Golf and Fishing in Alsace-Lorraine

A cycle tour of the Vosges

22nd - 28th  May 2018

Chef de l’Equipe

K1 – celebrating the 65th


John, Dave, K2, Rob, Glenn, Mike, Evan, Malcolm, Brian*, Sheila*

*early stages only – went home to prepare for the Vuelta

Getting 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 grid.

Mardi – Transfer to Gerardmer (Lorraine)

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 household chores.

Mercredi – Prologue Stage 1

73.3 km, 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 apparently!).

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.

Con clusion

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)!?