In 2010 we offered something we had never done before – we offered the opportunity for one of our Bikefood customers the chance to go and ride with our partner in the Alps, GPM10.
Entry into the draw for the trip was simple, you were automatically entered with any purchase of our GPM10 Offer Bundle, a discounted bundle pack where even if you did not win the trip you still got a whacking great discount on the same products that fuel the guides and clients of GPM10 around some of the most challenging cycling terrain the World has to offer.
In 2010 the ride on offer was a VIP start bib at the World famous Time-Megeve Mont Blanc Cyclosportive, a perfect primer for the Marmotte.
Here is the report from Simon Tyler, Bikefood customer and the lucky winner of the trip in 2010.
“I’m off to the Alps this weekend for the Time-Megeve Mont Blanc sportive. My little brain has been on overload these past few days, as I have absolutely no idea what to expect and I’ve also got no idea what my poor not-so-little legs are going to make of it.
The last time I rode a bike up a European big bastard hill was (I think) 1997, when a group of us toured down through France and Spain to Morocco. The Pyrenean hills we climbed weren’t super big, but they were big enough and we were pretty overloaded with gear which added to the discomfort. A few days later we climbed the Puerto de Piqueras pass from Logrono to Soria which was a complete bastard too. I think we started riding uphill at 9am (in blazing sunshine) and were still going up at 5pm, having dealt with rain, sleet, snow and the biggest hailstones I’ve ever seen.
Since then, I’ve ridden on some big hills in the Indian Himalaya, but that was so unlike anything anywhere else in the world it’s pretty futile trying to compare it.
Anyhow, I am expecting the weather to be cold and wet, in the hope that it’ll turn out to be warm and dry. I have stocked up on some new cold / wet weather threads, including a rather dashing white Craft rain jacket, and some new bib tights. I have a new (and bloody expensive) pair of Schwalbe Ultremo Aqua tyres, in case the roads are streaming with water. I have a collection of various energy bars and gels, although I hope the majority of my nutritional requirements will be passed to me by the boys at GPM10.
Tonight the English will be going into the bike box that Jonathan at Strada Wheels has kindly lent me for the weekend. I’ve been training with a rented Powertap wheel since February, but this (and the Marmotte come to think of it) is a holiday, so I will be leaving it behind and instead using the rear wheel that Rob built for the bike. I’ve stuck a SRAM 11-28 cassette on too, which should keep me spinning freely, twinned as it is with a 50-34 compact.
Time-Megeve consists of three routes of varying lengths. The 2011 route will depart the small town of Cluses and include the climbs of the Col de la Colombiere (1618m), Col des Aravis (1498m) and the Col des Saisies (1633m) all of which featured in stage 9 of the 2010 TDF. The 85km route returns to Megeve after the descent of the Aravis while those who have opted for the 115km route start up the Col des Saisies (1650m). At the top of the Saisies, the middle distance route returns to Megeve whilst the 145km route descends to Beaufort, before returning back over the Saisies to the finish in Megeve.
With the Marmotte on the nearing horizon, it’s the longest one that I am pretty much committed to, and hopefully only a very severe attack of evil weather will put me off going for the full 4000m or so of climbing. If I crack that then I think I’ll be pretty confident for the Marmotte, and might even start thinking about a finish time, rather than solely survival.
And then after the weekend, here is the post event report.
“My weekend in the Alps riding the Time-Megeve Mont Blanc sportive with GPM10 was almost certainly the best organised and most rewarding weekend cycling weekend I’ve ever taken part in.
A pleasant Friday afternoon flight to Geneva, pick up at the airport by the two GPM10 lieutenants Sandy and Steve (both successful young racers), a swift transfer to a great little hotel in Megeve, decent dinner, and then bike assembly.
The following morning: a fortifying breakfast, signing on at the sportive HQ, then a well-paced ride along the valley to Flumet and up the Col des Aravis. I couldn’t quite believe that the climb up the Aravis was my first ascent of an Alpine col. As mentioned before, I’ve toured across the Pyranees and ridden in the Himalayas and the Andes, but have never ridden a road bike in the Alps. The climb was superb – testing but not too much so at the pace selected, and the views and situation were both magnificent. The weather looked changeable, but despite some worrying clouds and a chill wind at the top, we weren’t troubled by the elements.
