Tuesday, September 27, 2016

End of season ponderings

Although it's the start of the cyclo-cross season, the 3 Peaks cyclo-cross falls more comfortably into the end of the triathlon season than into the beginning of 'cross.  It's a multidiscipline race of riding and running (with weather-dependent swimming) which is definitely an endurance event rather than a speedy 40 minutes of hell.

My warm-down from triathlon was the Torino Nice Rally (more to come) and then the Peaks naturally tagged onto the end of that.  As a result, I now feel like I can declare tri season over.

Before the Peaks I had already planned what I'm aiming for next year (qualification for the worlds team in 2018) and I am also debating whether I can fit another project legitimately into that plan... but that's also for another time...  I have registered for two worlds qualifying races and may sneak a third one in.  I also have registered a Euro's one too just in case but this does clash with the other plan so that's why that's for another time.  I'm trying to avoid planning for next year's tri season too soon so I don't burn out but I'm so looking forwards to it I can hardly help myself.

This has been exascerbated by...

A conversation in the pub last night

How interesting it is working with a coach. An archery coach but still, interesting talking to someone trained in the development of self belief. I am due to spend the next 3 days with the guy in a hazop and after the weekend he has spent at a coaching conference I am about sure that he will spend the rest of this week psycho analysing us.

Tonight after a long discussion about my tri year and targets for next I disclosed that I am not very good at triathlon, I just love it.  He laughed at me and said, "did you just hear yourself?"  Yep, I suppose I have to work on that self-belief thing but to be honest, I'm just not arrogant enough to go around boasting about how good I am and there's plenty of people to point out that I'm regularly beaten by a lot of people who - dont' want to / can't be bothered to / can't afford to / don't see the point in - registering for their national team.  I am just passionate about what I do.

But it's not that I don't think this qualifying year is doable or that I can't get the times, I just know how much effort it will take and that's the bit I am not sure I can sustain.  That prompted an interesting question - Do I fail because I don't try? or do I stop trying because I think I am going to fail and therefore there's no point trying?

An email in my inbox

Tonight an email in my inbox has invited me to write a list of 5 to 12 things that I need to change about next year's training to be successful.  It's a good plan and one that I should take on because things are occurring to me all the time.  It's a tough one because when I do well it's usually down to an unstructured approach and a life filled with wonderful events and experiences - most entered or even just concocted on the spur of the moment.

I know the things that do work and I need to do more of them.  I also have a plan of how to achieve the time that I need to meet and so all this needs to go down on paper. 

This blog is probably the place for it but right now it's a tiny list and it's one  that needs more thought - not scribbling down now on an empty belly but it will be done... probably after I've eaten some food.  One thing that will go on it though is self belief because, in a world where people tell you that what you're doing isn't worthwhile or good enough far too often, it's healthy to have a bit of "I can do this" in your life.

Sunday, September 25, 2016

3 Peaks Cyclo Cross 2016 - No. 14

It doesn't feel like there is a lot to say about the 3 Peaks cyclo cross this year. In case you haven't seen my glowing smile since or read any of my Facebook posts from that time, it went incredibly well... but in exactly that way, there's so very little to say about it.

There are no dramas to write of. No punctures, falls or fails. I put my coat on for a rain shower that didn't last very long so I stopped to take it off again. It's hardly headline news.

The main headline is that I beat two vĂ©ry important people, the 26 year old me and 35 year old me. Both of us had just come back off long tours abroad.  Appart from that, here's the bits of how it went.

The ride to Ingleborough 

Started with dad and Jo Jebb. Settled in to enjoy the day and a bloody pleasant ride with a mixture of chatting and drafting. 

Family friend Po is there to watch me and dad ride past together, waving.


A few people passed us and a few more when I stopped to take my coat off.

Fat men can't get into heaven
Having gotten us both on the hill I set about making up places and catching up dad. After which I  enjoyed the ride and jog to Simon Fell. 
Dad passing through the eye of the needle
The woman next to me grumbles about how hard it is (we haven't even got to the hard bit  yet) and I say, that the day just gets better.
'Not again, never, no. I say that every year but this time I mean it'
Please tell me you really do mean this. There are plenty more people who want to play and plenty of people who don't want to listen to you moan all the way through.

All concerns about my hill climbing strength were put to bed as the fell passed in no time.
'Is this for real?' 
Simon Fell
Wondering who enters a race like the 3 Peaks without seeing those' photos.
'I can't carry my bike'.
Hold it this way. Try the other side. Put your hand there.
Oh damn it, see you later.  Good luck but maybe do some research next time you enter a thing.

Over the top and retrieved my bike then set off with Jo Jebb again and sneaked past somewhere in a bog.

I had a small group of followers coming off the top of the hill who opted for the long vertical stagger as I went left for the easier approach only to find the slab of limestone that I always slither down - sometimes on my ass with my bike on my head.  Stayed upright this year.

