While it was good to leave the not-so-nice hotel, neither was it good to immediately cycle up a mountain called Col de Corobin, which took us rather steeply to 1,211 metres. Once again however we had great scenery, wonderful company, the occasional welcome sound of Nobby’s loudhailer and I was feeling reasonably strong and ready for the day ahead, our last one of this tour. My mental strategy was to arrive intact at around 60 miles, at which point we were promised undulations for around 20 miles and then what was described as an incredible 16 mile descent to the sea and then a 6/8 mile run along the promenade, into Nice and our hotel. Tres Bon!
Climb number two, though long, saw me feeling quite strong, with the pain in my knee not yet breaking through the painkillers I’d taken and already seeing the wow factor of the scenery kicking in to make me feel the luckiest guy alive.
That ‘up’ then became the fabulous ‘down’ to the village of Castellane over which towers the Roc de Notre Dame, 184 metres above the town. How on earth/why on earth did they do that? I think we’ve maybe had a bit of pain over the past couple of days, but how could that ever compare with lugging masonry up 184 metres without mechanical help? How many lives would have been lost on this project? However, the immediate problem was no cyclists to be seen & wondering how could they not be here and taking a coffee break. I cycled on into the busy town, to then get a welcome shout from a group who were tucked up in a shady alleyway with beers and coffee in abundance. Spirits were high, everyone happy and in truth how could you not be.
Coffee or no coffee fix, there was still a big climb ahead (a total of 2496 metres today I’m told) but I was often blessed with the company and music of Steve, scenery that defies description and the knowledge that post lunch was eminently doable and would take me to our end goal of Nice. I took photos and videos as I went along to help me re-live these great sights and I arrived for lunch in good spirits and showed off by riding the last few hundred yards with both hands in the air. I gratefully tucked in to our roadside lunch, grabbing a little shade which was oh so welcome, as we were now into 30 plus degrees of heat.
Next came the 20 odd miles of undulations to the top of the descent to the coast. I didn’t hang around after lunch & set off alone, through the lanes and villages and the wonderful countryside smells. My left knee was by now sending out a few distress signals so I tried to concentrate on just using my right one. This worked fine, but what became increasingly difficult, was standing on the pedals, which not only gives an occasional power boost for short climbs but also stops the bum muscles seizing up. Ah well, seize up they did and I just tried to ignore that and concentrate on my lovely surroundings.
The descent, when it came, was beyond amazing and simply the best downhill ride I have ever had. It was a good road surface, it twisted and turned in spectacular fashion, with views of the road and cars over a thousand metres below. There were tunnels, some simply great holes in the rocks. There were spectacular rock outcrops and at one point the best close up waterfall ever, the Cascade de Courmes which no motorist could appreciate as stopping a car on this narrow road was quite impossible. However, it attracted a whole group of cyclists who were busy taking videos and pictures, in raptures about the ride and quietly wondering if there was any way of getting under that water as by now, we were all cooking from the inside in our clammy Lycra.
The descent still went on and the speed was amazing, to the point where any thought of fatigue was forgotten. However, once at the bottom and suddenly surrounded by traffic, with stop lights every few hundred metres and tarmac that was hot enough to fry eggs on, life became tedious once more and it was a welcome relief to finally see the sea and a whole bunch of Macmillan Jerseys surrounded by beer, coffee, ice creams and excitement. Adrian was kind enough to buy me a pistachio double ice cream and despite the fact that we had over 6 miles of Promenade to go, congratulatory hand shakes and hugs were exchanged all around.
DA lead us onto the Promenade and we largely single filed our way slowly towards our seaside hotel, dodging pedestrians, dogs, others cyclists and all the chaos that was Nice in the unfolding. I was asked to lead us all to our finish line, where DA, Judith and Michelle plus a whole hosts of friends and visitors were present, with bubbles on offer and tears plentiful. All very emotional and it is so hard to describe the shedloads of aspirations that had been fulfilled at this single moment in time.
Hot, sticky, tired, emotional – there was only one solution for a few who simply ran down the beach & jumped into the sea. I managed to save that pleasure for a little while later and changed into swimming gear and braved the pebbles and the undertow to enjoy the ‘just right’ temperature and a gorgeous cool down, with many of the others.
