Nine meals and a bit of cycling in the Jura (France and Switzerland)
20th - 24th May 2008
K2 – Accommodation
Dave – Route
JR, Frank - Navigation
JR, FR, K2, Dave
Nothing to say – as you would expect of the Swiss, it works like clockwork.
Day 1 Geneva to Saint-Claude
Not so easy to escape from the airport; there is a route but it diverts through underground car parks. John had the ‘Welcome to France’ puncture about one metre over the border; at this stage the team were very enthusiastic and we had four willing mechanics and one photographer. The town sprints started immediately with Team Colnago showing early form. Meal 1 in Gex followed the normal pattern; an unpromising ‘pub’, populated by local boozers, serving excellent fare. The climb to the Col de La Faucille was uneventful, although weather was disappointingly chilly. A ‘route baree’ cut off the short route to town, forcing us on to a long diversion and the best part of the journey, with K2 showing excellent early downhill form on the descent into Saint-Claude (apparently!).
Recently a scam had been uncovered whereby the Lonely Planet guide to Colombia had actually been written by a man who never left his house in Thames Ditton; the same guy was obviously responsible for the Lonely Planet Guide to Cycling in the Jura, wherein Saint-Claude was described as ‘Testosterone-fuelled’ – Mogadon-fuelled maybe, Sanatogen-fuelled possibly, but not a whiff of testosterone. The Bar Trip looked promising for the Champions League final, but we were late back after food (meal 2) – a rather poor Italian nosh including a shoe-leather diet steak (more calories lost through chewing than regained through digestion); the Bar Trip had closed! Is this the future of the British Pub? No doubt Paddy O’Murphy has licenced premises somewhere in town, but he was keeping a low profile, so it’s the Bar Central, a really rocking joint. For some reason the locals were supporting Roman ‘n Avram’s Bluescum Army, leaving one complete local idiot to support United. This character, in an act reminiscent of Eric Morecambe’s ‘Arsenal’ cough, leapt up every ten minutes and shouted ‘Manchester’, in between grabbing your reporter’s arm and trying to scrounge a bierre libre – now, why is your scribe a magnet for fools and nutters!? Has there been a better football highlight this year? John T missing the penalty and pathetically reduced to tears – wonderful! A happy night’s sleep for all discerning, objective football fans.
Day 2 Day Off: Saint-Claude to Saint-Claude
In true day-off tradition there was a stiff climb just after breakfast and an early break by Dave. One advantage of being the ‘lanterne rouge’ is that one is always looking for an excuse to stop and rest; while Dave, Frank and John steamed up the hill, they failed even to notice the famous feature illustrated below – apparently the most famous geological feature in the Jura.
For those whose eyes were focussed firmly on the road, this is ‘Le chapeau de gendarme’ – an anticline in the Jurassic limestone.
K1 and K2 took their time to read the sign, perhaps contributing to Frank’s coffee-break problems. Frank won the climb and, for some unexplained reason, by-passed the coffee-stop and descended to the next village where everything was shut – strange! After that, things improved with a long valley descent and finally the first appearance of the sun to coincide with the first al fresco scoff (meal 3), which is remembered as being excellent. The post-prandial cycle was also very pleasant, contributing to an unconventionally restful ‘rest day’.
No more shoe leather – a sophisticated nosebag (meal 4) chez nous. A trip to town to investigate the impressive bridge and locate the elusive Paddy O’Murphy; no luck, so it’s the Bar Central again, still recovering from the excitement of the previous night. These places must be subsidised – there’s more life in a bone orchard. The locals can’t even smoke their pipes indoors anymore, even if they are world-famous for making them. No wonder there’s so many Frenchmen in London.
Day 3 Saint-Claude to Champagnole
A genuine appearance of the sun and some excellent gorges to view en route. A really terrific outdoor feed (meal 5). After lunch there was an opportunity to visit a waterfall, one of the great natural wonders of France; sadly, the 50 metre walk proved too strenuous for some – the photo shows just what you missed!
When you’re slow uphill and slow and nervous downhill there is no better way to prove your courage and general machismo than to swim in the icy waters of a glacial lake – unfortunately Lake Chalain proved to be reasonably warm and rather pleasant.
