Whilst we 10 cols had been decided some time back there was doubt over the Dome as the climb is a single track which was under repair and closed at the time of organising the event. The week before we left, Rick confirmed the climb was not open and so we switched to the Col De Republique which although not so tough, is fabled as being the first ever tour col.
And so the itinerary was set
Simon and Marina were already in central Europe as Simon was entered in the Maritona dles Dolomites. Will and Sue would join us over the weekend.
So Stu, Rick, Colin and I met up in Clermont Ferrand mid-afternoon on Saturday 7th July.
With the afternoon upon us, we decided to go to the Dome anyway. Stu, Rick and Colin drove to the train station half way up then took the train (the only available way up) to the top.
I peddled from the hotel to the station just for a warm up and a proper test of the new stealth machine which was rolling nicely up the climb
The view from the top was great and there was a superb visitor’s centre.
Having taken it all in for an hour or so, time to roll back and get some grub
Whilst the accent was very good, I soon realised the problem with a light road bike, it just bounces everywhere. So a little cautiously, I descended, only managing to set off one speed radar.. ha ha…
Total Ascent 1845 ft
Total Distance 12.43 miles
Day 2 (Sunday 8th July)
It’s an early start with a fair drive in front of us. The alps are calling. But on the way, we have the Col De Republique to open up with.
Finding a car park right at the very base, we got our kit together and not being entirely sure of what was to come, we set off. We are all in great spirits to finally be tackling the challenge.
Colin had recently been in a pretty serious accident and was the brunt of much merry abuse. Seeing I was a little in front of the group, I stopped for some photos and a bit of video to record our first ascent, and oh how funny Colin thought it was as he tried to repeat his accident by keeping his head down and forcing me almost over the roadside parapet as I took photos. Ta Colin… ha ha
Total Ascent 1853 ft
Total Distance 7.96 miles
Hhmm, not sure I should have worn the “Livestrong” kit. Lance was in the press for all the wrong reasons (well, it’s tour 3 weeks again..!) and I times I felt like a target for the French drivers…..
Climb one done, off to the Alp’s proper
The Col de la Croix de Fer seems to have been a climb that Rick has detested for some time. I can’t recall if he said why but for some time he’d been saying what a challenge it was.
It was definitely our longest climb although not the highest
This was to be our first real test.
We started from Allemond at the base of a reservoir and were faced with an immediate climb up the dam face (by road, not rope although at times you couldn’t tell the difference).
Then, lulling us into a false sense of ease, we trundled around the edge of a glorious lake for some miles
And then, just as you’ve settled into a nice rhythm and progressing through the village, the road descends. Yes, all that hard work dissolves as you plummet several hundred metres in height on the twistiest of hairpins you can imagine, all so you can get a bit more climbing in..! Hooray..!
Having taken on the descent, the climb kicks back all well over 10% right up to the next reservoir
Being above the dam, the views open up and now I can see the split where the Croix and the Glandon split
Spurred on by the fantastic scenery and really happy to be riding, the summit approaches.
Yes Rick is mostly right, it’s viscous, but once above the 2nd reservoir, what a beautiful rolling ascent it is, out the saddle and rolling well, I crested the Col with Stu and Colin not so far behind.
I think Colin’s body language says it all. Tough but good
Total Ascent 4797 ft
Total Distance 17.42 miles
Day 3 (Monday 9th July)
Today holds 2 classic and fabled climbs. Alpe D’huex and Deux Alpes. There’s a bit of nerves around the breakfast table and talk tends to revolve around our first day of all very real and very steep mountains.
We stayed at Duex Alpes overnight and over a lazy breakfast just soaked up the view’s out the window as we got reports from home of the rain. Even though nervous outside, smiling inside.
Alpe D’Huex first. We set off from the base at Le Bourg-d’Oisaons
Over the small bridge at the bottom and it’s immediately up and constant. Loving the tempo of the climb and imagining I’m one of the great’s who’s names are plastered all over the road, it was an absolute blast.
