Saturday, 29 September 2007

Destination Italia

Today was tinged with a little sadness as it was time to part company, although I'm sure BT had had enough of watching re-runs of Le Simpsons on the teev and was keen to get home. It was no-doubt hard for him to have to watch us repeatedly leave in the morning and return in the afternoon with stories of a day he hadn't experienced. Having said our good buys, Karel and BT headed north direction Geneva, whilst the rest of us donned backpacks and headed south.

Being totally fed up trying to find a decent Italian meal in Albertville, we decided we'd fix that by riding to Italy. Not as simple as it sounds though. In order to get there we had to hall our arses over the "Petit" St Bernard (2188 m). The only thing petit about it, however, is that it is a fractionally lower pass than the Grand St Bernard, which we would be tackling the following day, all going well. The decision to cross into Italy was somewhat of a gamble, as once on the Italian side of Mt Blanc, the shortest route home (north to the far side of Lake Geneva) is via the Grand SB. Hence, we were counting on getting at least 2 days of good weather for 2 big cols. An extended period of bad weather might have made life tricky getting back for flights etc.

Anyway, the sky looked OK as well rolled out. Before getting to "THE" climb however, there was first the valley road to negotiate and a possible inconvenience in the form of the climb to Notre Dame du Pre, as we did on the previous day. However, arriving at the critical junction we unanimously decided to risk the freeway, although sections of it proved to be without shoulder. Once through the nasty bit we happened on a lovely shaded bike path by a fast-moving river full of Kayaks (lunch) which took us the rest of the way into Bourg St Maurice.

The climb itself was quite shallow for much of its length. Maybe I just had good legs but it seemed like one of the easier climbs of our tour, even with backpack. This is certainly the "easy" side. Ham and I had been down this side before, even passing a couple of French "youfs" carving the curves on monster skateboards! We descended to Pre St Didier, the run in of which comprised over a dozen nested switchbacks, and checked into the same "university" accommodation we used last time. Dinner over the road rocked, and Ham was in his language element. As luck would have it a local folk festival was happening in the piazza below our hotel windows - which had awesome views of the Mt Blanc massif BTW. This was intriguing at first - impressive were the stamina and stylish moves of the "Silver Fox" - although it became less amusing as midnight approached and it impeded efforts for some of us to get to sleep. All up, 113 km and ~1850 m gained for the day.

Ham and Kev with the Tigne valley behind them

more Cocas

Greg en route to winning the battle of the backpack

Mt Blanc from the Italian side, complete with anti-tank concrete thingies from the war

Dave and the dawg

Saturday, 22 September 2007

Albertville 3

Day 5.
Today we were greeted by drizzle in the am, which developed into solid rain in the pm. BT's little spill and Nigel's mechanical the previous day forced us to re-evaluate what we were to do for the rest of the trip. As it turns out, although it doesn't have the best assortment of restaurants for the culinary tourist, there is an abundance of good riding to be done from Albertville. There was at least another week of new roads and cols to tick. Hence, we scotched plans to head further south as originally planned and decided to stay put for the time being. This would allow us to keep BT company as he took some time to rest up a little before exiting on an earlier flight, allow Nige to get his bike fixed (or buy a new one) and allow me to spend a little more time catching up with Karel. In the end, Karel and Nige spent most of the day driving to Chambery to get a new derailleur hanger, whilst the rest of us just took it easy.

Day 6.
Rain, and lots of it all day. However, having spent the previous day couped up, some of us (not mentioning any names, Ham) already had a serious bout of cabin fever and were keen to get out and do a ride. We knew it was going to be super wet, so decided to hit the bike path to Annecy and back. 90 km of very wet riding, as it turned out. It also sorted out those who had good rain jackets, and those (moi in particular) whose rain jackets turned out to be not very water proof at all. This made for a cold wet and crankier-than-usual Langles at the turn-around. Ham, the smiling assassin in his uber rain jacket, managed to pick up the sprint home.

