mardi 1 janvier 2030

Bienvenue

Quand je ne pédale pas, j'aime bien  lire des sites de balades en vélo. Je démarre le mien en espérant qu'il satisfasse quelques lecteurs. La plupart des articles racontent mes périples pour aller glaner les montées du challenge BIG : https://www.bigcycling.eu


When I'm not on my bike, I like reading sites about bicycle trips and rides. I start my blog in the hope of pleasing a few readers around. Most of the articles deal with the trips realized to collect the climbs of the BIG challenge: https://www.bigcycling.eu

dimanche 22 juillet 2018

Alpi 4000

Une fracture de la clavicule en début d’année, de ce fait seulement deux nouveaux BIG pour moi en 2018, gravis en préambule de l’Alpi 4000. Cette longue randonnée comprenait aussi de nombreux BIG, mais que j’avais déjà tous visités.

L’Alpi 4000 est le 3ème volet du brevet Italia del Grand  Tour, qui comporte 4 épreuves étalées sur 4 ans. Après l’Italie du centre-nord (1001 Miglia) en 2016 et l’Italie du Sud (999 Miglia) en 2017, c’était au tour des Alpes à servir de toile de fond à la randonnée, avec en prime des incursions en Suisse et en France. Le parcours de 1500 km dessinait un grand 8 au départ de Bormio, en alternant des portions de haute montagne et d’autres plus variées, et se terminait de manière terrible avec l’ascension du Stelvio.

Bormio a de quoi attirer le Biggeur, puisque la station se situe à l’intersection des routes menant aux cols du Stelvio, du Gavia et du Foscagno,la Bernina et le Mortirolo étant aussi accessibles à proximité. Mais je connaissais bien ces cols ayant déjà participé trois fois à la Valtellina Extreme, un brevet qui les rassemble tous. Un peu frustré d’entreprendre un périple aussi important sans rajouter de BIG à mon palmarès, je décidais d’avancer mon départ pour avoir le temps de grimper les deux derniers qui me manquaient dans les environs, le Passo San Marco et le Val Malenco.

Le vendredi 20 juillet, je prends donc le train avec mon vélo et arrive à Bergame vers 13 heures. Avant d’attaquer les choses sérieuses, je monte dans la ville haute faire un peu de tourisme. La visite est plaisante, moins la conduite sur les galets qui pavent les rues. A la sortie de la vieille ville, une petite route serpente agréablement à flanc de colline avant de plonger inéluctablement vers la nationale. Les kilomètres suivants sont moyennement agréables, jusqu’à Zogno où commence une ancienne voie ferrée reconvertie en piste cyclable.

Cette piste m’amène jusqu’à Piazza Brembana, en passant par San Pellegrino, là où jaillit la célèbre eau gazeuse. Deux lacets bien raides à la sortie de Mezzoldo marquent le début de la partie finale de la montée, qui se termine au milieu des alpages. Après avoir passé le col, une longue descente m’amène à Morbegno. J’y prends mon repas du soir en attendant le train de Sondrio, où je serai à pied d’œuvre pour grimper le Val Malenco le lendemain.

A Sondrio, le tonnerre avait grondé toute la nuit et le matin le temps était toujours très menaçant. La montée vers le Val Malenco est soutenue dès le départ, mais c’était la seule à mon programme ce matin. De nombreuses carrières se rencontrent tout au long de la route, mes recherches ultérieures m’ont appris que c’était une pierre appelée serpentine qui était exploitée là. Petit à petit, l’ambiance devient plus montagnarde, et la pluie s’invite finalement à 2-3 kilomètres du sommet. Dès le but atteint, je me dépêche donc de redescendre, mais la pluie est également descendue entre-temps et m’accompagne presque tout le reste du trajet. C’est donc trempé que je suis de retour à Sondrio, ce qui n’est pas grave car je n’ai plus que du train et du car pour rejoindre Bormio. Je retrouve là-bas quelques habitués du forum Super Randonneur (Pascal, Jean-Pierre, Alain et Patrice pour ne pas les nommer) pour les formalités de départ, puis direction l’hôtel pour le repas du soir et la dernière bonne nuit avant la randonnée.

Les départs étaient prévus échelonnés de 7 heures à 8 heures mais à 7 heures moins le quart l’aire de départ est déjà remplie de cyclistes. Après avoir salué Mario Zangrando, le fantastique président de l’US Bormiese et organisateur de l’événement, je m’élance vers le premier BIG du parcours, la passo Foscagno. Je l’avais toujours pris en descente, mais le versant Bormio ne présente pas de passage insurmontable, même s’il est plus long. Le col est suivi d’une courte descente et d’une courte montée vers le Passo Eira, puis un long faux plat à travers Livigno vers la Forcola, et enfin une descente qui amène vers la frontière suisse et les derniers kilomètres de la Bernina, qui ne sont pas les plus faciles.

A partir du Bernina Pass commence une descente de plus de 60 km, à peine coupée par le faux plat qui de Sankt Moritz amène au Maloja Pass (en laissant la route du Julier Pass sur la droite). Au bas de ce col, après le retour en Italie, deux autres BIG se présentent: le passo della Spluga, qui ramène en Suisse et dans la vallée du Rhin, et la petite route qui monte à Menarola. Mais d’une part ils n’étaient pas sur le parcours de la randonnée, d’autre part je les avais à mon palmarès depuis longtemps.

Au sud de Chiavenna commence une partie du parcours consacrée aux lacs. Des pistes cyclables agréables m’amènent au petit lac de Mezzolo, puis au lac de Côme que je longe par la côte ouest. La route est une nationale, il y a beaucoup de tunnels mais la plupart peuvent heureusement être contournés. A Menaggio, une bonne montée m’amène au lac de Lugano et à nouveau en Suisse. Je longe le lac jusqu’à la ville qui lui a donné son nom, puis une petite montée me fait revenir en Italie. Une jolie route qui côtoie une rivière me descend agréablement vers le lac Majeur, que je longe vers le sud jusqu’à Laveno.