GPM10 honcho Mark Neep met us at the top of the Aravis, and a pleasant lunch followed. I was rapidly coming to the conclusion that Alpine riding really can be done in a lot of style, especially when I noticed a fellow cyclist out on the veranda – a heartily substantial meal was arriving in front of him, course after course, liberally sloshed down with chilled beer.
The Criterium Daupine arrived at the Aravis shortly afterwards, which provided a brief flurry of excitement, and then we remounted the bikes for the descent back to Megeve. It was the first time I’d ridden the English down such a lengthy and weaving descent, and the effort that had gone into the design and geometry was clear – the bike was super stable descended like a dream.
The following day started early. Breakfast plates were piled high with nearly everything on offer, although the huge pan of lasagne that the chef had thoughtfully knocked up for any morning pasta fans looked rather sad, untouched as it was. Mark, Sandy and Steve were all riding the event too, and there was a faint whiff of pre-race tension, particularly from Sandy, who had designs on the win. Steve kept reminding him that it was a sportive, not a race, but with a variety of pros riding (the event is sponsored by Time, so some of their riders are expected to ride) the front of the field would definitely be competitive. I was content to munch my way through a pile of bread and cheese, blissfully ignorant of the challenges to be encountered later.
The decent from Megeve to the start at Sallanches was blissful – no sound except the whizzing of freehubs, and staggering views of the Mont Blanc massif looming magnificently over distant Chamonix.
The town of Sallanches was rammed with riders, most of whom were doing their best to disprove the much-lauded but entirely inaccurate theory held by the British that so-called Euro riders sit at the top of the pyramid of sartorial cycling style. I have never seen as much mismatched neon lycra, petrol station sunglasses and questionable socks in my life.
As GPM10 has a decent relationship with the event organisation, we were in the initial pen of two hundred riders, with more than two thousand in the pens behind. The atmosphere was fairly relaxed, with just a hint of urgent energy. And one poor bloke with his bike upside down trying to fix a probably phantom mechanical.
When we eventually received the instruction to depart, a fair amount of one-footed skipping was required until we cleared a bottleneck, and then all hell broke loose. I had been warned that the Frenchies like to set off at a decent lick, but this was ridiculous. The first twenty or so kilometres ran north along the pan-flat valley floor to Cluses, and the speed of ragged line of bunches hovered between 25 and 30 miles an hour. I was content to sit on the back of one sensible-looking bunch, and stayed towards the middle of the road, the better to avoid any collisions with protruding curbs.
At Cluses, the road to the Col de la Colombière split off and before too long the climbing began. The temperature was hot, and I let my speed fall to a relative crawl, unlike the hordes of Frenchies who were stamping their pedals in some mad rush to the top. The Colombière was a tough climb, and the last few kilometres were made mentally miserable with the remaining road to the top visable in full, snaking in a long ramp to the top.
There was a feed station at the Col, where I grabbed a bottle refill, and quickly slurped it down. I went on to make my only real mistake of the day – pedalling off with only a half-filled bottle to sustain me till the top of the Col de la Croix Fry. I had convinced myself that the drop from the Colombiere was only marginal, and the next col and feedstation not far beyond that. Not very clever.
The descent of the Colombière was amazing. It went on and on, fast and with a succession of exhilarating hairpins. There was very little traffic and the whole thing was a hoot.
However, it quickly became apparent that the vertical drop was considerable, and the heat in the valley floor below was substantial. The field was pretty strung out at this stage, and our little group span along for some distance before the road started to rise towards the Col de la Croix Fry. I tried to make the sorry dribble in the bottom of my bottle last for as long as possible, but it was all gone well before the road kicked up properly.
Despite impending dehydration, the ascent of the Croix Fry was memorable, and in mostly a good way. There was a enjoyable variability in steepness, with 10% sections presenting quite a challenge, but these were interspersed with lesser angles, and the surrounding landscape was impressive enough to take my mind off at least a proportion of the discomfort building in my legs.
