some sunscreen, at the very least. :headshake: The maximum temperatures in the Pyrénées this week were in the high 20s.

    Also, here's the 2 Col de Tourmalet signs, the one in the 2nd picture below showing just how tough a climb it is:

    day2-tourmalet-wall.jpg

    day2-tourmalet-sign.jpg

    Translation: Height difference: 1365m / Total ascension: 18.6km / Average grade (slope): 7.5%. Ouch.

    While up there, I also went into the tourist shop and bought a Col du Tourmalet cycling jersey. I then put the GoPro Hero3+ video camera on my helmet, and recorded the descent down to the town of Les Basses:



    I briefly stopped to admire the stunning views from the top, before heading down the mountain's east side. Here's the view looking down the road that winds its way down the east side, including Kyle's Le Domestique Tours van:

    day2-tourmalet-van.jpg

    Here's a frame taken from the descent video, showing how good the view was going down:

    day2-tourmalet-descent.png

    Col d'Aspin.

    After the descent from the Col du Tourmalet, I then rode up the Col d'Aspin, a relatively easy climb, which was good for legs tired from the Tourmalet:

    day2-aspin-sign.jpg

    Apparently the cows also liked the Col d'Aspin:

    day2-aspin-cows.jpg

    In fact, one particularly curious (or amorous?) cow liked my bike also, so much that it wandered over to it, even though I was standing right next to it, and promptly dribbled a long stream of drool all over it! :laugh: I didn't get this on camera, though (probably best that way).
    The view from the Col d'Aspin was also spectacular, including this view of the Col du Tourmalet in the western distance. It's the one with the white buildings on top, i.e. the highest bit in the photo:

    day2-aspin-view-to-tourmalet.jpg

    The view to the east of the Col d'Aspin was similarly impressive:

    day2-aspin-view-east.jpg

    I recorded another video for my descent from the Col d'Aspin down to the town of Arreau:



    Col de Peyresourde.

    The final climb for the day was the Col de Peyresourde, a not-so-easy climb, particularly given I'd already done two. It's about the same average grade as the Tourmalet, but thankfully not so long:

    day2-peyresourde-sign.jpg

    Here I am, again, happy that the final descent down to the town of Bagneres-de-Luchon awaited:

    day2-peyresourde-me.jpg

    I also recorded the descent down to the town of Bagneres-de-Luchon with the video camera:



    Gadgets.

    I had a minor setback this evening at the Hotel d'Etigny. I inserted my phone's charger adaptor plug into the Australian power board I'd brought with me, and which I'd connected to the French power socket via an Australian/French adaptor plug. Then there was a POP and burning smell: the power board, and the phone charger plug, had both fried. :angry: I asked the hoteliers about where I could buy travel adaptors, or just chargers, but they could only recommend a shop in Bagneres-de-Luchon which opened at 9 or 10am the next day, by which time we would be long gone.
    Fortunately, during our second stop at a French roadside cafe / service station the next day on the long 5.5 hour drive from St-Girons to Bedoin, I found several French USB chargers with French pin layout, and promptly bought 3 of them! :laugh: Charging my various devices was taken care of for the rest of the week. These devices included:
    • phone;
    • Garmin Edge 1000 GPS computer provided with the hire bike, and which was programmed with each day's routes. I relied on this to not get lost, so really needed it charged every day.
    • Garmin Edge 800 GPS computer I brought with me. I ended up saving the trip files of this unit, and these are the source of the route maps and elevation graphs in these trip report pages.
    • GoPro Hero3+ video camera. I mounted this on my bike helmet to record some of the mountain descents, most notably the Col du Tourmalet one and both descents from Mont Ventoux.
    • Dedicated digital still camera, a Canon Ixus 125 HS. I brought this because it has 3 main advantages over the phone's camera, namely: image stabilisation, easier to hold while taking photos, and optical zoom.
    Yes, I know, that's a lot of hardware, but I like gadgets (I'm a software engineer). :tongue:
     
    Last edited: 26 Aug 2017
  4. OP
    OP
    Shut Up Legs

    Shut Up Legs Down Under Member

    Day 3 (Pyrénées, 12th Sep).

