Squadra di Vecchi Tori

Col de Sarenne and chaos at Col de Lautaret by kiwicyclist
July 22, 2011, 4:49 pm
Filed under: Rides

So as mentioned yesterday 5 of us made the back route down to the valley above Borg D’Oisans via the Col de Sarenne on a descent of truly breathtaking proportions.

The road itself winds up behind Alp D’Huez and then skirts around the edge of a large open valley before turning on itself and heading up the other side to the top of the Col which nestles between two peaks.  In contrast to the climb up Alp D’Huez the scenery gives way to open alpine pasture overlooked by majestic grey peaks with mountain sides visible on all sides.

Apart from the dramatic scenery the road itself provided its own elements of drama – it was a rough maze of patchwork repairs covered in a light layer of gravel.  Every 400 or so meters we would have to negotiate a V shaped cobbled culvert with either water or gravel in the bottom inserted in the road for storm runoff.  At one point the road turned completely to gravel as we reached the apex of the road before negotiating a series of switchbacks to make the summit.

By now the sun had burnt through the clouds and we were surrounded by a deep blue sky.  Mark headed off ahead of me to the summit as I negotiated the final 3 kilometres at a slow pace  – legs straining to maintain a rhythm, back aching from the weight of my pack, head down watching my shadow on the road and a small bead of sweat that would form and reform on the tip of my cap, swaying from side to side to the rocking of my pedalling before dropping to the roadside.

We met up again at the summit for a quick breather and some food – by now the afternoon had moved on and it was getting on towards 2.30 and we still had a long way to go.

A few meters beyond the crest of the road and the descent started down into the next valley.  This is where the epic part of the ride came in.  The road dropped down through a series of around 16 or so switchbacks almost to the valley floor with steep drop offs on either side and pitches in places of about 12 percent.  Because the road surface was so potted, patched and covered with a light dusting of gravel we had to be constantly on the brakes as we went down and the descent took a  considerable time – around 45mins or so – we had to stop several times to relieve the cramp in our hands and wrists and to cool the rims.  During the descent we encountered only one or two cars and a number or riders including about 8 of the Skil Shimano pro team who looked like they were using the climb as a training ride.

Once we regrouped just after stopping at the roadside above we passed through a series of villages – le Perron, Clavans and Mizeon where we stopped to chat to a group of Welsh cyclists and a young english woman (seen to the left in the shot below) who was chatting with them accompanied by case holding a bass or other string instrument – it was quite surreal.

We made a quick final descent down to the valley and started the long drag back up the valley stopping finally at La Grave at a small cafe with a TV.  By this stage in the afternoon it was several hours since we had last eaten and I had succumb to a bad hunger flat 20mins prior by getting off the bike and desparately rummaging through my pack to discover a mars bar that got me through to the last cafe.

Mark had reached it first and I recognised his bike leaning outside – by this time he was almost beyond speech and I received only a grunt and a far off stare when I asked if he wanted something to eat.  The woman running the bar produced two bagettes as long as my forearm filled with ham, cheese and salad that in my case took half an hour to consume, washed down with a badly needed series of Heinekens, 2 coffees and a litre of water. 

In the meantime we enjoyed watching the final 30ks of the stage over the Galibier taking place 10ks up the road from where we sitting.  At one point I had trouble concentrating on the race coverage as there was an outstanding poster just to the left above the TV as pictured below:

The chaos part of the ride came as we made our way up the remaining 10ks to crest the Col de Lauteret – by this time it was around 6pm and literally tens of thousands of cyclists, pedestrians, and motor vehicles were trying to get down off the Galibier down in the direction of Alp D’Huez while we were trying to travel up against the flow.  It was like salmon strugging upstream – the closer we got to the summit the more out of control and dangerous it became – bike riders descending at speed directly in our path prompting me to yell and swear at them to avoid a collision.  Several times the crush became so bad that we had to get off and walk as the safest option. 

An example of the French attitude to driving off a mountain after a bike race features in the pics below.

and it got worse further up:

We finally made the summit to encounter total gridlock which was hilarious in its own way.

Through all of this chaos I noticed that at the top the gendarmes had blocked the roads to all descending traffic to allow team cars and buses and other vehicles associated with the Tour to come through with priority access.  Nice to see some efficiency working in amongst all the chaos we had just encountered.

We finally managed to descend back down the valley at speed following motorbikes and skirting around a long convoy of traffic.

An adrenalin filled finish to a day of truly epic proportions.




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