In keeping with previous mornings I woke with a variety of minor aches (which eased very quickly) and an extremely sore backside (which didn’t). I left Neuville-sur-Ain at about 8.30 after a very good breakfast, in kit that had dried better overnight than previously.
Having already cycled for about 730km (453miles) out of an expected 820km (510 miles), I reckoned that I still had about 135km (84 miles) to go.
Almost immediately I was climbing into the Jura mountains, heading towards Ceignes. It was a very decent climb – there is a clue that you are on a reasonable climb when you pass a bar/restaurant called ‘Le Panoramique’ well before you reach the summit.
The climb was around 380m (1250 feet) but had a fairly gentle gradient. That was a good thing as my fall at the end of the second day had bent the rear mech hanger. For a day I’d been able to move the chain into the gap between the largest cog and the wheel, had suffered a rather ‘clackety’ drive train and couldn’t use the lowest gear as the bent hanger meant that the lower jockey wheel cage brushed the spokes.
I believe that mech hangers are designed to snap in the event of a big impact, to protect the frame. I’d decided that I wouldn’t need any very low gears for the rest of the journey and that I preferred it as it was, compared to being completely snapped – so I simply carried on.
Happily most of the roads followed the valleys or went over the shoulders of the hills. An early highlight was the lake at Nantua which I’ve often looked down on from the elevated roadway but had never visited before. It’s now on the list for a visit in the future.
All was going really well until I saw a rock late, missed it with the front wheel, but clipped it with the rear – which immediately decided that it no longer wanted to hold any air.
I’d brought one spare tube and a repair kit so I removed the tyre with my bare hands to avoid damaging the tube further – but needn’t have bothered as I discovered a long slit in it from the rock. The need for the new tube wasn’t a great disaster but of more concern was the gash in the tyre itself. Not surprisingly, I’d not brought a spare tyre so I was left with no choice but a temporary bodge.
I had some small wipes in individual ‘metallized’ sachets so I took one of those (keeping the wipe for my hands afterwards … waste not, want not) and put it under the gash, between the inner tube and the tyre. I left the tube a little under-inflated and rode on rather apprehensively, particularly on the descents.
The next few villages had no bike shops but as the miles clicked by I got a bit more confident in my bodge, crossed the Rhone and rolled into Switzerland – through an entirely unmanned border post. Welcome to the Schengen area!
Switzerland looks like a really bike-friendly country with lots of very good paths alongside the roads and with bike lanes apparently well respected by motorists in Geneva itself. I got through Geneva (eventually) and headed out on the home run – only to be held up by the front wheel coming out in sympathy with the rear and picking up a puncture.
I repaired that and pressed on, only to pick up another in the rear wheel (unrelated to the first and the gash in the tyre) within another 5 miles. By the time I patched that, I was really annoyed and my hands had absolutely no strength left (having fixed all three without using tyre levers).
The other enduring disadvantage from the punctures was the square wheel syndrome of having patched inner tubes. I now remember why I just replace them once they are punctured.
That was probably the low point of the whole trip but it was compounded by being met with another ‘Route barrée’ somewhere between Geneva and Annemasse. It included ‘no cycling’ and ‘no pedestrians’ signs, just to show they really meant it.
I probably spent the next 15 miles (24km) off course, the other side of the River Arve, guessing it was a suitable alternative route – but it worked.
It was very hot and almost everything was shut (it was Bastille Day so I guess it was something of a national holiday) but I eventually found a supermarket in Bonneville that was open and gratefully bought some mini croissants, a can of coke and some water. I stopped again at a McDonald’s soon after for more coke and an ice cream – the only stop at the golden arches for the whole trip – but very gratefully received.
By now I was on roads that I’ve cycled before when getting to or from nearby climbs and I was getting confident of finishing. I’m sure I didn’t take the shortest way but soon I was on the route de Châtillon, through St Sigismond, Araches and into Les Carroz. I probably did my all-time slowest ascent for that final climb to the apartment.
I arrived just before 8 pm – under 84 hours since I set out from Caen. I had clocked up almost exactly 880km (c.550miles) and over 5600m of ascent (18372 feet). So, probably 40+ miles (64km) more than I’d expected – I guess that was due to detours, getting lost and otherwise going off course to find hotels.
Of the 135km I assumed I had to do on the last day, I did at least another 150km and climbed over 1800m (93 miles and 5900 feet) – presumably due to yet more detours.
Three of the others had already arrived and there was a cold beer (or three) waiting for me … and beer has rarely tasted as good. Sadly, we were one short on the trip as David’s wife had fractured her wrist and ankle playing tennis … and Mrs O says cycling is dangerous!
After a fine supper, I slept well and woke with no ill effects other than a very sore backside. I love my carbon saddle but it has its comfort limit, and 84 hours is well beyond it.
The following day (Sunday) I went out with the others on the bikes but on Monday I just rode down into the valley and back to get new inner tubes (a tube is charmingly called ‘chambre à air’ in French) and a new tyre as the original was bulging by now after more than 100 miles on the temporary repair.
The 5 of us rode together on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday. I took another easy day on the Friday but still did the Joux Plane (which nearly broke Armstrong in one tour and is described in my “Tour climbs” book as ‘hard as nails’).
Over the week we also did the Cols de Romme and Colombière, the Cote des Amerands, Bettex, Mont Saxonnex and the Sommet d’Andey – possibly the hardest road I’ve ever ridden. Watching a stage of Le Tour on the 17th at Le Reposoire, half way up Colombière was, as always, a great experience.
Altogether, the week out in the alps accounted for a further 340km and 7400m of climbing (210 miles, 24,300 feet) – my legs were still severely fatigued but it’s got to be done.
Saturday saw us return to the UK – with delays at the Channel Tunnel, just to make it a perfect trip.
I’ll try to reflect on the whole experience in a few days but the sense of relief and achievement is huge.