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.

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