A Laveno, l’organisation avait prévu la traversée du lac Majeur en bateau. J’avais déjà profité de ce transport très pratique, en allant du passo Cuvignone vers l’alpe Rossombolmo et le Mottarone, lors d’une précédente quête de BIG. Arrivé sur l’autre rive, je roule un peu dans le peloton qui s’était formé sur le bateau, jusqu’à un ravitaillement surprise, et d’autant plus agréable, sur les premières pentes de la route qui s’élève sur la rive ouest du lac d’Orta. Quelques kilomètres vallonnés m’amènent à Biella où je prends quelques heures de repos dans le stade utilisé à cet effet.

Aux premières lueurs de l’aube, je roule à travers le Canavese, une région que j’avais déjà traversée en allant vers le col du Nivolet. Le point de contrôle suivant était au palais de Veneria Reale, le Versailles turinois, que j’avais aperçu lorsque le Torino-Nice Rally m’y avait amené. Cette fois, nous avons l’honneur de pénétrer dans la cour royale pour faire tamponner nos carnets de route.

Après une dernière portion plate le long du val de Suse, commence le deuxième parcours de haute montagne de la randonnée, avec le col du Mont Cenis. Les organisateurs ont la gentillesse de nous proposer le détour par la petite route de Novalesa, qui monte beaucoup plus rudement, et sous un soleil de plomb. Après cette épreuve, une descente fait perdre une bonne partie du chemin rudement monté pour rejoindre la route normale du Mont Cenis.

C’est donc bien entamé que j’arrive à Lanslebourg. J’avais déjà lu des récits de cycliste contraints d’abandonner une épreuve car ils étaient devenus incapables d’avaler le moindre morceau de nourriture. Je m’étais toujours demandé comment une telle chose était possible, étant personnellement tourmenté en permanence par le problème inverse. Mais mon état de fatigue était tel à ce moment que je me retrouvai moi aussi confronté à ce problème. Le contrôle de Lanslebourg n’offrant pas la possibilité de dormir, je repars vers l’Iseran tout en me demandant comment je vais le franchir dans l’état où je me trouve.

Après quelques kilomètres faciles, j’arrive à Bonneval où je décide de faire une pause. Il est environ 19 heures, je m’arrête dans un restaurant où j’ai toutes les peines du monde à avaler le plat que j’ai commandé, sans parvenir à le finir. Après ça, je me dis que si je veux avoir une chance de passer le col je dois absolument me reposer. Je rentre dans un hôtel où l’hôtesse semble un peu interloquée de voir un cycliste vouloir se coucher à huit heures du soir mais me donne quand même une chambre.

Après une bonne douche et quelques heures de repos, je suis un peu requinqué et me prépare à repartir, au milieu de la nuit. Alors que je suis en train de finir de m’habiller, je vois entrer deux Italiens et leurs vélos. Persuadé qu’il s’agit de deux autres participants à la même randonnée, je suis tout heureux de leur annoncer qu’ils peuvent profiter de ma chambre le reste de la nuit. Mais après quelques instants de quiproquo, je comprends qu’ils sont en balade personnelle, qu’ils viennent de descendre l’Iseran et qu’ils ont réservé une chambre la veille. Je vous laisse calculer les probabilités pour que des cyclistes se croisent à deux heures du matin dans le hall d’un hôtel de Bonneval.

Le sommeil m’a fait du bien et je finis l’Iseran avec une aisance relative. Arrivé en haut je me couvre bien pour la descente et traverse Val d’Isère complètement endormie. Pour monter ensuite au Petit Saint-Bernard, j’avais noté qu’il fallait prendre la direction de Sainte-Foy Tarentaise, mais je me trompe et prends la direction de Sainte-Foy Tarentaise « Station ». Après quelques kilomètres sur cette route, je me rends compte de mon erreur et regarde mon GPS (il est temps) pour voir comment rattraper le parcours normal. Je trouve une petite route que je commence à descendre, mais inconsciemment pressé de retrouver le bon itinéraire, je vais trop vite, roule sans trop faire attention dans une crevasse du mauvais asphalte et me retrouve par terre. Je vois tout de suite que je n’ai rien de grave, à part quelques écorchures, mon vélo a l’air de bien se porter aussi. Si les déchirures faites à une tenue qui était déjà fatiguée avant le départ ne m’ennuient pas trop, l’état dans lequel je retrouve le beau coupe-vent Mavic tout neuf que j’avais acheté (cher) juste avant de partir me contrarie davantage (j’ai tout jeté à l’arrivée).

A la Rosière, je retrouve un groupe d’amis italiens avec qui j’avais roulé une bonne partie de la randonnée de Rome l’année précédente, mais que je suis bien incapable de suivre cette fois-ci. Après le passage du Petit Saint-Bernard et le contrôle de la Thuile commence une longue descente du Val d’Aoste, bien évidemment avec le vent de face (sinon ce n’est pas drôle). La dernière difficulté avant le retour à Biella est la montée au sanctuaire d’Oropa, haut lieu du Tour d’Italie, où nous montons à partir de Settimo Vittone par une petite route secondaire, très pentue par moments et même non goudronnée sur sa partie haute. Encore un des moments difficiles de cette randonnée.

La descente se fait facilement par la route normale. A Biella, je constate qu’il y a beaucoup moins de monde que deux jours auparavant, où j’avais eu du mal à trouver une place pour m’allonger. Les grandes montées que nous venons d’affronter ont largement étiré le peloton. J’essaye de dormir, mais au bout de quelques minutes, le sommeil ne semblant pas vouloir venir, je repars pour Pavie. J’ai la chance de trouver un groupe qui m’amène le long de cette étape toute plate. Nous roulons au milieu des rizières, et traversons de véritables nuées de moustiques. Heureusement ils ne nous font rien tant que nous roulons, mais il vaut mieux ne pas avoir envie de s’arrêter. J’arrive à Pavie vers deux heures du matin, et là je fais le bilan de mon parcours. Je réalise qu’il reste moins de 600 km avant l’arrivée, et que j’ai plus de trois jours pour les accomplir. Je commence à ce moment à envisager avec optimisme la réussite de mon périple.

