Sunday, August 28, 2011

Stage 6 – Racing on Europe’s Highest Paved Road 2802m

I rode 3 km down to village Barcellonette to wait with 1/3 of the field for the neutral field coming down from PraLoup. We merged in and had 5 km more of a neutral start before racing up the Cime de la Bonette, a 24-km road through the Mercantour National Park. The scenery was outstanding as I did my best to hang in with the lead group. Once we blew apart, we slowly formed the chase peloton.

I was impressed to see the woman, Dorina, from the Italian mixed team surge by and pull our peloton up into the headwind climb. There must have been 15 guys and myself behind her! I was told she has been an Olympian fencer (gold medalist Barcelona!), so it must be something with perseverance and drive.

The climb was a nice grade 7-8% but the wind was so strong. I did my best to shelter myself and sit and ride like a mountain biker (tucked down on the nose of the saddle). Ouch, it hurt a lot to stay within the peloton. Every-so-often the peloton would string out and I had to accelerate a few times to get back in. I cried in lactic acid pain each time though I knew I had to as I would be shot out behind and would be struggling alone in the wind if I was dropped. I have not worked this hard in a long time – IT WAS GREAT!! We crawled together up this 1600m ascent. With 2-km to go, the grade eased to a nice 3% to only whip us again into a headwind with a 12% grade with the last 500m to the top.

Most riders stopped for a feed as I continued down an epic twisty road. To add to the scariness of the fast descent was the narrow roads with cliff dropoffs, and unknowns of when a vehicle was approaching from around a blind corner.

After yesterday’s crash, I chilled a smidgeon on the descent not 100% confident in the bike. Around one corner there was already one lead guy in the ditch. On and on…. finally to more open of a road though it was the roughest road I’ve ever experienced in Europe. One guy blazed by though I would have been stupid to consider to follow his wheel. Two more caught me on the easier descent and it was nice to ride with them for a couple km.

Last climb only 400m elevation to the next ski village Auron to end up at 1600m elevation again. I worked it and finished happily first solo woman (4th after wickedly strong mixed team women).

Hotel was right by the finish line, yay. It was impressive to see my bike worked over in the hands of the Mavic guys!

Had more time to meet the riders and support. Helena is support for quite a few riders, Brits, NZ, Aussie, all sailors. Apparently, this is a training event for them. Helena sounds like quite the sailor herself and is attempting the world record for 500m sprint with her partner (wind driven only). They have been close!

Waiting for the market to reopen in the afternoon, we met an American from Iowa that is hiking the Alps for months self-supported. He was as impressed with our riding as I was with his adventure. He has no camera and doesn’t blog or write stories, yet has experienced so much interesting stuff! He hopes to cheer us on tomorrow.

I was happy to buy all the goods for an epic salade at the market. Quality food is lacking with the event and hard to come across in the sparse summer ski resorts. Check out this epic meal – green lettuce, zucchini, tomato, carrot, Italian parsley, red pepper! I had coconut oil and borrowed balsamic vinegar from Helena for a sweet dressing.

Off to the pasta dinner or best said “white noodles, white bun and white dessert” dinner! More to socialize than partake.

One more day… 

Haute Route Stage 5 Eventful

Finished in one piece – a good thing! It was a super scenic day and eventful...

After the first 7 km of neutral start, I had a uterine cramp within 5 km of the fast paced hill climb which had me huddled in the bush for 5 min until it subsided (that monthly thing). Starting back into the field, I was riding in the middle pack with riders I hadn’t seen before, though it was fun to come by familiar faces like Iain (Brit living in Geneva).
race photo
The climb up the Col d’Izoard was beautiful, definitely a camera day. The first huge descent was fun after the switchbacks with bombing fast straight sections. I was with a pack of guys. Up ahead I saw a wet area on the right of the round-about we were to blaze thru. Not until I was on it, the slickness of the sand & water could be felt, a nice wet concrete mix which took my front tire out ever so slightly. I had a nice slide-out on the bike and was amazingly unscathed. The guys were awesome to stop to make sure all was ok. I found out later that others had slipped on this same spot earlier with the marshall not thinking to forewarn any future riders. One guy after me did not fair as well and was taken out of the race.

