Stage 11 - Albertville > La Rosiere
Distance - 114km
Climbing - 3943m
Climbs - Montée de Bisanne, Col du Pré, Col du Méraillet, Cormet de Roselend, Col de la Rosiere
Definition - 'clem' - North East, England; colloquial term used to replace the unit of imperial measure of a stone in weight; "That big lad over there must weigh at leat 30 clem."
I learned three more things on Le Loop today...
- Descending on newly tarmac'd roads is 'sketchy' at best.
- The 1km markers on climbs blatantly lie about gradient.
- You can't order an Uber at the top of the Col du Pré.
We woke after a patchy and uncomfortable sleep due the lack of air conditioning in our hotel and the previous day's exploits. Breakfast was a nervous and crowded affair with around 90 cyclists grabbing mini croissants, salami and the all-important 'hot black road fuel'. It was apparent the hotel buffet was perhaps not used to such an influx of people and long queues started to form, snaking out and around the seating area. A confused French holiday maker questioned what we were doing?
"Queuing!" came the magnanimous, lycra-clad reply. Nobody queues as well as the Brits.
We set off again at 7:45am and began climbing almost straight away. Today was going to be a ride of two halves. Within the first 60km we had two HC mountains. The second half also contained two mountains but they were only a meagre Cat 2 and Cat 1.
Persevering with the 28-sprocket cassette I had on my bike (did I mention previously that I only had a 28 on the back?), mainly out of an inability to fit anything larger due to the short-cage rear derailleur, I stated assuredly to my newly acquired cycling chums that I would have to dig in on the first couple of climbs but wasn't too worried about the final two... Bravado has a nasty habit of creeping up and punching you right in the face.
The hors categorie Montée de Bisanne - 12.4km @ 8.2% - lived up to my expectations and several small dabs were partake of, but again, the scenery was spectacular and as it was the start of the day, and with morale still high, I soldiered on, grinding all the way to the top. Then came the much-anticipated 17km descent.
Now one thing you can guarantee, with only one week until the Tour de France arrives, is a madcap renovation and re-laying of roads by each host municipality. The old adage goes that the Queen of England thinks the world smells of fresh paint; well Tour de France riders must think that all roads are made from lush smooth tarmac. The only problem of laying tarmac in 30-degree heat is that it doesn't set too well and remains sticky which causes an un-paralleled realm of hilarity and bum twitching moments for cyclists.
Safely at the bottom, with the smell of hot tar lingering in our nostrils and grit stuck to our tyres, we began the second HC climb of the day: the Col du Pré - 12.6km @ 7.7%. Now this fella was a toughie, with several sections well above 9% and some above 11%. Have to admit that between kilometre 10 and 12 I was not in a good way and struggling to even keep the bike moving. One thing that had become massively apparent was that the iconic km markers that are placed on all French climbs lied. They are spaced at the km points up a climb and give you the average for the upcoming km. If a marker states say 9% for the next km you pretty much know that there will be steeper than 9% parts as there are undoubtedly going to be some easy parts within that km that drop the average of the overall percentage - bastards.
To compensate I devised a simple three-tier system of categorising climbs, based on simple criteria: could I sit and climb; stand and climb; or was it a HC (Hors Carlson-Oakes) climb that forced me to get off the bike and walk.
I found the Col du Pré hard, and by the time I got to the top I was feeling very sorry for myself. A couple of the riders joked as we crested the summit that they wondered if they could perhaps book an Uber taxi to get them to the hotel. I surreptitiously checked the Uber app on my iPhone but I had no coverage on top of the mountain - bloody Uber; bloody Brexit.
We ate and attempted to warm up in the chilly alpine air admiring the view down the valley and across the Barrage du Roselend. The descent down and across the barrage was magnificent and the water looked so inviting with its mesmerising aqua blue hue. Darting across both dams brought us to the foot of the third climb of the day, the Cormet de Roselend - 5.7km at 6.5%. This was an outstanding climb. Surrounded by the most awe-inspiring geological rock formations and thundering waterfalls it reminded me of the Pen-y-Pass in Snowdonia. I liked it, I liked it a lot.
Now, not only did I like the ascent but the descent was even better. In 1996 Johan Bruyneel overcooked one of the corners and went sailing over the edge of the cliff - he was ok, cyclists are hard. I, however, didn't have any descending issues and sailed majestically through the glorious hairpins and wide sweeping bends. Halfway down I did bump into a bunch of moody 'ovines' being shepherded up to a new pasture - one particular 'black sheep' gave me the stink-eye but I stood my ground stoically.
The last climb of the day was the long but insignificantly gradiented La Rosiere - 17.6km @ 5.8% - which would take us straight to our lodgings for the evening. "Ha! I'll probably just big ring this one!" I quipped like a massive idiot. Looking at the map I still couldn't quite get my head round why it was a cat 1 with only 5.8% average gradient (remember those lying km markers?!) - must just be the distance, I thought and off I pottered.
Well, let me tell you dear reader it wasn't just the distance, the middle 7km was ruddy outrageous, averaging in parts over 9%. Even the last 4km at no more than 5% felt like a massive effort and the hotel couldn't come soon enough. I was a broken man at the top and had left all my 'burnt matches' on the roadside. Thankfully our hotel, the Hyatt Centric, was luxury and a massively welcomed relief after a hard day in the saddle. After soaking in an oversized bath we were served enormous legs of lamb and freshly cooked veg washed down with some particularly strong tasting blonde beer... Mmmmmmm, beer!
With carbs reloaded, kinesiology tape stuck and pyjamas donned we breathed in the sharp alpine air and drifted off into an exhausted and ache-filled sleep, wondering what joys our final Alpine stage would unleash tomorrow...
Ben is riding three stages of the 2018 Tour de France with Le Loop. For more information visit rideleloop.org.