and Fishing in Alsace-Lorraine
cycle tour of the Vosges
- 28th May 2018
Chef de l’Equipe
K1 – celebrating the 65th
John, Dave, K2, Rob, Glenn, Mike, Evan, Malcolm,
*early stages only – went home to prepare for the
Team to the Starting Line
This is much more
difficult than it sounds. Although
many team members are retired they have numerous responsibilities and
hobbies. Essentially one
has to select dates that do not interfere with any team member’s
sporting activity; hunting, shooting, golf, sailing, climbing, darts,
pilots and, of course, fishing. One
then makes a calculation of the low probability of one’s football team
qualifying for the Championship playoff final and a first visit to
Wembley for 43 years. One then hopes that most cyclists have their TUEs and a
suitable cache of drugs and can avoid illness and injury (bike or
otherwise) in the weeks leading up to the event.
And then, with a certain amount of luck, a record peloton of 11
fully-trained and enthusiastic cyclists may be assembled on the starting
Mardi – Transfer to Gerardmer
We are now experienced
‘crewvan men’ and hence the transfer occurs without incident. A pleasant relaxed 6-hour journey to our chalet. The UK
Border Agency could categorise six men in a van in many ways; people
smugglers, drug smugglers, international terrorists looking for a war,
world cup hooligans making an early start, fugitives, Olympic athletes
– unfortunately we were identified as golfers!
The Chalet de la
Perpiniere in Gerardmer saw a partial return to the good old days when
cycle trips involved camping and self-catering.
I think we are now too knackered (and rich) to contemplate canvas
and a large comfortable chalet is a reasonable substitute.
The chalet was in a superb location at the top of a hill with a
great view over Lac Gerardmer; the chalet also had a games room with
babyfoot and table tennis. Methinks
this was excellent accommodation allowing evening drinks on the veranda
and a communal breakfast – the one mistake we made was not inviting
along Tony T to prepare said breakfast and carry out many other useful
Mercredi – Prologue Stage 1
3h50’, 1290 climb
After a decent meal the
previous evening the 11-person peloton was ready for action at 10am
prompt. Some early drizzle
and the first puncture did not dampen spirits, although we did choose
the loudest alfresco cafe in Lepages for our morning coffee; a very rare
busy main road with some local road works.
The German place names give the game away; there has been one
hell of a lot of history in these parts – maybe we should have invited
teacher John along to keep us informed?
On second thoughts it probably wouldn’t have been such a great
idea! Taking the tour very
seriously indeed your reporter had read up on some of the late 1944 WW2
battles in the Vosges mountains but, apart from recognising a few town
names (Bruyeres) and road names (Rue de 442 Regiment), he could not
remember a thing – so why bother reading books!?
Late morning we were hit by the heavy rainfall that had been
forecast for weeks, but fortunately we were able to take refuge in the
Restaurant Commerce in Corcieux for a long bibulous lunch – it was
noted that the part-time team members were not really into la grand
bouffe at lunchtime and Sheila suffered the penalty of the classic
lunchtime puncture. The
afternoon visit to the Champ de Roches was excellent – this is a
similar glacial deposit area to the superb Foret de Huelgoat en Bretagne
and its famous Roche Tremblante – apparently JR failed to get it
moving but when I was there, with the assistance of a score of French
experts we got it really rocking. The
day ended in style with beers by the lake.
Jeudi –Stage 2
Boys - 55km:
Men - 70.9 km,
4h20’, 1400 m climb
The second day kicked
off with a visit to Lac de Langmeer, the designated location for the
traditional lake or river swim – well, it would have been, except
nobody had bothered to pack their trunks and the sight of old geezers
skinny-dipping would not have been appreciated by the locals.
The lunch stop in Vagney was the departure point for Sheila and
Brian as the latter had a minor football match to attend.
Following a rejection by the only restaurant in town we found the
other one in a wooden shack on the outskirts.
Again the food/drink was fine but there is a strong possibility
that they poisoned one of our key domestiques – who knows, but I have
certainly been nobbled by the French on a few occasions.
There was a big choice to make after lunch – the ‘men’
would accept the challenge of the major climb to La Haut du Tot (and a
beer) whereas the ‘boys’ would cruise up the much easier route to
the Col de Sapois (photograph indicates an elevation of 1840 m) - in
reality both climbs were about the same and the ‘boys’ sensibly
avoided a major drag along the main road – they also returned to
Gerardmer earlier to allow more drinking time.
Vendredi (part 1) – Transfer to Ribeauville (Alsace)
The transfer to
Ribeauville was rather more hectic than anticipated as one of our team
had been poisoned by the French and needed to move quickly.
At one stage ‘Sean’ had us driving along a farm track about
an inch wider than the van – after this ‘Sean’ was replaced by a
more sensible American woman. We
did arrive safely without incident although it is certainly not
advisable to drive a van in the town – fortunately when we located the
Caveau de L’Ami Fritz it was right next to the main car park.
The L’Ami Fritz
comprised a number of medieval buildings renovated to produce some
rather eccentric accommodation – Your reporter was housed on the 2nd
floor of an annex that required the ascent of a precipitous spiral
staircase, whereas Dave’s team occupied a huge room with two twin beds
and a sofabed without bedding – When I lent Dave a duvet the maid
kindly took it away the next morning.
I believe we had three quadruple rooms and logically we split
into three teams of three; the hotel seemed to have other ideas.
Anyhow, the alfresco food and drinks were good, we were right in
the middle of town and the PMU was just up the road.
Breakfast was served in a superb renovated vaulted wine cellar. As for Ribeauville – what a place! – just take a look at
the tourist photos.