A local got mixed up in the peleton but, unlike last year, did not get involved in any sprint-related incidents. Overall, this was an excellent day in the saddle.
First impressions was that Champagnole was far livelier than the buzzing Saint-Claude; how first impressions may prove sadly wrong. After a circumnavigation of the town it was back to the Hotel Riptoff for another sophisticated feed (meal 6); a large Victorian dining room, whose heyday was 1910, and some Strauss mood music. Now we are older and more mature, it isn’t in the slightest bit amusing when one of our two fellow older diners lets rip with a barrage of D’Oyly Cartes!
The circumnavigation of the town was not a waste of effort; in the absence of the elusive Paddy O’Murphy, Bar L’Easy Rider had been identified as a potential Friday night watering-hole. An excellent venue – pool, pinball, babyfoot, decent (old) music and even reasonable beer in Pelforth Brun, until it ran out. The French fizz is really non-potable and leads to an early night.
Day 4 Champagnole to Labergement-Saint-Marie
Given the quantity and quality of pre-tour planning using maps, Garmins and Google Earth, getting around is generally fairly straightforward; however, no trip would be the same without some minor dodgy navigation – this specific event comprised a short spell on a gradually-worsening lumberjack track and the inevitable puncture – for K2. Following this mishap elevenses were enjoyed at a café where a visitor from the neighbouring village is a newsworthy event and the odds of being patronised by five cyclists from England are somewhat less than the chances of being struck by a meteorite – coffee was served, eventually. There is ‘route baree’, a few metres of rough tarmac or a bridge missing over a ditch, and then there’s ‘route tres baree’, kilometres of mud and gravel. We encountered the latter, allowing the Colnago boys to add some character to their shiny new composites in the form of mud and crud.
And finally, Paddy O’Murphy is tracked down in the hotel-free zone of Mouthe; a traditional meal (No. 7) of Franco-Celtic gastronomic origin was de rigeur; a pint of Murphys and a bowl of frogs-legs.
There was always a potential problem with this day’s route – half way through the day we were due to pass within a kilometre of the destination hotel; would we have the mettle and determination to sail by and complete the day’s task? Of course we wouldn’t – no chance! We booked in and then enjoyed a leisurely tour of the lake with a few beer stops; guilty feelings? Well, not really!
A brief cycle circumnavigation of the village demonstrated clearly that there was no point even looking for Paddy O’Murphy in Saint-Marie; snouts in the local trough (Meal 8) at our Auberge. This was an excellent four course meal in a popular venue specialising in regional cuisine. Doctors will tell you that after such a large meal, it’s extremely important to have a jolly good walk to assist digestion; so we walked up the stairs to bed – and tossed and turned all night!
Day 5 Labergement-Saint-Marie to Geneva
An early start and a puncture for K1 in the garage – glass in the hotel car-park possibly resulting from a recent drunken riot? A quick spin into Mouthe and a second sighting of Paddy O’Murphy! An excellent climb and descent took us over the border into Switzerland and a refuelling stop. It was quite a surprise to find that the Swiss had not yet subscribed to the smoking ban; the downside of this arrangement seemed to be that the smoking cafes subscribed to an eating ban – not even a Toblerone on offer. Dave appeared to have saved the day with some vintage energy bars – however, due to the excess chewing required, these were again negative energy fuel. The Col de Marchairuz (1449 m) was the ‘roof’ of this tour; the restaurant did not disappoint excellent food (Meal 9) viewing Mont Blanc peeping through the trees.
After that, it was basically one long descent to the airport, and in similar fashion to our previous visit to Geneva the commencement of heavy rain that apparently lasted for about one week.
..from the Lonely Planet school of journalism.
The top descender was apparently K2 – 1 mph faster than the pack.
The top grimpeur was apparently Frank, although the general consensus is that he is (a) too slim and (b) too young. For obvious reasons, there are no photos of Frank actually climbing.
Every picture tells a story, but sometimes that story is a load of rowlocks – for example the sprint to Les Grangettes. Dave must be the most successful sprinter due to his undying enthusiasm to sprint for any piece of road furniture.
As for the yellow jersey, it’s between Frank and John, with John edging it through a complicated age and weight handicap system.
Food: Loads of excellent ‘scoff
Drink: OK as long as not ‘fizz’