Squadra di Vecchi Tori

Sestriere – a long way to go for coffee by kiwicyclist
July 21, 2011, 7:07 am
Filed under: Rides

A very interesting and somewhat enjoyable day following the Tour across into Italy today up to Sestriere to watch the stage pass by.

There was some debate over breakfast over where to ride to as the options around here are almost overwhelming. However after enduring almost undrinkable coffee for the past week the prospect of getting over the border to get a caffeine fix won us all over.

Our route from the hotel took us down the valley back to Briancon for about 16ks fully kitted up in winter gear. My temperature gauge said it was 12 degrees and it felt somewhat colder – a relatively miserable start to the day in my case after a restless night. The 2 star hotel we are in is something else and has the kind of beds where the springs are so stuffed my feet were probably close to my nose due to the sag in the middle. To top it off breakfast was on the “lean” side so many of us had half full tanks.

The climb itself consisted of an ascent of about 9 ks up to Montegenvre a descent down into the valley on the Italian side and a further 11 ks up to Sestriere.

In comparison to the other big climbs we have been doing this should have been easy however I found it harder work than I should have in the cold thin air. Our hotel is already quite high at 1500 odd meters so easier climbs require quite a lot more effort.

Cresting Montegenvre we sailed through the unmanned border crossing and descended down into the valley at speed entering a series of tunnels with strong winds buffeting us as we went down. Like my descent off Ventou my bike was bumped around and I found it completely nerve wracking.




Part way up the Sestriere climb which I was by now doing on my own I bumped into Will Watson from Melbourne who was also across to watch the stage with girlfriend Britt. Will had successfully completed the Etape the previous week and Alpe D’huez a few days ago.




We found Britt and the rest of the group at Sestriere and camped in a cafe downing as many espressos as we could watching the first English commentary of the Tour we have seen so far.



Tandem recumbent.  WTF?


I wandered outside with Mark to watch the Tour come through and managed to get on Tv apparently. The urge to do something juvenile when the peleton comes through is almost overwhelming and I can understand the annoying idiots doing the run next to the riders. In our case we had the best view possible and could have reached out and touched the riders as they came through if we felt so inclined. Will and I settled for making heavy metal horn signs for HMC James back in Melbourne -I hope he saw it as I copped plenty of twitter abuse as a result.







Front runners coming through.  Note metal horns right.

Caught the bus back to the hotel and saw a rider who had come off – he seemed ok but his carbon Wilier was snapped in three places. Nasty.
Big day of riding coming up tomorrow -Alp D’Huez which will be a round trip of around 130 ks. The roads back from the Col Lauretet will be closed by the time we get back so we will find a cafe and catch the queen stage of the Tour on TV.

Transfer day by kiwicyclist
July 20, 2011, 6:43 am
Filed under: Rides

Busy day of travel today from a rain soaked Avignon across and into the Alps via Gap where we stopped mid morning to catch the stage finish.

Not a whole lot to report on today as it was a non riding day for us. Interesting however to wander around the finish area and media compound. We spotted Matt Keenan setting up in the commentary booth and bumped into Phil Anderson’s tour group sheltering in the rain while we were hunting for umbrellas and warm clothing in a huge kmart type store.
We managed to watch a fair bit of the stage over lunch in chain restaurant called “flunch”. Funnily enough it did not stock meals called flandwiches served by flaitresses although I was highly tempted to ask.
I had a savory crepe which consisted of ham,cheese and an egg lightly grilled called a “complete” which was delicious.
We caught the final move of the race at the barriers at 450 meters to the finish with Thor sitting at 3rd wheel looking poised for the win. Cadel came through not long after and looked very strong – a good sign for the next few days.
We arrived lateish into Sierre Chevalier and have some big HC climbs planned for the next few days.
The Alps look huge from the valley we are in and there is a fair amount of snow on the peaks. It promises to be an interesting couple of days.


Ventou and Gorge de la Nesques – adventures with broken chains, punctures and other minor tribulations by kiwicyclist
July 19, 2011, 7:09 am
Filed under: Rides

As mentioned in yesterday’s post today we tackled the monster of Provence – Mt Ventou in a 95K circuit that took us down through a gorge just past the village of Sault called the Gorge de la Nesque and starting and finishing in the village of Bedoin – the same way up as featured in the Tour a few years ago.

