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Norm cycles in France!

I would like to pre-empt this monologue about art to report on my experiences as a cyclist, in what might be heaven for a road cyclist! I know this is a bit out of date now, but it's been a busy time (for summer) and I'm finally now getting to put these writings up for you to read.

So I was in Europe from June 1 to 12,for a little retreat/professional/family time. The first part of which has been spent in Divonne Les Baines, France for a visit with my sister Alayne and her family. The second portion will be spent in Basel and The Black Forest of Germany with Sebastian Lexer working on developing my computer/cello system that we have been collaborating on over the past 6 years or so. (but that is another blog post...)

So I am a cyclist, I’ve been riding and racing mountain and road bikes since 1993. Two years ago I took some time to come to Divonne Les Baines, France to ride, both in the Jura (right out my sister’s back door) and the Alps. I got a chance to ride some of the great climbs of cycling lore Alpe D’Huez, The Galibier and The Croix de Fer, as well as some nice rides in the Jura region.

This time my trip is not solely dedicated to the bike, so my cello came along for the ride. So I rented a Giant Defy from Cyclomundo in Geneve. They were very accommodating and the price was right for a real road bike.


We picked it up on our way home from the airport, and I hopped on it as soon as I got to Divonne!

My first ride June 1, was out through Vesancy, my favourite little town, up the Col de la Faucille, past La Vatay, through La Cure in the Jura, and down the mountian on the twistiest road ever at Saint Cergues! The weather was a little cloudy, and cold up in the mountains, I felt a little cold and lonely up there, and my feet were pretty frozen by the time I got back down.

The climb wasn’t too bad, I noticed that it ramps up as you get to the top, but I surprised myself a bit at how I felt at the top! The ride was 61km in 2hr 50min. A nice prologue to the week.


The next day June 2, I decided to do something a little longer and flatter, in the morning headed to Lausanne, along Lac Lemain. The weather was sort of threatening, not particularly warm, with a pretty stiff headwind. I rolled along, looking for bike paths and bike routes, hitting a few dead ends and roads that turned into trails. Eventually I reached Lausanne, where I thought I’d be and I was at 62 kilometers, so any plans for continuing

to Montreaux ended. But I sort of had a hope to ride through some of the wine country that we see up in the hills, from the motorway and train. So I had a sandwich and a coke and sort of hung a right upon exiting Lausanne and started riding into unfamiliar territory. I was navigating by a Google map I’d printed off, so it was a bit sketchy with the smaller places, and roads not appearing, but I had a fair idea where I was, so just kept riding along, stopping pretty frequently to consult the map. The terrain was gentle, with farmland and long gradual hills. It was gorgeous, and after several changes of plan I ended up on a Swiss bike route, a very quiet narrow road heading in basically the right direction. Eventually I ended up just where I wanted to be rolling through vineyards, looking down on the lake and across at the misty Alps. Soon I started along downhill toward home. By the time I got back to Divonne I had been out for 6 hours and 128km. My longest ride of the year so far, and a long day thanks to all the navigating.

Needless to say interrupted sleep caused by jetlag was not a problem.


June 3 Tim arrived home. Tim is my brother in law and a monster athlete. He and I had loose plans to ride a bit together, so the day he got back from Washington, we went for a little rip on mountain bikes on his regular route. I borrowed my sister’s tiny Kona. After my previous big days I felt pretty wasted, but followed as well as I could, Tim hammered up the steep climbs past Vesancy, and onto the front face of the Jura on Les Routes Forestiere, dirt roads for logging etc, that are everywhere in Europe. The ride was only 21kms but I felt every single one! There were fast downhills but several steep climbs. I was hoping to recover a bit….Tim and Alayne do not believe in recovery!

The final ride in the Jura was one of my favourite ever. Tim and I road out to the twisty climb up to St Cergue and beyond, It was slightly uphill to the climb, but very gradual so I had a little warmup before, which is nice, and rare here. The climb was pretty long about 55 minutes, but it gradually got less steep so it was good for the ego! At the very top we crossed back into France and headed toward Lajoux, on the route of Stage 7 of the Tour this summer. This was a gorgeous part of the ride with long gradual ups and downs through little towns, past locals-only ski areas. We topped out past Lajoux and had a really fun descent (rare for me as I’m a bit of chicken descending, but this one was just steep and twisty and car-less enough, I guess!) into Mijoux, one of my favourite local towns, we saluted the lady who hosed me off and gave me coffee after a crash 2 years before, and paused in the village. It is a small and not too gentrified rural ski and farm town, just right for me. Then we climbed back up to Faucille. This was a tougher climb (It got steeper as it rose) but I was starting to feel okay again, so the 20 minutes or so weren’t too bad. Then we dropped down the Col to Gex, Vesancy and home. This ride was under 4 hours and about 80kms. The two and a half climbs made it a nice progression from the previous rides though.

Our final ride was on my fifth day (note: 5 days - 5 rides, pretty unusual for me!). Tim and I drove past Geneve and into the Alps, we wanted to hit one big climb from the tour! So we decided on the Columbiere, it’s been featured in many ours, and rates category 1 usually. It was about 17 kms and we started climbing as soon as we got out of the car at Cluses. This climb also got steeper as we went on. The first 60% or so was wooded and not too steep. At Le Reposoir at about 1500m, the switchbacks started and we came out of the trees. Then it got steep, 10 to 12%, and exposed, and HOT! There was no wind, and I was baking, praying that the damn hill would end. It was definitely the most difficult climb this trip. I had to dig pretty deep to not stop and sit in the ditch.


There was no open restaurant at the top, which was a drag but the ride back down to the village was really quick, and we found some water. So at that point I thought we should take another route down, thinking this ride would be too short, so we to a right to traverse over to the next town, well this involved another 25 minutes of climbing, which was not expected at all! Then began the final descent to the valley, which was really steep with lots of writing on the road, we were amazed the Pro Tour guys climbing this before hitting the Columbiere! It was really steep, with sheer cliffs so high and steep it felt like you were in a plane looking down at the town in the valley! Wow. This was a humbling ride, not long but tough and close enough to the Tour to feel amazed at the athleticism of those pro riders to whom this ride (plus another 150kms or so), is a day at work.

And what a pleasure and honour to ride these roads, were cyclists are plentiful, and people are respectful and the challenges are frequent!


Jul 21, 2010 at 12:00

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