Time to leave

My last day here for now, and time for one last ride before house tidying and cleaning. It’s been a vintage summer for getting up to Vercors – unlike last summer, this year Vercors has rarely been wearing its cap of cloud, and indeed, in the high temperatures of this summer has been a pleasant refuge on the hottest days.

So, today, a repeat of a favourite 50-mile loop up to La-Chapelle-en-Vercors before lunch. And then time to say “au revoir”. Certainly a most enjoyable and memorable stay. Apart from concerts, a trip to Serbia, welcoming friends and evenings out with French friends, I’ve cycled 2000 miles, achieved my ambition of cycling 100 solo miles at 20mph, and put up my toilet roll holder that’s been sitting on the shelf for two years. See, I do more than just ride a bike.

An ambition achieved…

I’m coming to the end of my stay here for now, and I’ve got no complaints: the weather has been nearly all fabulous (it’s still managing 30C in the shade at the end of August), I’ve enjoyed the company of several friends, and also some time by myself. Of course I’ll be sad to leave the place behind for a while, but I can take the memories back with me.

I’d wanted to do 2000 miles in my five weeks here, so this week needed another 400 to get there. After the tiring 102-miler to Col d’Allimas, I took a rest day the day after (and used it to sample, for the first time, Die’s fantastic open-air swimming pool). That meant that the last couple of days would need about 150 miles clocked up, and with Monday being the day when I leave (so only suitable for a shorter ride), Sunday was the day for a good long route. I fancied a flat one down to Montélimar, and with a southerly wind forecast, a clockwise route, with a decent stretch up the west bank of the Rhône was picked.

As it turned out, the legs felt good, the wind didn’t play any mischievous tricks, and as I came in to Die I looked at the bike computer to see that I’d done 104 miles at 20mph, and thus, almost accidentally, fulfilled a five-year ambition to do 100 miles at that speed.  Most satisfactory. And some nice views en route too, snapped quickly.

The route: http://ridewithgps.com/routes/10157801

The approach to Die

Col de l’Allimas (1352m)

The Col de l’Allimas certainly qualifies for its own entry. Sitting just east of the easternmost ridge of Vercors, and just north of Mont Aiguille (pronounced ‘aygwee’, roughly), access is from the busy D1075-E712, which joins Grenoble and Gap. (This isn’t a road for the faint-of-heart, as it carries quite a bit of fast-moving heavy traffic, though it is wide enough for safe passing, and does have some sections of cycle lane.) You can make a circular route by using the back roads between Clelles and Monestier-en-Clermont, but some main road will be needed to close the loop.

Not being on Vercors itself, this is a proper col with roughly 700m of ascent from the Monestier-de-Clermont or St-Michel-les-Portes ends, though it’s not well signposted or with definitive starting points either end. The km markers don’t give distance to the col either, so if you’re pacing yourself, it’s worth doing some homework with the map.

I did the loop anticlockwise on this occasion, which gives a dramatic revelation of Mont Aiguille at the col, but I think I’d prefer it the other way round, with a steep ascent and gentle descent. Coming from the north you follow the Gresse, alternately wide valley and narrow gorge. After Gresse-en-Vercors the road becomes noticeably narrower, but it’s a short way to the col by then. The descent south is steep and twisty, with some uphill at La Bâtie, and a dramatic gorge section. This is another reason I think it would be a more satisfying ascent from the south.

The pictures tell the story from shortly before the D8A crosses the Gresse for the first time, and finish just before the main road near St-Michel-les-Portes .

Choosing routes

Having said goodbye to my Exeter friends, I’m back to solo rides, and perhaps a bit more time for reflection. While I was thinking about where to take Andy, Keith and Anthony, I obviously wanted to show off the great sights (of which you will know there are plenty around here), the different terrains within a day’s ride, and, of course, to make the rides enjoyable, maybe with the odd local restaurant or café to try en route.

Fortunately the four of us are pretty evenly matched, we all enjoy hills, and can support each other with banter if the going gets tough. I suppose that the art of selecting a ride, whether it’s just for oneself, or for a group, is to make the challenge appropriate, but achievable in the time available.

My own ruses round here are:

– Don’t leave the return with the last 20 miles into a block headwind, especially on longer rides, and if the last part of the ride is on the D93

– Read the weather forecasts carefully, and don’t assume that what is forecast for Die will be the same elsewhere. Be ready to head off in a different direction if you see that your preferred ride is going to be into poor weather (pay particular attention if riding on the Vercors plateau or over Col de Menée or Col de Grimone, as they are frequently wetter and colder than Die and further south and west). Meteociel seems to be the best and most detailed websites I’ve tried. But it’s also worth checking live rainfall radar on somewhere like Meteox too. As we all know, weather forecasting is a science of probabilities.