It took abit for me to get back in the groove of riding again. The next climb up Col de Vars spread everyone out especially with more headwind at the top. I eventually got back into the groove. I had good “solo” training with a 30 km descent on my own. Most riders stop to feed at the top whereas I have all my food and blaze thru. After a long 2-3% descending grade with a headwind, I was tuckered going up the last climb. I finally made it to the top to the little ski resort PraLoup. Housing was spread all over the valley. I had to ride back down 12 km only to take a shuttle back up 3km to another ski resort. There were only 10 of us housed here so I tucked in for the night. Had dinner at the only restaurant open in the summer and upon request for a vegetarian meal they made up a plate of salade, veggies and linguini.
view from Hotel Montana
Looks to be a peaceful night. Bonus is getting to join the neutral race only 3-km from my hotel as the racers need to come down the 12 km hill.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Col du Granon Time Trial

I warmed up and down the tiny steep village streets to get my heart ready for a max effort. Reminded me of racing at home. Typical TT start with every rider going 30 seconds apart. The first 500m was pancake flat then climbed steeply through the first village at 10-12%. I started out big chain ring and had a good start almost coming very close to my 30 sec guy in front before the steep grade.

Once past the 12% section, I climbed well at 9% up the switchbacks slowly gaining on two guys in front. Hearing breathing behind me had me go a little quicker until a very strong French masters rider came by fast. He urged me on.
race photo - more photos to come from new friends....
I kept a pace where my heartrate was consistent though working hard. I kept on the lookout for any diminishing grade though there was alot of 12% and a few 15% pitches. The road was very much in the open on the side of the mountain. The views were outstanding and we were as high as the mountain peaks on the other side of the valley. Whenever my gps showed 7% I thought it was taunting me as the grade felt steep.

Finally seeing the 1 km to go sign, I did my best to go harder. The grade never let up and the twists and turns gave no sign of the finish. I was hurting with 500m to go and was happy to finish sub 1 hour!

I'm not much into raving about results. Even though I didn't crack the top 3 mixed women's times (close by about a minute), I was happy to get the top Solo women's time.

Tomorrow, is another hard day like day 3, tough to even consider! Three climbs and only 2800m...

Galibier!!! Stage 3 Haute Route

First words - ouch and oh my!! Doing 3 cols in one day is crazy and hard. Every rider was totally dehydrated by the top of the 2nd Col Telegraphe with no water in sight. 4000m was maybe 1200m too much for me.
proof I carried my camera up Galibier
On the scenic side... Galibier was the most amazing climb I've done for open epic-ness! It was definitely neglected to tell us about the WIND!!

riders & bikes packed in the gondola 
We had a 6 a.m. convoy down the hill in the dark then a climb, total 4 km distance to the gondola entrance. Each gondola was packed in with about 12 riders and bikes. Easiest and safest way to get the peloton down to town. Once all the riders were down we started at 7:15 a.m. with a 31 km neutral start- long.

I recognized the highway we were on as it was the main road that took me to the World Cup MTB marathon in Val Thorens back in 2006.
photo I took of Stephanie climbing on her own!
The race began once we were on the route to Col Madeleine. I saw Team SOLO working together. I decided to ride with them. The pace was slower than I would have liked though the rest may help for the later climbs. Team SOLO didn't seem too thrilled that I decided to ride in between their drafting line. With me behind #171, he wasn't aware he was dropping my solo woman competitor Stephanie. It was energy conserving to cling on his wheel.
relaxed and waiting for Team SOLO - photo Helena
At the top of Madeleine, I waited moments until Team SOLO got their feed and joined them on the descent. It was awesome and lots easier to ride fast behind #171 although Stephanie braked a little. There was a long flat section at the bottom where it was welcome to have #171 to follow. We slowly picked up more riders. Then #171 dropped off with a flat! 
hurry Team SOLO - photo by Helena
No problem, another French guy friend filled in for him and towed Stephanie and I up Col Telegraphe. On route, I was baking. My feet felt twice the size inside my shoes. I had blisters on my hands that hurt on every bump. My decision was to hang with them until the top of Telegraph. Racing time was over and I wanted to find a way to enjoy the last climb. It was noticeable we were all parched. I was impressed that Stephanie was holding up well and climbing consistently.
riding behind Team SOLO - photo by Helena
At the peak of Telegraph with no water in sight, we all began the descent. I hung on as the breeze from the descent was cooling. Riding through the next village, I looked left and right for a fountain. At the end of town I saw a cyclist just leaving one. I stopped for amazing cold flowing water. I soaked my head. I wanted to soak my bare feet in it though knew it would be difficult to continue after that.

After a nice break, I rode another couple km when finally there was a feedzone. I grabbed some skinny packages thinking they were gummies like Clif. Biting into one later, it squirted all over me as it was a liquid gel, nice.

Starting into Col Galibier, I felt more energized to tackle it though then I felt a wind hoping it was temporary. That strong wind was with us the whole next 1200m up on a super exposed very cool scenic mountain pass. To ride this Col was truly amazing. I was picturing crowds from the Tour all over watching the agony of racers climb.

