The eCheese

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The eCheese

We like to experiment and try new things. There have been a few times this summer where we have had some people giving an electric bike a try. These eBikes are phenomenal. They certainly are not going to replace the trusty road bike or mountain bike but they open up a whole new world for people- we are impressed!

So much so, that we decided to run a weekend, solely for eBikes. The eCheese was going to follow our Cheese Classic route but, with some reflection, we decided that it would be better to base ourselves centrally and test a variety of routes, out from Saint Jean de Sixt. Afterall, it is new to us and we did not know about the range,  the speed or people’s descending abilities.

One of the best views... ever!

One of the best views... ever!

As usual for our weekend format, it was a Thursday and we welcomed our guests at Geneva Airport. Gayleen, Sue, Robert and Steve were our riders and their friends Liz and Julia were out for moral support and a bit of mountain lifestyle experience. The weather was not looking great but sunny windows were in the forecast and the first day was going to be a stunner. Therefore, we ditched the warm up day idea and went straight for the loop around Lake Annecy via the Col de la Forclaz. For people new to the area, this is a must, with the stunning views over the crystal blue waters.

The Forclaz on a normal bike is difficult, 7km with a steep final 3. This final section is demoralising and energy sapping- not on an eBike. The little bit of assistance, meant that the group, although not unfit, of newbies to the mountains, could enjoy their ascent without ruining themselves. They were beaming at the top- who wouldn’t be with the view?

Hard work done! Lake cycle to come

Hard work done! Lake cycle to come

The range of the batteries was on my mind, and to help this (it was going to be a full day), I bought along all the adapters and an extension cable, so that, whilst we lunched on the Forclaz, the bikes were being topped up from the restaurant too. They were not fully charged but enough not to be worried about the day ahead.

Down we went, with the comfortable position of the bikes (mountain bikes) and the disc brakes, even Sue, who was most nervous of mountain descents, made it down to the bottom without any trouble and onto the cycle path back to the lake. All the little lumps in the profile, like the drag out of Talloires which are normally soul destroying, after a long day on the road bike, were taken in people’s stride. Well, Gayleen being the stubborn martharon runner type, refused to put it on anything above eco, but nontheless made it, albeit, a little slower than the others. Steve and Robert started in this vein but soon couldn’t help themselves with the + button. Who can blame them? I tried, and well, it is just fun!

The Cheese Part!

The Cheese Part!

We went for a coffee and a swim in the lake at Menthon which was a welcomed cool down and then it was the final leg back up to Saint Jean. No waiting around for these guys! Back up at the top, and we had a quick-ish turnaround to get ourselves to La Ferme restaurant overlooking La Clusaz witheveryone hooked.

Lovely spot to warm up on the one wet, wet day

Lovely spot to warm up on the one wet, wet day

Saturday was a wet day on the morning out. When thinking of routes, it dawned on me that they were on mountain bikes so we could think outside of our usual box. We went up the valley through La Clusaz to Les Confins. At the top is a lovely café that we stopped in and then we hit the dirt road around the back of Mount Danay which drops us back into the Grand Bornand Valley. Just as the tarmac reappears, is a mountain refuge which, as it was now pouring, was a great hot chocolate spot. With the weather and the route, this felt more like a day’s skiing. It was a curtailed day but a full morning nonetheless and everybody had tried something a little different. An adventure!

They will go anywhere you want! 

They will go anywhere you want! 

The final two days were back on the road and we managed to miss most of the showers that came and went. It was a chance to complete all the road Cols of our area, the Colombiere from the long side on the Sunday and the Aravis and Croix Fry on the Monday.

The E TEAM!

The E TEAM!

Electric bikes are not for all, of course, for the cycling enthusiast, they will never go out on an eBIke instead of their road machine but it really does open up the whole mountain for those who do not spend their lives in the saddle and want to experience the fresh air and stunning vistas that this area has to offer. It is also great for people with varying fitness to enjoy things together, a fit Col Collector could enjoy the mountain with their partner, children or parents. The revolution will be electrified! 

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The Ripcor Cheese Classic

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The Ripcor Cheese Classic

The Mamils from Ripcor have been coming out to the Alps with us for over 4 years now. Each time, we found a central base for them to explore some climbs. This year, we decided that it was time to do a point to point trip and our Cheese Classic route suited them down to the ground. We snake our way through the meadows and mountains that are responsible for the creating the delicious mountain cheeses. It is a route that is achievable but challenging nonetheless.

Setting off for the mountains and cheese

Setting off for the mountains and cheese

They cannot be described as a group of Mamils any longer (Middle Aged Men in Lycra), for the simple fact that Bevis is in his twenties, Yvonne and Nicki are not Men and perhaps some of the group are moving out of the middle-aged category. But whatever they would describe themselves as, they are a fun, energetic and enthusiastic and it is always a weekend that I look forward too.

Arriving in Geneva, we went to the first hotel, unloaded bikes and whisked the boxes away in the second van. These would be reunited in Annecy. Typically, Jerry, had a problem with his headset that our man, James could help with. A late BBQ and we were all set for the days ahead.

The team winding its way up the Col du Corbier

The team winding its way up the Col du Corbier

The weather was stunning throughout and the ride out of the hotel (which is in France just north of Geneva), through the flat, fertile fields gives (in my opinion) one of the best views of the French Alps. It was not long though, perhaps 3 minutes, before their first mechanical. Leigh, have somehow, bolted his gear cables under his stem post. It is a good job that he has taken up an apprenticeship at his local bike shop, a few more months and he will have it nailed!The first stage to Abondance is relatively flat. Stopping off at the shores of Lake Geneva for a coffee and then entering the Alps through rafting country before the lunch stop. It is then just a small hill. It is the shortest day but an excellent way to get the legs used to mountain pace. The 14th July is Bastille Day in France, and Abondance had its own little party just across the street from the hotel. So after dinner, the group went across to dance the night away to a questionable band. Phil and Bevis were left clearing up the tables. Phil never learns! This made the hardest day, a little harder.

Stage 2 starts with the Col du Corbier, a lovely switch back climb up into the Morzine valley, then it is out to Les Gets where we had lunch in the friends of Gary and Nick. Gilly and Dave had a few cold drinks ready for us and the group could fuel up for the Col de la Colombiere. Well that is what they thought. I decided to give half the group a little bit of an extra challenge. The Col du Romme, a steep bugger. Comes out above Le Reposoir where you re-join the Colombiere. The first kilometre is 11% and starts immediately from the valley floor. It is almost as if the climb is saying “hello, I am here!”.

Fuelled by alpine cheese!

Fuelled by alpine cheese!

Nicki, Yvonne, Leigh, Phil and Chris were more than happy to “just do” the Colombiere. Phil and Chris pushed on and the others took advantage of a coffee stop in Le Reposoir. As much as you can on a mountain climb, they all seemed to be enjoying themselves. Peter was certainly enjoying his new bike and it seems like he got another pair of legs too. He was mightily impressive throughout the weekend.

John, who was doing so well, had a blew up on the Colombiere. It is a difficult climb. You are eased into the last 7km and think that you are doing so well. You get to the 3km to go marker and see the top. Then it hits you. It is steep and hot and is the big challenge of the weekend. If you complete this 3km then you complete the weekend, it is as simple as this. John made it, but he looked terrible at the top! That is what it is about though, pushing through the pain. Chapeau. We were entering Reblochon country so tartiflette was on the menu, great for refuelling after such an effort.

A little extra, the Col du Romme

A little extra, the Col du Romme

Stage 3 meant leaving behind Reblochon and heading towards Beaufort. The Col des Aravis followed by the Col des Saisies. These are both similar climbs with Saisies being a little longer. They rise through Alpine meadows littered with chairlifts that come to life in the winter. Bevis, who was constantly being told that his youth was the reason for his speed, got a taste of his own medicine. A 14 year old got on his wheel and no matter how hard he tried, he could not shake him. Nicki woke up with sore knees but showed her metal and resilience and made it up over both.

We arrived in Beaufort with the chance to do the optional climb to the Cormet du Roseland. Peter was determined as he opted out last time. Yvonne was more than happy to find a sunbathing spot, she has after all spent three days in the Alps. Leigh went for the recovery option and was soon followed by Phil. They had a special drink to aid this. Nicki went on the look out some cheese.

The cool down

The cool down

The rest headed up. It is a fantastic climb of two section. Split by the flat section around the reservoir. Once you make it here, it is a shortish push up to the top. Starting in the woods is welcomed on a hot day and then it really opens up to the high alpine slopes. A tell-tale sign that you are high is the squeaking sounds of marmottes. Peter, Nick and Jerry took it easy, grabbed an ice-cream at the reservoir and then made it up. Bevis and Gary paced it up and Chris showed his true cycling abilities and made it up in a great time.

Now this is what we came for!

Now this is what we came for!

A truly great weekend, the weather was perfect and the ride out to Annecy with a celebratory bottle of rose really topped it off. I hope that it was a memorable weekend for all. Thanks to Nicki, Yvonne, Bevis, Chris, Gary, Jerry, John, Leigh, Nick, Peter and Phil – you all bossed it. 

And with that, the last climb done - its Rosé time!

And with that, the last climb done - its Rosé time!

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Tour des Criminels

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Tour des Criminels

And we were off again! This time to the Pyrenees to a tour which followed the same route as the first time that the Tour visited the mountains in 1910. “Assassins”, was what, the then leader, shouted as he struggled over the top of the third mountain pass of the day and, still not half way. There was born our idea to stage the Tour des Criminels, reliving this route.

Heart of the Tour de France! 

Heart of the Tour de France! 

Without wanting bad feelings set upon ourselves, as in the original stage, we decided to tackle the 300km route over 3 days rather than in one long slog. It was with great excitement that we left the Alps behind for the spa town, in the heart of the Pyrenees, Bagneres du Luchon.

The group of 17 arrived at Toulouse Airport on the Thursday afternoon and jumped on our transfer to our first hotel. They were greeted with welcome packs and a hearty meal provided by the hotel. Paul, in his usual manner, made his own convoluted way to Luchon across the Spanish border and arrived near midnight with just enough clothes to last him a morning! He was ready.

3,2,1... allez, allez, allez

3,2,1... allez, allez, allez

Everybody was in good spirits, despite the forecast of rain over the weekend. Sunny spells were also predicted. That is why we set off as early as possible on the Friday for the first two cols – Pyresourde and Aspin. A stunning route, this was our shortest and probably easiest day but perfect to find the climbing legs and pace. Rob struggled with his knee on the Aspin and I feared that he would be in the car for the weekend but he pushed through and was fine for the rest of the weekend.

Luckily, the rain began just as we arrived at our first hotel in Saint Marie de Campan. As we started early and it was the shortest day, this meant that we could have lunch in the hotel. Then I had the chance to do a cheeky ride up the Tourmalet. Ivan decided to join. Full of duck, he burped and belched his way up. It was a good opportunity to remind us of the steep, difficult section up to La Mongie, a purpose built ski resort, with 5 km to go.

Ivan making his homage

Ivan making his homage

Even though the group was evenly matched, there were some differences in speed so we had two “set off” groups the following day to try to keep the group together. It worked well. Although David had to come back with a mechanical fault so he was on the spare bike (the change time would have annoyed Froomey but we were not racing!)

Tim had brought Ginny out for her first experience in the mountains. He was excited about the challenge of trying to catch her as she was off in the first wave. He really did underestimate her strength on the bike. He did not stand a chance! Unfortunately, the weather took a turn for the worse and the rain came in. At altitude, it got cold too. A challenging day was ahead. Nick, who feels the cold, had to jump into the van at the top with the blowers on max. Marjolein’s hands had turned to blocks. It was time to get off the Tourmalet.

The GC contenders...

The GC contenders...

Then came the battle of making the descent with the freezing temperatures. The plan was to stop in the first café to have a hot chocolate or two. Everyone made it, well except for the token American, Tanner, who shot right past! He soon realised and I went to pick him up.

Stunning, Ery, Aubisque

Stunning, Ery, Aubisque

The Col d’Ausbisque is not too steep but ridiculously long. Jon and Moray did their best to stick behind Ivan out on the front, whereas Tom was struggling a little. With some gentle encouragement, he pushed through and made it to the top, a great display of determination, very impressive. It has to be noted that Liza has made great improvements over the last few years and she is convinced that it is due to a change of bike shoe, I think she is understating how fit she has become.

