Sunday, September 17, 2006

24 hours of Travel

I write from Dallas as I've been up for 24 hours. Despite the baggage blow-ups in Paris this morning, I managed to carry on tooth paste, eye drops, lip balm - yet had my yogurt confiscated - oh well. I had to down it quickly. Lastly - upon arrival into Tucson, no luggage. Well it's best they lost on the way home rather than there! Buon Nuit!

Ill post pictures below - keep checking...

Thursday, September 14, 2006

Crackle POP!

Last night was the mother of all lightning storms. There was so much snap, crackle, poping THEN crash boom banging, that it top any electrical storm I've seen or heard to date in Arizona.

Our entire chateau (all 15 of us) was awake at 2am watching the sky light up with such vigor. The rain that fell made our pool into an infinity edge and needless so say kayaking was not possible today given the plethora of rainfall.

Today was a much needed day of lounging and naps. I did go out for a 1 hour spin when a hole appeared in the sky. I have one last BIG ride scheduled for tomorrow before I pack up tomorrow night and catch an early flight from Avignon to Paris then Paris to Dallas then Dallas to Tucson. Then crash for a day prior to much change.

Vallon-Pont-d' Arc

Guy, Bill and I were on a mission this morning. We were fully charged after a day conquering Ventoux.

Mission, spin to Vallon-Pont-d' Arc to check out a good group bike route AND stop in on the Kayak outfits for the group float.

Spinning out of the chateau we hit the farmland flats and vineyards for a 50 mile crankfest with an average speed of 24 miles an hour with a good cross/head wind. Ill ride guy's and bills ass any day (did I say that?); actually these guys can push the flats like no one's business!

We arrived in Pont d' Arc around noon, checking in with the operators then grabbing a patise and a wonderful crepe and cafe with the snappiest french waitress, who gave Bill a run for his money (very comical).

Heading back to the chateau we would need to climb back into Banne (about 1200 feet). After letting those guys push all they way back into town, I jumped on the climb breaking apart the group for what I thought would be a clean get away. After going fully anerobic (177 heart rate) and thinking I was all alone, I turned around and Guy was pulling Bill right up the hill! Drats, I couldn't believe these guys were hot on my tail as I was nearing 13 mph up a 6-7% slope. I knew I had to ease up or blow up...I took the heart rate to 160 to claim the town for myself. Then through town Guy would then go for the sprint taking me then fighting Bill for a few more. Bill would ultimately win the final decisive sprint up to Mazel (the chateau).

Later that day we would take out the rest of our chateau mates for a taste of cycling in France followed by a great meal in Le Vanne with our entire group.

Weather: sunny then light rain 70's
Distance 100K
Elevation: 1500 feet
Destress Factor 9+

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

Mount Ventoux

We had a 2 hour commute to Orange (pronounced Are-rahn-geh) then a scoot to the town of Bedoin where we would start our epic climb up the massive volcanic rock with a forest below and a moonscape above.

Now there were several things we learned on this climb.

1) Headwinds are great where there are swams of flies taunting you because you can only go 5mph on 10% slopes (and greater) and you need to break 7 to out pace (unless a tail wind). Blessing your self with the sacred cross is effective at shoeing the flies.

2) Often there are those unreal unmentionables that happen on a ride that are random and rare, yet are worth mentioning here because it wouldn't be right to forget them - namely the 50ft painted penis that climbed the hairpin turn and took several seconds to pass. Note - on historic climbs, such as ventoux, tourmalet and alpe d' huez...the road is reading material for the weary who climb and need aomething to pass time.

3) Guy Tucker IS a climber and fakes the fact that he loves beastly mountains. He also doesn't enjoy chatting it up with random dutch guys during the steepest part of the climb - noting that the dutch-yahoo had replaced the waterbottles on his rented bike with coca-cola bottles.

4) We like seeing the top of the mountain to gage how far the top is and how much more climbing we must endure. Ventoux has about 2/3rd of the climbing in a wooded forest before it becomes exposed to the sun, wind and reflecting bright volcanic rock.

5) Its cold on the top and I needed by winter beanie.

6) French men (when passed by a female on ventoux) shout out oooh-la-la! Happened to me several times.

7) People impressed by your effort shout to you, "bon courage!"

8) Climbing mt ventoux was the toughest mountain I've done to date and it put us on the top of the world - emotionally!