Day 7.
Finally, the weather looked like it had broken, although sizeable chunks of cloud adorned the upper valleys. Today we headed south aiming to climb to the ski resort of Val Thorens, before returning over the same roads. Nige and I were both climbing well today, and had a bit of battle up the final slopes. The summit roads were slick and fresh snow adorned the sides of the road and the resort buildings from the previous days inclement weather. Capes on and outa here! This turned out to be quite a tough day at the office. Karel's fancy altimeter thingy calculated that over the 130 km, we climbed about 2450 m, a little more than we estimated from the topo. On the way back Greggles and I managed to pinch a cheeky gap on route to another bike shop we wanted to check out on our return. Not to be distracted by such small-coin primes, Karel went for the glory and outfoxed the others for the stage (again). That evening was the last we would share with Nigel, who was going to be hitting the rail yard at sparrow's the next morning.

Day 8.
Today we set out to do an anticlockwise loop to Bourg St Maurice, returning over the lovely Cormet de Roselend. It was another big day - 127 km and 2600 m gained, according to Karel. However, we didn't do the loop via the line of least reisistance. In getting to Bourg St Maurice, and aiming to avoid what looked to be one of those dangerous red valley roads, we took a side trip and ended up on the very pretty but not-insubstantial 10 km climb up to Notre Dame du Pre (Karel taking the honours). Lunch was taken in the beautiful town of Longefoy, before we descended back to the valley which gradually climbed to Bourg St Maurice and the start of the Roselend. This was the climb whose descent claimed both Rogers and O'Grady in this years tour. Given that we noted only one heavy wooden railing on the climb, I assume that both riders crashed on the very same corner? With a few days of climbing in the legs now, the ascent didn't feel too bad, although the final km was into a brutal headwind, that slowed Kev just enough so that i could reel him in by the top. Being a fan of cows, there were many to admire on the col, which were being milked by farmers with their mobile milking machines. So as not to get too cold, we descended the first section to the lake where we stopped for Cocas and admired views aplenty. Allez Karel! Now for the main chunk of the descent. Steep, fast and technical. We had definitely climbed the easy side! Ham did a fine job leading the train down the final technical descent into Albertville, and snaffled the town sign which designated the stage.

Shitty weather, but Ham and Kev are keen

velocipedes, patiently waiting for their masters during a coffee break in Moutier

Val Thorens

swollen river in Moutier, at the base of Val Thorens, a ~32 km climb


refuelling Czech style
we bid BT farewell as we head off for another day of suffering, this time direction Roselend
on the very pretty climb to Notre Dame du Pre
beautiful roads en route to Longefoy

Greg summits the Roselend
lots of cows!

capes on

We celebrate with Bozkov, "the green stuff". The following day we will go separate ways.

Albertville 2

Day 4, 108 km and ~1150 m climbed.

Today turned out to be an action packed affair. 7 rolled out, but only 4 rolled home. The plan was to once again head north, but do an anticlockwise loop around Lac Annecy collecting the cols; Tamie, Forclaz, Leschaux and Frene. Before rolling proper though, we dropped by the now-open bike shop so that BT could have his freewheel serviced. The mechanic seemed to know exactly what the problem was, which was a relief. Ham also invested in a new saddle with padding! - a novel concept for the Hamster. Thus, with repairs attended to we headed off direction col de Tamie, which actually constitutes a pair of cols which form a loop. Hence, today we tackled the version we hadn't ticked yesterday. Both are as pretty and pleasant as each other. Le Tour descended down one of them this year, on the stage where numerous Australians succumbed later in the day on the descent of the Roselend. Descending the Tamie direction Faverges, BT complained of braking issues. It seemed that the mechanic who dealt with his freewheel inadvertently managed to deposit some grease on the rear rim, which we attempted to remove whilst stopped to refill bidons. Next on the menu was the Col de la Forclaz. Now this is one of 4 Col de la Forclaz's I know of in the immediate area. On a previous trip whilst heading for Martigny I took a turn onto what turned out to be the wrong one...a painful experience. I am now sure that the one we were to do today, directly adjacent to the edge of Lac Annecy, is the one that features most often in Le Tour. With triple arrows and "13%" adorning both sides of the carte, it was probably going to rate as the steepest climb of our tour - as it turned out to be. I had my climbing legs on today, and was able to distance Nige early on and hold him off till the top, although I was fading at the end. The col affords a great view of the lake, and a birds eye view down the paraponter's take-off ramp - not for the feint-hearted.

