Tag Archives: alps

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.

Back from the alps, back to the running (and the little matter of the cricket World Cup)

The lacets (‘laces’) du Montvernier, Garmin style

The cycling in the alps was as good as ever, even if I was rather off the pace after a few months concentrating on running. Telegraphe and Galibier were the big climb highlights but the lacets du Montvernier were such fun.

Having got back late Sunday, it was up to London on Monday for supper with one son, followed by supper with the other on Tuesday. Tuesday also featured a rather annoying trip back to Oxfordshire once I realised that I had not checked the chickens before we left on Monday – annoying but necessary as I found them with almost no food or water!

Wednesday was my 64th birthday which we celebrated at Nathan Outlaw’s new restaurant venture at a London hotel. I’ve no idea whether he is known outside the UK but his big expertise is fish and the meal was excellent.

Back to Oxfordshire again later on Wednesday and down to Bournemouth Saturday to set up the house for one of my wife’s goddaughters who is using it next week.

Sunday morning I had a gentle run with my wife – my first run since 25th May when I tore my calf muscle. The muscle is fine, of course, but while the Achilles tendons are better, they are still not right. Friends over for supper so it will be into next week with good intentions of doing more running and cycling.

The cricket World Cup has reached its climax. After good performances against New Zealand and India to get into the semi-finals, England handed out a bit of a beating to Australia and went on the meet New Zealand in the final.

New Zealand batted first and scored a decent but beatable 241 from their 50 overs. Their opening bowlers in particular were excellent but England just about stuck in there and needed 2 to win off the final ball (of 300) but scored just one and tied the match. That meant it went to a ‘super over’ – six balls each side to decide the World Cup.

As Oasis might have said, a ‘champagne super over’.

Crazy and rather cruel.

We managed 15 from our six balls. New Zealand also managed 15 runs off theirs. In that case the result is decided, first, on boundaries hit in the match. England hit 26 and New Zealand 17.

So, in perhaps the most dramatic circumstances possible, England defied all of my doubts and actually justified their status as favourites by winning (just)!

That makes England the first country to win the Football, Rugby and Cricket World Cups.

Admittedly, not that many countries compete at the top level in all three sports!

… and perhaps we might add Le Tour de France too?

Alps cycling 2 – including Telegraphe and Galibier, some shoelaces and (not) a bombshell conclusion

From the top of Galibier with the road winding below and then visible further away, in the centre and then to the far right

We packed up on Wednesday morning and headed for Saint-Jean-de-Maurienne. We’ve used the apartment for some years now and have climbed just about everything in close proximity so we were stretching our wings a bit.

That afternoon I climbed the ‘Lacets de Montvernier’ (which translates as ‘the laces’) which featured in last year’s Tour. I rode under 22km (13.6miles) but climbed 460m (over 1500 feet). Not too far, not too steep but the sort of ride that puts a broad smile on your face. The others added a second climb but I decided to give that a miss as the queen stage of the trip was on Thursday and I didn’t want to prejudice that.

The Lacets winding down towards the valley floor

That queen stage was the Cols du Telegraphe and Galibier. It was a ride over to Saint-Michel-de-Maurienne and then it’s straight into Telegraphe – about 12km (7.5miles) at an average of 7.3%. After a descent of around 4km into Valloire, it’s back to the climbing with Galibier being another 1240m over about 18km (4070 feet, over 11 miles). The top of Galibier stands at 2642m (8668 feet) – the sixth highest col in France, I believe.

I loved the climb. I didn’t do it fast but felt good, despite it still being in the mid 30s℃. Standing at the top was about the only time in the whole trip that I felt cool out on the bike – and I was grateful that I’d taken a light jacket to put on for the descent.

In all, the day was a shade under 100km (60 miles) with 2428m of ascent (nearly 8,000 feet). It’s a lovely climb – a lot of it is between 7 and 10% but it also some flatter sections here and there. What a good day on the bike.

After Galibier it was back to the hotel and straight back to Les Carroz for the Plaine Joux on Friday (not to be confused with the Joux Plane – how could it be?). Not what I would call a recovery ride – it was tough at 64km and with 1473m of up (40 miles and 4830 feet) – but rewarded by a decent restaurant and great views of Mont Blanc at the top.

Saturday was back to the Cirque – a recovery ride at last – but with a pretty quick return trip to round off the week in a little bit of style.

The journey back was good until the tunnel which was suffering big delays thanks to the French border people deciding to show the French government how long it could take to process travellers post-Brexit (or, for the cynical) showing how they need more money/resources and taking it out on the Brits.