Après avoir dormi à Pavie, je repars le long du Po, sur certaines portions déjà parcourues lors de la 1001 Miglia en 2016. Je me joins à trois sympathiques Italiens qui ont la gentillesse de m’accepter sur leur porte-bagages pour les trois étapes de plat suivantes qui nous amènent au lac de Garde. Le passage par Mantoue au crépuscule est un plaisir. Les organisateurs ont prévu dans le parcours un aller-retour, inutile mais que nous respectons, sur un pont en face de la ville, qui nous permet d’avoir un point de vue merveilleux sur la cité et les lacs qui l’entourent.

La journée suivante le long du lac de Garde m’offre de très jolies vues sous un soleil resplendissant. La Strada della Forra, un passage à l’intérieur d’une gorge très étroite et très profonde, est surprenante mais pas très longue. La descente après Tremosine nous fait passer sur « la plus belle piste cyclable du monde ». C’est une magnifique réalisation, accrochée à flanc de montagne et surplombant le lac de plusieurs centaines de mètres. Elle a aussi beaucoup de succès et demande donc de ne pas regarder que le paysage lorsqu’on la descend en vélo.

A la sortie de Riva del Garda, je m’arrête pour un café, qui se transforme en sieste au soleil sur un fauteuil confortable. Le vélo a du bon dans ces moments là. Mais les meilleures choses ayant toujours une fin, je reprends la route vers Arco, et son château juché en haut d’une falaise impressionnante. La montée recommence par une route en lacets, suivie d’une piste cyclable bienvenue. Un joli passage le long du lac de Molveno et une dernière montée m’amènent à Andalo. De là, je n’ai plus qu’à descendre vers Spormaggiore où je passe la dernière nuit de mon périple.

A l’aube le lendemain, je roule au milieu des pommiers du Trentin. De véritables immeubles de cageots attendent la prochaine récolte. Tout en roulant j’essaye d’évaluer le nombre de pommes : 20 pommes en largeur, 50 en longueur et 10 en hauteur, soit 10000 pommes pour un seul bac, 200 millions de pommes pour l’empilage de cageots devant mes yeux ! Voilà qui me rassure pour mes prochaines visites au marché : la pénurie de goldens n’est pas à l’ordre du jour.

Ces considérations m’amènent au début de la montée du passo delle Palade, qui est longue mais heureusement pour moi jamais très pentue. La descente me ramène dans la vallée de l’Adige, que je commence à connaître pour l’avoir parcourue en 2015 entre Pass del Fuorn, Val Martello et Gampenpass, et l’avoir descendue dans son intégralité l’année précédente lors de la Transcontinental Race. Je profite d’un généreux plat de spaghettis au dernier ravitaillement de Silandro et pars pour la dernière épreuve, et non la moindre : l’ascension du Stelvio par son versant le plus mythique, et le plus ardu.

Le Stelvio est sans doute le plus beau col d’Europe, et il est aussi une des plus exigeants. Je m’étais attendu plusieurs mois avant la randonnée à souffrir dans cette montée particulièrement dure, abordée au bout de près de 1500 km de route. Mais ce que j’ai vécu a dépassé mes craintes. Je dirai juste que j’ai dû mettre plus du double du temps habituel pour le gravir. Mais j’ai tout de même fini par arriver en haut, ouf.

Alors que nous avions été remarquablement épargnés par le mauvais temps tout le long de la randonnée, un grand coup de tonnerre retentit au moment où je sors du contrôle final au col, et c’est sous une pluie battante que je rejoins Bormio. Après une douche bien nécessaire, je passe la nuit comme je peux et me dirige au petit matin vers le bus de Tirano. J’arrive à Milan à neuf heures et demi, mais le train de onze heures est complet, et je dois attendre jusqu’à quinze heures pour pouvoir rentrer à Nice. Durant tout le temps que je passe dans la gare de Milan, je ressasse que si j’avais été muni d’un Smartphone, comme tout le monde, j’aurais peut-être eu la possibilité de réserver le premier train la veille (ce qui m’a incité à en acheter un à mon retour à Nice, qui me servira n’en doutons pas lors de mes prochains voyages).

Malgré que j’ai souffert relativement durant cette randonnée, de par ma forme moins bonne que les autres années suite à ma fracture de la clavicule, et aussi sans doute parce que je n’avais pu m’empêcher d’aller grimper des BIG juste avant le départ, je suis bien évidemment très content d’avoir réussi ce troisième volet de l’Italia del Grand Tour. J’ai hâte maintenant de retrouver la Sardaigne et la Sicile pour terminer ce brevet qui me tient tant à cœur. Rendez-vous en avril 2019.


jeudi 7 décembre 2017

Arnhem

Here again I took advantage of a football match (and even two football matches) to mix supporting and traveling for BIG. In September, we knew Nice would play in Arnhem the Thursday 7th of December, and I noticed immediately that three BIG were in the surroundings. A few weeks before this European Cup match, a League Cup one was added in Lille the week after, the 13th of December. So with a great enthusiasm, I decided to spend the 6 days between the two matches riding for BIG. It was a journey that looked memorable, as 48 BIG were in my schedule, in Netherlands, Belgium, Luxembourg, Germany and France. But, as I was preparing my trip, I couldn’t prevent myself for thinking that December in northern Europe was not the best period to do long bike rides, and well, it appeared that my fears were justified, as my program has been drastically shortened by the weather.