    On day 3 most of the tour group rode from Bagneres-de-Luchon to our day's climbs, then to Saint-Girons, where we boarded the tour bus (bikes and all), for a 5.5 hour drive to Bedoin, where we stayed that night and the next in the Hotel La Garance.
    In my case, due to major pain from the hire bike's saddle, which didn't fit me well enough, I only did the Col de Mente climb, then had to sit in the tour bus while the other 5 in the tour group did the only other ride for that morning, the Col de Portet d'Aspet.

    The map and elevation profile are below:

    day3-map.jpg

    day3-elev.png

    The Col de Mente is a 10km climb at 10%.

    Once I got the top of the Col de Mente (a tough climb), and with my bottom hurting a great deal due to the aforementioned mismatched saddle, I just took a few photos, showing the Col de Mente sign and the view east from the summit:

    day3-aspin-sign.jpg

    day3-aspin-view.jpg

    I then rode down to where the climb up the Col de Portet d'Aspet began, and that's where Kyle picked me up in the tour bus, because I hurt too much to ride further this day.

    After the morning's rides, which ended (for the others, not me) at St-Girons, we all loaded ourselves and the bikes onto the tour bus, then endured the 5.5 hour drive from there to Bedoin, our base for the next 2 nights. That was a bit complicated, because the bikes all had to be partly taken apart (wheels removed, mainly) and then secured in the back of the van. We then all crammed into the van, 2 up front with the driver (Kyle) and 4 in the back seat. We had 2 rest stops during the ride, to stretch our legs, which helped a bit.
     
  5. OP
    OP
    Shut Up Legs

    Shut Up Legs Down Under Member

    Day 4 (Mont Ventoux, 13th Sep).

    On day 4 we rode from Bedoin up Mont Ventoux, then down to Malaucène and back up to Mont Ventoux. Then Steve and Michel (and I think Michael too) rode down to Sault and back up to Mont Ventoux, to make the climb a triple one, and thus qualify them for membership to the Club des Cingles du Mont Ventoux. The rest of us rode back to Bedoin from Mont Ventoux after the 2nd ascent, and counted ourselves happy enough with that, as neither the Bedoin nor the Malaucène ascents of Mont Ventoux are particularly easy climbs.
    As I mentioned previously, today's rides were a lot easier for me than the previous 3, due to me swapping the hire bike's saddle for my own which I'd brought with me.

    Jerseys, jerseys, jerseys, ...

    On reaching the summit the first time, I went into the tourist shop and bought a Mont Ventoux jersey. Then on reaching the summit the second time, I decided to buy another. Combined with the Col du Tourmalet jersey, plus a Le Domestique Tours jersey provided as part of the tour package, I went home with 4 more cycling jerseys. I'll be the Imelda Marcos of cycling jerseys in no time, at that rate. :rolleyes:

    The map and elevation profile are below:

    day4-map.jpg

    day4-elev.png

    The Mont Ventoux climbs are: from Bedoin, 21.4km at 7.6%, from Malaucène, 21.2km at 7.2%, and from Sault, 25.7km at 4.5%.

    The first descent in the above profile is from me riding from the hotel in Saint-Colombe to Bedoin, to get a stamp on my Club des Cinglés du Mont Ventoux card, as part of the "proof" that I'd done the climbs. The idea is to do all 3 ascents up Mont Ventoux (from Bedoin, Malaucène and Sault), then use the stamped card to join the "crazy" club (which is what the Cinglés means). :crazy: Even though I knew already that I was only going to do 2 out of the 3 climbs, it seemed like a good idea to get the stamps, as part of the general souvenir collection.

