Thursday, June 21, 2018

27 June, 2013: a night in Italy

Previous:  26 June

The Tour de France doesn't always stay in France, so I figured why should I?!  Stage 17 from the 2011 race fitted the bill nicely, with the peloton setting sail in Gap for Pinerolo, Italy.

I woke to an alarm at 0630, and was suited up ready to ride at 7am at which time the breakfast buffet opened.  I seemed unusally organised and had spoken to mum and Katy by 7:40.  But, when I got to my bike, I discovered the puncture repair had failed overnight - the hole in the seam of the tube had morphed into a slit.  I put new tube in, and struggled with the valve and in the end had to get my mini pliers out of my previously unused tool-kit.


Then began a lovely morning ride towards the mountains, and then along a valley.  Lac de Serre-Ponçon looked absolutely awesome, and feature a small island with its very own church.  While admiring it, I only just managed to avoid riding through a cowpat complete with piles of toilet paper at a layby.

Lac de Serre-Ponçon
I stopped for a coffee in Embrun, and seemed to be stopping every few minutes to take photo of the river, lake or mountains.

More of Lac de Serre-Ponçon
After the hydro dam at the head of the lake, the road followed the valley for a long while.

Almost could have been a South Island river!

I hadn't seen many cycle tourists (nor cyclists full stop, for that matter)

River fun ahoy

The first major climb of the day started at a rather scungy looking L'Argentière-la-Bessée.  I felt fine on it, which was nice after yesterday’s ride.

I had a bit of trouble getting onto the final climb into Briançon, but it was worth the effort, featuring a small unlined tunnel, and then a very mellow rise which didn’t seem worth its Cat.3 status.  

I made do with a supermarket lunch in Briançon, and then hunted around and around for bike shop. As it turned out, there was one on the stage route, and I managed to buy a new tube (it was a relief to now have an intact one!!) 

The climb out of Briançon to Montgenevre was fun, particularly because I was looking forward to the France-Italy border at the top.  I passed the Lautaret/Galibier turnoff near bottom, and had seen the Col d'Izoard signposted on way into town.  Briançon really was a bit of a hub, at least in cycling mecca terms.

In the end, the border was a non-event.  I passed a French police Gendarmerie checkpoint.  Next thing I knew there was a sign in Italian and Cavallieri parked in the square.  There was no passport control, nor anything even resembling it.  I stopped and waved passport in the air anyway!

I didn’t like the descent much at all.  It was fast and featured many tunnels which were pretty dark - I was nervous about potholes and cars hitting me from behind, but perhaps drivers were more likely to have the wherewithal to raise their sunglasses in the dark! 

I was fascinated by the frontier.  I was in a new country, but could spend the same currency.  There'd been no passport control, but folk around me now spoke a totally different language.  Weird!  Especially for someone from an island nation - changing countries by plane, and with all the associated fuss, seems much more natural. 

The Sestrieres turnoff was at the bottom of the descent.  Again, it didn’t seem bad, though it got quite cold, and I had to put my jacket on before the summit.  The weather looked totally shithouse up some side valleys, but there was no rain on road.

I put my beanie, hood and overtrou on for the descent without realising exactly how long it was - it turned out I'd be descending for the best part of about 45km!  

The first section had a bunch of tunnels again, but little traffic.  I started to notice some clear cultural differences.  Here, people would have front yards on the street, and there were quite a few old folk sitting watching the comings and goings on the road.  I noticed more colour too – the Italians actually painted their houses!  

No Makara Peak, sadly!

You don't see these in NZ!!
After an age, I got to my turn off in Villar Perosa - as per the race, I had the Cat.2 Pra Martino to negotiate instead of another few kilometres down-valley.  As it turned out, I'd screwed up the mapping, and paid for it.  Nothing quite like taking a steep route only to find yourself at a dead end.

Crazy derelict house at the summit, which hosted dozens of screaming fans in the race
My right foot got quite sore on the descent.  My outside toe had got a bit crushed, and every bump – and there were many – put a jolt through it.  I did enjoy recognising the carport where Thomas Voeckler had ended up during the stage, and managed to avoid emulating him.

