Monday, August 23, 2010

Alpes Open Tour 2010

Upon leaving Germany on Thursday morning, I headed off to Geneva for two days. My ride to the start of the race would pick me up on Saturday afternoon to transfer me to the start location of the Tour.

Geneva is an interesting place. In my opinion, really not a desirable place to visit. It is more restaurants and cafes than any place I have ever been to. The variety of food is amazing as every culture imaginable lives in Geneva. I was very disappointed with the restoration activities of Geneva. However, in my head I am comparing it to Vienna which is absolutely an amazing city. During my ventures around Geneva I did find a couple of very nice areas. One behind the train station and another in the massive park on Lake Geneva. These two locations offer a break from the masses of people on the streets. One afternoon I enjoyed sitting at a cafe reading and talking to some people in a small cafe behind the train station. It was very nice and was in the older area of Geneva.

Interesting that Geneva is considered a very conservative city. I tried to buy a bottle of wine after 9 pm one night and was told that one can not buy alcohol from a retailer after 9 pm in Geneva. You could only do this under the table or go to a bar or restaurant and order it. A local told me where I could buy wine after 9 pm under the table for a few extra bucks. I promptly went to a store and obtained my wine. What is interesting about this is that the streets of Geneva for about a 3 to 5 block radius are lined with prostitutes 24/7. So you can get a hooker any time of day but not alcohol.

I did not take many pictures in Geneva as there really was not much to take a picture of. I thought this building was cool though.

All the major cities in Switzerland have some landmark, and in Geneva it is the water jet. Silly really!

I took this picture in a department store for my friend Shari. She collects pigs and I could not resist taking it.

Alpes Open Tour - August 15 to 20, 2010

I have never cycled in the Alpes so stumbling upon this event was immediate curiosity for me followed by the desire to commit to going. I have many friends who go to France every summer to cycle but I have never even been to France before. I have watched the Tour de France on TV for about 10 years now. I got into watching it upon buying a Lemond bike and later reading about a guy named Lance Armstrong. Now it is no secret that I am a huge Lance fan and even own one of two yellow jerseys of Lance's which reside in Canada. Going to the Alpes to cycle was something I have wanted to do for several years. Finally, it was going to be a reality. For me, this will be the beginning of a yearly trek. I will likely spend two to three weeks every year cycling in France/Spain/Italy from this point forward. It is absolutely incredible cycling and scenery!

Day 1- Thonon-les-Bains to Chatel

Our first day was very wet and cold. We cycled around 90km. It rained very hard for the first part of this ride and luckily for us this stage was relatively flat compared to what we would tackle on the remaining days. Thonon-les Bains is at 540m and we started with a climb to Col du Cou which is at 1115m. After we would descend down to 800m and climb back up to Chatel which is at 1180m. The descends were very cold because of the cool weather and rain. Here are some pictures of the start of the event.

There were less 10 ten women doing this tour amongst the 80 or so riders. I was very surprised by this. So when I say I was the first woman on this stage, it is not all that amazing. Each day I would place within the top 25% of the entire field though which ended up being a goal of mine.

The field included nine professional riders. Teams Sky, Bbox and Cofidis were represented. Amongst the riders were three riders which I will point out as I spoke with them often. These guys are very nice and it was totally cool being able to ride in the same event as them.

Syvian Calzati, Team Sky

David Moncoutie, Team Cofidis

Davide Vigano, Team Sky-- pictured here with his partner. Yes there is a story to come about Davide and his partner!

Here is me at the finish in Chatel.

Day 2 - Chatel to Beaufort

Day two was a brutal day. It rained so hard that most people's computers stopped working. My computer failed and would only have cadence for the remainder of the trip. I think this was a good thing as I do not think I want to know how fast I descended some climbs. Basically, you could see nothing on this day. In total there were three climbs in this stage of 145 km. They included: Col du Corbier 1235m, Col des Gets 1170m, Col des Saisies 1660m. Sadly, this would be the stage, in which on one of the descends, a huge crash would occur right before me. I almost went down! It was on a hairpin descend and to avoid the crash I went into oncoming traffic and narrowly missed hitting a car head-on and skidded my body alongside the mountain on the wrong side of the road. My heart rate soared and at 100km of this ride I called it a day. After standing in the rain for about 10 minutes while everything got all sorted out, I was shaking uncontrollably and had a major descend yet to conquer. So off I went into one of the the support vehicles.

In the support vehicle were two people, one of the organizers and Team Sky rider Davide Vigano. Davide took very good care of me. He opted not to start this stage due to the cold and rain. He immediately put his arm around me to warm me up and started to ensure I consumed sugars to get warm. He took my wet socks and shoes off and gave me his dry socks and shoes and he stripped my jacket, jersey, arms warmers and leg warmers off of me. He gave me his jackets to keep warm. He was absolutely great. Davide then gifted me everything he covered me with to keep warm except for his shoes. At one of the feed stations he even fetched me coffee and more food. I have met many professional and elite athletes in my time and I always admire those that stay humble. Vigano and the two other professionals I have mentioned are very much great ambassadors to their sport.

At the feed station I switched vehicles in order to get to my hotel more quickly. In the vehicle I would end up in I met Vigano's partner and the start and finish line announcer. It was cool being in the vehicle with them. They were very kind and throughout the trip I would get to know them better along with some of the organizers.

Here is a picture of Davide and I.

