Saturday, 1 December 2012

Marmotte entries open for 2013

Go to the site ASAP if you need a spot for next July.


Friday, 30 November 2012

White-out in the village

We had a very early show of snow this year at the end of October, it soon melted, though the big cols; Galibier, Croix de Fer and Glandon shut and have not re-opened since.

Winter has started in earnest now though; there was a big snowfall on Tuesday night/Wednesday. We get the feeling that this heralds the start of snow proper and the end of vehicular access in the village until April time. Keeps us fit lugging shopping bags down from the main road (and stops any heavy or impulse purchasing!), not to mention the snow shovelling!

We are well prepared this winter with a good stack of firewood and lots of firelighters (I'm no Ray Mears when it comes to fire lighting!).

The garden today
So, with the cols closed, and the bikes in the shed, our efforts turn elsewhere. I have been doing a bit of running of late and have entered a running race in the snow that takes place on 8th December. Last year I was the last lady in the field with a handful of octogenarian blokes behind me! Hopefully this year I can make an improvement on that - I'll settle for second to last lady!

Guy is off to Alpe d'Huez tomorrow afternoon for his first cross country ski of this winter. He's pretty excited and is waxing the skis in the workshop as I type. It's going to be a cold one at that altitude tomorrow; -9 and down to -12 with wind-chill. Still, it will be sunny and that makes all the difference. Guy was E-mailed the above photo of a freshly groomed piste up there by a neighbour who he will be skiing with tomorrow - as if he needed a carrot on a stick! He has already been glued to the biathlon on the TV and I get the feeling winter and the return to cross country skiing could not have come sooner for him!

Sunday, 28 October 2012

Col de Sarenne

On Tuesday it was about +19'C and the autumn colours were magnificent, so I chose to ride where I could make the most of these conditions; I rode the Col de Sarenne.

If you've never heard of or ridden this col before, then you'll get a chance to see it in the Tour de France on 18th July 2013. The view on that day will be very different I'm sure. For a start, on Tuesday I didn't see another cyclist on the road and there were only 2 cars that came past me. In July I imagine that there will be a fair few fans and camper vans lining the hairpins, on Tuesday the only living things that I saw at the side of the road were a few grazing sheep and basking lizards.

I rode the climb in the opposite direction to that which the Tour will take next year, this is a tough way to approach it (average 7.5%), but very rewarding for the views. In July it will be ridden as a descent from Alpe d'Huez 'sandwiched' between the second Alpe d'Huez ascent and stage finish.

You may be able to see from the photographs that the road surface for a fair proportion is pretty rough with a good bit of gravel here and there. This roughness has come about during many winters when it's under a lot of snow that makes up part of the Alpe d'Huez ski runs. The col in winter has a reputaion too: the 'Sarenne' run lays claim to being the longest black run in Europe, 16km. Unlike the town and resort of Alpe d'Huez however, once you get to the Sarenne, there is not a hotel, ski lift or snack bar in sight. It's a really wild and desolate place with only a few houses scattered here and there (such as the house pictured here with the big rock nudged up next to it!).

Local cyclists are all hoping that the passage of the Tour will herald a new, smooth layer of Tarmac, though part of me thinks that this may lose it some of its' wild charm!


Saturday, 27 October 2012

Triple bypass - for my bike!

As if by magic and with no training or effort, I feel fitter, younger and can ride up hills with more ease than ever before!

What's my secret? No, this is not yet another admission to doping. My secret is that I now have a triple chainset!

This is all thanks to Kevin, who some of you may have met here in September. As well as all the other help Kevin (and Brioni) were giving us, Kevin very kindly worked away on my grubby, neglected bike, fitting a whole new groupset (including a gold chain - more 'bling' than Mr T now!).

This was all done without my knowledge so I was bowled over when I got my bike out of the workshop for a quick spin a few days after the 'triple bypass' had been performed.

What a difference it has made. I have to ask myself why I didn't do it years ago!

Thank you Kevin from the bottom of my heart - and my legs!


Thursday, 25 October 2012

The Tour 2013 to pass our door

The rumours are true! Stage 18 (18th July), Gap to Alpe d'Huez, includes the Col d'Ornon which will see the riders coming by our door. The last time the peloton came past the village was in 2002, just before we moved here, so we're really excited! Link to stage 18 information

So, those camping out on Alpe d'Huez that day will get two for the price of one, not such good news for the riders I imagine!

