Saturday, 25 December 2010

Merry Christmas!

Ever wondered how Santa keeps fit to deliver all of those presents?!

Merry Christmas to you all from Helyn & Guy

Thursday, 16 December 2010

Cycling Weekly Covers 'Moonlit Marmotte'

Back in late August, we were lucky enough to have Hannah Reynolds, Fitness Editor at Cycling Weekly and Roo Fowler, a super-talented freelance cycling photographer, out to stay with us to ride the Marmotte loop at night (incorporating a lights test). With a support vehicle in tow and with perfect weather and moonlight conditions, it all went to plan and the images were amazing.

After a few shots appeared as a teaser in Cycle Sport magazine (the Cycling Weekly's sister publication) last month, the story is covered in full in today's Cycling Weekly. We are waiting to see the final results (Hannah is kindly mailing us a copy), but by all accounts it looks great.

Go out and get yourselves this week's magazine to see for yourselves!

Guy & Helyn

Sunday, 12 December 2010

A 'fix' for just 28 Euros!

Really, what can you buy for 28 Euros? One Assos knee warmer, a roll of gel-filled bar tape, 2 Rapha bidons, (half of one) Paul Smith cycling-inspired keyfob (Rapha again) or maybe hire yourself a bike for the day?.....

Guy is pretty pleased with himself as he has built a whole bike for just that sum; €28.

Starting with a hand-built steel frame (a Wolhauser from nearby Lyon) that was saved from a friends' garage (down near St Tropez!), plus a few bits and pieces gathering dust in our own workshop he only had to purchase a new chain (€12), a roll of bar tape (€6) and 5 chainring bolts (€10) to put together a fixed wheel 'dream machine'. And in his favourite colour too, orange!

With the help of Sheldon Brown (, and a few hours in the workshop the 'fixie' was completed last week and tested yesterday.

Obviously the terrain around here doesn't lend itself to this sort of gearing, so, the Wolhauser will be used solely for flat, valley rides. The test ride yesterday took place on the cycle path in Grenoble; as flat as you get around here, and was deemed a great success!

Friday, 10 December 2010

Cycle Sport Photographs

If any of you recently bought the December issue of 'Cycle Sport' magazine, you may have seen some amazing, yet unusual, photographs of the route of the Marmotte cyclosportive (pages 102 to 105).

The unusual thing about the photographs is that they were taken at night. Unlike the Vuelta time trial back in August there were no floodlights, just the moon, stars and some very powerful handlebar or helmet- mounted lights.

The riders, barely visible except for streaks of lights, were a group from the Cycling Weekly, one of our guests, Jo Gamwell, locals Alan and Lynne, and taking our turns between driving the support vehicle, Guy and I.

The photographer was Roo Fowler, who, despite having incredible creative vision and energy, spared enough of his energy to ride the whole route with us too.

Most of us, not being photographers, had no concept of how on earth scenic photos in the dark could ever work but I think you'll agree that the results are breathtaking.

To see more of Roo's work visit:

Sunday, 5 December 2010

Marmotte Entries Now Open For 2011

The organisers of 'La Marmotte', Sportcommunication, have opened entries for the 2011 event.

The website:

1.On home page, click on 'GRAND TROPHEE/CYCLING EVENTS'.
2.You can choose language by clicking on flag, top right.
3.Go to 'REGISTRATIONS' on the toolbar and choose how you would like to enter event (ON LINE or MAIL).
4.You will be asked for your name and surname. If you have never previously taken part in a Sportcommunication event, you will have to then click on MY NAME DOES NOT APPEAR ON THE LIST.
5. Fill out your personal details on the first page, address, etc. (CP is your postal code). In the drop-down box choose whether you have a licence or not and if so, which type of licence (for a foreign licence choose ETRANGERE). If you do not have a licence, choose NON LICENCIE, you will then have to send a copy of a medical certificate from your doctor stating that you are fit to compete in such events OR have your GP sign a copy of the on-line form provided by Sportcommunications: Send a scan of your medical certificate or licence to: or by post:Top Club, BP 24025, 69615 Villeurbanne CEDEX, France. Don't forget to write your Sportcommunications ID number on this.
6. On the following page, tick the Sportcommunication event/s that you would like to enter. If this is just La Marmotte you must tick the box under the heading LA MARMOTTE 'MASTER 174km'.
7. On that same page check the box if you require insurance. If you would like a timing chip for the event, check the box that says 'CAUTION PUCE CHRONOMETRAGE 10.00 € x RACES'. This will give you a timing chip for the Marmotte and any other Sportcommunication events that you take part in during 2011. This will cost an extra 10€ which is refunded on returning the chip at the end of the race/s. If you already have a chip, enter the number in the section that says 'BRACELET DE CHRONOMETRAGE WinningTime 0.00 € N°....'
8. Finally, on that page read and select/agree to the last 4 statements of race rules and regulations.
9. On the next page, check your details. On this page you also get given the chance to add another rider (Add a new registration). If you do not need to add another rider, click on the payment button to enter your credit card details.
10. You will normally be sent a confirmation E-mail and an on-line letter with your ID details. On the day that you collect your race number and timing chip it is helpful to have a copy of this letter from Sportcommunications as well as a copy of your race licence or medical certificate.

Be patient! The site will be very busy and can sometimes crash due to traffic. And remember, the earlier you enter, the lower the race number you are issued and the nearer to the front and earlier you get to start on the day.

Good luck!

Wednesday, 1 December 2010

Where's our van?

We were supposed to head out to the swimming pool this evening but could not find our minibus....

Thursday, 25 November 2010

Winter's here!

We had our first snow here a couple of weeks ago and now we are awaiting another 'batch'. 12cm forecast to fall tonight, though to date the forecasts have been thankfully wrong. The temperatures however have been accurate which has us at -6'C this morning dropping to -22'C later next week.

It's time to get in the loft and get the thermals out again!

We have already dusted off the turbo trainers and had a couple of spins and have resurrected winter swim nights at a nearby pool. Yesterdays swim was made even better by a trip to a pizza van on the way home, a naughty but nice winter warmer!
Posted by Picasa

Wednesday, 24 November 2010

New Blog!

We have created a new blog. You'll still get the same old cycling ramblings but with a new look!

We have carried over a couple of years of old posts from our previous blog (old KOTM blog) below.

Any comments or suggestions very welcome.

Helyn & Guy

Tuesday, 23 November 2010

Tour de France 2011

Tue 19 Oct 2010 11:33 BST

The 2011 route has been announced! We are pleased to say that the Tour will be on our doorstep for the 3 days prior to Paris, saving the best 'til last!

Stage 18, Gap to the Col du Galibier/Serre Chevalier on 21st July 2011 (via the col d'Agnel and Col d'Izoard - ouch!)
Stage 19, Modane to Alpe d'Huez on 22nd July 2011 (via cols Telegrape and Galibier)
and finally, a 41km individual time trial in Grenoble on 23rd July 2011

We can't wait!

Etape du Tour 2011

Sat 25 Sep 2010 08:54 BST

Strong rumours from a reliable source, the newspaper Dauphine Libere, that the Etape du Tour 2011 will be either a stage finishing on Alpe d'Huez (from Modane via the Col du Galibier) or Pinerolo to the Col du Galibier. The rumoured date/s are 16th or 17th July 2011.

The actual Tour stages are said to be 21st July, Pinerolo - Col du Galibier and 22nd July, Modane - Alpe d'Huez. We have heard from another source that the 23rd will be a rest day.

We'll post more here if and when we learn more.

Dauphine article:

Moonlit Marmotte

Sat 21 Aug 2010 22:24 BST

Our period of waiting is almost over. Pending cloud cover, we will be setting out to test bike lights whilst riding the Marmotte sportive route on Tuesday night next week. Bacon sandwiches at dawn on the Alpe d'Huez anyone?


Photo frenzy - La Marmotte AND daily shots too....

Sun 04 Jul 2010 23:41 BST

The Marmotte went great yesterday for our guests - we counted out 11 and we counted them all back again - some in spectacular times too.

I have put up around 60 photos of the event at:

and we are also updating our photo of the day every day this summer season too - check it out at:

There you go! Happy viewing.

Guy & Helyn

Trieves en VTT

Mon 28 Jun 2010 10:09 BST

I had a charmed 24 hours yesterday. Despite having loads of guests here, and people to drive to Geneva for flights, Helyn dropped me off in our beloved Trieves area for a night off.

The programme went roughly like this:

Picnic lunch en route by the river down by Valbonnais, including the world's longest sandwich.
Arrive in Mens, bright blue skies. Set up tent.
Swim in the outdoor pool, eat ice cream (Helyn heads home).
More swimming and reading, quiet beer in town, shop for dinner.
Camping stove dinner of gnocchi and roast chicken, with a small glass of Ardechoise wine (thanks Auntie Liz).
Asleep by 9:30 (still in my clothes).

Up at 6:30; quick breakfast and off to sign on for my mountain bike event (which started at the camp site).
7:45 on my way on the bike around some of the most spectacular scenery you could imagine (check our online photo gallery for more pictures (link)). Great feed stops, great riding, a good mix of climbing, easy stuff and a bit more technical descending.
5 hours on the bike.
Back to base; meet Helyn, shower at the camp site, quick swim and off for post-ride food (delicious and all local).
3pm head for home to meet the first of our arriving Marmotte guests!

Thank you Helyn!


The Col du Galibier is now open!

Sat 05 Jun 2010 15:36 BST

The opening of the Col du Galibier now means that anyone wanting to ride the Marmotte route can do so.

La Saint Pognarde MTB rando

Tue 01 Jun 2010 13:41 BST

I popped out with Christian last Saturday for a liitle mountain bike pootle not far from Grenoble (at Saint-Paul de Varces) and it was lovely. I even had a timely puncture, kindly aided by the feed stop people. It is the first time they have run the event, and I hope they keep it up. Lots of kids along for the 8km trundle too. Good to get out. I haven't done a lot this year.