Even the descent was shortlived. I lost my concentration trying to decide what to pick up to eat (if anything) and lost my line several times, with a swear. Then I was there, grabbed a banana and joined the road.

The road to Whernside

Got on a good wheel.  It started raining, threatened hailing so I opted for coat on instead of getting a wet body.  By the time I get to Ingleton I'm too hot so I climb up to the quarry where Ian Small always waits and have a chat to him whilst I take my coat off.  He says he wishes he was fit like me.  I admit I don't know who I am at the moment.  I pick up two ladies from Beacon Wheelers - Lisa Waistell and Lucy Donnelly - a man in green and a few others.  I don't have to fight to catch anyone up.  I just sort of ride up to them and they're going slower than me so I go past them.  Lucy and Lisa sit on my wheel and include me in their little group.  

I stop at Chapel le Dale to drop off banana skin rubbish.  There isn't a bag except for the one that clearly contains someone's lunch and I'm not sure what to do so I lay it carefully on the ground and a British Cycling commissaire comes and makes sarcastic comments.  The marshall is kinder and comes over to pack it up as I try to find words for the BC official... polite ones.  All I can find is, "but the man said..." whilst the marshal reassures me it's OK and takes my crap off me.

Soon back with Beacon girls and we ride up to my favourite aid station where Nicky Hartle and Sinead Burke are waiting to give me encouragement and water.  Then I get a cuddle from Sue Thackaray and a kiss from Rob because his dad isn't there to oblige and I set off on cloud 9.


Whernside is step aerobics all the way to the top.  It starts easy then the steps get higher.  The National Trust have been out laying inappropriate stone and turning things into uncomfortable stairways instead of natural craggy paths.

I get sandwiched between Beacon ladies (they're calling me "orange lady") and form part of their conversation, making this all look very easy.

The top path is satisfyingly rideable this year.  A bit of a tail wind and I'm on great form.  Bouncing from one side of the path to the other to get the smoothest line.  I have a couple of walks - mostly around stiles and gates - and then check in and start the slither back down.  I forget to look over the wall at the view this year.

The descent is depressing for a while.  No-one wants to walk on limestone steps in the wet and it's not just us - none of the hikers are on the steps either!!

Finally we can ride for a while - there's a mixture of techniques for crossing drains, then shallow steps and then finally the limestone runs out and we're at the last drop off before the rideable trail but even the rideable trail has its hazards and I use a combination of caution and balls out to ride all the sharp rocks.  This time, thankfully, bouncing out without a single puncture.

I remain conservative across the rivers, keeping my feet dry.  I mean, I'm not racing for anything, might as well be comfortable.

The final descent by the viaduct is mostly rideable until I find a group of walkers coming towards me and stop to push my bike the last bit.

I don't really need anything from Andrew but he suggests something Torq and I accept.  He puts a massive handful of bars in my pocket that I couldn't possibly hope to eat and I just accept that I'll ditch them with Norton Wheelers in a bit.

The ride to Pen-Y-Ghent

I'm back with Beacon again and one of them offers me food assistance from the back of her car.  I'm OK and check what Andrew put in my pocket.  It's not bars, it's a bottle and so I down the lot.  Although I've still got stuff in my camelbak it's nice to have some sugary drink.  Beacon pass me back - this time me on the climb (4th peak) and then I catch up on the fast road section through Horton in Ribblesdale.  I miss my mum's cheers, she's at home in bed with a tummy bug.  

I don't even need to check my watch to see if I've made the cut-off point going up the hill.  I'm so far ahead of where I normally am.  


Pen Y Ghent lane is SO NOISY! I'm going through really fast so hardly identify anyone shouting my name.  I nearly pass Norton but then hear Dave Berresford's voice and Lynn asking if I need the sweets I gave her earlier.  No, but I ditch the empty bottle so I can carry my bike properly.

I see Hannah Saville, mid bunnyhop over a drainage ditch with the sun behind her and wish my eyes had a replay camera. 

Owen isn't far behind and in between, I've had to work hard to identify Ian Fitz, mostly because my brain isn't working much and because I actually so rarely see him in Norton colours.

On with riding and I realise I've never ridden this far up Pen-Y-Ghent lane before without needing to get off and walk.  There's a few times I get thrown off but I just get back on and start riding again.  My narrow handlebars are perfect for riders coming the other way two abreast and the line of spectators banked up on the left of the lane.  I ride as much of the steeps as I can then get back on all the way up to the gate and ride half way up the shallow climbs.  I'm still passing people at a steady walk up the hill where others have run out of steam.  

There are no crampy twinges on the steep climb across the grass and I'm on to the plateau before I know it.  There's a roaring wind up there and usually I'd put my coat on but I'm in such good form, I'm not getting that bloody mac out again so I just get on with it and head back down, waving to the Beacon ladies and Jo Jebb on my way.