– Look carefully at the direction of your route, the elevation profile and the wind. For instance, yesterday’s anticlockwise ride to Combe Laval and Léoncel would have been half the ride had we had a slog into headwinds for the first 40 miles. As it was, it was a dream.

– If in doubt take an extra layer or two. I suspect we’ve all got it wrong at times, but the consequences of getting it wrong at 4,500ft with two hours of descent to get home are rather more serious than getting caught at Tiverton in a heavy shower.

– Assume your average speed will be at least a couple of mph lower than you are used to, especially if you are trying to make full use of available daylight: the light levels drop rapidly as the sun disappears behind mountains. Don’t be too ambitious, especially if you’re not used to mountains and real heat. Use something like RidewithGPS, if you can, to check mileages and the amount and profile of the climbing.

– Adjust your route or your departure time depending on the weather. Heat can be even more of a problem than cold. This summer has had temperatures up to 40C in the shade (and over 50C in direct sun) and once you’re down to one layer, that’s it. At least if it’s cold you can add layers. So, set off as early as you can if it’s going to be a scorcher, and get home by lunch, or delay if there’s cold and rain passing through. Do wear factor 50 suncream if you’re going to be out for more than an hour: the sun is extremely intense here on a clear day, and you will burn. The danger parts for a cyclist are tops of the knees, the outside of the calves going down to the socks, and the back of the neck.

– Take an old-fashioned map in a plastic bag. You might love your GPS, but if the battery goes flat, or the route you planned has a road closure, a map can be a life-saver. My new favourite for cycling is the IGN Drôme Départementale D26 (see photo): it’s not as pretty a map as the TOP100 of the area (that’s so nice I’ve got a framed one hanging in the kitchen), but as far as ease of reading goes, its omissions (paths etc.) give far greater clarity. If, like me, you love maps, having more than one version of the area won’t be wasted expense.

Another ‘thanks to knedlicky’ ride: Col d’Allimas

BikeRadar forumite knedlicky certainly knows the area well – he has suggested previous superb routes (including recently the Gorges des Écouges), and when I had a clear day with clear weather, his suggestion of a route including the Col d’Allimas was for the riding.

It needed to be a clear day, as the focal point was Mont Aiguille, and to give you an idea of how often it has its top in the clouds, I’ve only seen it clear once before, in three years. Admittedly I’m not there every day, but even so, that’s an impressively low strike rate. On the most recent ride, with James, Tom and Shane, we couldn’t even see the base of this distinctively-shaped 2000m mountain.

I’ll cover Col d’Allimas in more detail in a separate post (it easily qualifies for inclusion in my 1000m+ list at 1355m), but there were some magnificent views on the rest of the ride. Of course there’s the first glimpse of Mont Aiguille from just after the Col de Menée, but there were also impressive views from the D34A and D34 south of Monestier-de-Clermont, and from St-Michel-les-Portes, as well as amazing green water in the artificial lake seen from Pont de Brion.

My only comment would be that I think I’d prefer to do the col loop clockwise: I prefer short sharp ascents (and the ascent from St-Michael-les-Portes certainly is short and sharp!) and long descents. Knedlicky had suggested it anticlockwise as Mont Aiguille appears very dramatically when riding the col southwards; but as I’d already been looking at this singular mountain for much of the ride since Col de Menée, I’d happily trade in its sudden re-appearance for the extended descent going north. One for another clear day.

Paris-to-Romers (and Sue) depart

This has been a great week with friends here: Andy, Keith, Anthony and Sue have been excellent companions. Bike riding, sightseeing, eating, laughing, enjoying warmth, sunshine and each other’s company have made the week whizz by. Sue has been having great fun in creating fabulous meals out of local produce, and I think we four cyclists have done a pretty good job in demolishing every delicious meal put in front of us, including Andy’s paella. I’m pretty sure none of us has lost weight through calorie deficit.

The last ride was, by special request (of Keith and Anthony), Combe Laval. It was, of course, Andy’s first sight of this remarkable combe: it is remarkable in itself, but the 19th-century balcony road is also extraordinary. This time we did Col de Rousset, Col de St Alexis, Col de Proncel, Col de Carri, Col de la Machine, and returned by Col de Bacchus. Andy’s open-mouthed amazement at the top of the combe was priceless, and the increasing madness of the road brought smiles to all our faces, mine included.

So, six days of riding, 400 miles covered, and still several classic routes they need to do. I’m pretty confident they’ll all be back at some point, maybe with that full (elusive) Paris to Rome reunion.

In the meantime, a selection of photos, some from Sunday’s windy and damp trip to Serres via the Col des Tourettes, but mostly from today’s blissful ride in the sun to Combe Laval.

