Staff blog: Cycling in the French Alps

Road bikingRob, from the Ski Club’s Accounts department, has been bitten by the cycling bug. After taking part in the RideLondon 100 last summer, he headed to the French Alps to tackle some of the most famous climbs in the world.

There’s a war going on between cyclists and cars and the roads are a battleground! Although no-one told the French this, or specifically up the in the Alps, where cycling is heaven.

Imagine the scene: eight keen cyclists of varying ability in an idyllic chalet at the top of Oz en Oisans. The views across the valley were breathtaking. The chalet was well equipped, complete with gourmet standard chef. It was going to be a good four days!

The group talked about famous climbs they wanted to do, like a group of kids at Alton Towers wanting to go on their favorite ride. Oz, Alpe d’Huez, Galibier Sarrenne, the list went on. They were all within a short cycling distance of each other, a veritable cycling theme park!

Most of the roads have separate cycling lanes with signs telling cars to give cyclists 1.5m when overtaking. The road surfaces are second to none. It gives you real confidence when you’re descending fast.

Alpe d'Huez

To get anywhere first we have to descend Oz. Long sweeping bends meant we could reach ludicrous speeds. The braver riders in the group reached 55 mph. It was a treat at the start of every day, although we also had to climb it at the end of every day too!

Oz

What goes down… must ride back up again

I’m used to the Surrey Hills, which are short and sharp, so the Alps are a whole new level of climbing. On day one, a quick spin down and up Oz was an education for me. It wasn’t about how fast I could go, but how I would need to pace myself in order to get to the top!

Temperatures reached 35 degrees. As I climbed Alpe d’Huez I had to drink every five minutes. That’s two water bottles over a 12km climb. Luckily there were plenty of places to fill your bottles from cafes and taps at the side of the road. At the top of Alpe d’Huez, after scoffing a pizza each, we explored the many cycling shops and admired the other bikes. There was a real buzz so it was a shame to leave, but the well-earned descent was calling! Because of the heat we let some pressure out of our tyres. The brakes were so hot there was a real risk of exploding rubber.

Col du Galibier

Successful ascent to Col du Galibier

We saved the best to last and climbed Galibier. This was the highlight for me. By now my fitness had improved and my legs knew what was expected of them. I was able to keep up with group: a bunch of die-hard Ironmen with a GB bog snorkeling champion among them. After about 40 minutes climbing my hard work was rewarded with spectacular views. There’s no better feeling than looking down at the serpentine road snaking its way up the mountain knowing you’re about to fly down at breakneck speed!

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Back home I immediately noticed how much my all round fitness had improved and my legs certainly felt stronger. I always thought that cycling in the Alps was reserved for a privileged few elite cyclists. But having gone there, I saw a huge range of abilities. Besides, who was to know if I was stopping for a rest or just admiring the stunning views?

Rob Waldram

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