As you can see from the pictures we encountered almost perfect conditions, blue skies and not too much wind.

We set off mid morning from Bedoin with a plan of meeting as a group at the small ski station 6 ks  below the summit once everyone had completed the climb to regroup for the rest of the circuit.  Our start was slightly marred by a fairly long walk in cleats through the main street of Bedoin which had been converted to an extensive Monday morning market crammed full of local townspeople going about their business. 

Despite this being a rest day for the Tour there were many bike riders tackling the climb.  My day almost ended in fairly dramatic fashion quite early into the climb at about the 5k (of 22) mark about 20mins out of Bedoin when the chain skipped, clunked and then snapped, unravelling through the derailleur and spilling onto the road.  Mark and I then spent the next 20 minutes trying to instal the wippermann connector link I carry with me which was a four handed job and something of a comedy of errors with 5 minutes wasted searching for one half of the link in the roadside debris after we dropped it on the first attempt.  Finally we got going again and thankfully the chain worked fine.

The climb in comparison to my ride up the Plateau de Beille was far more comfortable and I attributed this to having had a rest day but also a more consistent gradient and far more temperate conditions to climb in – in addition I did not look at the profile screen on my Garmin that shows the gradient and will not use it on any of the other climbs I do – it is too demoralising and a better strategy to ride by feel.

We made steady progress in 22 odd degrees with a cooling breeze keeping most of the sweat out of our eyes.  Again we climbed euro style with helmets slung over the bars, gloves tucked away and sunglasses perched on our caps.

We made up good time arriving at the turnoff village and emerging into the final 6 kilometres of the climb for which Ventou is rightly famous – others can describe the scene more eloquently than I can but it is a barren, bright pile of pale rock punctuated by a finger of the road marked with ski poles heading up to the observation tower.  The tower itself appears deceivingly and cruelly close despite the fact that it is 6 kilometers in the distance.

By now the gradient had increased and many riders were pedalling squares with a headwind around some corners and a tailw ind around others – the temperature was also considerably lower – 14 degrees according to my Garmin and by now both of us were wearing armwarmers to provide some protection from the wind.

My legs were feeling pretty good and with 3 ks to go I said to Mark I wanted to have a crack at it – big mistake – I had pushed my cadence up to around the mid 80s and realised about 400 meters on that my breathing did not feel right – the readings on the monitor suggested I had overcooked it considerably and I felt like I was hyperventilating in the thin air – not pleasant and not smart.

Mark caught me up soon after and we completed the climb together arriving up the final steep ramp to the observation tower side by side buzzing with a huge sense of achievement.  Ventou completed – 2 hrs 15mins which included a 20min stop for the chain mechanical – 22 ks and around 1970 metres of climbing.

The temperature at the top was pretty cold – cold enough that our breath fogged as it came out so we quickly put on warm kit, stopped for the photos and headed quickly back down to our meeting point. 

And this is when my next bit of drama occurred – as I was descending around one of the bends my front wheel got caught by a cross wind and the whole front end of bike was pushed sideways moving me across the road around what felt like a meter – we thought later the wind speed was around 70ks but it was certainly blowing and hard – I nearly shat myself.   Then around a kilometer further down the hill my front tire made a familiar hiss and quickly flatted while decending at speed – exactly the same scenario as 2 days ago although somewhat errierily I stopped directly opposite the Simpson Memorial featured in the shot above, taken just after I changed my tire with my only spare tube. 

My now tentative descent continued and I was on my own and running quite late to meet everyone when again the front tire flatted this time requiring the tire to be patched before I could continue.

So a day of drama.

Fortunately I managed to meet our group and we continued on to the village of Sault down a the roughest road we have encountered in the entire trip – by rough I mean a piece of road with a similar gradient to the Kinglake climb but with patches all over the place that could easily throw you off your line.

However it was worth it as we came across some lavender fields just above the village that were stunning and provided an excellent photo op. 

