Back in Le Cheylard, Danny who runs the tour had organised for the group to have a tour through the Corima factory. The Corima factory is located in Loriol-sur-Drome, a nice long decent through the valley from Le Cheylard. A nice cruise down to the factory, we were introduced and taken into the showroom. Most bicycle companies have a showroom either in or next to their reception area which usually displays memorabilia and displays key products that they sell. After looking around the showroom, we were taken to a small theatre to watch a film on the history of Corima and the wheel building process. From there we were taken to the factory where you can see the wheels being built. There are staff are cutting carbon and some laying the carbon into the moulds for the wheels. So you can actually view the process of the rim being built. Post tour it was lunch time, and we found a restaurant in nearby La Voulte to fuel up for the return trip home!
When leaving we took the opportunity to check out another old Chateau. We rode up a short climb to the chateux which provided beautiful views, you could the see Alpes in the distance and another photo opportunity next to some of the beautiful old buildings and ruins J The ride back was uphill through the Valley winding through all the gorgeous little villages on the way.. The boys took off at pace that I couldn’t hold and the group behind me wasn’t quite riding at the pace I wanted to hold. So it was a 50km time trial by myself all the way to Le Cheylard! The heavens decided to open up just coming in Le Cheylard and I was drenched from head to foot! Thankfully it was only a few minutes from home, amazing how drenched you can get in a short period of time…
Mount Ventoux - We made it!
Mount Ventoux was something Russ talked about a lot.. a lot. It his favourite climb, and after completing I can understand why.. It’s another climb where you don’t want to have incorrect gearing. If you can make it easier on yourself, your legs, knees you… get the gist, the better. Mount Ventoux stands at 1,912meters above sea level, the climb is not quite like the other Alpes.. It tends to head straight up more often than wind, that’s where the challenge is… We jumped out of the bus and started the ride just before the town of Bedoin which is located at the base of Mount Ventoux. A little bit of a warm up before we hit the climb… You think you are on the climb, and then you definitely know when you are on the climb. A few gradual corners and then it goes up! The first part of the climb makes it way through a forest section which is very protected and gets very little air flow or wind (it would tough on a hot day!), lucky it was reasonably cool. I found the key to riding Mount Ventoux is to get yourself into good rhythm. I found a gear that I could constantly turn over and made damn sure I turned over as quickly as I could each revolution.. It was working well and I had pretty good cadence going up the climb. I was passing a lot of people, dropping a lot of people who tried to stay with me……..except for Russ and the young guys who were up ahead. Russ said to me the climb gets easier when you hit the moonscape, I was waiting for the moonscape! He was right, I’m not sure if it’s because of the surroundings, as it really is quite unique and nothing I had see before. So high up that nothing grows up there, just rocky terrain and an amazing view.. I am convinced though that the gradient much change a little as I managed to change to harder gear and climb quite strongly to the summit.. A huge cloud formed as I was approaching the top and it started to drizzle. This was okay while climbing, but upon arriving at the top and meeting the Russ the temperature dropped dramatically and I was forced to put the layers back on. Another photo to prove we made it :-)
It was then time for the was super fast decent down to Malaucene. The decent has long stretches into some hairpins and slightly wider corners, with a set of Zipp 303’s on my bike I was gaining speed so quickly that I found myself clutching on the breaks to slow myself down! The last time Russ was here climbing Ventoux he managed to clock 100kph on one of the sections.. Yep it’s fast!
Finally at the bottom it was that time again, food. As mentioned in a previous post, the one thing you learn pretty quickly in France is that everything shuts from 12.30 and only a few restaurants stay open.. Finding it hard to find somewhere suitable, we managed to grab a hot coffee and lucky the Super U supermarket was still open to stock up on supplies.. When everyone had regrouped at the bottom it was time to jump on the bus and head back to Le Cheylard. Russ and I have worked out that next time we come here that we will ride to Mount Ventoux. It would be quite a good commute to ride from Le Cheylard to a nearby town like Saint Paul Trois Chateux where I stayed when I was 18. Stay the night and then the next day ride to the climb and up Ventoux. So it’s on next years agenda!
