Wednesday 10 November 2010

Travel Notes - Onwards and Upwards - Part Two

Wednesday 18th August

Grenoble (Echirolles) - Le Pont-de-Claix - Vizille - Sechilienne - Livet-et-Gavet - Rochetaille - Le Bourg-d'Oisans - Le Freney d'Oisans - La Grave - Le Monetier-les-Bains - La Salle-les-Alpes = 65 miles

This was a tough day in more ways than one. The ride was simply a 65-mile grind along the same road, the D1091 between Grenoble and Briancon. It was difficult to keep motivated, just looking at the road in front of me.

The ride was also very tiring - more tiring than I'd imagined it would be. The col du Lautaret was the main climb of the route, and I'd naively thought that it would be just a little bit harder than a false flat!

Well, to be fair it was like that just outside Grenoble, but once past Le Bourg d'Oisans I began to get a full appreciation of just how tough this is. I have ridden this section of the route in reverse a few times in the past - usually during La Marmotte cyclosportive, and it's a lovely descent. Practically no pedalling from the summit of col de Galibier to the foot of Alpe d'Huez! So the difficulty of riding from Grenoble in the direction of the Galibier should have given me a clue really!

So the day consisted of me riding uphill for most of the route, with the worst section being the 11km climb from La Grave to the summit of col du Lautaret.
The whole day's ride was done under a grey threatening sky! The sun was not in a mood to come out and smile!

Despite all of the above I still found the landscape to be truly awesome. Where the previous day I had been surrounded by the green peaks of the Chartreuse, today was about towering majestic jagged peaks of the Parc National des Ecrins, many of them covered in snow even at this time of year.

It felt strange passing through a deserted Bourg d'Oisans, a place which I associate with being full to the brim with cyclists taking part in La Marmotte.
Actually, there were a few cyclists around on this day, but nothing like the numbers you see during that first week of July. I even spotted the AG2R-La Mondiale professional cycling team, all kitted out, speeding round the corner and up towards Allemont, their team car in hot pursuit behind them.

So after my feed stop at Le Bourg d'Oisans I ground my way up the remaining 40 miles to reach my destination - La Salle-les-Alpes, just outside Briancon.

As I said, the ride was basically a gradual climb, with some notable steep bits near the Barrage du Chambon and La Grave. As I heaved my way up the col du Lautaret I could feel my load getting heavier and heavier and my breathing was more laboured as I was gaining significant altitude. A few times I had to stop to get my breath back, or just to rest my back which was aching alot. I was hungry but I was getting sick of eating the same biscuits and jelly babies. It was after tea time and I wondered if I would ever get there. The ride seemed interminable! I began to curse the fact that I'd planned such a long ride. Why couldn't I have just ended my day's riding at Le Bourg d'Oisans, or even La Grave? What a silly idea doing a whole 65 miles + 10kg of uphill!

I had to forget about the above and remember that the last 12.5 miles would be downhill. Even at this hour of the day lots of motorists were still coming up and down this very zigzaggy climb. Maybe I was just getting tired and everything just seemed to roll into one, but I could have sworn I was just seeing the same old camper van, Renault Megane or motorbiker driving up and down to the summit!

Eventually after alot of battling internally with my mind, and externally with my bike I saw the characteristic dark blue sign that told me I was at the summit of the col du Lautaret, at 2058m.
I was beaming from ear to ear. It was a combination of the relief that I'd made it, the joy of beholding the most spectacular views, and the prospect of riding an amazing descent that put me on such a high - well that and the 1800m altitude gain! It had been a long day but I was happy to know I would make it. Some people may have thought I was a bit weird walking around with a permanent smile on my face, but I didn't care. I knew what I'd been through to get there and I was looking forward to zooming down the slide that would get me to the warmth of my lodgings at La Salle-les-Alpes below.

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