All five club members taking part in above trip to France returned home on Sunday having achieved their goals of conquering Mount Ventoux, the Glandon, the mighty Col de Telegraphe & Galibier and the spectacular Alpe d’Huez. It promised to be the trip of a lifetime and it certainly lived up to expectations. With bikes and luggage shipped out beforehand under the careful management of George and John, travelling light for a cycling holiday is highly recommended.
Having checked into our hotel in Malaucene, our introduction to the roads of Provence was an eye opener. The only flat tarmac I saw, was the runway at Marseille. After our spin on day two we decided to drive up Mount Ventoux for a recce. Big mistake! As the bus struggled on the gradient, lively conversation was replaced by an eerie silence and tanned faces suddenly appeared pale, including my own. A gammy knee and 500 miles training didn’t seem to be the ideal preparation for this monster of a climb. A brief stop for photos at the Tom Simpson memorial was a poignant reminder of the highs and lows of bike racing. But climb it we did, and what admiration we all now have for the guys who race up it for a living. The average club rider takes around two hours for the ascent with the pros doing it in half that time.
We spent one more day in Provence cycling through fabulous countryside under the watchful eye of Craig, our guide for the week, before setting out for the town of Bourg d’Oisans at the foot of Alpe d’Huez. From our base in the Hotel Milan we were literally at the cross roads of all the major climbs. I was amazed at how bright the stars were in the mountain air until Steven ‘Ted’ Kelly reminded me I was looking at the lights on Alpe d’Huez. Was it the altitude (800 metres above sea level) or the local vin rouge! Some of the gang went for a short spin before dinner and one or two slipped off and couldn’t resist the lure of the climb. By the way, Steven and Paddy climbed the Ventoux twice but Steven didn’t brag about it!! The climb up the Alpe was simply amazing, with hundreds of cyclists on the mountain young and old with one thing in common, to quote Bill Jordan, “the humble bike”. For most of us it was the highlight of the week. The weather was fabulous and the scenery stunning, the names painted on the road at Dutch Corner still there as a reminder of this years stage end and Sastres great win. The encouragement from fellow cyclists and motorists alike was unlike anything I have experienced before. France is a cyclist friendly country and we have a lot to learn from the French in this regard.
The following morning the group headed for the Col du Telegraphe at 2100 metres and a brief descent of 4 kms to the foot of the Col du Galibier at 2646 metres, a total of 35 kms of climbing with a lot of it at 10%. This was a beast of a climb with freezing rain adding to the very steep gradient for the final 8kms. Paddy Dunne told me there was “a hoor of a pull” near the top and I really thanked Paddy for those kind words of encouragement as he passed me in some distress half way up. My surgeons advice started to haunt me “madness, foolish”. It wasn’t the first time that advice was passed on to me! Anyway, we survived it. For me, it was one of the toughest days ever in the saddle and there were times I felt like taking up golf or fishing but it wouldn’t be worth the slagging on the bus. 45kms downhill awaited us but conditions were treacherous and some of it had to done on the bus, apart from Ted who was seen going through red lights at 80kms per hour with no brakes in unlit tunnels, great example for Shane!
The bars in Bourg were quiet that night with the Coffee Kids team (looking more like the Coffee Grandads) opting for an early night after the days exertions. Even George, the coolest man to drive a bus down 9000ft on a road narrower than a footpath had enough stress. The only climb he wanted to see was the lift to his room. The final day was optional and this writer opted for the pool which was fed by melt water from a glacier and was just above freezing, very refreshing as Ted found out when he accidently fell in! Some of the team headed for Les Deux Alpes with some great climbing and more amazing scenery, the rest of the team had one more go at Alpe d’Huez in case it wouldn’t be there next year. Speaking of which…!
It was a fantastic week and great credit must go to Bart, Harry and Peter for superb organisation. It was a great team effort with managers, drivers, physios, bike mechanic, photographer, and of course cyclists. The aim of this cycle was to raise funds for the Coffee Kids Charity whose work amongst the villagers and coffee workers of Nicaragua is inspirational. Political turmoil, civil war and natural disasters have all conspired to impoverish large areas of the country none more so than the high mountainous areas where the good coffee grows. For more info visit www.coffeekids.org.