    Then at the end of the above profile, there's another short climb, which is when I rode straight past the hotel on the final descent, and on to Bedoin to withdraw some Euros from an ATM. The climb is back from Bedoin to the hotel.

    Climbing from Bedoin.

    At the start of the day's ride, Mont Ventoux totally dominates the northern landscape from Bedoin, as the surrounding countryside is relatively flat, so Mont Ventoux stands out like the (choose your proverb). The summit is the bit about 3/4 from the left of the photo. You can just see the weather station tower from here:

    day4-ventoux-from-bedoin.jpg

    The climb from Bedoin up to Mont Ventoux is one of the tougher climbs, as this encouraging roadside sign shows:

    day4-bedoin-grade-sign.jpg

    You know you're up to the relatively easy part when you pass Chalet Reynard, sitting on the junction between the roads from Bedoin and from Sault, where they join to form one road to the summit:

    day4-chalet-reynard.jpg

    As you ride past the Chalet, the summit tower starts to appear closer, and always stands out:

    day4-ventoux-weather-station-from-afar.jpg

    Here it is again, viewed from the summit:

    day4-ventoux-weather-station.jpg

    Once at the summit for the 1st time, it was happy-snaps time again (and thanks to whoever took that photo). There are so many things stuck on the sign that reading the "sommet Mont Ventoux" words is becoming more difficult. :rolleyes:

    day4-ventoux-me.jpg

    Before riding down to Malaucène, I admired the view north towards the Alps from the summit:

    day4-ventoux-view-north.jpg

    Finally, here's 2 photos I ordered from PhotoVentoux.com. They position photographers near the summit (from both the Bedoin / south and Malaucene / north sides), and take photos of approaching cyclists. They then put their business card in one of your jersey pockets as you ride past (not that difficult, since most of us (the human ones, anyway) aren't going particularly fast at this point). You can then view their web site, and locate the photos of you, based on the approximate time you rode past the photographers.
    I also ordered some from Sport-Photo.fr, who have a similar setup, but they haven't yet been emailed to me.

    day4-ventoux-from-bedoin-me-near-summit.jpg

    day4-ventoux-from-bedoin-me-near-summit-2.jpg

    By the way, despite the pained look of concentration on my face, I thoroughly enjoyed riding up Mont Ventoux twice. That's just how I normally look: serious. :rolleyes:

    On my way down to Malaucène, the damned paparazzi took a photo of me. :whistle:

    day4-malaucene-descent-1.jpg

    Actually, it was someone from Sport-Photo.fr, and I ended up ordering some of the photos they took of me. They haven't been emailed to me yet, though.

    I think it was about here that I reached my maximum speed of 83.5km/h, because it was smooth, long and straight, ideal for high speeds. I wasn't even pedaling. :laugh: Note the blurred grass on the edge of the video frame:

    day4-malaucene-descent-2.jpg

    Climbing from Malaucène.

    From the summit, I descended to Malaucène, which as it turns out is a very fast descent, no pedaling needed for most of it, due to the steep grades on part of the descent. I briefly reached about 83.5km/h on one part, then used the brakes as caution took over.
    The climb from Malaucène is almost as difficult as the climb from Bedoin, except that it's mainly the 3rd in the middle of the climb that is steep. The views are just as nice, though. Here's some forest to the right (south) of the climb:

    day4-malaucene-forest.jpg

    day4-malaucene-climb.jpg

    Again, the view north towards the Alps:

    day4-malaucene-view-north.jpg

    Near the summit, I saw what looks like a telescope building, and what better place to put one than up here?

    day4-malaucene-telescope.jpg

    The view towards the weather station building as I got closer to the summit for the 2nd time:

    day4-malaucene-approaching-summit.jpg

    On my way down to Bedoin after having done the 2 climbs. This is a frame captured from the descent video:

    day4-bedoin-descent.jpg

    As with day 2, I recorded the 2 descents using the GoPro Hero3+ video camera attached to my helmet:



     
  6. OP
    OP
    Shut Up Legs

    Shut Up Legs Down Under Member

    Day 5 (Towards the Alps, 14th Sep).

