The weekend after the race, Nikki and I drove to Lake Passy (to avoid the initial hill!) and set off towards Cluses on a fairly straight and flat road. From there we made the 400m ascent to Chatillon and down to Taninges. I really wanted to take it easy so soon after the race, so we took another straight, flat road down the valley to Morillon. It was a hot, sunny morning and after 35km we were starving. Not expecting to find much, we were over the moon to discover a van selling roast chickens and a bakery opposite. Cue rustic chicken baguettes smothered with hot jus, perfect! Nicely stuffed, we made our way back to Passy and treated ourselves to coke, ice lollies and a paddle in the lake. 70km in total and we had barely passed lunchtime.
The following weekend we were keen to get out on the bikes again, this time to hook up with other local bikers and take part in the 'one day, one col' series. The Haute-Savoie tourist board decided it would be a good idea to close specific cols to motorised vehicles on set days this summer, to enable bikers to have a go at the cols, unhindered by other traffic. And what a great idea it was. We met up with a few friends in Taninges and warmed up while heading out towards Mieussy, where the event started and numerous other bikers had gathered, of all shapes and sizes. The road headed straight up from there and there was really very little let-up for the next 16km and 1000m of ascent. I thought I was a pretty good climber on my bike, but I found myself really lagging behind our crowd. It was not too steep to start with, but the climb was relentless, zig-zagging back and forth with little shade and temperature in the 30s. I tried to stop during a section in a tunnel but it was so steep that I had to work really hard not to roll backwards, clinging onto a post for dear life! There were a couple of drinks stations en route and the chance to stop at the turn off to the Sommand ski area, where I have skied before. From there I recognized the road as the cross-country ski route in the winter. The final section was a little less steep and finally the road reached the Col de la Ramaz at 1619m, with amazing views of Mont Blanc in the distance. At the top there was a great party atmosphere, with music, drinks and nibbles and a bike demonstration, all laid on for free.
It was a boiling hot day, but despite this some of the group headed off to tackle another Col. One was more than enough for me, but even the planned cycle on to Les Gets felt so hard in that heat and I got really grumpy when the not very hard final ascent seemed to go on forever. Luckily there were chips and coke to be had in Les Gets and we had a long, lazy lunch in the shade, talking nonsense and making new friends. As a newbie to the road-biking thing, it was great to spend time with other people that seem relatively normal, and who see the need to indulge in a plate of lard after punishing themselves.
The last weekend in August saw the Ultra-Trail du Mont Blanc wagon rolling into town. The UTMB celebrated it's 10th birthday this year and has grown into a huge international event with runners from over 40 countries taking part. It is made up of 4 races - the 166km UTMB, the 109km TDS, the 98km CCC and the team-based 300km PTL. The event has been hampered by attrocious weather for the last 2 years and this year continued in the same vein. The organisers got a lot of stick in the past for poor communication during bad weather years, when they had no choice but to delay start times, vary routes and on one occasion cancel the race once it had already started. But being part of the team of volunteers and knowing how quickly conditions can change here, I do sympathise with the organisers and appreciate how tough some of those decisions have been. It's not easy to implement a new route at the last minute and rearrange all the back-up support that goes with it. Waiting until the weather clears is not an option either when people have flown in from all over the globe. And despite random kit checks, I have seen how poorly prepared some of the runners are, which still baffles me! This year the TDS was the only race that ran it's original route, with runners having to endure over 30 hours of wind, rain and sub-zero temperatures, hence the 57% drop-out rate. The UTMB was changed to 100km, staying below 2000m, which must have been gutting for those that had trained hard for several years, just to even qualify to run it. I had a great weekend though and saw many good friends finish their races, met some lovely people during my time as a volunteer, got to nose through people's kit, got some useful tips and cried my eyes out over some very emotional finishes. I cannot wait till next year when Nikki and I have a place in the CCC!
As another fabulous summer of running nears an end, I should be preparing for my final race, the odd-looking Defis du Jublie on 13th October: http://www.chemins-bibliques.ch To be honest I have done very little running since the Ticino, only 1 run of 20km, lots of boozing and lazy holidays and with so much going on at work at the moment I'm not sure if my visions of running 71km are slightly over-enthusiastic, but I am going to give it my best shot. The race itself is split into 8 sections and you can bail out at any point, which could be a good or bad thing, too easy to bail if the going gets tough? Can I do it? Watch this space.