The remainder of our trip was riding around the Ardeche region from our base in Le Cheylard. We had some amazing rides around the area, experiencing all the towns and villages that are nestled into the mountains. The roads surrounding Le Cheylard are very quiet and when there are cars on the road they are extremely patient and respectful towards cyclists on the roads. Something that I miss a lot now that I’m back home in Australia. Sometimes you would hear a car horn toot, but it’s usually to say hello and the drivers are waving at you as they go past. Unbelievable! I really want to move there :-) Russ decided that we would do a ride to Privas, which is a major university town and a lot bigger than Le Cheylard. Our legs were pretty tired from some of the major climbs we had been doing, but the ride started off with the decent down the valley road. But like everything around there, for every downhill there is a uphill, then a downhill, then a uphill… you get the theme. After climbing for 20+ kilometres we descended down into to Privas where it was market day! Wondering around we checked out the markets, and came across the biggest block of nougat I have ever seen!
Out of Privas and we were climbing again, for which seemed like an eternity. My legs were hurting… A nice head/cross wind to contend with along the ridgeline all the way to Mezilac, yep that hurt too. And then nice long descent back into Le Cheylard. Ahh descending.. It’s something that you look forward too.
The following day we road to the town of Tournon, where we followed the theme of ride coffee, pizza, ride :-) Russ, the young English boys and myself rode through many small towns climbing and descending, a long day in the saddle in perfect weather. Lunch was in Tournon and a bottle refill in Lamastre on the way home.. Stopping for many photo opportunities throughout the ride. The ride finished with the nice gradual descent from Les Nonniers into Le Cheylard.
Wind turbines leaving Saint Agreve
On one of our final days we did a long ride that took us up through Saint Martial, up to Gerbier de Jonc, across the plateau through Fay-sur-Lignon all the way to Saint Agreve for lunch. It was great to ride a long the plateau giving the legs a rest from climbing.. Saint Agreve ended up having the cheapest coffee in France. 1 Euro!! Leaving Saint Agreve we seemed to hit a patch of road that was being resurfaced with lots of loose stones. Cars were passing slowly thankfully however, when almost at the end of the resurfacing a truck was coming the way and not slowing down!! I waved to the drive to slow down but he didn't seem to notice and I got machine gunned with hundreds of loose stones!! The return trip home was past the massive wind turbines that are just out of Saint Agreve and another super fast descent down into Les Nonniers and home :-)
The remaining days at Le Cheylard we went through some of the other small villages that we had experienced earlier in our trip like Lamastre, Chalencon and Les Nonniers checking out the old buildings and beautiful scenery of the region.
We experienced and saw so much in the 3 weeks that we were there, and the trip went by at nice relaxing pace, it felt like we had been away from Australia for a good length of time. Russ is heading back there next year to do the tour and I will also spend some time there in between my races in Europe. I can’t wait to go back! It’s definitely somewhere where I could see myself living. The lifestyle and relaxed pace of life suits me :-)
The commute to Le Bourg-d'Oisans
Okay so part 2 is long…but there was no other way to write it. So find a comfortable seat..
The small town of Vif is exactly that, a small town… Not too much happens here, but it’s nice, not too busy and perfect base for the next few days. There are a couple of café/bar type establishments, little supermarket, a couple of patisseries (there is usually at least 4!) and all the other major conveniences you may need.. Our hotel for the next 3 days was providing breakfast and dinners, similar to Le Cheylard and so it was our duty to load up on fuel in between. Russ and I headed down to the little supermarket to stock up, another chance to use our ‘pigeon French’..
