It takes two to tangle

I was involved in a bit of a nasty cycling accident on Sunday. To make matters worse it was my wheel that actually made contact with the guy who went down – a work client no less. If cycling is the ‘new golf’ for networking, I’m not sure of the positive networking effects of hospitalising a work client on a corporate group ride!

I went riding on Sunday with a client I’ve been working for. It was all going well until the two of us got a bit hot-headed and decided to race down someone who’d overtaken our group … boys will be boys. We shot off, and soon after I felt the sensation of a wheel hitting my rear wheel, followed by the horrible sound of a clattering bike and person behind me. I quickly braked and turned around to be met with the sight of a client and friend crumpled in a heap and groaning loudly in the road.

Untitled 3.pages1

After some amateur attempts at first aid (luckily no mouth to-mouth) we enlisted a stopped car to take him back to my house which was fortunately nearby. After some further questionable attempts at first aid, I drove him to the A&E walk-in clinic in Bristol to receive some proper medical attention – basically a couple of stitches to the elbow and a hug. We were very lucky it wasn’t anything more serious as my Strava account showed we were doing 25mph at the moment we crashed.

Untitled 3.pages2

I felt a bit responsible so sent him some vouchers to buy a new helmet to replace the one that was cracked from the impact of the crash. ‘There but for the grace of God go I’, etc. It could easily have been either of us that went down.

Anyway, most importably his bike was ok. And it already seems to be a great story for everyone we work with. Maybe hospitalising a client is good for business … ride safe all.

A fortnight in France

After two weeks in France we’ll be heading home tomorrow, saying au-revoir to freshly baked croissants for breakfast, fantastic wine almost any time of day and glorious weather. And from a cycling perspective I’ll be sad to see the end of quiet roads, smooth tarmac and generous drivers. In two weeks I’d be hard pushed to remember a pothole or aggressive driver.

IMG_2625

This past week we’ve been enjoying a more relaxed pace of life in Les Sables d’Olonnes, heading out to the beach every day along the extensive bike paths.

IMG_2681

Bike & Baguette – when in Rome … 

Previously we stopped for a couple of days in Bordeaux for a mid-holiday city break. My wife went shopping, I toured the city using their ‘V3’ bike-share scheme.

IMG_2579

I tried, but unfortunately not even graffiti can make a bike & basket look cool! 

Our first week in France was spent in Provence in the foothills of Mont Ventoux. It was mostly a relaxing week spent by the poolside or out having long lunches in the various market towns. But of course I found the time to have a couple of climbs up the infamous ‘Geant de Provence’.

IMG_2393

Hot climbing in Provence

And prior to our two week family holiday I managed to sneak in 3 days by myself in the Alps, climbing as much as my legs could handle – 23,000ft as it turned out.

IMG_2283

Cold climbing in the Alps 

In total I’ve ridden over 400 miles over the last 2 & 1/2 weeks, about 50 of these were family rides with a toddler on the back on the back of the bike. The only dampener on the holiday is that we’re heading home a couple of days early having been forced to change our return travel plans due to blockades, dock-worker strikes and fuel shortages in Northern France. But hey, no country’s perfect …

IMG_2566

Peppa Pig goes by bike … due to blockades, strikes and fuel shortages (the adapted French version) 

 

Mont Ventoux from Sault

Today is our last day in Provence before we head up to Bordeaux. We’ve been having a relaxing time, enjoying the food, drink and fine weather. However I still fancied one final climb of Mont Ventoux before we depart, so this morning I woke early and headed out towards Sault leaving my wife and daughter still sleeping – two thirds of the family know how to do a holiday properly.

There are 3 roads up to the summit of Ventoux – from Bedouin, Malaucenne or Sault. I’d previously ridden the first two, essentially very similar 14 mile routes at an average of 8%, both with prolonged periods of between 9 – 12%. The Tour de France favours the Bedoin one.

IMG_2523

An overcast morning with the Ventoux summit lost in the clouds

The third route from Sault is the easier route to the top, as it not only starts at a higher elevation but is also longer at 16 miles, so the average gradient is just 4.5%.

