Why I love cycling in London

Cycling in LondonCycling in London gets a lot of bad press. It’s dangerous, it’s smog filled, it’s insanity. Yet I love it! Why? Well most of the scare stories are not true. The mass hysteria played out in the media is not representative of the road. Is cycling in London dangerous? No more so than crossing the road as a pedestrian.

Yet London is busy, there’s no arguing with that. I love cycling to escape, so how can I enjoy riding in a city heaving with a gazillion people? I enjoy cycling for this very reason. It provides escape even in the most crowded of environments.

Here’s five reasons why I love cycling in the capital.

1. Regent’s and Richmond Parks

Cycling in Richmond Park with deerWhere to find quiet roads in London? Head to the green patches, specifically Regent’s Park and Richmond Park. Each an oasis, an escape from the heat of the city. I’ve already penned an open love letter to cycling in Regent’s Park, the Londoner’s outdoor indoor turbo trainer of choice. I will never tire of looping this park, or riding past the giraffes in London Zoo, or better still, the guarantee of riding with strangers in brief informal alliances. The only thing that could destroy this cycling mecca is speed bumps, which I’ve worryingly read are being considered.

So to Richmond Park. More beauty, more hills, more views and more of a challenge to complete the 6.7 mile loop. It’s a great place to ride early in the morning before the cars and gazillions of cyclists arrive. I say great. Richmond Park is the grim scene for my hour of power. Whenever I ride there I set out on the very painful Richmond Park 3 lap challenge.

Your mission is to cycle 3 laps of the park in under an hour, so averaging at least 20 mph for an hour. I remember the sense of achievement the first time I slipped under the hour. Since then I’ve come to dread the hour of pain, attempting for reasons unknown to me to shave seconds off my current PB. It’s the London amateur cyclist’s equivalent of the hour record aka the closest you can come to death without dying. Only add hills and wind. And in my case, a 15 mile ride just to get there!

2. Empty streets

Empty streets in London, Big BenSunday. Six a.m. My alarm clock burst into life an hour earlier. Unlike me. A litre of coffee fails to jolt me. My stomach heaves with porridge. I am an early morning cyclist, up at dawn to beat the London traffic, to see the sunrise, to experience the streets like the film 28 days later. Sunday morning. Or is it night still? Streets empty, the occasional zombie staggers home after a big Saturday night out.

I love, love, riding through central London with the streets to myself. The neon of Piccadilly Circus lighting the dark morning, the pavement electric blue, brilliant white, resplendent red. Soho still reverberating from the chatter and hum of last night’s revelers, King’s Road quiet, awaiting the pitter patter of shoppers still tucked up in bed.

For the briefest of moments the city is mine.

3. The commute

Cyclist commuting, passing between two busesChaos theory does not explain the Londoner’s cycling commute. Hell is calmer and has fewer devils. The lunatics have escaped the asylum and hit London’s roads. Be they drivers, pedestrians and yes, other cyclists. It’s every man and woman for themselves in a race to save seconds, precious valuable seconds from their commute. And you know what? I love it!

Heart pumping and adrenaline flooding the senses, this is as alert as I’ll be all day. Riding fixed gear, legs, bike and mind at one. I am immortal yet also oh so very mortal, weaving, braking and swerving my way through the thronging city streets, years of history my backdrop.

The horizon is a feast of icons, my eyes spoiled for choice. I pass castles, historic bridges, museums, galleries, the river Thames, the Bank of England, the City, the Shard. In the distance Canary Wharf on my left, St Paul’s Cathedral and the BT Tower on my right.

Then to the quiet ways. My own personal quiet ways that many cyclists don’t know exist and that TfL is now finally adopting to encourage cyclists from the busy main arteries. Yet just one street over, parallel to hell, is a cycling paradise. Leafy avenues, no traffic lights, barely a car, clean (ish) air and time to contemplate the meaning of life. Or what I’m having for dinner when I get home.

