Friday, 15 December 2017

Another year, another trip to Paris! Part 2: Beauvais

Arriving into Beauvais at lunchtime knowing that I had finished my cycling for the day was quite a nice feeling.

Hell, I had started my bike ride at roughly 5 am so I deserved to finish at 1pm! It was a warm, sunny day, lots of people were out, the shops were open, which is not always the case in small French towns at this time of year, and I felt quite fresh.
As the day was still young I knew I could take my time with things. So I spent  a bit of time admiring and photographing the very imposing cathedral.

I had never really considered Beauvais to be a touristic town, but then again Ryanair do fly there – they even call it their Paris destination! So I imagine a fair few people will stop by and admire this “lovely surburb of Paris” before heading properly into the city of light.

And there were many people in Beauvais, looking at the St Pierre cathedral and the nearby Musée de l'Oise. Some folks were British. Where else could they have been from – this couple that spoke to each other in thick Liverpudlian accents?!
I then moved on to reach my hotel. I hadn’t quite expected it to be so far out of town, or that it would be up a hill. Gee, I had just come down a big hill to get into the town, and here I was already climbing again just to reach my rest and recuperation spot!

I guess nothing good comes to you without putting in a bit of effort first! And that good thing came in the shape of the Ibis Hotel, Beauvais. Yes, a big-chain hotel that may have been lacking in style. But it had everything I needed - friendly receptionists, a decent sized bedroom and bathroom, strong Wifi connection, a bar, and even a room for my bike - a room, not an alleyway outdoors at the back of the building or a leaky shed. An actual room that was on par with my bedroom minus a telly, a bed and a bathroom!

And it didn't stop there - they were serving meals, but there were a number of restaurants nearby also doing the same. There was a hypermarket about a mile away selling everything, including bike bits, and, hold onto your hats - they had Decathlon and Intersport right opposite. Who says you can't have a good time in Beauvais!

After an afternoon nap I went out for a walk in the local area. It was nothing to write home about. Just your typical neighbourhood on the outskirts of a town near an airport, with yoofs in a skateboard park and ladies of various ethnicities in housecoats gossiping over the garden fence. Think more Hounslow than Richmond!

There were a number of other cyclists staying in the hotel too, and I saw them sitting out on the terrace discussing their ride. I said hello to them and exchanged a few words as cyclists do. They were also riding to Paris, though at a more leisurely than me, by stretching their trip over 4 days.

The London-Paris cycle ride is a well-beaten route for many cyclists, including organised touring groups and charity bike riders, of which this group were a part. This is probably the fifth time I am riding to Paris, and I have yet to do the ride as part of an organised group. In a way I must admit I feel quite relieved to not be part of such a group because the people I meet who go on these rides can only say "I went from London to Paris by bike. Get that!" That's all very well and good, but then all they know about is London, and about Paris. They don't know the names of the places in between, including places they stopped at. All they know is the fact that they followed a ride leader through some rather nice countryside, ate some good food and ended up at the Eiffel Tower. And they probably didn't interact with a single French person along the way!

That's rather a shame, but then again maybe that's how it should be. But hey, when did I ever travel in the way it should be done!

And with that thought I went to bed feeling satisfied, after a hearty meal at La Boucherie.

Photos to follow



Sunday, 10 December 2017

Another year, another trip to Paris! - Part 1: Avenue Verte

Earlier this year I cycled to Paris. I did a similar trip last year, and I thought I would like to repeat the experience hopefully this time without the hitches.

I would love to do the full monty right from Central London by bike, riding all the way to the Ferry terminal at Newhaven. However, time constraints and annual leave from work meant that my cycling didn't actually start until I reached French soil. So strictly speaking I did a Dieppe to Paris trip!

On the way to Dieppe again!

I boarded the 10pm ferry from Newhaven, and arrived in Dieppe at around 4.30am. By the time I had rolled off the ferry and gone through passport control it was almost 5.30am.

That was handy for me because I hadn't booked any accommodation in Dieppe, figuring that at that time of the morning it would be feasible to start cycling immediately. However, it was late August, the roads were still dark and I was slightly apprehensive about how tricky it may be along the unlit Avenue Verte. Furthermore, this rail trail, being in bowl, meant that there may be a hanging mist. The prospect of riding through the woods in these conditions didn't really excite me.


