Archive for September, 2009

It’s That Time of Year Again

Posted in 1 on September 23, 2009 by bencycles

Looks like cyclocross season just started going full tilt last weekend. I found a little motivation in Switzerland. Absolutely the best cowbells ever. I happened to be around on the weekend when the farmers were bringing their cows down from the Alps to winter in the valley. It was really cool watching and listening to these herds of cows coming down from the mountains and through the narrow village roads. The bulls were adorned with elaborate head dress made from pine tree branches and ribbon. Very awesome. The local milk was awesome, too. It even had a layer of cream on top.

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The Tic List

Posted in 1 on September 18, 2009 by bencycles


alp d’Huez
Col du Glandon
Col de la Croix de fer
Alp d’Huez (again)
Col de l’Iseran

in that order. Not bad for a couple weekend trips to the alps. My top 3 would have to be l’Iseran, Stelvio, Gavia – not necessarily in that order… epic

A Little Canyoning

Posted in 1 on September 16, 2009 by bencycles

It was time for something outside the world of two wheels.

One of my coworkers in the UK invited me on a little trip to Italy for some canyon exploration in the Dolomites. I had done that sort of thing back in the states around Utah Neon Canyon
and thought it might be fun to see what it was like over here.  I was excited to see the northwestern part of Italy, too.  We would fly into Treviso on Friday night after work, find a place to camp in the mountains of the Dolomite National Park and hit Gole Sofia the next morning. Then Val Clusa the next day, drive back to Treviso that night for the flight which would get me back to cambridge in the wee hours  and then back to work Monday morning. Sounds about right. I was a bit nervous since I haven’t done much of anything involving ropes since the Sprout was born and I really had no idea what to expect…

Got off the plane, grabbed some Speck and beer from a gas station, and found a spot to camp around midnight.
The next morning, we met up with the final member of our 5-man group and headed to Sofia. IMG_3558
I was still kinda wrecked from the last two weeks of adventures. The previous weekend was my Marmotte ride which took most of the previous week to recover from and before that was a fun adventure in Wales with MalMal. But the canyons were so beautiful, it was easy to ignore the hamstring trying to tighten up on me…

The start of Gole sofia

It would have been nice to have the water socks, especially the 2nd day when the water got really cold.P1010684

This was a fun section.

The abseils were pretty fun in the waterfalls.P1010699


Jumping in was fun , too, when it was deep enough.

All the guys I was with were friends from their canyoning club days back at uni, so they had the anchor methods down to a science and the 5 of us got through each section like clockwork. A few of the abseils were pretty tricky to set up, too. Especially the 2nd day which turned out to be a bit more technical. P1010788Often requiring an anchor to be set up just to get to the drop point.

This one was particularly slippery and I lost my footing pretty good while coming down. P10108071 the last thing you want to do is let go of the rope to catch yourself though, so you just hit the wall, wright yourself and keep going down.

The final abseil of the second day was particularly tricky, working down a thin chimney with buckets of ice cold water crashing on you head really hard. getting even harder farther down as the pressure of the water started to feel like a hammer on my helmeted head. All i wanted to do was get out of that thing. It felt like being held under water.  All I could see and hear was the water crashing on my head and I felt the subtle tickle of desperation as I raced to the bottom and practically lept out of the raging falls to get out… much to the glee of my companions… The next guy down got flipped upside-down by the force of the water and came down headfirst, disappearing into the water. We rushed in and pulled him out. He seemed a little shaken, but none the worse for wear. We got out and made it back to the nearby village for some much needed beer and ice cream.IMG_3617

And what would a trip to Italy be without good food and drink?


I would live in Italy in a heartbeat.

Then it was a quick getaway to make our flight.IMG_3630

In bed at 2am and at work at 9am. That was another great weekend.

La Marmotte

Posted in 1 on September 1, 2009 by bencycles

The pan-flat roads of east anglia are not the place to train for La Marmotte. That was the most rediculously hard day I’ve had on a bike. 185 km loop with 5 massive alpine cols and 17000 feet of climbing. Sounds like the dumb sorta thing I’m all for.

I don’t remember where I first heard about the La Marmotte, someone at work perhaps, or maybe I happened across it while searching for some routes to do in France. I had looked into doing a big combo day, penciled in some possible routes, and found the one I’d dismissed as ludicrous actually matched up almost perfectly with La Marmotte. It’s almost identical to the Moarmmote except I went down Croix de Fer instead of Glandon to avoid having to ride so much in the valley below. Plus I’d heard Croix de Fer was a better descent.

“Well, if those bastards do it, I’m not gonna shy away!”