There’s also something wonderful about riding the same route everyday. Boring? Nah, I own these streets! I know where the potholes are, I can take everything in my stride, eyes closed. Almost.

4. The great city escape

Cyclist at Box hill at sunsetSurrey, Essex and Epping Forest, the Chilterns, Windsor, Hertfordshire, Brighton. These are the staple weekend retreats of the London cyclist, all easily within riding distance. The sea, hills, flatland and empty country lanes all orbit the city and tempt the London cyclist out of their dens with the promise off fresh air and adventures a new.

My closest escape of choice is Essex via a few hills in Epping, the rest of the ride pancake flat, ideal for a tempo ride powering through the lonesome lanes of High Laver, Little Laver, High Easter, Good Easter and the many, many Rodings.

Adventure means the Surrey Hills. I’ve cycled in much of the UK, be it the Isle of Skye, Dartmoor, Cornwall, the Lake District, the Peak District or Wales. Yet Surrey is an equal among these cycling meccas. Beautiful country lanes you could ride forever, challenging climbs your legs won’t let you ride forever.

Here’s two Surrey rides I highly recommend for hill climbers or anyone who enjoys a beautiful ride:

5. The bumps

Alexandra Palace cycling

I like riding up hills. Lots of hills. Preferably steep. Not too long but long enough to get close to death. A deep breath before bang, off you shoot, full gas for as long as you can hold it, powering to the top until, oh no, slowing, flicking down the gears in a blind panic, cadence dropping, breath struggling, heart beating hard, gasping now, yes, done!

Lungs on fire, your first thought is not of puking, not of fainting, but of your time. Did you beat your PB? And then you can puke and faint all you wish.

As the leaves turn yellow-orange, my head turns red-purple for it is hill climb season. As a north London boy, my climbs of destruction are Swains Lane. Ally Pally. Muswell Hill. Highgate West, Highgate Hill, Archway, East Heath plus those a little further afield in Epping, namely Mott Street, Avey Lane, Dawes Hill and friends. I love and hate each and every one of you. You’ve brought me pleasure, pain and exhilaration.

Love-hate London

Riding up hills is very much like living and cycling in London. It’s a love-hate thing. Thank you London for being you and for letting me be me.

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Image credits: 1) #BikeNYC (ironically!).

The impact of mental stress on cycling recovery

Tired cyclistStress. What is it good for? True, we ride hard to stress, and ultimately strengthen, our muscles. Riding a bike can also help reduce our mental stress. Yet what impact does mental stress have on our recovery after a cycle ride? If we are too stressed is our physical ability impacted and thus the quality our ride dips?

I’ve written a little in the past about the importance of not overtraining or resting adequately. The basic rules apply. Ride hard, ride often. Ride hills, ride at tempo, ride at recovery pace. Rest and recover, improve. Easy right? Yet we are all different. My body in particular is slow to recover. This year my legs are taking longer than ever before to recover. Why?

I’m not tired, I’m exhausted

Tired cyclistCoffee is no use. Amphetamines will not jolt me. I can eat as well as I like but the nutrients are not sticking. Sleep? Yes please. I sleep like a dead man, nothing can wake me. No interruptions, no dreams, I’m gone for hours at a time.

My brain still functions but struggles if called upon to do more than one thing at once. Basic calculations are done in spreadsheets not in my head. I’ve been wearing underwear the wrong way around for weeks.

My body? Face gaunt, eyes weary. My feet hurt. Legs hurt. My ribs feel bruised. I’m no cripple, in fact sometimes I wonder if there’s anything wrong with me at all. And then I stand up. My legs strain under the weight. A dizzy spell every now and then. I may not be broken but something is wrong. I’m malfunctioning.

Why does it take me so long to recover from a hard ride?

I’m getting older for sure, but where just two years ago I could ride two super high intensity rides a week plus some hard commutes, nowadays I’m confined to one ‘training’ ride a week. The rest is recovery in the form of spinning to work on my commute, riding so slowly every other rider overtakes me (that took a while for my inner chimp to accept!).

