13th - 19th June
Chef de L’Equipe
Chef Adjoint de L’Equipe
K1, K2, Rob, Glenn, Mike
Reporter forced out
After many years of writer’s
block (ie laziness) your reporter has been shamed into producing a short report
on the 2016 trip. Unfortunately,
due to increasing age of the participants, sensible behaviour is now the norm;
helmets are worn, bikes are well-maintained, drinking is in moderation and early
nights are the call. Commendable
behaviour but not lending itself to a thrilling narrative.
At this stage it is worth noting
that Dave, taking his leadership role seriously, had endeavoured to learn some
basic French – a 111 day run of lessons on Duolingo had apparently led to the
achievement of 18% fluency. Unfortunately
Dave had been studying with the specialist ‘Duolingo for Zoologists’ and was
17.5% fluent in animals and only 0.5% in everything else useful.
‘The whale is watching the monkey’ – no problem ‘La baleine
regarde le singe’; ‘The shark is eating a bee’ – again no problem ‘Le
requin mange une abeille’ – however, ‘left’, ‘right’, ‘days of the
week’, ‘months’, ‘numbers’, ‘time’ etc. – not got on to that
yet. He had also developed a
strange accent – less Gerard Depardieu and more Steven Gerrard.
Our leader was known as ‘Monsieur 18%’.
An uneventful trip in John’s
crew van and Mike’s car. Navigating
with French road maps would trouble Chris Bonnington so it is no real surprise
that we took a late detour down the Autoroute du Soleil and back up the main
road just to check the lie of the land. Our accommodation, Hotel Relais 500, was
indeed in a place recommended specifically for the hard-of-hearing, sandwiched
between the main road and the autoroute and located at the end of the runway of
Vienne International, one of France’s major airport hubs – you could lie
awake at night pondering on the relative noise levels of the thundering trucks
and roaring jet engines – an unwise choice of venue for athletes in training!
If we had stayed in luxury five-star facilities like the England football
team, no doubt our performance would have been much improved!
Anyway, the day finished with a warning for making excessive noise
(talking in the room watching Euro2016 with the window open at 10.30pm) –
after passing the age of 60 there is a certain amount of kudos and pride
attached to such warnings, even if they are unfair.
Monday night swimming was
postponed until Tuesday morning and it was very pleasant.
Unfortunately the slight delay in getting to breakfast meant most of the
food had gone – one suspects the old boiler of gaining some retribution for
our ‘riotous behaviour’ the previous night.
An excellent day’s cycle in the Parc Naturel Regional du Pilat started
with a crossing of the Rhone and then an ascent of about 1000m; this was quite
friendly with gradients generally in the 3%-7% range and no Crooknorth or Coombe
Bottom style challenges; as long as one were not foolish enough to chase John
and K2 then the climb was long but pretty relaxed.
The view over the Rhone Valley from the top was well worth the effort and
the real reward was a 20km long descent back to the Rhone.
This was interrupted by a lunch stop; as we were late the hot food was
off but that does not mean that the lunch provided was not excellent.
Lunchtime alcoholic hydration encouraged the sprinters; a potentially
relaxed descent was turned into a mad race for each town sign.
As we were in serious training Dave added a gratuitous loop to the ride
that included the only 1st gear seriously steep hill at the end –
again the climb was well-rewarded with a panoramic view of Vienne International
Airport. The evening meal involved a trip to the local posh hotel –
food was OK but it was rather pretentious.
Another earlier swim meant we
got to breakfast before the old boiler had a chance to hide the boiled eggs.
Following Ardechoise registration we enjoyed a short 30 mile but very
pleasant cycle around the area of St Felicien.
The highlight was lunch – we were just discussing the various options
for food when it arrived; everyone gets the same, but it is, of course,
excellent. The pressures of
leadership can lead to strange behaviour and sometimes mental paralysis –
witness the recent tribulations of R Hodgson and J Corbyn – this day Dave was
struggling and it led to the traditional ‘Grand Old Duke of York Scenario’
up the hill, down the hill, up the hill again, all in search of a jacket that
never came out on the ride – oh well, the extra climbing was good training.
Following the ride we transferred to the Hotel Ibis Budget, Aubenas –
certainly well-named but perfectly adequate – the main problem was its
location requiring a decent uphill walk to the local nightlife.
We did discover the top local cafe where the patron was nuts – from his
ranting we learnt that all Frenchmen are not in love with the France football
team and that President Hollande is not universally popular – and the rant
followed a win for France!!
