The Alps

Two days of riding in the Alps – so exhausting that the memories of each climb, view and descent has fused into one. The weather was stunning with a crisp blue sky but with it came serious heat. I was determined to complete both days and although I finished after 9pm on both days I managed to do it – something I am very proud of.

The first day was a succession of cols – d’Ornan, Telegraphe, Galibier and Croix de Fer (possibly more!). Each one ground out followed by an exhilarating descent. For obvious reasons my descents were significantly slower than others – I didn’t care as long as I got down in one piece.The second day was ‘only’ two cols – Vars and the fearsome Izoard. I thought this would be a breeze – it wasn’t – both cols were much harder than I had bargained for and I struggled in the searing heat in the bottom of the valley. I also had to be very attentive to how much I was eating and drinking. If you start to feel thirsty or hungry on a tough ride then it is generally too late and it is hard to get everything back into equilibrium. The general rule is to drink every 15 mins and eat every 30 mins. Sounds easy but with so much concentration required to keep the bike going and make sure I am on the right route as well as absorbing the scenery.

Little highlights for me were decending back down from Le Galibier at the end of the first day. There was snow on the top and it was starting to get cold when I finished. I put on my windproof jacket and descended down into the warmer air lower down – arriving at Briancon in virtual darkness. Another highlight was stopping for a drink and something to eat a few kms from the top of the Izoard. I was exhausted and beginning to doubt if I was going to make it and had to stop to get more sugar in my system. A lady tending her vegetable patch beside the road spotted my predicament and came over to offer me some of her strawberries.  They were delicious and cheered me up no end. The kindness of strangers.

At the end of each day I needed to shower, eat and organise myself. I also booked myself in for a massage which was a great chance to get some life back in my legs. But I’m a faffer at the best of times and I really struggled to get to bed at a reasonable time. Sleeping was not easy as all my bruises and wounds are on the same side so I could only sleep on one side.

I was very, very tired but also very proud of myself having completed both Alps stages.

The Alps in summer look like fun and it made me think that I would like to return for a summer holiday. In comparison with the Pyrenees they felt more commercialised and more of a playground with plenty of smart chalets and fast cars. The Pyrenees are more ‘earthy’ and the roads definitely quieter but the climbs seemed steeper and less steady than the Alps.

The following day would be a relatively straightforward but long 230km ride only around 150 miles with the forecast of more clear skies and hot sunshine.