Stu had heard somewhere that 1,000 cyclists ride it every day in the summer. I can believe that. It was a constant ribbon of bikes both up and down the climb.
There’s an official finish early in the town but we decided to take the classic tour end at the summit.
As it levelled out a bit in the town, I glanced at my garmin and realised I was only just at an hour. Smiling inside, I had a blast to the final line and crested at 1:08. A very happy bunny indeed
We then regrouped and enjoyed a very long and well deserved 2 hour lunch as we watched, clapped and cheered riders reaching the summit
Both Sue and marina also joined us on the climb and it was fabulous to see them both conquer it especially as marina hasn’t been riding too long and Sue has no real climbing experience at all.
Fantastic ladies, well done!
Total Ascent 3559 ft
Total Distance 8.83 miles
Not a good afternoon for me.
With Simon and Will, we decided to descend D’Huex and ride to the start of the climb.
It’s not so far but it is a very lumpy route and having been honked many times through dark tunnels, it was far from an enjoyable 45 minute ride.
I got to the bottom and my feet were hurting. For those of you that know me well, this is not good.!
Stu, Colin and Will set off ahead of me. To start with, all was mostly ok but by the 2nd hairpin, I was in heaps of pain and trouble. I got dropped big time and it was all I could do to turn the pedals. My feet were screaming.
I got to the top eventually and couldn’t get off. It was all I could do not to throw up from the pain.! Colin tried to help me off but I just couldn’t.
I sat there for a bit recovering. Finally getting off, I sat on a bench for 20 minutes, but not feeling any better I thought I’d better get to the hotel.
Bugger, it’s another few hundred metres of climbing, probably a few km’s too!
I got there, dropped the bike off at the car and left everything. The group were in the bar watching the tour. I joined them relieved at having made it and it absolute pain and turmoil. Could I make it for 4 full mountains..?? The doubt had set in.
Total Ascent 3364 ft
Total Distance 16.10 miles (includes from base of D’Huex)
We were late into diner, or rather they closed early. Feeling tired from the earlier pain episode, I ate and retired early, spending an hour fettling and packing out my shoes with a vittoria inner tube box.! Necessity, the mother of invention.
I was also over geared. I had a compact but it didn’t fit so was riding 39 x 29 and it was ok for one or two climbs, but the effort was more than I think I could manage for 4.
After much discussion and attempts at trying to buy Campag in France (impossible, would you believe it..!) I found a new hero within our own club.
Stu had the brainwave that Rob Martin-Smith had just what I needed. I then recalled he had said as much only a few weeks earlier. I called Rob and what a star. He packed it up and then drove it to Paul Carr in Baldock. Paul was coming to the Pau later in the week, in plenty of time for the Etape and so he bought it with him.
What absolute star’s you both are, helping me out in a time of crisis. Only in Icycle. Superb.!
Day 4 (Tuesday 10th July)
A new day, now recovered and new challenges ahead.
Today is another classic day. Galibier and Izoard or as Colin later named it “Col de IsHard..”
Feet feeling fragile but pain free we set off in the car to Valloire
This was the big one. Much nervous chatter, but at just after 10am we’re off and immediately up.
The climb is a good grade and long, generally 8% or more up throughout the valley up to the lodge / café at the base of the hill. As you approach it, you can see the road climbing up on your right.
It’s then you realise that what you’ve ridden wasn’t even the warm up.!
Turning hard right into the first climb, the hard work kicks in and up you go. The view down the valley is breath taking.
Stu’s ridden this several times so take the truck to the top and rides down. After about 30 minutes or so, he descends pass me with a wave and hooks up with Simon for the climb back up.
The numbers of cyclist is incredible. The views just get better as you climb.
In the saddle, the riding is tough pushing my big gear but at least the shoe fettling seems to have helped.
Out of the saddle and the air is noticeably thinner and the heart rate leaps up. So calm down, find your pace and push up.
