I’ve been quiet here recently. Partly because of other work and partly because of a family trip to the Alps. My proper France bike trip is in a few weeks. So the Alps Trip was to test out my bike setup, eat some cheese and start tapering for my A race. As we all know tapering involves getting bored, getting restless and then either running or cycling fast somewhere – for a change, my taper included several >1000m climb days 😉
I’ve saved all the best ‘Gadgets on tour’ images for this post. There are no spoilers of new products. Just my gadgets taking a well-earned break from hard (ish) training interspersed with what you will hopefully think are a few nice images in support of the French Tourist Board – joking – but La Rochelle and Morzine were pretty nice places to visit. This was my first time in the Alps in Summer.
Getting to La Rochelle – and the kit
La Rochelle is on the West Coast of France and was once probably the home of the entire French Navy – it’s a BIG port town. It’s now very touristy BUT still a great place to visit, as was the nearby Île de Ré. I’ll probably go back to the latter for a week-long beach holiday another time.
Unfortunately before the beauty is the grunge of ‘your car’ and that ‘chunnel’.
Queue: Cervelo + Conti + Dura Ace wheels. This seemed like a good combo but perhaps better suited for more flatter, faster rides than I planned.
Bringing up the rear is a sneaky Shim 32T rear cassette (39T on the front inner ring). My gear combo turned out to be fine for gradients of up to 8%. Above that, I would have liked another gear. Apparently, the 32T was developed at the request of the pros who like to spin up hills. I wasn’t spinning in their sense, more like ‘my sense’ which was somewhere-in-the-80s rpm.
My cunning plan for the holiday was to take lots of interesting bike photos for you lot. I could then further my secret hobby of ‘bike spotting’ and jot down a few foreign serial numbers – IF I could get close enough to the frames.
Unexpectedly just about every bike was a BTWIN. Yes, I’d heard of them but NO I didn’t expect quite so many. Where I live (SW London) it is obligatory for every cyclist to wear lycra and have a carbon-framed bike. Not here. Panniers seemed more obligatory than either lycra or helmets.
Being faced with taking hundreds of images like this perhaps occasionally with a good-looking bloke/woman on board filled me with dread so my bike-spotting trip was stopped in its infancy at this image
My first French lunch was overlooking this random church. I suppose the Catholics have done some pretty good architecture over the years. These could well be fine examples of flying buttresses if I knew what they were.
But I do, for sure, know what coke, Oakley and Garmin are. So back to fertile tech territory as Mademoiselle 935 left my wrist so I could figure out how Climb Pro worked for later in the week. Hint: I didn’t.
Before I revert back to gadgets and sport a little more I couldn’t help but show this image from another random French town en route to La Rochelle, on their market day. This was the most garlic I have EVER seen in one place. The last UK market I went to had hundreds of bootlegged DVDs for a fiver. #Classy.
So finally I got to La Rochelle. Downtown parking was restricted and this resulted in the obligatory modern bike share scheme offered by large cities across the globe. I was going to use my bike but somehow felt threatened. In La Rochelle, it seems, you are either in the GREEN camp or the YELLOW camp. Vast armies of bikes in those colours throng the streets or, as was sometimes the case, they filled the bike racks of their respective, commercial owners. I found the GREEN headquarters near the harbour front.
Was YELLOW more trendy or not? I’ve no idea but they present some nice bike-image territory.
I think I preferred the yellow bikes, as also evidenced by my shoes. These are a former running pair of Mizuno Waveriders, now in pure casual mode.
I’m never too sure if the French are as good at ‘street cool’ as they might think they are. But in central La Rochelle, an old quay-side building was set aside for the sole purpose of providing an easel for graffiti. Like this
Or as a backdrop for some bikes like this
So, pretty much all the bikes I saw were of zero technical interest. They were all very mundane. Other than my own bike, the only one that was of any passing interest was this one on the Île de Ré. Some of these older racing bikes are now very trendy and I had a mate who sold his one, in poor condition, for nearly £1000. Although I suspect that this one isn’t worth that much.
Île de Ré is very close to La Rochelle airport and, as the name implies, is an island. It’s quite a large island and also, like La Rochelle, has some sort of former military naval port that has now been converted into a (beautiful) tourist attraction. Even though it was summer, the streets were relatively empty. Or, in this case, totally empty.
I guess it does become a bit samey. But at least I found a bike in this street
and then I liked the neutral greys and pastel shades for this photo. Even though the bike is a modern one it touched the aesthete in me.
On to Morzine
I stayed near the telecabine at Nyon, just outside Morzine – I hadn’t previously heard of either location. Morzine is downhill from Avoriaz, which I had heard of. But previously I tended to visit Courchevel, Val d’Isere, Meribel, Val Thorens and the like for my skiing and snowboarding exploits in years past.
To cut a long story short here is the view from my apartment…not too shabby at all.
All was looking good until I checked out the letterbox of my neighbour… #BitOfAWorry
Morzine seems to think it is the centre for extreme summer sports. There is canyoning, paragliding and other similar stuff that isn’t really THAT extreme. There is LOTS of downhill mountain biking. There are also LOTS of regular helicopters coming in to take injured mountain bikers away to a hospital. So I would class the downhill MTB rides as extreme and would never trust my bike handling skills to even contemplate handling some of the ski runs in summer.
