Saturday, 20 August 2011

100 cols - Epilogue

I didn't have the slightest doubt that this tour would be a success. This was my first big European tour (if we don't count my first tour in Iceland 15 years ago), but the lack of the "exotic" element, which is present in the "third world" tours, didn't bother me at all. I like to think that the childish obsession with far away places is over and that I've reached the "mature phase".

On the first day of the tour I lost my cue sheet with the directions to Beaune, the first sizable town on the itinerary of the 100 cols, and I ended on D122 instead of D972. This mistake was indicative of the nature of this tour. D972 is a major connection between the two cities, with accordingly high volume of traffic including trucks, while D122 which runs in parallel less then a kilometer away, is idyllic quiet road, winding among vineyards and little old villages as it was from other time or space. The vast majority of the "100 cols" path was like that: small, quiet roads, leading away from the traffic arteries. The path was also crossing every possible climb, but that only added to the beauty of this route. Climbing is essential to the good cycling tours. You've got the motivation to climb the pass, you celebrate the victory at the top, you have the sense of achievement and you are rewarded with the thrill of descent.  All of this while riding through beautiful and diverse scenery. In this tour I was reviving these feelings tens of times per day. Frequently I was  overwhelmed by the intensity of the moment, a kind of hyper-consciousness, as if I was on  adrenalin drug. This was not an isolated event, an exceptionally good moment when you say "Wow, that WAS the day!" - on this tour all of the days were like that. I never enjoyed cycling so much for so long.

My 100 cols.
Totals: 4028 km, 209 h 42 min of cycling, around 66000 m of ascent and 150 cols and côtes in 29 days (no rest days). On average 139 km, 7 h 14 min, 2275 m and 5 cols/côtes per day.

P.S. I've uploaded the photos from the top of 100 cols:  here.

Friday, 19 August 2011

100 cols - Jura et Vosges

Riding the grand passes of Route des Grandes Alpes may be good for your ego and it will certainly stay like a tattoo inerasable in my memory, but I was not alone to appreciate it, and so, after 4 days I had enough of cars and in particular motorcycles buzzing around me. I was looking forward to the peaceful little cols and roads through the woods. The last part of the journey - Jura and Vosges - provided just that.

Lac d'Annecy.

Stage of Tour d'Ain to Grand Colombier.
This is not to say that the last part of the trip was easier, no, there were as many cols as ever and some of them quite difficult. The first day of the last stage saw two of such kind: Clergeon and Grand Colombier. I started the climb to Grand Colombier just half an hour before a stage of Tour d'Ain passed, with the finish at the top. There was a big crowd at the side of the road, cheering me, and some may have even mistook me for a leading escapee. I had two punctures that day and after the descent from the pass I took an hour to fix the flat and patch up the tubes. That slowed me down and the evening caught me without a possibility to find a hotel. I used my bivy bag for the second time, this time in a particularly scenic place: it's called Pain de Sucre and is a open-air stalactite.

Pain de Sucre.


Misty morning.

And rainy afternoon.

Much better the next day.

And improving.

Homage to the dead French.

And dead Germans.
The following days passed in tranquil atmosphere and already routine but enjoyable cycling up and down cols and côtes, peppered with a longer, more challenging climbs (like Grand Ballon) here and there. On the last day to Saverne, I tried to delay the finish, I was a bit sad that this beautiful story is coming to an end.

At the Grand Ballon.

Rrefreshing morning climb over one of the last passes.

Soon it will be the end of a beautifull story.

At the end of the tour, finding a moment of peace in the church in Saverne.

Days 25 to 29: 631 km (min 52, max 177, average 126). Total: 4028 km.
21 cols: Clergeon, Grand Colombier, Berentin, Croix de la Serra, Ferriere, Ballon d'Alsace, Bussang, Amic, Grand Ballon, Platzerwaser, Linge, Wettstein, Calvarie, Louchpach, Bonhomme, Pres des Raves, Bagenelles, Ste.Marie, Urbeis, Charbonniere, Kreutzweg.

Friday, 12 August 2011

100 cols - The Alps

One more mountain chain to cross - the French Alps. As a beautiful introduction to the Alps the route first takes you through two splendid series of gorges - gorges du Verdon  and gorges de Cian. The latter is especially spectacular due to the dark red color of rocks. After that the 100 cols route follows the Route des Grandes Alpes, taking me over major passes from Tour de France in 4 majestic days.


Les gorges du Verdon.

Gorges de Cians.
First day (134 km, climbing 3300 m): from Beuil you climb to Col de la Couillole and then take a breathtaking descent of 18 kilometers and 1200 m down to Saint Saveur de Tinée. Just when you've taken a deep breath in St. Saveur and thanked him that you survived the downhill from Couillole, you start your first Alpine climb - the highest pass in Europe, La Bonette, at 2802 m. If you come early in the day, as I did, you still have the time to enjoy the warmth on the 23-kilometer downhill to Jaussiers, which will give you some momentum over the next climb to the Col de Vars.

Down the col de Couillole.

Climbing Col de la Bonette.

View over La Bonette.
Second day (164 km, climbing 3600 m): descent to Guillestre, climb to Izoard, hurricane downhill to Briançon, long graduate climb to Lautaret where I leave the 100 cols route (which turns right to Galibier) and follow another fantastic downhill through the dark endless gorge to Bourg d'Oisans. There I check in a hotel, climb Alpe d'Huez without luggage and go back, down the 24 hairpins, each named after a winner of this TdF stage, to come to Burg d'Oisans before the night.

