Monday 4 August 2008

Alpine Challenge - La Vaujany

So Fred and I headed over to Heathrow and jumped on a flight to Lyon where we hired a car and drove over to our base for the week, Bourg d'Oisans.

I was immediately struck by the heat. So far this year I hadn't experienced anything above 23 degrees celsius. In fact, because we'd left London in the early morning cold air, we were extremely overdressed by the time we reached the Rhone-Alpes region. You can only imagine therefore how sweltering we were in our pullovers as the mercury rose to over 35 degrees. We couldn't get the air conditioning working quick enough !

Without much ado we got ourselves ready for the first challenge of the week - La Vaujany. I didn't know what the course would be like, but at least we knew how it would end - a 3mile climb at a relentless gradient, up to the finish line.

Sunday was an early start, as we drove through the early morning mist to reach the Barrage at Le Verney. We then parked up and made our way to the startline.

From the gun there was a mad dash through the lanes to get through Allemont and then down the main road towards Sechilienne. This was a real fairground ride - being whooshed along in a big group at around 35km/h. After 16km we then began the first climb of the day - Alpe de Grande Serre. This was pleasant, even if it was 12km long. But it went through the trees and conditions were nice and cool. I kept in with a group of around 15 riders and it was nice to have company all the way up to the summit.

The summit, known as col de la Morte gave way to a lovely sweeping descent, before we then began the second climb - the col d'Ornon.

Col d'Ornon was not very steep - only about 6% on average. However, because of it's length it was quite energy sapping as people rode it at quite a fast pace. It was possible to do alot of this in the big ring if you were so inclined.

I took it easy and got chatting to some guys from Grenoble who were doing La Vaujany as a substitute for their usual club run through the Uriage area and the Vercors areas. They jokingly pitied the fact that I came from London and didn't have the pleasure of such scenery on my doorstep. I laughed along with them before dropping them on the drag up to the summit !

The descent from the col d'Ornon was a real whizz - lovely views of the ridge roads across the valley, and again a tree-lined descent. Finally we hit the main road at La Paute and then crossed over to Allemont.

For me the suffering began from here. The climb up to Villard Reculas, and then on to Huez, at hairpin 6 of the Alpe d'Huez climb was interminable. It was very hot, there were loads of flies and my legs were aching.

At the feedstation in Alpe d'Huez I had to sit and rest for a few minutes just to take on as many savouries as I could. I think with all the heat I was lacking salt. There then followed a long demoralising road over col de Sarenne. Unfortunately for me, a lot of people had made the last minute decision, in the blazing heat to do the shorter 109km ride. I had blindly stuck with the long 173km route. The result was, I found myself alone - in fact, at the back of proceedings !

It was while riding over the col de Sarenne that I was caught by the broom wagon. Aaagh!! Actually, in these events broom wagons do not take on the onerous mantle that they wear in, for example L'Etape du Tour. None of this - you're the weakest link, Goodbye - give me your race number and your timing chip - game over ! The good people that drive the van are just there to make sure you're ok, you've got enough food etc. Of course if you don't wish to continue the event, they'll quite happily take you and your bike out of the race. Afterall, they can clock off from work early !

So after the driver had enquired after my welfare, and I'd signalled that I'd be ok to continue they just trundled behind me as I bounced around over the cobbles and gravel of this "road" that led me back down into the valley. The descent from col de Sarenne is not fun at all. Anyone who wishes to ride this should make sure that their tyres, forks and bike handling skills are up to scratch. It's like doing Paris-Roubaix but downhill !!

By the time I reached the valley, near the Barrage du Chambon the sun had gone in and the sky had turned black. I stopped to take a call from Fred, who had just crossed the finish line. He said that there was a storm in Vaujany and that he recommended I bail out at Bourg d'Oisans so that I don't get caught up in it all.

I wasn't really sure what to say. Granted, I didn't feel particularly good, and I didn't want to ride in the pouring rain. However, I still felt a motivation to continue. As well as all that, the broom wagon was very patiently "escorting" me back to the finish and I would have felt a bit embarrassed bailing out after all the support they'd given me.

I whizzed down the main road and through the numerous tunnels of the N91 all the way back to Bourg d'Oisans. My dodgy moment seemed to have passed and I began to feel energetic. I think it might also have been linked to the fact that the guy in the broom wagon was shouting encouragement through his loud speaker - "allez, allez, courage la miss." He even put through some "motivational" music - Gloria Gaynor "I will Survive" - Michael Jackson "Blame it on the Boogie" - and other well known kitsch sounds. So what was I doing on the N91 ? I should've been at Studio 54 ?!

The rain came as I was leaving Le Bourg d'Oisans. It was actually quite refreshing for me, as I'd felt too hot and the rain helped reduce the mugginess. I was happy to continue riding, and I knew that I would make it to the end, even though I still had a 3 mile slog to negotiate at the end. Somehow knowing that I'd overcome the bad period at Villard Reculas and Alpe d'Huez made me feel confident and energized.

Fred so very kindly drove down to meet me and gave me lots of encouragement as I rode through Allemont and up to the finish line at Vaujany ski station. The organisers were there and were just completing their final presentations. Apparently for all the problems I'd had, and even though I was the Lanterne Rouge I still gained silver standard, and I was the 3rd woman in my category. That gained me a trophy, a bouquet of flowers, plus a T-shirt, sunglasses and a photo opportunity ! The rain had stopped and the sun was out too. So not a bad day afterall.

Fred and I then drove back to our flat in Le Bourg d'Oisans, recuperated and relaxed with a bottle of wine in a garden restaurant.

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