Saturday, 22 June 2013

SMIDDY FRENCH ALPS TOUR - DAY 5 Col de la Croix de Fer

COLS CLIMBED: Col du Glandon at 1924 metres and Col de la Croix de Fer at 2067 metres


Distance: 190 km's
Average: 23.1 km/h
Climbing: 2766 metres
Descending: 4216 metres
Riding time: 8hr 14min
Temp Min: 11 degrees
Temp Max: 29 degrees
Avr heart rate: 107 bpm
Retired riders: Zane (Bike and body could take no more)

Stats for entire five days
Distance covered: 747 kilometres
Time on saddle: 34 hours and 43 minutes
Vertical metres climbed: 13,055

Well the first ever Smiddy French Alps tour has come to a close. It is now the next morning after the most epic day I have ever had riding in France. We left Alp D'Huez at 9:20am and did not arrive back to our Chateau at St Jean until 9:00pm as the sun was setting. Here is what happened...

The rain has dissipated overnight and the mountains had that revitalised look that only a good downpour can bring. To wake up on top of Alp D'Huez, while having breakfast with the crew, at our hotel with it's full length plate glass windows and that awe inspiring view of the high mountains was astonishing. I had to keep pinching myself; do I really deserve this? Then I recalled the suffering it took to get to the top in the pouring rain and reprimanded myself for even thinking that.

Zane is finally down and out
The upsetting news on roll-out was the big Zane man was not amongst us. He awoke that morning and could barely walk let along throw his leg over the top bar. On top of this his shoulder was busted up so bad he could not reach forward to the handlebars without severe pain. The fact that he climbed Alp D'Huez with those injuries is testament to the toughness of this dude. Besides his body his biked had actually packed it in as well. The electronic gearing was not operating, the frame had a 10cm crack in the top tube, the headset was stuffed and a bulge was discovered in his carbon fibre front wheel. To descend on it would have been suicide. I felt for the big fella; he felt he was letting me down, which is so not the case. I could not have been prouder of Zane and his incredibly brave efforts over the past four days. It was disappointing for Zane not to ride but it was the right thing to do.

The descent off the Alp D'Huez
So off we went and the joy of descending down the great Alp D'Huez has to be experienced by oneself to fully appreciate, not just the actual speed at which you can descend, but the mind-blowing views as you are descending. What to do? Look at road ahead to stay alive, or look at view and hope that you stay on road and stay alive? It is just not fair! How dare a countryside be so beautiful that you have to make a decision. Anyway the 90 minute climb takes just 15 to 20 minutes to descend and at the regrouping at the bottom saw some pretty happy smiling faces.

The majestic climb up the Col de la Croix de Fer
If ever you are fortunate enough to get to France to do any of these amazing climbs, be sure to add the Col de la Croix de Fer to your A-list. Without a doubt the beauty of this magic climb, the surrounding mountains and lush green countryside was magnified by the fact that snow was still present everywhere on these mountains. The winter snows have held on longer than normal and for that we were extremely grateful. On this climb alone I counted in excess of 30 waterfalls; some as high as 1000 metres and a gushing torrent, while others just a trickle and 100 metres. Snow was so close that as you rode by it could be caressed with your hand. Like a love-sick puppy I stopped and carved this name, ALYSSA, in a wall of ice that stood next to the road. I got glen to take a photo with me and have sent it to my girl. Glen and I hung out for nearly the entire 28 kilometre climb. We stopped often to take photos and share the joy and our amazement of what we were seeing. Thanks Glen for making that climb so memorable for me; not just for the scenery and the photo opportunities, but the mate-ship that accompany's such a journey. We both finally got to the top and were delighted to spot Eric and Garath, who were huddled inside the one cafe at the top trying to stay warm.

How did the others fare?
Well Antonia as per usual just keeps plugging away and will always finish anything that she takes on in life. In this case climbing mountains and besides thinking she was lost at one point -even though there is only one road to follow- she eventually crested the top after over two hours of climbing. You would never guess who was at the top to greet her? Yes her Mum! These past two days her Mum just pops up in the most bizarre places and was surely a welcome sight to Antonia. It was Graeme's turn to drive the support vehicle so he and Zane got an armchairs ride to the top of this classic col. The funny thing with this pair of jokers is that both were fully kitted out in their cycling gear and posed for photos beside the 2067 Col de la Croix de Fer sign. Hilarious and cracked the group up as we discussed it over our celebration dinner at 10:30pm.