So why? My riding hasn’t changed significantly. My average heart rate and max heart rate peaks are similar to previous years. Diet? I’ve upped the protein after rides. I continue to eat well.

Overtraining? One big ride a week? I ride gently during the remainder of the week. Rest? I take at least 1-2 days off the bike completely each week and usually a full week off the bike after a big block of riding. There is certainly an element of my rides always being high intensity, this I must address. Yet my recovery is still abnormal.

My latest theory? Stress. I work in a job where the mental pressure is ceaseless. I’m no doctor or finance trader but my role requires my brain at near enough 100% for very longs hours every working day.

Even when not working, I often think about work. I’m not stressed in the medical sense. I don’t need tablets or psychiatric help. I am in control. I enjoy my job.

Yet there’s no denying it leaves me mentally and perhaps psychically exhausted. This week my average bed time has been 9pm. Nine hours sleep each night and I’m still tired. I sleep, I work. Sometimes I ride but mostly I ache.

Stress and athletic recovery

Still got it

Still got it

There doesn’t appear to be a huge amount of research into the impact of ‘life stress’ or psychological stress into athletic performance.

Logic dictates that if you’re stressed you will sleep less. Sleep is very important to recovery, this we all know. So already you know that stress is certainly not helping your recovery.

Yet I’m sleeping well, deep and long uninterrupted sleeps. My problem is staying awake!

Researchers at the University of Texas tested a small sample of students and noted that those more stressed showed slower muscle recovery. Another study of an even smaller number of elite athletes also came to a similar conclusion. Elsewhere the folks at Watt Bike recommend easing the training when stressed to allow your body to recover.

The American Psychological Association explains how muscles are taut and tight when stressed, on constant alert unable therefore to rest and recover. After training your muscles are inflamed and stress adds to this with the inflammation of the circulatory system. And then there’s the impact on the digestive system, stressed, your metabolism changes as too does the rate at which you can absorb nutrients.

It goes without saying that when stressed you are also burning energy. Your nervous system hits a fight or flight button, setting you on high alert, heart beating faster, glucose levels in your blood increasing as your adrenaline levels rise.

This can lower your cortisol levels and over time drains the body. Perhaps that’s why my Saturday bike rides are inevitably harder than the Sunday ride, where I’ve had Saturday to mentally unwind.

The diagnosis

I train in my sleep

I train in my sleep

I am long since beyond tired. Stress at work has probably been compounded by a cycle er, ‘holiday’ climbing in France. The non technical term is knackered. The bar room term is f*cked.

The men in white coats don’t really have a term for it. Tired, some say, under the weather, they say, not so scientifically at all. Burnt out. Most lean towards the term ‘modern life’.

Of course the nutritionists and homeopaths have jumped on ‘adrenal fatigue’, which sounds scientific enough to drive er, their industries and incomes. I don’t particularly care to name my suffering, I only seek a name in the hope of finding a remedy.

Doctor Google

Maybe it’s all in my head? Yes, that’s what I’m trying to tell you! Perhaps though I’m talking crap. I’m the first to agree, being one of the more cynical people you could hope not to meet.

After all, in the internet age everyone is a specialist. Be that a doctor, mechanic, doping expert, you name it. Give a human a little information no matter how credible or understandable, and said human will quickly form a conclusion which soon becomes an unshakable opinion and before long, an ingrained belief. Yes, we’re experts we tell ourselves.

I’m not. But I am chronically tired. I am not ‘stressed’ but do experience significant pressure at work. Correlation = causation? Sometimes. I’ll never know as this isn’t something the NHS can help with and I don’t quite fancy months of expensive tests to find out.

I’ll just lie down for a while and rest. Eat well, work less. Spend some time looking at how I can vary my training intensity too. And then rest some more. The hardest part is ignoring the weeping noises emanating from where I store my bike. Poor thing.

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Riding in the French Alps – Part deux

Riding in the mountains is addictive. The drug comes with its own highs and lows, pleasures and pains. Thankfully the former are great enough to help you forget the latter. Half way through my cycling holiday in the French Alps (part one here) and I was compelled not only to climb but to ride into oblivion.

