Kurt's Bike Trip in France - Part VI: The Bi-Col Ride

Yesterday’s tomorrow came, and with it a lot of morning rain. Lots of it. I got up at 6:00, chatted with Peg a little bit online, and headed down to breakfast. The atrium where I ate has glass panels for walls and its ceiling, and the evidence was everywhere: any hope of riding at the usual time of 9:00 and doing the full ride of today’s planed route was falling as fast as the rain coming down. We went with “Plan B – 11:00 rendezvous”: If the weather looked decent come down to the lobby in biking gear, ready to ride; if not, come down to the lobby and work on Plan C.

I could see from my hotel room that the weather appeared to be improving as the morning progressed. At 10:30 it appeared good enough to sprout some optimism and I began to change into my cycling clothes. I then proceeded to the lobby and got the revised plan from the tour guides: we will “van it” down to the valley (it had begun to drizzle again) and then do the planned climbs of the day – the Col du Glandon and its sister peak the Col de la Croix de Fer. Factoring loading and travel time, we started riding from the revised start point shortly after 12 noon.

There was about a 5 mile warm-up before the climb to Glandon began, and it took us through the town of Allemond. There was still considerable cloudiness, and the occasional rain drop, but partially clearing skies in the direction we were headed gave me hope. The climb up to Glandon is about the same, distance wise, as Lautaret (13.5 miles) with a similar average gradient (5% for Glandon, 4.5% for Lautaret). But for the Glandon, the average gradient is impacted by two short descents (each about 2 miles long) so the actual average climbing gradient when climbing is higher… one stretch averaged 15%. The Glandon, while an enjoyable climb isn’t as scenic in its lower stretches as some of the other climbs I’ve done… except for passing through one village (Le Rivier d’Allemont) I was pretty much surrounded by trees for 1st half of the climb. Fortunately, I was joined by tour guide Patrick at this village and we rode together the rest of the day.

Some nice views, and switchbacks with steeper gradients, presented themselves as I approached the Grand Maison Dam. By the time I reached the dam, though, the weather had once again began to change and it appeared as if we were about to get wet. I was able to get some nice views (and pictures) of the valley up which I just climbed, and a quick glimpse of the climbing that I was about to do. But the quick moving clouds dispatched with those views in short order. It was also about 6 hours since I had last eaten anything so I was a bit hungry as well. Julien (the other guide) met Patrick and me at a parking area near the dam, and we got some nourishment and loaded our pockets with cold/wet weather gear. About ten minutes after stopping for lunch, we got on our bikes and commenced with the final 6 miles of riding. A couple of pedal strokes later, a steady rain began and I slipped on my rain jacket. Thankfully, the air temperature wasn’t so bad and riding in the rain was manageable (of course, if I had my druthers…). Another thing I was thankful for was that the wind accompanying the rain was largely a tail wind. These changing conditions, of course, meant a second day in a row where the descents down the climbs we went up were to be scrubbed.

The gradient beyond the dam was noticeably less – prior to the dam, the climbing sections were averaging around 7.5%; now, we were in the 5% range. The landscape was more open now, and I was able to see some nice waterfalls and meadows, but the peaks on either side of me were obscured by the clouds. It took just 23 minutes to reach the Col du Glandon from the dam, and there was just another 1.5 miles to go to reach the Croix de Fer, but with rain coming down and a restaurant with warm drink and food awaiting us at the Croix de Fer, there was little interest in staying longer than the time needed to take a couple of quick photos.

There was only a 200+ yard descent off the Glandon before the beginning of the final push to Croix de Fer. Once the ascent began, though, I began to push the pace a bit, realizing both this was last riding to be done for the day, and tomorrow is the transfer day to the Provence region and we’ll get in maybe a 30-mile ride on rolling terrain. Patrick and I reached the summit in just over 9 minutes, and were closely followed by Julien and the van. We ditched our bikes and some gear, took some requisite photos and headed inside the little café for some warmth and food. The rest of the group trickled in over the next 50 minutes, during which I enjoyed some hot chocolate and a waffle. Once everyone was there and similarly re-nourished, we “vanned it” down the road we just climbed. There was a brief stop in Bourg d’Oisans for some of the guys to do some souvenir shopping, and then it was back up to our hotel in Alpe d’Huez.

The entire ride for today came in at about 20 miles long, with around 5,000 feet of climbing. If you so desire, you can view the map (and elevation profile) by following this link.

Misc. Tidbits
- As some of you may know, I like the group U2. The fact is, I like many groups, and different kinds of music. Apparently, someone in the management of the hotel is fond of U2 as well… and the Cranberries, and Coldplay, and maybe another artist or two. But that’s about it. How do I know this? For the 3rd day in a row, I’ve heard the exact same *limited* playlist while in the restaurant. It hasn’t gone unnoticed by others in the group either… Julien actually asked if the music could be changed, and was told “No… the one manager likes this music.” Nice. It has gotten to the point where we know what the next song was going to be. It starts out with U2’s “Pride…” followed by The Cranberries’ “Linger”, and a couple of songs later is a song by Coldplay.
- I did enjoy a brief respite from the “broken record phenomenon” this morning during breakfast. It was actually a pretty nice moment… I was in the atrium with maybe one or two other hotel guests, eating my breakfast, watching the clouds and fog and rain move through the valley, all while listening to a block of songs by Ray Charles. Sadly, after the fourth or so Ray Charles song, I heard U2’s “Pride…” come on. Time to wrap-up breakfast.

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