So, a week with 460km and 9100m of climbing (285 miles and nearly 30,000 feet). I was at the rear of our group but did all the big climbs and enjoyed it enormously.

I’d been wondering whether my plank exercises and gym sessions could cover for my lack of cycling over the last 8 months.

I have the answer – I learned it the hard way. The planks and gym would be a good addition to cycle training but are no replacement for it.

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.

An alpine reality check … Galibier here I come?

Mt Blanc from Le Bettex last year

After a day of hobbling around with the calf pull (or as I like to think of it, ‘calf tear’ which may be the same thing but sounds more dramatic) I did my turn leading the club Sunday ride. Probably not wise as I still couldn’t walk properly but it’s an easy and short ride (this one was 13 miles, 21km) aimed at families, new cyclists and those returning to riding.

I took a mountain bike and made sure I cycled with the pedal under the arch of my right foot to avoid flexing the ankle. Very much a case of do what I say, not what I do – on Wednesday’s training session I’d been telling the school children to ride with the balls of their feet on the pedals.

It worked pretty well – except that I had to take my right foot off the pedal when going over bumps as otherwise the shock through the leg rather hurt. We had a new chap cycling with us – he’s a relatively new cyclist but looks like a really good recruit for the Saturday rides too.

After reading up on matters on the internet, I think I’ve managed a grade one (or possibly one and a half) tear to the right calf muscle as I was able to run (slowly) back to the flat after I did it on Saturday. It was a real shame (to say the least) as I’d just run a 5:05 km before it went, which is quite quick for me.

The calf is both painful and swollen – if both my calf muscles were this size normally, I’d be a proud man.

It’s all a bit stressful – I never seem to injure myself cycling (subject to the very occasional falling off) but the running has given me 6 months of painful Achilles tendons every morning, an unhappy knee ligament and now a pulled muscle. The answer looks like stopping the running and going back to the cycling … but I enjoyed the Marathon last month, I do like running – and want to do another marathon. What should I do?

With our sons home over the weekend they helped in the garden and, once I had progressed from hobbling to limping (and with me wearing a very fetching green surgery-strength compression sock) we went for a couple of great (slow) walks before they went back to London on Monday.

Looking to the mountains

The annual cycling trip out to the alps is starting to loom large on the horizon. This year we are incorporating a night away from the apartment to open up some new climbs. My vote has gone in for the Col du Galibier and Col du Télégraphe duo. It’s a combined climb of 1859 metres over the course of 34.5km (6100 feet in 21.5 miles).

I think Galibier is the 6th highest climb in the alps and features a monument to Henri Desgrange, the man responsible for the creation of Le Tour, so it has to be done. The two Cols together are only just over a fifth of my ‘everest’ climb so how hard can it be … (I rather wish I hadn’t said that).

It’s made me realise that, since the Rotterdam Marathon in early April, I’ve cycled 5 times: 1×13 miles; 1×20 miles; 2x50miles; and 1x70miles. To put in an entry for the understatement of the month, it’s probably not enough!

Backside to saddle time – once the calf is up to it.

Le Tour de France 2018

 

 

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My stock ‘Grand Tour’ photo taken during the TdF 2016. I’ll try to take some more in 2018

The route of the 2018 Tour was announced today in Paris. It is pretty much as the rumours predicted – not entirely surprising as some stages are pre-empted by excited host cities or by decent investigative journalism, including by studying things like hotel booking patterns.

Starting a week later than normal due to the World Cup, the first four stages, in the Vendée department in the Pays de la Loire, had already been unveiled officially, including a team time trial (absent for two years) for stage 3. The other three stages look to be ones for the sprinters.

Then into Brittany and Normandy as the route makes its way, clockwise, to Amiens for the finish of stage 8. Stage 9 includes over 21 km (15 sections) of the famous cobbles on the way to Roubaix last visited in 2014, before a significant rest day transfer for stage 10, the first mountain stage in the alps. This is from Annecy to Le Grand Bornand and will be the Etape du Tour for 2018.

It’s a great area – the Etape I did in 2013 started and finished in Annecy but this year the tough 151km stage takes in the Col de la Croix Fry, the Col de Romme (for only the second time) and the top half of the Col de la Colombiere. I’ve ridden Colombiere a few times and really like it but I’ve only climbed Romme from the (much easier) South. They will be riding it from the North and that’s about 9.3 km at 8.8%. I’ve descended that way and it certainly feels every bit as steep as that.