Rested and bulging with carbohydrates thanks to a day trip to Italy, I was ready to pick up the pace. It was time to tackle the last of my famous French climbs with a little more gusto, or panache if you will. The twin wonders of the Col du Glandon and Croix de Fer waited. Oh and saving the worst for last, the vastly overrated Alpe d’Huez, the only mountain in the world without a summit. Never meet your heroes and all that.

Addiction is… a state characterised by compulsive engagement in rewarding stimuli, despite adverse consequences.

Day 4 – Col du Glandon and Croix de Fer

Col du Glandon summit cycling

Glandon hairpins

The furnace began to cool as the French heatwave dissipated. The early morning chill called upon my goosebumps on the way to climb Col du Glandon. Brrrr.

With a short loop planned and my legs fresh from the rest day, this climb would be less tourist amble and more of a tempo ride. Within reason of course. The turbo was being saved for the final day ascent of Alpe d’Huez.

Col du Glandon is a beautiful but stiff challenge. Regularly hitting and holding 10% for 33 km to a summit that stands tall at 1,924 metres. Legs strong, I felt invincible demolishing the lower slopes with little effort. The road passed so quickly I seemed to be skipping every other kilometre marker, or bornes as they are called locally.

The pace soon took its toll. Seven kilometres remaining, my body pleaded for respite. Ha! Head down and face grimacing like a bulldog chewing toffee, I did my best to maintain my pace. Relief and bewilderment hit me as I rounded the famous winding hairpins near the summit whilst trying to enjoy the views behind me. Spectacular.

Three kilometres to go, two, yes, come on push, ignore the 11% grind, almost there and bang, done! My favourite climb of the Alps. Scenic, challenging and barely a soul or car on the way up.

Breath caught, I took the relatively short and sedate climb to the summit of the Croix de Fer. Here the scene impressed ever more with views to the valley below and snow-capped mountains in the distance. The ride back to base at Saint-Jean-de-Maurienne was equally lovely with plenty of sweeping corners on a well paved road.

Route and GPX file on Strava: Col du Glandon

Day 4 – Alpe d’Huez

Mountain table mat for cycling

No escape from the mountains

So to the Alpe. Mythological in modern times thanks to a certain race and its crazy fans. Anyone who saw the pros cycle through the tunnel of noise that is Dutch Corner in this year’s race cannot but fail to be impressed.

Yet the non-Tour climb is a different beast entirely. Busy with cars rather than drunken fans, the mountain is a ghost of its race day self and a poor imitation of nearby climbs. The views meagre, Huez also has possibly the worst finish of any mountain climb anywhere in the world. In fact, Alpe d’Huez is possibly the only mountain in the world without a summit.

I arrived at Bourg d’Oisans after a stunning drive up and over the Col du Glandon. Warm up non-existent, I hit the lower slopes of the Alpe pushing my ridiculous lowest gear of 39*25 as hard as I dared (note to self, buy bigger rear gear). The opening few kilometres of this beast are unrelenting, pitched at 10%, sometimes 11%, ready to exploit any physical or mental weakness.

Not that I noticed. I was on a mission. On I pushed, past the stragglers, past the first timers, past the resters at hairpin #2, past the mountain bikers spinning gears granny would be ashamed of. The Alpe may be a crap climb but the mystique and lure of this famous ascent does get people on bikes and anything that gets people on bikes is a good thing.

On and up, I did my best to block out the heavy car traffic and the fact my heart rate was so high and my water supply so low. Push on! And so I did until… a red traffic light. On a mountain climb. One I was busting my balls on. Argh.

Tick, tock. Strava would not be happy. Light green, so too was I, my anger switching me into hulk mode. I quickly returned to my former pace. There was no way I was completing my alpine tour without leaving everything I had on the road. To hell with Strava, my legs shall know the truth!