Once down in Pinerolo, it took a wee while to find my hotel, but the search was nothing on some of my earlier debacles.   At check-in, I had a nice chat to the dude at the desk who was a keen cyclist himself.   He was on Alpe d’Huez and watched as Armstrong passed Basso in the time trial stage I’ll replicate in a few days' time.  He rated Col d’Izoard as his favourite climb, with Alpe d’Huez a close second.  

After a shower and my regular evening routines, I headed to a restaurant next door for dinner.  I had a pasta entrée, and then pizza, followed by tiramisu for dessert.  It was a stretch, but I did it!

The day's tally:  189km, 3070m climbed, 10 hours elapsed, a Cat.1, two Cat.2 and two Cat.3 climbs.

26 June, 2013: To the Alps!

Previous:  25 June

Planning for the day's ride went down to the wire - neither a map nor a stage profile had been posted a couple of weeks before my departure, but I knew I'd be heading from Vaison-la-Romaine to Gap, via Stage 16 of the 2013 race.

I woke up before alarm, and suited up before heading down for breakfast.  I was invited to sit outside, but ended up in the shade which was a bit chilly.  I had nice a chat to the owner, Alex Labastide - his hotel building was built in the 12th century!!  It seemed in amazing condition, but was very difficult to photograph in the morning on account of trees and sun.

Breakfast wasn't a buffet, so was a little on the light side, but two eggs, a nectarine, a kiwifruit (!!!) and some bread and croissants, could have been a lot worse.  Nonetheless, I stopped at Super U on way through town for a top up.

My legs were feeling pretty crappy, but I tried not to worry about it, and made an effort to cruise along and enjoy the views of Mont Ventoux all morning.  There was some absolutely stunning resealed road on the Tour route, and they were careful not to overdo it unnecessarily.

The race was turning left here!

Up the climb of the Col de l’Homme Mort, I wondered what was the story behind the name.  The climb was followed by a nice descent, and then a down-valley ride.  I stopped for a burger and fries soon after midday, feeling like I really need the energy boost.

Good to see some other cyclists out an about

Ventoux from the backside

Unmolested by that campervan, and all others before and after it.

The road soon headed into a spectacular gorge.  There was amazing twisting of rock layers, and abeautiful river running through it.  i saw a couple in bikinis down at the river, and no sooner had I asked myself “why bother?” when another couple, this time topless, appeared.

One of the more impressive engineering highlights!

The end of the gorge marked the end of the descent and the start of a 40km false flat.  Progress felt difficult, but the scenery absolutely stunning, and the effort mattered not.  The mountains had a very ancient look to them, unlike the Pyrenees.

While enjoying my afternoon tea, I watched this fellow load inconceivably many bottles of coke into his small car

I smiled imagining the span of decades that this fellow has been riding

Eventually the very gradual climb ended at an indistinct saddle, beyond which was a steep drop into Gap.  The stage I was replicating did indeed finish in Gap, but not before a 20km loop featuring the Cat.2 Col de Manse.  As a result, my first visit to Gap was very short indeed, and no sooner had I entered the town, than I was climbing a steep bit of road out of it.

The gradient eased at turnoff from the highway with about 6km to go.  It was nice to recognise the open descent, and I was waiting for the corner where Armstrong made the famous shortcut through the paddock.

Looking down towards Gap, this road will always have a place in Tour de France folk-lore

Somewhat ironically, not long before reaching that spot, I lose the rear end of my own machine with an almighty squirm.  Luckily, I had only a slow leak in my tube, and I wasn't hooning, so was able to bring bike to halt without issue.  I patched the tube and while doing so noticed the very square profile on my tyre.  It had served me well over the last 3000km - this was only my second puncture (the first had been about 20km into the tour, on the outskirts of Paris!) - but the tyre had obviously been leaving souvenirs behind!  I couldn't find anything in tyre, and the small hole was on a seam, so I suspected tube failure?  I made a note to replace both tyre and tube as soon as possible!