So for me, it was handy to just saunter through Dieppe up to the start of the trail in Arques la Bataille. Helpfully, by the time I got there the sun was just breaking through, so it wasn't pitch dark. I was looking forward to the sun coming up completely in a hope that I might a bit warm as well. Because this part of the Avenue Verte colllects morning dew and dampness it tends to be a few degrees colder than the immediate surrounding areas. In any case, it was cold and I had dressed for the occasion by wearing two waterproofs on top of my cycle jersey, as well as a high vis gilet. It sounds like overkill, but I needed it!


To be on the Avenue Verte or Not to be on Avenue Verte - That is the question

It was lovely and peaceful riding through this part of France with no one else around, and just the trees and the birds for company, and the odd car passing by on the adjacent D1 minor road. I always like that early bird feeling where you get to see the daybreak before anyone else.

As it happened I wasn't the only person cycling along the disused railway line. A group of four or five riders who had been on the same ferry as me also took the Avenue, though I am not sure whether they were going all the way to Paris, or if they were just looking for a nice night ride in Normandy. They weren't carrying much luggage and they were just on hybrid bikes, so I can't imagine they could have been going that far. In fact when I saw them they were already having a snack stop and we were less than 10 miles into the ride!

As the time drew to around 7 o'clock I saw a number of riders going in the opposite direction, and they were mainly French. I am guessing there must have been a 8am or 9am ferry due to leave for the UK. So it seems that this ride is as popular with Londoners wanting to go to Paris as it is with Parisians wanting to come to London.

Next, a few other people who passed me slowed down to ride along for a short while.

They were a couple that looked quite fit, and it looked like they were riding with a mission as they were hoping to get to the suburbs of Paris by the end of the day, and they were hardly carrying any gear on them.

So along the Avenue Verte to Paris it seems you can meet a variety of cyclists out on a bike ride, and at a variety of times too.

Avenue Verte was a nice as ever once the sun came up, and was lovely and peaceful. At this time of the morning, rush hour, there weren't loads of cyclists on the trail, and in fact there were quite a few vehicles on the various roads that crossed the cycle path.

I took an initial breakfast stop at Neufchatel-en-Bray along the path, where there were benches near a pretty church, and toilets further along the way. There were also residential houses that backed onto the path, and I noted an old woman who didn't seem too impressed to open her curtains and come face to face with my mug! I bid her good day, and the old hag scowled back!

Once the traffic free path ended at Serqueux I stuck as much as possible to the waymarked signs for Avenue Verte up to Forge-les-Eaux. This meant I did quite a pleasant run-in to the village via some quiet residential streets and through some parkland. Forge-les-Eaux was another stopping point to stock up on food and have more breakfast.




A Mustang to COMPlement my ride

I had considered stopping by and saying hello to the guy in the local bike shop where I spent a fair bit of time and money on inner tubes last year. That bike shop had been a godsend. It wasn't open at the time that I passed through, so I pressed on with the next phase of my ride.

For my part I had set out to complete the ride over two days, in a change from last year (and even previous years). So my destination was just going to be Beauvais, a place I passed through very briefly last year. It was the scene of a mad dash to get the last train to Paris in an attempt to avoid being stranded in deepest Normandy after dark!

Like last year, I was riding a Raleigh Mustang gravel bike and carrying panniers. But this time, rather than being on the Mustang Sport, I was testing the upgraded version, a Mustang Comp. This bike comes complete with hydraulic disc brakes and just a single chain ring, complemented with dinner plate sprockets to get me up any hills. The Comp is less weight than the sport, even with my panniers mounted on the bike . I'll take that!


All change at Forge-les-Eaux

It is quite possible to look out for, and follow the characteristic green and white arrows all along the way and end up at Ile de la Cité opposite Notre Dame Cathedral in Central Paris.

The quiet roads and traffic-free paths guarantees that you won't be riding along busy roads. After Forge-les-Eaux I chose not to follow those arrows though, and make up my own route.

That part of France has so many minor ("d" and "c") roads that you can choose any of them and end up on a quiet route. On this Friday morning in August people may well have been on holiday. Otherwise they were hard at it in their offices, their farms, their homes or just shopping. Basically, they were anywhere but on the road! So I had the pick of lot in terms of which route to take, and so I eeked out my own itinerary to Beauvais.

From Forge-les-Eaux the road dropped downhill into the area known as Pays de Bray, where lots of towns called "something or other -en Bray" seemed to pepper the landscape. I don't know what Bray means, but I guess it must be something like "lumpy roads and steep lanes" based on the terrain!