9) Climbing ventoux took just under 2 hours (record is 51 minutes by Iban Mayo) and decending was 17 minutes with my top speed reaching 51mph.

10) Galoping gerdie can happen to a bike when decending ventoux, just ask Guy - who's bike's front end wobbled and shimmed so severely he thought he was going down at over 40 mph.

There was an amazing memorial to Tom Simpson who died on his bike riding Mt Ventoux. Yeah...its bad ass hard, but he basically died from a drug OD.

Stats for the day:
Partly Cloudy 75 degrees (bottom)
Distance 42 miles.
Elevation: 5700 feet
Time: 2:18
Relaxed factor: 9.5

Banne then Chateauneuf de Pape

Monday was to be a real mellow day before we drove to climb Mount Ventoux (the mother of all climbs). Guy and Sue decided to chill at the chateau, while Bill, me, alan and julie did a little spin away tootling through the country, up a minor Col then down they flats through a kiwi fruit orchid. Our way back to the chateau was between some exquisit little midevil towns that were picture perfect.

The short climbs again feel so easy. I was judt saying to guy how much I'm looking forward to climbing mount lemon now that 6% grades feel flat.

After we got back to the chateau, 14 od us piled into 2 vehicles to taste wine at chateaunuef de pape ( a famous wine region in the cote de rhone famous for some chateau blessed by a new pope). We arrived rather late tasted some mediocre wines, then drove back the 2 hrs to a fabulous restaurant in Barjac. I had goat chevre pizza - can you think of anything better?

Days stats:
Weather: sunny and low 80's
Distance: 21 miles
Elevation: 1640
Time: 1:35min

Monday, September 11, 2006

Banne, Le Vanne, Villeforte

Today we set out for a 100K day in the south of France with out new riding group of 6 (Bill, Sue, Guy, me, Julie and Alan).

I set/marked the ride on our fine michelin map with my trusty hi-lighter - it cruising along the finest "green" roads (scenic) in a loop that would have us capturing 62 miles.  The group soon realized that the road would traverse up to the highest point in the region (1500 meters) to Pic di Cassini.  Yeah...I know how to pick them.

It was about 10:30am when we motivated to get on our bikes and leave the chateau.  We would decend off Le Mazel for what would feel like 30 minutes, shooting some magnificent river gorges...spinning along side 4 germans who would pace us 20K's along the steep rocky ledges overlooking the most peaceful river spotted with towns that looked to have existed forever.

Lunch was starting to nag and we knew with it nearly noon, the next town would need to fill us (as many shops close for good at 12:30pm).  At the intersection to town we bumped up (quite literally) into some hunters cleaning and skinning its significant and quite large kills (2 huge wild boars with tusks and all).  It was about the time I could start to smell them as they doused them in hot water and was firing up the blow torch...I pushed on ahead of my group into town before my lunch was spoiled.

We ate at the fabulous boulangerie then made the turn toward the big Col near Pic di Cassini.

Wow, for what was not to be a climbing day...WE went big!  We arrived back at the Chateau around 6pm, where my team mates loaded with beer and I began rapidly to put back calories as I was in deficit for the day.

We had an awesome meal cooked by a local chef that filled my belly. We stayed up until about midnight playing a really silly game called asshole curtosy of Theo (who is just the funniest "real" dude I know).  I think Guy winning as president made for a rather humorous adventure that had us all in stitches.

Total Stats:
Weather: Sunny and Warm (high 80's)
Time: 5 hours
Distance: 65 miles
Elevation: 6450 feet
Happy Factor: 9

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Travel Day!

We arrived at le chateau and have an amazing group of friends. Wow what fun the 15 of us are having together. More on that later.

Friday, September 08, 2006

Col du Tourmalet

A big day on a big mountain. After an amazing night of lightning and cleansing rain, we woke to a power breakfast at our fine relais - le centre Laurent Fignion (the infamous french rider who lost the tour de france by seconds to greg lemond). We thought an early start would have us finish early with time to tour the town.

We left the hotel around 10am expecting to reach the top of the 6000 foot Col in the Pyrenees (the tallest actually) in 2 hour or less (from the hotel). The spin out was brisk and we reached the foot of the climb in 20min.

This climb was epic, challenging, grinding and exhillarating! At 10km to go and over 1000m yet to climb, it didn't take a math major to know the AVERAGE grade for the next 6.2 miles was 10%!

