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.
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.
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!