Gerberoy village (from france.fr website)


Hills aside, the landscape is pictureseque with undulating farmers fields and very old villages. Of particular note were the villages of Songeons, Buicourt, and Gerberoy. Apparently Gerberoy is billed as one of the prettiest villages in France. It's certainly a nice place to be, but I wouldn't want to square up to the Mayor of Giverny or one of the many villages in Dordogne and say that!





Rain rain go away!

The weather was very pleasant and sunny, but somewhere I had seen a weather forecast for rain at Beauvais right at the moment I was due to reach the town. So although I was enjoying my ride, I had a nagging thought that sooner or later the sun would turn dark and  I would get drenched as the heavens the opened. Although I was equipped with wet weather gear, I didn't relish the prospect of having to bounce around through puddles and not be able to see the nice view through the dampness. I just had to comfort my self in the fact that my journey would soon come to an end as I was only going as far as Beauvais.

In fact, my ride ended up being rain free. I was even lucky because on the approach to Beauvais the roads were wet like there had just been shower. So France Meteo hadn't been wrong, it was just that I had timed my ride into Beauvais perfectly! Once in this town with its medieval buildings and cathedral I celebrated with an extra large swig of water and and  a Clif Bar (that was all I had left!) before tackling the climb to get up to my hotel in the outskirts of the town.

It had been a pretty ride, with a few famous landmarks along the way. But after having had just two hours' sleep, I was ready to crash out in my hotel room.

My Strava route from Dieppe to Beauvais can be found here.


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Monday, 27 November 2017

52 Cycling Voices - 17: Rochelle Gilmore

Rochelle Gilmore is big in cycling. If you haven't seen her you’ll have definitely heard her extremely knowledgeable punditry on the BBC, ITV, or on Eurosport. 

After a successful career as a professional road and track cyclist (including a Commonwealth Games title on the road) she set up the Wiggle High5 team (then known as Wiggle Honda) in 2013. The team is replete with some of the world's best women racers with a number of world champions. I first met Rochelle a few years ago when they were doing the team presentation in Ghent, Belgium. She came across as driven, motivated, and entrepreneurial, but was still kind, gentle and clearly had the wellbeing of her riders at the forefront of her mind.


Oh, and Rochelle is a successful business woman, and is pretty damn good on the rollers!

Rochelle Gilmore, aged 35

From: Sutherland, New South Wales, Australia

Lives: San Martino di Castrozza, Trento, Italy

Occupation: Manager of Wiggle High5, Businesswoman, Broadcaster/Commentator

I got into cycling when I was three years old. My two older brothers were racing BMX and I just nagged my mum and dad, because I wanted to get out and race with them. So I started BMX racing, and competed with the under-5 boys. At that time and during my early high school days BMX was not an Olympic sport but I really loved just pedalling my bike - getting out of the gates, sprinting, and all the technical aspects of BMX.
Later I was identified through a programme at school where they came and asked if anyone wanted to go and be tested for Olympic potential, as an athlete. There was power testing, short sprints, four-kilometre runs, tests to see how high I could jump, long jump, all that stuff. 

My results were in the top 1% of Australian olympic potentials around the age of 13, and so I got a letter from the government saying they would financially support me for the next three years if I chose one of the sports on the list. There was a choice of rowing, mountain biking, cycling, and triathlon. Because I had done BMX for so long I was keen to do cycling, so I got into track and road cycling through the local Institute of Sport. I was living in a very small country town out in the bush, to the South of Sydney, and they would pick me up from my home and take me to the races. 

Within 3 months I had won an under-15s national title, moved to the New South Wales Institute of Sport and then on to the Australian Institute of Sport. It all happened pretty quick, and was really exciting, especially as I was doing an olympic sport.

Emotionally, My strongest memory from my career was winning a Road World Cup in Australia in 2005. It was a very satisfying moment because I had just transferred from track to road. So for me to win a World Cup in my home country was massive.
Then obviously getting gold at the 2010 Commonwealth Games was a high point for me too, because I’d got silver four years before that, and four years before that, so after twelve years I wanted to go there and win. I did not want to come home from the Commonwealth Games with another silver medal. It just feels really great to have won gold now, particularly because the silver medallist in the race was Lizzie Armitstead (Deignan). So it makes it even more special seeing that she has really established herself as one of the world’s absolute best as an all-round cyclist.
I raced alongside Nicole Cooke on the same team, and shared a house with her for seven years. When I think about Nicole Cooke's career I remember those moments when she was just so happy whether a teammate won or she won. I remember the staff would really try to go that extra mile to support her within the pro teams that I rode on with her. There were people who really wanted the best for her. I recall some really beautiful moments in Nicole’s career and I think she took a lot of positive experiences from the sport. 