There's nothing to note on the descent.  Dad is well and on his way up, having made the cut off in good time.   On the lane, I attempt to shove Kendal Mint Cake in my face to subdue the final road cramps but I know it's too late really. Then there I am, all spilled out onto the road.  Andrew shouts "5 hours 20 at me" and I look at my watch to check.  It's reading 5 hours but then I did start it late.  I have about 5 minutes to go.  

About 400m down the road the cramps start and I'm not even at that hill yet.  Leg goes straight to sort out the cramp but then every other muscle in the leg threatens to cramp in response.  This year I discover that beating the leg to get the blood flow going helps and I spend the next 4 minutes slapping my skin to get the legs to turn in between screaming with pain.  Three guys standing at the back of a van look concerned but then just laugh at me as the cramp eases and I manage to say, "this fucking hill... every fucking year!".

I hate the cramp and the worst thing is, it puts paid to any chance I have of making up a place or two on the road section and I inevitably lose three or four places.

It's OK after the second climb, it's all down hill to the finish line except that tiny hump-back bridge and the leg holds out that far.  

Finishing is an anti-climax when you're used to finishing so near last that they're half way through the prize presentation and you finish to rapturous applause (for someone else).  I go and flop in the tipi and enjoy my good result, comfy tent, cup of tea and bacon and beans before seeking out my podium place for finishing with my dad in second father/daughter category.  Hannah and Kev are first.

So 8 days riding in the Alps is great Three Peaks training.  What a brilliant excuse to do Torino Nice next year.

Sunday, September 11, 2016

The Great and First Torino-Nice Rally Day 6 - Refugio Priet to Limone Piemonte via Priet, Colletto and St Roinas 43 miles, 2360m ascent

The ying yang of starting in a refugio.  You're half way up the hill already.  You've got yesterday's hill in your legs already.

Breakfast isn't quite as spectacular as dinner - mostly because the coffee is instant.  The boys have had a bit of a lie in so we set off piecemeal but mostly within an hour of eachother.  We half expect to see runners coming up the road but we seem to miss the different waves whilst we're on their route although we see plenty of marshalls on turns.  We leave Cyrille drying his tent.  My damp clothes are on the front of my bike as it was cold overnight - not good drying cold either.  I lose a pair of socks as I forget to change into riding socks and set about getting my "clean" socks sweaty on the first climb of the day.

Near the top of the climb someone almost drives into my handlebars as they overtake and I call them a very nasty word.

They stop a little further up and it's two women.  I feel slightly bad for swearing at them but it is justified and I soon snap at their yappy little dog too who seems to be intent on ruining the peace and quiet.  I'm not sure what they do to / with it but it soon stops yapping.  When they're walking below me later they seem to have left the poor bugger in the car.

It seems odd that we're so far above civilisation and yet there is this constant stream of traffic passing us - all heading for the carpark where the road stops and we are going to continue riding out across the landscape, all boulders and gravel.

A rare moment of me in the lead.
The peaks at the top of the Priet rise like prehistoric creatures from the plateau and the plateau road is littered with boulders and short challenging climbs.  These little kickers are immensely entertaining - as are the rambling downhills.  

Prehistoric rock
There's the occasional runner (must be back markers) and the occasional support family member and some hill walkers.  One Europen lady is a big fan of Nicky Spinks and Fell running and is planning to come to the UK next summer to, "Learn how to run".  Odd.  A lot of people are stopping for a chat.  At one point we meet up with the checkpoint for the runners who are about to de-camp and offer us as much food and drink as we'd like to save them carrying it off the hill.

Leaving the spine of the mountains behind.
Let's just say that in future long running events I will be carrying a small piece of parmesan in my rucsac.

Two mountain bikers are impressed by Andrew being the only person on a fully loaded bike to ride the short climb to the checkpoint (anything for free cheese) and they ride with us for a short time before disappearing off up a ridgeway path.  We start our descent to Demonte, after a little more rambling across the hillside.
"As if it's not hard enough you have to put all that crap on your bike too!" Justin makes friends with the locals.
When we hit tarmac it's time for lunch.  We avoid a few motorbikes on the hairpin bends then roll into the much anticipated Rifugio Carbonetto.  I order something off the specials that I don't understand and am rewarded by a delicious veal steak and deep green salad.  Perfect Iron-boosting food.  Those who opted for the more comprehensible ravioli are similarly happy.

Demonte is a lovely place but we ride through it because Verdante is our chosen destination for the night.  JJ stopped to stock up.  We leave the town on a flat road heading through big open fields of wheat and some dark green produce.  It's a verdant landscape that's difficult to leave but after starting at 1700m elevation, we've only done 700m climbing today and feel we have to earn our dinner.

