Route des Grandes Alpes – Morzine to Menton
I’ve attempted to finish this post multiple times, even written a very short post for the Buzz blog, but have struggled to finish my own. I’ve finally made myself gather my memories and log them on my online diary. It’s long, and taken me a while to do, so I don’t expect you to read it all but here is a record of my first Routes des Grandes Alpes.
Sadly some of the photos aren’t of that great quality as shared on WhatsApp etc.
A team of 12 cyclists and our awesome one man band support crew and his van, Joe, we wore our Buzz jerseys proud and tackled the Route des Grandes Alpes from Morzine to Menton.
We left Morzine on the morning of Sunday 4th August having packed the van with our day packs (I thought we just carried what we needed in our jersey pockets, but no, for this week we could unload kit into the van, what luxury!) and bags for the week along with tea, coffee, milk, gas stove, sandwiches, cake… I knew this was going to be a great week!
My role for the week was to help guide the group from A to B each day. The catch was however, that I had never before cycled the Route des Grandes Alpes. Thankfully for walkie-talkies, a sense of direction, and Joe’s guidance, I didn’t once get lost. Hurrah!
We also had the lovely Phil and Sarah Sykes to help chivvy everyone along and having done the route once before, could share their experience.
Each day we cycled anywhere between 80km and 120km with roughly 2000m of climbing. Below I have taken a screen shot of the map from each day’s Strava recording, and given a ‘brief’ account.
Morzine to Albertville
The most significant col of the day was Col de la Colombière (which I’d only done once previously, and those last few kilometers, crawling round the rock face, were just as long and tedious as I remembered!) and, because the Aravis was closed, Joe amended the route and we went over Col de la Croix Fry. Oh, and the Col de Marais, which came a little unexpected and pretty much finished most people off for the day. The trick on day 1, I suppose, is to pace yourself for the week ahead, and if you make day 1 hard, the rest will seem a doddle. Right?
Albertville to Saint Jean de Maurienne
Today’s climb was up the Col de la Madeleine and, at 25 kilometers long, my longest climb to date. Sarah Sykes provided good chat for the first part of the climb and then it was time for us to crank it to the top for some food.
We also went up the Lacets du Monvernier, which has 17 impressive hairpins.
Saint Jean de Maurienne to Briançon
Today’s significant climbs were up the Col du Télégrahpe followed by the Col du Galibier. Having never been there before this summer, I’ve now cycled Galibier twice. This was thanks to the Tour de France when we watched Stage 18 at the top of Galibier, followed by Stage 19’s start in Saint Jean de Maurienne. They were an exciting few days, particularly cycling in such an epic storm! It was good to go back without the crowds and enjoy the views again.
Briançon to Barcelonnette
Another epic 20km climb up the Col d’Izoard where I spent the ascent chatting innocently away to Mr Sykes, thinking I’ll pip him at the top. That I did, but he had put time in the bank at the beginning, so Strava had other ideas. Herrumph!
The second climb up Col de Vars was time to show these competitive men that I had fuel in the tank, power in the legs and fire in the belly. With a delayed start, I was determined to have them all by the top. If I want to put the hammer down, I will and I can!
A fun day riding with a head wind on the descent, so we tag-teamed drafting stints.
Barcelonnette to Rimplas
Time trial Thursday up a 25km climb. Yep, really! Today, Joe staggered our start times, setting off in pairs, so that in theory we would, roughly, all get to the top at a similar time. More on this below in the ‘Strava’ section.
After the 25km climb up the Cime de la Bonnette (the highest paved road in France at 2715m) the descent was one of my favourites of the week. We were followed up the col by a fleet of Renault 4s, coughing fumes in to the atmosphere. They are quite funky cars, but a little irritating on the road when you’re trying to cycle up at a half descent pace. I was overheating too I imagine, but at least I didn’t have to pull over and cool down before setting off again. Renault 4 vs Rachael – Rachael won!
Reaching the auberge today was a bit of a mental struggle, pounding against a head wind and then a delightful few kilometers taking us up to Rimplas to really put the final nail in the legs. Luckily I waited at the turn off there, as despite directions, William would have ended up in Menton a day early.
