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.
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?
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.