Anyway, I spent a lot of time designing my journey as, unlike in the mountains where the roads between BIG are generally obvious, I had to look at a lot of options to minimize the distance traveled. Finally, my program was ready: the three BIG between Arnhem and Nijmegen, then train to Maastricht. From Maastricht, I had the 7 remaining Dutch BIG before reaching Mützenich on the German border. Then I entered Belgium for 6 BIG between signal de Botrange and Stavelot, came back to Germany for two BIG, Krautscheid and Schwarzer Mann, and crossed Luxembourg riding the 13 BIG of the country. The next step was another train transfer to Aywalle and the 6 BIG between la côte de la Redoute and le Cheval de Bois, a relatively long stretch without BIG to reach Mont Saint-Walfroy and 5 other BIG up to Ry de Rome, alternating between France and Belgium, and finally the last 4 BIG along the Meuse, finishing in Huy where Lille was easily reachable by train.

The first part of the program was easily followed, as I took a train the morning in Nice and arrived at Arnhem at about 7:15 pm, having just the time to settle down and go to the stadium, the match beginning at 9 pm. My favorite team lost 1-0, but that was not important as they were already qualified for the following round of the competition. After the match we came back to town center under police escort. At this time all was quiet in Arnhem town, the hooligans were gone to bed so I came back quietly to the room I had hired.

In the morning, during breakfast, my hosts asked me what my program was for the days to come. They looked dubious about it, as they said that snow would certainly come my way. The weather issues had appeared to me while I was building my route, so I told them I was prepared to interrupt or shorten my journey at any time. Well, I wasn’t wrong, as my journey was interrupted very soon.





From Arnhem, I first took the direction of Posbank that I reached after a 11 km flat stretch under a light rain. The BIG is very modest, even though it keeps trace of the Giro d’Italia that climbed it in 2016. As I started the climb, the rain was turning into snow and the bushes around were all white. It was nothing serious though, so I came back towards Arnhem to reach the next BIG, Italiaansweg. The city center was not long to cross, and the trip continued on quiet lanes along the Lower Rhine. At this time the snow has stopped, the temperature had increased a little (from 1°C to 3°C) and I felt more optimistic. The Italiaansweg climb was soon over and I took the direction of Nijmegen for the last BIG of my ride.

I first crossed the Lower Rhine on a motorway bridge with a cycle lane aside. The weather was turning bad again at this time, with the return of the rain, but the skies looked brighter in the direction of south. Unfortunately this soon disappeared and the rain turned to snow again. I was still in the mood of continuing my trip, hurrying to finish the BIG and reach the Nijmegen station, before going to Maastricht and see how it was down there. But the snow kept on falling more and more and was totally covering the road when I reached the top of the Oude Holleweg. I had some difficulties arriving at the station, as I felt the snow under my wheels, that was smooth in the beginning, was freezing rapidly.

No need to say that once I was at the station, my bike and I all covered with snow, I didn’t think anymore of going on with the trip. I took instead the first train to Schipol station, which is served by mainline trains. It was nearly 2 pm when I was in Schipol, so I didn’t hope much being able to reach Nice the same day, but it appeared to be possible, going from Schipol to Gare du Nord in Paris, then from Gare de Lyon to Nice. Like in April, I had a night ride through Paris before climbing in my last train.

Just a little word about trains. I’ve made this entire trip in high speed trains. In the past, I’ve often had problems with my bike in such trains, but for this journey I used a very light bag (in fact a cover) that I had bought for this purpose. It allowed me to respect the trains’ regulations with a very little increase of my luggage, a very useful gear!

I was not too disappointed to finish my journey this early as I was aware from the start it was a probable eventuality. Before my trip, I was wishing very hard to encounter mild mid-December weather, but it didn’t happen that way. Anyway, I’m happy to have ridden these three BIG, I discovered a new country with Netherlands, and I climbed the snowiest of my nearly-300 BIG. All in all, a short but nice BIG hunt.

lundi 30 octobre 2017

Rosedale Head - North Pennines

My son, like many students now, has to stay one year abroad during his studies. So he’s spending the scholar year 2017-2018 in Newcastle University. We then decided to visit him a few days and we flew to Newcastle with my wife and my daughter at the end of October.

The first thing I did when the journey was decided was to have a look at the map of the BIG in England. I saw that Rosedale Head in North York Moors National Park on one part, and three others BIG in North Pennineson the other part, were reachable, with a little bit of train. This implied two days out with the bike, which looked compatible with a six-day family stay in the area. I was lucky to find a place in Newcastle that hired bikes, where the only road bike they had was a bit big for me but did perfectly the job.

So the Monday morning I was ready to pick my bike at 8:30, hoping to be at the station at 9 to catch a train to Castleton Moor, at the foot of Rosedale Head, my intention being to go down to Kildale after the BIG to take a train back to Newcastle. But it took me more time than expected to get the bike, and I could only get a train at 9:30 that stopped in Nunthorpe. This was not a problem at all, it added just some kilometers to my ride that was anyway a short one, and it made me climb instead by the Kildale-Westerdale NW side, which happened to be a very nice approach.

After a rather flat stretch between Nunthorpe and Great Ayton, the climbs began a little before Kildale. I then turned right towards Westerdale and the BIG. It was a very nice landscape of moorlands, just like I thought it would be. The surrounding hills look gentle, but the British road builders don’t seem to bother very much with hairpins, so should a river cross the way, you have a 15% slope to go down to it, and the same to climb on the other side. This didn’t prevent me from reaching the BIG, marked by a stone cross. I was then down in no time to Castleton Moor, as the road to it is smooth, large, busy (relatively) and downhill, to catch my train to Newcastle that I reached with a change in Middlesbrough and another one in Darlington.

My second ride was a longer one, as it included the three BIG located in the North Pennines Area of Oustanding Natural Beauty. I went by train to Hexham, where a misadventure made me lose a few minutes. Arrived in Hexham, I got out of the train and started to prepare for the ride. At the time I wanted to put my helmet, I realized I had it no more. I then remembered that the bike had fallen down at some moment during the train journey and that the helmet had certainly followed it on the floor. The train I took didn’t continue after Hexham, this left me a little chance to have my helmet back, but it was parked on a siding a few hundred meters away. I went out of the station in the direction of the train but of course was stopped by a gate before reaching the tracks. I came back to the station, where the lady at the desk told me this train would be soon taken back to the station for its next journey. And in fact, the time she spoke the train was again at the station platform, and I could find my helmet under a seat. Ready to go now!