The hotel was right by the railway station, so again, was very easy to find.  I did a lap of town to see if I could spot a bike shop, but unlike the hotel, one proved elusive.

I treated myself to a bath, and then went out into the lounge for a catch up with Sarah.  I had a marguerita pizza and beer to tide me over.

I was low on cash so headed out for ATM, and stopped at a sushi bar for a second dinner.  A blind date with a fellow NZer who was in the vicinity fell through, as he hadn't made it to Gap.

Tomorrow, I'm off to Italy!

178km ridden, 2500m climbed, 10 hours elapsed.  One puncture.  Total to date, 2988km covered in 17 days.

Next:  27 June

Tuesday, June 19, 2018

25 June, 2013: Mont Ventoux

Previous:  22-24 June

Very early on in my project, one of the few stages I definitely wanted to replicate was Stage 12 from the 2000 edition, where Armstrong was pipped at the post by Marco Pantani, at the summit of Mont Ventoux.  I'd been unable to find a route map, but a stage profile had given a distance of 22km to the first sprint point, so I'd mapped a route that almost certainly was wrong, but made up the distance nicely.

I woke before my alarm, and soon after 7am, headed down to breakfast.  It wasn't a buffet, but the man brought me some extra bread.  After a skype session with mum and then Kaitlyn, I packed up and got ready to go.  

It was a warm morning, and before leaving town, I stopped at a supermarket for petit pain, bananas and apricots.  And nail clippers!  

After the warm up kilometres, it was onto a very mellow Col de Murs.  I really enjoyed the climb and the morning generally, and it felt like a good day in the making.  

After a cool descent, I foolishly burnt a match passing a tractor, only to find myself at the base of another hill, up which the tractor was faster. Doh!  There was a headwind into St Saturnin, so to celebrate my arrival there, I stopped for a coffee and juice.  

After a long south-eastward run, it was time to head north again.  It was quite a way to Sault, and hilly, but the elevation came with good views.   

At Sault, I stopped for lunch:  two small pizzas, a mille-feuille, and two takeaway pains au chocolat.


Err, not quite yet

Ignoring one of the routes up Ventous, I then rode west across to Mormoiron.  This consisted of a long climb, followed by a big fast descent, which I found quite nervewracking – it just doesn’t seem possible to descend for so long!

There was a random hill at Mormoiron, which seemed quite unnecessary, and I stopped at supermarket in Bedoin for a can of coke and a litre of OJ.  

The climb from Bedoin is the traditional one of the three routes

I got passed by another cyclist the instant I set off, and it took me a few kilometres to overtake him.  I passed nine others before the Tom Simpson memorial, which is where I had my first stop.

This fellow got off to a flyer!

The Tom Simpson Memorial
While I was there, looking at the tributes, the first guy passed me again, but he didn't seem to like the wind and gradient of the last kilometre.   I swung in front of him into the wind, and motioned for him to jump on my wheel, eliciting a “Merci”.  When I reached the top a few minutes later, I was alone!

V for Ventoux, and the 5th HC climb of the trip, after Col du Soudet, Col d'Aubisque, Plateau de Beille and Port de Pailheres

I put some warm gear on after photos and enjoy long descent to Malaucene.  I was pleased not to get  too cold, unlike the Pyreneen descents.  


At Malaucene, I stopped for a café au lait, and a quick bike shop sift.  After stripping off my warm layers, I had a short ride to Vaison-la-Romaine.  It was fairly quick, even though I took a "bike friendly route" and got a little lost!  

My hotel a nervous few kilometres out of town, but it was exactly where google maps said it would be.  I had a warm welcome, a good shower, and finally trimmed my nails, which had been driving me crazy all day.  (Why are they perfectly fine one day, and then ridiculously long the next?!?!)  

After all of that, I saddled up again in civvies for the ride back into town for dinner.  I settled on a Vietnamese/Chinese restaurant for something a bit different.  A beef noodle entrée, chicken curry and double rice main, deep fried apple and caramel sauce, plus a Singha beer later, I was ready to go home and put my feet up.  