Wednesday, 25 July 2012

Tour de France 2013 rumours

Strong rumours abound for next year's Tour de France route. Col d'Ornon followed by climb 1 of Alpe d'Huez, a descent of the col de Sarenne, then round for a summit finish on Alpe d'Huez. Twice in a day....
Source: Dauphine Libere

Thursday, 12 July 2012

The Tour is in town!

What an entertaining Tour it has been so far!

Yesterday we all headed up the Col de La Croix de Fer and turned left for the summit of the Glandon. 

The idea was to position ourselves somewhere on the last kilometre of the Glandon climb to see the riders at a reasonable pace, hopefully strung out and maybe even suffering a little! We were not disappointed! 

The pros were not the only ones suffering; after two and a half months off the bike, I was relying heavily on 'muscle memory' to get me up the climb. It was soon evident that the muscles had long forgotten how to suffer (my backside had amnesia too!). A tough return after so long out of the saddle, but this is about one of my favourite climbs in the area so I was delighted to be plodding up it again!

There was a great atmosphere as usual. Lots of British and Australians in the crowds this year, some comedy costumes, camper vans and road painting - a show in itself even before the riders arrive!

The helicopters too added to the electric atmosphere, announcing the imminent arrival of the peloton by swooping up the climb and hovering above hairpins to get those great TV images. You know you've climbed some when the helicopters are below you!

Home to dinner and to watch the highlights on TV. We were all a bit disappointed to see that we had been edited out of the coverage!

Another great day in the Alps!

A few other photos in our gallery (click here).


Sunday, 3 June 2012

Galibier and Glandon open!

Col du Galibier is open to the road tunnel and the Col du Glandon just opened today. Good news.

Saturday, 12 May 2012

Sunday, 1 April 2012

Three beds free for La Marmotte

Due to a cancellation we have 3 beds free for the Marmotte.

Monday, 26 March 2012

Plans for Flanders flounder.....

We've had a busy week here starting with a trip to Cassis last weekend where Guy took part in a mountain bike event. It was pretty warm on the south coast, touching 20'C. A first outing for the flip flops and shorts this year, not to mention ice cream eating!

Whilst Guy got prepped up for his 30km event (prepping the bike that is, not himself - it was his first time on a bike since November!), I explored the coastal roads looking for a good viewpoint to watch the sun set. I found my spot and was justly rewarded (see photo), however, getting there wasn't so easy. The road to the headland seemed steep as I was climbing, but it was only on coming back down that I saw the 30% sign.....that explained why it felt so wobbly!

The good weather has caught us up here in the mountains now with a +20'C day on Saturday which was great. Riders out all over the roads now, some still more tentative than others to shed the winter layers. You can tell the softy valley boys apart as they are still in their balaclavas, whereas us altitude dwellers are already in shorts and short sleeved jerseys! Right now we have the best of both worlds as the morning cross country skiing in Alpe d'Huez is excellent too. It's not often we can ski and ride on consecutive days.

Although conditions here are perfect for my final training push for the Flanders sportive this Saturday, I have sadly decided that I can not make the journey. I've weighed it all up and it's a time consuming and expensive trip to make for one sportive, so I'm staying put and will watch it on the TV. It's still on my 'to do' list for the future though.

Best of luck to those of you riding on Saturday - enjoy!


Friday, 2 March 2012

Heatwave on the 21 haripins!

A lovely warm day here today, probably one of the warmest yet this year.

Guy had plans to cross country ski in Alpe d'Huez so I decided to ride up, meet him there and catch a lift back down (via the cake shop of course!). Normally, even on sunny days the descent can be chilly, hence my plan. Today however it would not have been a problem at all, it was easily +20'C and I saw one or two others coming down in shorts and short sleeved jerseys. I regretted my 'longs' all the way up!

Today I rode slowly, very slowly! But having said that, I certainly felt much fitter than I have in previous years thanks to my winter base of cross country skiing.

Not such a good outing for Guy though who found himself skiing in quite slushy conditions and getting very wet feet.

Only 3 1/2 months to the first Alpe d'Huez time trial of the year (21st June 2012) so I have plenty of time to improve on that speed!

Tuesday, 21 February 2012

Positively positive

This winter the cold and snow have wreaked more havoc than usual; frozen diesel, frozen pipes, frozen earlobes (badly fitting hat whilst cross country skiing plus windchill = frost nip and very red, puffy ear lobes for 2 days!). Even one of the local snowploughs ran off the road and got stuck on the Col d'Ornon, not something you see every day (photo right)!

After a couple of weeks of very cold temperatures here (daytime averages of about -15'C and as low as -23'C here in the village), the thermometer has finally crept into the positive zone. So far we have topped out at an impressive +10'C this week.