Once regrouped, we headed off on what also turned out to be the steepest descent of our trip. Once it got going, there were two particularly steep straights, separated by a chicane involving a cliff face, and culminating in a throw-down-the-anchors hairpin. I ended up carrying too much speed into the chicane, which took me a little off guard and sent a wee shiver up my spine, so I was particularly heavy on the brakes as the following hairpin approached. As I swung around it I heard the sound of a machine travelling too fast to make the corner, and looked back to see BT miss the corner completely and sail over the handlebars! This was not going to be pretty.

Although BT was back on his feet immediately, it quickly became apparent that there was more than just damaged pride at stake, and we feared the worst as he gingerly immobilised his left arm and drifted into shock. I should point out that BT is one of the better descenders in the group, and the incident is probably largely the result of our inability to get his rim and brake pads sorted out when he noticed breaking issues earlier in the day. With brakes responding poorly, and the machine carrying too much speed, he somehow managed to negotiate the chicane, but couldn't rub anywhere near enough speed off on the next straight to make the hairpin, so he picked his dismount/run-off spot, and nailed it!

Ham and I had previously discussed the possibility of something like this happening on a trip, and the likelihood that if we did enough trips with enough people, it was in some respects inevitable. Well, it had just happened. Now that we were in such a predicament, the following events were not only humbling, but make me wonder whether such a speedy extrication would have occured in bloody John Howard's Australia.

The first car that arrived stopped, and Monsieur jumped out and insisted on helping. The back on the car was swiftly folded down, BT (covered in mud, sweat and a little blood) was put into the front passengers seat, Monsieur's daughter was moved to the rear, and squeezed in beside Nige (who among us had the best French). Once the bits of bikes we crammed into the rear, they rolled off direction Annecy Hospital. The rest of us gingerly re-mounted and took the rest of the descent - cautiously. Given the daily traffic jam that plagues Annecy on a Tuesday afternoon, we somehow arrived at the hospital just before the civilian ambo. BT was whisked away for X-rays etc while the rest of us paced the concrete outside, exchanging sombre glances and pondered the frailty of good health and the meaning of it all. In the confusion of the drop-off, and Monsieur's haste to get going to a family function we had made him late for, we failed to even grab his particulars, which was a great shame as he'd been so gracious and it would have been nice to be able to express our gratitude later on. About 2 hours after arriving BT emerged calm and lucid, with X-rays in one hand and the other arm slung. He had broken his humerous and would have his wing in a sling for about 8 weeks! It was now late in the afternoon and a local caffe helped us order an appropriately sized Taxi, such that BT, accompanied by Greggles and 2 bikes, could be chauffeurred back to Albertville. The rest of us were going to do well just to get home before dark, so non-essential cols were scrubbed and we aimed to flat-land it as far as we could. We weren't to know at the time, but we were just about to get on an awesome 40 km bike path, flat-as-a-tack, that would take us nearly all the way back to Albertville (we were dreading having to go back over the Tamie).

However, the excitement wasn't over yet. About 10 down the western side of the lake, Nigel's rear derailleur just ate itself! More accurately, it somehow torqued the rear hanger off the fame before ended up lodging in the wheel between the chainstays, locking up the rear wheel and breaking the chain. Imagine the mess that might have ensued if this had happened on a descent! We were going to need another Taxi. This took a bit or doing and first involved Karel using his custom-made towing device (we had all laughed at him earlier) to drag Nige to the nearest town such that we could source Taxi numbers. Darkness was starting to set in, so we left Nige to fend for himself and the remaining 4 of us assumed time-trial formation and headed for home.