I don’t have memories of mistreatment or abuse or anything of that. I tend to remember those special moments that we had, travelling around the world together, and the fantastic time we had when we raced in San Francisco. It was just great that our teams were able to take us to those races. Unfortunately we are not hearing those stories from Nicole these days.
I try and keep in touch with the pro cyclists I used to race with. I keep in touch with nearly all of the girls I was with when I went through the Australian teams in AIS and the pro teams I was with. With social media you always know where people are and what they’re up to so even if you don’t speak, much. We are all still involved in cycle sport in some way, and as I was racing for many years, I am not just going to walk away from it. So I do bump into different girls I raced with and love catching up with them.  
This year while in Australia I bumped into was Mari Holden, an American who raced for T-mobile and was World Time trial champion in 2000. She was out there working as a director. I also caught up with Rahna Demarte (now Gerrans) a girl I went to the junior world championships with in 1998, who I hadn’t seen for 15 years. She’s now married to Simon Gerrans. Catching up with her was fantastic as well. Then there are other people like Vic Pendleton and Chris Hoy who I’ll see around the place and catch up with.
The key to the success of Team Wiggle High5 has been in maintaining a decent quality of life for the riders and making sure that rider well-being is at the top of the agenda.
At Wiggle High5 we have an atmosphere where quality of life is the priority so we don’t want unhappy athletes or unhappy staff. You can’t expect riders to get results if they are unhappy. We really look after recovery and the personal interests of the riders. One unique thing about this team is that riders all have some buy-in in the decisions, and the riders really feel like they are important to the team.


Also, all the athletes are really good friends. They have chosen the riders that they like to be around. We make it a priority that everyone is happy with the composition of the team and the personalities we have, and everybody really has each other’s back. That’s one of the mottos within our team, that we have our staff and our team-mates’ back all the time.
For Wiggle High5, results in races are only one part of the team’s aims. Wiggle High5 has always had a strategy to increase publicity for the team through social media campaigns as a way of bringing positive returns for their sponsors.
The money side of things only comes with exposure. So what I did when I started Wiggle High5 (at the time Wiggle Honda) was to have a really strong PR team to create ideas to give our sponsors return on investments. So we have a strong focus on social media.
It is hard to accept, but if you analyse it there is way more history in men’s cycling than in women's, and way more spectators watching men’s cycling. The business side of the sport is the men that are generating the majority of the money because of their history. For that reason it’s hard for women to walk onto the stage and demand exactly the salaries and prize money that the men are getting. 