I continued to look down at my knees in wonder, how they and my quads could continue to power. Although I had a 29 on the back, I found the 27 to be ideal for cadence, pace and pain (perfect pain really). Any change up or down would destroy the fragile balence.

Just 3k from the top and some serious exposure and grinding, we arrived into the mountain ski village of La Mongie only to see the very serious saddle of the Tourmalet a neck strain upward at the end of several switchbacks cutting into the pyreneean chards of mountain rock. Good Lord, I thought. After 1 hour and 30min in the saddle, I reached for a bar in my back pocket and carefully chewed and swallowed between breaths. This part of the climb was pure magic as La Mongie got smaller and smaller and the mountain grew bigger and bigger.

Reaching the top was like being in the grad tour oneself as the hikers, motorists, picnic goers all watch you in amazement, some shouting "Allez, Allez" as you crest the summit grinning from ear to ear amazed at your own accomplishment.

The grand Col du Tourmalet will forever hold a very special place for the seven of us who masterfully conquered her mighty slopes today. We all went to bed with tired legs, warm hearts and the notion that we can do anything with pure drive and perseverance.

Col d' Peyresourde and Col d' Aspin

Nothing BUT category 1 climbs all day!


Our group had to split in two today because not all of us could fit in the van at one time. So Guy, Susan and Bill would ride the first 80K to St. Beat over Col de Port d' Aspet then Col des Ares, whilst Chris and Lisa would zoom ahead with our SAG team of Peter and Debbie to the town of Bagneres De Luchon (Luchon) where they would wait and we would ride to advance us to our final destination of Bagneres de Bigorre.

Chris and I wolf down some hand made car sandwiches, located a toilette then hit the climb to the Col d' Peyresourde sans any warm up. This Cat 1 climb as well as our next Cat 1 climb (Col d' Aspin) were both featured in this year's Tour de France, yet those boys climbed the Tourmalet before and the Col du Portillion (in Spain) after these climbs ALL on the same day! Its no wonder they need drugs!

These climbs are all epic. Chris took the first climb going higher and higher like a mountain goat on steriods (boy that guy can climb). I did all I could to keep him in sight until the top switched back and forth with such vigor until it rested in the treeless pasture like saddle of a couple of mountains, that also provided a rest for hikers climbers and cattle at 1500 meters.

The descent would be one of the most fun, with quick whip like bank turns that would playfully meander through the forest with very steep runs to quickly bring us back to the river valley on the otherside dropping nearly 1000m before we would need to climb AGAIN to 1450m for the top og the Col d' Aspin.

Now completely warmed (maybe overheated) we started the climb out of Arreau seeing so many riders as this is the land of cycling. The climb hung out in the gentle oaks and grass lands until each kilometer of the last 10k's was marked with the elevation, km's to go and the road gradient. All I know is that no gradient was less than 7% for the remaining k's.

the Aspin was amazing and a storm cloud brewed in the distance, chasing us into town, where Chris and I would beat the van to our hotel, by about 30min.

A shower, massage, fine canard, wine, patise and a bed before the grand-daddy tomorrow, Col du Tourmalet (which has been in the tour since 1910)!

Thursday, September 07, 2006

A day at la ferme (the Farm)

All travelmates absolutely loved our hosts and wonderful setting above St. Giron at the Farm of Jeanne, so... We stayed a second night - gotta love a group that can groove to spontenaity. I received some crappy emails (and voice messages) and decided to knock of a giant Col solo. I chose the Epic Col d' Port d' Aspet, which a great match for a pissy mood. The rest of my velo chums opted for a lovely peddal in the county stopping for what would be the pizza of all times and future conversations. The crew also found an amazing grotto tunnel that provided an amazing cool ride with water running alongside.

All of our days ended with the monster 18% slope 3K climb back to the farm. I think we are all ready for The Col d' la Tourlemet at 18K and average grade of 7.7% (with long pitches of 10%) - that's on Friday morning.

The day ended with us sharing fruits, pain (bread and the ache varieties), meats, chocolat and some great wine. Our hosts again invited us to share cafe and some homemade grappa (from plumbs) on the edge of the Chateau. Most retired to bed, except for Peter, Sue, Chris and me. It was a great end to a stay with our fashionable hosts.

