Sunday, September 29, 2019

Col du Galibier (Meeting the family) Mules 2019 Tour Part 1

When you hear cyclists talking of great Cols, it is like they are talking about family members.
They often become dewy eyed, filled with love and affection, but not all of them.

Some riders become still and quiet with an awkward smile.
They may even change the subject or get angry.

Looking from the lower valley bottoms of the Alps the mountains rear up, each with their own characteristics.
The craggy rocks, scree slopes and patches of woodland presenting an almost human facade.

Like all families there are individuals that are more popular than others.
Ones that everyone likes like Alpe d'huez which are warm, engaging and hospitable.

Then there are others - the ones you avoid and only whisper their names
Periodically you may agree to see them out of a sense of duty.

It rarely goes as planned and sometimes you regret it immediately.

As you travel to see them your palms sweat, you feel sick and your lungs struggle to contain any oxygen.

The desire to turn your back and move away is not uncommon and should never be seen as a character flaw.
Proper dialogue is challenging as sentences are cut short by cruel barbs, interruptions, and the sheer presence of such obstacles.

The Col de Galibier holds such a presence.

Like a spiteful mother in law who will never accept you and reminds you that your just not good enough.

As with all family politics, alliances can help you to get close and in the case of Galibier, the Col du Telegraphe is an obvious go between.
Like a sympathetic relation who takes pity on you, always has the kettle on, and a cake fresh from the oven.

Leaving Saint Jean de Maurienne we travelled south east down the D1006 towards Saint Michel de Maurienne. This runs parallel to the A43. Although this is a busy uninspiring valley road, the 14km of gentle climbing (202 meters) provides a perfect warm up for what lays ahead.

As you come into St Michael de Maurienne you know that the family engagement is about to start  and you find yourself trying to work out how things might play out.
There was no obvious cut within the towering rock face to the south west but that was the direction the multiple signs were pointing.

Turning right onto the D902 I took a big gulp of undiluted oxygen and made my initial introduction to the Col du Telegraphe.

With an average gradient of 7.4% over 878 meters the meeting was not at all hostile.
The gradient gradually increased enabling you to ease into a comfortable rhythm.
The multiple soft bends soon acquired elevation where the wide industrial valley soon seemed far behind and below us.

In the shadows of thick forrest the morning air remained cool, despite the raising thermometer and the climb was enjoyable.

Well .......... as enjoyable as it could be for a human Labrador, seasoned cake eater and somebody who constantly fought gravity.

As we approached the summit at 12 km the forrest thinned out providing a hint of what lay ahead.
An increasing temperature, and a more barren and inhospitable terrain.

Monsieur Telegraph was very accommodating. He allowed us to have a brief respite descending into Valloire for lunch before providing a personal introduction to Mademoiselle Galibier.

I use the term Mademoiselle out of badness.
Although the Galibier may have some natural beauty, she is so savage and unpredictable that she could never be fully tamed. I'm not sure there is another col that would be her mate.

Our ascent started just after lunch with the temperature reaching 32 degrees with no wind.
In such conditions a siesta in a dark air conditioned room would not seem inappropriate - not 18 km of climbing another 1216 meters to the summit at 2646 meters.

Above the tree-line there was nowhere to hide.
Although the average gradient was only 7% over the whole climb, this was distorted by a couple of flatter sections after leaving Valloire.
Most of the km markers thereafter were 8 or 9% but with the heat they felt double that.
In baking heat the long straits created the occasional mirage in the road, where for me any watery palm tree oasis was replaced by exotic ice cream parlours.

The overall terrain reminded me very much of Col de Tourmalet in its attrition and characteristics.  This experience was very different though.

When I rode that, it was cool and my only impediment was gravitational.
On this day there were multiple impediments.

I counted down each km where the time between each increased with my fatigue.

With 6km to go everything got messy.

Up until then Mademoiselle Galibier had just been ignoring me by turning her back and just being plain ignorant.

Acknowledging my apparent belligerent perseverance she now turned around and faced me.
She was not happy.

She rebuked me shouting out  'Vous êtes cycliste? non c'est impossible'

Her words were accompanied by a defiant slap of twisting broken tarmac.
The gradient increased along with the temperature.
Her rage was such that she sucked up the greater share of available oxygen leaving me gasping for each breath I could take.