The top of the Croix Fry was quite bleak, but there was a welcome sight in the form of the GPM10 van, manned by Mark’s girlfriend Fanny. In the back was a panoply of bars, drinks and gels, bananas, bottles, nuts and dried fruit. I spent a few glorious minutes gulping Bikefood drink and forcing bars down my throat, pocketing a selection, filling both bottles, and eating a final banana before wobbling off down the road, considerably more full than when I had arrived.
I had not set out with any particular plan for the ride, other than to ride at a sensible pace with the aim of gauging my ability to ride over big hills without completely ruining myself. I could feel a degree of fatigue in my legs, but nothing serious. With three different length circuits, Time-Megeve is quite a decent sportive for those unsure of their ability in the hills. The turn-off for the shortest at XXX km had already passed before the Croix Fry, but the route would split after the next hill, and I was pleased that I had absolutely no interest in cutting my day short – it was definitely going to be the full route.
The descent of the Criox Fry was short and sharp – possibly I had been confused between this and the descent of the Colombiere. Anyhow, it only felt like moments had passed till we were snaking up the Aravis. Well-fed and hydrated, the climb passed more smoothly than those previous, and before too long I reached the summit. Just a brief stop to sling on a gilet, then down the hairpins we had passed up and down the day before. At Flumet (or beyond??) the turn off to the Col des Saisies was taken, and the first few metres of the ascent caused the first real manifestations of muscular unpleasantness – some cramp-like twinges, along with an increasingly uncomfortable hotspot developing on one foot. I stopped and did what I could to remedy both ailments, and then pressed on for the summit.
The route up the Col des Saisies split off from the descent route after a couple of kilometres, and some of the already won ascent was lost skirting around for the approach via Crest Voland. The climb was quite tough, particularly after the previous efforts of the day, and the difficulty was compounded by the heat, which was noticeable and unrelenting. I managed to maintain a determined smirk on my face for most of it, and most of the other riders grunted cheerfully at my mostly inane comments when passing or being passed, but the general appearance by this stage was grim determination. There was a welcome section of descent through some forest towards the top, and then the final few hairpins rose up towards the top of the Col.
The summit was big and flat and windswept, and populated mainly by overweight touring motorbike riders, festooned with helmet-mounted microphones and bad sunglasses. In the middle of all this was a feed station where a considerable bunch of cyclists were tucking into the delights on offer with a degree of enthusiasm commensurate with the degree of energy expended throughout the day. I gulped down a few cups of Coke, and spent some time munching on some decent cheese, a couple of chocolate fingers and a banana, before somewhat reluctantly leaving the impromptu picnic and pedalling down towards the finish. With tiring legs a brief section of uphill midway down wasn’t really cricket, but it didn’t last long, and the course eventually met the Flumet Megeve road. There were still some kilometers to go, so I decided to stick with another chap, and we rode in determined silence towards the finish.
I finished the sportive in 6hr48, which was pretty unspectacular, but considering I’d spent nearly an hour stationary, and also taken it very easy up the Col de la Croix Fry, I wasn’t particularly disappointed.
Quite how I would’ve managed another 30 miles and 1500m of climbing I’m not sure – the Marmotte is going to be a different class of challenge I think. But even so, I awarded myself a pat on the back.
The others had fared pretty well – Sandy managed 13th overall, and Steve wasn’t far behind in 64th place. Sandy had stayed with the leaders all the way to the final climb, but halfway up the Saisies he’d started to suffer as a result of his meagre rations – the eventual winners had enjoyed the fruits of their soigneurs, but Sandy had had to make do with the contents of two bottles of drink and some gels. Still, a remarkable performance all the same.
Back to the hotel, a quick change, stuff the bike in its box and we were off to the airport for the flight back. As I drove home, in the dark, pouring rain, it was hard to believe that I’d been spinning up those Alpine roads only hours before. There’s definitely something to be said about the benefit of weekend Euro missions – you really can pack some serious experiences into such a short period of time, and GPM10 are definitely the best boys in the business.
Now, lets see if I’m as chirpy after the Galibier…”