Col du Glandon is now open

Fri 28 May 2010 07:16 BST

The Galibier is still shut as of this morning. We'll keep you posted.

Mind the Gap

Sun 16 May 2010 16:53 BST

Yesterday we had an 'away-day' in Gap, about 2 hours south of here. It was more of an escape than an away-day really as it's been pretty wet and chilly here for a few days now so we were in search of some sun, warmth and dry tarmac. Though having seen the Giro highlights from yesterday I feel a bit of a lightweight saying that I didn't fancy riding in the rain!

We stopped off for a quick detour in Pont-Sarrazin (just off the N94 on the way between Gap and Chorges). This is the site of the dreadful Beloki crash (2003 Tour) and where Armstrong's evasive action took him on a short cut across a field. There was a little too much wheat sprouting for a re-enactment of the cross country route taken but we took a few snaps (see below).

Dan and Will (our regular annual 'season openers') had not ridden in Gap since they took part in the 2006 Etape du Tour (Gap to Alpe d'Huez), so it was nice for them to retrace some of the route and to see some of the beautiful scenery at a more reasonable pace! One of the most spectacular sights is the beautiful azure blue lake of 'Serre Poncon' on which there is a tiny island with a chapel perched at it's centre (see photo top left).

Just after snapping some photos of the lake, Will noticed a rather nasty cut in his front tyre with the tube just poking through. We were a good few kilometres away from the nearest bike shop in Embrun and it had just hit midday closing - time for lunch!

One giant sandwich and a Coke later we set off for Embrun via a lovely climb with great views back down to the lake. All of us were watching Will and his front wheel carefully on the descent. When I heard that chilling and unmistakable 'bang' that is a tyre blowing, I didn't expect to see Dan wrestling to control and slow his bike. Ironically, it was Dan's rear wheel that had blown, the walls were completely shredded and the tube like macrami around the rear mech' and brakes. Fortunately, due to good handling, Dan only had a small 'off' and minimal road rash and damage to himself. As for the rim of his back wheel, that didn't come off so well.

So, we had a 4km or so walk to an amazing bike shop (thank you Alpes 2 Roues) where Dan and Will both received new tyres and Dan a nice new and very shiny wheel.

Meanwhile, in a corner of the workshop Guy got busy borrowing tools and stripping all that was salvageable from the ruined wheel, this earned him the nickname 'Stig of the Dump', which has now stuck!

Now it was my turn for trouble, not mechanical but physical -empty legs! We had a fairly straightforward run to get back to the van but into a strong headwind (the windsurfers and kite surfers on the lake should have given me a clue as to what was in store!). I was finished and Guy, Dan and Will had to tow me back to Gap nursing me up even the most pathetic of inclines - still, at least Dan had a nice new wheel for me to follow for the duration!

Photos below and on our 'Photo of the day' album.


King of the Mountains' "Photo of the Day" 2010 summer season

Thu 13 May 2010 22:24 BST

This year, I have decided to mark our summer season with one photo every day, from the day of arrival of our first guests until the day of departure of the last ones. It will hopefully capture the spirit of what we are up to here. Today is the official start date. Dan & Will, our traditional summer season openers (they're always keen to come and clock up a few early-season Alpine kilometres) arrived at Lyon airport today.

The images will be displayed on our Picasa web gallery.


OR: link straight through from our homepage.

I can't promise that they will always be spectacular (some of them, I know, will be downright dull) but they should show the passing of the seasons, the Alps in full green spring splendour, high summer, all blues and whites and the amazing colours of autumn too. There will hopefully even be the odd smiling face (and probably some tired ones too).

The last guests are currently pencilled in to leave on 2nd October, so, in theory, today's image will be the first of 142!

I hope you enjoy the ride!


Col de la Croix de Fer is open

Sat 08 May 2010 13:02 BST

The Col de la Croix de Fer is open. As yet the Glandon is still closed.


Ronde De La Combe De Savoie Rando

Sun18 Apr 2010 13:10 BST

Yesterday I headed over to the Savoie for a randonee that started over by Albertville (La Bathie to be precise). I was due to drive a bunch of skiers back to the airport this morning (Sunday) and had planned to stay overnight in the Tarentaise, but the Icelandic dust cloud put paid to that, with the hapless skiers destined to a coach trip right through France instead! Oh well, it didn't stop me getting out on the bike....

The weather was perfect and the start was at 1pm, giving the weather a good chance to warm up. And warm up it did! I am now sporting my first cycling tan lines of 2010 and very proud of them I am too...

It was a lovely tour, over some roads that I didn't know at all and, despite missing a turning, and hence the final col and 9km of the route, all went well. Bill punctured, but was aided by a local with a garage full of tools and his own compressor, so even that went well!

Bring on summer!


PS: Met a lovely Devonian chap at the event, who loved the riding so much here in the Alps that he moved over from Plymouth two years ago to the foot of the col du Glandon, in the Maurienne valley. One house renovation and a lot of work put in and he's now happily riding around the Alps to his heart's content. Bravo Mike!

The King of the Mountains Library.

Thu 15 Apr 2010 13:38 BST

These days it's worth coming here as much for the reading as the riding!

We started out with quite an array of books on the subject of cycling and triathlon and now, over time, the library has doubled thanks to some really generous donations and gifts from guests, friends and family. We would like to thank in person the following people, with a special mention going to Kirt who, from the States, has sent us 2 magnificent parcels brimming with some amazing titles (all packed out with coffee beans and other goodies).

Our thanks go out to:
Kirt, Jimmy, Will, Dan, Nick, Matt, Undies, George, Huw, Cycling Weekly, Frosty, Steven, Rob and Malatcha.

To give you a taster, a list of just some of the titles we have here:

The Rider, Tim Krabbe / Bad Blood, Jeremy Whittle / A Century of Cycling, William Fotheringham / Gold Rush, Phil O'Connor and Cycling Weekly / The Crooked Path to Victory, Les Woodland / Sex, Lies and Handelbar Tape, Paul Howard / Rough Ride, Paul Kimmage / It's Not About The Bike, Lance Armstrong / Put Me Back On My Bike, William Fotheringham / Inside The Postal Bus, Michael Barry / Push Yourself Just A Little Bit More, Johnny Green / The Death Of Marco Pantani, Matt Rendell / Breaking The Chain, Willy Voet / The Escape Artist, Matt Seaton / Fallen Angel - The Passion of Fausto Coppi, William Fotheringham / French Revolutions, Tim Moore / 23 Days In July, John Wilcockson / The Lance Armstrong Performance Programme, Armstrong & Carmichael / From Lance to Landis, David Walsh / We Might As Well Win, Johan Bruyneel / The Beautiful Machine, Graeme Fife....and many more!

And that's not to mention the local guides, ride profiles, maps and pile of cycling DVDs we also have!

So, if you have a holiday planned with us soon, pack your slippers as well as your cycling shoes and book your armchair!


Col d'Ornon to be 'Timtoo' timed

Thu 08 Apr 2010 18:12 BST

We hinted in our 'Valley Rumblings' post last month that our local col, the Col d'Ornon, would soon be equipped with a couple of 'Timtoo' transceivers. This has now been confirmed for June/July 2010.

Also in the local area the following cols will receive transceivers: Les Deux Alpes, Col du Lautaret and the climb to Oz en Oisans.

The climb to Alpe d'Huez has had these transceivers installed for around 3 years now and they have been hugely successful. The Thursday time trials that run in July and August use these to time all participants.

With the use of a timing chip that you pop in the back pocket of your jersey, you can get accurate times of ascent on these climbs as you pass the Timtoo trancievers at the foot and summit. All results are then posted on the Timtoo website:

The timing chips are available to rent from the tourist office in Bourg d'Oisans and we have a couple here registered to King of the Mountains.

No more fumbling with the stopwatch!


Spring Cyclo-Randonnee

Tue 06 Apr 2010 18:15 BST

There's no friendlier atmosphere to ride in over here than at a 'cylo-randonnee' event. There's no better value either at around EUR 7 for your ride, feed stations and post-ride food and drink (which is usually wine!).

The event that we went to yesterday was hosted by the 'Cyclo Club Gillonnay', a small village a little north of Grenoble airport. As usual the welcome for the 200 or so participants was warm and enthusiastic.

Guy had a mechanical problem before we set off (a loose crank arm) and within seconds of asking one of the hosting club members for a tool or two, he was surrounded by lots of incredibly helpful people one of whom was a qualified bike mechanic. Despite their enthusiasm and desire to help, it was pretty obvious that the problem was terminal and could not be fixed on the spot, they were so downhearted that they could not help Guy that they urged him to take down their mobile numbers and call if he needed rescuing en-route! So kind.

We had planned to ride the 90km circuit but in light of the crank arm wobbles, only rode 70km. These are totally non-competitive events so fortunately there is no mass start, you roll off whenever you fancy between the designated times (yesterday was 7:30 to 9:00am), we were pretty much the last to leave!

The route was mainly on a low, plain but with some short, sharp, typically English climbs, a perfect season opener. The plain was nearly all agricultural land; arable, fruit trees, some vines and livestock. It's basically what you see as you come into land at Grenoble airport. A good proportion of the route was on agricultural lanes and back roads. It was a lovely sight to see so many animals out in the fields enjoying the sun as much as us, particularly the spring lambs that had us and all the riders around us cooing!

There was an Easter fair in the village when we returned and the Gillonnay club had set up a beer tent as well as food and refreshments for us randonnee riders in the town hall. After this the serious cycling started; a kermesse, road race, a circuit of 17km x 5 which made us feel very pedestrian indeed!

A great cyclo-randonnee to kick off our season and a reminder of just how friendly and warm the world of French cycling is.

Happy Easter!

