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.
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!
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!
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.
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.
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.