Women work just as hard, and in some ways the women are more professional than the men, but our sport – women’s cycling –  is relatively new compared with male cycling. It’s not rocket science though, that there are challenges. We can’t just say £50k for the men, £50k for the women at every race, if there’s only 1% of the viewers watching the women. Organisers want to do a great job for women's cycling, but there's a difference between what they can do and what they can justify.
Conditions are definitely much better than they were ten years ago, for sure! We are progressing every year with the prize money, and women can now make a career out of cycle racing. The TV coverage has been the biggest advance. Obviously things like Ride London, Tour of Britain, Tour de Yorkshire and Le Tour by the Tour de France have TV coverage and that makes a huge difference to our sport.
As women’s cycle racing grows, the calendar has become very intense. Sadly, some races like the Route de France ended up being removed from the calendar this year.
Women's racing has a very busy and difficult schedule because we want those monumental races. We want to have Tour of California, Tour of Britain, and these big races that give us the opportunity to race alongside the men’s races or within the same week, and have all the publicity that the men get. But as a result, we have a very heavy programme and we have to travel a lot. The UCI obviously don’t want to turn race organisers down but now that we have a Women’s World Tour, with TV coverage, that’s distinctively the pinnacle of women’s cycling so they are the races that the top riders and top teams will focus on. So that makes it difficult to fit in all the races.  
A Tour de France for women would be great, though perhaps not three weeks. Women’s teams are a lot smaller than the men’s teams, so if you want your best riders to prepare for a two- or three-week Tour de France the other races would definitely suffer.
During my racing career I did commentary for a lot of Australian networks when I wasn’t racing.  I had started TV commentating with Phil Liggett back in 1997, so Eurosport asked if I could commentate with Sean Kelly for the women’s road race at the London 2012 Olympics. I was available to commentate because injury had put me out of the Olympics.
So from that, I did the World Championships for the BBC, and have done that every year, plus Ride London and the Tour de Yorkshire, then the Tour de France stuff.
It’s still very emotional when my girls are in a race, and you have to hide that when commentating. The hardest race I had to commentate on was the first Ride London women’s criterium in 2013 when Laura Trott won, while she was riding for Wiggle Honda. The team was fresh and new and it was exciting, there were so many people watching, it was live on television and I remember the last lap, how my heart nearly jumped out of my chest. It was really hard the commentating and keeping a neutral tone.
When Chloe Hosking won Le Tour by the Tour de France on the Champs Elysees in 2016 I did express some emotion and I was really, really happy about that.
There have been other tough moments like the Rio Olympics, commentating when Annemiek van Vleuten had her crash. That was a really sick feeling to the point where I couldn’t speak for the next five minutes. When commentating we have to stare at the screen and watch things really closely and at that point we are glued three or four centimetres form the screen and to see the crash, it was really devastating. This is someone that I know personally, as I know a lot of the girls in the peloton, and not having the information about whether she was moving was a hard moment.
As well as commentating I run a few businesses. I am the High5 distributor in Australia and that’s given me a lot of insight into business that’s orientated around numbers, whereas cycling success is more orientated around victories and leveraging that through media exposure.
I also run a company, GoExPro, an Australian company that sells ex-professional cycling equipment. On top of that, I have RMG Sports Production which makes cycling and other videos and documentaries. I’ve just been involved in making a 59-minute documentary on motorsports. 

Then I have two other cycling teams that I work with - the High5 Dream Team, and the Australian national team. 
To run all my activities I’ve gotta be a bit OCD where I’m super super-organised, so I use my time wisely. Normally in meetings I say, "I’m spending 15 minutes - give me your issues," and I say yes no yes no, and bang - I’m gone. There are moments where you need to let the conversations go - there are no time limits, and you have to stay and listen to everything.
Since I’ve retired and gone into business it has been a big challenge keeping fit and feeling comfortable about doing exercise without it being your job, and without feeling guilty about not training hard when you are out on the bike.
I have now come to realise that I have to do exercise to function, work and make good decisions and be relaxed. So it is more efficient for me to combine exercise and work together.
When it comes to places to cycle I love Mallorca because the roads are smooth, the weather’s good, there are a lot of cyclists out there to ride with. I only discovered Mallorca a couple of years ago and really fell in love with it. I come here to do a lot of work, but I enjoy my rides and that makes me feel more productive.
My mum is a massive fan of women’s cycling and she knows way more than I do because she has a lot more time than I do to be reading about them on social media! And if I want to know something I could just pick up the phone to my mum and ask her. She’ll tell me things sometimes and I say, “There’s no way that’s true!” And she’ll say, “It’s on Twitter, I’ll send you the link!”
She’s not one of those people who woud want to influence my decisions on team matters, but she will inform, and she will say, “Why don’t you sign this rider next year, she’s been doing really well.” Then we’ll have a debate about why she got points or her results, or whatever. My mum ’s definitely a good person to have discussions with.
She’s got a new place to live in Dubai, so I stopped over when I was on my way to Europe from Australia earlier this year. I was there for less than a day and we went shopping. The shopping Mall has an indoor ski slope, so I went for a ski while she went to the bar and watched me from out of the window! She really appreciated me stopping by to see her. Then she comes to see me at my house in Italy a couple of times a year.
My drive and motivation to be successful has come from my step-father, who my mum married 25 or 30 years ago. He’s a very successful business man and I relate very well to the way he manages people and I have learnt so much from him. I wanna make my mum and my step-father very proud. That was my drive, to prove I could make something in the business world.
They’ve always wanted me to hang the bike up and retire and do something in business because that’s how they measure success, and they did ask me quite often, “When are you going to stop with the cycling and do something in business.?” Actually when I told my parents I was going to start a women’s cycling team they were just like…”That’s a ridiculous idea!” But hey, four or five years down the track they are extremely proud.
I never go out on my bike without my phone cover that always has my credit card, usually a hotel keycard, and my business cards. I carry cards for the businesses I have in Australia, so if someone in Australia is looking for a bike, or asking about High5 I can just give them a card. While out on the bike you meet so many people that you can do business with.
I could have done one of a number of different sports, because when I was young I was doing gymnastics, athletics, swimming, surf-lifesaving, motocross ....From the age of three years old I just wanted to do sport. You know, like people say “When did you decide?” I think I was like five or six years old when I was watching the Olympics on TV and I was saying, “That’s me, I am sport!” I was just born to be athletic.