The sun was shining yesterday and the forecast in Grenoble was for highs of 5'C+. Time to get the bike out then! Sounds chilly but we have become a bit hardy this last fortnight! So, well wrapped up and sporting my new 'lobster' gloves (which have been a welcome revelation to my poor old digits), I set off with a neighbour on the cycle path.

Grenoble cycle path follows the Isere river for roughly 37km and it's pretty pan-flat save a few bridges, ideal for breaking yourself in gently. So, my riding account is now open with a 53km ride and 100m height gain, a nice, easy start.

Our regular cross country skiing this winter meant that the comeback was not nearly as tough as it has been in the past. It really has been great for staying bike fit; leg strength and cardiovascular fitness all pretty good, better than expected. When I come back to the bike after winter I usually get really sore shoulders and neck for the first few outings, I had none of that yesterday as the skiing and action of poling has even kept my upper body in reasonable strength too. Unfortunately, the painful bottom from 2 hours on the saddle has not been avoided though!


Monday, 6 February 2012

Hitch hikers guide to the Lignarre Valley...

Sometimes, despite all the preparation in the world, things just don't go to plan. Sunday was one of those days. Sometimes though this is not always a bad thing...

I was due to take part in a cross country ski race close to Gap. A 10am start on a 30km course, fairly hilly and technical, one of my favourite events of the year.

Temperatures have plummeted here this last week so the night before Guy kindly waxed my skis for cold snow conditions, good thing too, when I left the house at 7am it was -19'C. I had prepared a bag full of post-race clothes; fleeces, hats, scarves, gloves, woolly socks, the works. I had a flask of tea and a packet of biscuits too, I'd even put a neoprene sleeve on the tube of my Camelback in the hope of stopping it turning into a solid lump.

Around 11km into my trip I arrived in Le Perier, a wide, bowl-like part of the valley, a trap for cold air and consequently a few degrees cooler than at home, -22'C in fact. The minibus ground to a halt as the diesel froze up. I was able to start it up again and get to the next village, Entraigues, where I was hoping that a small uphill section would be enough to warm the engine up. Unfortunately it was still too cold. The point at which the ghost was finally given up was pretty precarious - just after a blind bend in the road. I was however able to make progress in reverse gear so re-traced my steps for about 600m to a car park where I knew the sun would reach later in the day (the plan worked as we recovered the van after midday and thankfully the diesel had thawed!).

Next thing was to put on every stitch of clothing that I had with me; the things I already had on plus my post-race kit; 2 pairs of socks, 2 pairs of trousers, 2 thermal base layers, one fleece, one down jacket, 2 woolly hats, 2 scarves... after donning this lot I emerged from the van looking every bit like Michelin Man. The Camelback pouch of isotonic drink was ditched in favour of making space for the flask and biscuits. Time to hitch a lift home. Trouble with being a Sunday + early morning + rural area + freezing cold day = not much traffic.

Finally, salvation came in the shape of a white transit van and a very chirpy driver. To my surprise there was no seat for passengers but I was happy to sit in the back on the boarded floor. Even happier when I realised that I had just hitched a lift with a 'boulanger' on his delivery round to the local villages. The inside of the van had an amazing aroma of freshly cooked bread, which it was - the driver/baker had got up at 3am himself to make it all. My perch was only a few feet away from some delicious looking cakes and pastries, the wobble of the custard slices had me in a trance all the way up the valley, I was in cake heaven!

It really was one of the most sociable and pleasant mornings I've spent in years. At each village the driver would sound his klaxon (not quite 'The Dukes of Hazard' but close!) and from the depths of each little hamlet people bundled in warm clothes would emerge for their Sunday treats. I realised that it's not just in England where the weather can be the first, and sometimes only, topic of conversation on brief meetings. On Sunday every single customer greeted us with a number that corresponded to the lowest temperature that they had registered on the garden thermometer - one lady even had thermometer in hand as proof! -26'C was the record and I can believe it.

So, as I waved goodbye to the baker in his van just a short stroll from home, I did so with a real spring in my step and smile on my face. I had had a smashing morning and met some really lovely people who live in our valley and it was only 9:45am, the cross country ski race had not even started yet!

Mind you, come lunch time I did feel a bit stupid when I realised that we had no bread for our sandwiches!

Friday, 3 February 2012

Different but the same

Ever wondered what the roads around here look like in the dead of winter, when the painting from The Tour is hidden beneath snow and ice and is being slowly eroded away by salt and constant grating of the snowploughs?

