Cycling the Alps

“This has been such a flat day”, I said to Tom as we pedalled out of Turin. We had started just outside of Carmagnola and had managed to make it to Turin early for breakfast. It was an extravagant affair…we pulled up outside an ‘Intermarche’, Europe’s finest small supermarket; sat down next to a bin in front of our bikes and feasted on our fresh tomato flatbread. We had made it. Thinking we had done the worst of the climbing the previous day. Little did we know what was in store for us.

Mini Turin Italian job

Tom next to a mini in Turin

After pedalling sedately around Turin for a short while and having our pictures taken in front of some minis -thinking we were hilarious. Yes Italians drive minis in Turin; it’s not just the English stealing gold bars. We departed, keen to make good miles. The first 30km were almost completely flat “this is the life”, we thought. Over the course of that hour I couldn’t help but notice how the previous flat lands around us had become significantly more undulating. By lunchtime we were somehow still on a flat road but ominously all around us were huge mountains. The realisation fell like a ton of bricks; we are going to have to climb. I knew this was bad for me because Tom was a much better climber than me; I was and still probably am terrible. The two panniers and rack filled with food and water alongside my terrible gear ratios did not help in the slightest! However rather than dwell on the climbing we decided to have lunch and made a lovely picnic outside an odd looking building. I couldn’t help but think to myself that it looked like a baddies evil lair from James Bond.

Cycling along the flat road with Mountains all around, and me sporting some very bad helmet hair

Cycling along the flat road with Mountains all around, and me sporting some very bad helmet hair

After a short dose and feast, it was time to set off. Almost immediately the road began to climb. This was not a good sign. We were definitely curving our way round and up a mountain now. It was tough. However after a few kilometres we finally found our rhythm. It had taken long enough. Two and a half weeks on the bike and we finally had it! We also realised that we had a lot of climbing left to do whilst looking at the route ahead so saw this climb as good training. 10km later we were still climbing. However now the Italian government had decided to give us a little resistance training, by resurfacing the road. If there’s one thing you need to know about road resurfacing, it’s sticky and that makes for very slow and painful mileage on the bike –and that’s on flat ground. Eventually we crossed into France and the SS25 changed into the D1006.

“Whoop we’ve made it; let’s look for somewhere to sleep”. No. We were only about halfway up! I felt my whole body sink at this thought.

Suddenly the gradient increased, a lot. Although it was hard it made for a quick ascent, well for Tom it did, I would probably have been faster walking up. However thou shan’t get off thy bike, thou shall muster on. So I did. As the sun was setting we made it! We actually did this time. 2108m up and we stopped at a cafe on the summit of Mont Cenis.

Dinner at the top of Mont Cenis

Dinner at the top of Mont Cenis

With some water, which they made us pay for! We had our well deserved meal of chicken noodles and minestrone soup. Boy it was good. I can only think of a few times I have craved food more, one was the previous day and the other was in the Sahara desert.

On top of the world

On top of the world

What an impressive days cycling! It felt like such an achievement to be on top of Mont Cenis and as night was falling we decided we’d rough camp up at altitude. Maybe we’d gain some extra red blood cells in the process. So we made camp above the lake, snow and clouds and settled in for what was the best nights sleep in a long time.

Cycling in the Alps above the clouds ©

Cycling in the Alps above the clouds ©

Looking back at this experience I am so glad we chose a route that cut through the heart of the Alps. They were such a highlight and I feel so much satisfaction now that I have cycled them. Yes they were hard and gruelling but looking back they were awesome. The best; hardest and most fun cycling occurred during those few days in the Alps. Little did we know at the time but that was the biggest climb we would ever have to do. So the rest were a piece of cake, if a piece of cake feels like your legs are falling off. On a serious note the Alps were amazing and I think everyone should cycle them at least once in their lives.

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6 responses to “Cycling the Alps

  1. The lake at the top is really beautiful. I wish we had carried food to the top and camped up there rather than camping in the valley in Italy.

  2. Pingback: Cycling The Sella Ronda -In Situ Travel·

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