Sun 04 Apr 2010 17:36 BST

It doesn't get much better for me than watching the Tour of Flanders whilst eating Easter chocolate! Even better to know that tomorrow we are heading off to a cyclo-randonnee event where I can burn off some of the calories gained from 'beheading' my life-sized, chocolate bunny!

(Picture below of giant chocolate rabbit!)


Weather window

Sat 03 Apr 2010 09:39 BST

The weather is continuing to confuse us, and, it would seem, the French Met' Office too. The forecast for the coming week seems to be changing hourly and starkly; from snow to sun, from -2'C to +14'C.

For the time being we have adopted the 'make hay while the sun shines' attitude and downed tools whenever there is a window of good weather. Yesterday presented one of those windows of opportunity. Although a little chilly here in the village, the valley near Grenoble was around 15'C. We headed down in the minibus with our neighbour, Yves, and had a fantastic 70km ride - Guys' first road ride of 2010.

I say 'road' ride, but we spent a good proportion of the time on the Grenoble cycle path which runs for miles along the leafy banks of the Isere river. The path is fantastic; well surfaced, well signposted, nice and wide and a very safe and friendly environment to cycle. It is shared by walkers, runners, rollerbladers, people riding to and from work, etc. Anyone who has taken part in a Grenoble based cyclo-randonne event with us will have probably used at least a portion of this path for the first few kilometres as it takes you - traffic free - to the outskirts of the city and to some great country roads and climbs.

Good thing that we were not on the roads closer to home as the freeze-thaw and constantly changing temperatures brought down a sizeable rock face on the road to home the other day (picture top left) - another good reason to wear a helmet!


Spring has lost its' bounce!

Tue 30 Mar 2010 21:33 BST

What is going on with the weather here?

On Tuesday we were out on our mountain bikes lapping up the sun, trundling down the Col d'Ornon to Valbonnais on trails dotted with primroses and surrounded by trees about to burst into green life again. Our trail was interrupted twice by the paths of recent avalanches and as as we hauled the bikes over these we all thought that was the last we'd be seeing of snow for a while.

In total contrast the very next day it snowed and it has done just about every day since then. Fortunately it's the light spring snow that doesn't hang about so the shovels have not had to be employed but the welly boots have as it's been a slush-fest!

The fresh snow was however encouraging for Sunday as we had signed-up for our last cross country ski race of the season at Les Saisies in the Savoie. We have only ever skied there once before and it was paradise. The area boasted probably the best groomed and most perfect pistes we have ever come across. Despite the recent fresh snow, conditions on Sunday could not have been more different; hard packed snow and ice, rutted and pitted making falls (we both had then!) painful and hard. It was a day to take a pedestrian pace and just finish with the minimum of bruises and no broken bones! All was forgiven when we arrived at the hall for the end of race meal. We were greeted by the sight of two wood fired 'cauldrons' and a marvelous aroma of cooking sausages - joy! Amazing what a good bit of mountain food can do to pep you up!

For photos of mountain biking, the 'Etoiles des Saisies' ski race and of course the sausages, see top left.


Running, 'cycling', skiing and baking.

Fri 26 Mar 2010 08:58 GMT

The snow is finally on the move in the village, the waterfalls along the valley are spouting back into life and the stream at the bottom of the garden is in full swirl and gurgle. On Friday were able to use the road next to the house for the first time since November, making unloading shopping and building materials seem effortless, no more 'It's a Knockout' 500 metre waddles with plasterboard and bags of cement!

Fortunately there was just enough snow at the top of the col for the inaugural 'Trail Ornon' on Saturday; a running race on the snow over 10km or 20km and a 1km or 500m event for children. Unfortunately the snow was very soft which made for chilly toes and some erratic running styles, but despite this it was really well attended (photos) and hence has made it's mark on the map for coming years. I took part in the 10km event and thoroughly enjoyed it. I had the added advantage of knowing most of the marshals along the route so got some very enthusiastic encouragement!

After the race it was back home for a cake baking marathon: 2 x lemon drizzle, 1 x coffee and walnut, 1x carrot cake, 2x batches of brownies. These were all whizzed off to an English/French charity night where they were sold to raise some money to send groups of French language students to London this summer. The evening was really lovely with a fair 50:50 mix of English and French, all very friendly, that was until the rugby was put on to a big screen....I soon took my leave!

The following day, Sunday, was less pleasant for another event taking place on our valley; 'Oisans Ski Cimes', a well established ski touring race that covers some of the higher peaks opposite our house and beside the Col d'Ornon. Sadly attendance was down about 50% due to rain and high winds. Some of our friends and neighbours who were marshaling at the higher and more exposed positions on the course are still thick with colds now.

Guy and I did a bit of cross training/active recovery on the Sunday afternoon on the banks of the lake at Aix-Les- Bains. Don't really know how to describe the contraption we hired (photo top left and below) apart from 'a bicycle made for two'!

This coming weekend we will be having our last cross country ski of the season at an event on Sunday and then it's out with the 'real' bikes.


Printemps.....or "spring" as we say in English.....

Tue 16 Mar 2010 22:23 GMT

Despite the fact that I still have to scrape the windscreen on the van in the morning, that I ski-ed at lunchtime on the col today and the toilet froze last week, there are signs here that spring is coming. The freezing level shot up today and I even did a bit of bike tinkering. When the sun comes out it has real warmth, the birds are singing and dog poos that were deposited back in December 2009 are rearing their ugly brown heads in the's (almost) all good....


Valley rumblings

14 Mar 2010 11:22 GMT

Some very local news, or maybe it would be better to call it 'rumour'...

Rumour has it that this summer 'Timtoo' are going to place more transceivers in our area including on our very own Col d'Ornon (possibly on Col du Lautaret too and the La Berarde climb). List of existing timed routes.

This means that with the use of timing chips (available from us or Bourg d'Oisans Tourist Office) you can get an accurate ascent time of our col from the valley. Only problem is that you have to resist a King of the Mountains cake and tea 'pit stop' en-route!

Other rumour is that gradient/distance markers will be installed on some climbs in the area too. Most people like this sort of information when riding, they are certainly very popular and prolific in the Pyrenees.

We'll see how this progresses and if rumour turns into reality. We'll keep you posted.

Valley fact is that the 2010 'Lignarre Valley' hill climb series dates have been confirmed for Friday 16th, Saturday 17th and Sunday 18th July (Col d'Ornon, Oulles and Villard Reymond).

Come on down to get on up!


Setting the wheels in motion

Sun 07 Mar 2010 17:07 GMT

Hooray! Had the first ride of 2010 on Friday. A sunny, sunny beautiful day spent with our friend Colette. We rode in the Chartreuse mountains and opened the 'account' with a 20km spin - quality not quantity, blue skies and the most amazing cliff faces around us, still clinging on to snow like the fir trees that we rode through.

What a sensation after nearly 4 months of not being able to regularly ride. The sound of clipping into the pedals, the noise of the freewheel and the wind whistling past your ears, heaven! After my 20km taster I was like a junkie having just had a 'hit' and wondering where my next fix would come from.

My next fix was the following day, yesterday. I could not resist. Equally as sunny as Friday, not a cloud in the sky, but it was deceptive as there was a cold northerly wind blowing for the second part of the ride that took temperatures down to around -3'C at times.

Guy was heading to Geneva in the minibus so dropped me off en-route in Vizille where I rode home via some fairly main roads (though very quiet) over the col d'Ornon and back into the village ( The route was uphill for most of the way but it was all pretty steady. I had been so excited to get out again that I made some terrible schoolboy errors:

1. Forgot to take a spare tube
2. Did not take enough food for the journey
3. Did not check my pre-prepared water bottle thus did not realise that is was a solid block of ice on leaving

The first half of the ride did nor provide any opportunities to rectify 1-3 above but by La Mure, around half way, I'd got a fancy Michelin tube and a sandwich that was about 1.5ft long and rammed with enough cheese and ham to keep the hungriest of cyclists going. It was too cold to hang about and eat the sandwich so I ate on the move - not that I needed proof of how cold it was at that point, but the ham kept freezing between mouth fulls!

The ride up the col d'Ornon from Valbonnais was really beautiful. The birds were in full song and the sky was still cloudless and azure blue, a great contrast to the snow still laying around about. There have been some fairly impressive avalanches along the valley here and the evidence of this is scarily apparent; piles of heavy snow set like concrete sometimes just metres away from the road and villages.

The final descent to home was as thrilling as it was chilling and within minutes of being back in the house I was in the shower and having a great big mug of hot chocolate. Something else I've missed about riding these past few months; that after a ride it's the simplest of things like a shower and a warm drink that feel like sheer luxury!

A chilly spell now but I am avidly watching the thermometer for the next opportunity to get back out there...


King of the Mountains podcast

Sat 27 Feb 2010 12:31 GMT

The podcast that we recorded for Julia Armstrong is now live!

Here's the link:

In the podcast we touch upon riding Alpe d'Huez, cyclosportives, the Marmotte, cakes and much much more!

This is our podcast debut but we are willing to take up any offers from the BBC; the shipping forecast or maybe a bit part in the Archers beckons!!


Julia's website:

Marathon de la Clarée, cross country ski race

Mon 22 Feb 2010 08:20 GMT

Yesterday we visited a really beautiful valley just the other side of Briançon (near the Col d'Izoard), the Val des Prés valley named after the beautiful Clarée river that runs its length. Also along the valley are several small hamlets and villages, all stone with lovely churches and chapels dating back to the 15th century. The tourist office boasts that the valley has 300 days of sunshine a year and yesterday it lived up to that reputation.

From the minute we set off from home it was beautifully clear and bright but deceptively cold despite the sun. It was -15'C when we arrived to sign on and pick up our race numbers from the race HQ hosted in a large hall. Fortunately the hall was dotted with radiators where skiers huddled to thaw out fingers and toes and warm up boots and gloves before heading to the start line.

