Monthly Archives: June 2012

River crossing

Day 4 at Bike Village – probably the most eventful ride. Definitely one of my favourite bits of singletrack. We drove up to around 1300m to a small village and climbed on rough roads in pretty hot sunshine to about 1750m.

Seeking the shade

At the top, after stopping for ‘first lunch’, I discovered my back break had gone entirely. I was able to hold the lever tight to the grip and still pedal! Descending with front break only was an interesting skills challenge! First we headed over a cow field and down to a small stream crossing. This would have been a lovely bit of singletrack but the cows had churned it up when it was muddy and then the mud had set hard in the sunshine.

First stream crossing of the day

After the stream, we climbed slightly then traversed along the valley back down towards Bourg and Landry, stopping in a classic alpine flower meadow for ‘second lunch’.

traverse to ‘second lunch’

The next bit was my favourite bit of single-track of the whole week. We descended through pine forest with a carpet of pine needles on a series of switchbacks which were tight and a bit tricky but not too tricky to flow around (albeit slowly). At the bottom of those switchbacks, we emerged to find the bridge we were heading for had been completely washed away and the ‘stream’ more of a raging torrent. We were able to cross by holding onto the guides and passing our bikes across, the really big volume tires on my bike made walking it in the flow of the river impossible – it just tried to float away downstream.

Bridge? who needs a bridge?

All safely across

Everybody made it across safely, the only casualty was Simon’s shorts which gave up all attempts at covering his modesty, and as we all know, all the best rides involve a washed out bridge and a river crossing ūüôā

The rest of the ride wasn’t nearly so eventful. Traversing from village to village along the valley, high above Bourg, until we eventually reached a series of descents down to the valley floor, emerging 2km down from Landry opposite the finish of ‘black 8’ from Day 2. Some of us decided to carry on down the river, away from Landry, to the swimming lake where we had a coke and ice-cream and Jane had a swim before the heavens opened and we¬†had to¬†take shelter in the cafe from a short torrential downpour. The rain cleared enough to give us a quick window to get home but we could still feel the storm in the air and¬†as expected the weather broke spectacularly with an epic all-night electrical storm.

Total distance: 25km. Time: 5 1/2 hours. Ascent 1472m, Descent 2026m.

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Frozen heifer

Day 3 at Bike Village was to be a big day. The day before a rest day, we had a big climb planned. To ride up to the top of “L’Arpette” at 2385m in La Plagne ski resort. Thankfully we started at about 1300m so skipped the first 500m of climbing, but still there were 1000m to conquer.

Guides route plan

 We worked our way up slowly, under the lowest of the chairlifts (Bauches for anybody who knows La Plagne, where in 2010 three friends and I embarked on a 1km blue run which was almost entirely flat!), before we moved from tarmac to loose gravelly fire-road.

“Bauches” lift with “Inversens” on the horizon

This ride was called ‘frozen heifer’ by our guides as one was apparently found there once, and we did reach¬†snow patches¬†(but no dead cows) before we reached the top. Eventually after 2hrs¬†and 40mins¬†of slow and steady climbing and with burning thigh muscles for the first time really this week we reached the rope drag lift that links the top of the ski lifts to allow skiers to travel across the top of the ridge between¬†Les Arc¬†and La Plagne. One final push and we were at the top for double lunch.

double lunch

At the top

The descent off the top involved crossing a couple of scary snow fields,¬†dyed¬†red with patches of windblown Saharan sand, followed by a terrifyingly¬†exposed traverse and a couple of very exposed and very tight switchbacks before a series of tricky switchbacks becoming gradually more and more¬†ride-able¬†as we got further down and into the forest. I found the top hard as my thighs were still loaded with lactic acid from the climb throwing my balance off but once we started switchbacking¬†my riding came back and I enjoyed a clean-sweep of the left hand turns and reasonable success on the right handers. We hit the valley bottom (800m) 2km down the road from Landry and with tired legs pedaled back to what had become refered to as ‘home’.

Distance: 27.6km. Time: 5 1/2 hours. Ascent: 1020m, Descent: 1776m.

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Fast and flowing downhill

Day 2 started with an anti-histamine tablet which seemed to solve the pollen problem, it was also a relatively easy day in terms of climbing. We rolled out of Bike Village and along through Bourg St Maurice and Seez up a valley to the village of Saint-Germain, stopping for ‘first lunch’ at a waterfall before the village.

first lunch stop

From Saint-Germain we descended a straight and bumpy but fast, fun¬†and not too technical¬†path back to Bourg.¬†After a coffee break in the town and ‘second lunch’¬†we all hopped into the van for uplift to Les Arc 1600 where the funicular station is. From the car park there we stopped for a snack break before we descended a trail known as ‘black-8’.

snack break

We divided into two groups for the descent and I chose the slower group, we gave the other group a head start and we waited a few times to re-group, however as we descended section after section of gorgeous rooty, pine needle carpeted paths with¬†ride-able¬†switchbacks (tricky enough to be interesting but easy enough to flow through) I found myself really into the flow of the trail. Before I knew it, I was at the bottom and had caught the ‘faster’ group! So we waited for the rest of my group and all pedaled back to Landry and Bike Village together.

Total distance: 32km, Time: 5 1/2 hours, Ascent: 929m, Descent: 1691m.

That night a big¬†storm moved in but only lasted ten minutes, we were still able to eat outside afterwards. In all a very gentle day in advance of¬†a big day¬†to come…

storm approaching

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Arrival at Bike Village

We arrived¬†at Geneva airport early last Saturday morning and were thrown into a mild panic when my bike didn’t show up – a¬†mountain biking holiday without a bike wouldn’t have been much fun. But was just a broken conveyor belt at outsized baggage.