For the first time, I spotted many more sensible road bikes and started to feel at home. I even almost made friends with Mr Clapham Chasers (CC) who was fully bedecked in a familiar shade of local lycra. But I didn’t…sorry Mr CC, I was on a mission to find the only decent coffee in town (Satellite Cafe – run by Paul). Actually, it was the only decent coffee I had in France. C’mon France, you’re meant to be good at coffee.
Col de Joux Verte
So this was my first ever ride up a proper French hill. There is no need for fancy maps and routes. You pretty much go up the road that goes up the hill and you get one of these signs every km. The bikenav (Wahoo Elemnt) does come in handy for the downhill bits to foresee the severity of the encroaching bend – the encroaching bend is USUALLY SEVERE and usually has a car at the apex so you really can’t emulate your favourite TdF hero and head down at great speed by following a racing line around each bend. Well, you can, but you likely won’t make it alive to the bottom.
And to prove I was not the first ever English visitor, look at this image…Kirkdale Wheelers; you are very naughty. Very.
I took those two photos when I was just pootling around ‘doing stuff’. I did get it into my mind that I could cycle to the bottom of all the hills and take photos like these and then not actually do the climbs but imagined I would get found out on Strava by someone, somewhere, somehow. So I took the plunge the next day.
From Morzine, I admired the funny pointy hills. After a day or so I realised that these were actually the buildings in the Avoriaz resort that I would have to cycle up to.
Still. That won’t be a problem, will it? The sign said the average gradient was 2% for 13km. No problemo. It will just be a bit bendy for a long way. Right?
And this is how it starts off. Nice road surface.
Obviously, it does get steeper but pretty much tops out at 8% for most of the time (sometimes a tad steeper).
Being serious for a minute: It’s not that hard in reality. I’m a half decent cyclist but nothing special. You just keep pedalling. If you do NOT consider yourself a half decent cyclist but still cycle regularly you WILL be able to do these climbs. You will probably need a 3 ring setup at the front though as to grind some of these out for an hour at 50-60rpm will be FAR from pleasant.
The cycle tourist WILL find the views pleasing. In fact, the views are frequently stunning. From all angles. Here we are at the top in Avoriaz looking all the way back down to Morzine. You could, in reality, easily do 3 or 4 of these climbs in a day. That is a LOT of pictures like this…
The following elevation plot was from a different day. My cunning plan was to look some more at ClimbPro rather than a standard elevation plot
As with many of my ‘cunning plans’ they typically involve lots of CUNNING but too little PLANNING.
ClimbPro requires a route to be followed, which I never did, and also it probably isn’t even (yet?) compatible with the 935…I’d left the Fenix 5S Plus at home #Sigh.
Luckily STRAVA came to the rescue and this proved to my non-cycling friends that I did actually do the ride.
Does anyone see a bull there? I think I’ve just made my first piece of inadvertent STRAVA art.
The route down the back of Avoriaz goes through a Goat village (Village de Chevre peut etre?). Which is literally a little hamlet full of meandering goats (and tourists). It’s worth no further mention.
Lake Montriond, on the other hand, is worth a further mention. It’s at the top of the route shown above and is very pretty and I returned there later for a freebie open water swim…see further below..
Col du Corbier
This was another pleasant little day trip. The plan was to do Col du Corbier and then also the Cole de Trechauffe which starts at a lower altitude but further to the North of the map (below). The rain clouds were closing in as I approached La Forclaz just North of La Baume so I whimped out of Trechauffe and sped home at that point.
But I’m getting ahead of myself. Let’s cut back to the first (and only) climb. I was a little rushed at the top of Corbier and only managed this for my smartphone evidence of sporting achievements.
I took a few more shots looking the other way which are nice enough. They might just convince Cervelo to give me a nice little sponsorship. Reality Check: they won’t. Especially as I’ve decided NOT to take the Cervelo to the Pyrenees.
Lac des mines d’Or
This was a run that I wish I hadn’t done. It was a 9k tempo run (Z3-Z4) and I aggravated my right calf. Maybe it was the 4.5k continuous riverside uphill or the fairly speedy 4.5k downhill. Not sure.
On a different day, I did cycle past where I ran to and all the way up a steeper section to the Lac. It’s enough to know that you can’t take a road bike any further than the lake, ultimately I think the hike from there continues to Gd Mont Ruan (alt 3047m) if you are so inclined.
Nevertheless, the Lac is a nice tourist spot and very pretty for a quick one hour picnic or lunch at the inevitable restaurant.
Col de l’Ecrenez, Col de la Ramaz and the Canyon de ‘Closed for the last 2 Years’
This was a bit of a navigational disaster but turned out to be the most ‘epic’ of my little day trips.
With enough nutrition for about 30 minutes, a Wahoo packed full of zero local routes, some gloves and arm warmers I was fully braced for whatever the mountains could throw at me as I headed for the strangely named Canyon de ‘Closed for the last 2 years’. They always say that the clue is in the title but I consider myself ‘intelligent’ enough to not fall for everything I read. Hmmm.
