Savoie is doing its bit to promote cycling by taking advantage of all the mountain passes now being open. Each day they are closing one col and only allowing cyclists to use it “1Jour 1Col” - supplying drinks and food for free. Sunday was their day for the Cormet de Roselend with most people starting at Bourg St Maurice (830m) at 9:30am and climbing the col (2000m) from there. Chris, myself and two French cyclists, Richard and Marcel were planning to continue from the col down into Beaufort and the full 115k loop. All of those guys has just completed a massive training week in the Ardeche with 9000m climbing in three days so they were definitely not going to be ambling along at my usual pace.
I set off deciding to just climb the col at an easy pace so as to save the legs for completing the loop. Attacking the col would definitely mean running out of steam before the end of the loop - with empty legs and a headache. Clouds covered most of the lower part of the valley so I'd put on a base layer and arm warmers with a strong waterproof in a back pocket. I'd two bottles of sports drink and two packs of powdered refills plus two gels that could either be eaten or added to water. The climb up the col began very slowly as it wasn't a race and people were just warming up. This felt great to be just pottering along for a change. Within a few minutes accelerations began and separate groups started to form. At this point I was still in touch with the lead group but I knew that when they got properly up to speed I wouldn't want to stay with them. Richard actually arrived at this point because he'd started from his home about 20k from Bourg so that he could also cut off there early towards the end of the loop.
(Being “supermoon” week – with the moon the closest to us that it will be for some time I decided to take some hand held photos in the bright moonlight…)
The real climbing begins around Bonneval with about 15k to go to the summit. There is a 6k steep section there starting off straight and following the river for 2k but then ascending a cliff with hairpins for the next 4k. The straight section is deceptive because it doesn't look hard. When you are not fit this part hurts a lot. I got into a good rhythm and stuck to my plan not to overdo it. There was a guy following me who clearly also didn't aim to stick with the lead group but didn't want to go too slowly either. When we arrived at the hairpins another guy in a fancy white (red logo) Val d'Isère jersey and shorts went past the two of us and the guy following me jumped ship and went with him. I have an intense dislike of the logo and eagle symbol of Val d'Isère because the place has developed into a vile money grabbing hole with the worst of humanity behind it all. Skiing is not important to them - only money grabbing. I just continued my own pace and they slowly pulled ahead to perhaps about 150m. This would have been fine except the Val idiot kept looking back at each hairpin to check my position and that started to annoy me. The skinny guy who had gone with him just minded his own business and never looked back once. I decided to have some fun with Val d'Isère and psyche him out. Each time he checked me out I'd wait until he had finished that then accelerate and closed the gap a bit. Steadily the gap reduced but each time he turned I was just pedalling in a relaxed manner. This continued until on the last hairpin I passed him and accelerated off ahead on the flat.
All the way up this 6k of hairpins we were confronted with wave after wave of morons in sports cars or motorbikes. At least 50 Porsches bore down on us, usually in waves of 6 or 8. Between each wave of Porsches there would be a train of bikes. Noisy, stupid bikes! This was topped off by a couple of convoys of Ferraris. I guess this is what you have to do if you waste your time and money on that crap. Fortunately the road was closed by the time we got to the top section of the climb.
Well, my plan to conserve energy was shot but at least I was having fun. It was now hard work and the next 3k was a "faux plat" where I had to work hard to keep up speed. I could hear gear changing behind me so knew that someone was drafting but I had no intention of looking behind. If they were stronger they would overtake and pull me for a while and if not I'd just keep at it myself as long as possible. The final climb is 6k ( now counting down to the summit) with the steepest parts being from km 5.5 to km 3.5 where the gradient moderates somewhat. I know the route well so exactly at km 5 the gradient ramps up to a demoralizing degree and that's where it will get you if you are not up to it. I was on good form so powered on with no issues and my invisible companion remained behind until km 3.5 and then took over the front. It was "skinny" who already showed that he had a good pace on the gentler gradients and he sensed me easing off after the steeps. This was good because it pulled me along for the next 2k. Val d'Isère had cracked and was now out of sight behind. Yes! That really pleased me and there was no question of easing up now. At km 1.5 it gets a bit steeper again so I took over and pulled skinny along. 100m from the top we both eased off and exchanged comments for the fist time. It had been a good climb and I'd done exactly the opposite of what I'd intended with a heart rate well over the red line at 171 bmp at times. Oh well!
There was hot tea and food at the summit. I didn't eat but had some sweet tea and enjoyed the break. The sun was out and I'd pulled down the arm warmers during the second phase of the climb, but the air was still fresh at 2000m. At this point I was still deluding myself that we would all stop after the descent to Beaufort and I could have a hot Beaufort cheese tart and drink in the sunshine on the terrace. I'd clearly forgotten I was with a bunch of manic hardcore cyclist who only live for pain. Without a word the French guys were off. I saw Chris heading off as I was putting on my windbreaker for the long descent but he wobbled between waiting and catching up the others. It was clearly a "no prisoners" event from here on in. To my surprise they actually stopped and regrouped at the Roselend lake where there is a plateau in the descent. This did make it appear that there was some sort of "group" awareness. It was a fast descent from there to Beaufort with a lot of cyclists now climbing the other way. Arriving at Beaufort I could only look longingly at my favourite boulangerie as we floated on by. There was not going to be a tourist pause today. I still hadn't really met Marcel, it was such a friendly bunch (sarcasm), but I'd have preferred lunch.