We're soon at Festina which is summarily free of icecream... or people, but we fill up our water from the source in town and leave another couple searching, in desperation for an open source of ice cream.  Travelling by bike we have no option but to keep going up the Colletto for 1300m and over to Valderi which yields on the ice cream front, for all its high-rise buildings and big major road.

Valderi - Beautiful, and later will yield some really amazing icecream
Then follows the tortuous ride up the SP108 for 5 miles through areas of quarry workings.  We get the distinct impression that most people here work in the quarry and it's Sunday so everyone is out enjoying their day out.  As I start to think about stopping for the night, the parks and rec areas are filled with families playing and teenagers making out and drinking and it becomes clear that stopping here is not an option.  We climb up through the Tettos - each "village" establishment looking like the next 1980's horror movie of development mantle-holding, services-lacking surburbia I have paid to avoid on this trip.  There's one campsite but it's right by the main road and the signs at the gate clearly indicate that there's no tenting facilities so we continue on.

Finally back into the forest and roads where you can see where you're going to be in 400m because it's 50 m above you up the cliff.  We make it to the top of the Roinas after another 600m of up and a bit worse for wear but it's too early for us to think about wild camping and we have no food, despite a few tempting-looking car parks / churches / picnic tables.

More like it
We persevere onto Vernante and back into ski-resort-ville.  TSK cooks his brakes on the downhill and sends me ahead to forage the town for fresh food whilst he waits for the breeze to cool down the bike.  It's a pretty place despite its high-rise flats and the first place we've been to which seems to be alive and well at 5pm on a Sunday.  There's a market going on and I go into a greengrocers to buy fresh vegetables for our evening meal.  The shopkeeper is amused by the excitement I am displaying at buying fresh plums, green beans and tomatoes.  TSK turns up just as I'm walking out of the store and we wind our way through the market-goers and some street artists.  It would've been nice to take in the atmosphere but time was against us although the little park on the edge of town would have made a lovely camp spot.

There was clearly no legal site so I set off down the road at a clip for Limon Piemonte  which TSK considered to be a good bet for a legal campsite.  I was desperate to stop and so enraged at his decision that I both time-trialled the 3.5 miles along the road and failed to notice that we were travelling in the opposite direction to the river (ie. it was uphill).  I spent my time noseying at ski resort apartments and retreats and TSK did his best to sit on my wheel.  We were vaguely concerned that batches of vehicles were passing in the opposite direction and worried that we were going to get caught up in some sort of convoy going the other way.  However, our fears were unfounded and we rolled into the Limon Piemonte campsite / ski lodge next to the bus stop and the river at about 6:30pm.

Two of these bikes are ours.
A lovely Italian couple on the adjacent spot shared their garden tomatoes with us (yay! more fresh tomatoes) and we finally resorted to eating the emergency food because we had no desperate need to find out if Limon Piemonte had any restaurants (open or otherwise) by the time we'd set up camp at 8pm.  What we did have was an enclosed marquee tent complete with stove and electricity on which to brew dinner, green tea and charge some Garmin batteries / phones and sit on an *actual* chair.

As I was walking back from the shower and TSK had already snuggled into his sleeping bag, the thunder started.  We busied ourselves with battening down straps on luggage and moving our laundry (now hanging on a proper maiden) into the marquee tent then snuggled in to enjoy the storm and hoped that the boys were OK and had made it somewhere safe for the night.

Saturday, September 10, 2016

The Great and First Torino-Nice Rally Day 5 - Sampeyre to Refugio Pont Mannore via Col Sant 'Anna & Preit 25 miles, 1849m ascent

I am woken by the sounds of a tiger going out to forage for food but quickly go back to sleep until I am woken by an empty belly and a wonder where the tiger has gone.  I soon remember he left an hour ago but am not sure where he's got to.  It doesn't look good for breakfast.  I go to the loo but then my tiger reappears dragging what looks like John behind him.

"Look what I found", he says with some pride.

John backs away nervously as I enquire to the whereabouts of breakfast.  They've been drinking coffee.  I eat the pain au chocolat provided and brew up more coffee as we catch up with John.  The other half of JJ arrives soon.  He spent the night in a refuge on the mountain, John at the campsite I first saw coming off the col.  There's a story to this.  The refugio expected the four men that were staying to cram onto a small table together to eat (so two strangers).  Two women were given their own table.  For sleeping accommodation, JJ were offered the top bunk of a double-bunk-bed with the other Italians on the bottom bunk.  John's words were, apparently, "Fuck that shit" so he descended away from what would be termed, "the gayest refugio in Italy" for the rest of the trip.  Still, everyone enjoyed their evening in the long run.