Our first ride to Le Bourg-d’Oisans wasn’t what I expected.. It’s all up hill for 50km! Not one of those steep suckers, just a long drawn out gradient enough to take the zip out of your legs should you not pace it correctly. It’s a deceiving one, sometimes it doesn’t look like your climbing….but you feel it! I was riding with Russ and the young Pommy boys again, so the day started fairly quick as per usual. Anyone who knows me, knows it takes me a good 100km to warm up :-)
Coming into Le Bourg-d’Oisans was a preview of what was to come.. Pelotons of cyclists! Yes, it was cyclist heaven and the build up to the TDF mecca. So the deal is you jump on the bunch that is moving the quickest and you TT it into town! I would have to say arriving into Bourg Oisans I feeling entirely great, also knowing that I had to climb Alpe D’Huez in this condition wasn’t appealing. I really don’t like having sucky days on the bike...
Arriving at Alpe D’Huez
So we made our way to the start of the climb and Russ says to me, the climb through the first 5 corners are the worst and the corners will give you some respite before the climb kicks you in arse again! He said “only go into your 28 as a last resort”. So really that gear on your cassette it’s like ‘your last playing card in the deck’. We put this gear ratio on before leaving home, very good idea I might add. Hitting the climb heading up towards the first corner click, 26, click 27.. heck I’m almost there!! Around the corner and then on to the 2nd …….click, 28! And yes that is where I stayed :-) The climb was a grovel ….for me. However, I was constantly looking around having to keep an eye on the thousands of cyclists heading up and down the climb. There people of all sorts of abilities, people with all sorts of bikes, bike set ups and unique riding styles. There were also a lot of vehicles making their way up the mountain as it was only 2 days until the stage finished on top of Alpe D’Huez. You had to have your wits about you! For me the entertainment was in the crowds that had set up camp on each corner, all you can smell is BBQ’s, cigarette smoke and Euro music.. The trashy Eurovision style music (yes gold I know) and on one corner some German October fest stein clinking sing-along number... Every person, on every corner is cheering you up the climb. Bike racing spectators in Europe aren’t just the lycra clad kind, everyone seems to follow it (ie. the beer drinking, smoking variety). Given I was riding a BMC and wearing the team kit I was often referred to as Cadel…. It would have been nice to have his climbing legs to get up this sucker. I finally made it to the top, where it’s cycling chaos and drinking/partying chaos. People everywhere! I found the boys, we waited on a couple of others, had our photo opportunity and descended back down for lunch.
Arriving at Les Deux Alpes
Bourg Osians was busy.. The TDF cycling mecca I mentioned :-) Lucky us we stumbled across a restaurant where the waiter spoke a little broken English making ordering easy for some.. I say some because Russ seemed to be confused with his counting in French still J Everywhere we went Russ always ordered trios of everything, when really all we wanted was 2 serves or 2 coffees! So 3 plates of hot chips later it was time to leave and make our way to Vif. As I mentioned previously we climbed on the way out, so I’m thinking beauty it’s descending home! However, that’s the way the wind blows, so each day a block headwind on the return. Still it’s downhill, bonus! The return trip to Vif became the standard way to commute home each day. It was a full gas 50-60kph TT back to Vif! My Ironman pace hovers at 35kph….so I was well out of my comfort zone. I was holding on for dear life and a little weary when we got back.
Day 2 in Vif and we ventured up to Le Bourg-d’Oisans once again as it’s the gateway to the Alpine climbs. It took the 50km commute to shift the remnants of the previous day riding. Arriving in Bourg Oisans Russ and I regrouped with three guys from the pommy crew and we made our way up Les Deux Alpes. Leaving Le Bourg-d’Oisans the ride takes in the first half of the Lauteret climb and for some unknown reason my legs starting working again! Got to love that! It’s pretty much a climb to Gardette with a couple of tunnels and downhills thrown in.. We regrouped in Gardette which resides on Lac du Chambon and then started climbing up to Les Deux Alpes which is 9km to the village. This was one of my favourite climbs of the trip, a nice gradient and amazing views. It did however get a little chilly towards the top and I found myself putting on my rain jacket to keep dry and warm from the slight shower. A nice cup of hot chocolate and a pizza for lunch and I was all fuelled up for the return trip home!