Rimplas to Menton
The final day, just another 90k and up the Col Saint Martin and Col de Torini to go. Easy! In my journal, the first word I’ve written is ‘tired’. When the unexpected Col de Castellon presented itself, I cycled just easy enough to let Phil take the Strava win. You’re welcome.
We then had the most beautiful descent all the way into Menton where the sparkling blue Mediterranean awaited. Yes, we did swim in our cycling kit and some even posed with their bikes standing in the sea. We’d made it, and it felt great!
I’ve given the impression I just blasted each day, but when ‘work’ came in to play, I was still ensuring everyone was getting to the top, re-cycling parts of the rides to bring up the rear and having ‘rests’ whilst waiting to make sure people turned at all the correct turnings (despite having delivered clear instructions!). It was such an amazing trip, none of the photographs do it justice at all. Maybe if I get hold of some of the ones taken with the fancy camera (because there were many!) I’ll update the post.
A very important feature on this ride because quite frankly, if it’s not on Strava did it even happen? Thankfully I had no Garmin/Strava hiccups and each day was recorded beautifully for me to sit and analyse at the end of the day. However, I was put under undue stress by certain fellow cycling members who thought it smart to play the ‘Strava game’ and pip me each day on certain segments. It did add some healthy competition to proceedings and definitely helped to encourage everyone along when they may have been struggling.
Joe even organised a ‘race’ up the Col de on the Thursday. I’d ridden pretty pain free until that day and it’s quite shocking at how much strain you can put on your body when you ‘give it’ that bit more; my gosh did my lower back ache! It was a pretty lonely ride too, albeit stunning. Having set off last, chasing down those in front was brilliant motivation.
There is also nothing quite as satisfying as overtaking someone when they are least expecting it, even if they are a client, and sprinting to the finish. 😁
When all is said and done, no one REALLY cares, I hope, for a Strava record can be affected by so many variables, positively and negatively. It’s just about going out there and having fun, you know what you achieved and ultimately that’s all that matters, isn’t it?
Each night we stayed in very different accommodation. My roommate for the week was the lovely Sarah Peeling of Apeeling Cakes.
Our first night was spent in a ‘château’, a nursing home with this mansion available to us cyclists. We had nearly a whole apartment to ourselves; it was very luxurious. We ate up in the old part of Albertville where the overflow of guests were staying. They had some great views up there.
The second night in Saint Jean de Maurienne was a little less plush, but comfy nonetheless, with dinner in town.
On the third night in Briançon, we we situated on a rather steep hill which thankfully we just had to roll down on our way out the following morning.
On our fourth night, in Barcelonnette, I made the rooky error of ordering a healthy bowl of goodness, when really I just wanted a burger like everyone else. We went and got ice cream afterwards to cheer me up.
Our final night before reaching Menton was spent half way up a mountain in Rimplas, in a hostel where we ate all together with magnificent views.
Our final night, in Menton, was in a great hotel where I took full advantage of the buffet breakfast and re-fuelling after the tough week. Needless to say I definitely didn’t lose any weight that week.
Each day Buzz provided lunch. Pippa (Buzz’s chef at Chalet Mamy) set the standard for day 1. Sarah and I tried to maintain the standard on day 2. But Joe smashed it with the best sandwich making venues, ensuring we were also topped up with the cyclist diet of coffee and cake.
Some of these were local tartelettes, and doughnuts at the top of the Cime de la Bonnette.
Giggle of the day
There were many giggles every day but here are some of the more memorable ones.
Day 1 – I was waiting at a junction to ensure everyone went the correct way and to then bring up the rear. Phil cycled past and I could hear the sound of a radio. Yes, Phil was listening to the cricket for company. Social!
Day 2 – I like to read the hotel manual, what can I say?
Day 3 – That awkward moment when that guy who has missed that bit of sunscreen (or just not rubbed any of it in) is in your group.
Day 4 – “For the 100th time, please do not go into the trailer.”
Day 5 – Recovery and preparation nailed.
Day 6 – Les Enfants Terribles. Sarah Sykes was very cheeky and managed to get us in for dinner sans réservation. Ooo lala.
I can safely say that cycling 25k uphill was tough, and sadly it did not make the local 10k climbs any easier. But my gosh did it do my cycling and fitness a whole lot of good! What a week and what an adventure to remember!