Third day (175 km, climbing 4600 m): climb from Burg d'Oisans back to Lautaret, then to the left to Galibier. I had a fortune that the road to Galibier was closed to cyclists until noon that day, and at the top there was free coffee and snacks. Then again a fantastic descent to Valoire, up to Col de Télegrafe, 800 m down to Saint Michel de Maurienne, a side climb to Aussois, another climb to Madelaine, and - since I didn't find a reasonably priced room in Bonneval - I climbed Col de l'Iseran in the cold of approaching evening and descended to Val d'Isère with my feet almost solid frozen.

Top of Galibier - road was closed to cyclists for the morning.

From Galibier looking down south.

And another shot.
Descending Col de l'Iseran, looking to Val d'Isere.
Fourth day (139 km, climbing 3000 m): to start with, a 1000 m gradual descent to Bourg Saint Maurice, then up to Cormet de Roselend, along the lake and down to Beaufort, another three ups and downs for the cols Saises, Aravis and Croix Fry, and ending this grandiose Alpine section with the descent to Thones.

One of the last climbs in the Alps.
Good bye Alps.
Days 20 to 24: 731 km (min 119, max 175, average 146). Total: 3397 km.
15 cols: Couillole, Bonette, Vars, Izoard, Lautaret, Alpe d'Huez, Lautaret, Galibier, Telegraphe, Madelaine, Iseran, Roselend, Saises, Aravis, Croix Fry.

Monday, 8 August 2011

100 cols - Mont Ventoux

After leaving Pyrénées, one would expect a few sedate days before the big climb to Mont Ventoux (which is categorized as the toughest climb in 100 cols). But even here, the route was packed with cols. The road is leading through a variety of sceneries, sometimes it is a narrow forest road, then it crosses a high grassy plateau, then again it goes through gorges with Mediterranean scents. Just a few times the itinerary is following bigger national roads and at those times you learn to appreciate the blessed tranquility of 100 cols' little roads.

View from the hotel.

View from the hotel -2.

View from the hotel - 3 (the best TV of the tour).

Canal du Midi.

Plane tree lining the road - a frequent vista in France.

Around Mont Aigoual.

Taking a swim on a hot day.
I was a bit respectful toward the climb to Mont Ventoux. Some had judged it as the toughest climb they've ever made. But once one the road, I didn't find it so difficult - or maybe I was just super motivated. After first 6 km of introduction it is about 18 km of more or less constant gradient, somewhere around 9%. The kilometers - or rather 100's of meters - are passing agonizingly slowly, so it is better not to look at the distance, switch to the clock, those numbers are turning faster. In the mean time look around you and try to enjoy. Once you get out of the forest it's much easier, as you can see your target, and there's only 5 km to go. There are a few more climbs with lookouts on Mont Ventoux, as if to ensure that you don't forget it too soon.

Approaching Mont Ventoux.

View from the top of Mont Ventoux.

I'm going down, some are going up.

(Beau)mont Ventoux after Mont Ventoux.


A farewell to Mont Ventoux.

How to choose the handlebar width for a tour in France.

Days 14 to 19: 839 km (min 127 km, max 152 km, average 140 km). Total: 2666 km.
23 cols: Notre Dame, Broue, Minier, Sereyrède, Prat Peyrot, Mont Aigoual, Perjuret, Solpérière, Exil, St.Pierre, Bane, Mont Ventoux, Voltigeur, St.Michel, Fontaube, Aires, Macuègne, Homme Mort, Aire deï Masco, Ayen, Siron, Buis, Félines.

Monday, 1 August 2011

100 cols - Pyrénées

The cols in the Pyrénées were a surprise: really steep, epecially some lesser known ones like Gamia, Burdincurucheta, Marie Blanque. Going down on few of them, my rims almost caught fire from braking and sometimes I preferred walking downhill. I went over Pyrénées in 5 high powered days of some serious climbing, with second day (3359 m of climbing) and third day (2872 m) packed with legendary Tour de France passes. The top of the highest passes were still in the clouds, and it was accordingly chilly up there, but no matter if I rode in sunshine or in the shadow, I was always soaked from sweat as I reached the top. At times my lower back was giving me pain and sometimes I wished I had a triple instead of compact double, but now, looking back, I think I'd go with the same set up again, maybe investing some time in exercises to strengthen the core.

Village on the St. Jacque pilgrimage.

Vista in the Pyrénées.
Top of the climb?

Sheep from Mars. Gorgonzola probably comes from their milk.

Following the stage of  Tour de France 2011.

There was as much downhills as climbs.

The top was in the clouds.

TdF remains.
Here's the biggest one in the Pyrénées.
The road down from Aubisque.

Down one of the 100 cols.
The big brother.

Major climbs have info which is important only to cyclists.
Days 8 to 13: 795 km (min 117 km, max 147 km, average 133 km). Total: 1827 km.
28 cols: Osquich, Gamia, Burdincurucheta, Bagargi, Souscousse, Soudet, Marie Blanque, Porteigt, Aubisque, Soulor, Bordères, Tourmalet, Aspin, Peyresourde, Menté, Portet d'Aspet, Core, Latrape, Agnes, Caougnous, Péguère, Marrous, D'Al Bosc, Loup, Salettes, Serrières, Cabarétou, Bane.