    Day 5 was the first long-distance day, in which we all rode from Bedoin to our overnight stop in Corps, which was the Hotel Le Tilleu, going through some spectacular countryside, and climbing the Col de l'Homme Mort, Col d'Espreaux and the Col du Festre.
    I really enjoyed this day. Even though I arrived at the hotel about 45 minutes after the others, due to being the slowest rider in the tour group, I enjoyed every minute of the ride, because the scenery was breathtaking.
    The Garmin Edge 1000 GPS computer provided with the tour's hire bike turned itself off just as I passed the Corps town border sign, so I had to ring Kyle to find out exactly where the hotel was, but that was the only slight mishap in an otherwise perfect day. It seems that its maximum battery life while in route guidance mode is about 9 hours, and we started the ride at about 8:30am and it was 5:30pm when it turned off.

    The map and elevation profile are below:

    day5-map.jpg

    day5-elev.png

    The Col de l'Homme Morte is a 17.8km climb at 3%, the Col d'Espreaux is 13km at 4.6%, and the Col du Festre is 16.1km at 3.8%.

    Leaving Bedoin.

    From Bedoin, we rode roughly east along a minor road and climbed about 600m over the next 17km to Les Abeilles, then had a long descent into Les Grayaux, followed by a brief coffee stop in Sault. The view coming down the descent was fairly panoramic:

    day5-1st-descent-view.jpg

    Col de l'Homme Mort.

    From Sault, we rode up the Col de l'Homme Mort (now, there's a demotivating name! :rolleyes:), and briefly stopped there to refill our water bottles. Kyle kept a supply of water in a large plastic container in the van, and did his best to ensure we never ran out during the tour.

    day5-homme-mort.jpg

    From the Col de l'Homme Mort, the route had about 40km of descending, shortly followed by a lunch stop at Laragne-Monteglin. The linked photo shows all the other 5 cyclists in the tour group, and the tour leader Kyle (2nd from left):
    http://sites.google.com/site/2016francecyclingtour/home/day5-laragne-monteglin-lunch.jpg

    The views during that long descent were spectacular, as these 2 photos show:

    day5-60km-descent-view1.jpg

    day5-60km-descent-view2.jpg

    After the lunch stop, the next 20km or so were mixed ascending and descending until we reached the eastern-most point of the route (as seen in the above route map), and the start of the Alpine "foothills" loomed in the distance. I'm not sure which these were, but they peaked at about 1200m:

    day5-mountains-in-distance.jpg

    Col d'Espreaux.

    From the above point shown in the photo, there was a left turn at the town of Plan des Vitrolles, and the 12km climb up Col d'Espreaux began. As with most of the other climbs, useful signs informed cyclists of what lay ahead:

    day5-espreaux-sign.jpg

    On the way up the climb, we passed through another gorgeous little French town, with old buildings and narrow streets. I think this one was either Barcillonnette or Esparron, not sure which, though:

    day5-espreaux-town-esparron-or-barcillonnette.jpg

    The road up to the Col d'Espreaux is a very quiet one, sometimes looking like the photo below, and then you round a bend to reveal spectacular panoramic views.

    day5-espreaux-climb-view.jpg

    The view from the Col d'Espreaux summit was pretty nice:

    day5-espreaux-summit.jpg

    Col du Festre.

