Back to the Alps, briefly

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Back to the Col de Pierre Carrée – this time cycling it from the bottom to the top

Our short trip to the alps was planned some time ago – but did not include any cycling. Strangely, when we arrived in Les Carroz on Sunday evening I found my bike and cycling kit in the back of the car – it seemed silly not to use it for a bit of (low) altitude training for the forthcoming sportive, seeing how it had travelled all that way.

The weather wasn’t at all good on the Monday – cold and raining – but we managed to get out for a run and got only a little wet. The rest of the day was spent on domestic matters, sorting out the apartment for the skiing season.

Tuesday was worse – wetter and just as cold. Walking round the village we bumped in to a friend, Franck, who was complaining that November had come early to the Alps.

At this stage it didn’t look like we’d timed our trip well – in addition to the cold snap the village was undergoing of some fairly major works in the centre putting in new drainage and power systems. Just to complete the feeling of disruption, almost everywhere was shut – we guess that businesses had decided to take their post-summer and pre-skiing break to coincide with the disruption. The two small supermarkets were running on restricted hours and just about no restaurants were open in the evenings – even in November they tend to operate a rota to ensure that something is open every night!

However, we ate in, read and watched DVDs and Wednesday dawned with clear blue skies and warm sunshine even thought the air was still crisp to say the least.

We ran again in the morning and I went out on the bike early in the afternoon. One issue I have uncovered with autumn cycling in the alps is that of what to wear. The village was at a cool but pleasant 11 degrees but first I was heading about 10 km down the mountain to the bottom of the climb up to the Col de Pierre Carrée.

I decided to wear my cold weather gear, including long trousers, with just a compression top underneath, and that looked like a good decision. A lovely descent, and feeling comfortable despite the wind chill.

I turned straight round at the bottom and hit the climb. It’s 21.2 km with a total ascent of 1351 m (or so, depending who you believe). That puts it up there with the two main climbs of Ventoux for length but with 250 m less climbing so it’s testing but not ruinous.

The first half of the climb back to Les Carroz was very enjoyable but I got pretty hot (it was probably 16/17 degrees at the bottom) and I was regretting the winter weight clothing. Riding straight through Les Carroz and upwards towards the top of the col, I went through another spell of feeling comfortable but soon had cold feet. As I climbed higher, pretty much everything else got a bit cold. I thought I was just being a wimp but soon I was riding beside verges with snow on them so I felt rather more justified.

This was the part of the climb I used for my ‘everest’ in July. I was wondering if I might have spoiled it for myself by doing it 12 and a bit times in July but, happily, no. Despite the cold I loved it.

At the top I took a photo like the one I took in July – an interesting comparison:

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July at the top of the col

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Just 66 days later (the camera on the phone not coping well with the contrasts in light)

The descent, of course, was even colder as it had started to cloud over at the top, but I arrived back in Les Carroz safely and happy. It was a really enjoyable ride – and all the better for being rather unexpected. In all, 43 km and 1385 m of climbing, according to Strava.

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Back to the village – with more snow in the background (and a milk bottle bidon, having forgotten to take one out to France with me)

I had hoped that I might set a Strava personal best for the top half of the climb. I didn’t. I was a couple of minutes faster than any of the ascents in July during the ‘everest’ but one I did last year was quicker. Sadly, it occurs to me that, at 62, perhaps I shouldn’t expect to be getting faster but should be happy if I don’t get slower.

I’m not accepting that (yet) and still aim to beat the 5 hour mark for next April’s White Horse Challenge. What I do have to accept is that I’m simply a one-paced stayer. I’m not blessed with many fast-twitch fibres but I do have endurance. It looks like the planned ride out to the alps next year might be more up my street than setting Strava personal bests.

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