Before I knew it the summit was approaching. But which summit? The official Tour de France summit of Alpe d’Huez requires the navigation of a couple of er, roundabouts, a strange requirement for a mountain climb. Fortunately I had the weird finish plotted into my Garmin GPS and so I followed the official route which took me up a closed road and er, through a bustling pedestrianised market. What a farce!

I slowed to a crawl and rolled slowly past the local cheeses and honeys, my target time up Huez disappearing as fast as the dignity of this so-called great climb.

In cycling you can ride the roads of your heroes, a saying which is for the most part true. Not so on Alpe d’Huez. This is a very different climb to that which the pros tackle on the Tour. There’s no fans cheering you on, sure, this I can accept (just!), it’s the non-existent summit and the route there that disappoints and the er, roundabouts. On the plus side you can refuel at the busy market you need to pass through!

That said, Alpe d’Huez is still one of cycling’s icons. It is certainly a great challenge given its vertiginous slopes. Maybe if I had climbed Huez before the other, much superior local climbs then I would have enjoyed it more.

The red light? The market? Sure, the climb would have been better without them but I still left my legs on the road and enjoyed a reasonable time to the top. What’s more the descent into the valley behind the Alpe coupled with the climb of the Col du Sarenne make for a fabulous alpine cycle route.

My ride in the French Alps over, I wanted to start all over again. Simply magical. The views, the sense of achievement, the descents, the awesomeness of both the land, and of course, yourself. C’est magnifique.

Route and GPX file on Strava: Alpe d’Huez

Read part one of Cycling in the Alps or check out my advice for riding in the Alps below.

Cycling in the Alps - The views

Tips for cycling in the alps

Thinking about it? Don’t, just do it! It really is as good as your dreams. Here’s my advice:

  • Go slow on descents. There’s no prize for the most road rash.
  • Be mentally prepared. 90% of climbing these beasts is brain work. The rest is leg work.
  • How do you train for riding mountains?. Ride at tempo for an hour or two and you’ll be ready for the mountains. The hills of the UK are incomparable (too steep, too short) so you’re better off powering out high tempo rides on the flat than crunching out short hill reps.
  • Take water and look out for mountain juice a.k.a water stops. You’re looking for ‘eau potable’, usually a fountain of mountain water in pretty much every other village below 1,000 metres.
  • Ride Alpe d’Huez. Once. Ticked off, head to better climbs. Tackle the climb before other climbs too if you can, and then it may not seem so disappointing.
  • Stay in Saint-Jean-de-Maurienne. The perfect location for all of the big climbs above. I drove to Huez but you could ride there over Glandon or the Galibier as part of an epic day. Or skip it entirely, there’s much better climbs nearby.
  • Look up and enjoy the views. Reward for the pain.
  • Forget Col de l’Iseran. I had considered this climb as it is the highest pass in the region but was glad not to have endured the ride there which is awful (I drove it). There’s even road signs advising cyclists to get the train (or drive) further up the valley.
  • Mont Cenis is amazing. As above, the ride there goes up the base of Iseran and is pretty miserable. Again, I drove there.
  • Explore even when not cycling. A car is great and will get to the unbelievably turquoise waters of Lake Annecy. Brrr, icy mountain water. It really does have to be seen to be believed, a Mediterranean-like beach and ocean in the middle of the mountains.
  • Nothing is easy. Not the climbs nor getting to the Alps. The only easy way to get to the Alps is to live there. I drove 11 hours straight from London. Beats a plane, train and hitchhike.
  • Eat well, drink even better. Goes without saying but this is a struggle in St Jean, one of the few bad points about the village. Hard to believe you can’t find a decent restaurant without it costing the earth. This is France for christ sake, right? Not so, you’ll find lots of pizza or overpriced badly cooked food in restaurants more used to catering for the skiing crowd. Go freestyle at the large supermarket in town for all of your self-catered carb and protein needs.
  • Don’t over do it. I had originally planned some monster rides. Both in distance and height. Fortunately I saw sense. In the end I climbed over 12,500 metres in under 200 miles over 4 days. This was perfect and allowed me to cover all of the major climbs with relatively fresh legs. These climbs should be enjoyed not endured.
  • Go there now. With this excellent virtual tour of all the summits.