We finished the loop by going through the Gorge de la Nesques which is accessed after a relatively steady and easy climb for several Ks out of Sault.  As you can see from some of the pictures below the Gorge is dramatic in every way – the road continues high up through the cliffs with drop-offs of several hundred feet on one side at the highest part of the gorge – and the best part – most of it is downhill for at least 18ks and not too technical. 

I have Poz to thank for his excellent recommendation to do this extra part of the ride – it is stunning in every sense and the entire day was an incredible highlight to our trip so far.  A total contrast to days spent chasing the Tour worrying about completing climbs and getting back to the bus in time before the road closes.

As as for Ventou – in the words of a famous Kiwi who first climbed Everest –

“We knocked the bastard off”.


Tour Notes – Sunday 17 July – Feed-station – some philosophical observations and other matters by kiwicyclist
July 18, 2011, 7:19 am
Filed under: Biased Generalisations


As I mentioned in this morning’s post, today was a non-riding day for half our touring group and a great opportunity to take part in a stage as the locals do.
We left the beautiful city of Toulouse at 8.00 am in gently falling rain and heavy skies to travel further into Provence towards Avignon. Like the riders in the Tour itself, today was a transition day for us as well with a short 2 night stay in Avignon beckoning and only a short ride option on offer for those who felt so inclined. We were aiming for the town of Cessenon Sur Orb which was where the feed-station was located.
The countryside heading to our destination is fairly typical of Provence – rolling hills, scrubby dry riverbeds and miles of vineyards punctuated by picturesque small old sandstone villages where the main road twisted and turned right through the centre of town.
As we made our way through to Cessenon the topography gradually became more undulating and we noticed increasing numbers of cars and campervans parked on the side of the road leading up to the small cat 4 KOM climb.
What struck me looking out the window directly into the colorful roadside crowd on the narrow roads was an example of what the French might describe as joie de vie. Under cold, threatening skies there were people of all ages out on the side of the road from around 10am onwards parked up with deck chairs and picnic tables set up, normally with a spread of French bread, cheese and preserved meats and a bottle of vin de table or an aperitif within easy reach. And bear in mind the race proper would not come through for around another 5 hrs!
As I said to our tour guide it is remarkable to consider from an antipodean context where we spend so much time rushing, rushing, rushing through life, the willingness of ordinary local people here to drive out into the countryside, park up for most of a day, enjoy good simple food and wine en plein air, for the simple opportunity to watch a bike race scream past at 40 or 50ks/hr in the space of 15minutes. That sums an appreciation of simple things for me.
My other reflection on this notion of joie de vivre came over lunch. We parked the bus just near the start of the feed-station on the outskirts of town and Mark and I wandered back into the village centre to find somewhere to have a coffee and lunch. We came upon what would be the main village square where the local Tabac had set up an outdoor restaurant and had the Tour playing on a large screen connected to a laptop and some speakers.

Again locals and tourists alike sat under the tarpaulin enjoying entrecote et frites washed down with tap beer soaking up the atmosphere. Many of the houses had 2 storied shuttered windows overlooking the main race route through town and there were people leaning out taking advantage of the great views. It seemed as if the whole town had come out to enjoy the color and spectacle of the great bike race – people lolled about inside in the bar watching the TV coverage or sat outside smoking and relaxing, not particularly fussed at the slow and overworked service coming from the waiting staff.

Down the main street again picnic tables and chairs were pulled into front yards and it seemed to me that the locals were enjoying the excuse for a leisurely lunch and catch-up with neighbours and friends with the race being an incidental but necessary ingredient.
This is part of the beauty of travelling in the French countryside chasing the world’s greatest sporting event. We occasionally glimpse into the lives of local people enjoying an easier pace of life where simple things like good food, excellent wine, companionship and community appear to matter – where the art of le velo and the progress of your favorite rouleur is of great significance.
So to the locals in Provence I have seen today chapeau for your joie de vivre.

On the road:

Our drivers:

Ricard mixed with water

Plateau de Bielle is my agony by kiwicyclist
July 17, 2011, 3:01 pm
Filed under: Rides

Quick post this morning to report on yesterday’s adventures – photos to come later.

Early transfer by coach from Lourdes to watch the last stage in the Pyrennees.  By now many of us had pretty sore legs including yours truly despite sleeping the previous night in compression tights.  The bulk of the group had rested instead of doing the Aubisque and were keen to ride. 