Drying out camp... and tigers.
As packing is complete, there's a small row about the route.  Lawrence wishes to do the whole thing.  TSK and I are pretty much decided that, if cutting the route short means we will enjoy it more and return home in one piece and in time for the 3 peaks, we'll cut it short.  JJ are thinking that they'd also like to cut the route short to make it in time for their plane and they're only holding Lawrence back.  Lawrence doesn't like this idea as he has been very kindly waiting for people all the way so far.  It's a muted group who leave the campsite.  Still, there's not much that sheltered forest climbs can't solve.  We progress steadily, thankful of the tree cover for some time but I'm feeling lethargic.  Nothing hurts, there's just a gradual feeling of drag and sluggishness.

We pop out of the tree cover and for the first time in days I actually need a pee in the open.  I have to hunt out a suitable place in a small thicket without a view from the road - or above - or below.  It's not easy to lay your bike down and discretely disappear into the bushes when there's so many switchbacks but somehow I manage it.  I'm feeling better and actually, I finally realise that my back tyre is low which goes someway to explaining the sluggishness.

Thankfully, it's just a condition of the altitude or something and they stay rock hard for the rest of the week.

The rest of my sluggishness is explained by fatigue.  I stop for another break.  My brain is telling me to do something with my batteries.  I'm running my dynamo though probably not generating much power so I'm switching to solar and then I'm realising I'm about to go downhill so I'm trying to find cables and undo cables and I can't.  Looking back, I don't have a clue what I was trying to achieve.  I can hear JJ up the hill shouting down to me.  I only hear my name and I'm swearing and shouting, "I'm coming!" back.  They're probably asking me to look up for a photo but I'm feeling a pressure that I've been left behind and I feel shit so I'm snapping back at them... and now I feel bad for snapping.

They continue up.  I continue up.  I watch a pea-green fiat panda struggling up the climb ahead.  It looks steep, emphasised by the angle and grunting engine of the little car ahead.

We climb up and up further and finally, ahead of me Andrew stops.  I take a photo of a spider in the road which is fascinating me and then join him.

Ladybird spider (incredibly rare and protected species)... and my size 8s for a sense of scale.
Andrew is with JJ but Lawrence is nowhere to be seen.  He has headed off on the long loop and JJ have decided to stay with us for the day.  Fair 'nuff.  We're glad because he deserves to do the whole ride if he is capable of it.

Our descent joy is intensified by a left hand turn which looks like this on Google Maps...

and led to a solid 32 minutes of descending whoops

Yep, that's the road on the left.
We set off down the road on our new path, eager to see this short-cut described as epic and promoted as an excellent out-and-back distraction for anyone daft enough to be doing the whole route and fancy a bit of a down-and-up detour to make things more interesting.

Some tunnels better than others.
Indeed the "real road" runs out again at some precariously constructed road blocks.  This time they're serious - no cars allowed.  You couldn't drive much more than a dirt bike (or push bike) around these.  We set off at a no-traffic whoop, flipping around corners, avoiding potholes and being astonished when we're suddenly plunged into a pitch dark tunnel.  I'm on the front shouting "DARK!!" "SHITTY SURFACE" hoping the boys on road bikes have enough time to shed some speed and not run into the back of me.  I fumble for my light - taking a risk in letting go of the handlebars but it pays off and the next tunnel isn't a problem.

Looking back up the hill
The valley is epic - steeply sided like you wouldn't believe.  There are boulders in the road.  Some have fallen from the roofs of tunnels where landslides have rolled over the top and plummeted into the valley below.  Barriers at the edge of the road are scattered, pushed around by the landslides and some balance precariously on the edge of the precipice, ready to topple in at the first impact.

Boys disappearing into the distance as the road surface improves.
Eventually we pour out into the bottom of the valley at Ponte Marmora and as we're waiting for our heads to settle, Cyrille rides past, on his way back from the extended route.  He's glad of some company and not being the last man on the road so we all head to the nearest restaurant for a coffee and to ponder our next move.  It's about 2:30 so too early to stop and anyway, there isn't anywhere.

Someone knows that there's a campsite up the hill at Marmora so that seems like a sensible place to aim for.

I stopped to photo this in the off-chance someone would think it a suitable place to stop for the night.  The sun is already starting to disappear.
There's no food at the Ponte so we get on with it.  I've perked up for the day so for a while I manage to ride with the group and have an in-depth discussion with Cyrille about brake pads and we all laugh as Justin runs all over the place taking photos because he's had a beer at the restaurant and is a little giddy.  Andrew and I ponder how long it will be before he has a beer-crash and it pretty much comes as we reach Marmora only to find that it is the venue for the largely popular Sky ultra-run and that the campsite is forming the start/finish area.  There's no point in even enquiring if it is open as the dance music is putting everyone off staying here for the night - even if all the runners are in bed by 10pm, it's likely we'll all want to be asleep by 9.

We attempt to get a pizza but the restaurant is expecting 70 people in the next half hour so can't feed us for another 2 hours.  On cue, a bus-load arrives and we depart in the opposite direction.  Cyrille is intent on stopping at Priet Refugio for dinner because this is where Sergio is staying and, "Sergio knows *all* the best places to stay" so we go for that instead, accepting that we'll stop sooner if we see another option.