After a week of sunshine, this morning was a bit overcast and windy making it difficult to dress for a long climb. I opted for a gilet but decided against overshoes and gloves, a bit of a mistake as it turned out.

IMG_2524

Rainy and sunny morning – perfect rainbow conditions

Whilst the climb from the town of Sault is technically easier – I still had to get there from Bedoin first. This turned out to be 18 miles with 750 metres of climbing. Essentially the equivalent of climbing my local hill, the Mendips 3 times as a warm up. In total it took an hour and 20 minutes to climb the Category 4 Col des Abeilles and race down the long descent to Sault. By this point I was feeling not entirely convinced that this route was going to be easier than just riding the 14 miles straight up the steep road from Bedoin.

sault elev

18 hilly miles and a minor Col to get to the ‘easy’ climb

From Sault it was a very gentle ascent, through the damp and cold forest. I passed two riders in head-to-toe BMC kit who were descending to Sault. Neither returned my friendly nod of the head. A few minutes later I saw their team van, thinking to myself that it was quite funny for members of a professional sports team to go out training in full team kit but then ignore people who acknowledged them. My fingers and toes really started to feel the cold, especially with the the temperatures dropping the higher I climbed. With the relatively gentle gradients I also found it quite difficult to get my heart-rate above 140bpm, so was really struggling to warm up.

IMG_2525

IMG_2527

After 13 miles the road climbed above the tree-line and met the main route up from Bedoin for the final 4 miles of steep ascent across the barren, rocky landscape that I knew well. The big difference today was the strength of the wind – the infamous Mistral was blowing a strong headwind and then cross-wind as I zig-zagged up the final few miles. It was also a very cold wind and I began to lose the feeling in my fingers.

IMG_2528

Getting a freebie – warming up in the gift shop at the top

I’d agreed to meet my wife and daughter at the top at 11.30am, so I dug deep and slowly crawled my way to the top. I arrived at around 11.15am so immediately ran inside the little shop at the top to defrost. As I warmed, my hands felt like they were burning. Not pleasant. After 10 minutes of pretending to shop,  I headed back outside to wait. I saw the BMC riders had arrived, the first headed inside the shop leaving his bike outside – it had his name on the top tube, Jurgen Landrie … not someone I’d heard of. The other rider was putting on overshoes for the descent so I asked him how their ride had gone. He was so off-the-scale for unfriendliness it was funny. Our conversation went something like:

Me: “Hi, how was your ride up?”

Him: [slowly looks up and stares at me] “Ok”

Me: “I saw you guys at Sault, are you riding up any other routes today?”

Him: [Waits to finish zipping up a shoe. Then looks at me as if he’s considering saying F-off. Finally speaks] “No.”

I decided to forego any farewell formalities and just walked off. Fortunately my wife and daughter arrived in the car shortly afterwards. Even more fortunately I’d put some cold-weather cycling kit in the boot for the descent so I quickly put on a long-sleeved top and gloves.

IMG_3268

We headed a few miles back down to the Chalet Reynard cafe at the Sault-Bedoin junction to warm up with hot chocolate. I spoke to a couple of Swiss cyclists and told them about my encounter with the BMC riders. They said it must have been a lower-rank cyclist as the top pro’s are all generally chatty and friendly.

IMG_3274

From Chalet Reynard I raced back down to Bedoin with my own team car in hot pursuit. Back at the gite I uploaded my ride on Strava and saw that I was the fastest rider of the day to the summit from Sault, ahead of a certain Jurgen Landrie by 5 minutes! Unfortunately a quick Google search revealed that he’s just the team mechanic for BMC so not a significant scalp to take. However if the other rider who I’d spoken to was a pro and had ridden up in the same time then no wonder he was so bloody grumpy. Drafting up a mountain behind your mechanic and being beaten by some overly friendly English holiday-maker.

IMG_3275

Having now climbed Ventoux 5 times, 3 from Bedoin and once each from Malaucenne and Sault, I can confirm that the Sault route is much easier. But with the obvious caveat that it kind of depends how you get to Sault.

