Monday, 31 July 2017

Puy Saint Vincent : The bucket list challenge

Earlier this year I had to choose between planning a 5 day MTB stage race in the Swiss Alps during the month July or visiting my best friend Jantiene in France. Jantiene had just moved to a tiny village called Puy Saint Vincent located in the Hautes Alps. I could not fit both trips in, neither did I have the money. Normally I am quite a selfish person when it comes to my racing and I will prioritise doing a race over any other social activity. Ideally I wanted Jantiene to race the stage race with me but timings did not work out on this occasion. Ironically the race went through her back yard which we discovered later. I decided to visit Jantiene knowing that it would include a lot of laughs, a lot of adventures and a lot of activity! On top of that her friendship meant the world to me and I wanted to see for myself what she was always talking about. It ended up being a great decision

Neither Michael or I had been to this part of the Alps which is famous for its rock climbing, mountain biking, great weather and what I discovered close up and personal:  the Tour the France. And for some miraculous reason Michael and I managed to both get the same week off work without too much hassle which was a first. So off we went. It was an easy 3 and bit hours drive from Geneva airport through some amazing landscapes which made the trip enjoyable.

Since we did not all fit in Jantiene's small but lovely one bed room apartment, Michael and I brought our camping gear. This consisted of not much more than a tiny tent which looked a little out of place in between all the amazing camp set ups at the camping site. Luckely Jantiene lend us a couple of chairs to make us a look a little bit more accomplished. The camping ground Camping Croque Loisirs was located at 1450m altitude just above Puy with spectacular views over the mountains. A little piece of heaven. The owners were lovely and helpful and the grounds had everything it needed. Although busy it felt really nice and quiet with a tranquil atmosphere. A great place to set up camp. (literally)

Right on the door step of the camping ground were some amazing trails

I checked out the local MTB trails as soon as we arrived and was later informed they were newly build. It was as easy as riding out of the camping grounds onto the man made trails which were located in what during the winter would be the ski resort. Graded blue, green and red there was something for every level of rider. I kept on riding back to the top over the quiet mountain roads to access the trails, but for the real downhillers there were chairlifts going up to make it possible to enjoy the downhill without getting too fatigued. I got a little lost, as you do, and ended up going down via the walking trails all the way into the valley. These were equally fun to ride!  I very quickly developed a love/hate relationship with the climb into Puy, although only 5kms long it was a serious tough one -mentally and physically!
Jantiene with her big smile welcomed us with a package including all the information we needed for our upcoming week. She did the promotion for a small Dutch company  which owned the camping ground Camping Croque Loisirs, a hotel; Mountain Hotel Saint Roch and a beautiful private located chalet; Luxe Chalet AlpeLune. She had kindly organised one of her friends, who happened to be the chef and also a keen climber, to take Michael out to the best climbing spots in the area. I had brought my own Mountain bike but one of the other locals very kindly lend me her road bike. Jantiene gave me a booklet which was called  A list of 12 of the best most scenic cols in the area selected by the locals who had been riding in the area for many years.
"keen to do some of these?" she laughed. I love challenges, and this one was awesome. It fitted perfectly with my slightly OCD personality and I immediately started assessing how many cols I could manage in one week. " We will start with two tomorrow" Jantiene smiled when she saw that I was hooked. Lets do it!!
on top of the first col Pre de Mme Carle
I started my bucketlist challenge with riding the Trois Valles Route with Jantiene where I got to stamp off the Pre de Mme Carle . My training program said I had to do 2x20min tempo efforts so as the climb started I left Jantiene who was recovering from a trail run event the day before. All was going great until my 20min effort was over and I hit 15-18% inclines. Where is the recovery?? The 2x20min efforts rolled into a hard 40min effort and as I reached the top. The beautiful scenery however, more than the physical effort took my breath away. I decided that I was not going to follow my training program this week but enjoy every minute and every inch of this amazing Alpine setting. Reunited with Jantiene we continued our chattering where we had left off before my interval and rolled back down to  climb the next col. What an amazing place to be on the bike. The cols were properly hard core and a challenge for any cycling enthusiast.

My solo Col D'Izoard ride
I wanted to ride the cols which I could ride from Puy so I did not need a lift anywhere. I therefore decided that my next challende would be the (apparently) famous Col D'Izoard. This would be a solo ride and starting from Puy a good 115kms with 2300m of climbing. I have a good habit of under estimating things and this one was no exception. At one point I found myself kneeling down on the side of the road because I could hear running water. I was so dehydrated, hot with an empty water bottle that the sound of a stream was torturing me! I found a tiny bit of water and I wanted to roll in it like a dog in a bad smell! "Ca va toi?" this was the third car which had stopped to ask if I was ok. I was told there was a drinking fountain in the next village and reluctantly moved on.
amazing scenery
Again I was in awe of the scenery and beautiful little French villages on the way. Tour the France fanatics started to set up all the way along the climb and I got cheered on the whole way. Not a bad feeling! Almost home I had a "moment" on the return climb back to Puy. Half way up I had to stop. I was crazy hot, crazy thirsty, crazy tired and I did not really want to go any further. "Shall I call Michael?" I thought for a second. "Don't be ridiculous" I told myself, got back on the bike and crawled on.With a few detours (navigating is not my strong point) I found myself back at Jantienes balcony after a good 6 hours of riding, with sunburned arms and empty legs. "Wooooow bikkel" she reacted "That is a big ride!"