The gauntlet was thrown, or a lack of common sense prevailed… Either way it was gonna be epic. And since it was one giant loop, there was no chance for an easy bailout except for Huez at the end, but by then it was just a Thelma and Louise determination that I would rely on to push me up those final 21 switchbacks. Frankly, it’s a damn good thing I couldn’t see my car as I went through town…

But first: I can never go to a foreign country without some kind of problem, and this trip was no different. On the day before I was to leave the UK, I found out the annoying way that my credit card had been locked due to “corrupted security” and while they were happy to send me a replacement overnight, I would be cardless in France.

“Good thing I have my ATM card”

Got off the plane in Grenoble and picked up my awesome rental car. P1010369my sweet Renault Kangoo

That’s when the problems started. I had paid for everything online with my card before it was corrupted, so figured I’d be OK. But my other cards suddenly didn’t seem to be working either. I tried to log on to my account and got on just long enough to to see my home page and then my computer locked up before my account screen popped up and wouldn’t let me back on. I swear it was a conspiracy. No luk.. Without much French, it was difficult to convey my needs to the hotel staff. I was having visions of 3 days in France with 40 euro in my pocket, and France ain’t cheap. The toll road alone was 14 euro each way. I was seriously stressed about what to do and all the overdraft fees I was going to have to argue out of come Tuesday morning.

Tangent: I think this was the 3rd or 4th time I’ve had problems with my US cards in Europe. they keep getting locked down for security without warning. Something to keep in mind if you plan to stay a while. Plus I get grumpy looks from all the clerks over here because my US card doesn’t have a chip which makes more work for the clerks…


So then I remembered my emergency card in the back of my wallet. The one I hadn’t used in months and was pretty sure didn’t work, either. I nervously ordered a café from the bar to see if it would work. This transaction was going to make or break my next three days. I was really sweating…

Then, cha ching! Damn thing worked. That solved one problem. Which was good cause I was really hungry and needed some food. I was still pretty stressed about having to deal with my bank on Tuesday. I had visions of E back in the states trying to buy a cart full of groceries with S crying in her arms and then having her debit card get declined at checkout and no way to get in contact to explain the situation for the next 3 days. That would surely make for a great conversation with her later. But at least now I could eat – I was gonna need a lot of food tomorrow – I’m already kind of skinny.

Drove to the start of my ride in Le Bourg-d’Oisans, a pretty and touristy mountain town at the foot of alp d’Huez.

P1010372open market in Oisons

P1010368What to bring for 8 hours in the saddle? As much as you can…

Most of the riding along the valley is on busy roads. P1010379those hills look steep… With most of the famous cols around here, it’s not until you get into the last 10 km or so before they really get good. The views are good before, but the traffic keeps you on your toes. P1010388narrow alpine roads, anyone? I’m sure weekdays are the hot ticket for when to go. A lot like Palomar, I think. But those last 10-20 km are pretty spectacular.P1010390P1010404P1010406P1010457P1010548P1010473

Glandon was cool, P1010416
but Col de La Croix de Fer was where it was at. P1010440 Amazing and just a couple km above Glandon. Something about it, the name, the exposer, the iron cross (croix de fer) at the top. It just feels like a legend at the top. I Enjoyed the best $6 cola I’ve ever had. P1010445mmmm

And what could be better then getting to the top of a famous alpine col? Well, going down the back side at 70kph is pretty exciting. I think Croix de Fer was an amazing descent.

I’ve been on my sick new bike from B&L Bikes all summer now. P1010570 It takes a while to get comfortable with a new bike, but by now I’ve had a chance to really feel comfortable on her and didn’t hesitate to really push through those hairpins. A mix of terror and excitement got me to the bottom with a huge grin.

Rode through the valley and got to BIG DADDY, otherwise known as the double punch of Col du Telegraphe P1010448
followed by Col du Galibier. P1010467told ya I was skinny…
I let out a meniacle laugh at the start of the climb. Was it because I was about to start up the mythical Galibier, or was it because I was at the halfway point and there truly was no turning back? Who cares! Lets roll!

In reality, Telegraphe is just a part of Galibier. The profile for Galibier didn’t seem that bad. Well, profile be damned, those last couple km were tough. P1010457 The view getting up to the top is really amazing. Galibier was definitely the climax of the route. Being almost 2700m high certainly helped. The top was cold, windblown, and just rad. I took a small rock from the top. I think Galibier took a piece of me that day, so it seemed only fair.

Coming down the backside of Galibier was pretty tough. The crosswinds were strong and I was getting a lot of speed wobble down the back side at much above 50kph. Clenching my bike, I managed to keep her steady enough to get down into the trees where I could open it up again.

Then it was a long steady descent back to my starting point and soon to be ending point. Alp d’Huez. French Alpes It needs no introduction. I had done it once before and it didn’t get any easier the second time. Of course already having 175km under my belt didn’t help… I pretty much relied on brute stupidity to get me to the top. P1010487so tired
So that was it. Day one.

How about day two? So good…