Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Col du Lautaret June 28 2011

To day was an easy day as we had ridden the Lès Alpes Heuz yesterday. This turned the 93 kms day into a 65 km day. However before I get in to the ride, Richard had fixed a broken spoke back in Sicily and yesterday it broke on the climb. I found a spare spoke in one of the hundreds of bike shops in town. So I gave Richard the replacement spoke. When I awoke this morning Richard had fixed my bike, so that I could ride. WOW!

Juerg and I rode out together and were joined by Jack which was a welcome addition to the ride, so the three of us cruised along. The ride to the summit from the camp ground was 38 kms at a very low but steady incline. I think there was only one kms of 8 % and the rest was only 1-2%. It was perfect ridding temperature and the sun was not yet shining on us as we rode up through this canyon. There were several tunnels and snow sheds. The sun was shining on the mountains which surrounded us and it was very pretty.

When we got to the summit at 2058 m it was only just after 11:00 Am so we stopped and had a great lunch in one of the restaurants at the summit. Sitting eating on the terrace and enjoying the scenery was fabulous. About 1:00 Pm we rolled for camp which is in Briancon. It was a 30 km down hill which was a very nice easy 2% down. It was perfect.

The first thing Juerg and I did was head down town where we got some beer and drank it in the town square. The local police came by but we saw them first so we put the beer away. There is nothing like having a cold beer in the nice warm sun (36C).

Fun in the Sun


Monday, June 27, 2011

L’Alpe d’Heuz June 27 2011

Today was suppose to be a rest day however tomorrow you were suppose to ride L’Alpe d’Heuz and back then ride on to Col du Lautaret, for a 95 km day. However the climb to L’Alpe d’Heuz was an out and back so if you knocked that off today then tomorrow is an easy day.

The climb up L’Alpe d’Heuz was only 14.4 kms however it was no picnic. The climb is mostly 8-10% grade and there are lots of sections which although not marked are much steeper. The climb has 21 switch back corners which are all marked and count down as you climb the hill. The total climb is some thin like 1500 meters. This climb is one of the best known climbs on the Tour du France. I think the record is something like 36 minutes but it took me something like 2.5 hours, including panting, and wheezing beside the road time. Juerg and I got out around 8:15 so we beat the heat of the day (36 C), which was good. I would have died up there on the bald hillside. It was very picturesque and it was very nice not having a million motorbikes roaring past you.

I am a few hundred meters from the finish line for the tour when there is a bang and the improvised spoke that Richard had made way back in Sicily let go. I was hoping to ride it for the next few days. It was part of this tour. With a broken spoke I had a wobbly wheel and my hopes of setting a down hill record were dashed. The good news it that Bourg d’Oisan is bike shop Meca and I found a couple of new spokes. When I get home I will have to look in to getting a stock of spares as they are quite rare.

This climb really showed me how strong the Tour riders are.

Time for after noon nap.


Col du Télégraph / Col Du Galibier/Col du Lautaret June 26 2011

It was off to a great start this morning as we had a 43 kms down hill to the turn off for the first climb. It was really a bunch of fun sailing along on a nice gentle down hill. Juerg and I were down to the turn off in record time so we had time for a coffee and a pastry before we tackled the first climb up to Col du Télégraph.

It was only 12 kms up to the summit, however it didn’t make it any less steep. There are little mileage posts at the start of each kilometre giving the distance to the top and the steepness of the climb. They help to distract you from how hard it is when you can see the kilometres tracking down. Lunch was at the top of the Col du Télégraph. It was a beautiful spot. The French army was on patrol with their armoured vehicles when we were there. They tried to surrender but I wasn’t taking any prisoners.

After lunch came the big climb of the day up to the summit of Col du Galibier. It is at 2646 meters and was a 21 km climb. The first few kms are pretty easy but the hill gets steeper pretty quickly and there are lots of 8% kms of sign posts. This is one of the lesser known Col’s but is definitely one of the most beautiful we have climbed so far. I was struck by the beauty of the mountains surrounding me. You wind though a big open valley and then when you get to the end of the valley you start the switch backs. It took me the best part of 3 hours to get to the top, but it was worth it.