Looks like we were not the only ones who enjoy the rain

Looks like we were not the only ones who enjoy the rain

The last stage into Bayonne is a rolling affair with enough ups for it to be challenging. It started badly, with Dermott arriving at breakfast dressed to un-impress – his bike fashion sense is questionable.

This was a complete contrast to the previous two days and it is this variety that I think made this route so enjoyable. Steven finally got his kit back from the airline (he borrowed everything for the first two days) and, with this, he was away. There is the small affair of the Col d’Ostrich – a short climb but a climb nonetheless. As we drove on ahead to set up lunch, I could not contain my excitement as 3 Pyrenean vultures flew over the road and off into the distance.

Last Col, tick!

Last Col, tick!

There was just one incident to speak of on the way into Bayonne, just 10km from the finish. Everyone was cycling together, spirits were high when Matt H slipped and fell which meant that Rob had no choice but to flip over him – real Tour de France style. Everyone was fine with a few bruises and grazes. However, Matt P had leant his buddy a nice cycling top – this was ruined! Up everyone got and with a bit more caution, cycled into Bayonne. Mission accomplished, and to think, those boys did it in one day, on heavy bikes and unpaved roads, over 100 years ago. That’s impressive as was the effort by everyone of our Criminel Team!

Thanks to Ginny, Tim, Rob, Matt, Matt, Tom, Tanner, Dermott, Liza, Paul, David, Stephen, Ivan, Marjolein, Jon, Moray and Nick for making the weekend so much fun and Sue for all her help in the van.

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Rank Trip

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Rank Trip

The middle weekend of June saw a visit from a group of cyclists from the Rank Group, these were joined by Tim and the two Matt’s who were out for a cheeky training weekend before our Tour des Criminels, in the Pyrenees at the end of the month. A typical Thursday to Monday, long weekend, gives everyone enough time to get their cycling legs and do a few outings. Nick, the group leader had two requirements, lunch in Flumet and lunch by Lake Annecy. Now this is something that we can sort!

Blueness

Blueness

It so happens, that on their visit last year, we experienced Brexit and this year, was the General Election’s turn to keep the conversation flowing. The two Geordies, Chris and Ian were particularly pleased with the outcome. So with Corbyn chat we went on a spin of our own. Out, over the Aravis, up the Saisies and then omelettes in Flumet. The restaurant there is a must. Lots like a dive from the outside but go in and onto the terrace at the back and you realise that you are suspended over a gorge with stunning views and what seems like an endless bowl of chips.

 

Then we had to prise ourselves off our seats and attempt to get back over the Aravis. A three col day, not bad! This is when I feel pretty smug that I am in the support van! The day was difficult and conquered by all. However, the next day, the lure of an electric bike was too much for Lyn. I went and did a quick swap and before you could say “mechanical doping”, she was off. The biggest smile of the weekend. I have to say that these bikes are a game changer. They still require you to pedal but make the mountains accessible to all and means that everybody can enjoy the day without feeling left behind or holding people up. Look out for our e-Cheese Classic in September.

A little shade whilst we regrouped

A little shade whilst we regrouped

 

Day 2 was a trip out over the Croix Fry and a loop back around to Menthon, on the shores of the lake. The hardest thing of the day was the heat. But everybody made it. Swimming gear in the van meant that most could enjoy a swim. It was the first, proper time that Gemma cycled in the mountains and although tough, she gave it a great shot. As did Ron, however on the way back from the Lake, Nick and I pointed out that perhaps he should move into the big front cog for the flats and downs. After which, he was flying!

Gemma getting used to the descents! 

Gemma getting used to the descents! 

It is one of the highlights of living out in the Alps when a professional race comes through. Last year was the tour, this year the Criterium du Dauphine. The warm up race for the tour sees the big guns out. Froome, Porte, Aru etc, etc. And this year, this Sunday, it was the final stage and in our back yard. Off we cycled to the finish. The problem was, this was at the Plateua du Solaison, a brutally steep 11km. But with the festival feeling already in full flow, the km went by quickly, albeit painfully. A special shout out should go out to Paul who vastly improved since last year, amazing what a few miles can do.

The Matts watching the Criterium amongst the team cars

The Matts watching the Criterium amongst the team cars

We reconvened at the finish. There was a big screen, marquees, bars, sound systems to enjoy. We settled in to watch how it should be done. It should be mentioned that whilst enjoying our BBQ in one of the marquee’s, there was an almighty bang and a puff of smoke. It was so hot that David’s inner tube had exploded! Always keep your bike shade!

The scene of the explosion, David's tyre just couldn't handle the heat

The scene of the explosion, David's tyre just couldn't handle the heat

With the excitement mounting due to the fact we could follow the race on the big screen, everybody gathered right by the finish line to witness Jacob Fuglsang pip Riche Porte to the overall win. It was an excellent day, one of my best on a bike. Afterwards, we had a stroll around the team cars, asking if we could swap bikes! We then headed bike to Saint Jean. Oh did anyone mention that we had to ascend the Col de la Colombiere!!!

What another cracker of a weekend!

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Traverso 2017

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Traverso 2017

We were excited to yet again have the privilege to make our way over to the Mecca of Italian cycling, Bormio. Having just run a trip to Alpe d’Huez, we realised how similar the two areas are with the buzz that is around road bikes. Everywhere you look, there is a statue, flag, poster or bloke to remind you that you are in the place to be. Especially, just the week after the centenary Giro d’Italia visited.

Bikes everywhere in Bormio!

Bikes everywhere in Bormio!

The group of nine were met in Malpensa airport and the long transfer was made up the valley. This is both the upside and the downside to Bormio. The transfer is bloody annoying but when you get there, you realise that everybody there has made the special effort. It is not just a jump off the plane, or a diversion off the motorway. The distance away from Milan gives it the raw, exciting feel. Less punters!

Again we booked in with our friends at the Hotel dei Pini, a fabulous set up, which has now helped us host three amazing weekends at the base of the colossal Stelvio pass. The 5 course meals and the huge breakfasts mean that you have to cycle just to maintain the same body weight! The Italian twins on our trip, Erik and Leif, were at home. They were feeling a little under the weather and were trying to seek out the pharmacy at everyopportunity. However, the speeds that they ascended lead to suspicions that they were doing a Team Sky and bending the rules!

We had 3 full days to play with. A check of the weather forecast suggested rain on Sunday which meant that the only way forward was two big days in a row, starting with the Stelvio. The route was identical to the last part of the stage in the Giro this year. The event’s organisers must have checked our previous write ups and thought it a good idea. If you are struggling to remember which stage it was. Well, Tom Dumoulin had to stop off the side of the road, we thought that the farmers had been spraying their fields until we remembered.

On the Stelvio bends, Erik looking pro! 

On the Stelvio bends, Erik looking pro! 

So Stelvio followed by the Umbrail. A big effort. Two very different sides of the same mountain. One busy, Italian and one understated, Swiss. Both were flipping difficult. Andrew and Leif lead the way with Erik bridging the gap to the dads and son group (Phil and Peter, Rob and Ian). The whole group went up quickly, passing many larger, dutch cyclists on the way up. A coffee, snack and refill of water at the top and we were away. Ian showing off his downhill MTB skills on the descent. He is not scared!

First and biggest pass

First and biggest pass

After lunch and a spot of German speaking (we were in Switzerland), we headed up the Umbrail. This is not as famous as the Stelvio but just as difficult. It starts off steep, flattens off and then winds its way back up, with never ending bends. Phil, who had not been feeling well, got in the van. A good decision as it meant that he did complete the whole of Saturday’s ride. It was funny to hear him encouraging almost everyone on the way up to stop and keep him company. I think it did the opposite and spurred people on. Peter, who lost the Phil ball and chain made his way up comfortably and probably stopped off to do a bit of knitting (he was making headbands all weekend, perhaps he has been living in Denmark too long). A good day. Finished off with another great meal. Phil and Rob could retell their adventures to Judy and Julie, who were out for a relaxing holiday whilst their husband’s cycled.

Bikes and knitting - finally, Peter's hobby's are combined

Bikes and knitting - finally, Peter's hobby's are combined

Now if they thought that was bad. Saturday was the Mortirolo followed by the Gavia. The Mortirolo is steep but stays quite low. You never get the feeling of isolation. It is stunning though. We stopped off at our favourite café in the alps and then made our way to the base of the Gavia for lunch. This time it was Rob’s turn to get in the van (I needed the company). Off we went. In the town of Ponte di Legno, we couldn’t follow the cyclists as it was a one-way system for cars. We were diverted and got stuck in traffic; the reason being, a lady in a bikini was cleaning her windows, only in Italy!

The hotel's beer garden is a perfect place to recount the stories of the day

The hotel's beer garden is a perfect place to recount the stories of the day

We were a third up the Gavia when Phil said that the previous few kms were pretty steep, he was glad to have conquered that. I didn’t have the heart to tell him that the 14% section was looming. It must be disheartening when you are climbing these hills on a few grand’s worth of bike when a group of about 10 Czech super cars overtake!

Still, everybody made it up and that meant that everybody could justify an aperitif in the beer garden of the hotel. Oh, and the Champions League final was on. A perfect end to a difficult two days. No trip to Bormio should happen without a short bust up the mini Stelvio toward Torre di Fraele. The view back has to be seen. We timed it well. A late start on Sunday, missed the rain. It is great when a plan comes together.

MiniStelvio

MiniStelvio

And there we have it, a magnificent weekend with some lovely people. We are already looking forward to next year.

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DD Alpe d'Huez

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DD Alpe d'Huez

18th to 21st May 2017

A recent visit from a group of 16 from SW London. We based ourselves in Bourg d'Oisans - the mecca of French cycling (well one of them) and took on the mountains from there. 

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Norway 2017

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Norway 2017

For us, April means one thing, Norway. The winter season in the Alps had been very much hit and miss, mainly miss, with very few epic days. If I was being honest, the rumours from Norway was of much the same. I kept it quiet but I did not hold out much hope. How wrong I was. It was full on epic!

The plan for 2017 was to do one week in Lofoten and then head up to our home-from-home in Svensby on the Lyngen Peninsula. The Lofoten Islands are a long spurt of mountainous islands that stick out of the top of Norway like a witch’s finger. They are smaller than Lyngen , but their steepness leads to some action packed skiing. They really are stunning and Reines at the far end is known as one of the most beautiful villages in the world.-a picture postcard.

Lofoten Islands, nature and man at their best

Driving back up to Lyngen for the second week allowed me to appreciate the vastness of Norway and the volume of possible routes, is off the scale. Everywhere I looked on the 6 hour drive, I saw peaks that were skiable. That, with the lack of people makes you feel like you are at the final frontier. No wonder Scandinavians are happy people.

It was a welcomed sight to pull up at the Svensby ferry. 20 minutes crossing instantly relaxes you and allows your eyes to dart across the mountains of the Lyngen Peninsula that you are heading to. The glistening peaks indicated fresh snow. Our first guests were a group from a great ski school based out of the French Alps, Snoworks. They organise many ski adventures and use us for their Norway trips. The clients’ faces showed amazement, as they started, they just could not believe where they were.

The ferry that takes skiers to their heaven

There were a few days of snowy weather which topped up the whiteness and meant that some laps below the tree-line were necessary. This was not a problem as the powder was fresh. The trusted yr.no weather page was suggesting bright skies at the end of the week and it did not disappoint. A blue bird day of skiing back to the sea should be on the bucket list for any skier.

The fresh snow lead us nicely onto our last week and what a week it was!  A high pressure system got itself wedged in and the stable conditionsmeant that I could tick off a few more mountains in the area. Istinden, a peak that rises up from the sea next to some avalanche tunnels has always lured me. You can see the steep descents from Kavingtinden and Rornestinden. The hard going ascent paid off with fresh lines.

A blank canvas, to scribble all over

A visit to the Blue House in Svensby, meant one thing, cod dinner.  Straight from sea to plate and cooked in the BBQ hut- it was delicious. A time to reflect on how amazing the place was.

