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Three days, four mountains*

Première partie. [RP]

First up a confession. The title of this tale was supposed to be ‘Two days, four mountains.’ Mainly because the route was dreamed up in the comfort of a Godalming living room, late at night, over a bottle of vin rouge.

Reality bites, however. And for all its faults, the Fiasco peloton has a proud tradition of thinking on its feet (i.e. when all else fails, switch to plan B).

No such defeatism was on our minds when we touched down in Geneva, however. We were a tight group of six, the authors of this account supplemented by Messrs Long, Pike and Benning.

Mixed experience of mountains, perhaps, but similar ability (or lack thereof) meant the local Strava-heads had nothing to fear from us.

A couple of hours and two speeding tickets later we rolled into Bourg d’Oisans puffed up with self-regard, safe in the knowledge that Alpe d’Huez

– the Alpe no less! – was nothing more than a ‘cocktail mountain’.

‘In that case let’s spice it up with a nice two-courser first,’ we thought.

There is a word for this: hubris.

Needless to say our informant (naming no names Colonel) was talking out of his derriere. But I’ll leave it to Bomber to tell you just how ‘easy’ Alpe d’Huez turned out to be.

It falls to me to describe the wonders of Col de la Croix de Fer and Col du Glandon, our intended appetisers. In the event they turned out to be the sum total of our first day’s riding, but it was none the poorer for it.

Perhaps it was the fresh legs or maybe the utterly stunning views which made the difference. For whatever reason this turned out to be the most effortlessly rewarding day of mountain cycling of my life to date.

Bud would probably not agree, but that is due to the constant mechanical problems which plagued him on the way up. Oli may not be on quite the same page either, but these were his first mountains and it takes a little while to appreciate their unique appeal.

Nevertheless, by the time we slogged past Tommy Simpson’s memorial on Ventoux two days later, we could all agree that Croix de Fer and Alpe d’Huez were a pretty relaxed experience in comparison.

So back to the climb. It’s not all that steep, truth be told. And for those who had never been to the Alps before (namely me) the scenery was jawdropping. The weather smiled on us, bringing the view as close to chocolate-box perfection as I have seen this side of The Sound of Music.

The main sound of the day, however, came from Bud’s misfiring gears. Only misfortune of that variety, or dreadful weather, could prevent you enjoying this beautiful climb. (Actually if you are scared of marmots steer clear too - I'd never seen one before and for a while wondered if they were little mountain bears.)

For myself the principal memories are of chatting away with Spike while Longy pootled back and forth as effortlessly as ever, taking photographs and generally enthusing about the light, the scenery, the weather… well basically everything.

Rarely is it possible to climb a 2,000 metre mountain with a mate and still have energy – and breath – to enjoy a good chinwag as you do it. An opportunity not to be missed.

Doubtless at some point Bomber will have sprinted off at the front, chasing glory. In the absence of Jim and his famous Crankset, grumbling was all but absent. Good times.

Looking at the profile now I see there were one or two sections of 9 and 10 per cent on the way up, though in all honesty I can’t remember them. The nature of this climb is more steady than challenging, and we arrived at the café on the fork in the road between Glandon and Croix de Fer in good spirits.

A quick up and down to the famous Iron Cross, then back to the café, photographs celebrating our achievement safely filed away on half a dozen smartphones.

A can of coke later we were refreshed enough to make the pitifully easy ascent of Glandon. (Little did we know it but we were just a couple of hundred metres from the summit as we boasted in the café about tackling our second mountain of the day.)

At this point we were, predictably enough, lagging behind schedule. And for all the bravado of hindsight there were some tired legs up there.

The deal breaker was Mr Benning’s bike. That mechanical had robbed him of any enjoyment so the most pressing concern was to get to a bike shop and have it looked at.

By the time we got back down to Bourg d’Oisans (thrilling descent by the way – absolutely top banana thanks to those steady gradients and long, sweeping bends) all appetite to go on and tackle the Alpe had dissipated.

Plans were changed, shoulders relaxed and we settled down for a well-earned beer.

And as we would discover the next day when we finally set about the ‘cocktail mountain’, this was the best decision we made all weekend.

Deuxième partie [DBP]

In which Bomber tells us all about Alpe d'Huez, how Longy got lost at the top and some lovely French people gave us free champagne.

Also a recipe for courgettini salad.

Troisième Partie [OE]

In which Oli recounts the joy of the winding ride to the foot of the mountain, followed by the unalloyed hell of the climb. How even my Lanterne Rouge status was denied as the rest of the peloton decided to take a break at the cafe, so far behind did I languish!

(And if you have time finish it off with a tale of the thrilling descent, return to chez Long and the FACT Longy's cleaner stole my Garmin.)


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