Here are a few telling images taken during the last week or so. The first is the road at Brunissard, that leads towards the Col de l'Izoard - where the climb really starts. At present it is pisted for snow shoe walkers and cross country skiers. Last Sunday I ventured a few hundred metres up the slope on my cross country skis but was not bold enough to take on the full extent of the climb to the Casse Deserte and on to the summit. The trouble with the skis is you don't have as many gears as you do on a bike! Maybe another day....

This next photo (right) is the Alpe d'Huez Tour finish. As you can see, a wall of snow on the pavements and all of the hotels full of skiers; a much livelier, if colder, place in the winter.

Finally, the Col du Lautaret (bottom right). Well, you can just about see it in the background there behind Guy. I took this on Tuesday afternoon from the warmth and comfort of our minibus. We were travelling home and this was the quickest route, though the highest at 2058m. Guy had to get out to de-ice the wipers en-route as the snow was freezing to the windscreen in a blizzard and foggy white-out.

The Alps are a different beast in winter in comparison to the summer months. It always amazes me that after such harsh and extreme conditions, the landscape, flora and fauna can recover so quickly and give us the brightly coloured, sunny scenes that us cyclists are more used to experiencing on these mountain roads.

Wednesday, 1 February 2012

La Traversée du Queyras

We popped over to the Queyras region for the weekend - just the other side of the col d'Izoard for you cycling fans - and I took part in a curtailed edition of the annual XC ski race there; it was 21km over a couple of loops near Arvieux (the hard bit on the Izoard on a bike). The full event is usually 50km so I got off lightly....maybe next year Helyn might want to do it? She is quite a bit tougher than me....

We were in the area to celebrate Helyn's birthday and, despite some patchy weather, we all enjoyed it - even little Alice. I skied with her for about 100m in my arms - and I think she liked it. I also thinks she likes watching bike races on TV and being held upside down, but that may just be fatherly wishful thinking....


Monday, 23 January 2012

It made us laugh...

Hope you enjoy it too.

Helyn & Guy

Foulée Blanche 2012 - un jour sans

The French use "un jour sans" - quite literally, "a day without" to describe a day when things don't quite go your way. Yesterday, for me, (Guy, that is) that was what happened.

The Foulée Blanche is the biggest cross country ski event in this part of the country - a week of races in all disciplines, attracting thousands of skiers to a beautiful part of the world - the Vercors. To those that don't know it, it is an elevated plateau sitting to the west and south of Grenoble and it is a delight to cyclists in summer and skiers (Alpine and Nordic) in winter.

My preparation had gone well - lots of long ski sessions on the col d'Ornon, at Chamrousse, even over at Superdevoluy. Add to that a bed for the night 10 minutes from the start with our friends Ed & Sandrine (as well as the invaluable advice of the super-experienced ski racer Ed) and I should have been set for a great day. The long course is 42km, starting on the plateau at Autrans before climbing to Geve and then swooping back down to the finish.

After glorious weather in the week preceding, heavy rain fell in the night and race day was damp and gloomy, with low cloud. No probs - same for everyone. I ate a leisurely breakfast then drove via the back road to the start, 100m from the action. That's when things started to unravel. I parked the van onto a hidden roadside drain hole and beached it. No probs - worry about that after the race Guy.

Race started; feeling good. All well. Until 13km in when my ski pole inexplicable snapped in two. Hmmm. I carried on ski-ing uphill to the Geve ski area (one-armed) where I felt sure someone might lend me a pole. No luck. So, I bailed out. I ski-ed back to the van; all downhill BUT I was forced to ski some unprepared tracks to avoid the head of the race, which I was keen not to disrupt! CRASH! I fell in deep, weat and heavy snow and landed with all my weight on top of my thumb. Hmmm. Painful. And wet. And cold.

Back to the van, changed into dry clothes and embarked on getting the van pulled out. 1 & 1/2 hours of wandering the streets, garages and farms of Autrans later, bombarded by shrugs, "je ne sais pas"s, "bof"s and similar, I finally found Johan, a pisteur with a pick-up truck and a length of cable. 10 mins later, I was out.

The day got better after that; I found a quiche to eat, I got a warm shower and a coffee back at Sandrine's and went to Grenoble airport to collect Helyn & Alice, who had popped back to the UK for the weekend. They were all smiles (Alice went mad, to be honest) and we drove off back to KOM towers for dinner and catch-up. All's well that ends well. Oh, I've got new poles now too - thanks Ed - and I'll be off to do the Traversee du Queyras next weekend to make up - in what has become our favourite little bit of la Belle France.

Thanks for reading.