Taking a breather just under the summit, so friendly German tourists get chatting to me after their tough ride up in a camper van… !
Total Ascent 4411 ft
Total Distance 18.25 miles (ascent only)
So on to the Col d’Izoard. The only Col that seems to go downhill..!
The afternoon is “scorchio” so we decide to hold fire and ride at 4pm when the height of the day has passed.
Have listening to Simon, there seem to be two options.
1) A straightforward ride up the col from the hotel and back. Maybe 15 miles all in or
2) Ride down the valley for about 20 miles, turn left up the valley at the end, turn left again and ascend and the roll down the col to the hotel. Heck shouldn’t be more than 2 hours.
So the sun’s out and we have a two hour ride ahead. Bliss.
After just over an hour, we came to the end of the simple roll down the valley. The road was hideously busy and the wind was extreme. Stu standing on the flat just to keep moving.
What made it worse is that Stu Colin and I thought Simon and Merina were with us somewhere and suffering too, but we had no idea where they were.
Turning left, at least the wind eased. The Izoard started quite soon but it was flat. That can’t be right.
After riding for another hour (now 18:30hrs) the 3 of us arrive at the base of the ascent
We’re now getting a bit hungry. Colin is tired and is dropped. The thunder storm hits and the roads are wet. So are we.!
This is a beast. It constantly rises at close to 10% for absolutely miles and the, as you pass through Brunissard, it kicks up and up well over 10% for miles.
At 3:45 hrs into the ride, the next sign say’s the gradient is nil. At last, that must mean the end is in sight. It’s about 2km’s to the summit. But no.! It descends! All that climbing to be repeated. I’m totally dismayed and what makes it worse is that to regain the loss, it kicks up harder.
I crested the climb after 3:30 hours, wet, cold and hungry. Even Stu struggled to force a smile. Colin is broken
We descended, freezing cold and shivering as quickly as we dared. Daredevil Stu was gone. Colin and I followed a bit slower, shaking uncontrollably all the way down until we finally started to get some benefit of the warmth off the road.
When we get back to the hotel (about 20:30), we discover that Simon and Marina are still out there.
They got really caught out by the weather and distance but managed to blag a lift part way up but by the time they get to the summit, its dark, so it’s time to go get them in the car
Colin’s right, they got the name of this Col wrong!
Total Ascent 4411 ft
Total Distance 18.25 miles (ascent only)
It’s hot, mid 30’s
There are 2 options today.
1) Ride from Sault which is less step but longer
2) Ride from Bedoin, shorter, steeper and the classic tour route.
Stu has done the climb many times before and decides on a rest day.
Rick, Will, Marina and Sue take option 1.
Colin, Simon and I take option 2. Well, we would wouldn’t we.!
It’s hard almost from the off. Struggling with the heat, there is no shade from the tree’s which also mean there’s no breeze and we’re frying in the afternoon sun. It’s not less than 10% anywhere, in fact when it drops to 10%, it almost feels like a relief. It’s endless!
Clearing the tree line, at last there’s a breeze blowing. As group one set off well before us, they are already at Chalet Reynard having a deserved break. I roll on and up. In theory my worse was over but it is just relentless.
You see the radio mast from miles away and it creeps oh so slowly nearer but then you have it in your grasp. One final hard push and a massively step hairpin and yes, I’ve made it with Stu shouting out heaps of encouragement. Epic.
Total Ascent 5122 ft
Total Distance 13.22 miles (ascent only
That night, Stu and I had pondered over what we’d achieved during the trip so far. Amazed at the amount of climbing he’d completed, we had a quick tot up.
105.29 miles and 28,901 ft ascended.
That equated to an average gradient of 8% for the entire 105 miles!
Time for a rest day or two.
Day 6 (Thursday 12th July)
Transfer to Pau and register for the Etape
Day 7 (Friday 13th July)
Rest and fettling day
Day 8 (Saturday 14th July)
Etape Act 2
Nerves are with all of us but we’re feeling more confident now having put several mountains behind us.