Coming down the back side was a high speed rush. Down the switch backs which I find challenging, though a bunch of tunnels, snow sheds, and though several tiny villages. The wild flowers were really putting on a show and the fragrance from them was very intense. I had stopped to photograph them, when Richard came up unseen in his van, He skidded to a stop in the gravel be side the road, blowing his horn. It scared the heck out of me.

Juerg and I were about 8 kms out of camp when one of the hot bike teams which are here because of the Tour du France came screaming past, in a big pace line. Juuerg said “Lets run them down” Here we are stopped and they are flying and 500m in front of us. I didn’t think there was a hope but I started to roll and jumped hard on the pedals. A km down the road they are much closer. Juerg took over and closed some more. My turn and now we are seriously gaining on them. With a km to go we are riding their wheel, and laughing.

Sunny days on the bike are great


Saturday, June 25, 2011

Col De L’Isran June 25 2011

It is only 13 C in my tent this morning and without leg warmers it is going to be a cold ride. So I pull on a pair of running tights. I stand up at breakfast and make a request of people that they look though their stuff for my leg warmers. Looking at the faces I might as well have been talking to rocks in Chinese. I doubt that anyone heard me. There is always going to be some wear and tear on equipment so I guess I will just write them off to wear and tear.

The Col De L’Isran is the highest paved pass in all of Europe. It is not the most famous and certainly not the hardest. There is a 18 kms ramp to the pass which is only 1-2% and then there is a section of 8 kms which is pretty steep. After that you come to a ski village where we stopped for a pastry and coffee, which was delicious. Then there is flat section of 4 kms followed by the final climb of 18 kms of 8-10%. I can do about 9-11 km/hr so it is 2 hours to the top. It is brilliant sunny day at the top which is at 2770 meters. I don’t know the times but we were having fun so who cares. I hang out and have lunch but it is windy and Juerg and I roll pretty quickly.

We are in a little village where there isn’t much but we are in early so Juerg and I walk into the grocery store and get some beer and drink it in the town square. We laugh that the last time we did that was on the Orient Express. We talk about getting caught drinking in public in Romania. Juerg thought it was Timmoshara but I am not so sure.

It was a great day and we had a lot of fun.


La Col Petit St Bernard June 24 2011

There is a bike shop in the next town which is only 17 kms from the campground. So Juerg and I ride down there and I get a new cycling computer. They have a really good saddle bag which will hold my rain coat, so I buy it as well. Totally re-equipped we are off to attack the next pass.

It is 48 kms down to lunch so we hit the road. About 6 kms out of lunch my rear de-railer cable breaks dropping me into high gear. What was about 20 minutes is now an hour. At lunch I hang around and after everyone is gone Richard fixes my bike and I ride the col. Although the last rider left lunch 45 minutes before me, I pass four riders on the climb and make the summit in 2 hours flat.

Having a sunny day is really great. It sure makes you feel great.

In the end some one steals my leg warmers out of Richard’s van. I am totally convinced that someone goes in to the van to change into their warm cloths for the decent. Then start grabbing up stuff and putting into their sack, and not looking at what they are grabbing. I am totally unimpressed with the young buck Auzzies who have joined this segment of the tour. The other day one of them grabbed John G’s sleeping pad. He couldn’t be bothered looking for his pad. The next day one of them grabs Adian’s tent. Couldn’t be bother looking for his. It is all about me and screw everyone else on the tour. I am really sorry to have to post this but then some times the truth has to be told.


More Rain June 23 2011

It poured all night lat night, so I would have thought that I would have gotten it out of it’s system but when I got up I see that the clouds fill the valley. The ride for the day is up the Grand Saint Bernard pass which is one to the biggest on the tour. Juerg and I set out up the valley and the first 75 kms pass quickly as it is a flat ride and we have found a local rider who pulls us almost the entire way.

Just before lunch I stop to help fix a flat and Juerg rides on. When I get to lunch he is not there. What happened to him? I hang around but no Juerg. Finally I have to ride on but it is now pouring rain so I have my rain suit on. It is 40 kms to the top of the pass, and I can do about 10 so it is a 4 hr grind. With 15 kms to go Richard come by with the truck and I decide to get in the truck. I just can’t stand another 1.5 hr in the pouring rain.