The weather was perfect.  Blue skies and warm early.  Those of us that rode were dropped off on the road 30ks out of Les Cabannes at the foot of the climb to Bielle.  We made a nice clip along another river valley into the village dodging all manner of road traffic including large buses, cars and the ubiquitous white campervans as we got closer and closer.  As I had heard happens in France before we were cheered on by French families on the roadside constantly as we headed in singlefile at medium pace along the valley -“Allez Allez!”  egged us on.

The village centre was the start of the climb and I stopped to grab extra bottles of water and a pastry and roll from the bakery.  As a result I ended up tackling the climb on my own.

And what a beast of a climb it was – the average was 8% and it started hard right out of the village. Being a Saturday the village and mountain were packed with people with campervans lining the bottom and top parts of the route.  What made this one so hard was the temperature and 2 days of hard climbing prior and absolutely, and I mean absolutely not a breath of wind.  Within seconds of starting the climb sweat was dripping off me and I stopped to discard gloves and put my helmet across the bars with sunnies on the brim. 

I made pretty slow but steady if agonising progress – this was a hard climb.  A nice distraction on the way were some Scandanavians on ski touring rollerblades cross country skiing up the hill – all incredibly good looking and led by a stunning blonde in a Norwegian cycling top.

I had to stop four times to eventually be pulled over by the fuzz at the 4 K to go barrier which was at the top of a plateau leading to the final climb.  It was party central up there with a beer tent and sausage stall that provided welcome relief.  I met up with some of the others and we turned to head back down as we had been told to get to the lower slopes of the mountain so that we could meet the tour coach before heading on to Toulouse quickly.  Unfortunately 100 meters down the road we were stopped from descending as well and realised we were stuck and probably in trouble.

Long day in the sun followed waiting for the race surrounded by mad spaniards including one who got bored at one point and then jumped on his road bike and proceeded to pull monos up and down the 9% slope we were on.  Crazy frenzy with the caravan going past and then the race proper came through – I tried to do a run for the  TV but it was pretty hard with so many people going through.

As usual the gruppetto and particularly the Spanish riders received huge crowd support. 

We had another quick mad dash down the mountain again – made hair raising for me as I punctured at 50ks or so in the middle of a large group of riders and had to ride the rim for about 150 meters before getting a gap to pull over.  Managed to make up time by following some Eurocar riders who were motorpacing a motobike cop down the mountain at speed and picked up my colleagues to try and find the bus.  The village at the bottom was mayhem and as we made our way out of the village on the main drag with a large crowd of riders we were passed by Cadel and the BMC riders who we said hello to as well as riders from many other teams.

A wrong turn and a frantic call on the mobile had our bus collecting us on the side of the road – our Belgian driver being looking particularly dark as the rules in France mean he cannot drive for more than 12 hrs per day (and that seems to include days where he sits around watching the Tour in between dropping us off and picking us up).  Had to slip him 20 euros when we arrived into Toulouse late last night and suffer some piss taking from the rest of the tour group. 

Badly needed rest day for me today as we transfer to Avignon with a stop at the feedzone at Carceconne (?), in anticipation of a massive day tomorrow.



p.s. photos to be added when I can later tonight so look back for an update to this post

Col de Souleur and Aubisque by kiwicyclist
July 16, 2011, 6:30 am
Filed under: Rides

Road to the Aubisque above.

Another big day of climbing today.  After yesterday’s first epic day up the Tourmalet the organised ride options were a flat ride to Pau or an ascent of the Souleur and the Aubisque.

Poz had also suggested back in Melbourne adding another climb off the Souleur called the Col de Spandelles, however a quick examination of the ride profile on Climb by Bike confirmed that Poz must really hate me or he is a sadist.  It is shorter but is a beast of a climb so we left that one for another day.

Most of the group opted for the start in Pau so only three of us set off for the Souleur. 

It was another great day of climbing.  We were assisted getting through the town at the end of the bike path at Argeles-Gazost by a Basque father and his eleven year old son who proceeded to drop us like a bad smell as soon as they hit the Souleur climb.  Those Basques are built for climbing.

