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!