Some people say I may have been better suited to mountain biking because of my technical skills, but road cycling provides such a wonderful life. You move around, you travel the globe. Track cycling for me was probably physically better, but in terms of lifestyle, doing laps around an indoor velodrome was good, but after five or six years, I felt it was time to get out there and go pro with a road team. The freedom of being on the road, there’s no other feeling like it!
I feel so fortunate that I chose cycling and that this has been my career, and my path, and I love it.

Twitter: @RochelleGilmore       Instagram: rochellegilmore        www,wigglehighfive.com





Tuesday, 31 October 2017

Another challenge for 2018 - Paris Marathon

I already mentioned how I have got a place in the Etape du Tour for next year. As if that's not enough of a challenge (along with all the preparation races I need to do) I have only signed myself up for the Paris marathon!
Another challenge for 2018

It's been ages since I last did a marathon - 12 years in fact, and it was the London marathon. London is the only marathon I've done, and I have done it twice - in 2005 and in 2002. I applied a few times to do the New York Marathon, and I finally got a place in 2006, but life got in the way and I ended up not doing it. Over the years injury and other commitments have meant that I just forgot about doing marathons again, but I guess that the whole "mid-life crisis" thing has got me signing up for different physical challenges.

You get to an age where you want to prove to yourself you've still got it! So here I am taking on the marathon challenge, along with other things (though I haven't bought a motorbike - yet!).

I had hoped to mark my marathon comeback by getting a place in the public ballot for next year's London marathon. But alas, when 380,000 people are applying for around 17,000 individual places the odds are slightly stacked against you!

Paris is a place where I have had a lot of good memories (I lived there for four years shortly after graduating from university.) and I always have a good time whenever I go there. I did my first ever half-marathon at the Semi-Marathon de Paris over 20 years ago. So it would only be logical to do their full marathon as well.

So within minutes of me receiving my rejection email from London Marathon, I had signed up for Paris!

Immediately afterwards you get that moment of euphoria when your place in the event that you'd been really wanting to do is confirmed. Then the feeling sinks in and you realise how much you're going to need to do between now and race day - the training, getting in loads of miles, sometimes running at silly hours of the day, or in really bad weather. But you've got to get it done if you are to hit the target and have a decent crack at the challenge on the day.

And after all that thought, you then say to yourself, "What have I done??"

Well, it's too late. I have triggered the equivalent of Article 50 for running the Paris marathon so I'd better get in, get on, and get out!

Training has been going okay so far, but I have to be really disciplined about getting the miles in. I also have to stay injury free and try not to get colds or the flu - something which is a challenge in itself when half your colleagues in the office are coughing and sneezing across the desk!

Anyway, I am going to do what I can to prepare for the marathon, and hopefully I will be able to make the start line at the Arc de Triomphe on April 8th next year. I'm going to love Paris in the springtime!


Sunday, 29 October 2017

Etape du Tour goes to the Alps again! Great!

Etape du Tour profile
So we now know the route of the 2018 Tour de France, and looking at the format it looks like it'll be a cracker.

There'll be a cobbled section again with stage 9 (Arras to Roubaix) including sectors from the Paris-Roubaix classic, which could really shake-up the field - literally! And I'm guessing as a nod to the Strade Bianche classic in Italy there's a new Alpine climb up to Plateau des Glieres that goes over a section of unmade road on Stage 10.

On the subject of Stage 10, which goes from Annecy to Le Grand Bornand, this will also be the route for the Etape du Tour.

I am very pleased to know this, especially because I missed a trick by not doing the 2017 edition of L'Etape (Embrun to col d'Izoard - check), and had been resigned to the fact that in 2018 it would be in the Pyrenees, and I would have to wait until 2019 to ride L'Etape du Tour in the Alps.

