Bourg d'Oisans - June 2017

Discussion in 'Member's Travelogues' started by Winnershsaint, 20 Jul 2017.

  1. Winnershsaint

    Winnershsaint Veteran

    Day 1 Departure and Travel

    Having spent the best part of that Friday driving to and from the Midlands collecting the remnants of my daughter’s stuff from Uni, J and I departed at just before 5pm and headed to Dover for our ferry crossing. In total there were nine of us going five of whom were from the same area. In addition, there were two from Cambridge one from South Wales and one from Surrey. Travel arrangements were disparate. Two went the day before and overnighted in Bourg en Bresse. Three were in one car which had come up from Wales via the Thames Valley sharing driving duties and a further two were flying to Lyon on the Saturday morning and picking up a hire car there for the last part of the journey to Bourg d’Oisans. I was in my neighbour’s car pretty much in convoy with the other car leaving from the Thames Valley.

    We’d not really discussed driving arrangements at any length and it quickly transpired that I was probably a better passenger and that J preferred to drive all the way. A slightly delayed ferry and it was gone midnight by the time we hit French soil. Five hours, a few ‘Aire’ stops later, plenty of Coke Zero’s and sarnies and Saturday had dawned. We were well into Beaujolais territory. I’d been awake for the duration and by the time we stopped in an anonymous service station on the A46 around Lyon and necked a couple of coffees the excitement of being that close to the Alps kept us going. An hour or so later the motorway driving was over and after a brief stretch along the N85, Route Napoleon we were turning on to the D1091 and the midst of the biggest mountains I think I’ve seen. As we clocked up 900km on French soil we turned onto the road to Bourg d’Oisans. Instead of heading straight into town we turned off up Alpe d’Huez and went as far as La Garde before turning off along the balcony road. Now I have no real head for heights and I’d often wondered if I would hold my nerve along such a road. In truth it wasn’t as bad as I feared, but regrettably the road was closed for the duration of our time there. A few minutes later and we were parked up in the centre of Bourg d’Oisans with coffee and paninis in the Café de 2 Mondes with the Lions doing their best to contrive turnovers at almost every contact with an All Black.
    Last edited: 22 Jul 2017
  2. OP

    Winnershsaint Veteran

    Day 1 Accommodation and First Ride

    Our gite was able to accommodate 12 people and was in a fabulous location. Just as you reach the sign on the right which marks the start of Alpe d’Huez there is a turning on the left. We were about a kilometre along that single track lane with the grey cliff walls of the Pas de la Confession looming above us in a pleasant Alpine style building that looked for all the world that it had been bought and built as a flat pack kit from IKEA.


    With the arrival of the two who’d stayed in Bourg en Bresse minds turned to riding. I was feeling the effects of the heat and travelling and initially had planned not to ride, but the coming together of the group along with adrenaline and excitement took over and en-masse we headed out along the valley road headed for Allemont and then to Vaujany ski-station. My first climbing experience in the Alps was actually up the dam on the edge of Allemont. Crossing the lake bridge was stunning with the blue/green water flashing beyond then reality kicked in. By the EDF power station the climbing had started and it was clear that I was going to struggle. The climb to Vaujany is 4.4km long and pretty steep at an average of 9%. A few bends in and one of our party was roadside having dropped his chain. As I tortuously passed him he urged me not to stop and so I pressed on. I noticed from my Garmin that my HR was higher than I would expect to see and rising. Before long I had maxxed out as I reached the outskirts of a small settlement called Porchery. I was well into the red and decided that would be that for the day. In the end it had been an easy decision. I didn’t want to do anything that would jeopardise the rest of the trip by going too deep just for the sake of it. I was giving everyone else 13 years in age and was still five years off road cycling when I was the same age as the next three oldest. Then it dawned on me. How the f*** was I going to get down. Well of course there was an obvious answer, but I’m not a hugely confident descender, and had never gone down anything much longer than about 500m if that. There I was a couple of kilometres into a steep alpine climb with no previous experience of going down. Seemed like that it was something I should at least pay attention to early on. Rather nervously I set off down trying to stay off the brakes as much as I could. I stopped part way down more out of curiosity than anything else to see how hot my rims were. HOT was the answer to that one. By the time I’d returned across the reservoir and was on the descent of the dam I’d kind of got the hang of it.

