Category Archives: tour de france

Climbing the Joux Plane, bikes, walking in the alps and Golden Eagles.

Walking in the alps in the Haute Savoie. I can think of worse things to do

Normally, the White Horse Challenge, my club sportive and my week in the alps would be the year’s cycling highlights – but I’ve already had the Ride London as a bonus in 2019. Equally, the lake district in January would be the focus of the walking – but now another week in the alps and more of both!

For a few years some friends have, very kindly, invited us to their place in the Lake District in January for some walking. We’ve reciprocated by having them and another couple (who are mutual friends) to stay in Bournemouth. This year we decided to try something different and it was ‘Bournemouth in the alps’.

So it was that, at silly o’clock on a Sunday morning, we left home in a well loaded car, heading for the channel tunnel and the Haute Savoie.

We had many things to take out, plus three bikes. The ladies (although all very competent cyclists) had decided that cycling back to a ski resort at 1150m each day might be a bit much so just the men decided to do some riding along with the walking that we would all do. We took all the bikes and some of our friends’ extra luggage so they could fly out with just hand baggage.

Our thinking was to get to the tunnel early in the hope that the almost inevitable delays might not have built up too badly by the early hours – and to give us a good chance of arriving in the light. It worked and the 710 miles (almost) flew past – and we were at the apartment (somewhat knackered) by late afternoon.

The first two days were hot and we prepared for the arrival of our friends, and relaxed, other than for a quick walk up the mountain to check which walking paths were open. Some are completely shut in the summer in favour of cyclists who have exclusive use of part of what is the ski area in the winter. VTT (vélo tout-terrain) is quite a big thing out there – but I am a little disappointed that so many are electric assist. To me, the hard-core appearance of riders with all the body armour should mean self-propulsion (although, personally, I’d want to take the telecabine up to the top, and I have to acknowledge that they are focused on the descent, not the climb).

The others arrived on Wednesday and the hot weather continued. On Thursday we walked from the apartment (at about 1150m), up to and along a ridge above the village at about 1700m – around 8.5km with 800m of ascent (5.2miles and 2620 feet). It never ceases to surprise me how ski runs that I know so well, look so different in the summer. It’s not just the colours but also the contours and the existence of roads that you’d never guess were there.

Friday was a cycling day. We decided to go for broke early on and we so rode over to Samoëns … and up the Joux Plane. It’s a tough (HC) climb – 11.6km, 989m of ascent at an average of 8.5% (7.2miles and 3250m) – it gave Lance Armstrong (by his own admission) his hardest day riding a bike as he nearly cracked in 2000 under a Jan Ulrich attack. It is also rather infamous as being part of the stage that resulted in Floyd Landis’ expulsion from the 2006 Tour. I believe that it’s been featured on the Tour 11 times.

I must admit that I like the climb which is picturesque and fairly quiet, even though it is very hard.

Our wives drove out to meet us for lunch at the top of the col. I have happy memories of this place as the only one where I have been mistaken for a proper cyclist … a few years ago the lady in charge of the restaurant offered me a newspaper to put under my shirt as I left for the descent in cold weather!

After lunch, we did the return trip with the inevitable climb back up to the apartment. In all, it was a 71km day with 1860m of ascent – a fine day on the bike.

Back to walking on Saturday – we drove about 5km to Les Moliets and walked a 10km loop with another 630m of climbing (6 miles and 2100 feet). Undoubtedly, the highlight was seeing two golden eagles circling low overhead as we sat at the Tête du Pré des Saix at 2100m (c 7000 feet).

We cycled 72km with 1260m of ascent to and back from the cirque at Sixt-fer-a-Cheval on Sunday – the ‘meet wives for lunch’ arrangement again – a beautiful setting I’ve visited many times and never grow tired of.

The main problem with the mountains is the unpredictability of the weather – for my cycling week I’ve been incredibly lucky over the years and if the rain has come in, it’s come in late in the afternoon/early evening. We were chased back from the cirque by the rain – and got caught just minutes before we reached the apartment.

It was a bit wet and murky on Monday too – but we cycled up the Col du Pierre Carree (my everesting hill – how did I ever do that 12 times?), over the top and down into Flaine. It is a purpose built ski resort created in the 1960s with a great snow record but little in the way of summer season – and it was almost completely shut at the very beginning of September.

We did not find a single shop open but managed to track down the one restaurant serving food (almost exclusively to resort maintenance staff) and had a very good lunch. We had an abbreviated walk in the drizzle before riding back – a total ride of 32km with 1045m of climbing (20 miles and 3400 feet), with a 4.2km walk sandwiched in between.

Our friends left on Tuesday and we drove back to England on Wednesday.