Vous êtes cycliste? non c'est impossible,Vous êtes cycliste? non c'est impossible,

The words resonated with me, but rather than defeat me, they just spurred me on.

On the last km she gave it her very best hitting me with a 10% sting.
Thankfully I had my friends around me to deflect the blow.

As I crested the col I was reminded that in life we have to put up with our families,
no matter what they throw at us.

But thankfully we always get to choose our friends.

Tuesday, July 30, 2019

Chapeau Events L2P 24hr Challenge

As a boy my grandmother and I often walked together on the headland around Falmouth. Romantically she would gaze over the sea onto the distant horizon and talk of our ancestors coming over the water.
She spoke of it as a recent thing, like something that had occurred the previous Tuesday afternoon.
In reality, and much to my disappointment she meant centuries before, during the Norman conquest.

Fancifully she described how one of them was a great Frenchman and an adviser to William himself.

After researching my family tree I was never able to make the connection, but never able to rule it out either.

I certainly like the idea that my origins may have been from France and reckoned that the 'adviser' could have been like a Game of Thrones Character the 'Hand of the King'.

As the second born son, the ancient family name of Deverell evaded me and still irkes me to this day, My parents could at the very least have put an extra P in my first name.

There is something about the French that I love. They are a foil, a natural antidote to the starchiness of traditional British values.
The shrug of the shoulders, the passion, the rebellious spirit all wrapped together in a blanket of arrogance.
Its not the arrogance that we might associate with some Etonian backbencher, but Gaelic arrogance

The french seem to be happy in their own skin, are self effacing, yet confident.
They are often dismissive too, but not because they don't care, but because they don't take things too seriously.

Having undergone a revolution there is a subconscious sense of Liberty, Equality and Fraternity amongst its people which not unlike America gives its citizens the self belief that anything is possible.

In 2015 I embarked on a 3 day charity ride from London to Paris with Chapeau Events, It was the first time that I had actually cycled in France and I immediately felt at home.

The french love cycling and cyclists. They share their road in the same way that they might share their food. With warmth, and generosity.
When you hear a car horn directed at you - its somehow different.
Whether it's depressed in a certain way? I'm not quite sure, but the meaning is clear.

It can say a few things like.
'Hi there I'm just coming up behind you' or 'Allez allez allez' or 'Welcome'.
It's often accompanied by waving, smiles and always encouragement.

On some of the WAG infested lanes in Cheshire the car horn is a weapon.
To startle, frighten and intimidate and with only one offensive meaning.

In 2019 I was given the opportunity to ride to France again in a 24hr Challenge from Trafalgar Square In London to the Eiffel Tower in Paris again with Chapeau Events. When I signed up for it I knew that it was perhaps out of my reach.

Although I had done a variety of cycling challenges in the Alps, Pyrenees and the Rockies, this was going to combine Physical fitness and stamina with mental strength.

As Jacques Coeur a famous French statesman quoted 'A valiant coeur rien d'impossible'
For a valiant heart nothing is impossible.

By the time July had come around I had long discovered that there were two 5 o'clocks each day and I had been regularly been riding through both of them. I was fitter, leaner and stronger than ever but still not convinced I was ready.

On Friday the 12th of July I set off with 7 others to complete the challenge.
I took the train down to London to meet up with my bike in Battersea Park

The first leg was from Trafalgar Square to Eastbourne 64 Miles

Starting at 4pm the journey out of London was exhausting. Not because of any great physical endeavour but through the total concentration required.

With the mass vehicular exodus to the suburbs and beyond, the drivers seemed oblivious to our entanglement. Although daubed rush hour, There was no rushing. That was the saving grace.
I was passed several times by inquisitive dogs, elderly pensioners and child on a skateboard.
On the plus side it meant that collision avoidance was achievable.

After one hour we had travelled about 5 miles, after two 13. There was still more concrete than vegetation and the accompanying traffic lights.
It wasn't until after 7pm that we were able to attain the sort of speed that was required from the start and we only had 2 hours to get to Eastbourne.

At this time when upping the tempo was required, the South Downs had other ideas, ambushing us was variable gradients and forcing us into the lower chain ring.