Our hotel (the rather tired but still quite splendid ‘The Royal’) did have a lovely terrace where we had our final dinner. Lauren, our Macmillan CEO (on her first ever cycle challenge), gave a lovely speech on behalf of the charity. DA gave awards, most of which were comical but some so very well deserved and Trevor gave a very funny summing up. Not sure how I feel being compared, along with Tony and Ron, to the 3 characters in “Last of the Summer Wine’ but that’s Trevor’s humour for you and in fairness, I suppose not that far from the truth given our combined age of 211 years!
Stats for the day:
2528 mts of climbing
Stats for the Trip:
9109 mts of climbing
Overall thus far £130K approx plus £20K of future funding
My personal fundraising £17K approx plus £20K of future funding
Just before we went to sleep last night Judith said ‘I hope those church bells don’t go on all night’. ‘Of course they won’t,’ said I, with confidence. Wrong – they never missed an hour and in such a sleepy place one has to ask, for the well-being of the village at large, ‘Why’? However, not too bad a night’s sleep, the room really was very comfortable & we slept quite well.
Today’s route, we’re told, goes South on the historic Route Napoleon and over cols made famous on the Tour de France. Now that’s just the sort of news you need to get the nerves jangling and the fear levels rising, but like many such days, it started out in quite spectacular fashion with an immediate and wonderful descent. Some in the team were recording speeds of over 72km p.h. My Garmin quit after day one, but on that day my maximum was a very careful 61km p.h. although faster speed was to come, later in the trip.
What followed was a steady climb to Col de Manse at 1640 mts which I understand was to be the highest point on our trip. While I was hardly flying, I felt much stronger than the previous 2 days although still way off my normal self. What was such an inspiration and so uplifting, especially on the hills, was the great music that riders like Steve and Scott were playing on their phones, over boom box speakers. The quality of the music and the sound was wonderful and being someone who has enjoyed spinning classes for years, I can’t help but get caught up in the beat of a good track. On the downside, when the music maker is stronger than you, you find the evocative beat disappearing slowly up the mountain side and you’re left with the silence and your own inadequate devices to take your mind off the painful legs and lungs. I have to say that Steve was particularly good in staying with me and even altering the tempo of his music to fit my cadence. The 2 of us rocked up to the summit at Col de Manse like a couple of pros and I’m sure Judith and the DA Guys must have thought we were on something. Oh the power of a good music!
Just after the summit, we all assembled at a historic Napoleonic refuge where we had coffee, took photos and despite the 90 mile day ahead, we’re generally all in good spirits. By this point in the day we were also acutely aware that we were approaching the Med, both from the 28c heat, the countryside and the smells. Lots of people were soaking their headgear in water before putting them back on and liberally applying high factor sun cream. Everywhere we looked we were rewarded with fields of corn, often inter spaced with poppies, lavender & lupines and in the background, dramatic mountains, many of the higher ones capped with snow.
After lunch, I was actually feeling quite strong and was in a small peloton when we dropped into the amazing town of Sisteron, a picture postcard place if ever there was one. It has an amazing castle, which lords it over the town, perched on a high rocky outcrop. It has a Lake and beautiful old Mediterranean homes perched precariously on the edge of a cliff. The stuff of dreams, but when you’re riding strong (ish) and on a roll, thoughts of playing tourist and a coffee were swept aside. Mistake of course as the long day took its toll!
However, push on we did and headed for Digne via quiet back roads and forests, often flanked on both sides by sheer cliffs. The long day was beginning to take its toll by now and I was also experiencing quite nasty pains in my left knee, something I have never had before and which was quite worrying. As usual, our accommodation was way the other side of town, so it seemed a lifetime before we reached our spa hotel in this historic spa town. However, take the ‘spa’ bit loosely here, as the hotel pool was empty, they ran out of beer after about 6 orders and even drained the fountain pool at the front of the hotel (but not before many had used that as a cool down!). However, the relief of shedding the bikes at a fraction under 90 miles was immense and we were later bussed into town where we had a lovely meal, al fresco style, in the town square and where spirits, as always, were sky high despite aching muscles and tired legs.
Stats of the day:
1906mts of climbing
It was no hardship to leave our rather grim hotel room and head out of Allevard at 8.00 on what was a very pleasant descent to the Isére valley, parallel to a fast flowing river and towards Grenoble, which we skirted. The roads were quiet and the countryside opened up as we went through the day, but always with the backdrop of the mountains, some still with patches of snow. We had a photo shoot at a magnificent suspension bridge over the Isére river before starting a climb to the village of Vif where we had a very welcome coffee stop at a café which was full of local men, all friendly and who took a keen interest in the bikes and what we were up to.