A 1500 mile round trip in the car and about 175km of cycling with 4166m of ascent (110 miles and 13700 feet) and 22.6km of walking with 1550m of ascent (14 miles and 5100 feet). No running – but that would simply have been too much. As it was, I returned fitter (but heavier) than I went out.

A great trip in almost exclusively good weather, with good friends, good cycling and good walking. It takes a lot of beating.

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Run, gym and (minor) bike mechanics

After the sportive it was London on Sunday to take our sons for lunch to celebrate the older boy’s birthday. On Monday morning I ran down the Thames Path, 7km (4.3 miles), surprisingly at sub 4 hour marathon pace.

It was a very good run in warm, but not stupidly hot, weather. The only down-sides are a slightly sore left knee and painful calf muscles. I guess that I’ve not been exercising them very much while I’ve been protecting the Achilles tendons. I’m sure it will all improve.

I am continuing my one-man attempt to bring to London the habit of saying ‘hello’ to other runners as you pass by. On this run I got a response from 5 out of the 13 runners I saw. Admittedly, a lot were wearing headphones or earpieces of one sort or another and might not have heard me, but I’ll keep at it.

Gym on Tuesday for a bit over an hour. It was very good apart from the chap who insisted on singing along (rather tunelessly) to the music on his headphones. I don’t mean to be a miserable old git but if I wanted karaoke …

As part of the gym exercises I did the planks routine and then decided to see if I could do a straight 5 minutes of plank as well. The good news is that I can, the bad news is that my lower back was sore for the rest of the day so I missed the evening’s planned turbo session. I suppose the other bit of good news is that my painful back took my mind off my painful calf muscles.

They say that people perform better if the ‘package’ feels good – decent kit, nicely maintained and presented equipment. I don’t know if it’s true but I washed and oiled the bike and put new bar tape on it on Wednesday. The old tape was the original from when I bought the bike 4 years ago and was tatty beyond words. More workman-like than expert, I replaced it like-for-like with black tape. I’m sure it will make the bike go faster (though not as fast as if it had red tape, of course).

I’m going to need all the help I can get on the Ride London sportive, surely the new tape will help?

My heartfelt congratulations to:

  • Egan Bernal for his Tour win (the first of many, all being well),
  • Geraint Thomas for his immensely graceful acceptance of second place
  • Juilan Alaphilippe for lighting up the whole race
  • the Irish cricket team for giving England plenty to worry about in the early stages of their recent test match
  • Fiona Kolbinger, the first woman ever to be in the lead of the Transcontinental Race. 4 days 7 hours in, she is in front by 35km having stopped for less than 20 hours in total.

Targets – on and off the bike, and no-Sky thinking

Blue Sky No Sky thinking

Well, no Sky sponsorship for the all-conquering cycle team after next year. Perhaps not a huge surprise after Sky was taken over and recent questions raised over the team’s integrity – but all that seemed to have calmed down in recent months, with the overall image being boosted by Geraint Thomas’ Tour win, a man who appears to be really popular both in and outside the peloton.

In the current economic climate it’s hard to see anyone wanting to dig quite so deep into their pockets as Sky did so it will be interesting to see how the team cuts its cloth in rather less affluent times.

It looks like the British domination is more under threat now than it has been for years – I just hope that road cycling has gained a sufficiently strong support base here in the UK to withstand a possible period of lower success in the pro ranks. Surely we are not that shallow?

No doubt, Sky will be rushing to pass on the saving to subscribers (an academic point for me as we only have ‘proper’ television).

My own cycling for next year looks to be built around the White Horse Challenge on 28 April, and my usual week’s cycling out in the alps in July.

White Horse Challenge

I’ve entered the WHC again but with some apprehension as it’s only three weeks after the Rotterdam Marathon. I have no idea whether that’s enough time to recover from the run and then get back on the bike properly, but I guess I’ll find out. The WHC is about 90 miles with anywhere between 1400 and 1750m of climbing, depending whose Garmin you use. 

This will be my 8th attempt and I’m still wanting to break the 5 hour mark – pb so far 5:05. I guess 2019 will not be the year to go under 5 hours, unless marathon training has some miraculous benefit to my cycling.

Haute Savoie, 2019

The alps trip is nearly finalised with all 6 of us being present and accounted for in 2019. I have no plans to ride out there like I did this year so I’m hoping I might perform better on the mountains than was the case with knackered legs this summer.

I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve been out there – it’s becoming a challenge for the routemeister, although I doubt I’ll ever get tired of the Col de la Colombière, the Plaine Joux, the Joux Plane and the Col de la Pierre Carrée (‘my’ Col having being the first, and still only, person to ‘everest’ it!).

