As much as I had realised I would be unlikely to compete with my choice of route, I thought that I should at least make a good go of it. Had a quick clean up at McDonald’s, stowed the emergency cheeseburger, packed up the bike and pointed it to the lumpy horizon. I had to laugh at myself as they came closer.
Hills 1: Thiers, Col St Thomas, and down to Roanne
There was a mostly flat and reasonably quick run to the first of the hills, but boy did it step up in Thiers. The town has an almost vertical ramp up into the town followed by an intricate lace of roads on the side of the hill that must average 12% all through it. I was feeling quite strong, and with the race in progress at the back of my mind I pushed up quite quickly.
Fortunately the steep bit didn’t last for too long, after which the gradient eased as I came up and out of the town. The views from up here were fairly incredible, I had a go at capturing some of this here:
Once over the top, reinvigorated with the views, I started pushing on really enjoying just being on my bike. There’s something about a good dramatic view that really gives me energy, which was quite fortunate! The road was fairly level but still a false flat until it started winding up and up. It was getting fairly consistently steep, and didn’t seem to want to relent. Half way up I found a freshwater spring so lept on the opportunity to fill my bottles. It was another hot day, and this water was really refreshing.
I pushed on, and finally crested the top. It was a fantastic climb, and fairly tough – a straight ramp up over the hill.
Going down the other side was a blast, must have been topping out at 75/80 kph on a mostly straight descent. I thought then that I’d accomplished the hills, but after a quick check of the profile on the Wahoo, and a glance at the next lump looming into view I realised that this would not be the end of it! There would be a four categorised climbs before I’d eventually get to Roanne. I rolled into Roanne and decided to check my progress on the tracker. Jack Thurston captured the moment quite well with the below tweet.
Hills 2: Cow Country
That wasn’t the end of it though. After a brief respite the rolling hills went up again. The scenery was pretty fantastic, but was really slow going.
About now is where I realised I had put my iPhone into ‘No Service’ mode. I was killing apps to save battery, but managed to kill the settings app when in Flight mode. If you kill the network settings in flight mode, when you turn it back on it needs to re-initialise and authenticate with Apple before it will connect to a cellular network. It requires WiFi to do this, which is tricky to get in the hills of central France. A real pain and daft ‘feature’. I spent an absolute age trying to get it working before I had figured out the above. I had recalled having the problem before and a google search found the solution, so I spent about an hour trying to ask some really friendly, but non-english speaking locals to borrow their phone to do a google search. I failed miserably.
“I realised that there was no point in wasting time over something that I had absolutely no control over.”
It’s at this point I realised that there was no point in wasting time over something that I had absolutely no control over. Sure, it was frustrating and I was feeling really out of touch, but there was nothing I could do about it then. This was a good lesson for me to learn, and to learn fairly early in the ride. It would come handy later on.
Shortly after, in the middle of nowhere on the edge of a valley I found a pizza van. I didn’t hesitate and rolled over to order two pizza. One for now and one for breakfast, and sat down to enjoy the late afternoon view over the valley.
Once I had filled up, I headed off to find it was all downhill to the wine country which looked incredible in the slowly setting evening sun. I’d made it over the tough obstacles for the day, and now it was time to put some speed down to make up time. It might have worked had I not kept stopping for photos.
This day was capped with a McDonald’s in Bourg-en-Bresse shortly before midnight, where I took the chance to re-charge as much of my devices as I could, get clean and eat lots. I headed out of town keen to find a bivvy spot and get some sleep. I’d only managed maybe 3 hours until now, so was keen to get my head down. I wasn’t feeling as tired as I had been, but the push to the McDonalds had taken a bit out of me.
I followed my route out of town towards the next hills, the Juras, keen to find somewhere away from town and the road. I found a spot in the foot of a valley that was nicely sheltered from the road and settled in. I unpacked my bivvy, but was tired and in a hurry so only half inflated the mattress and crawled in. It was a brilliant starry night, and it really didn’t take me too long to drift off.
Here is the ‘relive.cc’ video from the day: https://www.relive.cc/view/660129862
Hills 3: Misty
I woke up after maybe 2.5 hours sleep. I was absolutely freezing cold. As I shifted in my bivvy something in the woods starting barking. I don’t know what it was as it was a really odd bark. In anycase I was too cold to worry about this so I started putting on ALL my clothes in whatever order I picked them out in. All the while shivering uncontrollably. Knee warmers, rain jacket, arm warmers, gilet, snood, everything. I packed up the rest of my things in short order and pushed on up the road. It took no time at all before I was sweating it out, at which point I realised that my light rain jacket was under my arm warmers and gilet. Kind of felt like I’d put my underpants on the outside. A short stop to sort all this out and I was back moving again.
