The Big Day: 4:00am was deemed to be the latest we could sleep in until on the big day. It just doesn’t seem right waking up at that time but there was a job to be done. Two bowls of Nesquik choco balls later (they wouldn’t put ‘quik’ in the name if it didn’t make you go faster) and we were ready to go. In fairness, some people did go for the more sensible pre Gran Fondo breakfast of porridge and Pat had a few eggs ready as per usual. A day of consuming gels was ahead of us so we had to make the most of breakfast.
If you haven’t already read >> Part 1 of this report, check it out.
We packed up the van and car and made our way over to Bourg D’Oisans. That trip was pretty long so most of us used the time to get some extra sleep. Sleeping in the van proved to be a good way for those that are scared of heights to avoid having to look down from 1000m into the valley below. (why would someone who is scared of heights head to the Alps I hear you ask? bullying and peer pressure I would imagine). We parked 10km outside the town and cycled the rest of the way in. We were still there 1.5 hours early so a nice coffee and croissant break was taken.
Claire and Gillian were going to give themselves an extra head start by jumping into one of the early waves. Jurgen had ants in his pants and was itching to go join the thousands of other cyclists that were now lining up in the correct groups. He and a few others left the comfort of the cafe early. The fact that Jurgen has German blood in him would account for the need to obey time tables. The rest of the Irish lads left the cafe late, took an illegal short cut to the start, and jumped to the head of the race! Anthony even managed to squeeze into the earlier ‘blue group’, after his brother Matty distracted the marshal on duty. As I said in a previous post, the rules don’t apply to the Kennedys!
Shortly after 7, the event kicked off and Gillian, Claire and Anthony were first on the road for the club. They made good progress on the flat road out-of-town and were able to settle into a nice steady rhythm on the long 40km climb of the Col du Glandon. They would stay out in front for over half the climb before being passed by the rest of the Nenagh CC cyclists that were in the ‘red’ start.
With close on 10,000 people on the roads at the start, it was very hard to stick with your team mates. It wasn’t long before Shane was a mile out the back and those up ahead were wondering where the hell he was. A nature break was the answer so the group ahead pulled in, waited and got going again when he caught up. This group of Matty, Kenneth, Gary, Shane and Mikey would stay together for almost all the cycle. Jurgen was gone off on a solo mission up front and was eating up the road. Back behind, the rest of the Nenagh CC members seemed to be content to do their own thing. They were in 1s and 2s all over the place but with the roads full of cyclists you would never be on your own.
The first climb went on and on and on and it proved to be quite tough. This uphill slog was made more interesting by playing ‘spot the Irish cyclists’. There were large groups of cyclists over from Ireland and every km or so you would pass a cyclist from Mullingar, Orwell, Dungarvan, Limerick or some other Irish club. We also happened to have some typical Irish weather for the climb . At the top it was misty and cold and it sent a shiver down the spine. With a descent coming up, it was time to put on the rain jackets! (it’s not often you do that in France!)
The Glandon descent is neutralised in terms of time. Therefore, we decided to pull into the house we were staying in while over here. This allowed us to change gear and get some good food into us. There was no rush but some were getting cold hanging around. This caused many of us to put on far too much clothes upon leaving the house and we would ending up cooking a little later on in the day.
The next part of the event was a downhill followed by flat section over towards the Col Du Telegraphe. This part of the cycle was nicknamed the Nenagh train. It involved 6 or 7 Nenagh riders working at the front and towing another 100 riders along with them. We all made good time here and must have passed close on 500 riders on the road. Some jumped onto the train and some didn’t. In the front bunch at this stage were Gary, Shane, Will, Donnchadh, Jurgen, Matty, Kenneth, Anthony, John and Mikey, but as we closed in on the next big mountain the group split up a little. Most found it better to climb the hills at their own pace.
Mikey Browne was having a great/awful day on the bike. Great in the sense that he was sticking with the lads on a vintage Raleigh steel bike. Awful in the sense that he was suffering like a dog! Numerous times he went out the back, only to regain contact a few minutes later. His bouncebackability was immense. The climb of the Telegraphe proved to be the easiest of the lot, but we all knew that it was only the warm-up for the monster climb 10km down the road.