But in a lucky twist of fate we are back in the Savoy area. The route looks a beauty. It will start in Annecy, known as the "Little Venice of France" go around the lovely lake, then up over the Col de la Croix Fry, through the Aravis and the Saisies region, up the Montee du Plateau du Glieres, over the Col du Romme, then to tackle the biggest climb of the stage, Col de la Colombiere, before a long descent to Le Grand Bornand. It'll be a total distance of 169km (105.5 miles) with around 4,000m of climbing, making it a tough challenge and only slightly "easier" than the other big cyclosportive that's on the same day, La Marmotte. A water feature plus mountains is my favourite combination in a route. It's going to be a great day's biking.

Lac d'Annecy
I haven't ridden that exact route of L'Etape du Tour before, but I have ridden a few of the climbs in that area. This casts my mind back to a couple of trips I did there.

About 20 years ago I went on a triathlon training camp with UCPA, a French sports and outdoor activity holiday company. We were based in a village called St Jorioz right on the edge of the Lac d'Annecy. All our swimming was done in the lake, and then we did a mini triathlon which consisted of going up (and down) one of the local cols. I'm not sure which one we went up - it may have been up to a village called St Eustache, though all I remember was how tough I found the cycling.

I was brand new to triathlon and club cycling at that time, but the guys were very supportive. Needless to say I came last in our race, which wasn't helped by the fact that I got lost on the bike course! As usual, I had hoped to return to St Jorioz the following year and do the camp again, but you always end up getting sucked into other activities....!

Then about 10 years ago I rode an improvised version of the Route des Grands Alpes - the classic itinerary from Thonon les Bains, near Geneva, to Menton on the French Riviera.

On my first day of the route I set off from Geneva on the most miseraable of days. It was pouring with rain, grey, and really not a day to be out. I recall going through the border crossing from Switzerland into France, and as the policeman waved me through I asked him if this was the right way to Cluses. He confirmed it was, but not without him giving me a bit of a lecture on how I should be careful out there, and this really wasn't a day for a young lady to be riding up into the mountains. I reassured him by saying I would be staying in the valley! There was no chance of that - I needed to get to Le Grand Bornand that night and that involved going over the Col de la Colombiere!

So I just pressed on through the rain on my road bike, which was laiden with panniers and went through places like Annemasse, Bonneville, Scionzier and other villages that looked pretty despite the autumnal weather. Just before Cluses I made the right hand turn to start the climb. And that's basically all I did for about the next four hours!

The visibility was so low I had no idea what the landscape around me was like. I just crawled up at about 4 miles per hour, through the mist and rain, just following the white line in front of me, and not being able to see more than about 5 metres ahead of me! After about an hour of climbing I had thought I was at the summit, but in fact I was only at a place called Le Reposoir. From there onwards the rain subsided, but it was still foggy.

Luckily there was hardly any traffic around - well who would have wanted to be out in this drich weather?? Finally, after what seemed like an age, the pedalling became easier, then I didn't have to pedal at all as I realised I had reached the summit (I hadn't seen any sign saying I was at the col de la Colombiere) and I was making my decent to Le Grand Bornand. Maybe this was the time to celebrate reaching the top, but by heck was it freezing on the descent! Everything about me was shivering and my teeth were chattering.

Warm welcome at Hotel La Croix St Maurice
After about three miles I reached a village which I thought was Le Grand Bornand, and so I stopped there to look for accommodation. Shock, horror! Everything was closed. The place was like a ghostown. On no, where would I find a bed for the night?? Then after a little bit of wandering I around, I realised I wasn't actually in Le Grand Bornand, but a place called Samance. My stopping point was still another 4 miles down the hill. Good news, but not so good that I was freezing and really couldn't face more descending.

So I rode uphill to get out of the village, and then rode back up the col de la Colombiere for another half-mile to try to work up some heat! I needed to find some warmth somehow! Then I was able to complete the descent and arrived in the main square which was full of life and buzzing. Very helpfully, there was a hotel right on the main square, the Hotel La Croix St Maurice, where they had one single room left and the hotel chef had just finished cooking the evening meal, so I bagged it! The hotel and the staff were very pleasant, but what was really great for me was the heated towel rail in the bathroom, which I put to very good use!

The next day was lovely and had wall to wall sunshine. I went past places like St Jean de Sixt, La Clusaz, and over the Col des Aravis, and Col de Saisies, and through other pretty little ski resort villages before pushing on further south towards Cormet de Roselend and Bourg St Maurice.

Let's do it!




It had been time well spent in the Savoy area, and I look forward to being there for L'Etape du Tour. There'll be a great atmosphere.