This part of the route was basically the only way through the mountains within about 40km, so when I saw the ‘Route Barre’ sign at the foot of the pass my heart sank a little. I decided to ignore it and hope it was still passable. It was a fairly short 12km climb with a gradient that was fairly steady. All the way up I was weighing up my options, praying for a clear way through. I didn’t quite fancy re-routing on the fly at 5am. Still, as I was heading up I was checking for alternatives on the offline maps on my phone (Maps.me). A lifesaver when you’re in ‘No Service’ mode!
On the map I could see another road splitting off the main pass, going through a small town and joining up with the original planned route the other side of the pass. I had to chance this as there was no way through the roadworks. The whole carriageway was fenced off. Fortunately the detour was a complete success. It was an odd night with a cold misty fog blowing around and really didn’t get me off to the best start to the day. Dawn was fairly special though and most welcome.
Hills 4: Saint Claude, up to Switzerland
I arrived in Saint Claude on a massive downer. My EU dual USB plug decided it didn’t work anymore, and there was nowhere open serving real food in the town. I settled in a service station eating crisps, coke, cake and chocolate thinking about my options. It was quite a low point, but yet again I realised there was nothing I could do about the USB charger – it was out of my control. I had all day to plug stuff into the Dynamo in anycase, so I got myself together and headed up the next hill.
Did I say hill? Not entirely sure of the name of this Col, but the Haut Crete Saint Claude (I read Hors Categorie) was a bit of a beast. A very rewarding beast at that. It was early, and the morning mist was still clearing from the hills, but it was feeling warm going up this. I had to strip off the layers as I was getting hot, but as I climbed I could still feel the crisp cold air of the mountains. I like this.
“I had to strip off the layers as I was getting hot, but as I climbed I could still feel the crisp cold air of the mountains. I like this.”
The climb was fantastic, and the day was turning out to be a cracker. Over the top, the road was fairly poor, but only on the ascent. When it came to rolling down the other side, the surface was great and the views amazing.
I rolled across the border to Switzerland and the first thing I noticed was the drivers. So aggressive. I’m used to this commuting in London, but it was a bit of a surprise. I tried my best to ignore it and spent a long time rolling down the hill towards Lausanne. I had a huge grin on my face and was seeing lots of riders for the first time in a while so I waved to them all like a crazy person.
It was hot here, but the views of Lake Geneva were incredible. I stopped at a cafe at the bottom of the descent to get water, ice cream and some food along with Wifi. The route down into town was quite pleasant. It was quite quick going, occasionally stop start with traffic lights, but it was a remarkably quick town to get through.
After devouring a chinese (yes, I would like extra rice please), I rolled up and out into the vineyards to the east of Lausanne, where I heard someone call out my name. A dot watcher had come out to find me and we rode and chatted for a while. As we were doing so a car rolled past with a woman leaning out taking a picture on her phone – another family of dot watchers! This was quite cool. I stopped and chatted to them a little further up the road, and they kindly offered me some water and a bit of food. We rode on together for a large part of the climb, and was great to chat to someone after being alone for so long.
From the low of the morning, to this generosity of strangers was such a huge difference. It absolutely was one of my favourite days of the whole trip.
Hills 4…. Juanpass & Interlaken
Climbing out of Lausanne was quite an effort, but I was taking it easy for the most part while chatting with the dot watcher (who I think was Pierre – I’m so bad with names, sorry!).
I stopped and sat down in the shade in Bulle ahead of what I knew would be a bit of a tough climb. I saw #93 Geoffroy Dussault ride past. He had been following a similar path and had finally caught up with me. After several cookies, half a packet of crisps (it’s a big pack), haribo and some water, I pushed on up the Juanpass. This was the Alps proper, and was a truly stunning climb. The valley leading up to it was stunning, with the climb itself was really quite tough and steep but with splendid views.
The views all the way up were pretty epic, and the I topped the pass in the early evening sun listening to my bottom bracket and the sound of music from the hills. I was buzzing!
I was quite worried with my brakes rolling down this hill. The road was good, but steep and with lots of hairpins. I stopped halfway down to check out the rear brakes believing it to have worn out. Turns out the pads must have had some glazing causing some noise under braking rather than from wear. This was a bit of relief as I only had one spare set of pads.
After a quick pit stop in a Spiez McDonalds (that was expensive!), I pushed on along the side of the lake to Interlaken where I found my first hotel of the trip.
The first hotel I stopped at in town had one last room available for 110 Swiss Francs. Ouch. I had already worked out that this was quite expensive, but I really didn’t care and told the manager as much. After a brief chat, sorting a place to keep the bike and telling him where I had ridden from and heading too, he kindly gave me a free can of beer. Love the Swiss hospitality.
A long shower, quick clean of my bibs and base layer I tucked into the can of beer just after 11pm. I woke up at 6am with the lights still on, and the half drunk can next to the bed. It had knocked me for 6! Literally 🙂
Next up, tackling CP2. Lots of real climbing was about to begin!
Relive.cc video for the day – an awesome one! https://www.relive.cc/view/661283950
Part 2 Stats:
- Distance: 490 km
- Ride Time: 22H 43M
- Elevation Gain: 7,041 m
- Calories: 12,876