From Beaufort the pace was ramped up on the flat. I was just hanging in behind Chris but realised I'd be expected to pull my weight in the front. There was going to be no way of sparing my legs for the home stretch. Sitting at the back and wheelsucking when you are not exhausted will only send you to Hell in the eyes of the group. This worked out pretty well because we formed a proper rotation and kept the train motoring along. About 10k further on we overtook a solo cyclist who jumped on the train and pulled his weight all the way to Albertville - giving is a 5 strong peloton and making it better for everyone. It's this spontaneous side of road cycling that's interesting and entertaining. Nobody knew this guy but he just joined our team and everyone benefited – especially him. There was one climb before Albertville and I attacked it from the front. It wasn't steep so I stayed in the big chain wheel and was still strong at the top. The descent into Albertville was slowed a bit by traffic and Richard, who likes to lead the descent was reluctant to overtake. I really enjoy the sport of overtaking cars so I went to the front and launched myself past the vehicles. All the time I knew that my legs would eventually die and my head would go, but I'd resigned to making the most of it while it lasted.
There is a very gradual climb of about 125m altitude from Albertville to Moutiers, with a lot of additional humps along the way, so it's always hard work. The drafting and rotation continued but we were now back down to four. I was enjoying it and got a bit too enthusiastic at times and managed to drop the others without realising it. I was using the Chi technique to maximise power and it was working. Each time I dropped those behind I'd slow down until it was sorted out. Cevins is a watering hole for filling bottles and so Chris and I stopped there but the other two continued at a reduced pace. I'm not keen on this sort of disorganisation personally but I'm even less keen on wasting effort dealing with preventing it. I used my sports drink powder and so Chris started off again before me - once again torn between catching the others or waiting. That's when the inevitable happened - flat tyre! The others were all ahead and so unaware there was a problem. I'd been carrying around a canister of foam for a year now and so was glad for the first ever opportunity to use this high speed and efficient repair solution. I'd have just as well carried a canister of shaving foam because it was completely bloody useless. The foam went in the valve and pumped up the tyre but then spurted out between the valve and the rim! Foam was everywhere except inside the tube apparently. Giving up in disgust I removed the tyre with bare hands and could find no problems with either the tube or the tyre and no explanation for anything that happened. Chris telephoned to ask where I was and as Richard was the only one with a spare tube and CO2 inflation kit so he was sent back about 10k to deal with it. See! Disorganized! The day before I’d had a gear cable snap inside the gear shifter mechanism and spent the evening repairing it – so after going well into the 4th year with not a single mechanical issue ever it’s weird that two happen on consecutive days!
The remaining humps before Moutiers were fine but when I felt in my pocket for another gel I realised there were none left. I'd counted on my Beaufort tart that we had bypassed. In addition those silly gels had been only 67 calories each! So on a 4500 calorie workout I’d managed to only bring 134 calories of fuel in addition to my sports drinks! Short on sugar my legs started to go and suddenly dropped off the pace just before the Tunnel du Saix. It was annoying because I knew that by holding on just a bit longer I'd be able to draft the next 2k including the tunnel and then have the fast descent around Centron. Richard cut out after the climb following the descent around Centron to return home and the others waited there for me. It was hard maintaining the pace now even without the hills so at Aime, knowing there was a climb to Macot I suggest to the others to go at their own pace. I didn't want to hold them back. Marcel however was happy to slow down a bit so with another water refill at Macot we kept together and I started to recover enough to stay at a good pace. I had forced myself to drink more knowing the bottles had sugar and minerals still there and this seemed to help (much more sugar than my actual gels – as I now know). My head was really gone though. Back at Bourg we must have sat at the Tonneau bar for about 2 hours. The circuit had taken 4:32hrs and normally it takes me 5hrs when going as hard as possible. By this time the ability to eat was crushed and only Chris could manage to swallow a sandwich – which he always manages to do.
Sleeping at night was destined to be a non-starter. When the body has been pushed to this level it rebels and the aches seem to reach deep down into the bones. Predictably the night was short, going to bed about 1am and rising restlessly at 7:30am after waking at 6:30am. The recovery workout later in the afternoon was however very surprising. Normally my energy levels are like a completely flattened car battery after a day like that - but astonishingly I felt quite good and was able to reach 150 bpm heart rate when climbing. Normally about 138 would be the limit. Clearly there was an underlying tiredness though and a slightly sore throat. On going to bed this following night, I'd entered the room in the dark and gone straight under the covers. Meanwhile Christiane was sitting upright on the end of the bed doubled over with a stomach pain and I'd walked past her an inch away without seeing her. She became angry with me and so jumped up on the bed as I went under the covers, spreading her arms and growling like a mad bear. I was already instantly blissfully asleep though and didn't hear any of it! She gave up.
I notice that as well as my fitness level improving in terms of performance and recovery there is also a metabolic shift. After several months of constant weight gain suddenly the weight is falling off – two kilos disappearing in two weeks (after re-hydration). Looks like I need this level of aerobic activity to have an efficient metabolism or else I just grow fat. Encouragingly, Marcel who was fitter and stronger than me is aged 65 – so it shows that age is not the critical factor in this game!
The mobile ant colony was last seen hanging on to the roof of the car. It seems they were feeding on sticky stuff falling from the trees onto the roof and then using this to help hang on when I was driving. Either they now go into hiding when I approach the car or they have abandoned the car completely realising that the world is perhaps not ready for mobile ant colonies.