After 3 days of riding mountains I needed a well deserved rest day but it was hard to stay off the bike in an environment like this. I followed Jantiene  on the mountain bike whilst she was running  to explore more of the beautiful trails and enjoyed the refreshing water of their local mountain lake for a swim.
Great spot to rest the legs
For my next challenge I chose to ride the Col du Galibier which included the Col du Lauteret. I wanted a big day though so I decided to ride the Col du Galibier up and over to include the climbs from both sides. I got Michael to drop me off at La Monietere-les-bains where he found a Via Ferrata which would take about the same time as I would be on the bike for, 4-5 hours. We did notice a lot of Tour de France signs and hype but when I rode the Col D'Izoard they were there as well so I did not think much off it. As I was climbing up the Col du Galibier I realized a lot of people were going up. Like, an abnormal amount of people. There were police cars driving up and down with their sirens on and as I reached the top I was told to get off my bike. "No way" I thought. I am not a big fan of big crowds, I don't like it when a ride gets shortened due to for me inconvenient reasons, and I don't like noisy places. This was an absolute nightmare. As I found myself between hundreds of TDF fans I was probably the only one who thought it was an absolute nightmare. Irritated I pushed my way through very happy crowds of excited cycling fans to the other side of the Col and asked what was going on. "They are on their way" I was told. For a moment I was tempted to ask "who?" but managed to restrain myself.
When I asked how long they would be I was told 2 hours. Also being an impatient person I did not want to wait amongst masses of people for two hours so I decided to descent down into Valloire regardless of what was going on. Because I was not allowed to get on the bike, my bike shoe cleats died a horrible death in the process. A sad moment. As I got further away from the hype at the top, I managed to get on the bike and slowly descended into the village where there was more space to move. I found a bit of grass to sit down and decided to wait it out. Since I was there anyway I did what everybody else did and took some pictures of Contador and eventual winner Chris Froome as they were riding passed.
Glad I could get on my bike again, I started the brutal climb back. This was quite an experience, I got cheered on in several different languages and as I was passing several guys on bikes the cheers would get louder. "SUPER, FILLE" Oh yeah. I was in the zone! At the top and over the descent into La Monietere, this was less fun. I now had to dodge very happy drunk people on the way down, other (crazy) euro riders, and cars everywhere. By pure fluke I found Michael amongst the TDF traffic. There was no real place to stop, "I will keep riding" I told him, hoping I would find him again closer to La Monietere. This did not happen. Return to Puy it was, an extra 2 hours of riding. It was a long haul back in between the support cars from the tour with whom I was playing cat and mouse with along the traffic lights. This resulted in entertaining conversations with some of the support crew driving the cars. Who would have thought I would be engaged in banter with the likes of Sky racing at the traffic lights somewhere in France.
And then there it was again, the home climb into Puy. My nemesis.
I decided that if Michael would reach me at the beginning of the climb, I was allowed to get in the car, otherwise I had to keep going. I reached Jantienes at 9pm at night with no sign of Michael. I had been out for 9 hours including 7 hours of riding, 119kms and 2800m of elevation gain. When I took of my cycling kit it had developed its own legs through my filth!
Michael eventually arrived and we laughed that this could only happen to us. How could we have missed the Tour went over the Galibier on the day I decided to ride it! What a story!
ashmei QOM jersey and cycling bibs were perfect to spend endless hours on the bike

It was time for a recovery day. Jantiene had to ride 2-3 hours which sounded perfect. "A "lalalala" ride" I asked, "yes" she said "but I will do my efforts on the climbs" Climbs? Jantiene and her damn climbs! After the amount of riding in my body and the crazy hour long ascends which were foreign to me, I had nothing in the legs. Jantienes idea of a recovery ride was 36kms with 3 cols which were each about 6kms long and had 600m of climbing. Including the dreaded climb into Puy. Again the scenery was incredible so although every cell in my body was protesting and I hardly made it up the Cols, said in a simple way; it was rude not to.

Cols on the MTB
There were 3 more cols for Jantiene and I to ride, but these were off road on the MTB and included an overnight stay in a secluded mountain hut. What a paradise for cyclists Puy was, not just for roadies with all the famous cols, but also for off road enthusiasts like me. Unfortunately I was still not allowed to run otherwise I would have loved to also check out the endless amount of running/walking trails on offer. Michael had a blast climbing, for any outdoor junky, this was the place to be, and we only scratched the surface.
Michaels climbing rope attached to my backpack got the attention of a couple of serious climbers thinking we were properly pro! If only they knew...

Although I was not racing a stage race, the challenges given to me by the bucket list were more than enough to keep any competitive person happy and I will be back to complete the rest of the list! It is a great idea for a cycling holiday!

Big thanks for Jantiene for being a great guide, Yvonne for lending me her road bike, Wout for his hospitality, Annemarie for showing Michael the ropes and everybody else in Puy for being so welcoming and showing us what a little treasure this place is. Perfect spot for an active holiday! (or lifestyle...)

"Take a course in good water and air and in the eternal youth of Nature you may renew your own"

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