    After we left Col d'Espreaux, there was about a 12km descent down to the town of Les Paroirs, then the long ascent up to Col du Festre began. This was the toughest part of the ride, because the ascent was along a major road (route D937) with a slight grade, but the road just went on for ever, with very few bends to break up the monotony. At least there were mountains in the distance to admire:

    day5-festre-climb-start.jpg

    At the end of that interminable ascent, the road cut through the 215m long Tunnel de Potrachon (which can be found in Google Maps by searching for "Défilé de Potrachon"). Here, I had to wait several minutes for an automated countdown sign to count from 9 down to 0 (except each decrement takes about 15 seconds). Then, when the light finally went green, I had to force my legs (feeling pretty tired at that point, having done 140km) to get me through the 1-way tunnel as quickly as I could manage:

    day5-tunnel-du-potrachon.jpg

    Another 8km of climbing later, I finally reached the Col du Festre road sign, and shortly after rolled into the Col du Festre, where a small town awaits:

    day5-festre-sign.jpg

    day5-festre-town.jpg

    day5-festre-me.jpg

    Down to Corps.

    On my descent down from the Col du Festre, I encountered some road signs advertising the Tour du Devoluy. I'm still not sure what it is, but it appears to be some kind of multi-day randonnée. This web site appears to describe it: http://www.queyras-rando-nature.com/sejours-hiver/111-le-tour-du-devoluy
    The sign is shown here: http://sites.google.com/site/2016francecyclingtour/home/day5-devoluy-sign.jpg

    As I continued my descent down to Corps, the road cut through some spectacular valleys with impressive mountain views:

    day5-festre-descent1.jpg

    day5-festre-descent2.jpg

    From Col du Festre it was about another 27km to Corps, and about 11km from Corps, just past the town of La Posterle, there is a straight bit of road for about 4km, and here I had a fairly good tail wind, and was cruising along at about 40km/h:

    day5-straight-before-corps.jpg

    Just before Corps, I crossed a bridge over the very picturesque Lac du Sautet, formed by a dam over Le Drac, a 130km long river in the area:

    day5-lac-du-sautet.jpg

    Once over the bridge, there was about a 3km climb up to Corps, and the ride for the day was done.
     
  7. OP
    OP
    Shut Up Legs

    Shut Up Legs Down Under Member

    Day 6 (Alps, 15th Sep).

    On day 6, we rode from Corps to our overnight stop at Saint-Étienne-de-Cuines, the Hotel Ibis Budget. Our climbs for today included the Col de Parquetout, Col d'Ornon and then the combined Col du Glandon de la Croix de Fer.

    The map and elevation profile are below:

    day6-map.jpg

    day6-elev.png

    The Col de Parquetout climb is 14.1km at 4.4%, the Col d'Ornon is 16.6km at 3.8%, and the Col du Glandon de la Croix de Fer is 24.1km at 4.8%.

    If the elevation profile above looks a bit odd, with another climb after the big one (which was the Col du Glandon de la Croix de Fer), this is because due to me misunderstanding Kyle's instructions on a route variance which forced us to deviate from our GPS computers' stored routes, I ended up going the wrong way and missing a turn I was supposed to take. Kyle had to pick me up in the van, and I rode partway up the Croix de Fer climb again to meet him part of the way, so he didn't have to drive too far. Personally, I think his instructions weren't clear enough, but he clearly thought otherwise, and so I saw no point in arguing about it.

    Col de Parquetout.

    It was a cool and initially slightly rainy day. The climb up to the Col de Parquetout from Corps was about 14km and with very nice views, including this early-morning mountain vista:

    day6-just-outside-corps.jpg

    The road wound its way through some very peaceful looking scenery, before reaching the Col de Parquetout:

    day6-just-outside-corps-2.jpg

    day6-parquetout-climb.jpg

    day6-parquetout.jpg

    The 7km descent from the Col de Parquetout also had some nice views:

    day6-parquetout-descent.jpg

    Col d'Ornon.

    The climb up to the Col d'Ornon featured some ever-more breathtaking scenery:

    day6-ornon-climb.jpg

    The Col d'Ornon itself appears very isolated, and I was pleasantly struck by how quiet it was, too:

    day6-ornon.jpg

    Descending from the Col d'Ornon, more beautiful mountains revealed themselves:

    day6-ornon-descent.jpg

    Col du Glandon de la Croix de Fer.