Vendredi (part 2) – Stage 3
64.7 km, 3h45’, 1200 m climb
Following the surprise
early to transfer to Ribeauville an 8-man peloton made a late start
following a drive to Chatenois and, of course, we were then required to
take an early lunch – this may well have been in Ville, a town where
the town-naming committee seems to have lacked imagination. A
long but pleasant climb took us to within 2 km of the summit of le Mont
St-Odile but rather surprisingly we decided to give it a miss. After the descent we returned on the famous Route du Vin
through many picturesque and very German-sounding villages. An excellent evening meal at the L’Ami Fritz was followed
by a scouting mission to the Streng Bar, the local PMU with all the
facilities. Some of the
team were now starting to flag on the drinking front and even the
members that made it there did not have the energy to test out the
babyfoot/pool/pinball – age seems to be affecting the drinking more
than the cycling!
Samedi – Stage 4
48.9 km, 2h25’, 660 m climb
Time to tackle the big
one – Le Grand Ballon, the highest peak in Northern France.
Confucius he say
‘It’s easier to reach the top if one starts near the top’.
The elevation of the Col du Grand Ballon at 1343 m sounds quite
daunting if one starts at sea level but not so tough if one kicks off at
1252 m! Never mind, the
descent and a major climb would be required after lunch.
We cycled along a fabulous road called the Route des Cretes
(Peaks) – the road is 80 km long and follows the border of Lorraine
and Alsace and hence the border of France/Germany from 1871 until 1919
when the Krauts were booted out of Alsace (for a few decades!) by the
Treaty of Versailles. The
road was constructed by the French army during WW1 and hence is on the
west (French) side of the peaks. This
is a superb ride and it would be great to do the full 80 km sometime.
We did make a joke that every motorbike within 100 km would be
heading for le Grand Ballon at the weekend – unfortunately the joke
turned out to be true and we were plagued (personal opinion) by swarms
of the bastards – let’s hope a result of Trump’s trade war is a
500% tariff on Harleys or, even better, send them all back home.
The view from the Ballon to the East was the Rhine Valley and the
Black Forest (possible future tour?). Serendipity
– following the summiting we elected not to carry on to descend the
yellow road and add maybe 30+ km and a 1000 m climb back up – maybe
the white road chosen for our ascent back up would be impassable as
well! ....and then the
intended white road for the descent turned out to be a dirt track and we
were forced to have lunch (with the Belgian Harley Chapter) in Le
Markstein before a pleasant return to the van – a short day with not
much climbing but, given the long transfer from Ribeauville, this was
just the ticket.
Your reporter last saw
‘the Whites’ at Wembley in 1975 (a 0-2 defeat to the Iron) – this
Saturday evening involved enduring radio commentary while trying to eat
a dinner – an impossible feat; but
at least there was a reminder that the tour dates were carefully chosen
to avoid clashes with major sailing events!
Well, at least it was a win (sorry Dave) and the family much
enjoyed the day, including a post-match three generation verbal dispute
with a drunken sick-as-a-parrot Villa fan.
Back to the PMU for the Champions League final and a defeat for
the Scousers whose goalkeeper was not on great form (concussion
Dimanche – Final Stage 5
63.3 km, 3h50’, 1400 m climb
Has there ever been a
better neutralised roll-out? – the restored 9-man peloton rode up the
main street of Ribeauville under the 13th century arch of the
Tour des Bouchers and straight on to the climb of the Col de Freland and
the Col de Haut de Ribeauville. So
far the navigation, with the benefit of a glut of Garmins, had been
exemplary but a tour never passes without a blip; in this case we
neglected the signpost to the centre of St-Marie-aux-Mines and took a
quick look at the sewage works before returning to the route by hopping
an Armco barrier. Just like
a 60-year old man should never pass a convenience, a French peloton
should never pass an open restaurant on a Sunday unless one wishes to
pork out on a croquet monsieur – we stopped at the first restaurant we
found at 12.02. Following a
prolonged lunch and a long descent the final challenge was a climb to
the famous Chateau de Haut-Koenigsburg, a medieval ruin rebuilt by
Kaiser Bill at the start of the 20th century.
The climbs in the Vosges are excellent because the gradients are
generally mild enough so one can ascend without excess effort...until
one reaches the chateau car-park where we encounter the steepest
gradient of the week. Again
the view is of the Rhine Valley and Black Forest (still looks good!).
The descent in the drizzle looked hairy but everyone got down
safely so we had managed a tour without any tumbles (except Evan’s
unclipping). Evening saw a
big meal and a return to the PMU where we did at least manage a few
games of babyfoot – the PMU made the Willy look quite lively.
Lundi – transfer chez nous
Nothing to report except
your navigator (yours truly in this case) in a minor panic for quite a
while trying to figure out why the journey home was 200 km longer than
the journey out and why we would only just make Calais for our shuttle
– oh dear, not a difficult problem to solve – Sean’s replacement
had been programmed to Surbiton, not Calais.
The UKBA were again struggling to identify 6 honed road cyclists;
at least it wasn’t golf this time – due to some Khaki attire (the
wildlife cannot see you) we were imaginatively identified as fishermen.
Naturally your reporter
would say it but, with the exception of some illness in the camp, this
was an excellent tour – great accommodation, reasonable weather and
the route planning committee (thanks chaps) got it just right – scenic
rides of about 4 hours with a certain amount
of climbing and plenty of time for refuelling/rehydration stops.
Well, that’s my third trip (50, 60 65), all to France –
here’s to another five years of drinking training and cycling training
and a fourth tour (maybe France)!?