Rotterdam Marathon

Although it’s early in the training I was thinking about target setting for April’s marathon in Rotterdam.

Initially, my main aim was to break 4 hours, as I did (just) when I ran my two previous marathons in 1998 and 1999. However, the first four weeks of training are making me reassess that. 

The current London Marathon ‘good for age’ for a 44 year old male is 3:05. I don’t suppose that’s changed much since I ran in 1999 as a 44 year old, but I was probably 50 minutes outside it then. Although I’ve kept reasonably fit through cycling over the last 8 years, what on earth makes me think that I might now be within 15 minutes of the ‘good for age’ time for me as a 63 year old?

I’ve never been particularly hung up on the age thing – but that doesn’t feel like a sound basis for ignoring it completely. I seem to have been assuming that I will run the same time as if the intervening 20 years just haven’t happened!

They might change but, for now, the targets are:

  • Minimum target is to run all the way and finish without injury or undue trauma
  • Beyond that, sub 4:15 is a realistic(?) target
  • After that, sub 4:00 would be great
  • Next, it would be setting a personal best – but that’s a tricky one because I cannot remember what time I did in my second marathon in 1999. My official finish time was 3:56:42 but I can’t remember whether that was an individual time or whether that was from the gun. In 1998 I got an individual finish time, but not start time, and I know that it had taken me nearly 9 minutes to get over the start line – but I can’t remember if that changed for 1999. Let’s say 3:56 will be a pb as I have no evidence for anything better than 3:56:42.
  • The extreme wishful thinking would be 3:45 – my London Marathon ‘good for age’ time (though to me it feels way beyond just ‘good’).

The biggest factor will be staying fit, healthy and injury free (including the Achilles tendons) – but, even with all that working in my favour, 4:00 looks like much more of a stretch target than I’d assumed.

Damn.

Psycho and the Pacific in Piccadilly

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‘PsychoBarn’ by Cornelia Parker – a rather nice contrast to the Neoclassical surroundings of the Royal Academy, London

We stayed in London for the rest of the week. The plan was to run on Sunday morning with Mrs O – but it was cold and raining. Happily, I’m not yet at the point of having to train in bad weather …. so we didn’t.

Friday was full of domestic duties but on Saturday we went to the Royal Academy. It was pot luck as to what exhibition they might have on but we were lucky a they had one called ‘Oceania’ – showcasing art from the South Pacific islands, including New Zealand. Although we might not have put this one down as a ‘must visit’ we were very pleased to have stumbled across it and it was excellent.

There was also a small gallery with English watercolours which was lovely too. Mrs O can trace her family tree back to the sister of Thomas Gainsborough, the famous 18th C English artist and there was a watercolour by Gainsborough in the exhibition. We were tempted to take it with us on the basis that, surely, it was ours but decided the Academy might not understand.

We carried on into Piccadilly, Leicester Square and Trafalgar Square where we came across ‘Africa on the square’ – a festival of music and arts with pop-up food stalls and a African market – very good entertainment.

I think it’s those sorts of thing that show the benefits of city life – and we are particularly lucky to be able to enjoy both London and Bournemouth – but I was still happy to get back to rural Oxfordshire on Sunday afternoon.

If we are going to spend more time in Bournemouth and London I’ll have to think about leaving bikes there. With space at a premium in London, perhaps there’s an excuse for the purchase of a Brompton?

So, a decent week returning from 3 week’s rest for the Achilles tendons – about 19.5km (12 miles) of running and a very rare week without any time on a bike. I’ll put that right in the next few days.

To be honest, I can’t wait for the start of my 20 weeks training programme leading up to the Rotterdam Marathon.

The route for the 2019 Tour de France was released last week. It doesn’t come very close to Les Carroz so it may be a year that we give a miss to viewing a stage. I love the tour but have seen enough stages over the years (about 15, I think) that I’m happy to give it a miss if it takes too much time from my own cycling in the alps.

Without any mad ideas like cycling out there next year I’m going to see if I can take on my friends Phil and Philip for our own king of the mountains title. This year the ride out to the alps had rather taken the edge off my legs’ performance by the time I arrived!

Yet again, it looks like the Tour’s organisers are trying to set an ‘anti-Sky domination’ route. What’s the chance that Sky will again thwart their attempts?

 

Tanks, bladders, lawns, running and the bike

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The bike is an ‘Eastman’ – Indian, I think. Goodness knows why anyone would have brought it back to the UK. Next year the plan is to attach a rack and a basket and fill them with flowers.

The Achilles’ have continued to niggle but, foolishly I’m sure, I’ve ignored them and kept on with some reasonably light exercise. Mrs O and I ran for 5km (3miles) on Thursday and I did my now regular run to the gym and back with a friend on Friday – with 30 minutes of weights in between.