So I'm in! I've now just got to get on with it and train so that the broom wagon doesn't catch me on the day!











Saturday, 30 September 2017

One day one photo - 30: More of gorgeous Verdon

Mercantour mountains see from La Route des Crete
Yesterday was spent going around the outer road circumnavigating the Gorges du Verdon, also known as the Grand Canyon du Verdon. Today was about doing the inner route, known as the Route des Cretes. Being based at La Palud-sur-Verdon meant that I could get onto this road quite easily. La Route des Cretes is basically a road that goes around a big rock formation within the middle of the canyon. You can only access that road from La Palud-sur-Verdon, and for about half of the route the road is one-way traffic only. That makes sense to me as the road is a bit narrow, there are numerous switchbacks where you really wouldn't want to make a mistake while going around the bends. And trying to get two vehicles, particularly campervans (of which there are many around here) to pass one another would be like playing Russian Roulette!

From La Palud, the road climbed steadily and as I got higher and higher I could see the gite where I had been staying become more and more like a dot in the distance. I could also see the Mercantour mountains and a portion of the gorge as a teaser, which looked atmospheric at this time of the morning. The place looked deserted, apart from a few people who were driving up to do rock-climbing. La Route des Cretes closes from October to March, and I was going over that road on the final weekend of the summer season so it's not surprising the area was so quiet. It was amazing to have this spectacular road all to myself! Finally the road reached its high point, at just over 1300m above sea level, before steadily dropping down. It was a lovely descent, and as there was no traffic, and no worries about vehicles coming up the other way this was bliss! Also, I could see across the gorge to the road below me, where I had ridden the previous day.  I don't know if there exists anything as beautiful, exhilarating, and spectacular as this in Europe. Having the sun shining down on me was an added bonus. This, for me is what I would call a must-do ride.

Going around the Route des Cretes is only about 23km, but it involves quite a long climb - around 7km, so it took me about an hour and a half to ride the circuit. You do need the hour and a half though, if nothing else to really soak in the lovely scenery in this beautiful, wild part of Provence.

I was glad to have ridden this today, as it was the perfect antidote to the motorway drive back to the coast, that I had to do straight afterwards!
 

Friday, 29 September 2017

One day one photo - 29: Gorgeous Gorges du Verdon



Today was a big day for me. I finally arrived at the Gorges du Verdon. The drive up from Nice had not been easy, as I was a little tired after having woken up around 2.30am to get my flight, and then hanging around Nice to wait for my bike which had failed to arrive at the same time as me.

I had passed the time going for a run, and then I got in the car to drive for around two and a half hours cross country. It was plain sailing on the motorway, but once off it the roads were very twisty and undulating. For quite a while I'd been wondering if I should have planned to come all this way out of Nice as the scenery, although pleasant, didn't seem much different from what was on the Cote d'Azur. But then I arrived in the quaint village of Comps sur Artuby, and after that the landscape changed dramatically. From pretty green hills, the peaks turned rocky and wild. The road became even more twisty and irregularly rose up and down. It became increasingly difficult for me to take my eyes off the road even for one second, as I had to concentrate that bit more.

Eventually I saw a sign that said "Point Sublime", and it was at that point I realised I was at the famous Gorges du Verdon.

So today was a lovely day, as I managed to ride the full circuit of the Gorge. I hadn't known how far it would be. The proprietor of the gite where I was staying said it would be around 100km, and Google maps suggested it would take me around 7.5 hours. I was a little nervous about being able to complete the circuit before dark!

In fact it wasn't that long. My Garmin measured the distance as 88km, and I got back to La Palud at around 4.30pm (I was out for 6.5 h hours but my riding time was more like 5 hours.) The high points of my trip were the section after Trigance, on the area known as Corniche Sublime, Les Balcons de la Mescla,  then the descent to the Lac Sainte Croix via the town of Aiguines.

At the Pont du Galetas I took a photo of the opening of the Gorges, and it turned out this is an iconic picture of the Gorges du Verdon, as it appears in many guide books and magazines whenever they talk about this geographic feature. The final climb back towards La Palud-sur-Verdon was a real slog for me, and I began to feel quite tired. Most of the main road from the lake consisted of a 14-km climb to the col d'Ayen, though I was rewarded with a 3-km downhill into La Palud. I was glad to have made the trip out to Verdon, and was happy to have done the circuit.