The ride to climb the three BIG was rather long (about 180 km) so it occupied me the whole day. I was not unhappy with the weather, it was colder than in Nice of course, but not too much, and if it was cloudy all day long, sometimes even misty, the rain didn’t fall (too much).

From Hexham I went south towards the first BIG, Westernhope Moor, passing by the beautiful village of Blanchland, then Rookhope, in a landscape alternating grasses and moorlands, but with always lot of sheep around. In Eastgate I reached a slightly more frequented road, then turned left in Westgate, fording the Wear River, to start the climb to Westernhope Moor. I loved this climb as it was very remote and lonely (even if I saw one car), again in a moorland landscape so typical to this place.

After this BIG, I had a good ride against the wind between Middleton-in-Teesdale and Brough before reaching Knock at the foot of Great Dun Fell. Well, this climb is a serious one. It’s supposed to be England’s highest road, but it’s also I guess one of the hardest (of this length). The slope is always very steep, except for a flat part in the middle, and very demanding all the time. At a moment, there was a sign aside to forbid the road to cyclists, and another one upper, but without consequences. I even met a car going down from the radar at the top that ignored me completely.

After Great Dun Fell, Hartside Cross appeared as an easy job, even though the posts at the side of the road present it as a dangerous climb because of its 1900 ft. (580m) height. Down in Alston, I had another climb to go back to the train. Haydon Bridge would have been the closest station, but as all trains don’t stop there, I had a train earlier in Hexham. So I rodea few kilometers more to go back to my station of departure, after a very much enjoyable ride in the English countryside.

lundi 4 septembre 2017

Torino Nice Rally 2017

For the second time, in the beginning of September, I went to Torino for the Torino-Nice rally. This rally, launched last year, mixes roads and non-asphalted tracks, in a very loose way as opportunities are left to choose between hard or easy options in many points of the route.Living in Nice I’m familiar with most of these roads, even more since I had ridden the rally in 2016, so while keeping the general direction, I changed a lot of the original route.

The first notable climb of the Rally was like last year Colle del Colombardo, a big and steep pass unasphalted in its higher part. This year I chose instead the parallel and lower Colle Del Lys, that I never rode before, which also links Val di Viu in the north to Val di Susa in the south. I crossed Val di Susa towards Colle Braida, passing along the Avigliano lakes, then below the monumental Sacra di San Michele during the climb. From ColleBraida, a small forest track heads to the north before going down to Val di Susa. In Bussoleno I took the train for a few kilometers, as a ride on the highways of Val di Susa didn’t attract me too much.

I renounced to Colle delle Finestre as I already climbed it twice, so I left the train in Oulx and headed towards Col de Montgenevre on the highway. Afterwards, I regretted not to have climbed to Colle Basset through Sauze d’Oulx, then gone down to Sestriere and Cesena, as it would have been a nicer alternative, although quite harder and longer. In Cesena also, I could have saved me a stretch of highway going through the town center, but anyway, after a few bends, the old Montgenevreroad, very well surfaced and without cars, allows to reach the pass in a very pleasant way.

In Montgenevre, I added an extra of my own, by climbing the col des Gondrans. The climb on the Montgenevre side is on a dirt track mainly used to reach the skiing installations of the ski resort, while the descent is on a tiny, once asphalted but now much degraded, road of military origin. In fact, there are a lot of military remnants at the top and the pass itself is between two mountains, Mont Janus and Sommet des Anges, both topped by ancient forts. They can be both reached by bike, but the beginning of the track to Mont Janus, the highest and most interesting one, looked quite difficult, as for the steepness and the surface. It was the end of the afternoon, I felt too tired to appreciate a hard climb now, so I left the visit to another time.

Instead, I went down on the other side,which reaches the Izoard road a little below Cervières. As I said, it was about 8 pm, I had left Torino at 4 am, so I felt a little bit tired, and I stopped at the first guest house I found, Gîte de Terre Rouge. There I had a nice discussion with the tenant. He showed me a picture of him on a bike, with a pair of shorts he
told me was given by Jacques Anquetil himself! We talked also about my ride, and he showed me two alternate ways to go down from Izoard: one by col des Tronchets that is reached with a track that leaves Izoard road just after Casse Déserte, and another one that starts in La Chalp, going by lac de Roue and the village of Souliers. According to him, the col des Tronchets option presented some parts harder to cycle, so I chose the second one, and I didn’t regret it. It broke nicely the cold descent from the Izoard, and it made me discover the very steep and narrow road down from Souliers to Château-Queyras, that deserves well to be done uphill one day.

After that came classic climbs of the Agnel and Sampeyre passes. Just a few days before, the climb from the village of Sampeyre to the pass had been forbidden by Sampeyre mayor to all bikes and motorcycles, and signs had been put across the way. Well, like in col de Larche, it was some kind of virtual interdiction, I came across the barriers and reached the pass without any problem.


The asphalted road that links Val Varaita and Val Maira crosses at Sampeyre pass an old military track. I had ridden the eastern part last year, so I went westwards this time. The track follows the ridge for a few kilometers, always on the Val Maira side, and terminates in Colle della Bicocca. From the pass, you have nice views to Agnel Pass and Pontechianale below, and also to the valley of Bellino, another branch of Val Varaita that leaves Agnel road a little below Pontechianale.