I avoided the calf raises which I think caused the problem with the Achilles tendons last week and have been keeping up the stretches, the sit-ups, press-ups and crunches. I suppose I should have stopped the running until they were properly better, but they are improving in spite of it so I guess it’s doing no serious harm. I’m rarely accused of being sensible these days but at least I’m avoiding any longer runs until the tendons settle down again.

Friday evening I got back on the turbo for 42km (26miles) in a reasonably gentle hour (without much ankle flexing).

So, that was four runs and two cycles and a gym session in six days – nothing too extreme but enough to keep it all ticking over.

It’s turned a bit autumnal here, colder and with heavy morning dews – but I managed to get the lawns mowed. It’s a bit of a gauntlet at the moment as the willow has decided that it’s main aim in life is to sweep the ear defenders off my head as I drive the mower beneath it and I had to pick up a wheelbarrow load of fallen apples to stop them blocking the grass pick-up system. First world problems, eh?

However, it’s a relief to get it done. I know it’s strange but a newly mown lawn, an empty bladder and a full tank of fuel on a long journey are all disproportionately satisfying.

_ _ __ _ _ _ _

Bravo, Simon Yates for winning the Vuelta (subject only to some disaster on the final, largely ceremonial, stage tomorrow). Another astonishing performance by a British cyclist – and the three Grand Tours won by three different Brits in 2018!

We hadn’t won a single Grand Tour before 2012 and we have won 9 out of the 20 since – and the last five in a row. Wow!

Also, bravo Vicky Holland for winning the triathlon world title and James Cooke for winning the individual world modern pentathlon title (in what must have been one of the great finishes of recent years).

We might be going to hell in a handcart generally – but at least the sport is pretty good.

Le Tour – wonderful. Transcontinental Race – more phenomenal cycling

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More from stage 10 of Le Tour

I have never been mistaken for Mick Jagger – nor do we apparently have anything in common. However, having finished my ride to the alps, I can at least get some small sense of what it must be to try to come down from the high of a big performance.

The point is that the ride was quite all-consuming and, I’ve already said, that was one of the great things about it – the glorious simplification of life down to ‘eat, sleep, ride’.

Once I got to the alps I was occupied by the cycling with my friends and following Le Tour but having returned to what passes for normal life, it’s difficult not to think about the next challenges.

My promise to Mrs O that I won’t go for a solo challenge next year means I’ve got to recruit a fellow idiot or accept that I’ve got quite a while to ponder the issue – the main thing that might come off in the meantime being a marathon with our younger son in April 2019.

Happily, I can get the challenge experience second hand by following the Transcontinental Race that started on Sunday. I know it’s well beyond me but I can dream ….

As I write, the leader has ridden for 1 day 18 hours and 30 minutes and been stopped for only 4 hours 18 minutes. His average moving speed is 28.4kph (17.65mph). Quite phenomenal.

Of course, if I can’t exactly plan the next trip, I can think about cycling kit. Sometimes even that can be oddly entertaining. On the Chain Reaction Cycles website there is a Kask Rapido Road Helmet for sale. Apparently, they think one of its great attractions is the ‘Expanded polystyrene shell that optimises crash impacts’

Not sure about you but I’d go for a helmet than minimises crash impacts.

Tour de France 2018

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A rare picture – Geraint Thomas was more often ahead of Chris Froome. This is stage 10, just above Le Reposior on the Col de la Colombière – the last before Thomas took (and kept) the yellow jersey. 

No doubt, much of the cycling world would have wanted anyone but a Sky rider to win Le Tour. There is a strong argument that any domination of a sport becomes unhealthy over time and six wins in seven years certainly amounts to domination in my book.

However, I guess that if a Sky rider had to win, Geraint Thomas was a pretty good choice – a man who:

  • seems to be very popular in the peleton,
  • served his apprenticeship with good grace and humour (in 2007 he finished 140th out of 141),
  • handled the pressure commendably (rather in contrast with David Brailsford at times),
  • passes the ‘would you be happy to have a drink with him in the pub’ test, and
  • above all, is not Chris Froome.

Cards on the table, I am a big fan of Chris Froome and believe him to be a great champion – but I fear that the reception he’d have got when standing on the top step of the podium would have been ‘mixed’ at best (!) and, in some eyes, the victory would have been potentially tainted.

Of course, being a member of Sky since its creation, Geraint may be tarred with the same brush in the eyes of the sceptics but I believe that he’s never applied for any TUEs.

He doesn’t even have mild asthma – how many self-respecting pro cyclists can say that.

Chapeau Geraint.