Paris to Rome in Die

This week was intended to be a complete reunion of my Paris to Rome (2013) friends, but unfortunately a couple of them were unable to come. However that still left four of us, and friend Sue, who came out last year, was delighted to be asked to take the fourth space in the car coming from Exeter, along with returnees Keith and Anthony, and newbie-to-Die, Andy.

There are two reasons there haven’t been more posts this week. One is the frustratingly unpredictable Blogger app (which Google seems to be allowing to wither on the vine), another is the series of rehearsals and concerts around Die I’ve been involved in, and most of all the immense amount of fun I’ve been having with very good friends. It remains one of my chief delights in this house: sharing the delights of the area with friends, and sharing good times with them. It’s been a vintage week for that. But not such a vintage week for photos, as they have not been at the forefront of my mind.

We’ve done some lovely rides so far: to La Chapelle, Col de Muse and Saoû, Gorges des Gâts, and Serres via the Col des Tourettes. Weather-wise, up until yesterday afternoon it had been stunning, but a thorough soaking was experienced on the return from Col de Carabès, and this morning was spent in Banette while thunder and heavy rain passed through. I’d been planning on documenting the Col de Carabès yesterday (and would have done the same for the unexpectedly stunning Col des Tourettes), but the camera stayed in the dry in my jersey. I’ll be back there soon to make amends.

Tomorrow is my visitors’ last day, and with a good forecast, the suggestion is to introduce Andy to Combe Laval. Always a stunner.

For now, just a photo of the four riders at Col de Muse: the last time I was here it was distinctly un-sunny. The day we went this week was a good one to have sun cream on.

Vassieux-en-Vercors: Musée de la Résistance

The weather has been pretty stunning here this summer. It reminds me of 2012, the year I fell in love with the place, when yet another cool, grey, windy summer in Devon made my first visit here such a life-changer. As I’ve passed day after day here enjoying the sun and warmth, I know that I made the right decision to make a home here, one that I can share with others, and from where we can enjoy the many beauties of the area.

One of the beauties is, of course, the Vercors plateau, which begins barely a mile from the house. It’s been a good summer to explore there, with many days of clear skies over the plateau. It’s an amazing place, for its beauty, its flora and fauna, and its history.

Of course, its recent history is dominated by the Second World War and the terrible events of 21 July 1944. I’ve mentioned it before, especially in reference to Paddy Ashdown’s book The Cruel Victory: that is a superb book. Equally superb is the small Musée de la Résistance at Vassieux-en-Vercors, site of some of the worst atrocities. The incredibly powerful story is told in gripping detail, simply, and is all the more powerful for that.

I’d been to the museum before, but a rare wet day prompted a return visit today with my guests. The mixture of artefacts and narrative leaves an indelible impression. In no way can a visit there be said to be ‘enjoyable’. But I think that without the knowledge of what happened here in so relatively recent times, one’s appreciation of Vercors is decidedly partial.

The new bike

If you’ve been following this blog and looking at the photos, you might might have become familiar with my Cannondale SuperSix. I’ve had the bike since 2010, and it has it taken me around the roads of Devon and Drôme region over about 18,000 miles, including the epic ride down to Die three years ago. It’s a great bike to ride when all’s going well, but I’d have to admit that it has its fair share of mechanical issues, both with the headset and the bottom bracket. (For non-bike riders you are excused, and may jump to the next paragraph, or just look at the photo.) Anyway, despite the attentions of the excellent mechanics at Vélodrôme, it has become clear that the bottom bracket issue will only be resolved if Cannondale can sort out movement in the carbon fibre surrounding the BB30. (See, I did tell you to skip this paragraph if you’re not interested in bikes.)

So, with a group of my Paris to Rome friends arriving this week, before I set off for Serbia, I bit the bullet, and plumped for a Colnago from a ‘well-known online bike retailer’, who delivers free to France. I love my Colnago CX-1 that I have in Devon, and with the Euro being low against the Pound still,  there were some good bargains to be had from the European division of this retailer. Bike ordered roughly in time for my return and the arrival of the English contingent. As it happened, the timing worked out perfectly: I arrived back early on Tuesday morning, and I had a text saying my bike was arriving later that day, my friends arriving on the Wednesday.

And so, to cut the long story a bit short, I have a lovely new “Designed in Italy” bike without all the mechanical groaning of late of the Cannondale. And so I present you with a photo of the bike on its inaugural ride up the Col de Rousset. I can’t think of a better way to start its life in France. 

Apologies, and Blogger

I’m sorry about the lack of posts of late. Other than my few days in Serbia, Blogger is also being extremely troublesome. In due course I’ll be trying to migrate the blog to WordPress, as Blogger is dying on its feet, with terrible reviews. In the meantime I’ll post if I can during my last few days of summer here!