Riding to Alpe D’Huez to watch the Tour de France
Day 3 was stage ….. of the Tour de France and it was going to be my first time experiencing the event! Back packs on and we were on for the 50km commute to Le Bourg-d’Oisans once again! You could tell today that something big was going on! Bumper to bumper traffic and pelotons of cyclists. Approaching Le Bourg-d’Oisans we were flying along from bunch to bunch and we seemed to get into the village very quickly! Upon arriving you could feel atmosphere and there were people everywhere. We were lucky to have somewhere to store our bikes at the bottom of the climb and we then made our way up the first couple of corners for our viewing spot. Opting to stay near the bottom for a quick departure... For anyone who hasn’t experienced the Tour before like me, it’s a bit of buzz! First of all the carnival of floats and sponsors make there way up the mountain, then the team cars come through before cyclists make their way up the climb. The floats are pumping music and throwing out freebies to crowd for a good 20mins to 30mins before the riders come through. Everything from hats, lollies, key rings, washing powder and sausages! Don’t ask… After collecting our loot we waited for the first cyclists to hit the mountain. What surprises you the most is the speed that they go past at, especially when you consider the grovel that you went through getting up the climb! It was everything I expected, people screaming at the cyclists up the climb, the bikes and TV crews flying past… Of course we went nuts when Cadel went past!! We were willing that dude to win the damn thing! :-) It’s not long and we started making our way off the mountain, Stuart O’Grady goes past and we go nuts again! Love O’Grady, definitely one of my favourite riders. Collecting our bikes at our storage location, Russ and I got out of town pretty quick and the TT home was on again. It was the usual game of sit on Russ’s wheel and don’t drop off! I have a love/hate relationship with it, it hurts so much…..but I know it makes me better :-)
Cancellera... one very powerful dude!
Finally day 4 is a rest day for us. Well kind of… Walking around all day around Grenoble watching the time trial stage, we still spent the whole day on our legs. So not a rest day in my books.. But an opportunity to give my butt a break from the saddle, very welcomed I can assure you.
The time trial stage for me was a chance to check out the new TT bling. Given the professional cycling teams have all the newest and greatest gear I wasn’t disappointed. Watching them come out of the start house is pretty cool, especially when Fabian Cancellara appeared. That guy is one big power machine…very cool! We watched cyclist, after cyclist for some time and also spent part of the day checking out the city of Grenoble. And my other hobby eating :-)
To break the day up we decided to go up in the cable car to Bastille Hill. It’s an ancient series of fortifications overlooking the city of Grenoble. The fort was used to survey and control the city of Grenoble and the valleys of the Isere and the Drac, from the 19th century. Built into the cliffs near the fort is a series of linked caves which were built in 1844 as part of their defence, they are known as the Mandrin Caves. You are able to go through the caves which are like grottos, so while up the mountain we decided to venture through and check them out. To think that they hid in these cold damp caves, and making their way through all the tunnels in order to defend the city. Not a fan of closed in spaces…and the dark! I was kind of keen to move through them pretty quickly..
Teams had their bikes set up ready to go
The tourist part of our day was over and it was time to head back to see the remaining cyclists time trial around Grenoble. More importantly we were there to watch Cadel make history! We found a spot to sit and watch the final cyclists come through.. Contador, Voeckler, Frank Schleck… then Cadel! Surrounded by a number of Aussies you could see them starting their watches and then waiting for Andy Schleck to come through! Schleck went through, but we were quite a distance from the finish so we still didn’t know the end result.. I couldn’t believe how nervous I was!! Schleck had a 57 second cushion on Cadel, but Cadel was known for his time trialling ability. Cadel was flying and delivered the most impressive time trial to put 1min 34sec gap between him and Schleck!! Cadel had won the Tour! All Cadel had to do was cross the finish line on the final stage in Paris on the Champs-Élysées to secure the Tour de France! The final stage in Paris was something that we watched back in Le Cheylard on TV….the Poms told us not to gloat :-)
I have written this in 3 parts, as there is so much to tell. Also because I didn’t get a chance to do this when I was overseas….usually due to being too tired to make the small shuffle to the library.. So now here it is. It’s like a story book!