After colle della Bicocca one has to turn back as only foot paths continue after the pass. A very rough track, halfway from Sampeyre pass,goes down to the village of Elva. Then came one of the highlights of the trip. Although the pictures I could have seen from Elva road looked spectacular, I never had the opportunity to ride it
before. The door to the so nicknamed Strada dell’Orrido (road of the horror) is a little tunnel, and a Madonna statue with a marble plate aside bearing the names of the people that found death on the road. Then during 4 km the road goes down, hanging on the cliff, halfway between the bottom of the valley and the mountains above. All along the way the road crosses protections from avalanches, tunnels directly dug into the rock, with a rusty railing on the valley side, all of this giving the impression of having been built in a very artisanal way. Needless to say that despite what I have seen of this road before on the web, I was totally stunned from what came in front of my own eyes!

After a cold night in the Marmora camping (I wouldn’t recommend it unless maybe in full summer, as being close to the river, it was very cold and humid in the beginning of September) I started the climb to Esischie pass. Like for other places crossed by the official route of the rally, I didn’t go to Altopiano della Gardetta having been there last year. But I highly recommend visiting this place, which is certainly one of the most beautiful in the Alps. You need a MTB to go through the entire track, but you can have a nice preview by taking the 100 m diversion to colle Valcavera, 2 km below Fauneria pass, on the Demonte side.

All along the climb, I saw a lot of marmots that kept me company with their whistles. After
Esischie pass, a small climb leads to colle dei Morti (Fauniera) that is followed by a long descent to Demonte. In Demonte the route continues to the steep but short climb to Madonna del Coletto. Down in Valdieri and Val Gesso, the route proposed between Roaschia, in a lateral valley of Val Gesso, and Vernante a non-asphalted pass called Colle delle Goderie. I already climbed it last year, and I remembered having much difficulty. As I had started it in the beginning of the night, I wanted to see if it would appear easier in a normal part of the day. Well, in fact it is really difficult, and much higher than the 1230 m announced at the summit.

When I reached Vernante the rain began to fall heavily while I was climbing towards Limone. The rain was so strong in Limone that I stopped for a while, but the thunderstorm decided to stay over Limone, so after having stayed one hour under a shelter, I decided to stop for the night.


The morning after, sun was back and I started my ride with a climb to col de Tende. With my early stop the day before, I was too short in time to cycle the very hard tracks that go east after the pass. Instead I went towards baisse de Peyrefique. I already rode this track and knew it was much easier, and still in very mountainous and beautiful landscape. After baisse de Peyrefique, an intersection allows to go down to Casterino or to Baisse d’Ourne then Tende. I went to baisse d’Ourne that I reached after a short and gentle climb. 

After the pass the track is very rough, and I think hardly rideable uphill but I was going down. After a long, shaky and cautious descent, the track turned into a very narrow, roughly asphalted road down to Tende. When I reached the bottom of the valley, I continued on a small road that led me to the Roya main road at the pont des 14 Arches, and then down to Breil-sur-Roya station.

Like last year, I finished my trip with the train. After four days on the road I was happy to come back home quickly, although I think the roads and tracks around Nice are among the best parts in the world to ride a bike.

vendredi 28 juillet 2017

Trans Continental Race 2017

The Transcontinental Race, or TCR, is (or is supposed to be) a race across Europe, where cyclists must go through three to four control points along the way, but are left free of their route between the check points. The first two editions started from London and finished in Istanbul, then the start was moved to Grammont (Geraardsbergen) in Belgium, and this year, for the first time, the arrival was not in Turkey, but at the Meteora monasteries, in Greece. The check points included Lichtenstein Castle in Germany, Monte Grappa in Italy, Hotel Sliezky Dom in Slovakia and Pasul Balea in Romania. So with the start and arrival, there were 5 BIG out of 6 control points!

When this race appeared some years ago, my first feeling was that it was completely stupid, to cross Europe on highways as fast as possible, instead of visiting beautiful places on the quietest possible roads. Well, as years passed by, this race grew in importance and renown, at least in the little world of long-distance cyclists, and finally, having a bit forgotten my first opinion and letting me influenced by all the hype about this race, I registered for the 2017 edition.

The most difficult part of the race, once the check points are known, is to build a route, trying to find a compromise between a fast and a secure itinerary. I started this job seriously, building a first stage that turned out quite satisfactory on the ground, but after a while my natural laziness made me postpone a little the rest of the work. Suddenly, in the last day of March, came the brutal news that Mike Hall, the emblematic organizer of this race, had been killed in Australia, while riding a race similar to TCR. This terrible event appeared immediately as to provoke a cancelling of the TCR, and in fact we were left for months without notice. As I said, my feelings about the race were mitigated, I wasn’t not sure anymore, after my application had been selected, to still want to be on the start line, so I left things go, taking the assumption that the race would finally not take place.

So when the race was confirmed, less than a month before the start, I had to quickly finish my route, and building a route on the scale of a continent is a big task, as one can imagine. As a result many parts of my itinerary were made in a hurry, especially in the easternmost countries, and that worried me more and more, as the departure date approached.

Anyway I was in Grammont the day of the start. I went through registration procedures, bike check, riders briefing and so on. After the briefing, I had a nice meal in a Grammont restaurant with Maxime that I knew from the tour de l’Aude the year before, and Erwann, another rider. I spent the time remaining unpacking, re-packing and re-re-packing all my stuff, before we were finally sent away at 10 pm. We started by a little loop in the streets of Grammont, finishing by the famous Muur. At the top of the Muur was the real start of the race, where we were left on our own, free of our itinerary, night and day stops, etc.

The first night in Belgium was nice and quiet, a bit hillier in the end than I had expected. I went briefly through France in Givet then reentered Belgium. In the very morning I broke a spoke and had to ride 80 km before I could have it fixed in Luxembourg. Leaving Luxembourg for Germany, I rode along the Sarre, on a very nice cycle lane. I entered France again in Sarreguemines and went through very nice landscapes between this town and Haguenau. I crossed the Rhine and the French-German border in the beginning of the night and had just after my first night stop.

For my night stops, I had what is called a bivy bag, which is something like a big sleeping bag, but made with tent material. Therefore it is proof to rain, but very light and can be easily carried on a bike as there are no mats and pegs. I’ve never used much this gear since I bought it, but during TCR I found out it was really convenient: whenever I felt sleepy, I just had to find some place a bit hidden from the road and take out my bag to be at home.

