By Karl Owen
After the trackstanding, traffic lights and tram lines of the rollout from Geneva to Cluses, Day 2 was an altogether more enticing prospect. The ride from Cluses to Bourg St Maurice would take in 140 km, nearly 5’000m of climbing (yes, metric, this is the 21st century), and 4 and a half cols, the following nights hotel being situated midway up the climb to the La Rosiere ski resort.
The challenge riders departed early in order to get a good headstart on us, the first day in what, somewhat jokingly, became a multistage handicap race across the Alps. We were further handicapped by bambam and Si’s reticence to depart even one second before the arranged time, Si no doubt making last minute adjustments to his jersey & shorts to ensure perfect tan lines.
The day started with the climb of the beautiful Col de la Colombiere. Just a warm up col at a mere 1613m. Boys being boys, the ripping of chunks out of each other started on the lower slopes, we were quickly splayed all over the mountain, with me and Ste on the front, very much ignoring the mantra “it’s a marathon, not a sprint”. As the gradient cranked up and above 10% towards the chalet at the summit, I was already cursing my lack of lower gears (36×25 being my lowest) and grinding away to try to keep with the man machine he is. Failing to do so, he took the first blow in the unofficial KOM competition.
As we crested the top we encountered a large number of the challenge riders, slightly worryingly so early into the ride (20km) however it seemed they’d decided to do a few laps of the “Cluses Criterium” before the climb, and had been rolling around the town at the bottom for around 40 minutes (+5laps).
As the rain began at the top of Colombiere we quickly descended, being passed by a number of large American muscle cars, driven erratically by men with not so large (RETRACTED ed.). We DODGEd around them and FORDged (sorry) on up the next climb of the day, the Col des Aravis (1498m) again at a pace inconsiderate of the week ahead. At the top we encountered the support van for the first time, thankfully empty other than for drivers, the betting on which challenge rider would be in the back first would go on for a LOT longer than expected. Descending into the pretty French town of Notre Dame de Bellecombe. We then ascended the Col des Saisies together as a group, BU(I)CKing the earlier trend (again, sorry). Today was a day of either up, or down, with no valley roads for respite.
At the top of the cold and damp Col des Saisies, our agreed lunch stop we searched for the challenge riders, as they were nowhere to be seen we descended into Hauteluce to search for a dryer and warmer place to refuel. Rolling into Hauteluce we found a good looking pizzeria and parked the red bikes outside, enough to notify any riders passing of our presence!
As riders started to join us in Hauteluce, the first of many Coca Colas of the trip (other stimulating plant beverages are available) was consumed. This washed down Pizza that the Italians just over the border would be proud of. I managed to consume the entirety of my own, around half of Craig’s, a fair wedge of Neil’s and also wrapped some up and placed it in my jersey pocket for consuming later on.
After another in our series of Alpine criteriums through Hauteluce, a few lost laps of the town, we descended the remaining few km to the bottom of the Cormet de Roselend (1967m) climb in Beaufort. As this was the last big climb of the day I decided to put in a big effort and took a flyer right from the bottom, knowing that the gradual climb with an average of 6% would suit my strengths.
As I got into my rhythm up the climb, my garmin beeped at me and quickly died, whilst I don’t have a power meter, I can be a bit of a slave to my heart rate when climbing alone, once my garmin had died, having nothing to concentrate on let my mind wander. Climbing the long switchbacks up to the Lac de Roseland the rain started to descend, I hooked my new Oakleys from Leisure Lakes Bikes, into the vents on my Specialized S Works helmet and necked an OTE gel (sponsor mentions sorted ;)). The slight overhang of the glasses put the image of Majka in the 2014 tour, climbing to victory in the polka dot jersey, in my head. No doubt much slower than him, I still felt as though I was flying, and the earlier pizza doing me no harm.
As I made my way up to the icy blue lake and the road levelled out, I stuck it in the big ring and continued to push the pace along the more barren higher slopes. At the top the temperature had dipped to 5 degrees and I decided that waiting on anyone was foolhardy, so instead I took the all important Instagram snap and tucked into my leftover pizza, peeling off some sodden bits of napkin.
As I commenced the freezing descent with almost full anchors on, my hands, then arms, then shoulders, then seemingly everything started shivering. Just as I thought I was about to go crazy, I encountered Tony in the advanced support van on the descent. Informing me that the town of Bourg St Maurice, and it’s warmth, was only a few km away. As I started to descend through houses the increase in temperature was immediately apparent, and my soul started to thaw.
Caught by Ste just on the outskirts of town we quickly dived into a café in order to warm up. Joined by the rest of the team, we huddled round “Chocolat chaud” and muttered obscenities through chattering teeth.
As we departed the café in still bitter weather I decided the best way to keep warm up the climb was again to force the pace. Arriving first at the Hotel Belvedere to a warm welcome from the owners, and it’s mostly stuffed occupants. The stuffing was to continue throughout the evening, with an all you can eat buffet refuelling all riders. John getting on the Brie and cooking up some succulent steaks and a few reinvigorating Pelforth’s consumed
Some of the Hotels other occupants 😉