What a day!

Ham and Kev ready for another day of action.

The view from the top of the Forclaz

BT, last seem smiling....
The man returns - shaken, but fortunately not requiring pins, operations or even stitches. It could have been much worse.

Nigel, modeling a functional bike, but not for long

bombing for home with the odd shower thrown in for good measure

BT, resigned to assuming the position for a few days whilst giving the break time to set before flying out.
Poor bugger!

Tuesday, 11 September 2007

Albertville 1

With two days of backpack behind us we could look forward to a few days of pack-free rides in which we headed out, crossed a pass or two before heading back to base camp and rehydration 1664-style.
Day 3: 107 km and ~2200 m gained.
With Karel's arrival we were now a troupe of 7. He decided to show the rest of us up by arriving with a MTB and hairy legs. The plan for the day was to tick quite a few cols, including the Tamie, the Maraie, the Croix de Fry, the Aravis (again) and the Saises. Before departing proper, however, we made an attempt to find a bike shop such that BT could have his freewheel changed/serviced - an impossibility in Albertville on a Monday, as it turned out. BT was understandably nervous about any further high speed adventures and decided to do a flat ride for the day, and Greggles chose to keep him company. The rest of us eventually headed off, direction Col de Tamie. This turned out to be a lovely little climb of even grade and well shaded, just what the doctor ordered on what turned out to be another bloody hot day. I think all of us were a little concerned as to how Karel would keep up on the MTB. We needn't have been, as he was not too far down, spinning away in that tiny gear, and predominantly seated, to minimize bob from the front shocks. We continued north down a lovely little valley, before descending into Faverges where bottles were filled. Next on the menu was the gentle climb towards the benign Col du Marais (843 m). Nige was obviously intent on capitalising on his good climbing form by taking the Tamie, but I managed to sneak the Marais. After the consumption of sandwiches at the base of the Croix Fry, the main climb of the day commenced. This turned out to be probably the hardest col of the trip for me - a combination of grade, heat and no escape from the sun. Nigel took the col (1467 m), followed by Kev, Ham, Karel, and finally moi. The cokes in the shade of the chalet were life savers. A short but steep descent got us back onto the upper slopes of the Aravis (Nige victorious, and more Coca!), before screaming down once again to Flumet and the start of the Saises. However, everyone was so burnt at this stage that the decision to exit stage right and take the gorge road direction Albertville, was unanimous. On the run into Albertville, Karel (who had obviously been foxing at the back for most of the day), fueled by pilsner, carrots and"smashed potatoes", surprised us all with the stage win. Whilst Nige certainly scored the spotty prize for the day, awarding of the green to either Nige or Kev was a matter of contention.

the crew
Kev sans albatross and liking it
Karel on the Tammie

above Albertville
on the Croix Fry

BT tempting fate

Albertville from Conflans

Friday, 7 September 2007



I arrived at Geneva via Zurich, and was again seated on the LHS, and got a good gander of Mt Blanc on the way in. I didn't know it at the time, but the second 1/2 of the riding trip would involve completing a loop around this beast.

I met Kev in the arrrivals hall, and was later joined by Ham, BT and Greggles, whose flight had been delayed, and whose bikes were confirmed on a later flight. After starting with arrival beer and burgers, we navigated to the train station and found the luggage depot. Kev and I assembled velos, deposited the cases, then we all headed off to the local Hotel 33. Upon assembling the Colnago, it became apparent that the front chainring was looking decidedly bent. I normally load the bike upside down, but had been so flustered and pushed for time on that hectic departure morning that I just stuffed it in, and as it turned out, paid the price (mental note). Ham and I later had a go at flattening out the chainring with lumps of wood and concrete, but despite our best improvisational efforts, shifting to the large ring would simply throw the chain. It would have to be replaced. A second trip to the airport retrieved the other velos, all of which were assembled without incident. That evening we strolled into town proper by the lake (further than anticipated), locating a few bike shops en route. Dinner. The fact that Ham could barely walk upon leaving the restaurant (a day on a plane can do that to you) was of some concern, but fortunately he seemed right the next day.