The old town looked lovely in the evening light, and the ride to the hotel passed quickly enough.  

197km ridden, 3807m climbed, 12h35 elapsed.  Three Cat.2, one Cat.4 and a monster HC climb.

Next: 26 June

22-24 June, 2013: a spot of cycle touring

Previous:  21 June

22 June:  Castres to Montpellier

The day started with an awesome breakfast – plenty of croissants and Nutella.  Then I rolled out to ride the 6th stage of the 2011 race in the reverse direction to that of the peloton.

With breakfast still in my mind, it was straight into a beautiful 20km climb up to about 1000m.  It was cold with occasional drizzle, so I had my coat on for much of it.  Then followed a steep descent to St-Pons-de-Thomieres.  There I had a quick bakery stop – served by a guy that reminded me of Lafayette from True Blood.

There was an awesome old building in the main street – very large, but not at all ornate, and it wasn't clear to me what it was used for.

I left town to start a down-valley run - into a headwind yet again, but I made good progress nonetheless.  I stopped for an omelette and frites at Olargues - a medieval city and one of the most beautiful villages of France (accroding to the sign).  After fueling up, I had a bit of a walk around.

I enjoyed the very narrow "streets", some of which had steps in them.

I followed my nose up to the very old tower at the top of the hill.  There I found old foundations of buildings that didn’t survive, or hadn’t been restored, like the tower.

From Olargues, I made my way down a beautiful valley with nice old bridges etc.  I was forced to detour just before Bedvieux and onto an upcoming 2013 Tour de France route again.

Add caption

Near the top of a hill, a 100m-long tunnel avoided the final few metres up to a ridge - the road continued to climb in it, before dropping down - a very nice bit of engineering. 

If you squint, you can just make out the sky through the top of the far portal

Out the other side, I met two cycle tourists - a Canadian and a Brit I think.  He’d written a book about cycle-touring in France.

A couple more lumps and bumps followed, but now with an awesome tail wind, resulting in great progress.  I decided to take a parallel road to the one I'd mapped into Montpellier, in the vain hope of finding my hotel more easily.  This turned out to be a silly move - I'd stumbled onto a really busy road, and it wasn't a great route after all.  In any case, I made it to hotel relatively easily.  A shame – it would have been better not to find it.  Formula 1, never again!  (It had communal, smelly toilets and crap WiFi reception, apart from on a flight of stairs.)

There was a massive supermarket nearby with an equally large solar panel array above the carparks.  Inside, there was a big digital display saying how much of the mall was being run off the power produced.  The sun was baking, and the mall humming as a result. 

I bought some pizza bread, chocolatines and mille-feuille for "dinner" and a litre of chocolate milk.  It was hard to get comfortable at the hotel, not least because there were so many smokers around.  Once I was done battling for an internet connection...

... I turned in and had a solid sleep.

Day 13:  200km ridden, 2300m climbed, 9h40 elapsed

23-24 June: wanted, flamingoes and Roman relics

I'd given my self the next couple of days to get to Carpentras, and was going to use them to do some on-bike sightseeing.

After a fairly lazy start, I headed west a bit to hook into a route around a large lagoon, careful not to spend some time on a section of motorway.

They look so inviting, no?!
At the far end of the spit between the lagoon and the Mediterranean, was La Grande Motte, a somewhat gross sea resort.  It was early, and windy, but there were already lots of people heading to the beach.

Further east were some very cool little towns - Le Grau du Roi with a little port, and then Aigues-Mortes with its fortifications, including one tower set up as a lighthouse.

I stopped for an ice-cream, drink and diary catch up near Albaron, then off to find some flamingos.  I didn’t get far at all, before stopping for a proper lunch – ham and melon, steak and chips, and yoghurt and coulis for dessert.  The middle of the steak was about as cold as the yoghurt, but there was heaps of bread at least.

