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Cycling 2015

l'Etape du Tour 2015

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l'Etape du Tour 2015

Every summer, France is hit by 200 of the world’s top cyclists;  it is a huge spectacle which is becoming more and more popular in the UK. There are always stages in the Pyrenees and the Alps and each year one stage is chosen by the organisers and a week before the pros hit it, they run it as an event for the likes of you and I; l'Etape du Tour.

This year, they chose stage 19 from Saint Jean du Maurienne to La Toussuire. This 138km ride has three climbs over 18km long so it is not an easy day out! It was back in November when the course was revealed and almost immediately, I had calls from locals asking whether I could provide the logisitics for the event i.e  accommodation and food. I immediately agreed, on the one condition, that I’d enter the event too.

There was a snowball effect and we ended up with 20 cyclists staying in Orelle, just down the valley from the start. People arrived on the Friday by plane, train and automobile and in time for some sweet potato mash and a bit of a chin wag. Everybody was excited, with good reason; this event was huge with 15,000 spectators signed up!

The calm before the storm

The calm before the storm

Saturday was registration day and a chance to walk around the village. It took strong will power to avoid parting with lots of cash on all the stands. I was desperate for a Shimano hat but by the time that I reached their truck, all the caps had been given away. Enrique managed to get one and decided to wear it from that point on – I was jealous!

Enjoying the cardboard cut outs... 

Enjoying the cardboard cut outs... 

With all the numbers collected it was time to head back. I went shopping to prepare for the evening’s pasta party whilst others set up their bikes, attached their numbers, went for short cycles up the Col du Telegraphe for a coffee in Valloire and generally faffed about.-tomorrow was going to be a big day!

Carbo loading at our pasta party

Carbo loading at our pasta party

There were 15 pens to stagger the departure, it meant that we all had different start times but everybody was keen to get down and ready. The car parking and traffic was surprisingly very good! Paul and I started in gate 8 which was very hard to find. We followed 12, 11, 10, 9 and then 7!!! Where the hell was this gate? It turns out  that it was tucked, obscurely, down a little side road. By the time that we found it, we were right at the back. However, with a chip for timing, the exact time that we left did not matter.

The atmosphere was fantastic and the people spread out enough so that we did not suffer too much. The only problem we had was, on the first descent where a bottle neck meant that everybody had to get off their bikes. This was annoying but the same for everyone. After the first climb, there was a big boucle, or circuit that went out on the flat and came back to the same place. Just to get the distance up I guess- pretty annoying.! Then it was the Croix de Fer which involves summiting the Col du Glandon on the way up. The last few kilometres of the Glandon are ridiculously steep and  being forced into the inside of the bends did not help, resulting in  many people walking as it was too tough. The stifling heat did not help.

Like a line of worker ants going up the first climb, the atmosphere was like this the whole way

Like a line of worker ants going up the first climb, the atmosphere was like this the whole way

The pros repeat this for 3 weeks!

As I descended from the Croix de Fer, I looked at our sticker of the course on my top tube. What was this little climb that punctuated the descent? Was it big. I had not taken too much notice of it when studying the route. Well it was 5km and a little bastard of a climb. I am not sure why it was put in, apart from making people suffer! I was very grateful to the locals with their hoses on the final straights- a welcomed refreshment.

Next, it was down to the foot of La Toussuire. which is where Chris Froome infamously attacked Wiggins and was called back on team orders. It starts very steeply and then eases off and is 18km of punishment. I had paced myself pretty well so was still feeling quite  fresh at the bottom. I thought, leave it all on this hill. I wish I thought that 5km in, as by the time I had got to 8km to go, boom- my legs went. I was basically going backwards, recognising people that I had already overtaken getting back at me., I knew that I had to dig deep.

They did not enjoy me taking the picture

They did not enjoy me taking the picture

The finish could not come soon enough and when I arrived, I slumped over my handlebars in exhaustion. I think that if it hadn’t been so hot then it would have been much easier,  but I enjoyed all of it! Especially the fact that there was always somebody cycling with you, the views back down the winding alpine roads, with cyclists resembling worker ants, was truly inspiring-  human beings can be pretty impressive!

At the top, it turned out that I was one of the first to arrive in our group so it was a case of waiting for the others. They trickled in, all very happy. It was time to head back for a well- deserved BBQ. It turns out that even with a load of starving cyclists, that I still had plenty of food spare! Guess they needed to work harder!

I wonder where it will be next year? 

Mission complete

Mission complete

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The High Alps Challenge 2015

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The High Alps Challenge 2015

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.

Naively, Iain celebrates the first climb

Naively, Iain celebrates the first climb

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.