We took our time with many other bike riders heading up the hill and enjoyed a great climb up to the valley leading to the Souleur – marred only by arriving just after a Bike Style Tours rider had come off on the descent at speed on a corner and was being attended to by an ambulance with blood covering half his face.

A quick coffee in Aucun and then we ascended the Souleur to find a large crowd already gathered.  Onwards for 10 ks to the Aubisque which consists of a downhill drag along the high clifftop road and through two tunnels as shown on today’s TV stage.  We made good time  up to the Aubisque by around 1.30pm with the assistance of a couple of mars bars to ward off an impending hunger flat.

We made the return journey to the Souleur quickly and descended at speed trying to beat the road closure to get back to Lourdes in time for the finish.  A downhill smash followed until we reached the final village up in the valley above Argeles only to be waved down by a gendarme and told to go no further – and I can tell you you do not argue with these guys. 

Luckily we were told by a local of another way down via a minor valley road which was a real bonus with a very technical and somewhat sketchy descent included for good measure and managed to get back to Lourdes by 3 in time to watch the stage.  We walked over to the finish which was about 2 ks from the hotel and saw Thor race by at the 400m mark which is where we were perched.

Had an interesting wander around Lourdes on the way back to the hotel to pick up a bagette and cheese.  The entire town is filled with religous pilgrims that seem to be either maimed, ill or decrepid with large processions each night through the town to the Grotto for religous blessings.  The pilgims appear to be as excited about being in Lourdes with the prospect of divine intervention into their lives as we are about being here to ride and watch the Tour.

Hotel transfer coming up tomorrow with the prospect of the climb to Plateau de Beille.  With any luck we will be somewhere on the hill.

Unfortunately I wasn’t able to get any photos of the Aubisque as I broke the mount on the D90 pulling it out of my backpack one time too many and will have to hunt out another lens over the next few days.  Bit grumpy about that but maybe its a lesson not to drag an 8 or so kg pack up an HC climb as I have been doing.


Aucun just about to grab yet another mediochre coffee before tackling the Souleur.

Souleur climb

Valley view leading up to Aucun

Top of the Souleur – nice and warm today

TDF report from Lourdes by kiwicyclist
July 15, 2011, 7:04 am
Filed under: Rides

A quick update.  We arrived in Lourdes last night after a long 12 hr transfer by bus from Paris last night.  By the time we had checked in, sorted bikes out, had dinner and went through the ride briefing it was a pretty late hour to bed.

We woke to overcast skies but a clearing forecast and mild temperatures -ideal climbing weather.  Most of our travel group opted to follow the guide out of Lourdes along the bike path up the valley to the town at the foot of Luz Ardiden.  This was about a 30k cruise including a 10 or so k roll through a narrow river valley leading up to the village which rapidly filled with riders and cars.

We had decided to tackle the Tourmalet and then come down for lunch before making our way back up to Luz Ardiden.  The Tourmalet was a stunning climb.  About 18ks of varying grades with sections averaging 10% in places.  It took us about an hour and a half.  At the top it was pretty cold and we stopped only for enough time to put on winter kit, a photo and a T shirt from the shop.

The decent was one of the best I’ve done – slightly delayed at the top by a herd of lamas that were being led up the road by a shepherd.

We reached the bottom in about 20mins and had a quick bite in the town square keeping an eye on the gendarmes who like to close the roads a couple of hours before the race comes through.  Another 40 mins of climbing up the Luz Ardiden climb in warm sunshine and a congested road had us about a third of the way up –just outside a beer tent with TV.  Perfect.

We waited for about 2hrs for the race to arrive – 3 beers and a hotdog each later – and were able to follow the action after the race passed by joining a large crowd hanging through the doorway of a campervan where the owner had set up the TV so that we could all watch. 

A mad decent back down the hill followed and a smashfest back down the valley riding on the wrong side of the road with a large peloton at 45 ks with wall to wall car traffic heading back to Lourdes – crazy but exhilarating.

As always a picture tells a thousand words – here are some of them from today.


Cancellera coming through with the Gruppetto.

Flickr link here:http://www.flickr.com/photos/48894104@N08/sets/72157627073534245/