Sunday 11 July 2010

Today, the road from Val d’isère (1850m) up to the Col de l’Isèran was closed to traffic and reserved for cyclists only. This road is the Route Nationale so it is seldom closed to traffic once the winter snow has been removed from the mountain pass.

Even better, the road was also closed on the other side of the pass down to Bonneval, also at 1800m, in the Maurienne valley. Cyclists from both valleys were invited to make the trip across the pass and down the other side – and back of course.

Registration was free and timing chips optional. The timing chips didn’t actually work and there was absolutely no indication of where the sensors were for starting or finishing the climb – so they were a waste of time. The climb was intended to be an informal friendly randonnée – a “cyclotourist” outing. That’s a shame because a proper hill climb race like the Grimpée de Semnoz at Annecy would attract a lot of participants. There were perhaps only 30 people at the start in Val, but probably a lot more made the trip during the day.

I removed my water bottles so as not to have unnecessary weight and took no wind proof jacket as I didn’t intend to go to Bonneval. I simply wanted to climb as fast as possible and like Chris, who started late, make a bit of a race out of it. There was still quite a bit of tiredness from the Marmotte so I couldn’t get my heart rate up as high as hoped. Last year on the Semnoz I averaged 169bpm but here it was about 159bpm. It seemed that the only people who wanted to race for a fast time were British ski instructors – five BASI grade 1s in fact. I messed up with my stopwatch by pushing the button twice at the start and only spotting it about 15 minutes later, when I eventually started the clock.

Giles Lewis and Paul Gardner took an early lead followed by one French guy, who later left them behind. The climb was pleasing because despite some tiredness it seemed short and easy in comparison with the cyclosport courses that I’d become used to. One Col (mountain pass) would have seemed like a major effort to me before, but now it just feels like a warm up – even when going as fast as possible. Near the top I hit my “split” time button when I saw Giles pass a road marker up ahead, then hit it again when I passed it. I was strong enough to be able to accelerate at the top and so knew that the time difference between me and Giles at the road mark would be close to the same at the end. The time difference was 02:07mins and Giles’s time was 58:45mins which put me on 60:52mins. Next time I hope to be 5 kilos lighter and much stronger so getting under 60 mins should be quite easy.

Chris Harrop managed 59 mins, but was also still quite tired from the Marmotte. Chris, myself and Kevin, an American client (of Chris) from Japan all then decided to go down to Bonneval. The sky was a bit grey and we did get a bit cold and shivery by the bottom. There was a big welcome tent at Bonneval and free coffee, juice, croissants and friendly faces. We were joined at table by Chris Haworth, recuperating from a major ski accident where his leg was shattered in 7 places due to an impact. The cycling was part of his recovery training and it was his first time taking part in any form of organised one off event. I ended up cycling back up to the col with Chris and we both benefited from the motivation of driving each other on. My intention had been to go back slowly but in the end it was a good workout, especially at the top when I got my heart rate back up again.
We all had refreshments again at the top of the col and then headed back down to Val where the atmosphere was quite festive with a group of musicians and free refreshments again. Val was warmer and sunnier than Bonneval so quite a lot of people were out.

I was very happy with my time up to the col from Val and look forward to improving it in the future. The workout was a good high intensity one and the day very enjoyable. I had to rush home however to be in time for the British Formula 1 start, then to watch the first mountain stage of the Tour de France and later the World Cup football final – a perfect day in paradise – except it was a bit sad to see Lance Armstrong fall badly and end up in such difficulty. Congrats to Spain for beating the Dutch thugs!

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