Mont Ventoux from Bedoin

After a few days in the Alps I drove to Marseille Airport to pick up my wife and daughter before heading to our gite in Provence. The location of our gite is a bit ridiculous – not only in the foothills of Mont Ventoux, but you can actually see the observatory from the back garden. Fortunately Bedoin is a cute French town that happened to have its big weekly market today, much to the delight of my wife. Hey, if you can’t be good, be lucky!

IMG_1233

IMG_1225

“Mont Ventoux? – I never realised.”

After a morning at the market and lunch back at the gite, our daughter needed an afternoon nap and my wife was keen to join her. Which leaved me with a couple of hours to kill … couldn’t have planned it better – time to climb le Geant de Provence!

Drawing on my experience from the Alps my intention was to stick to a manageable heartrate of 160ish bpm and take the climb at a steady rate. However, the lower roads through the forest were beastly with constant periods of 12%+ being the norm. I was massively under-geared with a 39 on the front and my biggest cog a 25 on the back so slowly churned my way up in the hot sun with my heartrate pumping far higher than I’d hoped.

IMG_2392

I passed a lot of riders on the way. Enough to naively make me think I was a half-decent cyclist. Then a couple of petits French riders flew up past me, both out of the saddle with tanned, stick-thin legs like a pair of fleeting sparrows. My slow, pedal-mashing, butter-churning technique was quickly brought back to reality. In the end I decided to let them go!

IMG_2396

The first 8 or 9 miles are a steep slog through the cedar forest, with the odd tempting glimpse through the trees of the observatory to keep the spirits alive. It was also baking hot, so I hung my helmet over the handlebars and tied a buff around my head to keep the sweat from pouring into my eyes. Rocking the wild ginger look!

IMG_2401

After 10 or so miles, the trees finally gave way to rough, scraggy rock. It quickly became a totally barren landscape with no respite from the sun. The only consolation was the mile markers counting down to the looming observatory.

IMG_2404

IMG_2407

In the end I completed the climb in 1 hour and 50 minutes. I pushed it as hard as I could for such a prolonged assault, but riding solo it was sometimes difficult to stay focussed. Certainly a different experience to the last time I rode dressed as a bear!

IMG_2413

The descent was a different matter altogether. It took about 20 minutes flying by cars, motorbikes and cyclists on a satisfying rush back down to Bedoin for a well-earned dinner and beer. Overall it took less than two and a half hours to ride top to bottom – fairly non-intrusive for a family holiday so hopefully I’ll find time for another ascent or two this week …

Alps Day 3 – Alpe d’Huez & Les Deux-Alps

I woke late this morning feeling very tired. My lower back and quads ached, so after a breakfast of coffee, porridge, pastries and more coffee I spent a fair bit of time stretching and rolling in an effort to ease my pains. Finally I set off to climb Alpe d’Huez properly – after two previous days of shying away from the famous 21 hairpins, I’d left no other option than to tackle it on my third and final day.

IMG_2320

 

IMG_2323

It was another cold and wet start which made it difficult to dress appropriately for a long climb. In a futile attempt to keep my feet dry I stuck electrical tape over the air vents in my shoes.

IMG_2296

For a little while I’ve been looking for a decent cycling gilet, so in the end I decided to ride up in the lightest possible clothing and buy a gilet at the top. I also left with one of my two water bottles empty, intending to fill it at the café at the top. However, my efforts to lighten the load were quickly countered by the persistent drizzle which soaked and clung to me.

IMG_2313

 

I last rode Alpe d’Huez three years ago, completing the TT section in just under the hour. This time around I was a little bit older, a little bit more responsible an adult … and clearly a little bit better at making excuses for being slow. I had no real idea how I would compare this time around, but decided to just maintain a heart rate of 160bpm and try to forget all other distractions like average speed and counting down the corners.

IMG_2317

The first four bends are notoriously difficult so I stuck to the plan and tried to ignore what laid ahead. The scenery was breath-taking, as was the climbing – evidenced by several burned out riders recovering on some of the lower corners. I’d ridden Alpe d’Huez twice before, both experiences being a prolonged endurance of the pain-cave where normality seemed to collapse inwards on my suffering. This time around, by staying somewhere between 155 – 165bpm I stayed on top of the climb and my gears all the way to the top. In hindsight, I could have pushed it a little harder, but after two previous days of climbing it was definitely sensible to play it a little safe.

IMG_2309

In the end I completed the TT course just 6 minutes slower than my previous best, and then continued another kilometre to the official Tour de France finish in a total time of 1 hour and 12 minutes. I was very pleased with that.

IMG_2300

IMG_2297

IMG_2298

After a coffee and croque-monsieur, I purchased my gilet – how continental am I?! I then embarked on the descent. Despite the added layer, the cold weather and my rain-soaked clothing combined to make it quite a challenging descent. I stopped regularly to take photos and to defrost.

IMG_2311

At Bend 16 (5 from the bottom) I left the road and headed off along le Balcon d’Auris – the balcony; basically a shelf of a road that clung to the side of the mountain for several miles (another bit of fantastic local knowledge). It was impossible not to keep stopping to take photos and to spare a thought for the brave workmen that built the road. Incredible.

IMG_2347

IMG_2345IMG_2342

IMG_2340

IMG_2334

From here I descended down to the foot of Les Deux-Alps for my final big climb of these three days. Having pushed myself quite hard on Alpe d’Huez I decided to take it easy up this one – a twisting climb of 2000ft to a deserted ski resort at the top.

IMG_2349

After a quick circuit around town I raced halfway down the hairpinned climb before shooting off along another hair-raising balcony that weaved its way back down to the B&B. Today’s ride was a modest 45 miles, but without a single flat section and encompassing almost 8000ft of climbing it was enough to call it a day. After cleaning and dismantling the bike, I showered and decided to head into Bourg d’Oisans for a well earned beer with a sense of satisfaction for having properly trained and enjoyed some of the best climbs in this area.

IMG_2328

IMG_2353

IMG_2351

Before heading off to meet my wife and daughter for a more conventional, relaxing-type holiday in Provence, I’d like to thank Shawn and Martin at Le Velo Jaune in Bourg d’Oisans, for not only providing fantastic breakfasts and local knowledge … but also going well beyond the call of duty for a chambre d’hotes and laying on three course French-cuisine dinners specifically aimed at recharging hungry cyclists. Last nights tartiflette was probably the sole reason I made it up these climbs today. When I come back to the Alps I know where I’ll be trying to stay …

 

Alps Day 2 – Col de la Morte & Col d’Ornan

After yesterday’s ride I woke with quite stiff legs but pleased to see the sun shining. Rather than an out-and-back I fancied doing a loop which took in a couple of cols. At least that way, once you’ve committed there’s normally no chickening out!

I tapped up my host for a suitable ride. He described a favourite and over the course of breakfast decided that he actually quite fancied coming along. I was glad of the company. And as it turned out, a road was closed on the other side of the first col so a bit of local knowledge was gratefully appreciated.

IMG_2271

The start of the ride was a long and easy 20 mile descent through the valley towards Grenoble. We then turned off at Sechilienne and stripped off layers in preparation for the first climb, the Col de la Morte (ominously translating as the Pass of the Dead!)

This first ‘Hors Catégorie’ climb was 8 miles at a 7% average gradient, starting way down in the warm and wet Alpine forest and climbing over 3000ft to a deserted ski resort at the top.

IMG_2285

From the top of the Col we headed down into the quiet valley of Lavaldens before a road closure sign sent us on a diversion that added 10 miles to our journey as well as the Category 3 climb up the Col de Malissol.

IMG_2286

Somewhere around 40 miles we decided to stop in the town of La Mure for lunch. Steak and chips, the French classic. And when you ask for rare you get rare. Or to be more exact “saignant” which roughly translates as bloody! It tasted great.

IMG_2289

IMG_2287

IMG_2288

The temperature had dropped during lunch and as we got ready to leave it started to rain. Despite the fact that the next 10 miles were descent I found this to be the toughest part of the ride due to the cold and with chattering teeth I was looking forward to the long climb up the Col d’Ornan.

IMG_2292

At Entraigues we stopped and removed outer layers of clothing before starting the climb. I was still fairly cold so this seemed counterintuitive until you looked at the road ahead which quickly rose up into the mountains.