The start of the event was staggered with women going off a few minutes before the men. The start was a proper Olympic style line up with tracks for each person to glide along in for a few metres (think scalectrix) and then pop out of to start the 'skating' ski motion.

There was a fantastic atmosphere and with such a wide open valley great views and sunshine all around. The route followed rivers, took small paths through forests, took us over little bridges and, then snaked through the narrow streets of various little villages. Whenever it passed through a village the residents were out in force with their cheers and clanging cow bells. There were also musicians along the way including an accordionist and a great drum and brass band playing their own oom pa pa versions of some less traditional songs (Radiohead's 'Creep' being one example).

Sadly, I pulled up after only about 10km as I was feeling really rough. It's rare for me to 'DNF' as I normally love suffering, but yesterday I felt empty - I'm probably getting the cold Guy was getting over. Guy raced with a 'kill or cure' attitude to his cold and I think crossing the finish line it felt a lot like 'kill'. Without going into too much gory detail I think he at least cleared his blocked nose and sinuses along the way!

The sun was so bright and strong that the post-race meal was an outdoor affair with a big barbecue of sausages and dauphinoise potatoes, again accompanied by the brass band. Despite my lack of kilometres I still got tucked in!

The whole event was so picturesque and well organised and thought through from the friendly marshalls to the hand crafted wooden trophies for the winners (sadly no wooden spoons for team KOTM!).

On the way home we stopped for hot chocolate, beer and cakes to celebrate the 8th 'birthday' of our neighbour, Yves, who was with us at the event. He had what he calls his second chance at life 8 years ago to the day after he was trapped under snow in an avalanche for nearly 45 minutes and miraculously survived. Anyway, that's another story!


Biathletes for a day!

Mon 15 Feb 2010 13:50 GMT

Yesterday the cross country ski centre on the Col d'Ornon hosted an introduction to biathlon.

This is a sport that we have been keen to have a go at ever since we started cross country ski-ing. What could be more fun than the combination of ski-ing and guns?!

The taster day yesterday was a very toned down version of the biathlon that we have been watching at the winter Olympics; for a start our guns had no live ammunition but lasers. Also, to avoid accidents we neither wore our skis when shooting (apparently harder than it looks) nor carried the guns around the little 600m loop that they had set up for us to ski on.

One thing that I have often thought looked hard is holding the gun steady having just stopped ski-ing, to calm your breathing and heart rate so as not to disrupt your aim. I found it really difficult and having skied was a lot less accurate than when shooting 'fresh'. A couple of our neighbours who were there turned out to be naturals with the gun (note to self never to mess with them!!).

At the end of the day we split into 10 teams of 2 and lined up for a relay biathlon race. Guy skied and I did the shooting. 3 x 600m laps for Guy and 2 sets of 5 targets for me. To be fair, Guy is a much better shot than me but he's also quicker on the skis too! It was all very light hearted and there was a great atmosphere - one team of two had been passing by and wanted to join in but had no skis with them, instead they ran the course - in moon boots!!

I shall be watching the biathlon this evening to see how easy the pros make it all look - not a pair of moon boots in sight I'm sure!


Listen to our podcast!

Sat 13 Feb 2010 09:12 GMT

In the next couple of weeks we are due to feature in a podcast with Julia Armstrong: (Julia Armstrong podcast).

I doubt our chat about cycling, Alpe d'Huez and the Alps will get as many hits as the latest podcast with the sex and relationship writer Nicci Talbot!!

It was lovely chatting to Julia, who we have known for quite some years now through a mutual friend and running. Just talking about the summer, riding and the cols out here has got me very excited about the fact that spring is just around the corner!

We'll post a link when the exact date of broadcast has been decided upon.


Million Mile Bike Ride

Fri 12 Feb 2010 06:36 GMT

What a great idea and a great cause too. Coming to an area near you in summer 2010:

Our friend Russell Standring of Grenoble Cycling Pages put together the little video on the Million Mile Bike Ride home page featuring cyclists riding the Challenge Dauphine Libere cyclosportive last year. See if you can spot King of the Mountains cyclists; a starter for 10 is Guy on the yellow opening credits...

For other videos by Russell that give a great idea of the riding here (Marmotte and other sportives) see:

The photo page on his website is pretty amazing too as is the A-Z of climbs in the area.


No business like snow business...

Sat 09 Jan 2010 09:41 GMT

Around 2ft of snow fell here yesterday and there's more on the way...

A popularly held belief is that the Inuit or Eskimo have a word for every different type of snow, I however have one alone: horrible!

Guy embraces snow, loves the stark seasonality of winters here, for him the novelty has not yet worn off even in this our 7th winter in the Alps. For me the novelty never really arrived. I am just not a winter person, never have been (see photo top left not exactly loving it!). It is not my natural environment, I lose feeling in my fingers at the mere thought of making a snowman or snowball and as for sledging...

I'm wondering if back in the UK the novelty of 'Frozen Britain' has worn off yet? Though having a legitimate excuse not to have to go into work is a bonus I suppose. The trouble with the French Alps is that nothing stops for snow, or rarely, you just have to get out and get on with it (how does the snow plough driver get to work?).

French people are very keen to have a pop at British weather and believe we live under constant rain, 'cats and dogs'. Well, I'd rather good old cats and dogs than penguins and polar bears or whatever the equivalent quantitative term is for snow.

For a start rain tends to run away and does not have to be shoveled away like snow. Rain is warmer than snow. Rain washes away dog poo (a blight of some French towns) unlike snow which preserves it as an unpleasant spring 'time capsule'. Rain is an honest wet unlike snow that sits on you, inert, until you get back into the warm and then soaks you. Rain brings rainbows, green grass, flowers and does not erase the colour of your surroundings. Rain washes the car not buries it.

I know I'm a grumpy old git. I should not complain as I do benefit from snow too - I love cross country ski-ing and those blue sky days when it's all twinkly can be stunning. And, after all, I did choose to live in the Alps so it would be ridiculous of me to expect anything else in January.

I suppose I am just going through 'the winter blues'. The fact that a chionophobe (came over all Stephen Fry then) like me puts up with this for 4-5 months of the year is just testament to how amazing it is here in spring and summer. All that shoveling, shivering and falling over is forgotten the minute I see those green shoots, buds and flowers of spring in our valley!


Start as you mean to go on...

Fri 01 Jan 2010 21:08 GMT

We ended 2009 with a marathon fortnight of socialising, eating, drinking and French culture. We spent both Christmas and new years eve in the company of some very good French friends and their families. We could not have been made to feel more welcome and have certainly learned a few things about French customs, revelry and gastronomy!

Christmas in France is typically celebrated on the evening of 24th December when all gather for an evening meal, to open gifts, etc. We started with aperitifs at around 7:30pm which included 'champagne soup' - a dangerously refreshing cocktail of cognac, cointreau and champagne. Fortunately it was not far to the dinner table where I soon lost count of courses, though I do remember; oysters, smoked salmon, foie gras, escargots, frogs legs, beef, yule log, chocolate mousse and a different wine for almost every course...we waddled away from the table at about 2am, marvelous! New years eve was much the same and started with another champagne soup concoction - no wonder we all found ourselves dancing in the kitchen until the small hours!

Whilst we did have a white Christmas, snow has been pretty scant thus far this December, intermittent rain has meant that there is much less about than this time last year. Bad for ski resorts but it has allowed us to have a few unexpected bike rides.

Last Sunday I rode along the Tarentaise valley in the Savoie region. Although there was snow on the high peaks, I stayed low and south facing so enjoyed sun for most of the morning. I rode among vineyards for the good part of the ride - it was like a ride along the shelves of Oddbins; Chignin to Chateauneuf. After the vineyards I continued on from Albertville on a beautiful cycle path, along the 'Olympic Valley', past some of the sites of the '92 winter Olympics, past the foot of the col du Madeleine and on to Moutiers. At this point I had lost the sun and it had started snowing so I was glad to meet up with my knight in a shining minibus, Guy, who whisked me away for a hot chocolate and to be reunited with my new Christmas gift of a down filled jacket!

Our new year was spent in the south of France, near St Tropez. By the time we had driven through Gap we had left the snow behind and on our arrival at the coast it was a good + 10'C more than it has been here. Despite packing overshoes, skull cap and windproof leggings, these did not get an airing as we were able to ride in shorts. What a novelty in December; sea, sand, boats and harbours. Like my last ride there were some more vineyards (Cotes de Provence) but unlike my last ride I was not the only cyclist on the road and there was not a snowflake in sight!

2010 - I have certainly started as I'd like to go on; friends, family, fun, food and cycling!

Happy new year to you all from us.

Helyn & Guy

Merry Christmas!

Thu 24 Dec 2009 07:48 GMT

We hope you all have a great time over the next few days.

Seems like it will be a white Christmas for a lot of you in the UK too!

We are off out for a traditional French Christmas this evening with some friends - apparently we are to expect a feast and plenty of revelry!

Merry Christmas to you all,

Helyn & Guy

Island in the sun

Mon 14 Dec 2009 08:59 GMT

Alpe d'Huez is known as l' île au soleil, the island in the sun, and today it lived up to it's name.

We set off from the village here yesterday afternoon to cross country ski at Alpe d'Huez. We wrapped up well as it was foggy, grey and cold. Driving up the 21 hairpins was a very different scene to the last time I was there in summer - unrecognisable in it's shroud of cloud, the cliff faces hanging with icicles. Just as we neared the resort at around 1,850 metres, we popped out of the cloud and into bright sunshine and blue sky, there was still a chill in the air but it was so uplifiting to feel the sun on our faces.

As we neared the highest point on the cross country pistes (around 2,050 metres), we got a spectacular viewpoint towards our valley. It was apparent then how far above the clouds we were as we were looking down on them like a lake filling the valley. See photo top left and below.