The truck gets to the top in 20 minutes but now we sit and wait until the last riders get to the top which is 5:30: PM. I walk around and go for a couple of little hikes on some of the hiking trails. There are some St Bernard dogs that live in the hostel which is at the top so I play with them. They are really friendly.

In the end my cycling computer gets lost in the confusion which is in Richards van and all the bags. We camp in the rain.

I understand there is a place in the Gobi desert where it hasn’t rained in 150 years. I am moving there.


Wednesday, June 22, 2011

A Day Off June 22 2011

It is always nice to have a day off. However in this case I cannot understand why we have a day off. The Les Dix Alpes has 11 stages so why have a rest day after only 2 days? It seems to me that a rest day would be much better after three or four days of riding. If we had that split we would have 3-4-4, instead of the 2-4-5 split. I really would have preferred to put another pass behind me. The only reason I can think of is that the crew wanted to take the truck and drive up to see the Matterhorn. Mean while we are stuck in this little nowhere town with nothing to do. Nice – Real Nice.

There was fresh bread and sweet rolls delivered to the campsite by this local baker. Jurg was quick to spot this so we cleaned up the cinnamon buns for breakfast, before the other riders clued into the fact that there was fresh bread and other bakery items for sale. We then walked the km or so into town and wandered around. There wasn’t much to see so it didn’t take long. We found a bike shop and wandered in there. I was able to get a new water bottle to replace the one with a cracked top. I also found a really nice light set for my bike. There is white LED light for the front and a red LED for the rear. They are of the new mounting style which is with a rubber band, making them very easy to mount on the bike. My bottle of soap got squished in my luggage on the trip in here so I had to buy a new bottle of soap. There wasn’t much left in the bottle but it did make a mess. Fortunately the mess was right on top and was easy to clean up.

Shopping done and after a coffee we wandered back to the campsite, for an afternoon snooze. We will head back down town in a while and get some supper.

Ok here is an idea. Everyone is dog tired, especially the carry over riders from Palermo. So look on the map and see where the train goes. If the train goes down to the next campground then jump on the train. They run every hour and are very inexpensive. You just roll your bike down the ramp and jump on.

Tomorrow is another big climb. One pass down and nine to go.


Tuesday, June 21, 2011

A Sunny Day On Simplon Pass June 21 2011

It looked beautiful when I crawled out of my tent this morning and after a heart breakfast Jurg and I set off together. This is Jurg`s home ground and he knows all the roads and turns. So it was great riding with him. He could point to just about every mountain and say that he had climbed it. He could also tell you and interesting story about the climb. So it was great rolling along listening to the stories.

The first part of the ride was 30 kms up a smaller pass which took us up approximately 800 meters. It was a relatively constant grade so we made great time. We passed lots of great scenery and at one point we were concerned about getting ahead of lunch so we stopped for coffee in this little village. One side of the road was a modern village on the other was an ancient stone village. Everything was made of stone, the buildings, the roofs, the pathways in the village, the stairs, everything. Jurg and I walked through the stone village it was very interesting.

After lunch we started the Simplon Pass climb. It is the first of the ten Alps. It wasn’t too steep but it was without let up. I got out and just ground away. There was a lot of snow shed on the climb and they were a bit noisy but there were cool in side. The sun was beating down on us and I was just soaked with sweat. The ride profile showed the summit at 90 kms however when I saw a sign post which showed it to be at the 83 km mark my spirits just soared, that was a whole hour of grinding. The summit was beautiful. Nice and sunny and warm.

Jurg and I put on our warm cloths for the decent and I followed Him down. Jurg knew where the camp site was so I just followed him in. It was great not having to navigate.

Tomorrow is a camping rest day. Hopefully the weather will be as warm tomorrow as it was today (32 C).


Les Dix Alpes Stage 1 June 20 2011

To day was the first truly sunny day we have had since Rome. God that seems like a long time ago, but that is another story. It was really beautiful today the sky was a magnificent blue with just the odd little puffy white cloud. It was so marvellous to feel the heat of the sun on your back.

However I am wandering from the story which was that we left the hotel for the shore of Lake Como for a group photo, which was followed by a group ride out of Como. The ride has now changed as there were only 16 of the original riders carry on and now there are 50 riders from the 30 so it is a huge group. The average age has also plunged as almost all of the new riders are under 40. So there was a lot of testosterone flowing as the group ride started out of town. I was going to say that I thought that none of these Auzzies have zero bike manners as they were passing on both the left and right sides, stopping slowing with never a hand signal or a word. However I am changing my story and I am now saying that there was a lot of excitement in the air.

