Haute Route #4

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  • By Greg McKee
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We are staying in a chateau in rural area ten kilometres up the valley from Chamonix. We are riding into Chamonix later today or tomorrow and we will likely not have to pedal a single stroke. We will be forced to use our brakes only to stop for pastry and coffee. I am endlessly fascinated by that but I can only send so many pictures of one of us stuffing our faces. I’ll send one. This is Howard eating his fourth pastry of the day


Why skimp on pastries when on our second day here we rode over the summit of Col de Montets, and in just over 52K we managed 2200M of climbing. Much of the climbing was steep, up to a 14% grade.


To start the ride, just over the summit and down into the perfectly picturesque town of Vallorcine, and continued on. We spied a dam up high in the alpine. Close by the dam we were some yellow umbrellas and there was a funicular tourist train infrastructure up to it that indicated something worthwhile must be up there. So we set out in the general direction, turning off the valley road just past Gietroz, we rode through Finhaut, up to the power station on Lac Emosson.

As we rode up to the dam, not exactly sure we were going in the right direction we began to see painted names on the road and we wondered if it had been featured in the Tour de Suisse recently. We saw Morabito everywhere, and eventually Sagan, the current world champion

The climb got steep and sustained. It is only a few days out from our big race, the Haute Route Alpe D’Huez, and I am in tapering mode. It is hard to climb like this and keep your heart rate down, but I was able to manage it, with my compact 34/34 ring/cassette set up, by spinning at around 45 RPMs. (not sure you can call that spinning) Howard had briefly had a theory that he had to spin no lower than 90, or else he would be tiring his legs and hurting his knees. He had given up on that plan since he would probably have been moving at Olympian speed on this climb at 90 RPMs, but he was right about the knee soreness. Grinding along at 45 RPMs up an 1100 metre mountain left my knees feeling brittle for a couple of days after.

My only regret so far is that I’m feeling forced to take it somewhat easy for several days before the Haute Route event. It is hard not to want to be on the bike the whole time. The 34 tooth cog is a blessing, since on any normal climbs of 7 or so % it is easy to spin at a very manageable pace and keep the heart rate low.

Following the ride Howard felt the need to recover and sat down to watch TV with a jug of Muscle Mlk recovery protein drink. The stuff definitely works.

Yesterday we took the bus down into Chamonix. The city is an amazing mecca for active people. The town is absolutely dwarfed by the famous glacier on Mont Blanc, which is the playground for people who live and visit here. It’s not a modern safety inspired playground. Over 75 people died here last year mountaineering, skiing, paragliding, etc. You wouldn’t know it from the vibe. Howard counted over 30 colourful paragliders in the air, and a monstrous and famous gondola takes people up the Aiguille du Midi, most of the way up the glacier, to hang out on the glacier in a space-age needle-like atructure. Also there are pastries.

In 3 days our friend, Jason Hollowach, the owner of Grip it Gym in Saskatoon, will be competing in the world cup lead-climbing competiton in downtown Chamonix. A crazy coincidence. We came across the world cup wall being set up in the downtown square, and it gives you a sense of how the town is dominated by Mont Blanc. Go Jason!

The bus and train that run up and down the valley here every 30 to 60 minutes are set up to take bikes.  The station at our area called Frasserands, is only 100 metres away. In the next few days we will be riding down the valley to Chamonix and beyond, exploring, then taking the train back up, for what we hope is a civilized bike ride to find new types of pastry, without tiring out the legs. I’ll let you know how that goes.



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