The Sunday morning I began my first long climb, as I had to cross Black Forest. I arrived by noon at the first control point, Lichtenstein Castle, a nice little castle which overlooks the valley below. After the check point, I continued my way, which was to go through Germany, Austria and Italy, to the second control in Monte Grappa. I then experienced for the first time the riding along highways, as I rode towards Ravensburg and Bodensee. It was a very uncomfortable moment, but more were to come. I reached Bodensee and Austria by night and stopped for sleeping just before a storm, below a footbridge by the railway.

I spent very little time on the Austrian part of my route as it appeared obvious to me on the map. It seemed to go directly from Bregenz to Landeck where I had to turn south towards Italy. I just didn’t realize that there was a mountain range in the middle and that I had to pass over the Arlberg pass! So the climb after Bludenz appeared to me quite hard for what I had expected to be a gentle valley climb up to Landeck. And worst of all, I found out in Klosterle that due to works in the road tunnel, all the traffic was diverted to the road that I was supposed to take, and therefore it had been forbidden to bikes. It was an uninterrupted passing of cars and lorries, so it appeared impossible to me to continue on that road.

At first no alternate other than a detour of hundreds of kilometers appeared to me, then I saw that a nearly parallel pass existed a little south of where I was, and what’s more it was a BIG, Bielerhöhe! Paradoxically, this detour made me happy. I knew it would allow me to climb a BIG in a new country, Austria, and it delivered me also to the last concerns about the TCR classification I may have had by the time. Furthermore, as I was cycling among the switchbacks of the Silvretta, it reinforced my conviction that the cycling I like is climbing mountain passes in beautiful sceneries.

I was finally in Landeck where I started the climb to Reschen Pass (this one I knew it was there). I was by Reschensee at night, so I saw the famous campanile illuminated above the water. The following day I went down the Adige valley. I felt rather stupid to ride all the way on the monotonous cycle path in an intense heat while beautiful climbs expected me on each side of the valley.

As I was getting closer to Monte Grappa, I felt a bit worried about it, as I knew it was a long and steep climb. I had been riding day and night for four days now, I felt of course tired, and my bike was loaded with all my travel equipment. I felt that my 25-teeth cassette would be hard to carry up to Monte Grappa, so I was considering buying a larger one. I was lucky to find a 30-teeth one in Levico Terme, after having cycled along the nice Lago di Caldonazzo, and I sent the other one back home.

The second control in Semonzo, at the foot of Monte Grappa, was very long to arrive as it was the end of the day. It was located in a camping where I had a good meal, was able to wash my clothes and to sleep a little. The morning after I climbed Monte Grappa under a beautiful sun and was happy with my new cassette. After some severe ups and downs (and a little ride on a wrong road) I was back in the plain at Pederobba.

The following days I crossed the plains, riding along corn fields in Italy, Slovenia and Hungaria under an intense heat wave. The temperatures were around 40° all the time. I drank my two bottles in no time, so stopped very often in bars to fill, drink sparkling water, eat ice creams … After entering Slovenia, I had a long climb where I could have had good views above the valley below but was there at night. Leaving Ljubljana I struggled to find a cycling path to Domzale as my route was directed towards a highway forbidden to bikes. After Slovenska Bistrica I had to divert my route as I found myself again on a road where bikes were banned.

I entered Slovakia in Komarno. I rode on a highway, but with reasonable traffic and a large shoulder. But just after a crossing, traffic increased brutally while the shoulder disappeared. I couldn’t stand the traffic as lorries were passing me by so close, so I tried to find other roads. I took some little roads, which turned out to be very hilly and steep. I came back to my planned route hoping that road 66 would be better, but it was the same, so I diverted again as soon as I could.

I was then on a quiet road, but lightning in the distance began to worry me. It was late night so I started to look around for a shelter. I was then happy to find a 4-star hotel in the changing room of the Senohrad football ground. The day after was nice as I rode on normal roads and climbed my first ever Slovakian BIGs. First I went over non-BIG passes, TistyJavor and Pohansko, then I reached BIG Sedlo Čertovica, in the Lower Tatras, as I had to cross this mountain range to get to the third control point in hotel Slieszky Dom, another BIG.

As I said, I had bad times on Slovakian main roads, praying that it would overtake me far enough each time I heard a lorry coming from behind. At the check point, two things made this unease grow. First I learned that a rider had been killed in Belgium at the beginning of the race, and then we were told that the A1 road in Romania had been judged so insecure by the first racers that it had been banned subsequently by the organizers, and I had to build a new route on the fly from a map that was there at the control point. So, when I left Slieszky Dom, I felt very uncomfortable about the rest of the trip. I knew that my route included a road forbidden to bikes in Hungaria, as it was the only way to cross a river hundred kilometers around, and the A1 incident made me worry about what I would find later in Romanian roads and further.

During the following hours, my unease didn’t decrease, I couldn’t stand no more highways and began considering quitting the race each time I found myself on a busy stretch of road. I went nevertheless through nice places during this time, like Dedinky Lake in Slovakia, but when I found myself again in the Hungarian plain, I was ready to give up. Furthermore, the mythical dimension of the crossing of a continent of the TCR that had driven me since the start was beginning to fade away. I had already ridden 2500 km, 1500 km were left so less than some of the randonnées I did in the past. Continuing now appeared to me more and more as pedaling stupidly on and on along highways during a few days more.

So when my route went near a train station, Sajószentpéter-Piactér, I decided on a sudden impulse to stop my ride and turn back home with the train. It was a very little halt with no more than a platform along the rails. As I was getting to the station, a train arrived, but it was gone before I could get to it. Before I could decide what to think about that, another train arrived in the opposite direction and I jumped in it not knowing at all where it would take me. It happened that this train was going to Miskolc (the first one would have taken me back to Slovakia) where I was able to take a train to Budapest.