After we left Como and head up the lake it was just so beautiful. The lake was a total mirror and the rising sun was shining on our side of the lake. I had dropped to the back as I was stopping to take pictures and enjoy the morning. There I met up with some of the new riders and together we rode past the first turn which would take us over to the next lake. Even though I kind of knew it was wrong I didn’t really care as it was just so pleasant. Ten kms up the road it was time to take bearings and we then rode back the ten kms to the turn. There was a 400 meter climb and Craig left me and I left the other two riders. After the climb I caught up to Craig where he was fixing a flat, so I pumped his tire for him. As we were there an ambulance flashed past us with the sirens whaling. As the other two had not caught us I thought this is bad.

Craig and I rode on as team and we caught a couple of different groups and arrived at lunch towards the end of the ride. There we learned that Rob the big Englishman had fallen and broken his collar bone.

For the rest of the day rode together taking turns pulling and enjoying the day. The road took us in and out of Switzerland. I think we are in Switzerland tonight but I have kind of lot track. There were lots of tunnels, lots of towns to get lost in, and just incredible scenery.

The reason this ride is called Les Dix Alpes is the there are nine passes over 2000 meters and one pass which is just under 2000. It is part of the tour ride.

All in Craig and I covered 148 kms and climbed over 1500 meters. What a great day!


Sunday, June 19, 2011

A Beautiful Day In Como June 19 2011

I felt very much improved this morning. Yesterday’s stomach flu which swept through the group has pretty much passed. I think that Bruce was the only one who was still suffering. So I completed the remaining chores which included cleaning my bike, re-wrapping the handle bars with new tape, and getting my gear organized.

I was just finished these chores when there was a tap on the door of the room and it was my good friend Jurg. Jurg and I have put many miles on together and it was really great to see him. Being the first truly sunny day since we left Rome we went for a stroll through the streets of Como and walked along the lake shore. It was so nice catching up on what has happened since we last rode together in the Canadian Rockies. We watched an antique car parade and had a wonderful lunch in a side walk café in front of the Como cathedral. It opened at 3:00 PM and then we went in a visited the cathedral. What a marvellous building. The love which has gone into building these monuments is truly unbelievable.

We had to be back for the briefing at 4:00 pm and to get our new jerseys for the Alps ride. They are a very nice aqua blue colour with the route shown on it. It will be a very nice bragging rights piece.

I have scrounged a sleeping mat from one of the riders who was leaving and so my failed air mattress is in the garbage bin. These are very deluxe mats aand it will be great not to have to re-inflate my air mattress at 2:30 AM.

Tomorrow we start the new section.


Saturday, June 18, 2011

Food Poisoning June 18 2011

To day is the first rest day in Como. On Monday we start the Alps tour. It is much shorter and I believe only 11 stages with two rest days. It is probably just as difficult a trip as the one we have just finished. Well actually I cannot conceive how it could be any more difficult and expect normal riders to complete the ride. This has been a fabulous trip in a lot of ways. I have seen so much and learned so much about Italy. I never really had any appreciation for Italy before. The infrastructure which has been put in place is unbelievable. Everything from the ultra modern auto strada and huge tunnels to the smallest detail in the smallest village. It is real testament to the strength and durability of the Italian people. When people think of Italy they think of the wine and the food. However that is only a tiny part of what is here.

This morning I woke up at 4:30 Am with a tremendous stomach ach. However I lay in bed until 6:45 trying to be quiet as I have two other room mates. I went down to breakfast and although the hotel put out a great spread I couldn’t eat anything. However there are chores to do and number one on the list is laundry. So I packed my clothes into my back pack and headed off with Dennis. We found a great laundry and I had to loan Dennis 4 Euros but mission accomplished. Next laundry is in Calgary. Found a pharmacy and got some anti acid pills and they are helping. It looks like just about everyone got food poisoning last night. Some people have been up all night with it coming out both ends. So I consider my self lucky. I think I am going to take a sleeping pill and try and sleep this one off.

We have two rest days in Como and I am looking forward to seeing my friend Jurg who is joining me on this ride.