It looks like my ride out to the alps next year will be targeted to get me to Les Carroz in time to watch this stage on Romme or Colombiere – can’t wait.

The next two stages stay in the alps, with stage 11 running from Albertville to La Rosière. I’ve skied in La Rosière – it was a very nice, small resort at the end of the valley road before you cross into Italy and arrive at La Thuile. In 1999 we were in La Rosière and adding a second week’s skiing in the Haute Savoie. My plan was to drive into Italy and go through the Mont Blanc tunnel back into France. The first day we skied along the road I had been planning to take into Italy, leading to a quick revision of the route. No bad thing as that was the week of the fire in the tunnel that tragically killed 35.

Stage 12 finishes in l’Alpe d’Huez. When I rode d’Huez, I found the town to be a bit of a disappointment but the whole experience was improved by carrying on above it to Lac Besson (with its decent restaurant) and then coming down via the Col de Sarenne (tantalizingly signposted as being at 1999m).

Sadly, no Mont Ventoux – I did the cinglé in 2015 and I think it’s a really special Mountain.

Stage 16 sees the tour’s arrival in the Pyrenees, before an individual time trial for the penultimate stage, down in the South West corner of the country.

Then the traditional finish takes place on Sunday 29th July in Paris.

Likely decisive stages?

Certainly the cobbles on stage 9 – especially if it’s wet and trecherous. Also cross winds can be really disruptive and cause splits in the peleton on the coastal stages.

Otherwise, as always, look out for the usual suspects – especially the mountain stages, where there will be 5 mountain finishes. Also watch out for the gravel section at the top of the Plateau des Glières on stage 10 – I rode it in 2016 (we have a very fine Routemeister for our trips to the alps) but was very pleased I wasn’t trying to race along it. The climb to the plateau itself is also pretty tough from the east side (with 5.8km at 11.5%).

The individual time trial looks to be quite hilly so might play into Chris Froome’s hands – even though he and Tom Dumoulin would, no doubt, have wanted two ITTs. In 2016 I watched Froome win the individual time trial (Sallanches to Megève) from the roadside at Combloux – that was up a hill and he was completely dominant.

Can Chris Froome win it? Certainly he can but it won’t be easy as Dumoulin, Porte, Quintana, Landa, López, Aru, Bardet, Urán and Nibali must all fancy their chances of a podium at least. It will be interesting to see what Landa can do when racing for himself and Quintana should put up a better showing assuming he doesn’t try to do the Giro as well, like he did this year.

However, what none of the other likely contenders have is the strength of Team Sky around them and that could, as in recent years, be decisive – even with the team size being reduced from 9 to 8 for 2018. Personally I hope it is as I’d love to see an English speaker joining the 5 time winners’ club (and staying there!).

Great congratulations to Chris Froome on winning the Velo d’Or – I for one hope he adds Le Tour of 2018 to it.

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.

Bears, wolves and saddlebags

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I might have to rethink that top tube pack

I’m not saying that long-distance, multi-day cycling is the dark side of the sport – but there are certainly some black arts involved.

I’ve found a very good website (https://ridefar.info) written by a 3 time Transcontinental participant and although I’ve promised myself that I won’t obsess (yet) about my plan to ride to the alps next summer, I have done some preliminary research. It reveals that the problems posed by matters like:

  • assembling the right kit
  • carrying it on the bike
  • route planning
  • navigation
  • bike tools
  • device charging
  • refuelling strategies
  • sleeping plans and
  • required fitness

are on a scale well beyond my current understanding.

Will my reasonably aggressive geometry racing bike (with its maximum 25cm tyres) be suitable for French cycle paths? Can I tell which ‘D’ roads are OK and which will bring certain death under the wheels of a 2CV? Will I be able to find places to charge the phone and Garmin on the way? Can I survive the wild boar, wolves, bears and vampires if I sleep rough? Will I be able to live on a diet of McDonald’s, Haribo, ice cream and Coca Cola, as many in the Transcontinental Race appear to? Will I really need to take that second velvet smoking jacket?

They all seem to be fair questions, apart from the fact that there are, as far as I know, no bears in France, other than the Pyrenees.

It’s expensive too: a front wheel with the right dynamo is probably bespoke and a few hundred pounds, the charger device is another hundred, the various kit bags behind the saddle, under and over the crossbar and on the handlebars could easily be yet another hundred (each), as can quality light weight sleeping bags, tents etc.