We enentually entered Eastbourne as the sun was flirting with the Horizon but with time in hand to at least have a meal at 'The Mill'

We boarded the Ferry at about 10:30pm to sail at 11pm. The plan was to try and secure cabins to have a rest before the 6 am start in Dieppe. Unfortunately there were none left, however I did manage to at least get a shower.
I am not a great sleeper in new or strange environments.

This included sat on an aeroplane type seat surrounded by bright lights as I was on this voyage.
After many hours of restless fidgeting and cramp spasms, I elected to lay on the floor. Clearly it worked as my 'fit bit' recorded a grand total of 36 mins sleep.

The ferry arrived in Dieppe at about 5:15 - just as dawn was beginning to break.

With no sleep, I curiously appeared to have hangover symptoms.
I felt tired, nauseous, and shaky.
Confusingly my usual 'hangover anxiety' also surfaced, where I try to recall and playback the events of the previous night.
In this case my only misdemeanour was seemingly straddling my bike which I now re-engaged
Only another 120 miles.

With the cloak of darkness still present I turned on my lights, reminded myself to move to the other side of the road and started to think French.
Although my schoolboy Franglais would limit my ability to share my socialist views with les Movement des gilets Jaunes, I did feel a sense of solidarity sporting a fluorescent yellow gilet.

The road inland from Dieppe followed the course of La Bethune river, a steady climb of 500 feet to Beaubec-la-Rosiere.  After 2 hours we had done 35 miles and were well ahead of schedule.

Refuelling with Bacon Butties and coffee we then followed the former Dieppe to Paris railway 'Avenue Verte' to Forges-les-Eaux  and then the D915 to Gournay-en-Bray.

Through this section I struggled.
My eyes protested relentlessly trying to close in pursuit of sleep.
This was made worse if I was following a wheel - I found the motion hypnotic.
Like a scene from the Jungle book the circular motion of the wheels were now the eyes of Kaa.
My head nodded slowly with each rotation.

Thankfully our progress was still good, so at Gournay-en-Bray we made the first of a number of  unofficial stops.
As well as having Coffee to wake me up, I also elected to have a small beer.
Although it was only 0930 there was some psychology behind this apparently reckless act.

I thought that it might kid my mind that it was not time to go to sleep - but time to party and dance on my pedals.

The idea was suspect, the action tentative, but the effect was instant, and I can now say - inspired.

The terrain was not taxing and now lubricated I felt good.
The morning soon turned into afternoon and with a favourable warm tail wind, beautiful sunshine and  great company we were able to savour the french countryside.

We continued along the D915 to Gisors and then the D923 to Fleury.
Taking the D3/28 we found ourselves at Monneville for another unofficial stop.

We now had about 45 miles to do in 4 hrs.
We all congratulated ourselves in the knowledge that baring any unforeseen events we all had the legs to complete the task. Shoulders were shrugged and Franglais was spoken.

I again decided to give my coffee some company, a 500ml glass of beer to be exact and others followed suit.

Dave from Chapeau Events was less relaxed.
He encouraged us to get going again, saying that getting through Paris could be a nightmare.

He was right!

3hrs later we were on the hard shoulder of an urban Paris freeway stricken by a puncture.

Cycling into Paris on the Saturday before Bastille day was similar to getting out of London on the Friday. French poodles and Grandmothers walking with baguettes appeared to be making better progress.

We found ourselves in a position that we now had 1hour left to do 12 miles.
The traffic that was moving about 6mph.

With the puncture repaired we set off as fast as we could possibly travel.
There then followed probably one of the best urban cycling movies ever to - not be recorded.

Travelling faster than the traffic and pumped up by pure adrenalin the goal remained in sight.
45 mins - 9 miles, 30 mins - 5 miles.
I was frightened to look behind, concerned that their might be all types of carnage.
20 mins - 2.8 miles
It was touch and go.

Then we arrived at The Arc de triumph.
With 12 roads leading off it, and room for up to 8 lanes unmarked lanes its an insurers nightmare.
The surface consists of roughly hewn cobbles to ward off any cyclists - to say its terrifying is an understatement.
Circumnavigating this monument should warrant some recognition, a certificate of achievement or even a medal.

