Monday, 31 March 2014

Alpe d'Huez 'balcony', a Sunday morning spin

Balcony road from Armentier
On Sunday morning, despite loosing an hour, I was up and out, bike prepped and rolling down the hill at 9am.

Once in the valley I headed towards the foot of Alpe d'Huez and rode the first 6 switchbacks to bend 16, here I took a right at the 'Restaurant La Sarenne'. This takes you on to a traverse that follows the Romanche valley via what we call a 'balcony' road. Of course, to access a balcony (unless you have the luxury of a lift), you usually have to climb some stairs!!   
Looking back towards Armentier

Maybe 'balcony' is a bit of a misnomer since the road climbs gently for a good way. The rewards are worth the climbing though. The road and Romanche river ribbon along the valley below and the cars look like Matchbox toys. Not a view welcomed by the vertigo sufferer, but it gives you a great sense of achievement and a real scale of the amount of climbing behind you.

Looking towards the Veneon Valley
The morning was slightly overcast but being south facing, any rays that did break through were very warming. Signs of the warmth and aspect were all around; an abundance of spring flowers, lizards basking on the road and the occasional butterfly. 

The descent is very enjoyable, a few technical bends as you approach La Freney and then plain sailing after joining the main road (D1091) that sweeps down from Briancon/the Galibier to Bourg d'Oisans.

A great start to the day and a marvellous excuse to have a big chocolate croissant once back in the valley!

'Bike Oisans' bike route including .gpx file


Tuesday, 25 March 2014

Last cross country ski race of 2014

When winter comes to our corner of the Alps, we pick up our cross country skis in place of the bikes. Cross country skiing is by far one of the toughest sports I've tried and one of the most technical too. It's a good way to keep up cardio-vascular fitness during snowy months.

This year I have taken part in a few cross country ski races. The events share a very similar atmosphere to cyclosportives.

Races give the opportunity to ski at different resorts and sometimes in areas that are not normally on the cross country ski itinerary; fields, roads and countryside pisted and prepared just for events. At some, snow is shipped into small village streets so that you can ski amongst the houses and farmsteads, it's really quite unique.

My second race of the winter, back in February, was in a stunning spot not far from here,Valgaudemar, a small valley similar to La Berarde (for those of you who have ridden that in summer). It was a difficult day weather-wise with fresh snow on the circuit and snow falling for the first half of the race. This made the field pretty small, only 19 people, including myself, in the line-up for the 30km event.

Skiing through the village of Valgaudemar
In that race I had a 'first'; a first in that I was last! The 'lanterne rouge' to put in in cycling terms! There were so few participants that despite being the last skier to cross the finish line, I still picked up a prize for coming second in my age group!

Sunday saw me setting off for one of the last events on the 2014 calendar; the 'Etoile des Saisies'. Up at 04h30 to start a stunning drive into the Savoie where, like here, spring is on the way. As I neared the resort of Les Saisies at 1600 metres, I was up in the snow-line and the scene looked altogether more wintry.

Sunday's snowy race conditions
The event had  a pretty big field with some serious racers at the front of the pack. The course had about 550 metres of climbing in each lap of 21km and wound through some beautiful tree-lined areas of the resort. On a clear day you get great views of Mont Blanc but the snow was too heavy to get even a glimpse on Sunday.

The first lady crossed the finish line having completed twice the distance that I had in half the time. I've got a long, long way to go to get to that sort of standard, but as they say, it's the taking part that counts!


Friday, 21 March 2014

First cyclo-randonnee of 2014

And for that matter, my first 'proper' outing of the season too!

Thursday afternoons are the new Sundays! A host of cyclo randonees take place on Thursdays in the local area to attract the many cyclists here of retirement age, in fact, next Thursday the name of the event is unashamedly 'Rando des Retraites' (Rando' of the Retired Folk!).

We are in the full throes of spring just now and it seems that every cyclist is back in the saddle. This is the time of year where Guy and I are spoilt for choice as there is still plenty of snow on the slopes of Alpe d'Huez to cross country ski too. Right now it would be very feasible to ride up Alpe d'Huez, ski, and ride back down again (OK, so there's the logistics of carrying skis on a bike....).

Yesterday I popped down to the outskirts of Grenoble for the 'Randonnee a Saint-Egreve'. Shorts, long sleeves, no overshoes and short fingered gloves a 'balmy' 19'C.

I know that in previous blog posts I have raved about the format of the French cyclo-randonnee, and forgive me for repeating myself, but for Eur 7 you could not get better value for money!

Yesterday offered the choice of 2 routes; 65km or 80km (I chose the shorter distance), all departing from a sports hall between 12h30 and 13h30. Both routes were pretty flat using the plain of Grenoble and some sections of the dedicated cycle path that runs along the Isère river. We were very quickly out of the city and in the heart of agricultural land that sits at the foot of the mountains, notably passing many walnut groves and lettuce plantations all hives of springtime activity. The directional arrows painted on the road for the event were so clear that you could take your mind off navigation and enjoy the scenery.

I took a moderately steady approach for my first ride of the season. That's the beauty of these events, you can choose your pace; there were a couple of triathletes who chose to use the 65km, flat circuit to train on the tri-bars and they left the rest of us for dust!

There is always a cheery, welcoming atmosphere at these events and the hosts, the local cycle clubs, love to showcase their part of the world and take a pride in finding the tiniest and quietest roads to make up the circuits. Yesterday at the feed station there was an unusual note of disquiet. I noticed a small row had broken out amongst a group of 2 local cycle clubs - what could be the cause for such harsh words as ' grand scandale' to be bandied about on such an idyllic day? Club rivalry maybe? No, the issue being hotly discussed was that one club group had ridden through a red light and the other club were worried that their actions would bring the name of the randonnee, of cycling and cylcists into disrepute. I have to say that after 10 years of cycle commuting in London, I found this rather 'quaint'! I filled up my water bottle, grabbed a quick slice of bread and cheese and left them to it!

P.S. Next week
24th May, an amazing choice of routes with a couple of great cols