    One by one everyone returned and the two flyers arrived from Lyon making the party complete. A beer kitty was organised and food bought from Casino in Bourg d’Oisans before we headed out into the village for something to eat. The tartiflette at La Romanche certainly hit the spot.
    Last edited: 22 Jul 2017
  3. OP

    Winnershsaint Veteran

    Day 2 Col d'Ornon
    By day two a pecking order had been established and as expected I was with the 'Grupetto'. The other six members of the party had headed towards Briancon with various plans. The Galibier and the Izoard were mooted at breakfast. The three of us headed out to Allemont up the dam climb and looped up a short 10% ramp, down a sweeping descent before heading back to the valley road and up the Col d'Ornon. The Ornon is always a transition climb on the Tour as it was this year. The scenery is stunning and the road relatively peaceful even though significant stretches were down to one lane and controlled by lights. It's not the hardest climb but pitches above 8% fairly regularly if not for very long. Towards the top, beyond Rivier d'Ornon the road twists around a couple of switchbacks which enabled me to look down on the two R's below. I stopped and had a bar and waited for them which allowed me to record them climbing on my Go-Pro. By this point the col was clearly in sight and after a few more minutes the road flattened to little more than false flat and the sign marking the top was passed. A short while later the two R's appeared once more. Cue photo opportunities next to the sign. There is a small cafe atop the col where we were able to take on refreshments and fill bottles, then came the highlight; the descent the Tour came down on Wednesday. Descending has never been a strong point of mine, so it was with some trepidation that we set off. One of the R's went off while I stayed with the other at least for a short time. I got the hang of it after the first kilometre and began to trust both myself and my bike, which behaved impeccably. The only downside were the roadworks which slowed the descent and a French bloke who simply couldn't descend. He'd ignore the lights and continue on regardless only for me to catch up with him further down . He took each corner as if it were a series of angles and nearly pitched me over a precipice wall as I got impatient and tried to do what Froome did to Richie Porte on the Col du Chat recently. Safely at the bottom there was a tear up along the valley road to the D530 turn before we turned back along the D1091 coming back towards home. We'd spoken earlier about having a little nibble at the Alpe as it was very close to home and in the end we couldn't resist a little go at it. By this time it was well into the afternoon and there was very little in the way of shade. The heat was radiating off the road and the roadside walls and as the opening pitch reared to 11%. the two R's almost simultaneously decided to call it a day. I was tempted to press on at least to La Garde, but after 60 odd kms I called it a day. I was probably 100 meters further up than the other two and watched as both of the R's swung round and disappeared downwards. I then did likewise trying to clip in as I did so; failing on both counts. So there it was; I descended most of the bottom pitch of Alpe d'Huez without either foot clipped in. Gravity had taken over too quickly and I was going too fast to sort my feet out. Scary! Almost as scary was making the home turn to the right at the bottom, getting enough brake on to negotiate it safely. Back on the lane I was able to clip in properly and spin back to the gite.
    Back at the ranch others returned with their tales of the Lauteret, Galibier and Izoard. Only T and N had actually ridden together and they'd done the Lauteret/Galibier. J had been to Briancon and back, along with P whose actual ride is lost to history as he's too much of Luddite to upload to Strava. That left D and A. The former went beyond Briancon and up the Izoard while A seemed to get as far Serre Chevalier before turning home. He rounded it all off with eight bends of Alpe d'Huez, as you do! J returned with tales of Amir in a stream somewhere on the Lauteret road seemingly cooling himself off. All very bizarre and most amusing. but he was a little overdue and so we called him. No one knew quite where he was as J had last seen him in the stream on the Briancon side of the Lauteret. We were amazed that at the end of such a long day A had decided to sail on past home and carry on with the madness. This somewhat adventurous riding by A set the tone for the rest of trip. Chapeau to him on a great effort.
    Last edited: 21 Jul 2017
  4. reacher

    reacher Senior Member

    Did any of you go up the alpe d'huez the full climb ?
  5. OP

    Winnershsaint Veteran

    Yep, everyone did. 5 of us on the same day, one of our party did it twice in a day and another did it 3 times in total.
  6. reacher

    reacher Senior Member

    ok, the one who did it twice must have liked it a lot lol
  7. OP

    Winnershsaint Veteran

    By far the best rider in our group. A racer first and last, but a really good guy with it. It was in the middle of the trip when for two days it didn't stop raining so it was ideal. Meant he could do two HC climbs in a day. It just happened to be the same one.
  8. OP

    Winnershsaint Veteran

    Day 3 Glandonabandon!