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Croix de fer summit cycling

Road cycling in the French Alps – Climbs, routes, pain and awe

Galibier The French Alps. A cyclist’s nirvana but with the addition of suffering, a strong sense of self and an even stronger desire to cycle forever. So nothing like nirvana then. Too much torture to be heaven too. A rapture then, for here you are transported from earth to heaven or your sins are punished accordingly. Will you be left behind?

Famous mountains open to all. Rider’s heads go down as the roads head up. A struggle ensues, the victor never certain until, yes, almost there, boom, the summit. As many emotions as heart beats.

The grind over, your legs stop spinning and are no longer uncertain of their purpose. Your eyes re-focus. The summit view only outdone by the sense of accomplishment. And the need for a lie down.

Day 1 – Galibier the Goliath

Up early to beat the heat, 37 degrees is not weather it’s cooking. The horizon a wall of mountains. You feel small, insignificant. Awestruck. It is inconceivable you will ride over such colossals.

The comfort of my hotel behind me, ahead, a car driving straight at me. I’m cycling on the wrong side of the road. The driver more surprised than me. Yet there is no beeping of horn, no angry gesture of hand. No swear words in a language I would not understand, no spittle from a rage I know all too well. Must remember. You’re in France you idiot! You drove the length of it yesterday. Oh, and drink more coffee at breakfast.

The short ride to the base of Col du Galibier awkward, my legs stiff after a week of idling. Roaring rivers of mountain water beside me, chalky, bluer than the late night movies your mom pretends you never watch.

I enjoy the scenery as much as the warmth. Seven a.m. Hotter than hell’s sauna. Already. Sweat forms whenever I slow, arms and legs glistening.

Col du Telegraph

Climb time. Up first the Col du Telegraph, 1,566 metres and 17 km in length (10.5 miles). The col begins like an algebra lesson, the immediacy of the 10% gradient difficult to understand. Heart pounding, my legs are too fresh to know any better. Muscles shocked, they shake. Ten percent turns to six, the gradient more manageable, my legs tricked into thinking I’ve hit a down hill. Almost.

Tall trees guard the road, their shadows my protectors, shelter from the fireball above. What the climb has in gradient it lacks in charm. The single meagre view near the summit is little comfort before a welcome descent guides you to the foot of the Col du Galibier. Entrée complete, I await the main course.

Col du Galibier

Col du Galibier summit cyclingThe Galibier contradicts for first you must descend before you can climb. Freewheeling to a minor recovery, it’s best to avert your eyes as you pass through yet another charmless ski resort. They must look better covered with snow.

The col touches the sky at 2,645 metres. You know you’re climbing into the clouds when you begin a climb when you’re already at 1,566 metres. High? Sure. Long? Oh yes. Including the Telegraph, the col is 48.9 km, making for over 30 miles of climbing.

My legs hit the snooze button on the descent perhaps thinking they are done. Sun beating down, my leg strength evaporates and I turn the pedals with the grace of a new born foal on ice.

The grinding soon begins. The luscious green valley beside me seems not to move, the horizon fixed. The smell of piss. Goats. Grazing in slow-motion beside the road, as oblivious to my struggles as they are to their stench.

Not so the swarms of flies. Buzzzzz, buzz. Kamikaze dive bombing, my ear canal the target. I don’t recall mention of such pests in the glossy tourist guides.

The kilometre markers tick by one by one, slower than the hands of the clock a child stares at on Christmas morning. The mountain ramps up to 8, 9, 10%, where it remains. My foe predictable now at least. My sweat thickens as the air thins and my breath shortens.

Hairpins allow respite. The shade long gone. Snow here and there, despite the furnace. On I push. Cyclists spinning backwards in my wake. The views ahead and behind amazing.