The next morning we packed our wee backpacks - a new experience for some of the lads - and rolled direction Ferry. En route we stopped at the only bike shop which was open, and I managed to explain that I need a new grande plat. The FSA replacement looks super! We only just made the Ferry, which was to eventually take us across the lake to our start point (Yvoire), but would first collect Nige, who was staying with a mate of his in Nyon. The ferry trip turned out to be a grand way to start. Perfect day, clear sky, slow cruising past the Jet d'eau, on a magnificent old paddle steamer. The mechanics of the beast were laid bare for all to see and smell in the centre of the vessel. Huge pistons and crank arms pounded only meters below, with nothing but a modest rail preventing inattentive drunkards from falling into the thing and being instantly mashed. None of that APEC-style fencing in this country, which was refreshing. Whilst cruising along I took the opportunity to install the new chainring. With Nige joining us we were now a team of 6.
After the very pleasant cruise we alighted at Yvoire (~400 m), on the souther side of Lac Leman. Our plan was to spend two days rolling down to Albertville. The main obstacle for the day was the Col des Moises. As it turned out, we didn't quite tick it. Due to a navigational error on the part of yours truly (there were a few of these), this particular col didn't in fact correlate with the route we intended taking (a kind of map parallax error). We ended up on the brutal side of what turned out to be the Col de Cou, which despite only topping out at 1115 m, was tough in the heat of the day. After a lunch with a view we descended briefly before taking the Col du Terramont (1090 m), then making our way to Taninges where afternoon beers, ice creams and cokes were quaffed. Our destination for the day was a little further south, which we eventually arrived at, but only after riding past the hotel further up another climb (col de google), looking for a similarly named hotel which never eventuated (damn google directions). Whether it was a mix of living for a week at altitute or just being fresh, I managed to bag both the polka dot and green jerseys for the day, whilst Ham snaffled the stage. The first day with the backpacks I think caught a few by surprise with respects how hard it had been.
Day 1: 97 km, with ~1500 m climbing.

Day 2. The day started with a descent to Cluses before engaging the lower slopes of the Col de la Colombiere (1613 m). The bottom of the climb was of gradual grade and pleasantly shaded. We re-grouped before the final push to the summit, which we knew was going to be steeper, and steeper it was. I thought I had the thing sewn up till I started crampling badly ~350 m from the top. Nige and Kev cruised past. Kev in particular was in good shape this year. Another glorious day for refreshment and lunch at the summit. Great descent! Next on the menu was the Col de Aravis (1486 m), which turned out to be harder than I was expecting, and consequently grovelled up in damage control. I think Nige took the points. It was a hot, clear day, and the views across to Mt Blanc as the col was crested were awesome. More refreshment as we regrouped. The descent to Flumet is loaded with technical twists and was great fun, although BT was having trouble controlling a vibrating machine that sounded like a screeching parrot. What a time for the freewheel to start playing up again. From Flumet, the road to Albertville initially follows a gorge, where one can sit on 50 for about 10 km. A great stretch of road. On the final flat run into Albertville Ham was the man and took the stage, although he had paid a price for his efforts of the first two days by wearing a hole in his arse! That saddle would have to go. We checked into the Auberge de Costaroche, which would be our base for the next few days. Karel the madman from the Czech Republic joined us that evening as we sat in the garden and downed some cleansing ales. Day 2 stats: 87 km and ~1750 m gained.


Dave and Nige

Chilling out in Yvoire
Bread mule
On the road again

Lunch on the Col de Cou

Day 2 roll out
Nige finishes up the Colombiere

Kev topping out

Colombiere vista

bikes are big in France

Cows too

Col du Aravis with My Blanc looming
Karel joins us

Auberge du Costaroche