Alpine cycling part 1 – Solaison, Colombiere, the Cirque at Sixt Fer a Cheval

Le Cirque du Fer-à-Cheval

Off to the alps – a highlight of the year. This time no everesting and I was driving, not cycling, out. All positive, apart from almost no cycling this year due to April’s Marathon. How hard could it be … ?

Two friends arrived for supper and to stay over on Friday night to give us an early start on Saturday morning. We got away just after 5.30 am and had a decent run to the tunnel, getting on an earlier train to Calais. The drive down to the alps was another 545 miles and it passed by slowly, without incident, but in temperatures that got above 35℃ (about 95℉), blessedly below the previous week’s record highs of up to 47C).

Arriving in Les Carroz it was straight to one of the bar/restaurants where the other 3 were waiting for us (2 had flown and one had driven from where he lives in Germany).

We were treated to a great thunderstorm that night, fairly typical for the mountains after particularly hot days.

The Sunday ride was relatively short but with a hard climb up to the plateau at Solaison for lunch – altogether 76km with 1658m of ascent (42miles and 5440 feet). The col itself is about 1000m at an average 8% and it was still 35℃ down in the valleys so although the climbing was pretty tough, at least it was a little bit cooler once we got high up in the mountains.

It was obvious early on that my terrible lack of cycling in 2019 was going to be an issue. I’d probably ridden about 300 miles (500km) all year, having been concentrating almost exclusively on running while I trained for the Rotterdam marathon in April. I fell behind on the first climb and adopted the lantern rouge position – and kept it for the week.

Monday’s ride was a gentle trip to the Cirque at Sixt Fer a Cheval – another 71km but with just 960m of ascent (39 miles and 3150 feet) in much the same baking temperatures. That night we were treated to another huge storm. Somewhere about 2 am I was conscious of it getting pitch black and tried the light switch – which did nothing. I got up later to see if it was merely a case of the apartment trip switch being triggered … but it wasn’t.

A quick look outside revealed no lights anywhere so it was back to bed, completely helpless.

Waking on the Tuesday morning the position was unchanged – we breakfasted (without tea or coffee) and after a bit of a recce outside I discovered that an electricity sub-station had been taken out by the lightning and that a large area was blacked-out – including Flaine, Les Carroz, Araches and Magland down in the valley below. It all seemed to be a bit appropriate, given the almost complete lack of power in my legs.

We rejigged the planned ride to avoid having to detach the motor operation on the garage door to get any cars out, instead we cycled down the mountain road where it was clear that a good number of trees had been brought down across it and, at least partially, cleared.

We climbed the Col de la Colombiere on the opposite side of the valley up as far as Le Reposoire – only to find that it too was without electricity thanks to the fallen trees having taken out a number of power lines. With coffee withdrawal symptoms, we returned to Cluses which did have power and we found a very good lunch.

I really like not having to get the cars out to get to the start of a ride – but the downside is that the day gets bigger from a climbing point of view because of the climb (about 500m) back to the apartment. This was a relatively short day even with the climb back – in all 58km but with 1172m of ascent (36 miles and 3850 feet) and when we got back to the apartment just before 4pm we were just a few minutes ahead of the return of the power and the all-important ability to boil a kettle and cool some beers.

To be continued … heading up to over 2600 metres.

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