Having already encountered this traffic maze before, I knew that you are meant to have priority when entering it so I just took a deep breath and pedalled.
Clearly not everybody had the same script as me.
My fellow cyclists screamed as I jousted with a bus and shouted optimistically 'don't worry just RIDE.'
It reminded me of the fairground dodgems. Cars and other vehicles were massed together, facing different directions and all were trying to avoid any significant impact.
Some were moving, some were stationary. Some had been stationary for some moments as the drivers exchanged blows or obscenities.

Having positioned myself in lane 4.5, I was ready to exit on the Champs de Elysees before being told to take the exit before.
It was not what I really wanted to hear.
Thankfully nobody seemed to mind if you were travelling clockwise or anticlockwise some the problem was soon solved.

A few moments later and with 6 minutes to spare we were there.
Happy, tearful and all together. (In one piece)

Well done to all of my fellow riders Simon, Catherine, Merryn, Mike, Mark, Ross and Nick.
Thank you Chapeau Events for hosting such a memorable and challenging ride and for the total support throughout.

Thursday, September 27, 2018

Les Deux Alpes and the Aurais balcony - Mules Alps Tour Day 3

After completing Alp d'huez and the amazing Col de la Croix der Fer the question arose what next?
During our evening meal on Day 2, I was asked 'what was the plan for the next day?'

I had always promised that the third day would be an easy day.

I explained that we would just go up to Les deux Alpes - before returning after lunch.
I was telling the truth and had a set route to prove it to any doubters.
That was Friday night.

The following morning I was up early from our lodgings at (Hotel de Milan) and tried out my 'franglais' on our hotelier Christal. I had just overheard talking to some dutch cyclists about which routes they should take.

I asked her if she liked cycling ?
As I was finishing the last words of the sentence, I realised that it was a bit like asking a Kiwi if they like rugby.
She replied with a hint of distain in her voice.

Christal was a small, fairly squat woman whose appearance belied any obvious cycling physiology.
'Of course' she said, but qualified herself by adding that the local terrain did not suit her. I smiled in acknowledgment of something I could relate to.

She said that her husband would always be way ahead of her on the climbs and would take photographs of her struggling with the gradients.
If that were not bad enough he would cruelly post on them on Social media with captions saying
'Ou est Christal?'
I was totally sympathetic, not being alien to such a position myself.

She explained that she liked to ride on the flatlands, where she was known as Les Disel and that everyone then followed her.
She said that her legs were strong from skiing and patted her thighs in reinforcement.
My soul sister I thought.

I told her that we were going to Les deux Alpes
Et puis ou? (And then where) she replied not realising that I had described todays trip in its fullest detail.
'Et puis nous revenons ici , dam whats the word for...........we come back here for beer' I replied anticipating a smile.

Realising my 'Franglais' was only slightly better than 'Del-boy' Trotters she asked in fluent English  if I wanted to make the trip more interesting.
I wanted to reply by saying 'When in Rome Rodney', but being so close to the Italian border I thought it might confuse her.
'Of course' I replied.

She explained that rather than go on the D1091 to Lac du Chambon that we could turn right on the D220 towards Bons and join the D213 mid way up the climb.
She said that it went through the forrest and was beautiful.

She then pointed over towards Alp d'huez and asked if I could see a road traversing the cliff across the valley from La Garde.
I did notice a faint line on the cliff edge - miles away.
She smiled 'That is the Balcony road from Auris, if you come back that way, its much better and flat all the way'

I delayed informing my fellow Mules about les diversion until we had set off.
I find its difficult for people to argue with you when you are riding single file, with head phones on.

My explanation was well thought out and rehearsed.
Minimalism would be the key.
I explained that it would only increase our distance by 10 km with quieter roads, fewer tunnels and better views.

When we set off it was overcast with cloud forecast for the whole day, there was also a distinct chill in the air. I felt quite smug in my insulated wind proof Rapha brevet, as the others complained of the cold.

By the time we had exited the Tunnel des Commeres along the D1091 I was already lowering the zip on my jersey as the sun surprised us with its appearance.

