Tuesday, 13 June 2017

Cycling Challenge - Writing

It was a day that started with rain and our group of 8 cyclists donning wet weather jackets before taking to the saddle in search of the French Alps. It was not a cold morning.

We headed out along the bike path tracing the bank of the magnificent Lake Annecy with the first stop being the Winter Olympic Town of Albertville.

I was challenged today to write purely from recollection, my most memorable day of cycling and have selected a day in 2010 when I conquered my first French Alp, the imposing Col de la Madeleine rising a little over 2000 metres above sea level. I did find a photo to include.

We had come through the previous day from Evian on the “Lake Geneva Shoreline” in Switzerland, a ride of about 120 kilometres on a very hot day. Although cycling in the wet is never ideal, I was grateful for the relief of the heat of the previous day and reports indicated the rain would clear and it had by the time we reached Albertville. In reality, cyclists are forever optimistic about weather.

At Albertville, we lunched on Baguettes and headed for Col de la Madelaine. It would be the first accent of a French Alp for all but one of us and there was much nervous energy as we reached the start of the climb.

The secret to climbing these high mountains is to know you will get very hot with the constant uphill cycling while also being aware it will be cold at the summit where you need warm clothing. Our van driver would be there waiting.

Under clearing skies, we headed off expecting a two-hour climb, give or take 10 minutes

I have little recollection of the 23 kilometre all up hill road itself. What I do recall are amazing views, hard physical effort, a sense of living and being really engaged with the environment. And, the sound of cow bells.

About a third of the way up, there was some light rain which gradually intensified along with stronger winds as the elevation gain increased. With about 5 kilometres to go, rain became mixed with ice and it was seriously cold. Wearing cycling shorts and a short-sleeved lycra jersey provided very little defence and the pain of the cold intensified with each metre cycled, upwards slowly at around 10 kph.
I remember reaching down for my bidon (water bottle) and being unable to squeeze it to get a drink, such was the cold in my hands.

The sense of achievement at having completed the climb of the great Col was hard to describe. Imagine the feeling of an adrenaline rush from the climb mixed with intense, very intense pain of the cold. However, before racing to the sanctuary of the summit café, I stood still to have my photo taken.

I have experienced more exciting cycling days including a few days later when we conquered Mount Venteoux.

This however is the most memorable because it was my first time cycling to 2000 metres elevation and the weather conditions were exciting, painful and satisfying. I fell in love with France on this day.

And not long after we all finished, it snowed.

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