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.
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.
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!
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.
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!
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?
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!
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.
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!
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