It’s so many years since I have been in France, and when the plane touched down in Europe I immediately felt that I had come home…
The journey is a long one, Australia seems so far away from everywhere except New Zealand! Our flight over included stops in Hong Kong, Munich and then to our final destination in Lyon. Hong Kong airport for anybody who has not been there, is huge! When you see gate numbers 501 + you know there is some serious walking to be done! Lucky, we were in the 40’s but with 3 hours until our next flight we found ourselves exploring the airport. Our venture around the airport landed us in small coffee shop where we ordered a couple of lattes.. They were made and came out so quickly that we both immediately came to the conclusion the coffee was going be average. But to our amazement it was one of the best coffee’s that we have had and it ended up being so for the rest our holiday!!
Arriving at our final flight destination in Lyon we still had bus trip to endure to our final destination in Le Cheylard. Le Cheylard is a small town in the Ardeché region of southern France approx 160km from Lyon. The one thing I realised when we were travelling to Le Cheylard in the final 50km is that we were travelling along a long winding uphill road and every road off this main road seemed to go up! It was truly quaint; the little villages that we passed through were nestled into the ridge line and the stone buildings were built so long ago… I found myself drifting off into my own little dream world trying to create a vision of what it must have been like so many years ago. On the way to Le Cheylard our host pointed out an old railway line that has been converted into a multi purpose trail for mountain bikers, trail walkers and runners.. It goes for miles and passes right through Le Cheylard. Even though we were here to ride our road bikes, I knew I wanted to come back again to run that trail!
Our base in Le Cheylard
So our main base for our trip was going to Le Cheylard. Russ and I had joined a bike tour “Danny Le Gatt Tours” however, the majority of the people on the trip where friends and people we knew. So we were looking forward to catching up and getting in some exciting rides. For both of us our main goal trip was to ride as much as possible and get some cycling base mileage into our legs. Looking at the terrain and riding options, it wasn’t going to be a problem!
We seemed to have arrived during a bit of cold snap, the weather wasn’t as warm as it usually is at this time year. One of our first rides we found ourselves layering up, given the mountain region there was a possibly to experience inclement weather however, this time of year was usually quite warm. With the group we made our way up a climb to Mezilac and then onto Gerbier de Jonc. The young guys were flying up the climb, Russ was there with them and then I was chasing …..trying to hold on a little further back. It was a bit chilly at the top, we had climbed to 1,475m and like all good cyclists do found ourselves a great little spot for food and coffee. The one thing that we learnt quickly in France was……there is no such thing as good coffee. Seriously you French people need to get it together! It tastes like tar... Admittedly the coffee warmed me up, and we were off again for the decent back down. We made our way through another 3 small towns, Saint Martial which has beautiful large recreational lake and then eventually back into Le Cheylard.
Our first 5 days were spent riding around the surrounding areas of Le Cheylard. Every day we started with our croissants at breakfast, made our way up and out of Le Cheylard to many small towns in the region such as Lamastre, Saint Agreve, Chalencon, Les Nonniers, stopped for lunch and then made our back home again. All the shops in most towns close between 12.30pm and 3pm however, restaurants are still open serving meals. All the riding making us super hungry, we found ourselves consuming large meals in the middle of day.. Pizza became my meal of choice :-)
Part of our trip was also staying 3 days in the small town of Vif which is not far from Grenoble and 50km to Bourg Oisans. Our bus trip to Vif was not without humour… A decision to take a small country road which eventually became tight rocky road resulted in the bus driver having to turn a bus coach around and head back in the direction we had come. Reversing into a grassy area when it was steadily raining was probably not the best idea. A few minutes later the bus was bogged and everyone was out digging, gathering branches and yes…. pushing the bus. Like we had the strength to push a large coach?!! To the bus drivers credit, she managed to reverse some more, get a bit of momentum going and out of the boggy ditch that had been created. Finally at our destination a cute little hotel :-)
Vif was now our base to experience the famous mountain climbs that the Tour de France travels through each year. And lucky us we were going to be able experience the craziness of Alpe D’Huez and the time trial in Grenoble!