There's a bit of faffing about and at one point I think a sneeze nearly puts me into a crash scenario as I breeze off the road but my cyclo-cross training means I hold it, even if I have to stop and push the beast back on to the road in an ungainly fashion.  My new friends are impressed.  John and I are talking about the arrival of his new baby and Justin's beer crash is starting to kick in.  We can see Cyrille and Andrew chatting to a lady ahead and get our hopes up but I have to break the news to Justin that we're not there yet (we're only at Pian Preit) and the larger Preit is further uphill.  There is swearing.

Thankfully not too much further.

We have a few minutes of debate with the owner over fees and food and room occupancy.  Every variation has to be checked with her boss and then we *have* to see the room first so we can make an informed decision.  They boys are pondering eating with us then continuing up but when they find out they have to wait 2 hours for dinner and we've negotiated a special shared room rate where they can do some laundry, we manage to sway them and I prepare to drink more than I ever would normally consider on a tour (turns out Genepey doesn't give me a hangover) and share a room with 2 complete almost-strangers.  They tell me they don't snore - I warn them that TSK does.  They do laundry.  I stick with what I know and rinse everything in the sink in the bathroom and hang my socks out the window.

Left to right: Sergio, Cyrille, John, Trep, TSK, Justin
Dinner turns out to be exquisite: parma ham, bread and olives; spinach omlette; gnochi or linguine with tomato or meat sauce, rabbit stew and potatoes then pear/chocolate tartufle, beer and Genepey. Photo from Sergio now found.  We speak English, French and Italian and laugh - a lot.  Cyrille heads out to bivi beneath the stars in the lee of the ultramarathon marshalling tent and we get a pretty damn good night's sleep for a room filled with strangers.  At least the boys had a bunk bed each.

Friday, September 09, 2016

The Great and First Torino-Nice Rally Day 4 - Briancon to Sampeyre via Col d'Izoard and Col d'Agnel 57 miles, 2764m ascent

Briancon starts with a bit of a faff.  I stop into the bike shop to replace the tube I gave to Stu after he gave me 10 Euros to cover it.  I buy a chain link for my 10 speed since I realise I'm probably not carrying one.  Eventually I have to conceede that the day must begin and we set off past the restaurant we ate in last night up hill.  It's a little depressing being passed by a standard man in standard clothes riding a standard bike on his way to his standard job but I'm on holiday and he's not.

Big farmsteads and the inevitable ahead.
Looking back to JJ who were catching us up after being separated in Briancon.

Feeling smug at the top of the Isoard
We're alone for a while and stop again for more coffee and decent cake just before Cervieres - shared between us at 6 Euro's but it is a massive slice.  The hotel has the look of a project, bought, owned and operated by a woman my age.  Enough work has been done on it to keep it clean and reasonable but she has the look of someone who has spent just as much time enjoying herself in the mountains as actually working on the project.
The Issoard / Izoard.  Hard to spell.  More difficult to photograph

We bump into JJ just as we hit the remote mountain passes of the ski hill. Beyond are more switchbacks but it's relaxed with cows wafting their tails in the breeze.  JJ and Lawrence are surprised to see us, thinking that we'd passed through Briancon but we tell them that we stayed at the campsite with the dutch and so we are all, effectively, still together.

We all stop together at the before-the-summit Refugio at lunchtime and demolish sizeable plate-fulls of food.  We consider ourselves lucky in terms of pricing for refugios as the owner is quoting a passer-by 67 Euro's per person for the night's accommodation and food.

Ville Vielle
We descend a paltry 1000m to Chateau Ville Vielle to pick up campsite information for the evening then progress to Molines-en Queyeras where we turn onto the Agnello and onto a really steep road section.  We were heading back towards the Italian border.

I thought a lot about Tanya Quinn - a Canadian friend who is undertaking her second round of cancer treatment.  I thought about how she'd love it here and what we're doing and how, when everything hurts and you think you can't go on, you just do because you have to and that's the best thing to do.  Thankfully the gradient eased and we set about a long gradual valley climb towards the inevitable switchbacks to cross the pass near the saddle of the mountain ridge.

Just as we approached Fontgallarde 2/3 of the way up the valley, we felt a few drops of rain and the summit started to look a little ominous with clouds loitering on the edge of the cliffs.  It was going to go one of two ways - stay where it was or come pouring over the edge and piss down on us.  The dutch stopped to be on the safe side and checked into a B&B.  The boys continued with us Brits and I eyed the cloud with concern until convinced that it wasn't moving - either up or down.

Marmots and cowlicks

I rode intermittently with TSK and Lawrence and JJ dropped back a little when they decided to take a walk on the switchbacks.  It wasn't necessarily steep but sometimes walking became essential to give the legs something different to do from time to time.
Lawrence and TSK ride into the distance
To pass the time, Lawrence and I are talking about the stuff we've done this year - my ironman events and Lawrence's 24 hour race and Gran Fondo rides.