    The combined name of these climbs is because the road climbing up to the Col du Croix de Fer (or at least, the one we rode on this day) passes the Col du Glandon.
    As I approached the start of the last (and toughest) climb for the day, nearing the town of Allemont, tall mountains dominated the landscape:

    day6-allemont.jpg

    Just past Allemont, I rode past the Lac du Verney, formed by a dam:

    day6-verney.jpg

    The first 6km of the Col du Glandon de la Croix de Fer climb ends at the town of Le Rivier d'Allemont, after which there's a roughly 100m descent down into a valley, then the main climb starts. The views in the first climb are very nice, I just wish I'd got there a tiny bit later in the year, to see more autumn colours:

    day6-climb-to-rivier-dallemont.jpg

    I can only imagine what it would be like living in a mountain town with views like these :smile: :

    day6-rivier-dallemont.jpg

    As I continued the steep climb up to Col du Glandon, I passed the Lac de Grandmaison, also formed by a dam, with mountains surrounding it:

    day6-climb-to-glandon.jpg

    A bit further on, I could see where the road went ahead of me, including a building marking the turnoff to the Col du Glandon in the far distance:

    day6-climb-to-glandon-2.jpg

    Looking back to Lac de Grandmaison:

    day6-climb-to-glandon-3-looking-back-to-grandmaisonjpg.jpg

    Once I passed the Col du Glandon, the Col du Croix de Fer was only a few km further on:

    day6-croix-1.jpg

    day6-croix-2.jpg

    day6-croix-3.jpg

    After this, due to the aforementioned misunderstanding over route directions, I went the wrong way, and ended up having to be picked up by Kyle in the tour van, which slightly spoiled an otherwise lovely day of cycling. I still very much enjoyed it, though, because as you can see, the views ARE worth the climb! :okay:
     
  8. OP
    OP
    Shut Up Legs

    Shut Up Legs Down Under Member

    Day 7 (Alps, 16th Sep).

    As I mentioned, I sat out this day in the tour van, only taking photos of the scenery, plus a few of the other riders in the group. From our overnight stop, the others rode up the Col du Telegraph, then Col du Galibier, then down its western side, taking a detour around the south side of the Lac Du Chambon, as the Grand Tunnel du Chambon was still closed for maintenance, and then from there up Alpe d'Huez.
    We then all stayed at the Hotel L'Ancolie in Huez village, about 6km from the summit of Alpe d'Huez. Now there's a hotel with a view! Even though it's not at the summit, it's still at elevation 1450m, only 350m lower than the summit, so the views are excellent.

    It was a fairly chilly day, and was cold at the summit of Col du Telegraphe, Col du Galibier and Alpe d'Huez. Nevertheless, the views were still good during those times when the mist cleared. This is the sign at the Col du Telegraphe summit:

    day7-telegraphe-sign.jpg

    The view from the summit was quite nice too, if a bit cold-looking :cold: :

    day7-telegraphe-view.jpg

    On the way up to the Col du Galibier summit in the van, I took a few more photos and admired the views:

    day7-galibier-climb-1.jpg

    day7-galibier-climb-2.jpg

    At the summit, it was about zero degrees and misty :cold: :

    day7-galibier-summit.jpg

    However, when the mist cleared, the views were awesome:

    day7-galibier-summit-view.jpg

    day7-galibier-summit-view-2.jpg

    Between Col du Galibier and the start of the Alpe d'Huez climb, the Grand Tunnel du Chambon, cutting through the mountain just north of Lac du Chambon, was closed for some rather expensive maintenance:

    day7-tunnel-chambon-roadworks-sign.jpg

    This meant the 5 cyclists had to follow a diversion to the south of the lake, which was fortunately a sealed one, although only recently, because it used to be unsealed apparently.