Going over the top of the climb, down the hill and into the 2nd food stop at Valoire, Matty, Shane, Gary, Kenneth, Mikey and Jurgen were all together. Next in was Donnchadh but instead of stopping at the food stop he continued on towards the Galibier. We were thinking this was a crazy maneuver but we were proved wrong. Will, John and Anthony had buddied up at this stage and came in together. Next in was Clifford, Will Killackey, Pat and the two girls Gillian and Claire. There wasn’t much between everyone here. As one group left another just arrived.
The next part of the cycle was going to be the toughest. The Galibier is a monster climb that takes you up to 2500m. The legs are already a little tired from the Telegraphe so that makes it even tougher. The start of this climb also proved to be the warmest as the humidity in the valley were cycling up was high. Sweat was dripping from everyone as we wondered if there was just something wrong with us. Thankfully, the humidity improved once we turned right onto the mountain proper.
Everytime the Nenagh CC riders got moving they passed out hundreds if not thousands of riders. They kept bumping into the same faces on the road though. Clearly the strategy of not stopping at the food stations was the better one but we were all just over here for a fun holiday so we weren’t going to be passing up a chance of free grub!
Donnchadh was caught by the chase group with 4km to go of the Galibier. The skies above were clear and it gave a wonderful view of what was left of the climb – quite a bit was the answer. Jurgen drifted off the back of the bunch at this stage looking to conserve his energy on the climb. Mike also got dropped but that was no surprise given the antique bike he was on. Matty, Shane, Gary and Kenneth crested the mountain together. It was very windy and quite cold at the top so they didn’t hang around for long. A quick photo, on with the jackets and off they went down the hill.
Mike Browne was next over the top and he soon regained contact with the lads on the descent. Jurgen was next over and he was followed by Donnchadh, then Anthony, then Will and John, then Clifford, then Will Killackey, then Pat who was just caught by the girls going over the top. A comment that he should have brought a 32 chain ring to France wasn’t exactly well received as Pat was battling his demons at that stage!! Pat soon cheered up as he put some distance into the girls on the downhill. I say girlS but I really mean Claire! Could there be a slower descender in world cycling?! Fair play to Gillian for setting up camp at the bottom of the Galibier and waiting for Claire to arrive at the bottom.
The descent off the Galibier took ages. It also brought us through many tunnels which were very strange to cycle through at high speeds. After the tunnel section we were once again in the valley and pushing a nice pace back towards Bourg D’Oisans and the location of the final climb of Alpe D’Huez. Everyone seemed to be feeling pretty ok at this point and with another food stop coming up it was clear that we were all going to finish it.
The end game tactics of some were discussed in the previous post so I won’t go into the details of that here. Only Matty / Gary and Gillian / Claire finished together. The rest went for solo glory or solo death. The sun was very hot as we all climbed to the finish. Our decision to wear lots of clothes earlier in the day was punishing us now. Some stopped to take off under armour and some stopped for water breaks on the hairpin bends. Thankfully everyone made it up well within the time limits.
The finishing times of each competitor are placed into 3 divisions – gold, silver and bronze. On a day like today where we were not being competitive and only looking to finish, it was still nice to do well. We had 9 gold medal time finishers, 1 silver time and 5 bronze time finishers. We were all delighted to have finished the day. The pasta, coke and other goodies in the recovery tent went down a treat. Luckily for some of the lads they got to cycle another 20km back to get the cars. Snails pace would be how you would describe that last little bit of the trip.
In the cars back home most people conked it. It was late by the time we got off the mountain and we had had little to no sleep the night before. We all fell into a pizza induced coma at home and that was that – job done!! The next day we lounged about Annecy all day. It was a fine spot for a fine bunch of lads and ladies.
Congrats to all involved in the trip. It was a great success. Some people put in a lot more work than others to organise this so take a bow. Your efforts are very much appreciated.
Come join us on our next expedition – we don’t know when, who, why, what or where we are going next year but we encourage everyone reading this to consider training with us and tagging along the next time. If holidays are about creating memories then a cycling trip with the club should be your next port of call.