We are finally in to the grip of the mountain weather.  Thankfully it never *actually* rains on us but the wind gets up on the switchbacks.  This is OK because every "out" that has a head wind has a yang "back" with a tail wind.  The not-quite-sunset down the valley is impeccable and needs photos before the final push to the tops.  We shout abuse down the hill at JJ who are pushing again.

Enjoying the view
Spoiling the view

TSK and I choose a small layby carpark in which to add layers - my leggings and coat and TSK gives me a buff because I'm not sure where mine is.  Lawrence shelters behind a "Fox Racing" emblazoned campervan in the hope of being offered some shelter by a mountain bike team but there is no love and instead, nervous people stare out of the plastic windows at him.

Leaving behind the Agnello and the cloudbase

He waits for the others and TSK and I set off in search of a mythical campsite with a swimming pool, promised to us by a lady in the tourist info office in Chateau Ville Vielle.
Border crossings a little less official at altitude and away from the officialdom of Mountain Ski Resorts (with no-one living there).
After a good 20 minutes of descending I see a village and excitedly exclaim, "the campsite is this side of town!" until TSK points out that it is the wrong village.  The descent, like them all, goes on for over an hour before we hit valley bottom again and just cruise along the gradually descending roads.  Lawrence has given up waiting for JJ outside a camper van in the cold wind and catches us up as we descend back into warm, still valley air.

After what seems like an eternity of warm valley highway and glorious river beds, lakes and ancient townships, we finally roll into the more modern Sampeyre ski town and start hunting the luxury campsite with a pool.  The local map and our combined Garmins and phones are futile in this search and instead we check into the less exclusive looking caravan park on the other side of the river from the high street.  At least it's on the route for tomorrow morning.

Some pidgin English and a spattering of French see two tents, three people checked into one pitch (to save on the price) and we all grab what we can of a shower and clothes wash before setting off into a mostly-closed ski town to seek out the only serving restaurant - a small pizzeria.  Low key (skanky cyclists welcome) and serving excellent pizza and a much-deserved beer.  Thank god because all of the shops are shut too.

I am particularly fond of camping next to running water as it tends to drown out all other sounds.  Not quite the motorbike who makes several passes of Sampeyre but eventually the river lulls us all to sleep and I realise I'm starting to settle into this cycle of bike, camp, eat, sleep quite comfortably.

Thursday, September 08, 2016

The Great and First Torino-Nice Rally Day 3 - Assiette to Briancon via Montginevre 38 miles, 1027m ascent

All that is and was, will be
We got up to frost on the ground... at least we put our down coats on and stepped out into the wilderness to look for the sunrise before breakfast.

There's chronic confusion over coffee and hot milk which causes a lot of hairy Italian ranting.

Hitting the ridge at 09:05
The barracks above the Refugio
After breakfast and packing there was a lot more warmth in the sky as the sun has righted itself.  We rode straight out of the refugio and set about catching up JJ.

All present and correct.

The moonscape is dotted with grass and exciteable marmotts which were a welcome distraction from the legs and the occasional Range Rover.

We rose up past the Marmotte ski station where life was closed for the summer.  I've skied here before.
TSK with the Marmotte lift station on the summit behind.
Eventually the rambling sections of up reverted progressively downhill until we arrived in Sestriere which was deserted except for an open coffee shop.  Half way through our brew Lawrence arrived, looking for JJ.  We knew they were behind but he heard they were in a supermarket and set off to look for them.

Life through rose-tinted glasses
We departed Sestriere on a beautiful backroad away from the SP 23.  After a few mianders along the road, the route departed left on a dirt track through farmyards before tipping steeply downhill towards Champlas Seguin.  A momentary lapse of concentration saw us following a  more direct down hill trajectory and fighting briefly to keep our back wheels on the road before rejoining the road in Champlas.  I photographed this beautiful ruin without realising there's a much older fort in the trees behind - only visible on google maps - or possibly, if we'd stopped to read the literature of the place.

Champlas Seguin
Over the border into France and we were waved through by officials without a second glance at our whimpering "bonjours".  By the time we arrived in Cesana Torinesse, everyone agreed that a short day was in order.  We popped into the tourist information to find out if there was a shop open to which the assistant responded, "Non, c'est tout ferme".  Fine.

We had a chat with the dutch guys and Sergio then left them to talk to JJ as we set off to finish our day with a little Munro-sized climb back up to Montgenevre at 1836m.  Then it was time to head downhill again to Briancon and head in search of both icecream and campsite maps.

City life in Briancon
We met up with the Dutch in Briancon but then set about camping up and going for a swim in the campsite pool.  Finally we caught up with them later as we staggered in from a steak at a trendy restaurant in Briancon city.  Just a tiny element of civility in an otherwise filthy world.