    The Lac du Chambon, at just over 1000m altitude, is another very pretty mountain lake, again formed by a dam:

    day7-lac-chambon.jpg

    After a lunch stop for the cyclists at the western side of Lac du Chambon, Kyle drove the 2 of us to Alpe d'Huez and to the hotel which is about 6km from the summit. The views from the hotel are pretty impressive:

    day7-huez-hotel-view.jpg
     
  9. OP
    OP
    Shut Up Legs

    Shut Up Legs Down Under Member

    Conclusion (17th to 21st Sep).

    France to Switzerland.

    On our final morning in France on the 17th, we left that charming hotel in Huez village, and hopped into a chartered bus to be driven to Geneva, where we went our separate ways. This wasn't the bus that Kyle had been driving all week, because he'd had to leave a bit earlier, due to another job immediately starting. As our bus drove past the airport terminal in Geneva Airport, preparing to turn around and enter the road going past these terminals, we saw Kyle and his bus, and he was loading some cyclists' luggage into it. So no rest for Kyle.
    It must be inconvenient sometimes with a job like that, literally "living out of a suitcase", as the saying goes. On the other hand, he gets to see spectacular scenery very frequently. In fact, on day 4, once the rest of us were clearly either on the way back to Hotel La Garance or already back there, he went on a ride up Mont Ventoux himself.

    Geneva.

    Once the bus dropped us off at the airport, at roughly noon, I asked the driver to drop me at the Holiday Inn Express near the airport (convenient enough for him, as it was on the way to his next job), I checked into the hotel. I then spent the rest of that day doing some tourist things. I took a bus to Geneva's Jardin Botanique, but then decided that could wait another day, and wandered through Parc Mon Repos, which contained the Musée d'Histoire des Sciences. I walked through there for a while admiring its interesting exhibits on science history, then left and went along the Geneva waterfront, next to Lac Léman (aka "Lake Geneva").
    One of the lake's features, not far from Geneva itself, is the Jet d'Eau, a large water jet that continually sprays a 140m column of water upwards from the lake. Which reminded me: ou sont les toilettes? :laugh:

    wrapup-geneva-jet-d-eau.jpg

    Geneva also has an abundance of lovely old buildings along its main waterfront, as well as in the old town. Here's a sample of the former:

    wrapup-geneva-old-buildings.jpg

    The old town (which I visited on the 19th, the day I flew out) has some nice buildings, such as the Temple de la Madeleine (1st pic) and the 12th-century St Pierre Cathedral (2nd pic):

    wrapup-geneva-temple-de-la-madeleine.jpg

    wrapup-geneva-st-pierre-cathedral.jpg

    On the 18th (the 1st of 2 full days I spent there), I booked a cruise on Lac Leman to Ivoire, a 700 year old town on the shores of the lake. Oddly enough, this meant I crossed a national border, as Ivoire is in France! :laugh: Thank you, Schengen Agreement! :okay: Fortunately, I had Euros as well as Swiss Francs in my wallet.
    Ivoire has some lovely old buildings, such as the Chateau Ivoire, right on the lake shore near the ferry jetty:

    wrapup-geneva-chateau-ivoire.jpg

    On the 19th, I visited the Geneva Jardin Botanique, which was nice, full of all manner of plants and trees, even a roaming squirrel (of some sort? I'm no expert):

    wrapup-geneva-jardin-botanique-squirrel.jpg

    wrapup-geneva-jardin-botanique.jpg

    On the way to the gardens, I passed the United Nations compound, but didn't have the guts to take any closer photos, as the heavily-armed stoic security guards intimidated me. :ph34r:

    wrapup-geneva-un.jpg

    Final Result.

