Will and the Road to Aigle
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So I have a plan. I am working in Basel and the Critérium du Dauphiné is taking place in the Alps to my south. Three hours of driving will see me there and as such it is too good an opportunity to miss. So Friday morning at 6am I am leaving Basel on the autoroute south, Bern and Geneva the place names to guide me towards the day’s stage. Wiggins has just turned in a time trial performance that has twitter in a “hail Wiggo” or “he’s doping” frenzy. I care not. For me there is a chance to see riders in action, to cycle a climb or two, to step away from work.
The gods are not happy. As I head south the rain gets harder. The plan for Friday is to catch the stage on the Grand Colombier or the next climb along, park the car, have a ride, see them pass and then head off to Les Gets, a small village just to the south of Morzine. It is pissing down. At one point I have to stop the rain is so heavy. I arrive in Seyssel to find a supermarket and decide on my next move. As I emerge it rains harder and so I decide to give the stage a miss and head for Les Gets. I have to admit a little cowardice. I had read @cyclingalps’s blog so as to get an impression of Grand Colombier, to check out the climb. His blog did place a certain fear into my heart. The word steep bounces around my wimpish circuits.
And so Les Gets, a nice hotel, not a bad room, the town is quiet. Saturday morning I head down into Morzine, a quick descent of 100m or so. The town is preparing for the arrival of that day’s stage and the paraphernalia of a stage race is being erected in the middle of the town. Around the edges of the town team vehicles are pulling into hotels and unloading kit into the hotels that the team will occupy that evening. I cycle around a little to take some photos but more as an excuse to put off the next part.
Joux-Pane (here’s the link to Wills blog) I have cycled before from the Samoens side. It was a tough ride and even more annoying since the Garmin failed to record by efforts. I am anxious about this ride. I set off and I cock it up from the off, too fast from the outset. The heart rate doesn’t go that high anymore and I like to control it; the embarrassment of dying in front of some bronzed climbing god is not good. My other pre-prepared excuse is my bike. It is a very nice bike, in fact a very very nice bike. It is a bike that is far better than the rider. It just happens to have a full group set on it. And I paid the price.
Half way up I meet a Frenchman walking his bike. He gets back on and we ride slowly together and chat. My French is at the level of a five year old. He does not speak English. We discuss the day’s stage, he wants to know how old Wiggo is? Will Evans mount an attack? As far as I am concerned the only attack developing today is the pounding heart trying to escape from my chest. He decides to stop and I cycle slowly upwards. It was a long time to the top. I will not go into the details, they are not pretty. Suffice to say it will not go down in the records as one of my better attempts (that is still held by Telegraphe). But I get to the top. But the snotty climb has one more little knee in the balls for you because you go down a little, loose a little height and then, yes, you have to go up again.
And then that feeling. There is nothing like it. The feeling that invigorates the legs that comes when you see the summit and you feel the look of 100 pairs of eyes. My breathing suddenly becomes calm, I ride with grace, who is this climbing god they think. Oh how I tried to deceive them.
I sit in the restaurant at the top, coffee and coke, take in the scene. I then check twitter. Yes I am sad but I have good cause. There is the hoped for message. @cyclingalps is making his way up to the top from the other side. He is 4kms away, apparently stopped with some Belgies who bribe him with alcohol. Belgies do that. I take a few pictures, take in the scene and enjoy the warmth of the sun. The local ESF ski school hand out red sweat shirts, well why not, it’s free. Will sends me another tweet. He is wearing podium café kit and is, I read this bit several times, carrying a pink knapsack! He is easy to spot as he arrives. He takes some photos with someone he has climbed with and then he comes over. We shake hands in that terribly formal way that you do.
And then he produces the gift. The gift made from the tears of the patron saint of climbers. A tin of Leffe. The man has climbed 1000m with gradients of 10% plus to deliver nectar to me. What a star! We chat, we discuss, we recount. I feel I know him from twitter and his blog. Bits get filled in. The time flies by. His love of climbing is obvious his charm apparent. We chat while looking out over a gorgeous view of the Alps, clouds, snow-capped peaks and camper vans.
And then the sound, the sound that everyone on the mountain has been waiting to hear. First the plane and then the helicopter. The means by which those pictures get to you flies round the bend and then the lead rider, Quintana from Movistar. From memory there might have been some pursuers and then what was left of the peloton, destroyed by and led by the Sky boys. The impression is one of control, it is almost graceful. The yellow jersey is third in line. Will and I miss Cadel Evans, he is tucked in to the side of Wiggins as he passes us just before the summit. We did not even notice he was there.
The cameras click – well they don’t, they’re electronic – and then the group has passed. Stragglers then come through, groups of three, four, may be more. And there are a lot. Two big groups and many small ones until finally the last man and the broom wagon.
And then it is time to bid our farewells and the descent back to Morzine. A fast descent, the road is still closed so there is no traffic coming up and little is going down with me. You get to use the full width of the road. Once Back into Morzine I have a look around at the team hotels and the town before a final ride back up to Les Gets.
On Sunday I went down to Morzine again and had a look in at the hotel where the Sky team were staying, got a few words out of Sean Yates but I sensed talking to a numpty like me was not uppermost in his list of actions for the day. The sight of the washing machines on the sky team bus amused. And then into the centre of town. The riders mixed in with the public, you could get right up close to the bikes and the autograph hunters were scurrying from one victim to the next. Soon enough the peloton is rolling out taking on another day in the mountains.
I leave Morzine and grit my teeth and ride the Col de l’Encrenaz, a short but tough little climb and then loop back to the hotel and pack up for the drive back to Basel. Now I am not a great user of satnavs but when you’re on your own they make sense. So I asked for the quickest route but made a fatal mistake of not checking the route selected until a little too late. Satnavs are not aware of such events as the Dauphine. So I should have checked because the satnav decided to route me along the route. To Chatel. Not so bad. The Col du Corbier was fun but I was damn glad I was in a car because on a bike that is a tough climb. I then arrive at Chatel.
The sign was small, not that menacing and very yellow. “Suisse” is all it said. What it meant was that, if you want to proceed, you are not coming through the middle of town. So I reluctantly follow the diversion along with several other Swiss registered cars. We follow the signs past three turns and then through a gate we turn onto a gravel forest track. This is serious. The official diversion for the world to bypass Chatel is what seems like an endless forest track. A convoy of eight cars negotiate the “road” avoiding large rocks, potholes and suspicious dark patches slowly climbing our way past what looks like quite a nice place had I seen any of it. I laughed out loud, I am hoping that nothing happens to the car because this is not the place to breakdown or have a puncture. Finally the convoy emerges back onto the main road out of Chatel and up into Switzerland. Tarmac was invented for a reason. The ASO should probably remind themselves why.
We make the border and into Switzerland and a descent down into the valley and on to Monthey. But the satnav has one more trick up its sleeve. As I drive down a series of hairpin bends, with a mighty mountain on my left shoulder, a 300m vertical drop on my right the satnav announces “in 50m take a right turn”. I decide this is one instruction too many.
As soon as I have joined the safety of the autoroute to head north a sign appears in front of me. The word “Sortie” is written large and it is followed by a place name. The name is Agile. I had not realised the home of the UCI was in this part of the world.
For all of cycling’s ills it was a brilliant weekend. There was the pain of a climb, the annoyance of not doing better, the pleasure of meeting someone new, someone hopefully I will meet again, the amusement of the official diversion through a forest, a satnav too clever by half but also a touch of sadness that AJ was not with me.
So for next year I plan a date with the Dauphiné and this time with AJ, no satnavs, no forest tracks but hopefully another meeting with Will.