We have been staying this week in a “Gite” in La Grande de Champeau which is a rustic vacation apartment attached to a home in the valley of Allemont. It was beautiful and the bonus is that we have a washer so our clothes finally smell better! The refrigerator is very cold which is great since ice seems to be somewhat of an odd commodity in France.
Our landlord Marc speaks some English and told us of great running trails. I was able to do my first long run surrounded by mountains, a river, and lots of rag weed which sent my hay fever into overdrive. So, the running has been spectacular, not fast, but gorgeous. One lesson I have learned while having to make a pit stop during my long run is that weeds that look like weeds from back home are NOT the same. I learned that about 15 minutes later when I had a horrible burning and itching sensation which lasted another 24 hours.
On tap this week was the riding the route called the Marmotte. It is a famous ride/race here that attracts 8000 people. The race is July 4th this year and we wanted to ride it before we were surrounded by 8000 people all descending the mountains at the same time. Kevin actually rode it Tuesday alone as I was doing a track workout and was not quite ready to take these climbs on. I needed more mental preparation! Here is a description of the ride:
“La Marmotte is one of the toughest one-day cycling events in the World, only 174km, but almost 17,000 feet of climbing The event goes over the col del la Croix de Fer, col de Telegraphe, cold du Galibier and finishes at the top of one of the most famous Tour de France climbs, Alpe d’Huez!” A climbers dream!
Ok, I never thought of myself as a climber, but after doing this ride, I would now say I am! It actually makes the climb up Hog Pen in the north Georgia Mountains seem like an anthill!
The ride was 120 miles long and it took me 10:35 minutes on the bike I have never been on a bike that long and in fact it is about the same time just riding as I did my fastest ironman race in! The col de Croix Fer was tough. It took me 1:50 to ride 31.6 km and climbing over 4950 ft . On top of that, an animal carrying truck passed us and continued to drop piles of poop along the route. So I tried to avoid those piles, concentrate on climbing and breathing all at the same time. Then a guy from England named Tim Fowler passed me and I could not just let him go by so, I caught him and started chatting. It was great as he spoke English and I had someone to talk with for the next 1:30! I am sure I climbed much better because I was not feeling sorry for myself! He left at the top and we continued to the col de Telegraph and col de Galibier. That was 36 km long and 6500 ft. of elevation. That took me almost 3 hours. I have included the picture Kevin took as I was lacking oxygen and brain power to get to the top of the Galibier J Kevin climbed about 9:00 min faster so he was a bit chilly with all that snow and wind. The descent off the Galibier is mind boggling. I remember watching the Tour riders in their drops, aero position, and flying down the mountain. In contrast, I am sitting up, hands on the brakes so much so that my joints hurt and I was not even close to flying down those 180 turns! But it was a “un adventure plus grande” nonetheless! But we were not done yet. We descended about 25 miles (awesome) and then ended at the bottom of Alpe d”Huez. It is 15.2 km and 3800 ft of climbing with the steepest grade being 12%, It was really a mental challenge ascending the climb. All the nutritional wisdom of consuming our protein/carbohydrate supplements was trumped by a deep ravenous hunger that had us sucking down Coke (which I never drink) Café au Lait, and platter of Pommes Frites (French fries, smothered in ketsup). After chatting for an hour with other Le Marmet survivors (Dutch and English) at the Café, we had the real pleasure of descending 4,000 ft in the late afternoon shadows and coolness. After starting at 6 AM, we finally rolled into our Gites at 7 PM – 13 hours on the bike without mishap, crash or flat!!!
Saturday was another beautiful day in the Alps. We headed off for a trail run and then an easy bike ride. What I have also learned is what you think will take two hours on a bike, actually takes 4-5 hours. The easy spin turned into another mountain pass called La Berarde. It kicks up to a 10% grade for 3 km. I was not ready for that and by the top I felt totally spent. But, it was a great descent down the mountain. Sunday is our first swim in a pool and then a short spin ride. We leave Allemont and head over to Avignon to take on Mount Ventoux. More to follow next week!
Note the grade, avalanche photo, and warnings about ice on the top of the Galibier! All in a days ride J