It’s an early start. In the pens for 6am ready for the first pens starting just around 7am.
A short ride into Pau and we’re in our pens.
Colin manages to have another accident by sticking his front wheel down a gully and ends up with a knee bandage but I think it’s an early excuse
The pens roll out in a very well organised way, but the weather is turning. The mountains are covered in cloud and it’s cold, maybe 10 degrees only
Rick was off first, Stu and Will were in the next pen, Simon and I in two further on and Colin in the last pen. There’s about 10 minutes between pens which hold about 1200 people in each which is how the mass start is managed.
Colin is worried as the timing car starts right behind him and he has the biggest risk of getting swept.
But no worries as the first 20 miles is a fast roll out and the average speed is well up.
Group riding skills were critical to save energy and we all used all our skill to save reserves. Everyone says that the Tourmalet is the break point. Get over the top and your just about home and dry, you shouldn’t get caught.
As we climb to the Aubisque, the cloud moves in and you can see nothing. The weeks riding comes into play and you start tapping out your rhythm and you soon settle into your pace. Catching Rick and Will who aren’t that far apart that means Stu and Simon are ahead. There’s nothing to look at, visibility is maybe 100ft.
As you climb, it gets cold, so by the top I’m freezing and wet. No waterproofs to speak of just my Mavic gillet and lycra arm warmers. I’m cold to the bone. Here comes the descent. I can’t see with spec’s on and so take them off. It’s just as bad. I can’t see and at 40mph the cloud stings in your eyes. I’m so cold I can barely touch the brakes. I get Trans Wales flash backs of dying on a mountain top. ! Not fun.
Finally the road starts to warm and so heat comes up. Then it dries a little and you’re out of the cloud. The bike is shaking from shivering. As it bottoms out, I start to pedal but the knees and legs are so cold they hurt turning.
Slowly the body comes back to life and non to soon as the Tourmalet is next. Thinking it’s going to hurt, I start easy. There are many, many who are already suffering. I see many packed at the base of the Aubisque but I’m determined to carry on.
Time for a stop at the lower Tourmalet feed station. I grab a piece of cake, 2 bites, throw the rest and move on. Hang on, Simon’s here and not looking to good. A quick chat and I’ve lost him in the crowd so I press on.
It’s a repeat of the Aubisque. Nothing to see, it’s cold, it’s wet, it hurts, but the head is tapping out the pace and onwards and upwards
It’s under 5 degrees at the top. Descending the Tourmalet in pouring rain and wind I take it pretty steady. Most are coming down about my pace, although some could walk down quicker. They must be frozen. Get off the mountain as quick and safely as I can, that’s all that’s in the head.
Immediately you’re down and it’s up the Aspen.
This isn’t so bad and I seemed to have warmed a bit although it’s still wet. Climbing Aspen felt good and I was feeling strong. In the head, I’ve beaten it and I’m homeward bound. Just one to go.
There’s a run out down the valley and then the final climb of the Peyresourde. I’m starting to get tired now but it’s only 4 miles to the top then a massive descent to the finish.
Only 30 minutes or so of pain and it’s over, you just know it’s in the bag.
Tired as I am, over the top, gillet on again and hurtle down. Easily the best descent of the day and into the final town.
There’s are 3 or 4 guys in front. Bugger, a Frenchman. I can tell he’s French as his shorts are like Speedo’s. He’s not going to beat me to the line so the sprint kicks in. I take his wheel at 25mph for the final 1k and in true Cavendish style pop out with 200 to go and nail it big style to take him on the line. Classic stuff….., Stuffed but a huge grin inside.
Now, find Sue, warm up and food. Now, if only I had Sue’s phone number……
So the event is over.
5 of us finish with only Simon suffering from the cold and fatigue.
What an adventure
Full member of the 10 Col Velo, completing my first ever Etape and riding many of the most fabled climbs in Europe.
When are you going..?