Half Etape leaves me on top of the world

Map reference: Oz en Oisans to Alpe D’Huez loop, 56k, 2,000m climbing

Carbs and caffeine: Magnum (ice cream not Champagne) in Alpe D’Huez

With six days to go this will be my last biggish ride. The climbing  represents roughly half the climbing I’ll be doing on the big day. And I am very, very pleased with the way I felt today. The heat reached the low 30s but with humidity at 25 per cent, I felt fine. The Italy trip did it’s job and pretty much inoculated me from the heat. I was climbing a lot more comfortably and faster than I had been in Rimini, thank heavens. It was a good thing for Husband too, as he has decided to be my ‘domestique’ on Sunday and he would have been driven potty by my heat stroke pace.

We had planned to do the Glandon from our chalet, but with the kids ‘abandoned’ at a climbing centre in Oz Station it seemed sensible to stay on this side of the mountain. It’s a very pretty ride too. Rather than doing the 21 bends of the main drag of Alpe D’Huez, we went down our hill, then traversed (it seems right to adopt some of the skiing lingo with all the winter sport evidence around us) to the next road towards Huez, then up, following the gradient of the more famous climb, then across again, following an absolutely stunning road with vertiginous views of the valley below until we hit the Alpe D’Huez road with six bends to go. 

The traversing bit will have broken up the climb a bit, so making it easier, but we then went beyond Huez to grab as much lift as we could. After a quick stop at the Spar for ice cream we then turned around and did the whole thing in reverse, climbing all the way up to Oz Station (the top of our side of the hill) to get the kids ‘out of hock’. They had had the most amazing day learning to climb in an adventure park built in the trees tops. Being active and learning new skills, they were in their element and madly excited when we turned up. I was pleased to find I had enough energy left to follow them around the park and admire their new talents, while indulging my eyes with more stunning views from the top of the mountain. So we are all feeling pretty ‘spiffing’ in the strange vernacular my seven-year-old has adopted.

Note to self: it’s a good place to be; a little cycling, good eating and hydrating and you should be tee-d up nicely to enjoy Sunday… except Toussuire which I gather just has to endured

Why did the chicken cross the road?

Map reference: Practice run of Gran Fondo Dragon Ride, 224km, 3990m climbing

Carbs and caffeine: Costa in Neath, Carpanini’s Cardiff Arms Cafe, Treorchy CF42 6BN and the burger van at The Storey Arms car park at the bottom of Pen Y Fan mountain, plus endless cheese rolls, cake and jelly babies. Actually, I say endless but we were running low when we finally got back to base

One of the many benefits of my father living in the Brecon Beacons is I can do practice runs of the Dragon Ride. This Bank Holiday falling two weeks before the event was perfect. So with back pockets stuffed with food, Husband and I set off in fairly dismal weather. I think this will be a fairly short blog as we spent three-quarters of the ride up in low-lying cloud, with visability low and speeds to match. We saw wild ponies, they’re pretty easy to spot even in cloud. Sheep, the white ones are harder to spot and the babies a nightmare, as they trot across the road to follow their mothers, but we saw them early enough to slow down and divert as necessary. 

At one stage there was a gap in the relentless gloom and we saw two chicken idling on the right side of the road as we approached, with no other vehicle for miles around. The chickens panicked and, having the brain the size of a pea – this is probably being unfair to one of my favourite green vegetables, and we all know frozen peas can be very useful – they shot across the road into our path. We all made it out of the exchange in one piece but our chicken supper later seemed appropriate, given the unnecessary scare they had given us. 

Apart from these few points of interest it really was quite a gruelling ride and we stopped three times to take on caffeine and carbs. I can highly recommend Carpanini’s Cardiff Arms Cafe. They made us so welcome, insisting we roll our bikes into the cafe and sit down for our mugs of tea. It’s an old fashioned sweet shop, plus cafe, with old bench-style seating. Very different to our normal couthy Surrey places, but none the worse for that. We spoke to some locals who were genuinely interested in our crazy pastime. We felt much, much better for their delightful company, and the good strong cuppa.

Our rolling time including these stops was 11 and a half hours, which is absurd. I think moving through the wet air slowed us down and of course descending was slow due to the fore-mentioned visability versus moving hazard issues. But we did the distance and the climbing. In fact, since we were taking off the tail in and out of Margam, which on the day are on the motorways, it’s a mystery as to why the distance wasn’t nearer 200k. And we also seem to have found 1,000m more elevation, although when I get home and plug my Garmin in to the computer, it will correct any GPS errors and the figure will probably go down quite a bit. 

I think the extra climbing must be down to Husband’s ‘shortcut’ across the hills back to my father’s house. The air was blue for a while there as I reluctantly followed, but luckily the sheep didn’t seem to mind. Baaa-loody hills…

Note to self: keep working on back exercises, apparently from behind it’s obvious you are still very lopsided