The last group has evolved from long time Traversers, Ben and Paul Leandro, they were back for another year. They were desperate to get some boat action, so we organized a fishing boat to take them into the glacier that goes up to Tafeltinden. Steiner, their guide, is not one for common peaks so we bypassed the main peak and took an untracked neighbour. It was a large amount of travel across the glacier, but well worth it for the experience of true isolation.

Walking out of the sea, mind-blowing everytime

Walking out of the sea, mind-blowing everytime

This year’s trip to Norway really was one that never stopped giving. The conditions, the terrain, the people that came, all made it one of our classic adventures. We certainly hope to see familiar faces out next April along with others who can experience the true sea-skiing experience.

Who’s in……..?!

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The Cheese Classic

Now in its 3rd year, the Cheese Classic is becoming one of our, well, classics! It is something that I personally always look forward too. Cycling, cheese, red wine and the odd coffee or two. It is a great mix of relaxation and challenge.

Smell my cheese

Smell my cheese

The group of 7 were all relatively new to cycling in the Alps and the first day from just North of Geneva and then around its lake is a perfect introduction with a short climb just before our first destination – Abondance. The green meadows surrounding you are a reminder of why the cheese tastes so good from the Alps – well fed cows. Our regular, Mark, quickly fell into his usual habit of moaning up every climb to get to the top and say, ‘let’s do it again!’ It was great to have him back.

Lovely day for a nice cycle around the meadows

Lovely day for a nice cycle around the meadows

For a larger guy, Tim holds his own in the Alps and I could quickly see a little bit of competition arising between him and Nathan on the winding roads up to the first proper col of the trip on the second day, the Col du Corbier – just outside of Morzine. The café at the top is unusual to say the least, with the owner’s accounts and whole life spread out on the tables inside – seemed a lot for someone who just sells coffee!

We set of for the Colombiere, not before stopping for lunch in Talloires – a very nice spot to set up by the river there, it was warm so people were using the fresh water to cool down. Matt, who had bought his first pair of bib shorts from us, could not stop banging on about them! He certainly now looked the part (not sure it was hygienic to wear them for all four days though).

The Colombiere is always a bit of a challenge, it’s the last 3 km where you can tantalizingly see the finish line which make it tough. It is psychological and all made it up in good spirits, it’s one of our local climbs and we love the cakes that they sell up there.

Hitching - now that is cheating

Hitching - now that is cheating

Down to Saint Jean de Sixt, our home and the home of Reblochon Cheese. We had organized a meal in one of the local cheese farms. Very hearty and it re-energised the group. The melted Reblochon to pour over the charcuterie and potatoes was a firm favourite.

The final mountains day followed with two climbs, the Aravis and Saisiesgot us to Beaufort. The option of extending the route to take you up to the Cormet de Roseland is highly recommended if you still have the legs and half the group did this. Nathan and Tim went a little further and looped back over the Col du Pre and back to Beaufort via Areches. This is a new addition that I would do again.

What was in the cheese - Andrew has gone crazy, he still had to cycle in the wet gear

What was in the cheese - Andrew has gone crazy, he still had to cycle in the wet gear

Back in Beaufort the weather began to turn and it was clouding over. The final route back to the stunning Lake Annecy was a walk in the park and pretty uneventful. Well that is if you forget the fact that Andrew, always the eccentric, decided to make use of the diving board half away around the lake and jump in, fully clothed in his cycling gear. The water warm, but he soon chilled down on the lake side route back to Annecy. Where then, the rest of the group went for a dip. A fantastic way to finish a fabulous trip.

 

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Ripcoro

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Ripcoro

For the second time this year we made the trip across to Bormio in Italy which is fast becoming a second home to us. It should not be a long trip, a few hours to Milan and then up into the mountains. However, that final 100km is slow going with single lane roads and local traffic along with miles of tunnels. It can be a little frustrating but when you emerge from the last tunnel and are greeted with the expanse of mountains and the old town of Bormio, you know it’s worth it.

This is what we came for!

This is what we came for!

It is impossible not to get excited with the weekend ahead as there is a buzz of cyclists around the town. You know that you are where it is at, for those who like two wheels. It is pretty special. Checking in and getting the accommodation ready with the welcome packs and goodies (a special thanks to Moma Porridge) was smooth and gave us a few hours to wait for the arrival of our group, the infamous Ripcor Cycling Club.

Arriving in time for dinner, which was up to the usual high standard that we come to expect from our base in Bormio, gave everyone the opportunity to discuss the weekend ahead and what was in store for them. They were uncharacteristically quiet and it became apparent that they were a little nervous about taking on the might of the Passo del Stelvio – understandable.

Our first day loops around this magnificent mountain, famed for cycling but equally important as a summer training base for skiers from across the Alps, showing just how high it is! It is a long climb of 26km and the plan was to drop down into German speaking Italy and across into Switzerland before climbing back up to the Umbrail pass which rejoins the Stelvio just 5km from the summit. For some though, the Stelvio is an amazing achievement in itself and there was no shame in returning back to Bormio having crested its summit. Everyone made it.

It is undoubtedly the middle part of the Stelvio which is the most stunning, it is here where the straight road that clings to the side of the mountain side is forced into the infamous switch backs as it comes head on with the face of the mountain. I parked up the support van to get some shots of the group coming up and they all actually seemed to be enjoying it. The spread of the group was not that big and they were all showing their strength. As the per the Ripcor motto: It’s all good.

Going around the bend

Going around the bend

The cluster of cafes and tourist stalls at the top of the Stelvio means that it is a good place to regroup, take in a coffee or two and revitalize. Everyone was in good spirits and thinking that they had made it, however, just because a pass is not famous, does not mean that it is not difficult. The Umbrail Pass was still to come. But first a 30 km descent. Speed Steve turns out not to be speedy and has a dislike for going downhill! His squeaking brakes reverberating around the mountains, surely confusing a marmotte or two. As I passed him, he asked for more water to help him cool the wheels down! It did the trick and they held out.

A rare flat moment

A rare flat moment

We set out lunch when we got into Switzerland. With just the Umbrail Pass to come, the day was nearing an end but this required a huge effort, lunch was certainly necessary.

The Umbrail Pass completes the triangle around the Stelvio, it is less well known and in turn less busy with fewer cyclists and cars on the road. This combined with the lack of kilometre markers creates a sense of true wilderness. That and “when will this end?!” It is though breathtaking. Once in a rhythm, it is just a case of keep plodding on. It was a little bit too much for Phil so he jumped in the van (the beauty of doing this with a support vehicle) for the last few km’s – not bad going though considering some turned back after the Stelvio. I will never forget John’s face when he arrived at the top – one of total pleasure yet total pain.  Ripcor had earned their beer and cakes today.

Chris floating up the Umbrail Pass

Chris floating up the Umbrail Pass

Saturday was an all-together easier day, it is necessary to recuperate! It was a switchback ascent up towards Lake Cancano, they call it the mini-Stelvio around these parts and you can see why. Very, very steep to start with and then it eases off. Standing at the top, it was amazing to see everyone on the bends below, a fantastic view that you normally would only get from a helicopter.

Mini-Stelvio

Mini-Stelvio

Sunday was the attempt to complete the trilogy of big climbs in the area (and Italy in fact). The Mortirolo follow by the Gavia. A huge day. An early start was required. Dropping down from Bormio to the start of the Mortirolo is a gentle but fun 30km of freewheeling! The beams of sunrays breaking through the mountain tops gave me the impression that I was in a crystal, mountains in the mornings!

There is a tiny turning to the start of the Mortirolo, easily missed and for that reason, it is hard to imagine why it is so famous. Quoted by many as their hardest climb, including the drugged up Armstrong, it seems so innocuous. We do have a confession and say that there are two routes up that join for the last ascent, we went up the “easier” part. You tell that to the guys!    

Just as you get to a little church, the road ramps up and really kicks in, I guess for the first time in the weekend, you realise why the Giro maybe regarded as a little tougher than the Tour. It was all a bit too much for Leigh but he took great pleasure in cheering everyone else on from the comfort of the van. Again just to get up to that point was an achievement that most cannot say that they have done.

The hot chocolate just after the summit makes it worth it.

One of Armstong's hardest climbs...

One of Armstong's hardest climbs...

Next stop the Gavia. Dieter was banging on about how he just wanted to do the Mortirolo, that was the famous climb of the two. What is all the fuss about this Gavia? Well, Dieter, its steep and long. It’s bloody hard. You think that you are cycling up to the doors of hell. But when you get to the top, it is magical. High, and unlike the Stelvio with all its hotels and skiers, it’s wild. You have certainly left the normal hustle and bustle of everyday life behind. Rewarding.

Just after a long, dark tunnel with about 2km to go, I found Alastair and Phil pondering their next move. The others were just finishing up. I told them in no uncertain terms that they were not getting in the van. They pushed on and shortly after made it to the top of this monster. Tears of joy (or pain) rolling down Phil’s cheeks, they, like everyone else had achieved something special. Chapeau as you would say in France. I was expecting a raucous evening of celebration but everyone was happy to relax and contemplate their achievements over a glass or two.

Great work lads!

Great work lads!

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The Tour du Mont Blanc 2016

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The Tour du Mont Blanc 2016

Rain, rain, go away. The early part of this summer has not been dry. Every time the forecast is checked, it says “chance of rain”, “showers” or just simply “rain”. Leading up to our second tour of the year, the forecast was still mixed. We could only hope. At least the first day would be sunny and warm. It meant that the stunning views back towards the Col des Aravis from Les Saisies could be fully appreciated. It is a stage that we often do in our trips as it appears in the High Alps Challenge and the Cheese Classic.

Ready for the off - yes, it is not photoshop, they are blue skies!

Ready for the off - yes, it is not photoshop, they are blue skies!

It is always nice for the support team to stop in Notre Dame de Bellecombe for a coffee and wave the riders through. Everyone is normally in good spirits as it is a gentle gradient up to the village. However, this year, we thought we had missed them. Driving up we did not encounter any of the group, so we had to keep going. This is where we caught up with them all trying to go as fast as possible! Andrew leading the way and blowing the field apart! This was going to be a quick group!

Stunning

Stunning

So much so that we were down in Beaufort before you could say “stinky cheese!” We decided to stop there for a coffee and a refill before taking on the Cormet du Roseland. This is always a highlight with the beautiful reservoir breaking up the route. I am glad to say that Simon, Matt and Roddy realized that they would not make the day and eased off the pace. A wise move when travelling through the mountains. Blowing up can really slow things down. By the top, everyone was spread out which gave me time to russle up some eggs to go with the lunch and as it was still warm just shy of 2000m, everybody was relaxing into it.

The descent down is a lot of fun and flowing. Roddy may have taken a bit of a strange line but walked away to fight another day. We were back in enough time for me to jump on the bike and try it from the other side. Great climb with two flatter sections in each half to help recover. I think that maybe the Tour du Mont Blanc in reverse is not a bad idea!

A brief visit to winter for a coffee before returning to the sunshine in Italy

A brief visit to winter for a coffee before returning to the sunshine in Italy

The weather was not looking good for the next day.

Well you cannot believe weather forecasts. It started off damp but the only bit of rain we properly had was when we were all in the café at the top. Perfect timing. Speaking of which, it is great when a plan comes together. We staggered the start of people from the hotel and low and behold, everyone caught each other up with 500m to go and arrived at the top en masse. This climb is long but with a gradual and steady gradient, it is actually fun to get in a rhythm.

Now it was time to enter Italy and a 70km decent through the Aosta valley.  As we dropped, the temperature rose and the sun was appearing. Apparently the weather gods were with us on this one. The first half of the Grand Saint Bernard is a bit of a slog. It is not until you get to Etroubles that it gets a bit more interesting and difficult! This was a good spot to take a breather and have a spot of lunch. Phil and Peter arrived slightly after the rest of the group saying that they were counting down the kilometres to lunch! They knew though that they had less to come after, scant consolation. The following 14km was the challenge of the entire weekend. Not one person found it easy, Ian, one of the strongest in the group was really shattered at the end, perhaps racing a reinvigorated James up was not the best idea! As for Steve, everytime I passed him on each climb within the last three km, he said, “I am done now”, well on this climb it was the last 5km so it must have been tough. Mark was having all sorts of problems with punctures and Paula Radcliffe moments, blighting his attempt at this most difficult of climbs. It was really only Jocelyn who seemed to thrive on this slope. She seemed to have added confidence! The monks were there ready to refuel the team and luckily a pretty decent wifi connection up in the heavens meant that we could watch the first England game. The final leg was to come.