The final kilometre. A malfunctioning sprint finish empties what remains of my legs, the no-nonsense summit seemingly arriving from nowhere, the mountain top thankfully lacking the usual alpine restaurant and car park. The view to the west endless, stealing my last gasp. My first alpine climb done. Brilliant.

Route and GPX file on Strava: Col du Galibier and Telegraphe

Day 2 – Mighty Madeleine and Loopy Lacets de Montvernier

Col du la Madeleine summitDay one may have been the longest and highest climb of my alpine tour but I was under no illusion as to what would be the most challenging. Yet day two still surprised. Tip, never tackle an unknown climb in the French Alps willy-nilly.

First, my main climb of the day. The Col de la Madeleine is perhaps the steepest major climb in the Savoie region, not far short of a 10% gradient for the entirety of the 31 km climb, which tops out at 2,000 metres. Ouch.

The day was destined for wrong turns. The first took me to the foot of Les Lacets de Montvernier, a soon to be infamous climb when the Tour de France brings the crazy 18 loopy hairpins of this climb to the world. I had planned to tackle this rollercoaster at the end of my ride but finding myself so close, I reasoned an early morning twist and turn was better than a struggle beneath the midday sun with heavy legs. A wise choice with hindsight.

The Lacets de Montvernier is great fun. Looping up hairpin after hairpin on the narrow road, catapulting out of each dizzying turn, pace quickening each time. This climb should be ridden to the soundtrack of sirtáki, the Greek music that gets faster and faster as made famous by the Zorba the Greek film.

Cycling Lacets de Montvernier

The dizzying Lacets de Montvernier

I pushed hard near the summit. Well as hard has I dared with the knowledge of many a metre still to climb. Fun run done, I turned around and descended Les Lacets, a thrilling ride but not so when I returned at the end of my ride. More of which later.

Up next, the Col de la Madeleine. The climb kicked like a donkey right from the get go. The heat rising quicker than I. Grind, grind, grind. The distance between kilometre markers stretched and stretched with each sighting.

Fortunately the views up the climb are magnificent, the valley behind opening up with every metre gained. Before I could say ‘ouch’, I was inside the last 5 km and with 2 km to go, I held back my er, sprint, waiting for the final kilometre marker that I never did see. Still, I arrived at the top relatively fresh, the view to the east of Mont Blanc tremendous.

Big climb conquered, my day was done, or so I thought.

The descent from Madeleine was brilliant, slicing through the gentle curves down to what I thought was a short climb to the summit of the Col du Chaussy. If only. Never has a climb seemed so unending. My legs cold, they seized up after the descent of Madeleine, energy gone. Hungry, I did all I could to swallow malt loaf, barely chewing when the climb hit 11, 12%. Kill me now. The sun burnt through my thin skin, robbing me of water quicker than I could drink it.

Summit er, conquered, my battle had just begun. Ahead a winding narrow road, uneven gravel and melting tarmac on the steep descent. The road carved into the mountain, the views magnificent if you dared to look up from the terrible road surface.

Down I crept, hitting Les Lacets de Montvernier for a second time, my arms already hurting from braking so much. Twist after twist, my brakes squealed in the heat. At least I assumed it was my brakes making the noise. It could have been the tendons in my arms.

What a relief to finish. What a relief not to have to climb back up Les Lacets de Montvernier as originally planned. The heat by this time was hitting 39°C on my Garmin. I was thirsty. Tired. Yet somehow elated.

Route and GPX file on StravaLacets de Montvernier and Col de la Madeleine

Day 3 – Rest day

Mountain restaurant

Recovery food, mountain style (best lunch in France!)

Time to relax and rest my weary limbs. This was a holiday after all. Went out for a long lunch. In Italy. Well, it was carb loading day. Rested. No more Soreen. Or gels. Or warm water. Instead, a belly full of pasta and gnocchi and wine and good times. Bellissimo! Although as you can see from the image above, I enjoyed better lunches.

Rested and want more? Read part two of cycling in the French Alps.

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