Wednesday, September 07, 2016

The Great and First Torino-Nice Rally Day 2 - Condove to Assiette via Finestre and Strada Assiette 30 miles, 2854m ascent

Teenagers having parties was not going to keep me awake on my first night, not after all those mountains.  I slept soundly but I was amazed when I woke up with the sun at around 6:30.  I wasn't aching too bad so we packed up seamlessly.  No-one showed up at the campsite so we hit the road at 9am with the same money in our wallets as when we arrived the night before.  We hunted for breakfast and coffee at a bakery and cafe in Borgado then rejoined the route, passing guys 20 years younger than ourselves.

The road eventually and inevitably climbed a few short slopes through the villages which felt like mountains and I really wasn't sure then how the rest of the day was going to pan out.  We'd already had one day of riding over at least two Munro sized mountains.  Of course we also saw a better campsite but hey.

Bikes showing off at the second
breakfast stop

It's enjoyable riding next to a railway before uphill to San Giorio for a sit in the shade, a bottle of pop, ice cream and topping up food stocks for lunch.  Good times ahead.  Hours of road riding through trees  So many switchbacks.  Eating sandwiches on a wall in the sun - toasty warm.  I'm still not sure I can keep going like this but I'm not exhausted, just a bit tired so I do just keep going.  Raspberries by the roadside help and we all gorge ourselves quite a lot on the sweetest pink fruit I've ever eaten wild.
Up there.

The last water stop before gravel and I had a hair rinse in the wooden trough below the water fountain and leave with a wet mop.  Stu says I look like... I suggest "Toyah Willcox", he suggests, "A new age traveller".

I am duly passed by a motorbiker kicking up dust and I turn from "New age traveller" into a plaster cast of Worzel Gummidge.  Someone waves from above.  It's B, another of the female riders, looking for Cyrille who has already been resting lower down and taking a picture of me in my bedraggled state.  This isn't a race but I'm secretly glad that I'm not the last woman on the ride and at the top of the col I catch up the next woman - V, from Otley in Yorkshire.

The Col de Finestre is done as we are joined by a group of French motorcyclists who run around exclaiming noisily at the view.  It's time to get down and we descend the switchbacks faster than them.
Fun times ahead

We see a small campsite to the left which looks oh-so-tempting but it's only 3 o'clock in the afternoon.  "At least it doesn't go up there", says TSK, pointing at a track that turns off the road.  I look down at my Garmin and confirm that, "hell yes it does".

We briefly debate going down to the town and returning up the hill tomorrow but thankfully we dismiss that idea with the decision that we can do another 15 km today.  I look down at the Garmin and see that we've only done 20 miles today.  Potentially, 15 km is worth another 3 hours riding at least but at least there's a Refugio to look forwards to up there.  If it's full we can camp but we possibly don't want to as our 3 season bags and tent aren't really suitable alpine accommodation - even in September.  Still, some are carrying less.

Riding high above lakes in blistering heat is causing agony for a swimmer.
More climbing, during which both an energy bar and a gel are consumed - desperate times.  Only two more bends to go.  TSK stops to fill his bottles and balances his bike on the bridge wall next to a culvert.  The bike nearly topples in and leaves us both grabbing a wheel with the heavily laden bike upside down over a 6 foot drop.  One day we'll laugh about it.
TSK pushing ahead to the Assiette.  We'll stop just around the corner to take the coats off again after the descent.
Big groups are riding together, we're talking about cyclo-cross and audaxing.  There's no refugio at the top of the pass but it is, however the top of the pass.  A big group of us is gathered.  Some are waiting for their friends.  We have our first conversation with Lawrence who is waiting for JJ.  He's intrigued as to why TSK is wearing a Sheffield jersey and a "London fixed gear / single speed" hat.  I explain that I imported him into Yorkshire.

We progress, keen to get settled.  There's an instruction that we're to descend 25m.  There's some up and then some down.  Finally, we round a corner and against a lunar landscape there is a beautiful beautiful building.  It's around 6pm.

 A hairy hippy man welcomes and shows us around but he speaks no English, gives up and leaves it to an older man to explain 40 Euros for dinner, bed and breakfast and gives us the schedule for hot water, food and breakfast.  We're given blankets and shown our basic, unheated yet plush room - in terms of there being a bed and belvedere windows facing the mountains.

View from our window, all the luxury I need
It's cold with no heating on yet but much warmer than a tent.  We still eat our dinner wearing down coats but we're comfortable.  Eventually we're joined by JJ and the dutch guys who were on the campsite the night before decide to camp at the Refugio.  We hope the others are doing well, wherever they've decided to go. (they continued on down to Sestriere and booked into hotels).

After dinner we go outside to look at the stars and have a walk around.  It's quiet, it's wild, it's real.  I've always wanted this, always.

Last light