There are no photos today as I would have to walk around Como to take some and that is out of the question sorry.


The Last Day June 17 2011

Well it isn’t really the last day. It is the last day of the Bella Italia trip, which ran from Palermo to Como. What a long strange trip it has been. But wait the trip isn’t over yet and today turned from what should have been are really fun day into a total gong show.

The ride is 140 kms from Grosio to Como. It has a total climb of 1335 meters but is a net down hill of 300 meters. I leave camp with Bruce as my navigator and a few others. It is 70 kms down to lunch mostly along a bike path. However as I was aware these bike baths are narrow, twisting and hard to follow as every kilometre or so you have to stop to find where it goes next. I am out front pulling with Adrian right behind me when I spot some pot holes. I yell “POT HOLES” but too late Adrian touches my wheel and is up set into the ditch. He is ok just a little muddy. Now we are down the road way and the path suddenly ends. Our only choose is to climb this really steep bank and ride down the Auto-Strada. There is a huge fine for this but we were out of options. About a 2 kms of really scary riding we find and exit and shoot across 4 lanes of traffic. Lunch doesn’t come up soon enough but finally we are there. So we gather ourselves up and head down the road to the ferry which will take us across to Como. About 30 Kms from the ferry my rain suit falls off my bike and Koos picks it up. He has a huge bag on his bike and agrees to carry it for me. Then 5 kms later Adrian and I get separated from Koos. Adrian gets a flat so I fix his tire. We are now really late for the ferry and have to make some time but then the sky opens up into a torrential down pour. It is about 20 kms to the ferry and by the time we get down we are riding in 1.5 inches of water on the road.

We get on the ferry for the Lake Como. However the luggage van won’t start so Richard pulls it onto the ferry with his van. On the ferry Koos reaches into his huge bag and pulls out a dry jersey for me. Being dry was great. The ferry arrives and Richard pulls the luggage van off the ferry. With just over 40 kms to go to Como we set off. It is a really nice ride along the coast of Lake Como but everyone is exhausted, and I have to keep working to keep them moving. Finally we are in Como. However there is no luggage they have had to take the fire truck back to the ferry to get the luggage. The luggage arrives at 8:45 Pm.

We head off for a celebration dinner in a local restaurant.

“What a long strange trip it’s been.” -- Jerry Garcia


Stelvio Pass June 16 2011

The camp was electric with excitement this morning over the climb up the Stelvio pass. It is one of the most renown climbs in the world so everyone was wired over today’s ride.

We were camped 25 kms from the start of the pass and I was off as early as I could as I wanted to be over the pass by noon. The first 25 kms took me along a bike path which was very well paved and marked. I arrived at the entrance to the pass at 9:10 so I had under three hours to make my goal. It was 25 kms to the top of the Stelvio. We started at 550 meters and the pass is at 2760 meters. There are a total 48 hair pin switch backs on the climb and they are all sign posted and they count down to the top. The first few are a long way apart so it seems like you are not making any progress. Ten kms in to the climb I stopped and ate an energy bar which sure helped as I had been grinding away for close to an hour by then. I ground away past a bunch more switchbacks but the numbers were still only in the thirty’s. We have now entered the clouds and it is very foggy. After about two hours of grinding I still have 8 kms to go. It started to rain so I stopped and put on my rain suit. I am sure glad I found it back in Rome. The numbers are now down to the low teens and you can see the summit. However is really steep and each switch back seems steeper than the last. Fortunately there are lots of photo opportunities so you can stop often. Finally I am at the top.

It is bitter cold and pouring rain. Bike Dreams have taken over a restaurant at the top where we have lunch. They have a huge fire going and I change out of my wet gear into dry stuff. There are a lot of small shops all selling souvenirs and cycle jerseys. So I picked out a jersey. It is great! It has the picture of the Stelvio on it.

It stops raining and I jump on the bike and head off as there is still 43 kms to go and a really steep decent to deal with. It is cold and wet on the road down and in places so foggy you cannot see 50 feet. There are a bunch of tunnels and more switch backs on the decent however they are much easier to deal with on the down hill.

We are in a very nice little hotel to night in Grosio. Tomorrow is last day of the Bella Italia ride and we then have two rest days before the Alps tour starts.

What an exciting day.