Being my first outing on the skis this winter it was good to have the views to distract me from the feelings of exhaustion and burn that came with ski-ing uphill at altitude!

After a good couple of hours we dropped back down into the wintry blanket of clouds and made our way back to the comfort of the log burner where we spent the rest of the evening decorating the Christmas tree.


La Marmotte - 2010 entries open on 15th Dec.

Sat 12 Dec 2009 00:18 GMT

The organisers of 'La Marmotte', Sportcommunication, will start taking on-line entries for the 2010 event on Tuesday 15th December.

The website:

1.On home page, click on 'GRAND TROPHEE/CYCLING EVENTS'.
2.You can choose language by clicking on flag, top right.
3.Go to 'REGISTRATIONS' on the toolbar and choose how you would like to enter event (ON LINE or MAIL).
4.You will be asked for an ID number and/or your name and surname. If you have not participated in a Sportcommunications event before and do not have an ID number just enter your name. After entering your name and clicking SEARCH, click on MY NAME IS NOT ON THE FOLLOWING DATABASE.
5.Tick the box for The Marmotte (and any other events you wish to enter in the Grand Trophee series).If you need insurance for the race, tick the box corresponding to the insurance that you wish to take out.
6. If you would like a timing chip for the event, select the first option: JE NE POSSEDE PAS DE BRACELETTE DE CHRONOMETRAGE ET JE VERSE LA CAUTION OBLIGATIORE 10€. This will give you a timing chip for the Marmotte and any other Sportcommunication events that you take part in during 2010. This will cost an extra 10€ which is refunded on returning the chip at the end of the race/s.
7.Enter your personal details.
8. If you have a racing licence, choose the type of licence you hold from the drop-down list.
9. If you do not have a racing licence you must have a medical certificate from your doctor stating that you are fit to participate in cyclosportives. This needs to be signed by your GP. Otherwise, use the on-line form and give this to your GP to complete on your examination:
10. Send a scan of your certificate or licence to: or by post:Top Club, BP 24025, 69615 Villeurbanne CEDEX, France. Don't forget to write your Sportcommunications ID number on this.
11. Read and select/agree to the last 3 statements of race rules and regulations.
12. Click 'VALIDER' to take you onto payment stage.
13. You will normally be sent a confirmation E-mail and a letter with your ID details will be available to you on-line. On the day that you collect your race number and timing chip it is helpful to have a copy of this letter from Sportcommunications as well as a copy of your race licence or medical certificate.

Be patient! The site will be very busy and can sometimes crash due to traffic. And remember, the earlier you enter, the lower the race number you are issued and the nearer to the front and earlier you get to start on the day.

Good luck!

Let the snowsports commence!

Tue 08 Dec 2009 10:34 GMT

Saturday was a day of firsts for us; Guy's first cross country ski of this winter and my first ever running race in the snow.

Fortunately it would seem that the ski-ing is like riding a bike and that you never forget how! Starting again after some 8 or 9 months off is a great time to address any bad habits that you may have picked up last year and nip them in the bud for this season. Guy skied first at Autrans (where I was running) and on Sunday headed up to Alpe d'Huez where it was less sunny and warm, but snow conditions good.

The run that I took part in on Saturday was a small affair, some 150 participants. It followed a similar format to many cycling events; a choice of circuits (12km or 20km), feed stations, friendly marshals and a pasta party meal at the finish.

The sign-on and start in Autrans was in the pretty town square. We didn't need the digital thermometer there to tell us that it was minus 10 degrees C - the shivering masses waiting at the start line were a clear clue. 150 heads bobbing up and down on the spot to keep warm, I wouldn't be surprised if something had registered on the Richter scale! I was relieved when the starter (Dawa Dachhiri, a cross country ski Olympian) waved the flag for us to set off. What I did not realise as I jogged off enjoying the easy pace was that this was merely a practice run around the block for the benefit of the gathered press and TV. Sadly the pace for the 'real thing' was quite a bit quicker!

As is my need for a top-up of suffering when the bike is not available, I opted for the 20km route. The total height gain during the 20km was 770 metres. Most of the 770 metres seemed to all come at the start when we made our way to the top of a ski jump slope as used in the '68 Olympics, it's a long way up there (hats off to you Eddie the Eagle)!

The course was beautiful and varied. A lot of tracks through fields, following streams, through villages and on forest fire roads. A skidoo had gone on ahead of us and left a small trail of compact snow to run on, but since I was one of the back markers there were already some good tracks to run in, an advantage over those who came in first. The snow conditions were just about perfect, not too wet and slushy. In some spots the snow was powdery like running on sand, frozen pine cones are surprising hazards - like little hand grenades waiting to slip you up, and farmyards were always a good source of sheet ice!

When running on snow, your feet are fairly stable points whilst there's a commotion going on in the torso area and for the most part your arms are out at your sides like a tightrope walker! I reckon even Paula Radcliffe would have looked like she was running for the last bus at closing time! The best part of snow versus tarmac/off-road is that the next day you feel so much better and hardly beaten up or stiff at all, snow seems to be the greatest of shock absorbers, and your trainers come back pristine!

For more info' regarding this and other similar running events:

First "proper" snow falling today

Mon 30 Nov 2009 07:53 GMT

It's here - we opened the curtains this morning and it's looking pretty deep and crisp and even out there.....

So, the bikes will now get a service, the skis will come out and we'll hole up til spring.

Nothing like living with the seasons, is there?


PS: Helyn will now need to be prised from her bed.....until March!

Things your physiotherapist would probably not advise...

Thu 26 Nov 2009 22:27 GMT

It's probably no surprise that after preparing all of this winter's firewood Guy now has a bad back. Two nights ago he visited a local physio' for some massage and a bit of hip re-alignment.

A few things we had planned for the weekend have now been canned as a result - no mountain bike randonnee on Sunday for a start.

Fortunately gentle swimming is one thing that won't further aggravate the muscles, so tonight we headed to the lovely indoor pool in Vaujany for a few gentle stretches and a bit of light breastroke. While I was doing the gentle stretching and breastroke, Guy descended the flume for most of the evening working on his speed technique with each descent!

Little surprise then that he returned home in a slightly worsened state.

An unseasonable surprise!

Sun 22 Nov 2009 18:02 GMT

Since our previous blog post we have at last concluded the annual ritual that is firewood. We have 2 sheds full of the stuff now as well as a giant 'Jenga' stack next to the house. I was excused from lumberjacking duties after only 2 days to take up a new post in the office - end of year accounts - don't really know who got the worst deal there; Guy wielding a chainsaw or me squinting at spreadsheets?

So, the wood is ready, the garden furniture in storage, chimneys swept, new snow stoppers on the roof (to stop large slabs of snow sliding onto your head and to keep snow in place for insulation), snow shovels and ice axes in position and snow tyres fitted on the van. We have been in the loft and hunted down hats, gloves, boots and various winter 'toys' too; cross country skis, snowboard, downhill skis, snow shoes and sledges all at the ready. We have never been more prepared for winter. As soon as we'd done this however the weather made an abrupt change and the snow receded back up the mountains!

This time last year we had heavy snowfall, a good few feet that stayed on the ground here in the village until mid April. Yesterday could not have provided more contrast; the sun was shining, the sky blue and temperatures that felt like a summers day. We were quick to push the winter kit to one side and get the bikes out again. We had not anticipated being able to road ride again until spring so this was a gift, a real 'Brucey Bonus'. Heading over the Col d'Ornon, we made our way to the 'Trieves' area and by the time we got to the village of Mens it was 22 degrees C and we were stripped down to summer kit, shorts and short sleeved jerseys. We stayed lowish to make the most of the warmth and rode a great little circuit taking in 3 fairly low cols the highest, the Col de Mens at 1,117 metres. Even at dusk the air was so warm that all we needed were armwarmers. The Col de Mens is a great little col, very rural, very quiet and offering some of the most expansive mountain views around, it's a big favourite of ours and is the halfway point in the ride that some of our guests may know as 'the lollypop ride'.

Today we have had another warm day but a few showers. I spent a several hours in the garden and workshop giving my bike a very thorough (and well overdue) clean and service ready for 'mothballing' until spring. Looking at the forecast for next week however there could be more reports of sunny rides to come - put those skis back in the shed Guy!


Snow in the village!

Thu 05 Nov 2009 09:51 GMT

We have had our first snow (see picture top left).

About 4-5cm fell in the village here but soon disappeared as snow turned to rain and then slush. There's still a good covering on the mountains behind the house to about 1,500 metres. Sadly the cols Croix de Fer, Galibier and Glandon are now all shut as a result, an end to high altitude cycling for the time being. Still, it's good news for those coming to ski with us this winter.

As usual at this time of year we are busy moving, chopping and stacking firewood. We have 15 square metres of the stuff to shift before the snow really arrives in earnest, somehow it seems to take a lot of the romance away from the idea of a crackling log fire!


Alpe d'Huez of the South Downs?

Wed 04 Nov 2009 22:08 GMT

At the end of October I spent a week in the UK visiting friends and family.

It's been a year since I was there last and I was amazed to see how, in 12 months, cycling still seems to be on the increase as a participation sport and as a mode of transport.

My first stop was Eastbourne to the TriStore where I was very kindly lent a bike for my own transport during my stay (thank you Sarah On my 18 mile trip back from the shop I was pleasantly surprised by how well UK motorists treated me. We hear so many stories to the contrary so it was nice to feel so safe and to have such a positive experience.

I'm from East Sussex but left there at 18. It was after this that I took up cycling so unusually I have never really ridden the roads and lanes of my own home county. I have surprisingly never ridden the 35 mile round trip from my former home up and over the much talked about Ditchling Beacon. Ditchling Beacon, known and dreaded by those thousands of riders who take part in the annual British Heart Foundation London to Brighton bike ride.