    The chatter at breakfast amongst the 'GC boys' and 'climbing domestiques' had been to head out to the Croix de Fer. The other two in the 'Grupetto' decided to drive to Briancon and take on the Izoard from that side. Unfortunately 3 bikes and three cyclist in a hired Citroen Cactus wouldnt go so I remained at base and set out with the other six. I hadn't slept well, woken by thunderstorms which rumbled through the night, by morning I felt like crap. This was brought home rapidly as I headed up the Allemont dam and could see the others already on the bridge across the lake going at a rate of knots away from me. That was the last I saw of them. My discomfort was evident on the climb past the EDF hydro-electric station and then on the steep lower slopes of the Glandon. In contrast to the first afternoon my heart rate this time was stubbornly low given the effort I was putting in often a sign of tiredness. Then there was the speed. My Garmin repeatedly registered my speed as 3.1kph. It felt like I was going faster but a lot of the time the road was on or near double figure gradients so I couldn't be sure. I passed the 21km to top of the Croix de Fer sign still seeing the ridiculously low speed and vowed to carry on at least to Le Rivier d'Allemont but the weather was closing in with grey clouds scudding over the treetops making the Glandon feel a more foreboding and claustrophobic place. I suspect I'd at least have gone on to Le Rivier d'Allemont had I not done the maths just after the 21km to go sign. With my speed evidently not moving above that 3.1 mark there were around seven hours of torture left. In the end I rationalised it was just one of those days! So I turned around and went back the way came did my little Allemont loop and arrived back at the gite, having stopped on the way to take some touristy shots. We were barbecuing that evening but the barbie was woefully small and woefully dirty so to give us a fighting chance at dinner that evening I gave it a good clean and spent the afternoon on my laptop looking through the Go-Pro footage.

    What happened? I don't know. I just wasn't right. Maybe to that point in the trip I had survived on the excitement of being in the Alps and that eventually the journey had caught up with me or maybe at five months short of my 60th birthday I just needed to rest up more than the other guys did. Who knows? Tomorrow was another day!

  9. Shut Up Legs

    Shut Up Legs Down Under Member

    Don't feel too bad about that one. It's a tough climb: I managed to finish it in September, but it took me a while, and seemed to go on for ever.
  10. oldfatfool

    oldfatfool Veteran

    Agree with SUL after the EDF station the road realy kicks up and is tortuous for a good few k.
  11. Norry1

    Norry1 Veteran

    Loving the write-up. I've stayed in Bourg D'Oisans 3 of the last 4 years and recognise much of what you are describing.
  12. OP

    Winnershsaint Veteran

    Day 4 - Day of days!

    I almost can hear the commentary of Phil and Paul telling us that it’ll be like a ‘hand grenade going off’ as the peloton hits the slopes of Alpe d'Huez. In truth our attempt was likely to be more damp squib than anything explosive, but the day had arrived to do the 'Alpe'.

    Five of us had decided to go for it. The 'Grupetto' plus N and T. Being so close to the foot of Alpe d'Huez it seemed sensible to not go for it from the end of the lane, so with that in mind we headed off round the roundabouts north along the D1091 to Rochetaillee as part of our warm up, before we turned and came back the way we had just come. With seventeen kilometres in the legs we were as ready as we ever were going to be.

    Having left the the roundabout, we swung left, slightly downhill, fairly rapidly before the bridge over the Sarenne slowed our progress. N was out in front. With his Dragon Ride legs none of us in the 'Grupetto' would see him or T until the top. Reality set in as we passed the depart sign on the right which marks the beginning of the climb. Almost instantaneously my big rig ring became my little ring and the tell-tale click, click whirr of changing gears was audible as three percent became six percent and then ten percent. Round a shallow right hander, the road rose again, the end of the first pitch still out of sight. Being the middle of the morning and relatively sunny it was warm, but there was an absence of reflected heat from the road and the stone retaining wall to the right that we'd experienced a couple of days before. That was a blessing, unlike the gradient which persisted in double figures until I reached bend 21. One down only twenty to go. On that first ramp I was behind one of the R's and in front of the other. For me it felt I was going a little too slowly and that I was in danger of getting too close to his back wheel too often for comfort, so as we approached bend 21 I suggested he took it a little wider which allowed me to go up the inside. The second ramp if anything was more severe than the first and I stopped briefly to swap bottles over on my frame as it just felt like I was going too slowly to this safely while climbing . This allowed R to come past. I clipped in once more and started grinding rather than spinning up towards bend nineteen overtaking R in a very slow motion out of the saddle 'attack' in the process.

