I am back and settled after a wonderful trip to France. While I missed my family terribly the first week, I was excited to travel with my wife during the second week and looking forward to our first vacation together since having children. While the first week was devoted to riding, Elizabeth and I did explore Paris a bit on the Velib’ bikes, which was both fun (for me) and nerve wracking (for her), but a faster way to get between things than walking.
First, to the cycling. As you might expect, I was anxious about riding the storied climbs of the Tour de France, not just because they are challenging, but because I was running on a calf and a half. When I was admitted to the hospital in 2010, my dreams were of walking again. I did not dare dream I would ride some of the roads where legends were made. My primary goal was to be able to ride without excuse – to keep up with the group in such a way that my injury was invisible, and I believe I succeeded. Only one time did someone notice or comment on my limp, and I was surprised nobody asked why I wore a green compression sock on only one leg. . . I think the sock also made it harder to notice calf size difference and the fact that there is no muscle definition on the left. In any case, the rides were epic, the company was great, and I am glad to have had the opportunity and ability to go.
We started out in Grenoble, where we met our Trek Travel guide Tara and then headed to La Grave, where we had lunch together, met our other two guides, Elizabeth and Rebecca, and then got our bikes dialed in. Throughout the trip, the guides for our trip worked tirelessly to keep everything together – even after one was sidelined with an injury. We also got some support from the guides of another trip (more on that later), and credit goes to the Trek Travel team for making the trip shine regardless of the mechanicals, weather, etc.
The bus ride had introduced me to some of my fellow riders, as did lunch – looking back now, I am glad I found a seat between the Nico and Patrick – both good company on and off the bike. Across from Nico is Juan Carlos, who spoke only a little bit of English and forced me to revisit my Spanish (gracias!) when he and I were on the road without his countrymen.
Here is our guide Elizabeth giving us our ride briefing for the first day of bike fit, with Rebecca in the foreground. Yep, that’s me sitting off to the right and trying to stay out of the way because we hadn’t played with my bike yet. I was hoping they didn’t mind my GPM10 kit, but I loved my trip with them in February on Mallorca and the kit I bought.
On the first day I rode a 58cm Domane – which was a great bike! There were two options for the ride, one straight up the Col du Lautaret to our hotel, or the other taking us up to the little town of Le Chazelet and then back up to the hotel. I chose the latter to give me more time with the bike, which was a good thing. Our ride to the top was uneventful – everybody working the travel out of their legs and just soaking in the beautiful scenery. Here’s a pic at the top, and a view of Le Râteau. Simply beautiful.
As we pedaled through the town of Le Chazelet, there was a brutally steep little incline. I instinctively confirmed my downshift, which was disastrous since I ride Campy at home and this was Di2. The good news is that Di2 gets into the big ring quickly, the bad news is that was not what I needed. I tried to gut it out, but could not, and had to stop to shift. Good lesson. At the top of this little hill, Hernan had a mechanical that ended his ride, so sadly he missed our “Leaving Le Chazelet” photo. Sadly Tara had a spill on the road shortly after, which I jokingly blamed on Patrick because he was the only witness, but as he is conspicuously missing from this photo I wonder. . .
After this, it was a fun little descent the way we came up, and another hill to our hotel, which is where we would be until we went to Paris. It was nice not having to move hotels too many times but still follow the Tour through the Alps. The view at the top from our hotel was stunning – the hotel and one other building were the only things there in the middle of an Alpine paradise. Some of the views:
And on one of the days where it was a bit grey:
The first full riding day turned out to be an amazing ride – we pedaled up the easy side of the Galibier (which was right outside our hotel), down the other side, up the easy side of Telegraphe, down the other side, and then back up the hard side of both. Absolutely fantastic! The last few switchbacks of Galibier, above the tunnel that sensible car drivers use, are comical because they are so steep; both ridiculous and wonderful at the same time. Regrouping at the top of Galibier, we took some photos, fixed my rear derailleur (too much power, I am sure), and pedaled down toward Valloire and Telegraphe.
Elizabeth took this pic of me riding up, which I’m not sure I love because it makes me look more tired than I actually am, but here it is. . . Trek fans out there will also notice that I moved to a 60cm Madone for the remainder of the trip.
The run down into Valloire was a thrilling 18km descent, with only some of the joy sucked out by knowing I had to ride back up what I was riding down. Through Valloire to the top of Telegraphe, quick photo then a Telegraphe yoyo and back to Valloire for lunch. At this point the groups had splintered, with some skipping the 2nd Telegraphe or only doing part of it, so I rode with the Columbians and Jeff – in fact we watched Hernan ride away, and then rode together for the most part. I think Hernan caught up with all but the pro riders training on Telegraphe that day (some Argos guys rode past after a few other teams). Telegraphe felt a lot like riding in Colorado below treeline – not as scenic, but the smell of pine was refreshing.
After a longer than expected lunch in Valloire (even by French standards), where Hernan taught us about avoiding egg yolks before a ride, we rolled out toward Galibier with bellies full of pasta. Hernan, Jeff and I split from Nico and Juan Carlos early on, and then Hernan went ahead. Jeff and I ended up riding nearly to the top together, and I was happy to have his company. Upon hitting the summit I did not wait for him though, instead racing down to stay ahead of the weather. It didn’t work – chilly descending, but a great ride. Visibility went to absolute zero before the weather passed, which was wild.