In Budapest my troubles were not over. The trains that would take me back home were all full for bike transportation and I didn’t know at all which alternate solution I could take. At the same time, for the first time of my trip, the weather was awful with a continual rain that I really didn’t have the courage to face on my bike, now that I had taken my decision to stop. As it was getting late, I decided to go to sleep and see the day after. But all the hotels around the station were completely full. Finally the 6th or 7th I tried had a room for me, phew!

After a good shower, I looked at my situation and decided that a solution would be to go by train to Sopron, close to the Austrian border and ride to Wiener-Neustadt to reach the Austrian rail network. So in the morning I went, still under the rain, to Budapest-Déli station. In Sopron I had a little ride under a sun happily returned, and in Wiener-Neustadt I could take a ticket to Milano, changing in Venezia and Verona. After Milano I couldn’t go further than Albenga that I reached by midnight. I had plenty of sleep in the trains all day long so I was able to continue to Nice by bike during the night, where I arrived at 5 am.

Despite the fact I decided not to continue to the end, I keep good memories of my TCR. I enjoyed being on my bike all the time, travelling on permanently changing countries and landscapes. When I try to think rationally, I come back to my initial opinion that riding like that along highways, with no other motivation than arriving, is no fun, but at the back of my head I still know that the initial goal has not been fulfilled, so I can’t help but thinking “But what if I prepare my route in a better way?”.

dimanche 25 juin 2017

999 Miglia

This randonnée is the equivalent for southern Italy of the 1001 Miglia, that exists for several years, and that I rode in 2016, 1001 Miglia being located in northern and central Italy. Like 1001 Miglia, it is approximately 1600 km long, and both are now part of a new four-year challenge, called Grand Tour d’Italia, that will include also a randonnée around the Alps in 2018, and a two-part randonnée in the islands, 600 km in Sicilia, 600 km in Sardinia, in 2019. The organizers kindly put three BIG on their route, which was a good bonus for me.

The randonnée started in Roma the last Sunday of June. It was a very nice trip as it was designed to take us around some of the most beautiful sites of the country. The start was for instance in the Circus Maximus in Roma. The first notable site was Castel Gandolfo, where the popes have their summer residence. This place overlooks a very nice lake, with strangely steep banks.

We followed our way down to the sea at Sperlonga, with wonderful views to the coast and the Ischia Island, then we got back into the lands to visit Reggia di Caserta, a very impressive building, and Pompei, where I arrived at night, so saw nothing of the roman town, but had a look at the very nice cathedral. By the morning, I reached the sea again in Sorrento, where I had a little sleep before climbing the first BIG of the trip.

Picco Sant-Angelo is not the hardest BIG on earth, but it opens the road to the very scenic Amalfi Coast. The road follows the coast, half-way between the sea and the cliffs above, with wonderful views to the sea below and the villages with their houses built above each other on the steep slopes of the coast. After Salerno, we headed to Paestum, where we cycled across the archaeological site and its impressive Greek temples.

From Paestum the route went eastwards. I was happy to find a group of riders for the stretch up to my second night stop in Tricarico. The day after we passed by Matera and its famous Sassi, a borough where houses are dug into the rock. After Matera came my toughest moment of the trip. It was mid-day, end of June and the temperature was about 40° C. We were riding on a rather unpopulated area, with no villages (and no fountains) along the way. With the heat, I drank a lot and I saw the moment I had to stop in one of the scarce farms to ask for water. So I was much happy to arrive at the town of Mottola, where I was able to drink liters, eat an ice-cream and cool down a little for the rest of the trip.

After visiting the nice town center of Martina Franca, I arrived in the country of the trulli. I had already heard of this typical form of building, but I hadn’t realized it was so extended. Trulli can be seen all around and inside Alberobello, the capital of the region, and are very numerous. One out of two or three houses in the area is in fact a trulli. After Alberobello, we followed our way to the Adriatic Sea and Polignano a Mare ,then began our westwards return to Roma. I had another night stop in Castel Del Monte, that we saw all illuminated on the top of its hill long before we arrived.

The next day was frustrating for a BIGger as we passed along Monte Vulture without climbing it. But after the last night stop in Morcone, came a more rewarding day in Matese and Abruzzo. We started with the climb to Bocca della Selva from which Sella di Perrone is reached going downhill (I know, I know, this is not an official BIG side, but I’ll come back). Then we passed along lago del Matese, lago di Gallo and lago di Barrea before starting the climb to Passo del Diavolo, third and last BIG of the randonnée.

After the descent of Passo del Diavolo, we came across Fucino, a very large and totally flat dried lake with a spatial center full of antennas in the middle of the fields. The town of Avezzano was at the end of this part and after began a gentle climb to Colle Civitella. I arrived at about 1 am at the last control in Castel di Tora. There, I was wondering if I was going to sleep or tried to reach Roma the same night, as we were only 80 km away, with more downs than ups, so it looked like the arrival was now very close. At this moment, I was asked by another rider what I wanted to do, as he told me he was leaving now. This decided me, so we were three, an Italian, a French and a Swedish to go into the night for the last stage.

Well, I regretted it a bit, because, soon after we left, I began to feel very sleepy. I told my fellow riders that I would stop for a rest, what I did. But despite having slept a little, I felt still very asleep while riding. The coffees I drank along the way in the bars I was lucky to find open at such an hour didn’t make much and I had to stop again, taking some minutes of rest leaning against a tree in the outskirts of Roma. Finally, the arrival of daylight woke me a little and I was able to ride the last kilometers to the finish line, where I was rewarded with a beautiful certificate.

I then went to the central station to get a train back home. Many trains were full so I had a few hours before being able to take one. I knew I was in Roma, I had made at home an itinerary to visit all the famous sites of this capital, but all I was able to do at this moment was to seat on a bank in a nearby square and sleep until it was time for the train. But I’ll be sure back in Roma, as lot of BIG still await me in southern Italy.