    We'd pre-arranged a stop at La Garde to regroup which was fortuitous as the energy drink I had on board was by now warm and unpleasant. I was first into La Garde about a minute and half ahead of R1 who was a further minute ahead R2. Water bottles filled from the fountain, R1 slipped quietly away off up the road and it took me the best part of four minutes to get back on his wheel. The gradient had certainly changed beyond La Garde but as we went around bend 15 there was another ramp reminiscent of the first few bends of the ascent.It was on here that i went past R1 once more and began to find something akin to a rhythm.

    Yes, the gradients beyond La Garde are not as uniformly as steep as the early part of the climb but they have a changeable nature of the which meant I was making regular changes in position from seated to standing, from bar tops to hoods which took further fuel out the tank. I found this middle part of the climb to be most wearing. The road between La Garde and Huez Village has some of the longer stretches between hairpins, with most being in excess of half a kilometre in length. Where the bends come more rapidly there is a sense of real progress being made which I found absent in this section. That said, I mentally celebrated at bend 10; halfway, and at bend 9 just because I was into single figures. As I approached bend 9 I took an energy bar out and after three attempts still couldn't rip the top off with my teeth, so I pulled into the shade of the rock wall with the intention of firing it down and getting going once more. Therein lay a problem. Dry mouth and chewy bar just didn't work however much water I followed it down with. Before long I resigned myself to completing this exercise in extreme mastication before I set off again. Both Rs arrived in fairly short order to each other just as about to set off. R1 spent some time lower down the bend playing the tourist as I started pedalling upwards once more.

    Before long I'd negotiated the ramp after bend 8 which seemed as steep as anything I'd encountered thus far and the low stone wall below Eglise Saint-Ferreol d'Heuz materialised. I'd reached 'Dutch Corner'. Making the turn it was easy to see why this was a prime vantage point when the Tour visits. A shallow, wide bend, thinning trees and helpful slopes turned it into a natural amphitheatre. The absence of camper vans, well lubricated spectators and trashy Europop meant that it was just another bend on a mountain with a pretty church.

    From here the enormity of the task that remains is evident. Alpe d'Huez appears for the first time seemingly suspended in the sky. Huez village comes and goes past a sign which indicates that the eponymous Alpe is still 4 kilometres distant. A third of the climb still to go! At bend five the landscape changes. Gone are the tree lined switchbacks as they now begin to meander over a more open terrain of lush alpine meadows. From here the road seems to be as it was at the bottom, but at signs of 'civilisation are evident. A bus stop, a layby, a central reservation in the road and isolated ski-chalets mark that the climb is drawing to a conclusion. A lorry coming up the mountain forces me to seek momentary refuge in the layby as it passes where the road narrows by the central reservation. Further on, yet another cyclist passes me. "I'm f**ked, I am," he announces as goes past in an accent which belonged well to the north of the Watford Gap. Maybe my DHB kit marked me out as a Brit, who knows? We exchanged pleasantries and wished each other good luck for the rest of the climb. By now the road was swinging across pasture which showed all the trademarks of its winter attractions like chair lifts and snow cannons. 20245356_1655335891143086_8108897712641769244_n.jpg
    At bend two, without warning I'm in a photo-shoot. Ill prepared I manage a grimace, take the card the photographer hands me and stuff it haphazardly into one of my back pockets. The least said about the result the better. All I will say is that when I pointed my wife to the photographer's website all she could do was text me with message 'Ha ha!' I had a second opportunity at bend 1 and this time I was a bit more aware of what was going on. I still dreaded the outcome. I was riding ugly and felt messy, but as before I took the card offered to me and rounded the last switchback.
    All that remained was the last ramp. Spiteful and steep though it was the thought of finishing even allowed me a change of pace and as I crested the final rise I got out the saddle and crossed the line to cheers from N and T who were nursing ice-cold beers in the restaurant to the right.