Winding up the Grand Saint Bernard, those monks live a long way from anywhere

Winding up the Grand Saint Bernard, those monks live a long way from anywhere

Switzerland would be our third country in three days. A long descent down to Martigny and then a sharp, warm climb up the Forclaz (one of three Forclaz’s in the Tour this year). This really spread the group out but we were able to regroup at the Col des Montets with the residence Ibex for lunch. This was our only bad weather moment with a cold wind whipping up from the Mont Blanc glaciers and forcing people to retreat into the visitors centre. It was difficult to get people to move out and onto the final part. From here, it’s the distance rather than the climbing that is sapping and initially it was a chance for Eric to exhibit some descending skills! Navigating through Chamonix and down the valley brought us out at Cote du Domancy – only 2.5km but very steep. It was the final push before the line. Comparasions will surely be made with our group and the Tour de France’s uphill time-trial this summer. At least our team has the excuse of many more kilometres in their legs before the climb.

I wonder if any of these will beat the pro peloton up when they visit for the Tour de France

I wonder if any of these will beat the pro peloton up when they visit for the Tour de France

Returning to Flumet for a celebratory dinner, everyone, no matter of their fitness had felt challenged and everybody was proud of their achievements. It was a lovely group and most were more than happy to spin up the Aravis on Monday before the coach left, yet another climb that will be in the Tour this coming summer. 

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Traverso - The Italian Triolgy

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Traverso - The Italian Triolgy

We know the French Alps, we have cycled up most of the Cols and know how magical they can be. However, we also know that it is not the centre of the universe, there is more out there. Not better but different. Hearing of the stories of the Dolomites and the legendary Italian climbs that seem to challenge even the best climbers at the Giro, we knew that the time had come to go and test out our high gearing. And it is a good excuse to drink espressos and eat pizza.

Mixed weather meant that our support van was like a changing room! Did not dampen spirits 

Mixed weather meant that our support van was like a changing room! Did not dampen spirits 

After a phone call to our friend, Nicola, (guy not girl), we had set up our base in Bormio, using his apartments and hotel. From here we could tackle the big three passes in Italy – Stelvio, Mortirolo and Gavia. It was not hard to sell the trip out and we were set!

I arrived the weekend before to reccie the routes before our group of 20 arrived. One thing was for certain, the weather was not going to treat us well. Wet weather gear required. Actually, the dramatic clouds and mist simply added to the atmosphere – we were in the high mountains.

You come to this region for one reason, and that is to struggle up the Stelvio. It has been the scene of many Giro battles and rolls of the tongue along with the likes of Alpe d’Huez and Mont Ventoux. It is litter with hairpin bends and snakes its way up to the summer ski station that is settled at its top. You know that you are going high when early in the morning, you are passed by cars carrying skis! It is possible to tackle the Stelvio from 3 sides and we had planned to loop around climbing 2 sides in the process. Leaving one for another time!

Going around the bend! Plenty of them up the Stelvio

Going around the bend! Plenty of them up the Stelvio

Another tail-tail sign that you are high above the valley is not only that you have been climbing for a long time but the appearing of high altitude, little rascals. When I reccie the route, it was early, so I was the only one up except for the marmottes making a nuisance of themselves and playing hide ‘n’ seek. They are funny little things with high pitch squeals and Meerkat like stances. They certainly own this patch of Italy.

Lunch and rest

Lunch and rest

The Stelvio is the border between Italian Italy and German Italy. At the top, confusingly, people are speaking to you in German, it takes a while to get your head around it and the decent down, Italian is rather absent from village names and road signs. It also feels cleaner and more organized, but this may be the altitude playing tricks. Sweeping around the valley floor, the climb back up starts reasonably quickly and up to Switzerland. Now this is organized! A good spot to set up lunch and allow everybody to refuel before the last push.

They all thought that they were done. Little did they know what the Umbriail pass was like!

They all thought that they were done. Little did they know what the Umbriail pass was like!

The last 14km back up to the Stelvio is via the Umbrail pass and this is where we turn back to Bormio (no point doing the last part of the Stelvio again). This is a brutal climb at the end of the route. It is steep and the absence of kilometre markers means that you are never quite sure where you are and when it will finish.  It certainly earns you the right to choose from every course of the 5 course dinner that we had laid out for everyone. Maybe even a glass of wine is necessary to celebrate the achievements of the day.

The Italians were really spoiling us with three private rooms and a real feast

The Italians were really spoiling us with three private rooms and a real feast

The second route was the Mortirolo and Gavia loop. The Mortirolo was one of Lance’s hardest challenges and lets just say, he had a bit of an advantage. It is short and steep but with fresh legs at the beginning of the route, it is pretty enjoyable. The whole group were drenched by the time that they got to the top which is why the little café just the other side of the pass was so welcomed, as was everybody’s spare change of clothes – I guess one advantage of a support van. Italian hot chocolate really does hit the spot and soon people were eager to brave the elements again.

The Gavia is a big pass. It is long and steep in parts. The road gets narrow and the sense that you are out in the wild really hits you as you weave up through the forest from Ponte di Lecco. I stopped the van just as it reaches 16% to grab some photos and hand out some pieces of watermelon. These are the sort of gradients where you need to think about your position on your bike. Trying not to allow the front wheel to leave the ground! It was very impressive though how everyone was getting along and people seemed to group up in 3s and 4s – safety in numbers. I guess it is reassuring to see others struggling too. A 32 rear cassette is the key.

Steeeeeeeep

Steeeeeeeep

Like any big climb, you expect to start in the forest and to finish upon a baron, mountainous landscape. You will be hard pushed to find any wilder place than the top bends of the Gavia. With the rain easing and the clouds swirling around the peaks and valleys, you felt that the spirits of the mountains were out there to get you. A few switch backs and the sanctuary of the café at the pass were welcome. I have never seen so many people eat so much. Ivan had pasta, pizza, cake, hot chocolate. I think that he just could not be bothered to read the menu and asked for everything! After two days riding the big boys in town, Sunday and Monday gave us a chance to taste the lesser known routes. A wind down if you like. Sunday saw us going up to Lake Cancano, the mini Stelvio, and with its switch backs and stunning views, I would say the most stunning climb of the trip. Everyone made it up strongly and we were back in time for people to have a restful afternoon and take in a café or two. James though, in training for Lands End to John O’Groats decided to cycle up to Bormio 2000 afterwards.

What a great team! So many metres climbed in rain and sunshine! 

What a great team! So many metres climbed in rain and sunshine! 

The last climb on Monday morning before we headed back to the real world was quite possibly the steepest climb that I have ever tried, it went by the name of Forni. An easyish ride up to Santa Caterina, which is rather deserted in the summer, it must be so different at the height of winter with all the skiers, was the warm up for the last 4 or 5 km up to the Refugi di Forni. It just went straight up. If it were any longer then people would have struggled but like Tom discovered, it is possible to simply power your way up. It took a lot of will power not to stop at the first café. The finish was easy to find, it was when the tarmac ran out! Another nice coffee stop though.

So there we were, the steep and imposing mountains around Bormio had been conquered. Everybody was chuffed and surprisingly still pretty fresh. It was now time to catch the coach back to Milan and start thinking about the next challenge. It should be noted here that the coach had an inbuilt espresso machine next to the entrance, I love Italy!  

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Lofoten Lines

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Lofoten Lines

Another great time in our base camp in the Lyngen Alps. Two weeks and twenty five people, great weather, great snow and humbling scenery. We bossed it! Taking over the lodges at Svensby, gave us the space and comfort to relax after trekking up all the snowy peaks. Arranging catering meant that everybody got together before and after their adventures and could really gel over good, hearty Norwegian cuisine. It was the best year to date.

Norway is a big country, with countless numbers of peaks and descents to enjoy so to enable us to become more knowledgeable about the options, Dan and I decided to extend our time there and take the 3 hour drive from Tromso to Narvik at the start of the Lofoten Islands.

I have been to Norway many times but it was only when we arrived at the turning to the start of the Lofoten Islands that I really realized how big it is and in fact, how modern maps deceive us with their out of scale proportions. On the map, the Islands look like a tiny blemish jutting out from the already jagged Norwegian coast. However, it is pretty mind blowing to see the distance to Å, a simply named town, at the end of the jut, is over 300 km away, the same distance from London to Manchester! Big country right?!

It was midday when we got to the turning and we realized that a 10 minute detour to Narvik town centre would allow us an afternoon ski on its lift system. I had to remind Dan what a lift was! We were excited to go and check it out. Climbing from the centre of the town out of the sea, is the slow lift that gets you into the system. We could not believe how quiet it was on a Sunday afternoon with a fresh sprinkling of snow. It was a perfect break from hiking up the mountains and just what we needed. I would say it is an area big enough for 2 days of skiing and then maybe time to move on.

We had to move on already though, to the middle of the Lofoten Islands, chasing the last of the snow. We arrived just outside of the town of Svolvær and settled into our lodge for the evening. The 2 hour drive was punctuated with “stop, photo”, “wow” and “amazing”. Every bend seemed to lead to a new cove, a new cluster of cool cottages and fishing boats. It is nature at its most spectacular.

The next two days were spent on this island of Austvågøya. Without a guide book and just a few web searches, we decided to follow our noses and find the main valley with lots of skiable peaks. It was like searching for waves on a surf trip and yes, we lucked out! Two summits leading to untouched powder descents. Some of the best of the season for us. Our only criticism of the area is that the ascents and therefore descents are short, 600m compared to 1200 plus in Lyngen. This means for a serious trip to Lofoten, you would need to look at bagging a couple of peaks a day and perhaps renting a kayak to access the starting point of a climb to some very cool looking couloirs. All in all though, very impressive!

Now after the first morning on the mountain, I broached the subject with Dan about trying to find somewhere to surf. He thought I was a bit bonkers (nothing new there) but was happy to come along with the camera. The North of Norway and Lofoten in particular pick up great swell as the small issue of the United Kingdom is out of the way. So there is a huge mass of water for the swell to build and the jagged coastline produces a variety of reefs and points for quality waves to form. We headed to the Lofoten Surfsenter, in Unstad, to rent the kit. The wetsuits took all the sting out of the temperature and, although the waves were not that big, it was pretty surreal to be comfortably surfing in the Arctic Circle. This place has it all!

A trip back into Svolvær for a beer and a wander allowed us to see everything else that the island has to offer. Fishing, kayaking, boat trips to see whales and sea eagles (which actually flew over our lodge) all had us asking whether it was possible to change our flights. But we had one more place to check out. Riksgransen, Sweden.

The town of Narvik has built up around the port which sends iron ore out to the world. This iron ore is mined in Sweden and crosses the border around 30 minutes from Narvik by train at Riksgransen. As it has a train service and mountains, they decided back in the day to create a ski resort. It pretty much is just the hotel and the lifts there, so it is easy to find your way around. We checked into the hotel in the evening and settled down for a burger and some very tasty beer, watching all the trendy Swedes and listening to the piano man.

We had both seen various videos of people skiing in Riksgransen and we were very excited to get out there the following day. We were now far from the sea and there was certainly a different feel to the mountain. The ski map revealed plenty of off piste designated areas and lots of little natural jumps; heaven basically. Unfortunately though it was a white out and we really could not see much at all. The poor visibility when mixed with  the high winds meant that we only lasted the morning before finishing up and making our way back to Tromso. Definitely got a taste for it though and will be back.

Arriving in Tromso weirdly felt like home. Our trip away opened our eyes to more potential in Norway than we thought possible but it also reassured us that basing ourselves in Lyngen with the large mountains and bigger descents was definitely the way forward. Keep an eye out for a cheeky Lofoten trip on offer before we set up camp again in Lyngen next year.

Now its time to put our skis away and get on the bike. The roads are calling!

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The Traverse Cheese Classic

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The Traverse Cheese Classic

Closing our season with the Cheese Classic has made me wish it was May already and that we could start all over again. Seven months is going to be tough, the remedy will be some skiing but still…

Thursday evening saw our group of 13 arrive and ferried just to the north of Geneva for our first night and some pre riding pizzas. Always a good idea to have a flexible meal on the arrivals night incase of delays. They were damn tasty pizzas! But with the weekend ahead, people were ill advised to go for the quatre fromages!

