Up until last weekend never had the tyre of a wheel I owned touched the ground of Europe or more importantly the surrounding area of Lake Annecy, that is to say that never had I ridden my bicycle outside of these shores so my preparation for our trip was somewhat minimal. A few 40s, 50s and even a 75 miler was what I had under my belt before last week, however all of the aforementioned distances were lacking in something, something rather important for the person looking to conquer the cycling down south in France…And that something is hills.
Because of my background I believed I would really struggle on these Cols, that for whatever reason my body would not be up to the standard of what these types of roads demanded but I was surprised and this trip has taught me a very good lesson but more of that later.
Our first morning was spent cycling a Lap of Lake Annecy. It was a beautiful way to start the week and we couldn’t wait to get out. This lap of the Lake was used as part of a time trial in this years Tour and it was the constant reminders painted onto the road surface of names such as ‘Contador’ ‘Lance’ and ‘Schleck’ that woke me up into the excitement of what awaited us in the forthcoming week. So after our 16 hour car journey the day previous and a strange nights sleep in a sloping field of cows I sighed and thought gleefully to myself “Aaaaah that’s it, we are here”.
Later on that day after yet another espresso off the camp stove we decided to venture out and upwards. Upwards to the Col de La Forclaz which was approx eight miles away. At this point I would like to say I had never in my life climbed a large hill, a Col, a mountain or anything such like so the climbing of Col de la Forclaz would be interesting.
Now I go back to what I mentioned earlier about that important lesson I had learned… Our bodies are far more capable of difficult tasks than we think. I got up that Col I did, my first one actually. It was tough at times sure it was, but I was getting up regardless. After what seemed like 10 litres of shed sweat in the mid-day sun, enough air in and exhaled from my lungs to fill a hot air balloon and my thighs feeling like someone was holding a flame to them I reached the summit and Joe was there to congratulate me and Kieran’s congrats followed shortly after. Amazing.
I used to hate ascending, in my mind ascending had me beat but the more we climbed the more I got a buzz out of it. The absolute sense of achievement I felt on the summits was unparalleled. To know that I wanted to give up ( on several occasions ) and didn’t was a surprise. Not that I had no faith in myself, I did but I had never experienced hills like these and it hurt real bad. At every point where the road steepened on these climbs it would have been very easy for me to have simply stopped but this is something I now know I am capable of… overriding my brains urges to quit because of pain and to carry on, because I can and because my body is more than capable of it.
The riding throughout the rest of the week consisted of many more climbs, steeper climbs, longer climbs, legendary climbs and climbs that would reveal to you some of the sheer beauty of what this planet has to offer. Take the view of Mont Blanc from the Cret de Chatillion… It took all the food in my jersey pockets, all the electrolyte replacement in my bidon and all the willpower I had inside of me to get up there that day but for the view alone it was totally worth it.
With climbs come descents. Descents! This stuff is exhilaration bottled, twenty minute journeys downhill through forests at fifty miles per hour is what I had endured hours of ascending for, I had earned it and I was made for it. Hairpins, shallow corners, undulations, change in light conditions and road surface, the sound of my ears rushing by the still air surrounding, my stowaway jacket flapping ferociously behind me all added up to something quite magical and it has me addicted.
I learned about fuel and hydration because without those you really could not continue, about having the correct attire because not only is it important to look good but you must also feel good. I fully realise and know now what I look for and need in a bike and with mine it is currently a new set of tyres to help me around those ‘hairy’ hairpins quicker and safer because next time the road may not be so clear and there may be a car there waiting to meet me, perhaps bonnet first. I learned that a correct fitting bike is absolutely imperative as regularly after approx 2 hours in the saddle I experienced some serious fatigue in my lower back and across my shoulder blades and this is something I need to look into, so next time the agony will only be in my legs and not in my back.
The elusive 100 miles I longed to clock still defeats me, I have still not gained it but I tell you this. It now means nothing to me as some 50 mile journeys over and through some seriously beautiful natural landscapes are worth 500 miles of any A roads through bland grey cities. I just want to ride more and more and I am already thinking about next year, did somebody mention Spain?
Thanks go to Joe Hall for the instigation and the motivation throughout, to Kieran Young for his enthusiasm and sunny disposition and to the lady camp site proprietor for her good use of the English language. To Aussie Rik who looked like Jo mangle “dude that is not your tent and it will break like that”, to the bar next door for the chips when they were needed ( Yes Kieran! ) and to the expensive fish fillets that were truly earned after that epic day. To Fig rolls the superfood, the in-jokes and tales on the jetty, to the Rapha Merino base layer and to the Lake for making our mornings worth rising early for. To the Cafe and Boulangerie in Veyrier for making the best coffee and baguettes in the whole of Annecy, Veyrier and Menthon Saint Bernard and finally to Col de la Forclaz for truly opening my eyes to the mountains.
Morning – lap of Lac D’Annecy / 20 miles
Afternoon – Climb of Col de la Forclaz ( 1157m ) Via Veyrier and back / 17 miles
Climb of four Cols on the west side of Lac D’Annecy / 46 miles.
Col de Bluffy ( 613m )
Col de Leschaux ( 936m )
Montague Semnoz( 1704m )
Cret de Chatillion ( 1790m )
Recovery ride up Col de la Forclaz ( for the second time ) / 17 miles roundtrip.
Tour du Glieres and Tour du Bargy / 85 miles.
Annecy – Col de Bluffy – Thones – Le grand Bornand – Col de Columbieres – Col de Fleuris – Scionzon – La Roche sur Foron -Thoron Glieres – Annecy le Vieux – Annecy – Veyrier
Recovery ride up Col de la Forclaz ( for the third time ) 17 miles roundtrip.
Alpe D’Huez ( 1815m ) 15 miles roundtrip.
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