Here is a picture of a jacket I got from Davide as well. I will wear it with great pride.

Here are some pictures of the places we stayed during the first two days.

Day 3 - Beaufort to Courchevel
Day three was absolutely beautiful. The sun was out and our ride of 120km would be the hardest day we would encounter. We began with a climb of 25km with grades averaging 8.5% to an altitude of 1970m starting from 750m. We would then descend to 820m to only climb again to 1300m over 12km and then descend again to 600m to again climb to 1200m over 30km. The last climb would continue from 1200m up to 1850m over 10km. The grades at points were 9.5% to 10%. Courchevel is absolutely beautiful. The little towns we cycled through were very quaint. This is a great area in terms of accessibility to great climbs and an area I definitely would return to in the future.

On both days three and four, 4 female professional riders would join us. As well, two female riders who were partners of Cofidis riders would split the stage. I am happy to say I placed second to the female riders who split the stage. Now granted all the professional riders, both male and female, did not ride hard. But it is cool to be finishing with or ahead of them.

Day 4 - Couchevel to La Toussuire

Day four would start with a descend from Courchevel to 433m over 30km. We would climb from here to 2000m on the famous Col de Madeleine. Our climb would be 28km long. The Col de Madeleine is not a hard climb but it is a long climb. Grades averaged around 7.5%. It was easy to maintain a good solid cadence going up and was an enjoyable climb on a beautiful sunny day. Our climb would lead us to a descend of 30 km down to 525m. This would be followed by a very hard climb up La Toussuire to 1700m over 20km. We would ride about 110km on this day. The legs were very tired and I wondered how day 5 would pan out with three big climbs. Somehow, however, the body seems to recover and cope. Mine did just that. Day four was one of my favourite rides. The scenery was amazing. Both the climbing and descending were wicked.

Here are some pictures of day 4.

Day 5 - La Toussuire to L'Alpe D'Huez

Day five was an epic day and included the time trial up the famous Alpe d'Huez. So what makes Alpe d'Huez so famous? It's one of oldest ski resorts in France, but it's probably more famous now as a finishing climb in mountain stages during 23 of the last 31 Tour de France events. The road up to Alpe d'Huez makes a great climbing stadium because it's wide and has the infrastructure at the base and top to handle over a million people as it did during the 2004 time trial. Many great climbs in France are too narrow and remote for Tour consideration. There are many beautiful, quiet roads in France with views as impressive as those found along Alpe d'Huez.

Alpe d'Huez has been a stage finish almost every year since 1976, although absent from the route in both 2009 and 2010, the first time since then that it has missed two consecutive years.

Before starting the time trial up Alpe d'Huez we would descend down La Toussuire to 1150m over 22km. We would then climb up Col du Mollard at 1631m and continue up to 2067m and the famed Col de la Croix de Fer. This is a very hard climb consisting of very steep grades over 27km. However, we a rewarded with one of the most beautiful descends of the tour. Our descend would take us down to 715m and the starting point of the time trial up Alpe d'Huez. We rode 90km before starting the time trial!

The climb up Alpe d'Huez is 13.8km with an average gradient of 8.1% (1130 m) with 21switchbacks marked with signs honoring each of the Tour de France/Alpe d'Huez stage winners. Since the Tour has now used Alpe d'Huez more than 21 times, the lower signs have been doubled up. The first bend has a double panel honoring both Fausto Coppi and Lance Armstrong; Fausto was the first Tour winner of Alpe d'Huez in 1952 and Lance was the 22nd winner in the year 2001. Totally cool!

Check out this video of Lance's greatest victories:

With the exception of several scenic switchbacks on the climb, the scenery around Alpe d'Huez is best viewed while descending rather than looking over your shoulder. In fact, the scenery, the width and condition of the road make it one of the better descents you'll ever come across. There are so many recreational cyclists climbing Alpe d'Huez each summer that commercial photographers make a business sitting on little canvas stools clicking away all day long. On the day we climbed two photographers snapped pictures and kindly ran behind to shove their cards in your jersey pocket.

Here is a picture I grabbed off the internet highlighting the 21 mythical corners.

Here is a picture of one of the signs you see on the corners.

Here are pictures of the hairpin corners and a view looking down.

And lastly, here is a picture of me on Alpe d'Huez.

Day 6 - Alpe d'Huez to Val Cenis

Day six greeted us with heavy rain. People were very tired and less than eager to experience what we had experienced on day 2. The organizers had already told us the previous night that the descend down the other side of Alpe d'Huez before the climb up Col du Galibier would be very technical, dangerous and have poor visibility. Our group of 9 riders voted not to proceed to do this stage. The fog and rain was considered too much of a risk. The pros rode for 14km and called it a day. They were not willing to take unnecessary risks. I have mixed feelings about the decision. I would have opted to start later in the day but one of our riders had a flight that night so timing was an issue. If I did not have a group to go along with, I would have started the ride later when things cleared up. I really wanted to climb Col du Galibier. As well, my friend Rob had told me that I should climb Col du Galibier from both sides as it is one of the most amazing rides. I guess next time!

Hope you enjoyed my stories! Thanks for reading! Here are more pictures of the Pros:

Pros and ex-pros participate in the Alpes Open Tour (among others, Sylvain Calzatti; Davide Vigano, David Moncoutie, Nicolas Portal, Frederic Turpin, Bernard Thevenet, Thierry Hupond, etc...)

Pros and Females at the Awards:

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