Getting back to our home in St Jean
From the top of this climb it was now just a matter of a little over 120 kilometres to get home. Now on paper it looked to be a cruisy affair; the first 60 kilometres down to Grenoble all downhill, some of it at speeds of up to 80km/h but the majority of it between 30 and 40km/h. Then we had that mini col du Placette at 580 metres to negotiate and the home run on undulating roads. While Antonia stayed up and shared lunch with her mother, the rest of us descended down to escape the freezing windy conditions to have lunch in the relative warmth of an altitude of just 800 metres. Quite often bikes can descend faster than cars on roads as steep as the Alps. In this case Graeme pushed off in front of the group and I was to catch them a third of the way down the mountain. I passed them and for a few kilometres it was Graeme and Zane trying to stay with me. I stayed in front until it came to one of the small climbs you had to negotiate to get to the next descent and that was the last I saw of them until lunch at the bottom. The funny thing about this story is Zane was telling me Graeme was giving him a running commentary of how to descend and pointing out the things Sharky was doing wrong! Graeme was so extremely jealous as he loves to descend fast and has been my descending partner this entire journey, until today. Next tour mate you can give me some pointers hey?

Getting lost as both Garmin's pack it in
The total distance today was meant to be 165 kilometres. But thanks to Eric loving the day and the French countryside so much, we got to see a lot more of it than planned! An additional 25 kilometres after already five days of riding can take its toll. Each time we stopped for Eric, and Garath- who was awesome at helping Eric make some tough decisions, to check which way to go, the thought was we were not getting back until after dark. Not a lot was said those past 30 kilometres as a quietness descended upon the group. Bodies were tired and hungry, minds had their fill of the French countryside for now and it was just time for the day to end two hours ago. Eric did an awesome job finally getting us home thanks to his mobile phone and google maps. The relief on finishing was enormous and Eric's first words were; "gentlemen and girl I would ride with you guys anytime and anywhere, that was an enormous day!" Too bloody right it was.

Glen does the final huddle
My heart went out to this man who is short in height but tall in stature. When he gets down on the drops the view from behind is one of a professional cyclists that has ridden for decades. He has an ease about him on the bike that suggests the bike and Glen are one! A true gentleman and always the first there to help out if needed. Glen was so shagged from today's ride, hunger flat, shaking and dizzy, that as he was doing the huddle and I was standing next to him, I could feel him shaking. His words were heartfelt and close to tears. This whole week has been a tremendous milestone for this little pocket rocket and I could not have been prouder of him.

Sharky's final words
So that pretty much wraps up the longest Smiddy day on Alps record. The dinner that Graeme and Zane organised consisted of the largest and yummiest hamburgers on record. So big it was impossible to fit one's mouth around them. They were a dripping greasy mess of eggs, pattie, fried pineapple, lettuce and tomatoe, with a side of delicious spicy frites. The story telling, while munching on these gastronomical delights, while recounting our epic day, the laughter, the wisecracks, the exaggerations, the friendships and the longing for it to never end, will stay with us for a very long time to come. Thank you Antonia, Garath, Glen and Zane for coming on board this Smiddy journey. To Jason back home, who never got to be part of this because of the car that took you out and broke your ankle, we spoke of you often mate and know while the disappointment at missing out will be hard to bare, we all felt you were part of the journey anyway. Collectively you guys should be so proud of your fundraising efforts with close to $40,000 being raised from you five alone for cancer research at the Mater Medical. Hold your head high guys, after what you have endured this past week combined with your fundraising efforts, you deserve it! I am proud to call you my friends! Please come and do Italy with me next year so that I can enjoy your awesome company once again?

Zane and Garath left us this morning, to join up with their wives and you will never guess what the girls have got planned for their loving husbands? Yes an adventure tour on tandem bikes! Good luck with that one boys. I would put the girls on front and let them do all the pedaling... Antonia has also left today as her Mum managed to track her down yet again. And Glen I get to have his extraordinary company until he leaves tomorrow.

Graeme and Eric rock and the Smiddy family!
Finally to Graeme and Eric, I know you guys are our tour operators, but what you display each and every day in the way you look after us is the Smiddy spirit. You are one of us and I take immense pride in welcoming you now to the wider Smiddy family. The Smiddy family once consisted of Adam, his brother Paul and parents Maria and David. In 2006 myself and Ron Steel and Oliver Bodak became exclusive members thanks to that first ride up to Townsville. Since that first ride we have now surpassed the 1000 number of people that have done a Smiddy event. 1000 plus in the Smiddy family and I could not think of six more worthy recipients to helps us towards 2000!

Recovery time for Shark's body
I now have a two day break before tour number two begins. My health has improved so much so that yesterday I felt the best I have for this entire trip thus far. I climbed without that debilitating fatigue and I can now look forward to, rather than dread, tour number two.
The good thing about this break dear readers is that you now get a break from me and my words. So have a rest, put your feet up, let your mind relax and get ready for the next onslaught of Sharky tales when 15 riders join us for the Smiddy French Alps Tour take 2!

PS: If anyone out there would like to send any messages to their favourite riders, I will surely pass them on but please send to this email address



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