    I was happy enough with the number of rides I did, although as I mentioned, I regretted not riding on the 7 day, and missing out on the Col du Telegraphe, Col du Galibier and Alpe d'Huez. I just felt that, given the communication problem I had with the tour guide the day before, and the fact that all the other riders were faster than I, I would just cause inconvenience by trying to do the day 7 rides, so to avoid this I stayed in the van.
    I weighed myself when I got home (and this was already after 5 days of no cycling), and found it was exactly the same as when I left, i.e. 78kg (I'm 1.9m tall). However, I definitely felt more muscle mass in my legs, so I think I gained some muscle and lost some fat, a good result all around. :smile:

    The weather varied during the 7 days of riding (or 6, for me): the 1st 3 days in the Pyrénées had maximum temperatures in the high 20s, and similarly for day 4 in the Mont Ventoux area, but the Alps were a lot cooler, and the 7th day saw maximum temperatures around 15 in the valleys, and a lot colder than that on Col du Galibier (around zero).

    Lessons Learnt (or: How to do it Better Next Time).

    There were a lot of things I did wrongly, or could have done better, during this tour, including the following:
    • MORE training! This is definitely my highest priority for the next tour. :laugh: Even though 580km with 14930m climbing is a respectable enough total for 6 days, averaging 97km and 2490m climbing per day, it could have been better, but my training wasn't enough.
    • Lighter overshoes (the ones I brought were more winter ones).
    • Lighter jacket.
    • Use my own saddle right from day 1, instead of suffering 3 days of nasty bottom pain.
    • Bring a portable charger that can charge a Garmin (or other) GPS computer while it's in use. The Garmin Edge 1000 GPS computer provided with the tour's hire bike turned itself off on day 5, just as I passed the Corps town border sign, so I had to ring the tour guide to find out exactly where the hotel was. This means it only lasted about 9 hours: it was in route guidance mode, which of course uses more battery power, so it clearly needed some help to do the distance.
    • Increase my average cadence. I've always had a lower cadence than most other cyclists, a bad habit I've been trying (with partial success) for years to break.
    • Bring own lights. For some reason, the tour company didn't provide lights with the hire bike, even though they sent an email to me before the tour saying lights would be provided. So that's something they could improve upon (in my opinion). There were a few instances where lights could have been useful, such as when I rode through a few of the longer tunnels cutting through some of the mountain peaks. They're not all properly lit, and even if they have lights, sometimes not all of them work.
    • Use baggage with wheels. I didn't, and my shoulders started aching after a while.
    • Make more of an effort to learn the native language before the next trip. As I mentioned in the Introduction, I had an opportunity to learn more French at work, and didn't take it.

    The flight back home on the evening of the 19th was more direct than the other one: 6 hours to Abu Dhabi, then 12 hours to Melbourne, thanks to the prevailing winds working in our favour this time. I still arrived in Melbourne on the morning of the 21st, thanks to jumping forward 6 hours into the new time zone.

    I miss the mountains of France, though, and wish I was still there right now.
     
    Last edited: 19 Dec 2016
  10. Hill Wimp

    Hill Wimp Fair weathered,fair minded but easily persuaded. Staff Member

    Brilliant write up Victor. That was an awesome challenge you took on there in my books. I bet your Dad must be so proud of you.

    Where will you go next time?
     
    Shut Up Legs likes this.
  11. welsh dragon

    welsh dragon a permanent vacancy now exists

    Fantastic write up and well done indeed. A great effort.
     
    172traindriver and Shut Up Legs like this.
  12. OP
    OP
    Shut Up Legs

    Shut Up Legs Down Under Member

    Not sure, yet. The same tour company does do a 1-week French Alps tour, so I was considering that. Or I might even choose another company, I don't know yet.
     
  13. Brilliant write up Victor :bravo:
    Well done :notworthy:
     
  14. classic33

    classic33 Legendary Member

    Ireland!
     
  15. welsh dragon

    welsh dragon a permanent vacancy now exists

    I am really surprised that after such a brilliant achievement and write up, so few people have seen this. I would have thought a lot more people would have read about you're tour and commented on it. Perhaps it would be better putting it in an area of the forum where more people would see it.
     
    Shut Up Legs likes this.
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