On turning right towards Bons, my Garmin indicated the word 'Track' rather than road which caused me some immediate concern.
Although Alpine climbs are long they are rarely ultra steep if you stick to the main roads.
This was not a main road - it was a track.
It snaked up through the Forrest like an angry Cobra, aggressive, uncompromising and intimidating - I was no mongoose and not ready for a fight.

The gradient passed 16% at various places and by the time I was half way up my wardrobe selection had now become an issue.
Such was the heat I was generating, condensation now covered my jersey entirely with a sparkling silvery glow. 
If there were any hikers around I could easily have been mistaken for a silverback - Marauding through the thick leafy canopy.
As a child I often got told off in the back of the car for inscribing letters or shapes within the condensation of the windows and now considered what I could have written on the back of my Jersey.
The self deprecating phrases that came to mind were too subtle or too long. I eventually decided on  'Not Cool'.

At Bon we turned right taking the D213 up to Les deux Alpes.
This stretch was very similar to Alpe d'huez in gradient and style, although the road surface had many cracks in it. This was especially hazardous later when descending as they came upon you very quickly.

The weather forecast confounded me as the sun had now fully gate-crashed our ride and grew in intensity. There were none of natures own cumulus parasols to protect us.

Once past the tree-line the condensation on my jersey had started evaporating. By the time I reached the top I was being baked inside-out like some Anglo Saxon Pillsbury Doughboy.

Knowing at least one of my fellow cyclists hated hights, I provided scant detail about the return journey, only that there would be another climb and that there would be a long elevated flat section.

I am not prone to understatement and this was a first for me.

We followed the D213 dropping down to Lac du Chambon before heading back along the D1091 towards Le Freenay d'Oisons. 

There we turned right on the D211a towards Auris.
Again my Garmin said 'Track' a word I now understood.

I was back in the metaphorical snake pit with a multitude of Cobras conspiring to halt my progress. They were aided by the orange globe in the sky which was frying my temperament. 

I rarely swear, as I see such words as a dictional shortcut that hinders more creative expression.
Not this afternoon.........No way.
There were at least 12 x FFS's and several references to Miltons ‘Paradise Lost’

I was disappointed that I was the only apparent protestor. I am sure my friends must have felt the same way, or maybe their consternation was nullified by the mirth at watching me. 

Once at the top everything changed.
Bourg d'Oisons was in sight and all climbing had finished for the day.

However like some Indiana Jones opening, we were now clearly about to follow the famous Auris balcony to La Garde, before our final descent. 

It is a narrow stretch of road that is carved into the side of the cliff face covering about 6km.
Along its length there is at least a 1000 ft of mostly vertical drop, which is separated from the road by a wall. Not a sturdy barrier separating you from instant death, but a pointless one as low as the axle on your bike. In some sections there was no wall at all.

On a few parts the wall had been destroyed. I tried not to think how that might have happened.

My thoughts returned to my morning conversation with Christal  '.......come back that way its flat and very pretty' I smiled. 
French humour at its best

Maybe she could do the Brexit negotiations in place of Michel Barnier and help guide Teresa May through away from her own perilous position.

Monday, September 24, 2018

Col de la Croix de Fer/ Col de Glandon - Mules Alps Tour day 2

After the euphoria of completing Alp d’huez we were back in Bourg d’Oisans after lunch and took some time to explore this rustic Alpine village.
You could not help to notice that the village was full of mainly English or Dutch speaking MAMILS who wondered around in a semi trance like state, with glazed eyes and a fixed smile.
Like some scene from the Midwich Cuckoos they operated collectively. 

They would visit the large assortment of cycle or cycle related shops where they would smile at the shop keepers and show them plastic cards or give them pieces of paper with the symbol‘€’ prominent
The shop keepers in return would give them assorted gifts from their shelves or hangers.

Personally I did not feel that I had been afflicted but when I got back to my Hotel room I had seemingly acquired some additional luggage to eventually take home.

Amongst the visitors we met two brothers (Greg and Richard Williams)
They had travelled all the way from New Zealand to ride the alps. Their delirium was clearly at a more advanced stage as their cycling Jerseys were inscribed with the words ‘The lost Boys’

Using Bourg d’Oisans as a cycling base offers a variety of different and challenging climbs right on your doorstep.
Within my personal bucket list I sought to complete as many famous Tour de France climbs that I could.
As a reward to myself I allowed myself the prospect of several beers and local wine tasting afterwards and the indulgence of purchasing a commemorative road plaque.