    A while later R2 came over the line and a couple minutes after that R1 appeared. The 'Grupetto' to a man had conquered the Alpe; cue congratulations and handshakes all round as we ordered one of those ice-cold beers each. Lunch was followed by the final stretch to the TdF finish on Avenue Rif Nel. Only two of us made the right at the roundabout and after a final left I was sprinting to the finish.

    All that remained was to get down in one piece. We stopped for a few silly pictures on the podium before pitching downwards. The bends came thick and fast and in the blink of an eye I'd gone below 'Dutch Corner'.
    In another blink I was round bend 16 with La Garde disappearing and it was really nearly all over. I dared to look at my Garmin which registered a consistent 66kph plus on the last two downhill stretches before I had to haul on the anchors to get round the turn into the lane.

    We all made it safely back. R2 punctured on the way down at bend 14. By admission a nervous descender he blamed it on over-braking but in truth there was a lot of glass on the road in places. Fortunately he was rescued ironically in a way, by a Frenchman in a white van who stopped and offered him a lift.
    Last edited: 22 Jul 2017
  13. Shut Up Legs

    Shut Up Legs Down Under Member

    Nice write up, reminds me of my climb up Alpe d'Huez, 3.5 weeks ago now. It was a bit rainy at times, and fog obscured a bit of the valley views, plus a strained leg muscle made my climb far harder than it should have been. I still enjoyed it, though: don't we cyclists have a warped view of 'recreation'?
  14. OP

    Winnershsaint Veteran

    Sounds like the same week we were there Wednesday/Thursday were not good.
    Last edited: 23 Jul 2017
  15. OP

    Winnershsaint Veteran

    Day 5 Cometh the hour, cometh the rain.

    It was a bit of, after the Lord Mayor's show the following day. It had rained overnight and it was distinctly cooler and overcast. The forecast was rubbish with heavy rain likely from mid-morning onwards. The 'Grupetto' for once didn't have a plan. We set off along the valley with a vague notion of riding somewhere but keeping an eye on the weather. Plans went awry almost as soon we were on the main road when R2 followed his puncture on the Alpe descent with another one lending a bit more credence to the idea that the one the previous day hadn't been the result of overheating his rims. Mind you he was rolling on Conti Gatorskins which are pretty bomb-proof. Anyway it was all went smoothly although getting the Gatorskin off the rim wasn't the easiest of tasks. I could find nothing in the tyre itself but getting that tyre back on was a mission from hell! R2 took the decision to return via the back lane to the gite and get his tyre sorted in Bourg d'Oisans whilst he did some shopping leaving myself and R1 to press on. Here the real indecision took over. I favoured revisiting Vaujany, but R was less than enthusiastic and suggested we went for an hour on the Glandon road before turning back. After the short descent beyond the EDF place we came to a bridge at the start of the Glandon and the heavens opened. The weather window was firmly closed! So back we went on soaking roads. I got on the wheel of another rider over the bridge and shot past R before we descended the dam road into Allemont. It was dry! Frustrated because I had good legs and R was probably looking at more of a recovery type day I went for PRs on the valley road back into Bourg d'Oisans, nailing pretty much every segment back into town. We stopped at a cafe for a coffee and a bite to eat, but finding that they didn't serve food it was back to ranch for baguettes, cheese and ham.

    Others in the party were a bit more adventurous. J headed up to Les Deux Alpes in what he described on Strava as 'pissing rain followed by the coldest descent in history'. A did what we did the previous day while N and T went up the Col d'Ornon and back. P's whereabouts remain lost in the mists of time. He may have actually gone to Oulles and then climbed the Ornon but until he starts uploading to Strava we will never know. D in the meantime went up Alpe d'Huez in 58 minutes, before descending and then going straight back up again. The second time in a more modest (for him) 69 minutes.

    All of this was pretty much over by the early afternoon so we headed into into town to grab some lunch and do some shopping. As usual we mobbed Cycle et Sports and took the opportunity to go into Griff Photos to see our various climbing pictures up Alpe d'Huez and the Croix de Fer.

    That evening we had our second barbecue, which chef J conjured up on the gite balcony at the same time managing not to burn it down. all in all an unsatisfactory day given that I had both good intentions and good legs. I should have stuck to my guns and completed the unfinished business I had with Vaujany.
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