The next day was one for the books – we rode down from Lautaret to Bourg d’Oisans, where we pointed our bikes uphill and worked our way to the top of Alpe d’Huez’s 21 switchbacks – the same ones the pros would be riding in a few hours. We didn’t get to do the last couple (or at least most of us didn’t) because they closed the course near the end. Nevertheless, it was a great run down and a challenging climb. We got to the top just as it was starting to sprinkle, had lunch and watched the pros attack Alpe d’Huez – many photos in my other posts, some interesting things from the top of the Alpe and the race I pulled together from other TT groups as well.
Riblon can’t quite believe Tejay could’t hold his wheel and he is about to win!
I love the classic bikes, and their riders (click the photo to make it big and check out the wooden wheels):
Afterwards, we descended the back and did the Col de Sarenne, following the pros first lap down into the valley. I nearly went off the same corner Riblon did – and have video that I will post later of this minor transgression. In fairness, I stayed on the pavement but he was racing to eventually win the queen stage. It was fun descending through the clouds you see in this photo taken just before we left the Sarenne.
Sadly, some of our group didn’t make this trip because they were concerned about the weather – very reasonable, and they took the safe choice to avoid the dangerous descents and ride again tomorrow. We missed them, but understood. We got lucky with weather, and happily no issues on the descents.
The next day was another descent Oisans to watch the stage 19 start, then the plan was to go to the Col d’Ornon. I really wanted to ride all the way up Alpe d’Huez, then down the Balcony road instead (this was our last day in the Alps). Luckily one of the other trips was doing Alpe d’Huez, so I was able to ride supported to the top (I also met a nice Aussie on the way up riding a Serotta – had a great chat with him since that is what I ride at home and this was the only one I had seen in France), then hit the Trek store with my plan. I had limited time, but Lisa believed in me (guide from the other trip), took me to her vehicle to give me water, food, a map, a CO2, confirm I had raingear and hustle me on my way. The descent of Alpe d’Huez was nothing special – lots of vehicles still trying to get off the mountain from the previous day, but the Balcony road was amazing! I ran into some gentlemen from England and we swapped taking photos. I also ran video here, which turned out well and really illustrated the nature of the road. I think I will do a video only post after this one to share ride video later this week.
Here are some Balcony road photos (most mine, some stolen from another TTer):
Nearing the end of the balcony road I had a choice: make it to the top or short the ride to get back on time. . . I shorted, and after riding a time-trial in the rain I got back with 2 minutes to spare – an absolutely phenomenal adventure that I would not have completed without the support of guides both from my ride and our neighboring ride, and while I enjoyed riding with the group, the solitude on this road in the rain was peaceful and awe inspiring.
After this, we packed up and went to Paris – you’ve seen the sights (Notre Dame, Eiffel Tower, Arc, etc), but we were going to ride in the Randonee du Tour and then watch the race finish. Rando-what? What this means is that we got to ride one circuit of the Paris loop, cross the finish line, and pretend we were racers. At 12mph. With people who may or may not have ridden their bikes this year beforehand. I saw people wearing helmets backwards. I wish they were being funny. My strategy: stay near the front where people know which end of the bike to ride and the only danger was getting run over by a motor cycle. Seriously. It only almost happened twice (look at the second video below). Then someone took a dive in the tunnel to make sure it was interesting (luckily far enough to my right that I wasn’t involved, but close enough that I caught it on video). Look for the guy wearing polkadots and a blue backpack on the right.
Watching the race finish and getting to mingle with the racers was a great wrap up to the adventure (see previous blog post for more photos – best part for me was getting a high five from Jens Voight as he came into the team bus area), but I think seeing them on the Alpe d’Huez was more inspirational because I saw them struggling up the same hill I had (albeit a bit faster). However, here is a gratuitous photo of the Sky cocoon that was not always present for Froome this year except Richie (the) Porte(r):
A quick photo with most of the ride group – and Tara made it into this photo too!
I had a wonderful time, met great people, and got to experience a sporting spectacle like no other. It was a celebration of overcoming some adversity for me, and a memory I will cherish – almost as much as the photo of Elizabeth actually riding a bike in Paris, but sadly this was lost in my phone software crash, so only in my memory. Since Elizabeth came to Paris the day after cycling was finished, and we enjoyed visiting the Louvre, Musee d’Orsay, Notre Dame (shorter line if it is raining by the way), Versailles (shorter lines in the morning), very tasty restaurants, Annecy, and a small town called Arle that had stellar Roman ruins – some photos below. I loved having a new adventure with the love of my life!
These first two are at the Ampitheather. Notice the lighting rigging? They still use this.
Next is what they found underground from when the Romans did some leveling work to put the square on – from what I read this was structural first but became part of the forum and much business was conducted here.
I took quite a few photos in the Coliseum – again they are using this (currently a traveling horse show), and you can see that the uppermost deck was even higher – apparently this was a small walled city during the dark ages and many rocks were harvested to build other structures in the city.
We spent a little time in Annecy as well – enjoying the lake and even a foot soak after walking around. We even found an outdoor dance hall with what appeared to be a club/class going on one evening. After this, a quick shot to Zurich and then home - absolutely great trip and memories built!
A quick view from where we enjoyed two meals in the lovely town of Annecy: