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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

 

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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.

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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.

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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 …

 

Ride hard and rest

There’s nothing quite like an early season time-trial to recalibrate your skewed cycling self-confidence. After putting in the miles this Winter I was starting to feel like the elusive ‘form’ might be on the near horizon. Unfortunately, as it turns out, not only am I slower than I’ve been for the last couple of years, I’m also slower than two-thirds of the club! Hey ho, it’s not easy getting older and being a parent.

Last weekend I rode the Exmoor Beauty 70 mile sportive. In fine sunny weather and with just one ascent to the top of Exmoor it was a relatively light dose of the usually brutal moors. My personal highlight was Ridge Road, a long and relatively car-free descent from Simonsbath to Dulverton with great views. A new one to me and definitely a route to include the next time I visit Exmoor.

Sunny Exmoor

Sunny Exmoor

 

I’ve been averaging 100 miles a week this year taking advantage of both the mild weather and a regular job in Bristol where I can commute by bike a couple of days a week.

Riding the steely in full pannier-juggernaut mode is one thing, but carrying Little Miss BikeVCar in the Toddler Chariot is becoming ever more of a challenge.

I’ll be off to France soon for a week in the Alps before my family then join me for a holiday in Provence. With this in mind I’ve been trying to increase my cycling for the inevitable back-to-back-to-back days on the bike. Immediately after the Exmoor sportive I commuted to Bristol 3 days in a row and then capped this off with my first time trial of the year.

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The time trial went ok. Over a lightly undulating 8 miles around Chew Valley Lake I managed to average 21.5mph. Not my fastest but I gave it 100% and is a good marker. The other day someone gave me some advice: “Ride hard and rest”. Personally I’d add “… and eat”. So after riding 200 miles in the last 4 days, now it’s time to take a short break to recover … and eat.

6 hours on Exmoor

I was in Exmoor on Tuesday with a full day to fill with cycling. My life these days is less BikeVCar and more BikeVEverythingElse. Fortunately I’d managed to delegate, dodge, postpone or ignore all my other life-related duties and so I absconded to the moors for a whole responsibility-free day on the bike.

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A beautiful day on the moors

The original plan was to ride 100 miles. It wasn’t until I’d stopped for lunch that I worked out that at my average speed there weren’t enough day-light hours at this time of year to fulfil this ambition. Certainly not when dressed to combat the sub-zero temperatures, climbing the never-ending hills of Exmoor on a steel bike and carrying the excess baggage of an enjoyable Christmas period.

I re-calibrated my ambition.

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The long, steep ride up from Lynmouth

Despite the mileage reduction it was a glorious day. Clear blue skies, sun and very little wind. However, due to the temperatures it was still icy well into the afternoon. I stuck to the main roads which had been gritted.

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Beautiful ice patterns (beautiful from up here, not so beautiful when seen from the floor!)

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… more moors

In the end I rode 72 miles. At an average speed of 13ish mph. Despite the 2000-odd metres of climbing, the hardest part of the day was descending down from the moors to the coast at Porlock. Dropping 400 vertical metres in about 3 miles – I had to stop several times and try to shake some life back into my fingers and was desperately looking forward to the next climb to warm me back up. It was a great day – Exmoor, I’ll be back …

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Wild horses couldn’t drag me away

 

 

 

Injury-free in 2015

With a couple of hours to go this year I feel like it’s hopefully safe to say that I’ve completed my relatively modest goal for the year: to stay injury-free. For me 2014 was a year full of injuries and illness so I decided to apply a little moderation this year to avoid my run of injuries. This meant a bit less cycling which wasn’t very “bike-v-car” and bit more running, strength and flexibility training to balance my approach to exercise.

Anyway, whether through luck or judgement I managed to get out and cycle throughout the whole year. In all I cycled 2500 miles and ran 250 miles, which averaged out at 3 hours of cycling and half an hour of running per week. Not too shabby.

The goal for next year is to try and increase the weekly mileage and maybe get back involved with some competitive cycling again with the local club. And to keep enjoying it. Happy New Year everyone.

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Keep riding 

Garmin battery replacement

I recently replaced the battery in my Garmin 800. It’s 3 or 4 years old and the battery life was down to about 2 hours between charges. Not exactly fit for purpose any more. Sending the unit to Garmin to have the battery replaced was obviously extortionate so I decided to buy a battery online for about £10 and do it myself. It was surprisingly straightforward and I found several online tutorials on Youtube to guide me through the steps. I took a few photos along the way in case I forgot how something was attached.

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Unit dismantled

New battery installed - power on

New battery installed – power on

The unit has a touch-screen but this is just a simple internal attachment. It took about 10 minutes to complete the changeover and has breathed new life into my old unit. Here’s to another few years of use hopefully. Although with Winter looming and the clocks going back, the prospect of rides over 2 hours for the next few months are not necessarily looking too promising…

Renewed unit

Renewed unit