In the summer of my first year in France, I did a ride called Le Reblochon, named after a cheese that is a specialty of the Haute Savoie region of the Alpes where the ride took place. I did the long course, which was 141 km and climbed the Col de la Forclaz (the most difficult pass I have ever climbed -- I've now climbed it in both directions) and Col de la Colombière (where the names Virenque, Dufaux, Mottet, and the words Allez Festina were still visible on the pavement), as well as several small passes.
In order to do this ride I had to arrange for a place to spend Saturday night and transportation from Levallois to Thônes, the small town where the ride started and finished. For transportation, I took the TGV from Paris to Annecy, then a bus from Annecy to Thônes. I stayed in a "lodging" (hébergement) that provided one of the most uncomfortable beds I have ever occupied, communal bathrooms, and a communal dinner. Quite a few other cyclists stayed there that night. At dinner, I was seated at a table with a couple, of which the husband was the cyclist. After dinner, they invited me to drive the first part of the course with them, that is, the Col de St. Jean de Sixt and Col de la Colombière. It was a great help to know what to expect for the next day. The climbing started immediately, no warmup. I did the climbs the next day, but had problems with my knees for many days afterward.
The Col de la Colombière is a nice climb, not too long or steep, with an impressive view of the snow-covered Chaîne des Aravis. Long climbs mean long descents, which can be cold and dangerous, depending on the weather and road conditions. It had rained the day before, but the road was dry enough on the day of the ride not to be dangerous.
That weekend, the last two stages of the Dauphiné Libéré race took place in the Alpes south of where I was riding. When I watched my recording of it later, I saw just how bad the weather had been on Saturday. During Sunday's stage, several riders, including Richard Virenque and race leader Abraham Olano slid off the road in a turn and went completely over a cliff. The video showed them climbing back up and getting on their bikes. Olano had so many mechanical problems from this accident that he lost the race, though he had started the stage with more than a minute lead over second place.
The smaller climbs of Le Reblochon were no problem, but the other significant climb, the Col de la Forclaz is very steep for a very long way with no respite. Le Reblochon climbed it in the easier direction, but it was still extremely difficult. I felt ill by the time I reached the top, and had to sit down awhile at the contrôle to recover. In 1994 I climbed this pass from the other direction. The road from the other direction is worse -- it is narrower, steeper, and badly paved. In 1994 I stopped at the restaurant at the top of the pass, on the cliffs overlooking the Lac d'Annecy. It is a jumpoff point for hang gliders and paragliders (parapont), and the view is fantastic. The contrôle for Le Reblochon was a little lower on the other side of the road, with no view.
Climbing the easier side of Col de la Forclaz meant descending the more difficult side. With my tendency for vertigo, I had to stop twice and put my foot on the pavement. I can't look down long distances of 13% grade and keep my equilibrium.
After the Col de la Forclaz, there were a couple of smaller climbs, including the Col du Marais, which the Tour climbed in 1994, then a nice downhill back to Thônes.
I took a shower, packed the bike, and caught the bus to Annecy. The bus ran into traffic and was a half hour behind schedule. The last train to Paris was due to leave just a half hour after the bus was supposed to arrive in Annecy. Without the traffic, the schedule was perfect, but with the traffic, it seemed probable I would miss the train. Another woman on the bus was also taking that train. I asked the bus driver if he could either go directly to the train station or could phone to ask them to hold the train. He said there was nothing he could do, but he did phone his colleague at the train station. Fortunately, the train was still there when the bus arrived. I hurried as well as I could with the bike and my other luggage, and got on the first car I came to. It was a first class car. I left the bike on that car and found my assigned seat. I travelled second class, while the bike travelled first class.
I arrived in Paris at 11 p.m. Sunday night. I had not recovered from climbing the Col de la Forclaz. My whole body was sore and I had a very bad headache. It was raining when the train arrived in Paris, just as it had been raining when the train left the previous day. Fortunately, a friend who has a car met me, carried the bike to the car, drove me home, and carried the bike up the two flights of very narrow stairs to my apartment. I was too tired and ill to have done it alone.
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