Really good cycle around Aubenas
in super weather and arrival in Aubenas (where does all that traffic come from?)
in time to witness a last minute winner for England over Wales – at this stage
everyone was blissfully unaware of the nightmares to follow – Slovakia and
Iceland! The Ibis Luxury was just
next to the Ibis Budget and sported a very nice swimming pool and bar.
Good food in Aubenas and a warm welcome by the patron to his bar – I
somehow doubt he sees many foreign tourists.
Kayaking on the Ardeche River
– the deputy had been worried all week by the chief’s lack of organisation
of this crucial training activity – however, there was no problem, as previous
visitors to the area know that there are more canoes in Vallon Pont d’Arc than
the whole of Canada and plenty of competition from companies happy to relieve
punters of their Euros. Sensibly
choosing the shorter 13km challenge we enjoyed an excellent paddle, especially
when K2 and Glenn overcame the normal beginner’s tendency to make the kayak go
round in a circle. A swim in the
river and some senior citizen tombstoning completed the ‘cycle training
block’ recommended by Chris Froome. We
then transferred to our final hostelry, Residence MMV Le Domaine du Lac,
Chateauneuf d’Isere. All seemed
good except the lack of food and drink – the chef was ill, apparently poisoned
by his own food. However, from
adversity springs opportunity – the adjacent Camping Le Soleil Fruite had an
outdoor restaurant with good beer and big screen football; we were joined by the
part-time team members, Brian and Sheila who had driven 200km to register a
Friday evening drinking attendance.
Samedi – L’Ardechoise
So this was it – the big day
for which all the team members (Rob?) had been training hard for months on their
bikes. Rob took an early
opportunity to give the mechanics something to do by kicking off his valve at
the first food stop. The first 50
km was easy until we reached ‘the moment of truth’ – La Volcanique with a
further 126 km and an ascent of Col de Gerbier de Jonc (1417m) or Les Boutieres
with a further 75 km and a maximum altitude of 1115m at the Col de Freydeparet.
Your reporter had been having delusions during the week (drugs?) that he
might attempt the tougher trip with the A Team but fortunately, when the moment
of truth arrived, reality kicked in and he joined the B Team leaving Glenn, John
and K2 to make the big mistake (or maybe not?)!
By a quick calculation the B
Team (Dave, Mike, Rob and K1) reckoned on two hours to waste and took early
advantage with a detour off route and a leisurely coffee and milkshake in Le
Cheylard sun. The B Team were
probably the last cyclists to attempt les Boutieres although we caught a few
slowcoaches; similarly the A Team just made it on to La Volcanique before the
broom wagon – lucky or unlucky? Everything
was going swimmingly well until the rain – not just ordinary rain but ‘chats
et chiens’ rain – the B Team was at the top of the mountain but managed to
take shelter in a cafe and order a recuperative beer and Bolognese; the A Team
was at 1417m – the descents were long wet and cold.
When John, a man with decades of experience of bobbing around on and in
cold water, says it is the coldest he’d been, then be assured it is genuinely
cold and unpleasant. I was looking
forward to the ascents to have a chance of warming up.
Being in the last few of les Boutieres meant we were mixed in with riders
who had cycled many kilometres further than us and many of these guys were Friar
Tucked – a rare opportunity for Dave and I to storm up the final climb
overtaking and humiliating younger and fitter athletes.
After the finish Team B had a long wait for Team A, freezing Mike’s
brain so he had two unsuccessful attempts at locating car park D – we thought
he had been kidnapped by aliens. Again
Camping Soleil Fruite saved us with a late meal and some beers.
Kudos for all on the Ardechoise – the A Team for tackling la Volcanique and the B Team for their critical decision-making skills under pressure!
The return journey to Calais was
as smooth as can be until one arrives at the Chunnel and is forced to join a
3-hour queue. Dave’s insider
knowledge proved correct – there is not enough UK Border Agency staff to
process customers quickly enough to fill the trains – apparently this was due
to the extra security for Euro2016 as they are trying to prevent the hooligans
going home! No doubt the situation
will improve following brexit as our French cousins will be keen to co-operate
with us quitters!
Anyway, no real problem – we all got home with good cheer in rude health, busily discussing venues for next year’s trip – Iceland anyone? They have a good football team. Particular thanks to Dave for the organisation and John and Mike for supplying the team buses.
FIN (de requin!)