This is a series of posts on my daily rides and other events on our holiday in Bourg d’Oisan in the French Alps. I started to write an account of each ride individually and then thought that I was missing some interesting stuff either side of those rides and thought I would add it for your reading pleasure. It’s a daily diary if you will.
So Far So Good
I was feeling pretty good after the ride to Les Deux Alpes. My legs were hanging in there, especially pitted against the much younger Gavin, and I was happy with the the way the bike was feeling in general. After we got back I had a shower and washed my kit for the next days adventure and hung it out to dry. It was now time for the rest of the group to show up.
Three different families arrived all at once. One family were sharing the chalet with us, the others in a chalet across the other side of the campsite. We had not seen these guys for two years, so again it was a lovely reunion. They seemed as excited as us to be there and that’s always a cool feeling. They unpacked and settled into the chalet easily enough and then we settled down for some food.
Fresh Bread, Cheese and Wine
The meal consisted of various cheeses from the region including goat’s and sheep’s cheese, saucisson, pate, fresh bread and some local wines that are stunningly good and only a few euros. It is such a simple meal but so satisfying and if I’m completely honest, one of the reasons why I’m so excited to visit.
Friends and Fruit
Wine and Prep
After the meal we went over to the other chalet to have a few drinks and discuss the cycling opportunities for the next day. Iain had to pick up his bike that he was hiring the next morning so we decided on a relatively close ride to Villard Notre Dame. We finished our drinks and headed for a reasonably early night to be ready for the ride.
The next day Iain and I walked in to town to go to the hire shop. He had booked a bike from a shop called Bleach that has been around a long time and has a good reputation. They are always sold out around Tour time so you must book in advance. I had used them three years previously to hire a Giant Propel with Di2 electronic gears that was great so I knew they would be ok. They quickly sorted him out with his bike and we went back to the campsite to get ready for Iain’s first Alpine cycle.
Ride 4 Villard Notre Dame
Gavin had cycled over and the three of us left from our campsite at the base of Alpe D’Huez. We cycled through the village and then took a left hand turn and headed back north towards the mountain. As you approach you can see the road diagonally streaking up the hill from right to left at the back of the village. You can also see some of the tunnels that we would have to face but more of that later. We cleared the confines of Bourg d’Oisans and we started our ascent.
No Short Cuts
What looks to be a nice easy startup ride quickly slaps you in the face and reminds you that there are no easy rides in the alps. It starts on a 10% gradient just like Alpe D’Huez and immediately puts your heart rate through the roof. Iain being a super fit road runner dealt with it well and was starting to drift away from me. Gavin was also looking pretty cool and was holding Iain’s wheel. To manage the situation I let them go and rode at a pace that I could sustain.
Ah Heart Rate, There You Are!
The main climb to Villard Notre Dame is approximately 9 km and has an average gradient of 9.2%. There is a series of tunnels on route most of which are relatively short but the longest is 365 meters and is not illuminated. Spooky!
The Psychological Battle
The mental battle of climbing a mountain is a strange one. You would think that it would be consistent and constant but it doesn’t seem to work that way. You go through different stages on a climb where you can feel good one minute and then like you cannot go any further the next. You can then go back to feeling good in seconds. It’s hard to put your finger on but I guess you could blame the varying gradients, what you have eaten the evening before, breakfast and during the ride, how much alcohol you have consumed (ahem!) and the weather. Through it all you just have to keep turning those pedals!
Here comes the Tunnel
I actually found my legs at this stage and gradually dragged Iain and Gavin back as we approached the big tunnel. This is an unlit narrow tunnel that is 365 meters long and has a slight bend in the middle. That bend means that you cannot see anything up ahead and makes the slightly potholed road a little treacherous. We entered with some trepidation and using the light from behind we continued on with Iain leading me and Gavin.
A New Sport. Cycling in the Dark.
The Phantom Cyclist
Anyone Have Any Lights? Whoops.
With that in mind I am struggling on, hoping to see daylight soon. After what felt like an eternity, light appeared ahead. We powered on and reached the end of the tunnel and stopped for a quick rest. It was only then that I relayed the story of my father's experience to the guys. It is really spooky without knowing that story and I absolutely recommend using lights to make it a safer and a more law abiding experience. I can’t guarantee it won’t be less spooky though.
The total distance for the ride was 34.8 kms with a total elevation gain of 1271 meters. The highest point was at 1674 meters.
We continued this beautiful climb at a reasonable pace as the gradient had dropped very slightly. We passed a water fountain and stopped to top our bottles up. It is a real bonus that you can fill your water bottles regularly on long rides in the mountains. The water is very fresh and has a sweet taste to it. The view as we reached the end of the main rock face, and all of the overhangs, turning right was remarkable. It is a real visual overload of peaks, waterfalls, rivers and valleys. You really wouldn’t want to suffer anywhere else.
The village was coming up on our left and we had one more turn to go until we entered into a pretty little village courtyard. We stopped in a cafe for a coke and a bit of a rest. There was one other group of riders there but other than that it was very quiet. We finished up, topped up our water bottles and continued on to the next part of the ride.
We manage to tear ourselves away from that awesome view and continue to steadily climb up again across this difficult surface. It’s at this point that it swings back over to the other side of the mountain and approaches Villard Reymond and the descent. This is a very technical descent with a few blind corners, some hairpins and lots of zigzag bends. Although the straight line speed is not particularly fast the multiple turns make this feel very rapid and I enjoyed this one a lot. You need to be aware of a little debris in the road from falling rocks and the odd oncoming car, so, like all descents, you cannot switch off for a moment. You hit the bottom after a few exhilarating minutes and turn right and go across a bridge and then have to power up a short sharp climb of about 400 meters to get to the connecting road of Ornon village.
The rest of the descent is a repeat of my Col d’Ornon ride. It is fast and a lot straighter than the Reymond descent. There was a head wind on this section so I did not attain my usual speed and it was surprising how much it did slow me up as I only recorded a 67.3 km/h top speed. Gavin was descending well and for a first descent Iain was descending very confidently. We came back together at the base and sped along the valley and back to the campsite.
That evening was a special gathering as one of the group of sixteen of us had a birthday. We decided to meet in Bourg for a meal at Le Rive Gauche
It was a lovely occasion for us all to catch up after two years apart. Although we initially all met teaching in a school in Thailand, we have all gone our separate ways and are now in Malaysia, Kazakhstan, Romania, UK and Thailand.
Happy Birthday Astrid.
Next time: The Tour de France hits Town and we take on Alpe D'Huez and The Galibier.
Previous posts in the series:
Thanks for reading.