Not exactly latest news or last summer, this blog post dates back to June 2012 and our pilgrimage to the mountain passes of the French Alps.
Since my early interests in cycling dating back to watching the 1990 Tour de France on Channel 4 on a small portable TV in my parents kitchen I have been fascinated by cycling, particularly the romance and the battles on the big mountain roads of the Alps and Pyrenees. That year it was Greg Lemond dominating the Tour and he became a hero that has stayed with me until the present day. I have watched it through all the good and bad and whether it's Armstrong and Evans or Landis and Sastre I have continued to watch, fascinated by these athletes doing battle on famous mountain roads. This has expanded to most cycle races where there is good TV coverage including the Giro D'Italia and Vuelta, and the Tour of California, whenever it's on I am watching.
I always dreamed of riding the mountains some day but owning a business and having a house and small family have always made it a pipe dream, one for the future. Despite being a mountain biker at heart I have been riding on the road since the foot and mouth outbreak in the late '90s. Not a classic club trained road rider I'm somewhat of a lone wolf, preferring to ride at my own pace and that suited with the time restraints of a young family. The last few years have seen a renewed interest in road cycling, I suppose that is putting it lightly, road cycling has taken over with lots of new cyclists and mountain bikers taking to the road and loving it. There's even a road scene in Ripon and hopefully I'm somewhere at the centre of it with our weekly summer evening Moonglu club rides.
It was through road riding and the shop that I met Dave and we quickly became friends and riding buddies. We both shared a passion of cycling that went well beyond the recent renaissance. Dave had ridden in the Pyrenees and we quickly hatched a plan together with a mutual friend Rob to make the trip to the Alps and sample some of the famous climbs.
We had a bucket list based on our accommodation in Briancon. We could hit The Alp on the way up the valley from Grenoble, then take on the Galibier and the Izoard during the stay. We had grand plans of riding the route of the Marmotte, an annual epic over 5 big mountain passes finishing with an ascent of Alpe D'Huez. Oh, they were grand plans!
The trip was made in June 2012, we set off after I closed the shop and hit the motorway for an 11pm Euro Tunnel train. After that we drove tag team through the night and arrived in Bourg D'Oisans at the foot of Alpe D'Huez in the early morning. Tired and hungry we found some thick French coffee and bread, all we could find in the village. It wasn't the ideal start to our first Alpine climb but it was better than an empty stomach. We got changed in a car park, built the bikes that had been expertly packed into the back of the Moonglu van and hit the road. I don't remember too much about the climb, I remember 3 distinct sections with some steeper 10% ramps and not feeling my best but we made it to the top, not a Strava record but we rode together and celebrated with more caffeine in one of the many cafe's.
Next we had to descend the same road, pack up and drive for another hour to Briancon. What came next was like an out of body experience, I had never felt anything like it, I let the brakes off and we flew down the mountain. Dave and I had done a lot of riding together and our descending skills were similar. After the first half mile stretch we turned the first hair pin and rode together all the way down, swapping places and knowing glances, we were loving this. Below is the GoPro footage from that descent, we didn't rank high on Strava for the climb, we did rather better on the descent.
After settling in at Briancon we rode the Izoard on day 2, a beautiful climb through pine forests that opens out almost into a lunar scape then finishes with great views and a monument at the top.
After lunch at the mountain top cafe, another fast descent followed all the way back down into Briancon. These were nice open roads, the thrill of speed was still there but although the descent wasn't as technical at the Alp, it was no less enjoyable.
Day 3 was our big day, our highest climb on the trip, the giant Col du Galibier. It was a climb right from our doorstep, all the way up a road already classified as a Col, the Lautaret. The Lautaret is a steady climb all the way but a busy tourist road and main access route to rural France so we tucked in and tackled it in formation.
The Galibier is different again, we peeled off the main road and looked up at a proper mountain road, sweeping its' way up the valley. This climb is up there with the greats and it is a cycling mecca, we weren't alone and it was a great feeling passing others toiling their way to the top. The top felt like the top of the world and the view on both sides was amazing. We had been blessed for our entire stay with unbroken sunshine and high season temperatures, this was road cycling as it was meant to be.
The geography dictated that we had to return on the same road that we came up. If Alpe D'Huez had felt crazy, the descent of the Galibier was the most fun I've ever had on a bike. A beautiful open descent, passing other cyclists and cars like they were stood still, there is a section where I've probably never ridden so fast. I don't know what speed I registered that day but it must have been knocking on 60mph at some point, a truly awesome experience, one I shall never forget and never tire of watching the video.
That was definitely the highlight for me, on Day 4 we rode to the famous ski station across the Italian border in Sestriere and had a lazy day 5 watching the local builders make a balls up of fixing a veranda and also a climb up the local Col du Granon.
Hopefully you will see Moonglu isn't just a business venture to me. Cycling and bikes are everything, my life's work, my passion and my hobby, I love all things bike. If you get the chance to go and ride these mountains, do it, life is too short.