Making an early morning start I set off via the quiet country lanes; Isfield, Barcombe, Plumpton...Ditchling. Approaching the foot of the Beacon I had the same sensation as the first time I ever rode Alpe d'Huez; a rushing recall of all the horror stories I'd ever heard about the climb and how once I heard it called 'the green monster of the South Downs'... The climb is roughly 1km at around 12% and I have to say that it was not easy at all. After about 7 minutes I eased off anticipating the sighting of the resident ice cream van only to find that it was a false summit...on and up again... To my disappointment I was too early for a 99, the Whippy van was not yet there, I did however get the reward of an amazing view of the sunrise over the sea, beautiful.

My experience was that I found the climb very close to an Alpine ascent in terms of its unrelentless gradient, it was tough. We are very often asked by newcomers to riding in the Alps how to train for the climbs here and what to expect. Our response is that the most difficult thing to replicate when training in the UK is the sheer length of Alpine climbs. This is true of Ditchling Beacon, too short to really resemble an Alpine climb, however...hill reps on Ditchling Beacon would have you getting a good feel for the riding out here. There's an idea for all you masochists out there!


Dauphine Libere pro race coming to Alpe d'Huez in 2010

Fri 16 Oct 2009 14:16 BST
June 12th 2010 is the day....should be a good indicator of form ahead of the Tour de France....

Interesting little article on what impact weight has on climbing the Alpe d'Huez...

Fri 11 Sep 2009 18:19 BST

Monday, 22 November 2010

Something on YouTube that I think all KOM News readers might like...

Fri 14 Aug 2009 07:50 BST


Tue 28 Jul 2009 11:43 BST

As a twist on the usual Alpe d'Huez hill climbs, a group of us from the chalet did the inaugural hill climb event from Bourg d'Oisans to Maronne yesterday - an 11km climb, taking in the first 5 hairpins of Alpe d'Huez to La Garde, then right towards the balcony road, followed by a sharp left from Armentier le Haut to Maronne, a beautiful, secluded spot that links to the Alpe d'Huez ski area in winter - a real hidden gem!

Our guest Greg was on the podium and Helyn was first lady too! James too, was doing his first ever Alpine event and enjoyed his day thoroughly. I was deep in mid-table obscurity as usual but very happy to see somewhere new!

See pics attached.

PS: Alpe d'Huez triathlon takes place tomorrow (long course) and Thursday (sprint) so that should be fun.

Bike journos come to stay

Mon 27 Jul 2009 22:46 BST

We had a few super-versatile journalists here to stay for one night only the other night. Stu Bowers and Hannah Reynolds from Cycling Weekly and Ben Smith from MBR, along with freelance photographer Rupert Fowler. They had all been out for the Megavalanche race in Alpe d'Huez (from the top of the glacier to the valley (including the snowy bits)) and had all done well there (and avoided serious injury) and were just tacking on a little "Road v MTB downhill" feature, using the Alpe d'Huez, les Deux Alpes and our local hill, the col d'Ornon.

These guys are some of the most versatile cyclists I know. Stu in particular competes nationally on a XC mountain bike and a cyclocross bike, did a 7 hour Marmotte time last year and is also happy lining up for downhill races like the Megavalanche!

The challenge was to race a road bike (on the road of course), ridden by Stu, against a downhill MTB (on trails). The feature will be in MBR at some point in the future. "Roo" got some great snaps (see panel) too.

We look forward to seeing them here again soon.


King of the Mountains Triathlon

Fri 26 Jun 2009 17:15 BST

The inaugural King of the Mountains Triathlon (or 'TriKOTM') took place on Wednesday. It was not quite IronMan in size or organisation nor rivaling Kona in number of participants, in fact, there were only 3 of us taking part!

Glenn, in training for Challenge Roth (Iron Man distance triathlon) in a couple of weeks, came up with the idea. His enthusiasm had Guy and readily agreeing and consequently hunting around in the loft for our old tri kit that hasn't seen the light of day since around 2004.

There is a beautiful swimming lake 20km from here so we based the swim, bike and run from there. The idea was to be as sociable as possible, so, with that in mind, the first person to finish each of the 3 disciplines had to turn back and finish that particular leg with the back marker person. It all worked out well with some very relaxed transitions and chat along the way.

The best transition in my opinion was the third - the restaurant stop at the lake where we polished off beer, chips and ice cream - the food of champions!

We really enjoyed our mini triathlon and plan to repeat it very soon. It's even set us to thinking about taking part in the Alpe d'Huez Triathlon in a couple of months....(

Good luck to Glenn on the 10th July, let's hope the TriKOTM has set you up for a good race in Germany!


Silverware for Team King of the Mountains!

Mon 22 Jun 2009 13:00 BST

Early on Saturday morning 6 riders from King of the Mountains rode the cyclo-randonnee 'Jacob Dubois'.

Claire, Simon, Dan, Glen, Guy and myself all signed up for the middle distance route of 117km (the other choices were 70km or 130km).

The circuit started at the foot of the Vercors mountains, famous for being a stronghold of the French Resistance during the second world war, and then took us all into the heart of the mountains via some amazing roads carved into the rock and following the contours of stunning gorges and rivers.

There was a lot of evidence of the Resistance in monuments, graves and plaques on various buildings that had served as bases for Resistance fighters. The local cycle club who were hosting the event and manning the feed stations were keen to tell us that one of the villages we were due to pass through (Malleval) had been cut off and suffered many casualties during a battle in January 1944, apparently the British came to aid them by parachuting more arms to the Resistance fighters. That's one of the things I love the most about these events; to witness the pride the locals have in their area and its' heritage - not only do you discover new areas and roads to ride, but you often also come away with some gems of local information too.

Knowing that the overall height gain of our ride was due to be around 1250 metres, it was quite disconcerting to ride the first 50km on virtually flat roads and cycle paths along the Isere river. We knew too that the last 15km were all downhill, so that meant only one thing - a big lump in the middle! Not long after the first feed station we found our 'lump' and started clocking up the height gain on the cols du Mont Noir and Romeyere, the road just didn't stop going up! But, as they say, what goes up must come down and we were rewarded with some beautiful descents and areas of plateau.

Guy and I added a small optional loop to the ride which took us over the col de Herbouilly where in winter the road becomes cross country ski pistes. The Vercors is also an area famous for its great cross country ski traditon with a lot of the French team living in the environs.

By the time we got to the finish we were really looking forward to our buffet meal. What we weren't anticipating was to find the rest of 'Team King of the Mountains' loaded down with 2 trophies! Claire and Simon had won one for being the youngest couple riding and the other bit of silverware was for registering the biggest team of the day. We duly drank some sparkling wine from the cup in celebration of 'Team King of the Mountains' being the largest representative group of riders. The organisers seemed delighted and proud to be welcoming riders all the way from the UK, and were ecstatic to find that Glen was from New Zealand - we really should have won a trophy for the furthest traveled team too!


Criterium du Dauphine Libere 2009

Fri 12 Jun 2009 08:10 BST

This is a pro bike race, and despite the name, it is actually a week-long stage race, not unlike a mini Tour de France. And, because the organisers, backed by the larget local newspaper, are bright thinkers and cycling-savvy, they wait until the Tour de France organisers announce their route (in the October prior to the following July) before announcing theirs. This allows them to then include various key climbs that the big boy's race will use, as well as similar time trial (TT) courses. The end result is; all the teams and riders who want to do well at the Tour de France turn up at this little race for last minute preparation. And it's always on our doorstep.

So, having a little gap between guests, we packed up a bit of camping stuff, the bikes and some swimming trunks and headed over to take a look at the TT stage which was due to take place in the (beautiful) countryside east of Valence. Helyn, organised as ever, had found a great little campsite (with a pool) really close to the route and had printed out maps and times for the riders' passage, as well as a couple of baby cols for us to ride en route too!

We left home about ten and were at the campste by twelve and one thebikes by one. Up over the cols du Tourniol ( a beauty) and Limouches (easier) and popped out onto the TT route near a village called Charpey. The riders were on a slight uphill and really close by too, so we took lots of pics. Click on the link to have a look:

Criteruim du Dauphine Libere 2009 photos in our web gallery

We then rode through stunning scenery back to the campsite, hopped in the pool to cool off, then ate a huge bowl or red pasta and promptly fell asleep. Luckily, we'd remembered to order croissants and bread which were delivered by a suitably portly baker (it's always reassuring to see people who make food enjoying their own work), so we ate heartily before heading over to take a look at Pont en Royans, a beautiful little town right on the edge of the Vercors, a mass of house perched above a river on rock faces - stunning. And we saw it at a great time of year - it has "tourist trap" written all over it come July and August!.

Back home to reality via the supermarket. Good news: we have my favourite cyclo randonee this weekend in the Chartreuse (the BRC it's called) so we'll be back on our bikes soon enough!.

Happy riding

Guy & Helyn

'Giving up is not an option'...

Fri 05 Jun 2009 22:32 BST

That is the motto of the 'Alpe d'HuZez' challenge which took part yesterday. I have not misspelled the name of the famous climb, this is a Dutch play on words as 'zes' means six.

Six was a very significant number to over 1,250 riders yesterday who aimed to ride the Alpe d'Huez up to 6 times in one day. You may ask yourself what on earth would motivate so many people to do such a thing, I know that I'd find it physically and mentally destroying. Their motivation involved the number six again - to raise 6 million Euros for charity in the fight against cancer. Last night the total was a little over 5 million and creeping closer to the target.

We had a team of 8 Dutch riders and 3 supporters here these past few days from 'Team Eneco'. The team of 8 had together raised 40 thousand Euros towards the overall target. What we found the most astonishing about the team was that some members were new to cycling and some were not even regular cyclists at all, most of them had never even seen the Alpe d'Huez before.