"Olly, if you could just grab my pump..."

"Olly, if you could just grab my pump..."

We arose on Friday to cloudy skies and spots of rain but it was a relatively relaxed start to the cycling as most of it was around Lake Geneva, it was ashame that we missed the stunning views of Mont Blanc but there is always another time! Ivan, in true fashion, held up the departure with repetitive punctures but Olly was there to help him with his pump and soon everybody was back together.

Turning away from the Lake at Thonon, the route winds its way upwards towards Morzine before darting left to the Abondance valley. You could almost smell the cheese funneling down. Not a tough day but a perfect way to warm up. Everybody was in good spirits and settled down to watch the opening game of the Rugby World Cup. A cheeky chappy, named Andrew also met the group in the afternoon after arriving from work – better late than never I guess.

The advance party working out the competition on the first slopes up to Abondance

The advance party working out the competition on the first slopes up to Abondance

Thanks again to MOMA as the porridge complemented the hotel’s breakfast well. We were pleased to see a selection of Abondance on the table too. The sun was out and we knew that we were in for a great day of cycling, if not a more challenging one!

It started off with the Col du Corbier, short but very sweet. The penultimate two kilometres are classic switch backs through beautiful meadows. It was a good chance to see how everybody matched up and although there were obvious differences in fitness levels, everybody made it up quickly. As a group we were making good time through the mountains. It was only a very confused café owner at the top that proved to slow things down. Weirdly, for a café owner, he did not seem to know what a coffee was!

Joris was loving the switch backs

Joris was loving the switch backs

Next up was distance over height, with an undulating route down to Morzine, through Les Gets and on to our lunch stop at Taninges (or tangerines as I like to call it). Being lovely weather, meant that I could get the cooker fired up for some eggs. Somebody, probably Peter, said that we needed to watch out as it was going to rain at 2pm. We all laughed at their precision. It was getting a bit cloudy but when we set off for the last climb of the day, the Col de la Colombiere, we were not worried.

Cycling heaven

Cycling heaven

Dropping down into Cluses gives the opportunity for a vast view back up the valley towards Geneva, that’s is when David spotted the dark clouds slowly and menacingly drifting towards us, he stopped me to get a jacket out of the van.

I suggested that Ivan, Andrew B and Hugo attempted the Col du Romme first. This steep climb rejoins the Colombiere half way up it so with them being pretty speedy, it would keep the group together and also challenge them.

Then at precisely 1400 hours, it only went and rained! As it was towards the end of the day’s cycling, this was not really an issue, it just meant that the group made good use of the Hotel des Aravis’ drying room! It was now time for tartiflette (the local Reblochon cheese dish) at Le Peille, just across the road.

They sometimes say "better late than never" but this fella turned up a day late 

They sometimes say "better late than never" but this fella turned up a day late 

Day 3 comprised of a route that is common on many of our tours. It ramps up with the finish on the Cormet de Roseland. First though is our home climb, the Col des Aravis. This is not steep and the constant gradient actually makes it pleasurable to ride. Dropping down into Flumet is always enjoyable and is longer than the way up, which is a bonus. Regrouping at Flumet meant an opportunity to ditch any warmer clothing ready for the Col des Saisies.

Lunch at the top was almost the end of the day for some, as the final climb from Beaufort to the Cormet de Roseland was optional. It meant everybody was relaxed and could enjoy the views back across to the Col des Aravis and sit there content in the knowledge of their cycling accomplishment. There was also the job of some cheese tasting to do!

Beautiful warm up on the Col des Aravis, Day 3

Beautiful warm up on the Col des Aravis, Day 3

Claire could not relax though, our mascot and 5 month old puppy, Zola, who was along for the ride, had taken an instant liking to her and attached himself to her throughout the weekend. She did not seem to mind the attention though!

We arrived at the Hotel du Grand Mont where people made a decision to either continue up or chill out in the town. There was certainly no disgrace in staying behind. It was a chance to relax. It also meant that I could get on my bike for a spin too.  I have to say that the view over the reservoir, halfway up is worth the effort.

The support team

The support team

It was getting colder, with a strong wind, so nobody waited at the top, instead we turned back for a coffee by the lake. We had made it. We knew that we could enjoy the evening meal with the knowledge that it was a pretty flat (one tiny hill) ride to Annecy the next day. What a meal to enjoy, the steak and chips went down well and some people opted for the fish. It was very impressive.

Showboating all the way to Annecy

Showboating all the way to Annecy

Annecy is very impressive and a perfect place for the finish line. Again, this was a weekend where people were challenged but fun was had, new friends made and lots of cheese eaten. Thank you, in no particular order, to Ivan, the two Stephen’s, the two Andrew’s, Claire, Tanya, Liza, Joris, Peter, Olly, Hugo and David. 

Not a bad place to finish

Not a bad place to finish

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l'Etape du Tour 2015

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l'Etape du Tour 2015

Every summer, France is hit by 200 of the world’s top cyclists;  it is a huge spectacle which is becoming more and more popular in the UK. There are always stages in the Pyrenees and the Alps and each year one stage is chosen by the organisers and a week before the pros hit it, they run it as an event for the likes of you and I; l'Etape du Tour.

This year, they chose stage 19 from Saint Jean du Maurienne to La Toussuire. This 138km ride has three climbs over 18km long so it is not an easy day out! It was back in November when the course was revealed and almost immediately, I had calls from locals asking whether I could provide the logisitics for the event i.e  accommodation and food. I immediately agreed, on the one condition, that I’d enter the event too.

There was a snowball effect and we ended up with 20 cyclists staying in Orelle, just down the valley from the start. People arrived on the Friday by plane, train and automobile and in time for some sweet potato mash and a bit of a chin wag. Everybody was excited, with good reason; this event was huge with 15,000 spectators signed up!

The calm before the storm

The calm before the storm

Saturday was registration day and a chance to walk around the village. It took strong will power to avoid parting with lots of cash on all the stands. I was desperate for a Shimano hat but by the time that I reached their truck, all the caps had been given away. Enrique managed to get one and decided to wear it from that point on – I was jealous!

Enjoying the cardboard cut outs... 

Enjoying the cardboard cut outs... 

With all the numbers collected it was time to head back. I went shopping to prepare for the evening’s pasta party whilst others set up their bikes, attached their numbers, went for short cycles up the Col du Telegraphe for a coffee in Valloire and generally faffed about.-tomorrow was going to be a big day!

Carbo loading at our pasta party

Carbo loading at our pasta party

There were 15 pens to stagger the departure, it meant that we all had different start times but everybody was keen to get down and ready. The car parking and traffic was surprisingly very good! Paul and I started in gate 8 which was very hard to find. We followed 12, 11, 10, 9 and then 7!!! Where the hell was this gate? It turns out  that it was tucked, obscurely, down a little side road. By the time that we found it, we were right at the back. However, with a chip for timing, the exact time that we left did not matter.

The atmosphere was fantastic and the people spread out enough so that we did not suffer too much. The only problem we had was, on the first descent where a bottle neck meant that everybody had to get off their bikes. This was annoying but the same for everyone. After the first climb, there was a big boucle, or circuit that went out on the flat and came back to the same place. Just to get the distance up I guess- pretty annoying.! Then it was the Croix de Fer which involves summiting the Col du Glandon on the way up. The last few kilometres of the Glandon are ridiculously steep and  being forced into the inside of the bends did not help, resulting in  many people walking as it was too tough. The stifling heat did not help.

Like a line of worker ants going up the first climb, the atmosphere was like this the whole way

Like a line of worker ants going up the first climb, the atmosphere was like this the whole way

The pros repeat this for 3 weeks!

As I descended from the Croix de Fer, I looked at our sticker of the course on my top tube. What was this little climb that punctuated the descent? Was it big. I had not taken too much notice of it when studying the route. Well it was 5km and a little bastard of a climb. I am not sure why it was put in, apart from making people suffer! I was very grateful to the locals with their hoses on the final straights- a welcomed refreshment.

Next, it was down to the foot of La Toussuire. which is where Chris Froome infamously attacked Wiggins and was called back on team orders. It starts very steeply and then eases off and is 18km of punishment. I had paced myself pretty well so was still feeling quite  fresh at the bottom. I thought, leave it all on this hill. I wish I thought that 5km in, as by the time I had got to 8km to go, boom- my legs went. I was basically going backwards, recognising people that I had already overtaken getting back at me., I knew that I had to dig deep.

They did not enjoy me taking the picture

They did not enjoy me taking the picture

The finish could not come soon enough and when I arrived, I slumped over my handlebars in exhaustion. I think that if it hadn’t been so hot then it would have been much easier,  but I enjoyed all of it! Especially the fact that there was always somebody cycling with you, the views back down the winding alpine roads, with cyclists resembling worker ants, was truly inspiring-  human beings can be pretty impressive!

At the top, it turned out that I was one of the first to arrive in our group so it was a case of waiting for the others. They trickled in, all very happy. It was time to head back for a well- deserved BBQ. It turns out that even with a load of starving cyclists, that I still had plenty of food spare! Guess they needed to work harder!

I wonder where it will be next year? 

Mission complete

Mission complete

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The High Alps Challenge 2015

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The High Alps Challenge 2015

I cannot believe it. 4 years ago, my dad and I had an idea to run a trip from Geneva to Nice. It is not new, people have done it in the past. But we thought, lets keep it simple, let’s make it affordable, let’s make it a proper challenge, let’s camp and let’s raise money for Leukaemia and Lymphoma Research. At the time, my dad was recovering from Non-Hodgkins Lymphoma and as he was in hospital, we discussed how it would work and that he would come out to assist the cyclists, which in 2013, he did. Unfortunately, after a string of bad luck, he did not see out 2013 so I continued this, for him.

Naively, Iain celebrates the first climb

Naively, Iain celebrates the first climb

Now we have just completed our 4th High Alps Challenge and in doing so have raised over £25,000, an amount that we are  very proud of! Each year we have been blessed with great groups of people who are all there to enjoy life and cycling. It maybe hard, but these inspiring people like to take on challenges, get out into the mountain air and breath in the experiences that come with this amazing challenge. This year was no different.

We had the Shortt’s. They were like the musketeers; 3 brothers and 1 frenchman (a brother in-law). Andrew, Mike and Iain along with Marc. It is fair to say that there was a mixture of talent but as soon as I met them in Geneva, I could sense their determination to finish this challenge and I knew that they would be fine. Unfortunately, Andrew’s daughter died from Leukaemia 10 years and they were completing this in her memory. This underlying force would help them over the Iseran and mighty Galibier. They were here to conquer! Well, Mike was but at a slightly more relaxed pace!

Then there was Glynn….. a scientist based in Aberdeen. You could recognize him with all his Castelli kit, oh, and you could hear him chatting up the mountains from a mile off! I am convinced that if he did not talk so much he could be very quick indeed. In fact, it was not until the last day when he went up solo that he showed what he was capable off! Coincidence? He too had links with the charity, having had Leukaemia as a child and his dad having had a lymphoma; he was also showing a dogged determination to get to the finish.

Andrew cycled across the alps, just to have the opportunity to photobomb Simon's moment of glory

Andrew cycled across the alps, just to have the opportunity to photobomb Simon's moment of glory

Simon and Charlotte lead the way and, along with Andrew, formed Team Sky as they were always at the front. Simon has done a few races this year and Charlotte races in Sweden so it was not surprising. What was surprising was Peter’s cycling kit. Shorts and t-shirts are one thing, but the pashmina that he insisted on either wearing or having in his pocket was something else! He is used to self assisted treks across the world, this is what biking is about to him. Stopping at every opportunity to speak to old men with panniers! Even though he had a heavy bike, he still managed to haul it over each col.

Kat and Jocelyn made up the group and were very entertaining-  great athletes in their own right. They tamed the Alps with  Jocelyn complaining of a bad knee but still running after each ride. Pretty bonkers! They spent their downtime gossiping, which passed the time whilst I cooked. I have to say that they were nice about all the people that they spoke about. Unless they were under 6 foot! 