Andrew cycled across the alps, just to have the opportunity to photobomb Simon's moment of glory

Andrew cycled across the alps, just to have the opportunity to photobomb Simon's moment of glory

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! 

Peter's attire for the mountains was certainly unique! At least he made the others look good

Peter's attire for the mountains was certainly unique! At least he made the others look good

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.

A very happy group after the first of the 3 "big days"

A very happy group after the first of the 3 "big days"

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!

Off to chill out on the rest day...

Off to chill out on the rest day...

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?

The good thing about climbing all these mountains is that you get to ride down them!

The good thing about climbing all these mountains is that you get to ride down them!

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!

There were some interesting old tractors on the way down from the Bonnette

There were some interesting old tractors on the way down from the Bonnette

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.

What an achievement, rightly celebrating

What an achievement, rightly celebrating

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!

Chapeau!

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

  

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Grand Bo Sportive

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Grand Bo Sportive

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.

Early morning start under the mountains of the Aravis

Early morning start under the mountains of the Aravis

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.

Wow! That was hot

Wow! That was hot

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!

And the winner is

And the winner is

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The Ripcor Alpine Adventure

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The Ripcor Alpine Adventure

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.

Neil and Badger enjoying the warm up day on the Col de la Colombiere

Neil and Badger enjoying the warm up day on the Col de la Colombiere

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?

Rent-a-crowd, everyone had a little bit of a welcome party at the top! 

Rent-a-crowd, everyone had a little bit of a welcome party at the top! 

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.

A subset of Ripcor are the Crondall Rouleurs. Looks like they are discussing team tactics

A subset of Ripcor are the Crondall Rouleurs. Looks like they are discussing team tactics

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.

The Ripcor Peloton - where omerta rules!

The Ripcor Peloton - where omerta rules!

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.

The stunning view from the Col du Forclaz

The stunning view from the Col du Forclaz

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.

The pros taking refreshment from a man with a bag of cans of coke - just as hot as us

The pros taking refreshment from a man with a bag of cans of coke - just as hot as us

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.

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The Ant Hill Mob

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The Ant Hill Mob

It is starting to become a bit of a tradition; Anthony Hart and the Ant Hill Mob opening up our cycling season. Taking advantage of our weekend concept, they arrived on a sunny Thursday evening. This year however, the other Ant, in the form of a big, bald, Cypriot, came out a day early and we don’t need to be asked twice to go out on a pre trip ride.

As it coincided with the Giro, we thought that the team kit had to be Pink 

As it coincided with the Giro, we thought that the team kit had to be Pink 

Thursday was hot, unseasonably so, 31 degrees on the south facing bends of the Croix Fry. Ant Marcou sped off with his characteristic high cadence. It is true that if you have a big heart, this is a great way to get over the mountain. You rely on your big muscles and this saves the legs. We had to let him go, knowing your limits is important and we did not want to blow up. Luckily, though, for my bragging rights, Ant did slow up, and my steadier pace meant that I reeled him in. Phew!

We treated ourselves to a burger at the Mazo, always a treat, and then it was time to welcome the other 5 (Ian, Ant, James, Stu and Roger). Three of them had bikes, two rented from our friends at Cyclo Aravis. Brand new, Cannondale Synapse’s – they had no excuses!

So, this is when the mountains mess with our minds. Friday was forecasted to be a bad weather day, this meant that we did not plan a big ride and decided that a quick warm up the Col des Aravis was adequate – let’s just see what the rain did. Well, whilst in the café after the climb, this rain turned into snow, and it settled. Summer to Winter in 12 hours! This was crazy.

Well we were expecting rain on the Friday, but not snow. All aboard the van...

Well we were expecting rain on the Friday, but not snow. All aboard the van...

Having the van meant that we could load the racks and took the safe option back down to Saint Jean de Sixt to get lunch and watch the Giro. Nobody was disheartened as summer was forecasted for the next few days.

Three days followed with perfect weather. Ian was as strong as usual. James, new to the group, was very capable and by his own admission, a few kilos lost and he would be very fast. Ant and Roger both strong, with a special chapeau to Stu, who has improved remarkably from last year.

Roger summiting the Colombiere with some very dubious arm warmers, it was not even cold!!!

Roger summiting the Colombiere with some very dubious arm warmers, it was not even cold!!!

Forclaz, Croix Fry, Semnoz and Colombière in three days is not a bad effort. Fuelled in the evenings by the Mazo, La Peille and peaking with La Cabanon restaurant. It was as good as it gets. If we do not say so ourselves, we are perfectly situated for weekend cycling.

With plenty of groups to come, we are looking forward to summer 2015.

The majestical Lake Annecy from the Forclaz, spot the flying man!

The majestical Lake Annecy from the Forclaz, spot the flying man!


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