An optional 5am start time and a last ascent time of 8pm meant it was a long day for the team of 8; Willy, Anna Loes, Joris, Jorg, Martjin, Remko, Ronald and Freddy.

We headed up in the van mid morning stocked up with oranges, bananas, Coke, water, etc. and watched in awe as the riders came by again, and again and again....all day long.

What amazed us most was amongst the determination and resolve there was a constant cheerfulness and positivity among the riders, pretty much without exception. We were also amazed to see some people choosing to take up the challenge on foot with quite a number of people running. The supporters were equally as energetic, especially on hairpin 7 known as 'Dutch Corner' - there was one big party going on there all day long, even someone dressed in a giant, orange lion suit in 30 degrees C!

From our hairpin 4 vantage point we also got a lesson in excellent event organisation; mechanical assistance on quad bikes, medical assistance on the road, massage at summit and foot of the climb, isotonic drink on tap, kit transport between the top and bottom, bus shuttles for supporters and riders who did not want to descend, motorbike outriders and marshals warning of oncoming traffic, timing chips with live feed to the internet site, the list goes on - it seemed like the number of organisers equaled the riders.

Team Eneco completed 37 ascents in total; 3 x 6 ascents, 1 x 5, 2 x 4 and 2 x 3 and everyone was thrilled with their achievements if a little tired. Well done all!

For more information on the event visit:

And for our photos visit our on-line album: Click here


Challenge Dauphine Libere 2009

Sun 31 May 2009 22:03 BST

We all trooped over to the Vercors yesterday for the annual season-opener which is the Challenge Dauphine Libere sportive - a choice of 3 distances (66km, 123 km or 173km) over some of the most beautiful countryside in France. Whilst not Alpine in terms of it's topography, it's certainly not flat. The longer course of the three included no less than 9 cols!
We were a group of seven from here - Nick and Vicky, John and Neil training for the Marmotte and Tony, David and myself out for a good day out. We certainly had that. We met up with "locals" Russell (of Grenoble Cycling Pages fame) and Ed, who lives very close by in the Vercors.

The start venue was Autrans this year (it alternates between Autrans, Villard de Lans and Lans en Vercors every 2 years) and for the first 40km, all the riders are on the same route. The race then splits again at around 75km.

I had only ever done the 123km route before, so (despite not riding all that much this year) I plumped for the 173km and rode most of the way with Russell and latterly with Nick too.

The highlights for me were: scenery, weather, route. The lowlights: pain and suffering, largely on the aptly named col de la Machine.

Russell, ever the pro, managed to film, ride comfortably within himself and chat happily. He was on great form. Respect due - his video diary is online on Vimeo at: and I feature heavily!

Nick had suffered like me and towed me back to base for the last 30km (I thank you), Vicky had had a tough day too and the wiser group who chose the 123km route were happily back in the refreshments tent drinking wine when we finished. So they had definitely had a good day.

More events coming soon (I'm particularly looking forward to the BRC randonnee on the 13th June (in the ever-beautiful Chartreuse)) and the weekly Alpe d'Huez TTs, so I'd better get out and ride a bit!

Happy summer riding everyone....


Col du Glandon open!

Thu 21 May 2009 20:26 BST

Good news. The col du Glandon officially opened today.

The col du Galibier is, I am afraid, still very much snowbound for the time being though.

Happy days.

Guy & Helyn

Giving in to temptation and tempting fate...

Sun 17 May 2009 16:37 BST

The call of the Col de la Croix de Fer has been strong since it re-opened last Wednesday. Work and wet weather since then had kept me from thinking too much about the re-opening of my favourite ride in the area.

Yesterday we woke to a beautiful morning. The trees behind the house are now in full leaf and there was just a dusting of fresh snow on the higher peaks contrasting brilliantly against the deep blue sky. It was all so new and fresh, it felt like the first time I ever set eyes upon it here. After the monochrome months of winter, I hanker for the return of colour in the form of foliage and flowers and yesterday was as vibrant as I have ever seen it up in our valley.

Both Guy and I had a full day ahead of us preparing for the arrival of 7 guests on Sunday morning, but it didn't take much to convince Guy to down tools and swap power drill for bicycle, and I was more than happy to quit the ironing board and hoover!

My only reservation was the date, 16th May. Call me superstitious, but not long after we moved here I rode the Col de la Croix de Fer on the very same date and it was without doubt the coldest I have ever been on a ride, and, the only occasion in my life that I have hated being on my bike. Time is apparently a great healer and normally softens the memories of a hard day out in the saddle. However, in the case of 16th May 2005, I can still vividly recall the headwind, rain, sleet becoming snow, snow becoming blizzard that I foolishly rode into. I was badly kitted out too - a tiny rain cape, no overshoes and not much in the way of warm kit. I am not too proud to admit that I cried all the way from the top down to Le Rivier d'Allemont where at last I got 'phone reception and unclenching my hypothermic fingers called Guy for a rescue. I will always be grateful to the owner of the hotel in this little village; he bustled me into his lounge (where, to my surprise, there were two enormous Belgian riders in the same state as me - maybe without the tears!). He sat us all in front of his log fire, took our wet jackets to dry and gave us each a fresh towel and a hot chocolate. He put a cover on the sofa to guard against our wet and muddy chamois and even put the Giro d'Italia on the TV for us. I assumed this level of care and understanding of our state must be borne from the fact that he too was a cyclist - when I asked the question he replied 'you must be joking, I'm not that daft'. He had a point! Exactly a year later we returned (by car) and took him a cake and a bottle of wine as a belated 'thank you'. Not surprisingly he did not need reminding of who I was and that day, and not surprisingly he still had not taken up cycling!

Anyway, that's old news. May 16th 2009 could not have been more different. We were so basked in sun that we took our time at the top, took some photos, chatted to some walkers and other cyclists and then freewheeled down to the summit of the Glandon to take in the views of Mont Blanc and generally enjoy the sun on our backs. There was surprising very little residual snow around, the new grass was dotted with hundreds of colourful flowers and cavorting marmottes and not a snowflake in sight!

For photos of our ride visit our Picasa album (click here)


Liberté, égalité, cup of thé

Fri 15 May 2009 08:16 BST

Now, this is BIG news. Despite heavy skepticism on the part of the French towards all things British when it comes to food, Helyn has been asked for a cake recipe by the local baker/patissier. It was a particularly fine coffee and walnut cake that we proferred to the baker's wife when she was passing the other day!

Acceptance at last......


Col de la Croix de Fer open for summer!

Wed 13 May 2009 10:06 BST

Great news, col baggers. The col de la Croix de Fer opened for the first time here today (with the col du Glandon remaining closed for the time being).

This links the Romanche valley with the Maurienne valley, and is the pass used on the first section of the Marmotte cyclosportive. So, summer is finally here!

Guy & Helyn

Timing chips are go!

Mon 11 May 2009 19:55 BST

The transceivers for the 'Timtoo' timing chips have now gone live for 2009 for the Alpe d'Huez climb.

The timing chips are available for hire either at the kiosk in the car park at the foot of the climb itself (just off the roundabout), or from the tourist office in Bourg d'Oisans.

The transceivers detect the passing of a rider with a chip in his or her jersey pocket - they record from the very base of the climb, give a split time level with the Alpe d'Huez tourist office ('vieil Alpe') and a final time at the official tour finish ('mythique'). The times are then registered on the Timtoo website:Timtoo results page link.

King of the Mountains owns a couple of these chips (results for guests using our chips are listed under club name 'King of the Mountains'). Today we sent a couple of willing volunteers up the 21 hairpins to check that our chips are working correctly and we can confirm that - timing chips are GO!


Randonnée de Belledonne

Sun 10 May 2009 17:01 BST

Yesterday was the second time that we have ridden the 'Randonnée de Belledonne' and it has now established itself as one of my favourite events in our area.

It's a great time of year to ride in the Alps, not only because of the perfect riding conditions (around 17 to 20 degrees C), but also because it's just at that time in spring when everything is at its' best. We were treated to beautiful blossom, flowers, an abundance of green foliage and content looking 'picture postcard' cows grazing in lush pastures.

The route (route map and profile.) gives great views of the plain around Grenoble (surprisingly, the flattest city in France) and also uninterrupted views of the length of the Vercors mountain range.

The only disappointment of the day were the feed stations which had been great last year and always act as my 'carrot on a stick'. Unfortunately this year nothing much was on offer but plates of crumbs - had we missed a passing plague of locusts? Fortunately the second feed station of the day, which was equally as barren as the first, was next to a restaurant with a sunny terrace. An emergency omelette pit stop to fuel us for the final and biggest climb of the day, up to the ski resort of Chamrousse.

This year there was slightly more snow hanging about at this the highest point of the ride (1,700 metres). The climb to the resort (we rode from the south side) is fairly steady averaging 4-5% for the first few kms and then a slightly steeper section of 6-7%. The reward is an exhilarating 18km descent down to Uriage (passing close to the Col de Luitel) on perfectly surfaced roads.

Dan and Will banked a valuable 110kms and 2,300 metres of climbing towards their Marmotte cyclosportive training, and our friend Colette enjoyed her longest ride and first organised cycling event in nearly 4 years. Everyone came back home on a high in time for the Giro d'Italia team time trial and Cavendish pulling on the pink jersey.


The King of the Mountains season has begun!

Fri 08 May 2009 14:56 BST

Our first guests of summer 2009 arrived yesterday, Dan and Will. Dan and Will have been our traditional 'season openers' for the last 3 years, and Dan was one of the first arrivals to King of the Mountains just after we set up.

Both are in training for the Marmotte cyclosportive this July, so after their arrival yesterday (and the unveiling of Will's new bike), they set off and took the Villard Reculas 'balcony' road that takes you to the Alpe d'Huez. Today another balcony ride is scheduled and then tomorrow we are all off to ride a cyclorandonne that takes place in the nearby 'Belldonne' mountains. The weather is due to be good and the route spectacular, all good training miles and most importantly hills ahead of July.