These are sold in most cycling shops and feature all of the principal Tour de France Climbs.

High on my bucket list was the Col de la Croix de Fer which allows you a bonus of completing the Col de Glandon at the same time. Their respective peaks are in close proximity.

The  literal translation of Col de la Croix de Fer is ‘Pass of the Iron Cross’

When I think of the Iron Cross I think of watching war films as a child and of the German SS Officers wearing cross shaped medals under their chin. 
Such awards has been around since the 1190, worn by the Teutonic Knights (Crusaders)  an order of Brothers within the German house of St Mary in Jerusalem.

Although I saw myself as a cycling crusader spreading the word of such inspiring two wheeled adventures, I was content enough with my yellow and white road plaques.

On day two we set off north west along the valley bottom (D1091) towards Rochetaillee.
This provides you with just over 4 miles of flat riding to wake your legs up before turning right on the D526 where you immediately pick up the signs for Col de la Croix de Fer.

The road continues to offer little gradient into Allemond where you are confronted with a large dam containing Lac du Verney. Two switch backs take you to the top of the dam providing you with your first glimpse of what lies ahead. 
Looking north towards the end of the lake, the valley narrows as the mountains push up almost vertically into the clouds past the curiously named village of Oz.

Although there were no signs of any witches or flying monkeys there was certainly a feel that you were cycling away from civilisation. 
After passing through Oz my progress was hindered by a rapidly multiplying gradient.
I felt as if my bicycle was now fixed to a front basket containing an oversized dog looking for a free ride. 

Reminiscent of the early stages of Ventoux the route provided long straight sections through dense woodland. The road stretched out in infront providing a constant reminder of its longevity.

At the small village of Le Rivier-d’Allemond the gradient eventually reduces and there is an opportunity to fill your bidon. You should do so as this is the last opportunity until the top.

Believing you are a significant way up the mountain ridge you question you practice your arithmetic.

If the average gradient is only 4.9 % and you have not yet dipped to that level, then how can you appear to making good progress to the top.
The answer is are not.
Well the truth is.......You were,
After solid climbing for the best part of 40 mins, you are now descending down a series of switch-backs to the bottom of the valley. 
Ahhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh I shouted, and used a few other words too.

I felt a bit like a stock broker in a bear market, watching my recent investment fly pass me as I descended through the multicoloured trees.

After reaching as low as you can get both in altitude and spirit I was faced with a 16% wall of tarmac in front of me. 
Two other dispirited cyclist ahead of me had obviously made heavy investments too. They had both divorced themselves from their respective bikes and were cursing their reckless speculation.

Having such an audience prompted greater endeavour on my part and as I passed them I smiled saying in the plumiest of voices that this section was ‘A bit of a rib tickler’
Eventually the gradient reduced to between 7/10% which raised the value of my own emotional stock.

From this point you realise that you are in the wilderness with little sign of life. The valley opens up as you get to the magnificent Lac de Grand Maison where you climb above the tree line.
This day was warm and sunny with scattered clouds which now seemed to be in touching distance as they skidded across your eye-line.

I welcomed this open landscape and rugged beauty despite the fact that our destination was now visible upon a very, very distant and elevated horizon.

In all the books and articles I had read it warned me about this last section. Although the gradient reduces further to mainly 6/8% this section is often cursed with strong headwinds.

It was not so this day.
The conditions were perfect.
At about 2 miles from the summit there is a cafe at the left hand junction to Col de Glandon.

We discussed about which Col we would finish first until I overheard that Glandon was actually only about 200 meters away.
'Instant gratification'-  I thought as I jumped back on my bike - not really letting the debate continue.

We then rode the final section up to the Col de la Croix de Fer where there was another cafe which provided our lunch. 
At 6,781 feet the view was breathtaking along with the ‘Gipfelkreuz’ Iron Cross.

I later found out that these religious placements were actually a Bavarian influence placed on the most notable peaks and passes. They would often be accompanied  by a ‘Gipfelbuch’ - a leather bound register within a container to record the passage of persons travelling through.

Our arrival was recorded on Strava, Facebook and Istragram - Oh how the world has changed.