Made it though, crap, my feet hurt!
I passed the odd rider as we crawled along. The finish at the peak was visible though was still so far away. It was a happy sight to see the 1 km to go sign and make it to the Finish at the top . Water and coke was offered to us, yet we still had to ride another 31 km to town, all down though I was wiped out.

Marg & Gabi in front of the climb up Galibier
Gabi had a great day and finished close to me. We started the descent together and we both had the same thought to stop at the first sandwich place we saw. We joined other riders that were there. My championnes soup was so delicious.

Lunch in front of Galibier with German Team Claudia & Martin & Gabi
The last 20 km to town was long and tiring. My hands were tired from braking.

That night when we were out for dinner, the waitress thought she misunderstood me when I ordered two separate main courses. The guys followed my double order.

A good night sleep in a cozy hotel for the 11.5 km time trial tomorrow! And more rest time.

Monday, August 22, 2011

Stage 2 Hot Shaded Haute Route

Stage 2 – 100 km, 3000m elevation gain

Neutral start was only 10 km though the roads were pretty bumpy. With a downhill warmup we went up the first climb Col des Saisies at race pace on a sweet average grade 7%. I was back to my old self climbing big chain ring (50 cog) and hung with the 2nd peloton of guys. The lead woman on the mixed team was super strong to keep with the front pack.
race photo
Long descent with the 2nd & 3rd mixed teams catching me at the bottom. Their pace was tough to hang onto for the next climb so I went at my own pace still going well. The best climb of the day was the Col du Cormet de Roseland… the top was super scenic with the turquoise blue reservoir amongst the peaks.
race photo
The descent was equally fun… fast… swoopy until the many sharp switchbacks. A couple cyclists skidded out on their own though no-one super hurt. The yellow Mavic vehicles were on support duty with wheels and bikes - something for them to do after le Tour.

We passed through the town Bourg-St-Maurice which was different in its square building structures and not typical Euro scenic.

It was hot today, 32C, though fortunately the first two climbs were shaded most of the way. The last climb to Les Arcs 1800 ski resort would have been favourable for me with a nice 6-7% grade. Now we were climbing in the hot sun and energy levels were lower. I decided to ease my pace, chatting with a few riders that passed by.
Cool bike markers every km - race photo
With 6-km to go, Team SOLO passes me! At that point I packed it in, dropped into my small chain ring and spun up the hill half the speed I had been going. Seeing the teams work together today, it helps to have a strong person to follow the whole race. It would be more interesting to see the Solo woman of Team SOLO race on her own.

I chilled at my slo-mo pace and contemplated I’m at the point of packing in racing high-end. I truly miss racing “fast”. It used to be so easy. Finally made it to the top, yay! hot!

view on my walk with woman racer Gabi to the Race Briefing
Hotel rooms were ultra Euro and cute at the ski resort in some weird diagonal staircase anthill maze. Hanging with the Brit crowd now living in Geneva, was fun having some real dinner at a restaurant. I had my first ever Buckwheat Gallette, vegetarian. The pasta dinner: plain egg noodles with a mystery meat red sauce, white bun, and sugar chocolate cake. Note, no vegetarian option or health option!

5 am breakfast, 5:30 check out bags, 6 am depart by motorcycle headlamps down the hill for the 7:15 am start for a killer day!!
3 epic cols in one day… Madeleine, Telegraphe and Galibier!

Tomorrow’s stage scares me mostly being on the exposed climbs in the heat. 4000m elevation gain. Game plan is to bring my camera, chill out and have fun!

French Alps Haute-Route Day 1

Stage 1 - 109 km, 2200m elevation gain

The race start was on the edge of Lac Geneve at 7:20 am. Earlier arrivers took in the free breakfast of a chocolate muffin and a peach!

The first 25 km was neutralized. I chose to stay in the top 20 of the field to minimize the stop & go pace. There were 6% women in this race and I saw at least 5 women at the front. Any woman going into this event would be a good rider – cool!
race photo
When the pace Peugeot car left, the front guys went hard. I hung in the draft. At the 50km mark we were at the base of the first climb Col de la Columbiere and each to their own pace. Wicked steep to start with a few 15% grades, then mostly 8-9%. The chalet at the top was a welcome sight.

Two mixed teams went by then I was in the mix of two more mixed teams and one supposedly solo woman. Supposed as there was a same-jerseyed rider waiting for her and her crying out when he pulled away from her. I’ve seen worse at TransAlps with the German women’s team and their flock of domestique men. I rode with Team “Solo” the rest of the way!

race photo
The descent was not just the usual crazy fast, it included dodging vehicles and oncoming traffic. We were descending quicker than the cars until they let us go by. A lot of brake pad was used up slowing down for cars.