This morning Guy and I received our French Cyclosportive licenses. Delivered in a 'drive by' by the effervescent and excitable Roger Gilly. Roger owns a fantastic patisserie/chocolaterie in Bourg d'Oisans and bears the physical signs of a man who appreciates his own work! He loves the bike and is passionate about supporting and promoting road cycling in our area. He heads up the local cyclists union here, and when he's not riding himself he can be found driving support cars and marshaling at local events. He has picked up a bit of English here and there and has the habit of offering unusual cries of support whenever I'm participating: 'I love you' and 'God save the Queen' amongst his favourites!

Earlier this week we knocked off early from the DIY and set off for a walk to a nearby mountain hut. The hut is (in theory) only a 2 hour walk from here but not marked on any map, therefore we had to rely on snippets of local knowledge and our own instinct. All I can say is that it's a good thing that we run cycling holidays and not walking holidays (for more evidence to back this up see 'Lost In France' from back in September '06)! The party of two (Guy and I) split somewhere in the woods (geographically and nearly as a couple!), leaving Guy to eventually navigate his way to the hut, and me almost crag-fast and left with an unseemly scramble back down to the road. We have now located the official path so will attempt a much more direct ascent at a later date.

The morning after the walk and his yomp back down the hill, Guy had really stiff legs and could barely make it down the stairs - not ideal for a 130km, hilly bike ride, but that's exactly what we embarked upon. Along with our neighbour Yves, we rode a lovely randonnee near Vienne amongst blossoming fruit trees and the vineyards that border the river Rhone. Naturally then there was plenty of 'Cotes du Rhone' red flowing at the feed stations and at the post-ride meal - brings a new angle to a recovery drink!

The final bit of news this week is the finale of Guy's mountain bike project (see photo top left). Over the last few weeks Guy has been building up a bike from existing spares, eBay purchases and generous gifts. The bike had her maiden voyage around the trails of Bourg d'Oisans yesterday evening, and after a few 'tweaks' is off road somewhere on the Col d'Ornon as I type...


April Showers in Provence

Tue 28 Apr 2009 14:06 BST

We spent the weekend in Provence, near the foot of Mont Ventoux, to celebrate Guy's birthday (39th). Found a great campsite with the most luxurious and hottest showers I've ever encountered outside of a hotel, marvelous. The shower block itself was about 30 degrees, it was tempting not to abandon our pitch and to sleep in there instead!

On our arrival on Friday evening, the top of the 'Giant of Provence' was veiled in a heavy grey cloud, not promising. The following day the Ventoux summit was clear, but we were surprised to see that there was still a fair bit of snow laying about in pockets. The treeless, white rock summit can sometimes look snowy from a distance even at the height of summer, but this was the real thing! It didn't take long to make the decision not to ride up there on such a chilly and blustery day. We know from past experience that if there's even a light breeze on the flat, at the top of Ventoux that is amplified into howling winds that do their very best to blow you off the bike!

So, we stayed low, Guy found a great area for an explore; the 'Dentelles de Montmirail' (see photo top left). The 'Dentelles' are a chain of rock formations in forested lowland, where the woods are punctuated by lots of neat little vineyards. The road in places was a bit more mountain bike than road bike, but we had a beautiful ride nonetheless (despite the lack of tarmac and the rocky surface we remained puncture free - then back on the main road, ripped a brand new Continental to shreds on a 'discarded' glass bottle, ouch!).

My spirits were lifted after the puncture repair by a much better reason to stop at the side of the road - a 'fruity pit stop' as Guy called it! Local strawberries for sale by the punnet, ripe and warm from the sun and full of flavour - just the thing to keep us fueled up before we rolled back into Malaucene, up and over the lovely little Col de Madeleine and on back to the campsite for a slap-up tea on the camping stove and a boiling hot shower.

Sadly Sunday was a washout, even the local vintage tractor rally looked to have been canceled due to rain. The rival event, the 'asparagus fair', didn't really grab us, so we trundled back home to the village where the rain was clearing up and a beautiful rainbow welcomed us back to the Col d'Ornon.

For some photos of the trip (including mouthwatering strawberries!) see our photo album: Click here.


Spring news

Fri 24 Apr 2009 08:54 BST

Well, sorry everyone for the lack of updates. It won't be so long next time....

Breaking news:

All the snow in the village has now melted.

The cross country skis have been put away for the season. It was good. See you next December.

Helyn has been up Alpe d'Huez on her bike and generally riding a fair bit of late (I was away working for a bit so she filled the void!). I have been taking it steady and not riding SO much but getting back into it gently now. Lots of flat stuff to ease me in, so to speak.

I have fitted a load of new windows on the ground floor (someone appears to have turned down the volume on the stream!). They look lovely (and actually open and close well too!).

Au Cadre Rouge (our favourite little bike shop here in Bourg d'Oisans) run by our pal Jean-Charles has some new rental bikes (and they're carbon!), whch is good news. See photo alongside (we had to coax him into posing for us).

We've also been doing a few cyclo randonnees, which have been lovely. At 7 euros for a beautiful route, 3 feed stations and a slap-up meal on your return, I'd say they are also quite good value!

Helyn has been demo-ing new cakes (the macaroons were, I can assure you, a triumph). Look out for those coming to your table soon.

I'll do more blog posting - I promise.


PS: I have been busy putting together a hardtail mountain bike too, so looking forward to doing a bit more of that this summer. I found an old steel frame and bought a good fork on eBay and am now just cobbling together a few other bits and pieces and I'll be on my way.

PPS: Off to Ventoux this weekend for some sunshine, riding and birthday celebration!

Alpe d'Huez 2009

Thu 26 Mar 2009 19:11 GMT

Popped into Bourg d'Oisans today to the supermarket. Just a few things needed and nothing too heavy so I decided to ride in.

(Top tip for anyone wanting to ride Alpe d'Huez but needs to lighten their load of kit/rucksack, etc. before they climb: In the entrance to the large Casino supermarket [just before roundabout at foot of climb], there are 20 or so lockers where you can leave your stuff. These lockers take a 2 Euro coin which, on returning to collect your kit, can then be used to buy Coke and cakes!)

It was nice to get outside as the last couple of days have been snowy with gale force winds. Today could not have been more different; the new snowfall had already melted and it was sunny and warm.

I had it in the back of my mind to ride some or all of the Alpe d'Huez climb. It would be the first time this year, in fact, the first time since around October '08.

I am by no means complacent about the climb or about having it on our doorstep, however, over this winter the road snaking up the mountain has just become an impressive backdrop to my trips to Bourg d'Oisans for shopping, etc. Now, approaching on the bike again, I felt a little apprehensive, so much so that at the last moment I swung hard left and did a further few kilometres in the valley kidding myself that it was all good 'warm up'. On my second approach I went for it! Well, sort of.

By hairpin 21 I was painfully (and I mean painfully) aware of the chasm of fitness that needs to be bridged to get me back to last season's form. By hairpin 20 I had already checked 2 or 3 times that I wasn't still in the big ring, it certainly felt like I was. By hairpin 19 I was starting to enjoy myself - but not that much as at hairpin 18 I did a U-turn and enjoyed the descent back to Bourg. Well, it will still be there tomorrow...


Open All Hours...sometimes

Mon 23 Mar 2009 17:24 GMT

I have spent all of this morning and early afternoon in the office doing King of the Mountains admin'. All that remained to tie up the paperwork was a quick trip to the Post Office and bank.

Guy has the minibus all day today so my only form of transport was my bike. I don't often need much of an excuse to ride my bike and usually jump at the chance. Today however my ride to Bourg d'Oisans was hampered by very strong and very cold winds. My aerodynamics weren't helped much by my rucksack bulging with letters, parcels and paperwork.

Fortunately by the time I got into town the wind had abated and it was much warmer. Unfortunately, I had forgotten that the bank is always shut on a Monday. Next stop the Post Office. Ah, the Post Office: 'Fermeture Exceptionelle'. Roughly translated this means 'Closed due to exceptional circumstances'. Unluckily for me, these exceptional circumstances had happened only 5 minutes before my arrival at their door.

I really hope that the phrase ''fermeture exceptionelle' is included in every French phrasebook ever printed, because a visitor to France - even on a day trip - is bound to come across it at least once. Customers (or should I say would be customers) are informed of a fermeture exceptionelle by a note taped to the door or window of the establishment. Sometimes these notices are not even printed, just a hastily scribbled couple of lines on the back of an envelope that may as well read 'we fancied the afternoon off'.You may be surprised to find out that the fermeture exceptionelle is not exclusive to small, family run or rural business, no! The fermeture exceptionelle can happen at even the largest of supermarkets, DIY shops, public buildings, sports facilities, etc. etc.

By now I should have become hardened to these little A4 notes, however, each time I see one and my shopping or admin' is thwarted I get just that little bit more up tight and angry. So, today it took a lot for me not to start jumping up and down and pulling at my hair like Basil Fawlty in Bourg d'Oisans high street. Instead, I hopped back on my bike and pedaled furiously to Allemont (just down the valley, after the right turn to the Croix de Fer and Glandon). Unusually, Allemont post office closes at midday every day and does not re-open until 8am the next morning - cue Basil Fawlty.

By this time the sun was out and I decided it was time to salvage my afternoon. I carried on riding (still carrying my backpack of letters) and did a 'tour de barrage'. This is a little loop of the lake at Allemont favoured by our cycling neighbours at this time of year because it's nice and gentle and only a 40km round trip. It was lovely, very peaceful and lots of beautiful primroses and catkins in full bloom. The second time today my heart rate was raised, but this time for good reasons!

Thankfully for my 'anger management', France has lots more in the way of beautiful road riding than it does 'fermeture exceptionelles'!