We then learned the true meaning of ‘cheeky’ which, like a wine apparently carries a percentage, in this case of 12% although that’s the gradient, not the strength. A truly mean climb which took some serious energy but using the inevitable ‘what goes up’ theory, we had a thrilling descent on the other side, over another fine bridge & the climb to Col de Cornillon at 885 mts where we enjoyed the views, took photos and generally got our breath back. I had resigned myself, at this point, to being a steady climber, with no aspirations other than to get to the top. For whatever reason, my legs just didn’t have the strength to generate a lot of power.
What followed was another great descent through the town of Mens and despite being eager to get to Corps, we pulled over at the huge EDF hydro power dam at the bottom of the valley. What an incredible structure, as the photos will show. I don’t think I have ever seen a wall of concrete quite so tall and sheer, it is truly magnificent. This sight buoyed us up quite nicely for the run along the shores of Lac du Sautet before another climb into our home for the evening in the small town of Corps and The Hostel de Poste.
Our room here was, like, the hotel in general, quite quirky & we enjoyed a light and airy bedroom with steps up to a small balcony with views of the town’s rooftops and mountains, beyond. Main course dinner was, quite unusually, a burger at a restaurant down the road, but as it was a nicely made burger and came with chips and red wine, I for one was not complaining. Spirits were high and everyone was pleased to be leaving the days ‘cheeky’ climbs well behind.
Stats of the day:
2,186 mts of climbing
The day started mercifully dry but wet underfoot (or maybe I should say ‘tyre’) and the forecast somewhat better than the rain and storms forecast earlier in the week. In the event we stayed dry until we hit the mountains, later in the morning, when we got very wet but happily that was the only rain we saw for the rest of the trip.
Departure on these trips is always a high mix of nervous chat, laughter, outright fear and anxiety and when that is multiplied 40 times over, it’s a heady formula. However, with bikes prepped and ready, the optimists showing Macmillan Jerseys and the others in rain gear, we set off at 8.00, only to stop at 8.02 as Robert had a puncture, so we lined up at the roadside while that was fixed. We then launched into the slow process of leaving Geneva, traffic light by traffic light with the cry of ‘split’ ringing out every time the group was split at a red light. Andrew then made the fatal error of side slipping a tram line and came down heavily on his shoulder and Jock also fell but without a good reason as is his custom!
We had a team photo down by Lake Geneva and then about 40 minutes later, we started to clear the City and the traffic. There was then a steady climb onto higher altitudes and cloud and rain, on quieter, small back roads. At some point I presume we also passed into France but I’m not sure when and we never passed a visible checkpoint. The route, in customary DA fashion, was marked by orange triangles pointing the way, a system which works well until some local vandal, or in the case of Annecy, the local deputy Mayor, decides they’re illegal and takes them down!
The morning saw us head South into the beautiful town of Annecy, surrounded on the way by fields and distant views of the Alps. There was a welcome random coffee stop for most in Annecy and then a steady climb to lunch where sadly Nobby was offloading gear as the van was malfunctioning once again & he was off to try and find a replacement alternator. A vendor at a hotdog stand proved amazingly helpful and phoned several places for us and miraculously found a possible solution, some many miles away.
A descent and climb to Col de Frêne at 950 mts came after lunch together with an 8km switchback descent, which was quite wonderful, but high winds made this a hairy experience and not everyone enjoyed it.
The final leg of the day took us up a valley with high sided, dramatic cliffs and where the temperature dropped quite dramatically. The rivers were massively swollen and very fast flowing, a result, I think, of the best snow conditions through Winter and Spring, the Alps have had for many years.
Our hotel in Allevard was adequate but very French, very dated and being allocated the disabled room where the bleak and cold bathroom was as big as the bedroom, was hardly designed to lift spirits. I’d also had a hard day’s ride, feeling out of sorts and where I struggled to keep up with the mates I regularly ride with. I also began to feel seriously off colour soon after arrival so took my ECG with an app I have and was able to diagnose I was in Atrial Fibrillation, a condition that I’d had diagnosed about 6 months ago and which means my heart beat is irregular. Fortunately this passed in about an hour, but I was to feel way below my cycling best for much of the ride and not quite sure what to attribute that to.
We had a good group dinner and a briefing on day two which we were told held a number of ‘cheeky’ climbs for us. ‘Cheeky’ sounded ominous and indeed it would prove to be so!
However, the good news was that half way through dinner, we were told that Nobby was on the way back, the van was fixed & we flocked outside to give him a rousing welcome!
Stats of the day:
2650 metres of climbing