Peter's attire for the mountains was certainly unique! At least he made the others look good

Peter's attire for the mountains was certainly unique! At least he made the others look good

We started this year from a campsite in Gex, just north of Geneva. It was an easy ride out down to the official start point on the shores of Lake Geneva, where we had an obligatory photo shoot! We met up with Mike’s mate Alfie, who added some local knowledge with cheeky back routes out of Geneva and off they were to the first climb. The Col de la Colombiere. I always say to everyone, don’t be put off by the first 500m. This initial experience of an Alpine col is enough for anybody to be scared. It ramps up out of Marnaz and you can see the fear in people’s faces. However, it is only for 500m or so, and then it settles down. Even with a tough last 3 km, this climb is a good warm up and before we knew it, we were settled in Saint Jean de Sixt with a tartiflette on the menu. Alfie though, had to cycle back to Geneva!

Day 2, with its 3 climbs is a hard day; Col des Aravis, les Saisies and the Cormet du Roseland. None of these are as high as what are to come but long climbs nonetheless. With an early start, the first two were ticked off easily enough and then everybody had lunch at the stunning lake on the Roseland climb. The pecking order in the group in terms of speed became evident as they settled into their own pace. Still a long way to go from Nice but it was beginning to feel like we were in the middle of the Alps, everyone was taken aback by the final views on the last climb- it is one of my favourites.

A very happy group after the first of the 3 "big days"

A very happy group after the first of the 3 "big days"

Jocelyn ,who liked to push herself with running after each climb, also seemed to want to make the cycling more challenging. Leaving for the Col de l’Iseran, she left her phone in the campsite. Not being able to phone me, she turned around and went back to get it! Doh! Today, was one long, long climb. The natural breakpoint is in Val d’Isere so we stopped here for some energy and water refills. It turns out that Iain knows an awful lot about watermelons! I have never actually ridden this col before, so I took the opportunity to drive on ahead and return to the group on my bike. It turns out that it is a lovely ride with a very manageable gradient. I cycled down past the front group and down to Kat. Before challenging myself to catch the front three. I caught Charlotte and Andrew with about 1km to go but Simon saw what I was doing and sprinted off the front just before I got to them. As hard as I tried, I could not reach him. He has strong legs!

After leaving Brahams on Day 4, everybody knew the reputation of what lay ahead, the Galibier! It is a wonderful climb up to the sky- everyone  knew  that tomorrow was a rest day. Early on, we had an example of why we had to concentrate. We were waiting for the group to arrive at the foot of the mountain in Saint Michel du Maurienne. When they did, they were two down. They explained that, to their astonishment, Charlotte and Glynn had cycled up the slip road towards the motorway. Shows what happens if you don’t concentrate! It was not a big issue though as they had realized their mistake and sheepishly arrived about 5 minutes later after safely getting themselves back on normal roads. This was going to be a running joke!

Off to chill out on the rest day...

Off to chill out on the rest day...

Mike conquered the Galibier, albeit at a very steady pace; he was happy though. This gave the rest of us time for a coffee and a relax just over the top. The restaurant come gift shop that we walked into though was extremely bizarre.  Owned by a character from the League of Gentlemen, he was very happy to show off his trinkets, almost too much so! If you are  ever there, keep an eye out for the overly offence towels! Strange indeed,  but the coffee was good!

Rest day in Briancon, or Brian Con as Marc would say, meant that people were left to their own devices. Some of us went cycling! The Col d’Izoard was on the menu today and what a stunning ride this is. Others sunbathed by the pool and some explored the old historical fort town. We all went out for food that evening and met up with Andrew and Mike’s wives who were taking the easier, trainline route down from Geneva to Nice- a relaxing day.

The Col du Vars is not a difficult day, it is though where the landscape becomes more Mediterranean and shrubby. The Christmas trees of the Northern Alps were long gone and this is where Marc had his moment to shine and summited first, albeit, using a bit of French tactics! He arrived in the village of Vars, where we were regrouping, complaining of a stiff neck. We suggested going to the main part of town where there would be a pharmacy. He shot off and the next time we saw him, he was chilling at the top. His neck did not look that stiff, and he was very pleased with himself. I wonder if Chris Froome would use this tactic?

The good thing about climbing all these mountains is that you get to ride down them!

The good thing about climbing all these mountains is that you get to ride down them!

It was Bastille Day, we almost forgot, but as we were finishing cake in the campsite, a marching band of drummers, followed by the entire village with lanterns were heading towards the lake in Jausiers. A few of us followed, it was a bit eerie actually, we joked that we did not know where we were being led, a little bit like Indiana Jones. When we arrived at the lake, we were greeted with a fabulous fireworks display- amazing for such a small village. We had to get to bed though, we had Europe’s highest road to cycle over in the morning.

The Cime de la Bonnette is a biggy. As such, I advised Mike to start a little earlier as there is no coffee stop at the top-  it is wild. He was more than happy to get a head start. However, I do not know what he had in his breakfast, or maybe he visited a Spanish doctor in the village, but he shot up and nobody managed to catch him at the top. He did go with Glynn and suggested that it was good to have someone push and pace him. Whatever it was, he was quick-  a new Mike!

There were some interesting old tractors on the way down from the Bonnette

There were some interesting old tractors on the way down from the Bonnette

The summit feels like the top of the world. What an achievement, they had pretty much done it. Apart from a new addition to the route that I had in store for them this year, an afternoon climb to Saint Martin Vesubie. If it was not so hot, this would have been easy but we were not far from the Med and the temperatures were soring. Glynn was all over it and made it look easy but everybody else looked like they had been cycling over a mountain range for the past 8 days. It made the achievement though all the better and after showering and eating, they were happy.

What an achievement, rightly celebrating

What an achievement, rightly celebrating

Arriving in Nice is a massive achievement, maybe it  sinks in when everyone is  sat back at home thinking, “blimey, I cycled across the Alps!”. It was an absolute pleasure to support this group of legends,  afterall, their personal efforts were tremendous and they did raise £7000 for Leukaemia and Lymphoma Research!

Chapeau!

A special thanks goes to...

... Moma porridge for providing that extra boost of energy in the mornings

... Lawi Clothing for the fantastic team jerseys

... Eddy Merckx Cycles for our support bikes

  

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Grand Bo Sportive

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Grand Bo Sportive

In the style of a true busman, we had a weekend off here in the Alps and so decided to enter Le Grand Bornand Sportive. This local event is an opportunity to cycle the climbs that we know so well, linking them all together. There are 3 options, the short, medium and long. All of which, on a hot summer’s day, are brutal.

Early morning start under the mountains of the Aravis

Early morning start under the mountains of the Aravis

Marjolein and I decided to leave the entry until late, most did the same and the entries went from just 50 at the beginning of the week to over 400. We were getting excited and apprehensive at the same time. One disadvantage of knowing the area, is that you know it! Each climb that was on the parcours was difficult in its own right. The connecting loop around the back of the plateau was long and sapped the energy so that you could never really get any rest bite.  With temperatures over 30 degrees, we knew that we were going to have to keep hydrated.

At the start line, we bumped into a friend, Peter, a Dutchman who is in the middle of Ironman training, so he is fit! He shot off and we tried to keep at our own pace, a difficult thing to do in a sportive but vital. The aperitif was the Croix de la Fry via La Clusaz. This is similar to the Aravis, not too steep and it is possible to get into a good rhythm. The peloton was not that split so the atmosphere made it that bit easier. It was actually fun! You have to remember the little kick up after the Etale ski lift system and not get carried away, but at the summit, we were feeling confident. As Marjolein was doing the medium, and I the long, we decided to go at our own pace from here. This is where I made the cardinal mistake, following someone!

Descending into Thones, we looped out and down towards Naves, there is a ridiculously steep 100m section that you need to be ready for but then it rolls out ans is just undulating. This is where Peter re overtook, I was confused but he was having puncture issues. A couple had slowed him down. He was keen to power back through the field. I made the mistake of holding his wheel. This section, I had planned to take easy, knowing the climbs to come, so I was very annoyed with myself when I glanced down to see my heart rate exploding. I still felt solid and confident, but I was going to pay for this mistake.

A feed station was at the top of the Col des Fleuries, typical mountain affair, cheese and sausage is not something you crave, but there was Coke and chocolate there to feed up. I had already had some bars too so I was energized. It was now onto the Saxonnex. Where again, I did not follow the plan.

Partnering up with a welder from Annecy, we took it upon ourselves to catch everybody we could see, rather than again, taking it easy. It was just the first of three assents. Still, even when you are concentrating, it is hard to miss the beauty of the river and gorges that you climb up. Then comes the decision time, do you do the long or medium? After the Saxonnex descent you either turn right for the Colombière and home or left towards the Romme. We arrived in pretty good time so the two of us turned left. Then the pain began!

You wonder where the Romme is, there is no sign of it as you cycle through the outskirts of Cluses. There are mountains either side but no signs of roads. Then you bear right and it hits you, a wall. It pulls no punches, does not allow you to settle into a rhythm, it just goes from flat to steep, pretty much at the first marker sign – 11%. The welder just stood up and tapped out an easy gear. He was away. I was alone. I knew that this was going to destroy me and any chance of a good time, but there was no turning back – “here we go” I thought.

All the time you are climbing up the Col du Romme, one thing is in your mind, I still have to do 7km of the Colombière, and they are the hardest. Don’t over do it. But if I went any slower, I would have toppled over. I was cursing myself for going out to quick, the one thing that I said not to do. It was now midday and the sun was directly overhead. Luckily, I had been sensible with refilling my bottles so hydration was fine, it was just my legs.

Wow! That was hot

Wow! That was hot

After being caught by a group of guys, one being from the Brixton Cycle Club. We again refueled at the top, and I washed the salt off my face. The stinging eyes and the flys had added to the misery of this climb. But it was finished. I joined up with them for the downhill to Le Reposoir. This rest from pedaling had slightly revitalized me, and I actually felt better. Not top form but I knew that I would now be able to make it. We rounded the bend in Reposoir and began the climb up. It was satisfying to get to the 5 km to go marker, however hard the last part would be, it was only a few kilometres.

It was just my luck then that I felt a bumping sensation on my back wheel, this could not be. My first puncture in the last 2 years. Why now? I double checked, it was not completely flat, could I make it? The debate was going on in my head whether to stop or not. Although I knew that it would be foolish to descend with a soft tyre, something said keep going. Then the tyre slipped and I almost fell off! This job had to be done. I was livid! It is the last thing that you want to do when you have given every ounce of energy to get over these mountain walls. However, every cloud, the gas canister after inflating was freezing and I used it welcomingly to cool my face! Upwards with dirty hands!

There was no europhia when I got to the top, I was too drained from the heat. I got my head down and start the drop to Le Grand Bornand. Stopping very briefly to dump the evidence of a punctured inner tube in Chinaillon. Onwards to the finish. When I passed the 500m marker, I saw Marjolein, looking fresh having done an almost as difficult medium route (it was just missing the Romme), putting the bike on the car. She was looking much too happy, I thought. Sportive complete, now time to down a Coca Cola.

We were guided to the after ride meal which was lasagne and you guessed it, more cheese. They do things differently here! Then time for the presentation. I was still in a world of my own, slowly recovering so was not listening attentively to the announcer. To my surprise when I looked up, I saw Marjolein standing on the top podium for winning her category on the medium route. Chapeau. She came back with her prize. We both smiled. We both had had a cracking day. And her prize for winning, cheese!

And the winner is

And the winner is

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Paris Cycling Group June Weekend

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Paris Cycling Group June Weekend

They did a day’s work, got on the train and were with us in Annecy by 2130.  Loading the bikes onto the van, I noticed that there were a couple of interesting selections of bikes. Paul, who is doing the Ironman Nice next weekend, turned up with a TT bike, fair enough, but it would be a little tough on the steeper climbs. The big surprise was Ross, who had a 1990’s Raleigh Frame, with 26 inch wheels and just one, yes just one, cog on the front. It was so heavy that I thought that we may have needed a crane to lift it onto the roof. Everyone was saying, just wait until you see him ride. I thought that they were all bonkers but alas, I was proven wrong. He was a machine!

Everybody was excited to get up into the mountains and start their weekend away from the smoke. Driving up, they were studying the shadows of the mountains, I could feel their excitement. Friday was the first day. It was predicted to rain in the morning and ease up after around 9am. So we delayed the start a little. It was a wise decision as we did not see a drop. We were to test out a development route, up and across the Plateau des Glieres. I have done it before and this was the first opportunity to take a group.