IMG_2293

The Col d’Ornan was an unusual climb, basically long straight stretches of road which appeared to me to be flat, as if the dominating mountain peaks created an optical illusion and incorrectly raised the horizon. It was a 9 mile Category 2 climb, the first half of which was all below 5% with the final few miles ramping up to 8 or 9%. Not the toughest climb, but after 60 miles or riding it presented enough of a challenge.

IMG_2208

After stopping at the top to chat to a few amiable Belgians we embarked on the exhilarating and technical descent down to Bourg d’Oisans. The road was wet with lots of twists and turns, so it was helpful to be following a knowledgeable wheel. From the foot of the climb we made our way back along the valley floor to base. In total we covered 73 miles and 7000ft of climbing.

Alps Day 1 – Col du Glandon & Alpe d’Huez

I’m currently down in the French Alps having a few days solo cycling before my wife and daughter fly in for a family holiday in Provence. I’ve got 3 days to explore the Alps from my base in Bourg d’Oisans with a few new climbs on my wish-list.

IMG_2209

Unfortunately the weather forecast for the 3 days isn’t particularly conducive to cycling. The heavens opened at breakfast time, and despite heading out in full rain gear with a clip-on mudguard kindly lent by my hosts at Le Velo Jaune, I still got soaked. The ski season only ended last week so bad weather was always likely.

IMG_2219

IMG_2210

First on the list was the Col du Glandon. The roads up from the valley all warned that the road was closed, but a little local knowledge from the guys at the B&B advised that at worst it would only be closed right at the top. And that all the road closed signs would provide me with a relatively car-free experience.

IMG_2196

This proved to be the case, and over the course of two hours I worked my way up the mountain, passing avalanche debris being cleared by snow plows and road sweepers. The road up from Bourg d’Oisans included several sections of descent which provided some welcome relief from the long periods of +10% incline.

IMG_2282

The sun broke out of the clouds at the top of the mountain, however the road also finally disappeared beneath the increasing snow. So I shouldered the bike and crunched my way across the last few metres of snow for a photo.

IMG_2283

IMG_2251

The temperature had really dropped so I didn’t hang around for too long. I took a few photos and prepared for the descent. At one point I spotted a couple of marmottes running and screeching across the road.

IMG_2264

IMG_2212

About halfway down I stopped in a small village for lunch. Inside the small restaurant were plenty of locals enjoying the day’s special so I ordered the same. Pork cheek with pasta, followed by lemon, coconut and pineapple tart. Perfect cycling fuel.

IMG_2268

IMG_2269

Feeling suitably nourished I decided to tackle another col. This time Alpe d’Huez, which I’ve previously ridden a couple of times. However I attacked it from a different angle on this occasion  – via the Pas de la Confession. I was hoping for a slightly easier climb of the famous big mountain, with this smaller road feeding into the main Huez climb about 6 switchbacks from the top. Unfortunately it seemed equally as punishing as the main route but at least I didn’t have the monkey on my back of trying to beat my PB up the mountain set in my fitter days.

 

IMG_2277

It was tough-going to start with, but using my heart-rate monitor I found a manageable pace and got into a nice rhythm. Last time I came here I was riding a compact chainring, this time I was on a 52-39 with a fairly tight rear cassette so was a bit under-geared for the mountains. In addition I was over-dressed in wet and heavy rain clothing, so it was all a bit of a sweat-fest, churning struggle to the top.

IMG_2279

The weather was glorious at the top so I stopped for a drink in the sun. However it was simply one of those days with the heavens opening just as I got ready for the descent. I tentatively rode down the Alp in the pouring rain, with steam rising off the tarmac and feeling like Bambi on ice as I slowly twitched my way around each switchback.

IMG_2281

From the bottom I raced back through the valley to the B&B. In total I rode 63 miles with just over 9000ft of climbing. It was 5 hours riding time, which gives a fairly unremarkable average speed. However average speed is generally a pretty meaningless statistic in the mountains, even more so in the rain. Fingers crossed for sunshine (and good legs) tomorrow …