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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.