I rode 3km down a very rough road before finally spotting some flamingos.  I'd been warned by the waitress that it might be too hot for them to be out.  Somewhat disappointed, I accepted a few off in the distance was as good as I was going to get, and headed back to find Arles (which I knew would be there)!

Flamingos. Somewhere out there.
The wind was not so favourable in this direction, and the signposted road to Arles eventually had a “no bikes” sign, which necessitated some faffing around.  A kid on bike provided me with an escort until he dropped his ipod, leaving me to continue.   He shouted directions after me, but despite a few weeks in France, I didn't quite know my gauche from my droite!    On my own, I found another bridge and watched boat sail past that I’d seen from a stop bank a few kilometres out of town.

I had a quick cruise into Arles, but it was pretty aimless really, so soon turned around.

The 30km ride into Nimes felt like an HC climb.  There was an INSANE headwind, which had me down below 20km/h for a much of it.  Fascinating road kill was a good opportunity for some respite.

The Ibis I'd booked at was well signposted, but it was also adjacent to Gare SNCF, and was easy to find.  I had a nice shower, and then a stroll around town, passing the arena and an old temple.

By then, I'd worked up some hunger, and had a pasta meal across the road from the railway station.

Both physically and mentally well, though nursing a couple of minor irritations.  I'd been stung by something on my left quad the day before, and it was a bit inflamed today.  Also, I wandered into a barb wire fence at ankle height going for a piss at a layby.  Seems OK, and could have been a lot worse, given the circumstances!

* * *

The next morning, the small breakfast area was full of Russian teenagers!  Still, I managed a big feed, then went off for a bit more sightseeing, this time with my bike.  I headed to Roman garden and then up to remains of a tower on the hill.  There were interpretation panels around, and it was clear that how the Romans had moved water to, and through the town was impressive. 

After about an hour looking around, I called time and then hit the road towards the Pont du Gard.

My GPS started bleating when I missed a turnoff.  Heading back, I soon realised why.  A small country lane turned into a rough driveway which in turn just stopped.  I was unable to overcome the reluctance to turn around, and after a bit of bush-bashing, picked up a sweet bit of singletrack.  I rode a little, but spent much of the 3km wishing for my MTB!

Nearing the road I should have taken, I saw remnants of the water race, and then the Pont du Gard itself.  It was very impressive in its own right, but it was also cool that access to it was free, and there was excellent infrastructure around it.

About half way to Carpentras, I had to pass through Avignon - I didn't go "sur le pont, d'Avignon", but I hummed it...!

I was fascinated to realise I was quite happy passing by things at riding pace, and indeed, I was more at ease when moving.  Perhaps one day it would be nice to return to these places and slowly explore on foot, but after a couple of days sightseeing, I was looking forward to cracking into another stage the next day.

It was very windy for the final stretch into Carpentras.  I stopped in the outskirts and scoffed a packet of chips and a litre of peach and banana nectar.

Head to Office du Tourisme, and after one failed attempt on my own, got them to organise me a room across road at Hotel d’Olympic.  It was nice enough there, despite having to put mon velo in the garage with all the guest cars.

The concierge said winds were forecast for 80km/h the next day.  I tried to extract a comparison with what was going on outside, but to no avail.

I couldn't refresh my voltaren supply at the pharmacy without a prescription, so bought some nurofen instead.  Then I headed to the laundromat to give my riding kit its 3rd wash, to celebrate starting the 3rd week of riding!!  It was a very boring process, but definitely worth doing!  I hung it by my hotel window to dry, and then had a nap!!!!!  (One of only a few afternoon naps in my adult life, hence the exclamation marks.)

When I woke up, I had a chat to Sarah, before going next door for dinner - a very bland spaghetti bolognaise, washed down with beer and pineapple crumble.  Then, it was back up to bed.

The folk in the next door room were having very loud sex.  And celebrated by going another round!  Chapeau to them, I suppose.

Tomorrow's target.  The Giant of Provence

180km made it into strava, and another 50km didn't.  Day 15 done, and 2612km on the clock.

Next:  25 June