Reunited with bags and bikes, we were collected by Gerry, one of our guides for the week and drove through Annecy where we were hit with the full force of the sun and 30degree heat. Having left Scotland dressed in jeans, hoodies and down bodywarmers this was a shock to the system and although the sun was very welcome, the heat and strength of the sun was a bit daunting given the amount of riding we had planned.

Home from home

After about three hours we arrived in Landry, a small village 7km from Bourg St Maurice nestled in the forested valley below the ski resorts of La Plagne and Les Arc. Bike Village in Landry was to be our home from home for the week. We spent the afternoon relaxing in the garden until the rest of the guests arrived in time for dinner. Our fellow riders consisted of a German girl who lived in Brussels and a group of five girls from the Lake District. Si is the only male guest (but all three guides plus the owner are all male so the overall balance is pretty good).

Blissful relaxation

Our first ride takes us directly from the house. Starting through classic alpine meadow, riding through the long grass the pollen hits my throat and lungs and I spend the rest of the day wheezing and barking. Not the most auspicious start, particularly with a 1000m climb ahead of us. We rode up underneath the ‘Vanoise¬†Express’ cable car linking La Plagne¬†and Les Arc and through ski village Piesy-Vallandry and stopped for water in a village¬†on the way up before continuing to the chapel at an altitude of 1800m just below Les Arc.

Water stop

Chapel within sight

¬†After lunch at the chapel it was all downhill back to Landry at 800m on tight switchbacks and beautiful forest trails, skimming over bone dry grippy roots, without a muddy puddle in sight. About three-quarters¬†of the way down we stopped to re-group and suddenly I was hit by the¬†familiar tightening in my chest and wheezing. Whatever had been causing the reaction was clearly something in the valley that wasn’t such an issue up high. I don’t usually suffer from hay fever in Scotland but do sometimes react very badly to tree pollen in London. I would have to find some anti-histamine and hope that this was just a first-day problem that could be managed.

My gps¬†stopped before we reached the top of the climb so I don’t have any stats on this first day’s riding but I estimate we rode about 25-30km over about five to five and a half hours and we know we climbed 1000m of ascent (and same in descent).

Dinnertime – al fresco

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Natural Tweed

Best bike ride in a long time thanks to the fantastic Tweedlove festival. ‘Natural Tweed’ was the last event of this year’s festival and it was worth waiting for! 140 riders headed out from Peebles for a self-sufficient ride with maps of the route and volunteer riding marshalls, bike patrol and emergency mechanics scattered through the pack.

The route was absolutely stunning.. best natural ride I’ve done in the Tweed valley ever, the weather was perfect and trail conditions ideal. Good times.

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Glentress 7

A moment of calm

We¬†entered the Tweedlove festival 2012 “Glentress 7” as a mixed pair. The format is 7 hours of riding on an 11km loop course of pretty technical singletrack and 450m ascent. We didn’t really know how long each loop would take us. I was thinking we’d maybe hit 6 laps… Si went first so that if we hit an odd number of laps it would be him that did more, but we didn’t allow for the fact that the first lap was much easier with a neutralised start – up the fireroad – instead of the first third of technical climbing and descending.

I went out FAR too fast on my first lap, keeping up with the traffic around me and nearly blew up entirely about a quarter of the way round, stopped for a bit and pulled it together then carried on finishing in 1hr13min. Went out much steadier for my second lap and maybe took it a bit too easy (even having a quick toilet stop) but only added 5mins to my lap time.

The cut off for the end of the day was 5:30pm and the cut off for going out for a last lap was 4:30pm. Si was due back from his third lap at 3:20pm so I didn’t think we’d have time for two more laps as I didn’t think I could make it round in 1hr10min so I was going to offer him the next lap as it would be our last and I was ambivalent about riding another one or not. But when he got in he made me go anyway… I headed off knowing I had to put in my fastest lap of the day but also had to not blow up like I did in the first lap… I decided to start steady and ramp it up.

In that last lap my heart and lungs and head felt better than they had all day, but my legs (left knee) and lower back/hip were really starting to grumble. I also somehow got engaged in two conversations with guys on climbs on that lap who kept asking me questions despite my gasping one-word responses(!?!). Knowing the course by this time made it go much quicker, and knowing where to push hard and where to ease up helped. I also concentrated on taking every bit of speed on the downhills that I could. At the hour-mark I knew I had gone further than the first lap so I had a chance. There also wasn’t too much traffic at that point so I really picked up the descent speed. I hadn’t managed to clean the off-camber rooty traverse near the end on either of my two previous laps and was worried about crashing messily on that bit but the extra speed seemed to help. On the final descent I heard the tannoy down at the finish saying two minutes to cut-off and I was caught by the crazy soloists and really fast male riders who were all aiming for the 4:30 cut off too, I was going too fast to pull over and let them past so I picked up even more speed in an attempt to not hold them up too much. I FLEW down the last section of rutted grass as fast as I possibly could (topping out at 29kph according to my gps) and crossed the mat with 30 seconds to spare!

Si headed out with an hour to finish his fourth (and our seventh) lap. He’d been hitting 55-56min laps all day so he’d be ok if he didn’t crash badly or have a mechanical…

Personalised race nubmers – how cool!

He finished¬†four minutes¬†before the final cut-off and so we had our seven laps. We were 88 out of 101 pairs overall (though only 15th out of 16th in our category which doesn’t sound so good) but both of us rode well, and I in particular rode far faster than ever in my life before so a good day all round ūüôā

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