The 2nd climb Col des Aravis was easier mostly 6% and big chain ring! I worked to feign off oncoming leg cramps concentrating to utilize my glut muscles. Managed until the easier section of the last 10km where I lost my peloton at 3 km to go due to coasting to relax my legs from cramping.

It would have been a sprint to the finish between myself and the supposed solo woman. Glad that didn’t happen as there were a lot of twists thru villages and congestion with traffic before crossing the line. And I wanted to wear my cool jersey from Greg’s Acupuncture clinic with the little Canadian maple leafs the next day instead of the leader’s jersey.

Finish feed had the most awesome red oranges. Free massage queue was long so I headed off to the hotel. The folks at Hotel Chalet D’Antoine were usually hosts for mtnbikers and treated us well. My bag arrived a couple hours after I did. I had to borrow 10 Euros and went in search of veggies and fruit.

view from Chalet D'Antoine
It was cool to see the planters all over town with Kale and Red Chard growing amongst the flowers. I grabbed a few leaves to munch on my walk. The town was an orienteer challenge even with a map.

my favourite photo - check out the red chard!
Awards was abit chaotic and hard to endure. I wasn’t called up for 2nd place. Later, I clued in that the top 3 individuals “overall” are recognized and in this case it was all the mixed team women. The yellow jersey only went to the top solo. It’ll be challenging to duke Team Solo woman for the jersey!

dinner with Andrew from Ireland - meat vs veggie!
Day 2 looks to be interesting with prospective 3000m elevation gain over 100 km. Only 3 ups and 2 downs!

Saturday, August 20, 2011


Adventurous day commuting by bike. My ride from near the airport to Stade du Bont-du-Monde to race registration was 8-km through winding streets. I carried my bunched up bike bag over my shoulder attempting not to hit any posts or pedestrians. Nice quiet morning and awesome bike lanes on the road.  
the Fountain early Sat morning
Race registration was well organized. Nice group of cyclists, easy to meet and make new friends. It was great to see one familar face Lenny from Israel who has raced both Tour-Trans-Austria and Tour-TransAlps same times as I did.
Mug shot with the race jersey
Made my way back to downtown Geneva thru tourists and to the race hotel. I chose "Premium" accom in hotels versus "Comfort" accom in the communal housing. Too much stress lately so I'm hoping more rest can be had with less unknowns. Checked in, left my bike to rest in the room. Hotel gave a free all day transit pass.

What I love about Europe is the closeness of the "big" cities and the ease to get around with the local transit. I walked 800m and was soon on the trolley back to Vincent's house. Grabbed fresh veggies from the garden for lunch and rolled my bag back on the trolley to the hotel. Organized for the next race day, short snooze before a ride 4 km to the pasta party.
white-snow capped mtns and the fountain in front of La Saleve
Sat with Andrew from Ireland and Iain from Britain (living in Geneva) for a bilingual race talk of logistics every racer best already know if they even considered racing this event... like how long the course is, the Cols, the elevations... It was nice they spoke first in French, then immediately in English. Hopefully the organizers will get feedback that to keep the racers happy it's best to feed them first (!) then have race logistics and awards.

The food was "typical" endurance race food... pasta and a bun, oh, and a sweet dessert! Not conducive to vegetarians or health as I know it. I came prepared, armed with Vega products and loaded up with fruits and veggies.

Here's a glimpse of Stage 1... long neutral start with two major climbs. The issue will be the weather... it is HOT!!!

Friday, August 19, 2011

Taking the Haute Route from Geneva to Nice!

The organizers for the European road stage races design the craziest most difficult courses with the majority of the racers being "hobby riders" or recreational athletes. Thanks to ERTC clubmate Aaron Falkenburg for bringing the event Haute Route 7-day to my attention, I was hooked and wanted to go into this Gran Fondo like stage race in its inaugural year. It's just what I needed... something new, different, and exceptionally challenging!

Tour de France followers will know these climbs way better than me, a non-Tour follower. So, I don't really know what I'm getting into... other than I've ridden my bike in the Austrian/Italian/Swiss Alps and Dolomites.

730 km in 7 days going up over 17,000 metres elevation gain through 15 Cols -- Epic!!

Within less than a week, I booked my flight, contacted the organizers for an entry in exchange for media exposure (thanks to Jim & Elsa), and worked my butt off to keep my work on schedule while I was to be away. Pretty stressful with minimal time... plane time was welcome!

After many couchsurfing requests, I managed to find an awesome spot with Vincent in his house near the airport...  with a wicked garden!  After a couple late departing flights, my bike bag didn't make my last flight to Geneva. Lucky enough it arrived the next day after I had time to chill and get organized.

Keep posted for the racing days and scenic Cols to come...
the commuter I used while I awaited my bike's arrival - thankfully!