The Col de l’Ecrenez would have made Douglas Adams happy and the ride up to it was ‘Mostly Harmless’.
Once again I demonstrate my epic knowledge of photographic depth-of-field (below). Admittedly there was nothing on the 935 worth showing so it was better off blurred.
The original plan was to head back from Col de l’Ecrenaz to Les Gets then quickly home to Morzine and do an out and back ride from there to somewhere relatively straightforward before the predicted thunderstorms set in.
You can see where this is going, can’t you?
However, the direct route to Les Gets is via the Canyon de ‘Closed for the last 2 years’. I discovered this after a fair amount of climbing and then arriving at a ‘Road Closed’ sign. My memory of the map, from before I left, was relatively fresh in my mind and I knew that I could continue and just keep turning left and eventually end up in the right place. Indeed my contingency plan had the work “Taninges???” written on the back of my hand, so I knew that heading there would be alright.
Unfortunately my map did not really show the climbs. (Not really = Not at all).
Those of you who are proper cyclists will probably have heard of the famous Col de la Ramaz. It’s famous in cycling circles, I’m not sure what for. But that’s the loop I ended up doing. This would all have been perfectly fine except for my total lack of preparation. As I approached the Col de la Ramaz I started to feel a bit hungry somewhere near le-Praz-de-Lys (ski resort). I also started to feel a bit cold but as I was heading uphill (into the clouds) that was mostly OK, as the effort was keeping me warm. Having crested the col I started to feel a bit funny and soon the wind chill evaporating my sweat made me feel quite cold. Luckily I had my arm warmers to don. Another km or so later and my hands were very cold despite the arm warmers.
So. Feeling a bit dizzy (lack of carbs) and with slightly blurring eyesight (lack of blood sugar/carbs). On wet roads and going down hill, I knew things weren’t great.
Cutting to the chase: But all was fine (yay!!) I made it below the clouds to Taninges and bought an overly -priced Mars bar. Voila. All was good. The road back from Taninges to Morzine via Les Gets is a major road so I made good going despite the traffic and a never-ending incline. Cresting at Les Gets I made it to over 1700 vertical metres for the day. I was relatively happy with that achievement. ie not dying and better understanding how I get through a limited amount of carbs.
Lac de Montriond
France seems to have lots of places where you can drive to and park for free and then go and do something for free. In the UK getting to within a mile of this lake would set you back at least twenty quid.
As I pointed out earlier, this lake is on the return back from Avoriaz and only 5 or 10 minutes drive from Morzine. SUP and kayaking facilities are available and there is a smaller pool/lake for the kiddies.
Being a big kid I donned my wetsuit and went for a swift lap of the lake. For once I can say with certainty that I was the best swimmer in the lake. It feels good to say that for the first time ever! And there were other people swimming but they were either about 9 years old or doing breaststroke.
You can see from the image below that my lap of the lake with the Garmin 935 was somewhat erratic. Garmin seems to think that I turned this swim into my own version of Otillo with numerous detours to the bank. Hint: I didn’t.
The lake doesn’t look so big from this image but a swum lap is over 2.5k and I have to say the water was beautifully clear and a very nice temperature. I did find myself a little out of breath which was strange. Maybe it was the altitude (c1000m ????) I also swam in Morzine’s 50m pool (that’s next to the outdoor kids’ pool which is next to the indoor 25m pool which is next to the indoor kids’ pool which is next to the numerous other sports facilities), even at the Morzine pool I felt a little out of breath. Strange. Running and swimming were fine.
I also had a nice walk around the lake afterwards and this is a view from the other end of the lake…pretty cool huh?
Each of my rides involved between 750 and 1750 vertical metres. They were all no problem in themselves but maybe I rode around 50 miles per trip and had a day off between each of them. I had planned to do slightly bigger climbs and with 50 miles per day and on consecutive days – but apathy and the weather got in the way somewhat.
Having to soon do that sort of climbing and higher on 5 consecutive days in the Pyrenees and with over 100 miles a day is going to be a step higher in terms of difficulty. This trip showed that to be self evidently true. I’m also going with proper cyclists who will frequently taunt me out of my Zone 2 pootle. So I’m going to need to think a bit more sensibly about recovery and nutrition as well as pacing. I’ve also decided to swap a few bits around on my bikes and take my Specialized which is a bit lighter and a bit better suited for the hills. Marginal gains right?
I already have my routes downloaded from STRAVA for the Pyrenees onto the Wahoo Elemnt and I’ve remembered to add a Di2 charger and the Assioma chargers to the list of things to take.
I’d go back to either La Rochelle or Morzine for a family holiday. I’m not so sure that Morzine is quite right as a base for a serious (road) cycling holiday but it WAS fine for my purposes this time around. All the local routes will be quickly completed and then require trips much further afield to Plane-Joux, Terramont, Saxel and beyond.
With that “Bye for now” and here is a picture of an inverted yellow umbrella that didn’t quite fit in anywhere else in the story.