The best thing is that I now have an excuse to put the tri-bars that I bought a few weeks ago onto the bike. They might be a good idea on the long straight roads in France, assuming my old body can adapt to the position.

Of course, getting it right is very important, not least because a problem could occur a few hundred miles from home and many miles from anywhere – so I’ve got to take it seriously. When everesting I was never more than 8 miles from the apartment and long sportives tend to have some support – even if it’s only a broom wagon. What’s more, I don’t speak any significant amount of French.

However, this will be my first – and possibly only – foray into this cycling genre, so I plan on being cautious and will try to adopt an approach with modest expenditure. I will dress this meanness up as merely being an innovative extra dimension to the challenge I have set myself.

So, apart from the pain, exhaustion and mental anguish, how was the everesting?

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The top of the Col – not exactly a tourist attraction

Everesting is a simple concept: choose a hill and ride up and down it until you climb the height of Mount Everest (8848m). No time limit but no sleeping.

I first heard about everesting back in 2015 and have been blogging about my 8 weeks of training for it, but at 4.51am on Sunday July 16th 2017, alone in the French Alps, I couldn’t remember what on earth had made me think attempting it would be a good idea.

So, how did it go? Read on …

I very nearly failed even before I began. The journey to the Alps started on the Friday night but involved delays at the tunnel and on the autoroute so I’d had a maximum of 8 hours sleep over the two previous nights. When I woke at 4.25am, going out to attempt an ‘everest’ was the last thing I wanted to do. I was too tired; perhaps Monday would be better than Sunday; perhaps later in the week was more sensible; why was I risking spoiling my week in the Alps for something I was going to fail at. I had to lecture myself sternly that at least I had to start, even if I wouldn’t finish, and I left the apartment very reluctantly.

It’s often said that choosing the right hill is a vital part of a successful everest. I hoped that I’d chosen well. Most of my hill training had been done on a 1km hill in Oxfordshire with a 90m climb. It had taught me that everesting a 9% gradient was perhaps steeper than I wanted – and that I’d struggle with the prospect of needing to do 100 reps of anything.

Accordingly, I’d adopted the ‘goldilocks’ approach to hill selection: not too steep, not too shallow; not too long, not too short; not too busy, not too remote. My chosen hill was from Les Carroz d’Araches to the top of the Col de Pierre Carrée in the Haute Savoie – 11.3km with over 700m of height gained per lap. ‘Only’ 12 laps needed: surely even Goldilocks would agree that was just right?

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Helpful  posts ticking off the kilometres and giving the next km’s average gradient

The first climb started well, accompanied by the dawn chorus and cowbells. Unfortunately my left knee started to hurt before the half way point of that first lap – the Iliotibial Band Syndrome again. Over the next few hours it would be joined by pain in my feet, hands, right knee, thighs, shoulders, neck and back. Happily each pain came and went of its own accord. Interestingly, no sign of cramp throughout the day.

It was a bit cold on the first ascent and bitterly cold on the descent despite a long sleeve compression top and a wind stopper jacket. I’d set up base camp by parking a car in the centre of the village and at the end of that first rep I had to sit in the car for 20 minutes, engine running and heater on full to thaw out – a great start!

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Base camp in the gloriously named Place de l’Ambiance

I put on leg warmers and set off on lap 2. On the ascent I was overcome with tiredness and found myself cycling with my eyes closed for a few seconds at one point. That convinced me that there was no way I was going to finish the attempt but, miraculously, within 15 minutes the feeling passed and didn’t return.

On this lap, in the absence of long fingered gloves, I descended using my patented hand warmer – the anti-fog mitt from the car. My bib shorts also split at the seam needing another longer stop to change and warm up at the end of the rep.

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A good thing about a longer lap is that each makes a material contribution to the whole thing – two laps in and already over 16% of the way – even if a bit slow because of the enforced stops.

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An Old Man in Lycra at the top of the Col de Pierre Carrée with the Flaine skiing bowl behind.

The plan had been to do each climb and descent without stopping (which I managed with all the climbs and all but one descent when I had to fix a dropped chain) and to have a short refuelling stop (water, gels, oat bars, peanuts etc) at base camp every rep – with longer breaks once that became necessary. That worked to the end of the sixth rep when I stopped for a few extra minutes to enjoy a coke and a double espresso at the bar in the square.

At this stage I was doing a full rep, comfortably, in under 1h 30min – not climbing very fast and descending carefully as I’d invested too much in the climbing to want to throw it away on a foolish crash.