Shaun powering up to the Plateau

Shaun powering up to the Plateau

It starts with a nice descent out through Thones and then we head to Naves. The first climb that they do is 100m, but it is a nearly 20% gradient. I did advise to drop into the easiest gear, Liza, mustn’t have heard as she had to make a U-turn to change down and try again. It is so steep! But at least it is short. It is then a rolling ride to Thorens. Shaun was having trouble with his rear Dura Ace cassette, more of that to come.

Remoteness and mist

Remoteness and mist

The start of the climb to the Plateau des Glieres is at Thorens, it is just over 13km and the first few are pretty flat, going up the valley that scores its way into the mountains. Then boom, you are at 10%. They knew that they were in the Alps now! Ross and Joe were making a good effort at it though, it would be a different type of riding to what they were used to. There was no let up with the gradient until about 2km, where there is a short decent before the final push the Plateau. The area, where during the war, the Resistance could hide from the German army, is very remote. After arriving by bike, it is very obvious why the Germans found it so difficult to get in.

It was time for lunch, alfresco.

How do you like yours?

How do you like yours?

After everyone had fuelled themselves, it was time for the return trip down. Crossing the plateau on unpaved roads needs a bit of care but it is worth it to complete the loop, it is only for a kilometre. When we met the valley bottom, we had to stop and watch a semi pro race whizz past, it was the second stage of the Tour des Pays de Savoie. They were motoring. The false flat back up to Saint Jean de Sixt, always catches people out, it keeps you honest.

Officially alpine addicts!

Officially alpine addicts!

In conclusion, it this is a perfect trip to add to our selection. It has a bit of everything, rolling hills, steep climbs and unpaved roads. It is a great first day option.

Day 2 was our big day. Everyone loaded up into the van and we went to Taninges near Les Gets. This would be our start point and the plan was to loop out around the Col du Joux Plane via Samoens and then head straight back down the mountain to Cluses before taking on the Col du Romme, reconnect with the Colombiere and head back down to Saint Jean de Sixt. Three big climbs.

The Col du Joux Plane features pretty regularly on the Tour. It is a classic and very popular in the area. Being able to drive out and then ride back to Saint Jean means that we can recreate a similar day to a stage in the Tour. The Joux Plane from Samoens is certainly a climb of two halves, the initial part is relatively comfortable but then with about 7km to go, the gradient ramps up to 10% and then tinkers around 9 to 10% all the way until the finish.

The Col du Joux Plane is fun but certainly a challenge

The Col du Joux Plane is fun but certainly a challenge

Shaun was putting down the power, so much so (he claims), that it was the reason for his cassette to final give up the ghost and shatter to pieces. We let him have his moment of glory and then gave him a spare wheel, when we returned to the van in Taninges. Definitely a warranty claim. The descent down through Morzine was infact closed to cars, a result of the May floods that savaged the area but it was still open to bikes, we were able to pass through. It is always satisfying to come out on top of a mountain bike lift knowing that you have arrived under your own power.  I jumped into the support van and we were off to the next climb.

I am so powerful! I break things!

I am so powerful! I break things!

Due to the varying speed in the group, half went up the Colombiere direct and the others went via the Romme, which is like a wall out of Cluses. It is very steep for the first 3km and Joe was thanking his lucky stars that he had a 32 gear on the back, Ross and Paul were not so chuffed with their bikes. But somehow, Ross on what he calls “the gate”, why? Because it is “fecking heavy” he says in his Irish way, managed to summit the col first. Just goes to show that no matter what your bike budget is, if you put in the miles, you can enjoy these mountains. Chapeau sir, inspirational.

Stunning when you summit the Col du Romme, looking back towards the Joux Plane

Stunning when you summit the Col du Romme, looking back towards the Joux Plane

There was a regroup at Reposoir, the picturesque village, 7km from the summit of the Colombiere and a spot of lunch by the river. Joe mentioning that it is the simple things in life that gave him so much pleasure. I hope that he was not talking about me!

After all the climbing, the Colombiere was painful for everyone, those last 3km are notorious and almost everyone on any of our trip, talks about how tantalizing it is to see the chalet at the col from 3km. The problem is that 3km averages over 10%. Everybody made the Big Saturday and it was a nice descent back down, Shaun bought a new cassette from our friends at Cycl’Aravis and then it was time for a well-deserved meal at Le Peille. These Parisians were becoming huge alpine fans.

The first trip to the Alps is always the toughest, but Liza always had a smile - good work!

The first trip to the Alps is always the toughest, but Liza always had a smile - good work!

Sunday was the first day of an event in the area called 7 jours 7 cols which, for a couple of months, sees a col closed to cars each Sunday. This was the Col des Aravis turn. So it would have been rude not to have made a visit to La Giettaz and back, completing the Col from both sides. It was a lovely atmosphere. I had a bit of a spurt on and with one thing on my mind, Strava, I paced it up the north side. I was convinced of a personal record. I dropped my pump out of my back pocket but even with an U-turn to pick it up, I was still on course. I was blown towards the top, and seeing Joe and Ross “the gate” Collins catching, I carried on pushing. I was going to smash it! They paced me in, and then, a herd of cows crossing the road 25m before the finish brought us to a halt! C’est la vie!

There goes the Strava time!

There goes the Strava time!

Paul had to dash off from the Col to get down to Aix en Provence to start his Ironman preparation but the rest of us enjoyed the atmosphere and also the south side. Returning via Les Confins to add a bit of distance, finishing up at lunchtime. With an 1830 train, they had a bit of time for a swim in Lake Annecy before going back to the citylights.

Showing off in La Giettaz

Showing off in La Giettaz

I think it is safe to say that I got them all hooked!

Thank you Liza, Marjolein, Joe, Ross, Paul and Sean for another memorable weekend in the alps and the discovery of let more routes. 

The Gate, how did he get this thing over the mountains, even the van struggled to carry it!

The Gate, how did he get this thing over the mountains, even the van struggled to carry it!


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The Ripcor Alpine Adventure

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The Ripcor Alpine Adventure

The old cliché was bounced around a lot this weekend, “Don’t worry Michael, it’s just like herding cats”. However, I do not think that this was particularly fair… on the cat species. Ripcor were back.

Neil and Badger enjoying the warm up day on the Col de la Colombiere

Neil and Badger enjoying the warm up day on the Col de la Colombiere

Let it be said that I love Ripcor, and I am in fact proud to be a member. The individuals are all extremely kind and very entertaining. Apparently they are all pretty successful in their individual fields, however they like to leave this aptitude at passport control in Gatwick. As a herder, you have to be on your “A game” to keep these guys and gals in the right direction.

“Cycling, beer and cake” is a tagline on one of their great t-shirts, they are proud to do this in equal measure. I have come to realize though that it is similar to nations trading emission quotas, in that some of the group end up doing more of the cycling and others more of the beer so there is no net gain! What would you say Martin?

Rent-a-crowd, everyone had a little bit of a welcome party at the top! 

Rent-a-crowd, everyone had a little bit of a welcome party at the top! 

They are MAMILs* and everybody that comes across them, love them. They are funny, smile a lot and actually get over the mountains that many others find so difficult. Their enthusiasm for life is infectious, from bike shop owners, to chefs to the locals at the bar, to the hotel manager, everybody in Saint Jean de Sixt is asking me what Ripcor is? What amazing people they are and how do I get my hands on one of their t-shirts?

The best way to manage them, is to trap them in one place. This meant that the coach journey from Geneva was perfect time to give them their welcome packs and get all the information out. I knew that once the coach doors were open and these MAMILs were released, it would be hard to get them back in one place.

Basing the group of 30 at the Hotel Beau Site was perfect, centrally located in the village, beer garden, spa and swimming pool, a great location to have their annual weekend of alpine cycling, cake and beer. We had three days of cycling planned and the potential of a short morning ride on the Monday before they departed.

A subset of Ripcor are the Crondall Rouleurs. Looks like they are discussing team tactics

A subset of Ripcor are the Crondall Rouleurs. Looks like they are discussing team tactics

3 years ago they completed the Col de la Colombiere from the north side. This is a nasty climb with a 3 km ramp at the end, which feels a little like being kicked in the stomach when you have already hit the deck. However, the climb from the south side, starting in Le Grand Bornand, is lovely. Weaving its way in between beautiful chalets, the road is in great condition and the gradient is constant. Being over 10 km, it is a climb worthy of note but with nothing above 8%, it is a perfect route to warm up and feel the mountain legs. We provided cake at the top and it was then a ride down the other side and return up the gorge.  Everyone loved it.

The Ripcor Peloton - where omerta rules!

The Ripcor Peloton - where omerta rules!

If Friday was the warm up day, then Saturday was certainly the main event! A figure of eight that involves the Col du Forclaz with its steep finish but stunning views across Lake Annecy. Then the long descent away from the lake. We had the relatively easy, connecting Col du Marais, before attempting the Croix de la Fry. This is where there was a slight issue.

Arriving at the base of the Marais, we were greeted by several locals explaining that a bridge had collapsed so that there was no way up. There were other cyclists there too in the same predicament and it meant that the only way around was to scale the Col de l’Epine which although relatively short at 7Km, has a constant 7 to 8% gradient, so is not easy. But we had no choice, this was to be a big day.

The stunning view from the Col du Forclaz

The stunning view from the Col du Forclaz

A certain Criterium du Dauphiné was also going over the Col de la Croix Fry for its 7th stage and we were keen to get there for 1500hrs to watch the pros go past. We had already pre driven a van to the summit packed with some spare clothes and picnic so that we could enjoy this spectacle. So we did not hang around on the Epiné, had a quick coffee and got going. The group began to split but with an easy navigation, nobody was going to get lost and if the pros did catch us, we could just pull over and watch them go by.

The Col de la Croix Fry was hot, but unlike last year when the boys tackled the Alpe d’Huez bends everybody kept well hydrated with electrolytes so there were no signs of dehydration. They are learning! It was tough though. About 15 people made it up before the pros to meet the 5 who had done the shorter Croix Fry loop and we waited for Chris Froome and co to come past. It was a great atmosphere and when the peloton finally did come past, we were all happy to see that even these super athletes looked tired and hot! There was an old bloke giving out cans of coke to them, few of them refused. It was reassuring that it was not just us that found it hot.

The pros taking refreshment from a man with a bag of cans of coke - just as hot as us

The pros taking refreshment from a man with a bag of cans of coke - just as hot as us

Everyone picnicked, refueled and went for a quick drink in the restaurant. This is when Gary saw some older people having a bit of an afternoon tea dance. He was not going to give up the opportunity of a bit of ballroom, waltzed in, still in is lycra and cycling cleats, and found a partner – very bizarre and I have to say, a first on one of our trips.  However, he could not spend too long, as it was time to head back to the swimming pool and spa before going to Le Peille for dinner. They too were taken back by how nice Ripcor were. A fun evening had by everyone.

It would not be a Ripcor Alpine Adventure without a visit to Lake Annecy. It is becoming a bit of tradition. Treve would never forgive me if it was not planned into the proceedings. Sunday was “Lake and Cake” day. For those who still had the legs (which was about 25 people). The loop around the Lake was extended to take in one of my favourite climbs, Semnoz. This 18km climb goes up in the shade through the mountain forests and it is only with about 5km to go that it begins to open up. There are fantastic views and you get the realization of how far you have pulled the bike up. That is normally, for us it was raining! But still being warm, everybody was welcoming of the refreshment.

Down to the Spinnaker. The club’s favourite stop, it is right on the shores of Lake Annecy in the village of Duingt and a perfect place to stop off at the south side. Plenty of laughter was heard and the whole group was in great spirits. We finally managed to prise 10 of them away from the lake and up in the van from here, whilst the others cycled to Thones where we could shuttle them back up to the hotel as they were not in the mood for the 8km drag back to Saint Jean. A special mention should go to John Wood, Nick, Gary and Jerry who cycled all the way back!

Sunday night was a treat. Le Cabanon was taken over with Damien and Aurielle taking great care of the group. It was a perfect way to round off the weekend. Like everybody that they met in the area, I love Ripcor! It’s all good.

