It is September again and that can only mean one thing; the kids are
back at school! Which of course means that, after last year's excursion
to the Pyrenees, I am back in the Alps. Somethings don't change,
breakfast on the ferry and a long drive down the French Autoroutes,
returning to Annecy where the lovely people at the Ibis Styles have
agreed to my request for the same room that I had 2 years ago (I think they
took pity on me then as I was staying for a week and gave me a larger
than average room). There is a Eurostar train direct from St Pancras /
Ashford to Lyon that takes less than 5 hours, then jump on a local train
to Annecy. Quicker and cheaper than driving but last time I looked it
didn't take bikes. Anyway, I brought two bikes with me this year to
enjoy a couple of gravel rides.
Day 1 and the not the route that I was intending to start the week with. Meteo France were predicting an 80% chance of rain the afternoon and seeing as I have slick tyres on the Madone, it was a day for the Checkpoint and a bit of gravel. Regular readers of these pages know that I have great respect for the accuracy of Meteo France - though they did get one wrong in the Rhone Valley earlier in the year. The day started with some high cloud that looked like it would get burned away but weather can change quickly in the mountains so best to listen to the experts.
The main climb of the today's route is up to the Plateau des Glieres. I almost rode this when I was here a couple of years ago, but at the top of the Col de Colombiere I decided to go over the other side and get the train back; good job too as that was before I knew it was gravel at the top. It was used in Le Tour last year, but surprisingly early in the stage rather than creating fireworks at the end. I had two sets of tyres for the Checkpoint with me but being wary of afternoon rain I wanted to get started so didn't bother swapping to the 28mm road tyres and the left the 35mm gravel versions on.
The day started along the northern and eastern sides of the lake
before the climb to the Col de Bluffy. By now the sun had burnt the
clouds off and it was getting very warm; I'm sure those 35mm tyres stick
to the road in the heat. The climb was harder than I remembered it, but
I was on the road bike last time, but it is not long and soon I was
descending into Thones before climbing to St Jean de Sixt. This is a
proper climb, much of it at 8% and with the sun shining down I was
beginning to doubt my choice of route. Soon I was descending a lovely
river valley for a quick coffee in Le Petit Bornand, then 2km back up
the road for the turn off to Glieres for 6.8km of absolute hell. The
first kilometer (that started with a descent) averages 7%, then 9% for
the second and in excess of 11.5% for the rest. Why do I put myself
through this - at least the Checkpoint bike has a 34-32 gear, the lowest
on the Madone is 34-28.
|From this side the road tops out at 1,395m though the gravel track goes higher|
By now it was clouding over and my earlier doubts of Meteo France were soon reverting to the usual "don't mess with these guys". This made the climb more bearable as it was very hot at the bottom but the clouds did cool it down further up. The climb is just relentless; out of the saddle to get round the hairpins only to be confronted with the sight of the road going straight up. There was no respite. All I could think of was Blue Oyster Cult's "Stairway to the Stars" - maybe I should give all the mountains I have ridden a song. My Garmin was having a meltdown, trying to tell me it was flat or 1% - I might not be Egan Bernal, but lowest gear, heart rate in 170s and a speed of 3mph means a steep hill! There is only one word for this; brutal. This was tougher than last year's Col de Portet d'Aspet, indeed the toughest climb I have ever ridden.
Eventually I reached the end of the road and the start of the gravel section, 2km to the highest point of the day at 1,474m (or maybe a slightly different height depending on who you believe). Le Tour raced this bit but summer tyres on a road bike would equal punctures and I was glad of the comfort and protection of the 35mm. At the top was a memorial to the RAF who dropped weapons here during WW2 to help the resistance. Then a long descent to Thorens-Glieres followed by a lumpy, but downward ride back to Annecy. There was even a couple of spots of rain on the way back.
55 miles and over 2,000m of climbing on 35mm tyres scaling France's answer to Zoncolan. But rather my gravel bike than the person who rode it on a Time Trial bike; the descent must have been awful. And there was rain in the afternoon, though weather looks good for the rest of the week.
Map of Day 1
|Bonus this year - Relive Videos (though the point flagged as highest is wrong)|
|Profile of Day 1 - as ever from www.gpsvisualizer.com|
The gravel track across the Plateau, very popular spot with hikers (and cross-country skiers in the winter)
|A thank-you to London from General Gaulle for air-dropping weapons to the Resistance|