I’d decided that my choice of hill had been very good. The route markers showed a decently steady gradient with 6 kms at 6%, 2 at 7% and 3 at 8%. The traffic was a little heavier than I’d guessed as there must have been a sports and classic car event in Flaine. Despite that, in the busiest hour I don’t suppose I saw more than 30 cars – and generally they were driven very courteously. Happily, there was virtually no wind and it wasn’t even too hot, which was good as there was little cover or shade. Add to that the fact that it was quite an interesting route with some great views.

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A ski lift, avalanche protection and a road going up – could a man want more?

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Early in lap 7 I was in entirely new territory. Celebrating my 60th birthday by joining the Club des Cinglés du Mont-Ventoux in 2015 had been a day with 4500m of climbing but now I’d left that behind.

Being beyond half way was a real boost and at the end of rep 7 I was feeling as well as a man of 62 who had been out for over 11 hours and climbed 5000m could reasonably expect to feel. My bike, a Rose X-Lite CRS 3000, was terrific: very light and really comfortable, given its relatively aggressive race geometry.

Sadly, that general feeling of well-being didn’t extend to my backside. My carbon fibre saddle had been tested and found to be comfortable up to about 6 hours and 111 miles but, having had to change my preferred shorts after the second lap, I had discovered the limits of the saddle’s comfort and I was now spending time cycling out of the saddle merely to relieve the pressure and pain.

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The friends I was out in France with had been out for a day’s cycling of their own but now rallied round magnificently. David rode with me for rep 8 and then Philip proved how good it is to have a doctor in the ranks. I was suggesting doing rep 9 and then stopping to eat proper food. He recommended eating straight away, as I was probably under-fuelled which was great advice as, by the time we had sat down, I was shivering from mild hypoglycemia.

Happily, the prescribed croque monsieur (French cheese on toast with ham) and coke worked a treat. After Philip rode with me for rep 9, Rosario took over for 10 in the twilight.

I was pretty knackered by now, the light had completely gone so the ascents were slowing and the descents were particularly slow and potentially dangerous. At this stage, having the second rider with good lights was a real bonus and, being so close, I was determined to finish.

I was accompanied by Phil for rep 11, in complete darkness by now. It was getting colder again on the descents so it was back to the car between reps to warm up. Dave then came out for rep 12, starting just before 1am, which was well above and beyond the call of duty!

The everesting calculator said I would need to do 11.9 reps but after the 12th the Garmin was showing ‘only’ 8765m of climbing so Dave kept me company for another part-rep to take it to 8912m, just to be safe. In all, 282km – finishing just after 3am.

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Just before the end. I guess the lap counter was counting double because I was doing ‘up and down’ rather than proper ‘circuit’ laps

A terrific show of support from them all, and one that made a huge difference towards the end of over 22 hours for the whole attempt, with 18 hours of cycling.

So, success! Delighted, astonished, shattered.

It was an epic and, let’s be honest, ridiculous day in the saddle – but with a real sense of achievement at the end of it. I consumed about 5 litres of water, 7 oat and honey/maple syrup bars, 5 banana bars, 5 peanut and salted caramel bars, 2 gels, 150g of dry roasted peanuts, a croque monsieur, two cokes and a double espresso – inadequate by all calculations but it worked.

I expect all everesting attempts are different and my experience is limited to one, but some of the key things I learnt include:

  • Don’t underestimate it – it is hard, both physically and mentally
  • Don’t overestimate it and psyche yourself out before you start – if I can do it ….
  • Lightness and sheer bloody-mindedness are your friends
  • Keep eating and drinking – Strava suggests I expended over 8,000 calories
  • Some mates can make a real difference, especially late in the day
  • Don’t leave it until you are 62.

Epilogue:

I celebrated with a beer and a peach in fromage frais at about 3.30am – neither has ever tasted as good.

Waking at 8am on the Monday, after about 4 hours sleep, I felt surprisingly well but for mild aches in the thighs and shoulders – and the very major tenderness in my backside.

I took the day off the bike but rode on the following 4 days (wearing two pairs of cycle shorts), clocking up about 5,000m of climbing, including the excellent HC climb to the Plateau de Solaison. The legs felt a bit empty but performed well enough.

A week after the everesting I’m back home, included in the Hell’s 500 Hall of Fame, feeling really well, able to sit comfortably and wondering what to do next ….

Thank you for reading. Best of luck with your own challenges – if my experience can help in any way, I’m delighted.