Special Thanks to

- Nick “Badger” Boothroyd from Ripcor for coordinating the weekend

- Fred and the team at Hotel Beau Site for their hospitality

- Le Peille and Le Cabanon for two great meals

- MOMA porridge for yet again energizing our weekends

- Trigger for the driving the bikes down from London

- Redhill Van Hire for the quality van that we used to ferry the bikes down

- Marjolein for her help with lunch and cakes

*Middle Aged Man in Lycra is a subspecies of the homo sapien.

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Tour du Mont Blanc 2015

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Tour du Mont Blanc 2015

There is only one mountain in Europe, Mont Blanc. It separates France from Italy and has Switzerland knocking on its door. To cycle around it takes in all three of these countries, over 300 km with 10,000m of uphill. It is an epic route. There was a popular uptake with 23 cyclists joining us for our inaugural Tour du Mont Blanc.

Team Tour du Mont Blanc ready to depart - what a peloton!

Team Tour du Mont Blanc ready to depart - what a peloton!

Everybody met up at Geneva Airport on the Thursday evening. Flying in from all parts of the UK and 3 taking the train from Paris. It was a good place to congregate. There was a true sense of anticipation and excitement on the coach from Geneva to our first nights accommodation in La Giettaz. A lot of catching up to do too as many had been on previous events. With route cards, information, jerseys distributed, everybody was ready.

Friday was the “gentle day” and is common stage for those that have done our High Alps Challenge. After putting over night bags in the trailer and leaving the bike boxes in Chalet La Giettaz, we could begin with a roll out to Flumet and then a nice climb up to the ski station of Les Saisies.

This was a good opportunity to see the standard of the group. It was solid and everyone was well matched. It is never a race but the little groups that formed meant that everybody had someone to pace them up, except Ivan who was way out in front. For him, it was the challenge of organising himself to get out of the door and on the bike!

A quick regroup and snack and we were off down to Beaufort where we were to begin the climb of 23 km to the Cormet de Roseland. There is a perfect lunch stop at the Col du Meraillet, just before the reservoir, which is stunning. The group was beginning to spread itself out but everybody made it up and were in good spirits. Adam’s smile as big as ever.

Congregating on the Roseland before the nice descent back to Bourg St Maurice

Congregating on the Roseland before the nice descent back to Bourg St Maurice

It was just then a case of getting over the top and starting the most technical descent of the weekend into Bourg Saint Maurice and onto our hotel in Seez. A retired cyclist himself, the hotelier knew exactly what we needed which was volume and protein. Chicken and pasta will do perfectly! Everybody celebrated over a glass of red wine. The big day though was looming over everyone.

Being a retired cyclist, the hotelier in Seez knew exactly what was needed, chicken and pasta! Perfect!

Being a retired cyclist, the hotelier in Seez knew exactly what was needed, chicken and pasta! Perfect!

A special thanks needs to go to Moma Porridge who supplied us with their sachets that added to the continental breakfast in the hotel. It meant that everybody had plenty of energy and no excuses for the upcoming climb to the Petit Saint Bernard. It was long at 30km but being early it was not too hot and being relative gentle slopes, it was actually quite fun. Matt was able to do some filming of people posing, with Olly, Michael, Jack and James, playing up to the camera. People were getting a little too confident! I reminded them at the top that we were about to do the Grand Saint Bernard which means big!

Michael showing off that he has done this before, last year on the High Alps Challenge!

Michael showing off that he has done this before, last year on the High Alps Challenge!

Not before lunch though. Marjolein made some lovely eggs to go, which went down nicely in the Aosta Valley. Now what was that about a big climb? People talk about heat, people talk about big climbs, people talk about long distances, people talk about remoteness. All this aligned and you have a tough few hours ahead. Even Adam stopped smiling. This was what it was like up from Aosta to the monastery that we were staying in that evening. Dancing around the road looking for shady parts, the sun was sapping energy quickly and there was no breeze to cool people down. Somebody in the lead group of 6 suggested an ice cream in the next village. Not surprisingly nobody said that they did not want to stop. So we did. It was very welcomed. As people caught up, it was clear that they were happy that they could now stop guilt free too. After all, we still had another 16 km of this killer climb to go. It is like 3 climbs for the price of one. Barry and Kate in the van and Sue and Matt in the car were keeping water topped up.

Trigger, when he was on the slopes of the Petit Saint Bernard, blissfully unaware of what lay ahead

Trigger, when he was on the slopes of the Petit Saint Bernard, blissfully unaware of what lay ahead

Some sensible few knew when to say "stop" and jumped in the support van. It is not sensible to push yourself too much in these conditions and they all were very happy with the decision. It is after all, what the van is there for. The rest pushed themselves up the unrelenting bends past the tree line and up to the sky. You know in the Alps that you are at altitude if you can hear the squeaks of marmots around. Almost as though they are laughing at you for making the decision to ride a bike up such a thing. I don’t think that this is what the wheel was invented for!

There were plenty of buildings that looked like monasteries and each one that you reached, not to see a monk was a bitter blow. But it kind of made the accomplishment of getting there all the more sweeter. It should be noted though that Olly, two of the James, Ivan and Hannah seemed to be relishing the challenge and made it look a little too easy. Paul, who has turned a new leaf thanks to Ironman training, may have paid the price for bossing it on the Petit Saint Bernard. For the rest of us, it was a case of grinding it out to the top.

The eight thirty Mass meant that dinner was served at 1915 sharp with no negotiation. This added a bit of a time limit on the climb too. But with a mammoth effort, Emma and Becca made it through the door just as their soup was being served, albeit having to eat in their lycra.

Just in time for dinner...

Just in time for dinner...

The Grand Saint Bernard Monastery is a special place that is nestled high up on the Swiss – Italian border. It has been remarkably kept and is a very comfortable experience. It has been used by monks, travellers and even Napoleon’s army (although this was by force so we should not mention it too loud). Some of the team went along to experience Mass after dinner that added to the experience (although being in Latin, I don’t think that many made it all the way to the end).

Simon has recently developed coffee for endurance sports. He has that sorted so now all he needs to do is ditch his TT bike!

Simon has recently developed coffee for endurance sports. He has that sorted so now all he needs to do is ditch his TT bike!

The monastery was not that full and we set about leaving for our final day pretty sharpish after breakfast, so there was a true sense of isolation and wilderness at the start of the 45 km descent into Martingy. Simon who had already regretted his dubious decision of packing his tri bike had a puncture on the way down but that was sorted out sharpish with the help of Ivan and the van. Bend after bend, the descent continued, but still we worked out that we were probably not averaging much higher than Sir Brad who was attempting the hour record later that evening. There is always something that puts things into perspective!

Ready to depart the Monastery on the last day. Just a gentle 150km ahead through Switzerland and into France...

Ready to depart the Monastery on the last day. Just a gentle 150km ahead through Switzerland and into France...

From Martingy it was a left and a challenging but relatively short climb up to the Col du Forclaz (not the same as the one just outside of Annecy). We were heading towards Chamonix, the capital of mountaineering, so it was no surprise that it was steep. But again it was hot. Keeping the electrolytes up would be important. Howard switched the music onto his phone and seemed to get into a rhythm. He shot up!

Kelly and Ewan had made it up pretty comfortably but we think that Kelly, the only person with a pannier, may have been hiding a little motor in the bag. I am also sure that Ewan had a towrope on his too.

At every stop, Trigger insisted on removing his shirt, not a particularly pleasant sight after he has cycled across the Alps. Today he was joined by Simon. However, on this occasion it was to the joy of the rest of us that the waiter demanded that he put it back on. They clearly have standards in Switzerland!

We had a special visitor at the lunch stop on the next Col des Montets, a wandering Ibex came strolling into the car park. With it’s huge horns, it seemed to take an interest in Helena, it moved closer and closer to her and she was getting, understandably, a little apprehensive but then we realised he was eyeing up a water trough. Luckily he did not get spooked so everybody had time for a picture. We were pretty lucky.

Well we were not expecting a visit from this fella

Well we were not expecting a visit from this fella

Following this was the descent out of the Chamonix and the little bit of tricky navigation out of Les Houches down towards the final climb of the day from Domancy to Combloux, made famous by a certain Bernard Hinault. We stuck together as a large peloton on this section before the climb but inevitably the lead group shot down one of the easy wrong turnings. The rest of us continued along to the start and we sent Cliff on his motorbike to re direct. The bike comes in handy! Everybody got back on the climb and we knew that the last push back to base had begun.

Arriving in Flumet, the official end point, there was the option to continue up to the chalet in La Giettaz. Everybody took this option, and for once Tom had managed to keep up with his lady, Hannah. As we cycled up with Sarah, she seemed proud and happy to be finishing the 150km day. She apologised for a sense of humour failure earlier in the day but no one had even noticed it, she is a old hand at getting over mountains now having been on three of our tours.

The BBQ at Chalet La Giettaz rounded off the weekend perfectly. Everybody had made it and now able to enjoy a beer and watch Bradley ride the hour record. The place was buzzing. What adds to this is the achievement of the money and we hope the awareness that we raised for Leukaemia and Lymphoma Research, a very worthy cause.

Mont Blanc, 3 days, 10,000m of climbing – done!

A special thanks go out to...

... our team of volunteers - Kate, Marjolein, Sue, Barry, Cliff and Matt 

... the wonderful accommodation and hospitality at Chalet La Giettaz, Hotel Le Vallon and the Hospice du Grand Saint Bernard

... Moma porridge for providing that extra boost of energy in the mornings

... Lawi Clothing for the fantastic team jerseys

... Eddy Merckx Cycles for our support bikes

... Ballanfat Cars for squeezing the bike boxes into their coach with a smile!

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The Ant Hill Mob

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The Ant Hill Mob

It is starting to become a bit of a tradition; Anthony Hart and the Ant Hill Mob opening up our cycling season. Taking advantage of our weekend concept, they arrived on a sunny Thursday evening. This year however, the other Ant, in the form of a big, bald, Cypriot, came out a day early and we don’t need to be asked twice to go out on a pre trip ride.

As it coincided with the Giro, we thought that the team kit had to be Pink 

As it coincided with the Giro, we thought that the team kit had to be Pink 

Thursday was hot, unseasonably so, 31 degrees on the south facing bends of the Croix Fry. Ant Marcou sped off with his characteristic high cadence. It is true that if you have a big heart, this is a great way to get over the mountain. You rely on your big muscles and this saves the legs. We had to let him go, knowing your limits is important and we did not want to blow up. Luckily, though, for my bragging rights, Ant did slow up, and my steadier pace meant that I reeled him in. Phew!

We treated ourselves to a burger at the Mazo, always a treat, and then it was time to welcome the other 5 (Ian, Ant, James, Stu and Roger). Three of them had bikes, two rented from our friends at Cyclo Aravis. Brand new, Cannondale Synapse’s – they had no excuses!

So, this is when the mountains mess with our minds. Friday was forecasted to be a bad weather day, this meant that we did not plan a big ride and decided that a quick warm up the Col des Aravis was adequate – let’s just see what the rain did. Well, whilst in the café after the climb, this rain turned into snow, and it settled. Summer to Winter in 12 hours! This was crazy.

Well we were expecting rain on the Friday, but not snow. All aboard the van...

Well we were expecting rain on the Friday, but not snow. All aboard the van...

Having the van meant that we could load the racks and took the safe option back down to Saint Jean de Sixt to get lunch and watch the Giro. Nobody was disheartened as summer was forecasted for the next few days.

Three days followed with perfect weather. Ian was as strong as usual. James, new to the group, was very capable and by his own admission, a few kilos lost and he would be very fast. Ant and Roger both strong, with a special chapeau to Stu, who has improved remarkably from last year.

Roger summiting the Colombiere with some very dubious arm warmers, it was not even cold!!!

Roger summiting the Colombiere with some very dubious arm warmers, it was not even cold!!!

Forclaz, Croix Fry, Semnoz and Colombière in three days is not a bad effort. Fuelled in the evenings by the Mazo, La Peille and peaking with La Cabanon restaurant. It was as good as it gets. If we do not say so ourselves, we are perfectly situated for weekend cycling.

With plenty of groups to come, we are looking forward to summer 2015.

The majestical Lake Annecy from the Forclaz, spot the flying man!

The majestical Lake Annecy from the Forclaz, spot the flying man!


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