Stats for the day:
Temp: Sunny and warm (90's)
Distance: 95K
Elevation: 3400 feet
Stress Factor: growing lesser by the day 6
Funny Fact: Sue has started the "creme team" as we all are suffering from a bit of friction in the shorts. It will be a life saver for the monster cols to come.

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

Ax le Therms to St. Giron

A pleasant descent from Ignaux into town then a cruise on D44 by our two key sprinters (Guy and Bill) brought us into the most charming of french valley towns complete with castel, clocktower, river and yet another over 65 darling little french woman (typically less than 5 foot) that would be charmed by Guy and be singing and matching him up with some far away niece in portugal, spain or ???.

We sat and enjoyed the morning air before the climb to Col de Port (our big climb of the day).

The climb started out slow and gentle with a few pumps of double chevron (10%).  The last 3 clicks (km) were gentle, open and majestic.  Chris climbed like a moutain goat to the top, followed by Lisa.  Peter and Deb played sweep, as we all arrived to the top of the saddle that was littered with cows and bulls all wearing large bells and tinkering an the lush green hills.

We sat for a while, allowing our sweat to dry and core temp to lower before an epic descent into St. Giron.  We formed perfect pacelines sweeping into the turns, following a scripted apex of each, it was fun!

Coming into St. Giron, we glided around the round-a-bouts like racers in the tour de france then stopped at the Champion to gather some grocieries for a group dinner at the Chateau at le ferme.

Before arriving to our gites for the evening, we would need to climb one of the nastiest climbs on our tour - 3km of straight up 15%, knee grinding, heart pumping, lactate spewing hill.  Good thing the chateau and guests were worth the much so, our group spontaneausly opted for a second night.  Apres that evening was a conversation of french, spanish, italian and english.  Too much fun.

The next days ride offers many choices or none at all (a day by the pool or piscene over looking the countryside with a backdrop of the majestic pyrenees).

Days Stats:
Temp: sunny and hot (92).
Distance: 100K
Elevation: (3200 feet)
Destress Factor: 7 (shoulders in normal position and sleeping 8 hours)

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Monday, September 04, 2006

Day 2 - Quillian to Ax Le Thermes

Wow, what a day. We left Quillian in the Pays Cathars along the Aude River to cruise up on our first Plateau in the Pyrenees at a level of 3,000 feet - this is the mid-pyrenees before we hit the high Pyrenees tomorrow. There were two other Cols on the Plateau de Sault including Sept Feres and Chioula before we decended nearly 2k feet in 8km before landing at our farm house in Ignaux.

It was a hot day, probably low 90's feeling hotter in exposed sun along the climbs. Deb, Peter and Sue had quite the excursion today as they went to fetch Susan's luggage from the bowles of easyjet at Toulouse airport (as it never arrived, they never called and wouldn't answer phones). Apparently it was more adventure than they bargained for...but we all joined together with a great meal at some outdoor restaurant on the major square in Ax Le Thermes. We practiced our FLOG's (pictures later for what is the French Look Of Bother). We think Guy is near to perfecting his...including the American Look Of Confusion (A-FLOC). Susan appropriately named our adventure as the Tour de Flog.

Now nestled in our hilltown farmhouse, I head to bed with the days stats:

Temp: low 90's (sunny)
Miles: 48
Time: 3 hours 15 min
Elevation: 4800 feet
Foie Gras Factor: none
Crown: Debbie for prior day's driving (Guy initiated a new award to be given just prior to the 9am map reading)

Sunday, September 03, 2006

Day 1 _ Castelnou to Esperaza

Having Guy on the trip is a laugh a minute.  This morning at breakfast, there were party hats and party favors including michel ( the inn owner).  Michel pulled out a wonderful champagne from the region - that set a great tone for the day.

Guy had to gaffer tape his birthday hat to his helmet and it stayed there all day ( I think gaffer tape can save the world).

We began our journey in castelnou around 11:30am after all the bikes were built.  We decsended off of Castelnou and played around the foodhills of the pyrenees all day - punching in and out of these amazing river gorges.

The first col was longer than we all thought and guy lead out thinking it was a sprinter's hill only to be taken by the young rider leader, Chris, who was riding so strong.  Bill clearly took most of the KOM points today, claiming all the cols.  He is in fine shape this year.

Our SAG support has been amazing.  Deb and Peter are the best drivers to have taking up the back and playing block for our group of 5 riders - even giving some suppprt to a rider that is cramping and needing a lift to the top.

Our ride today brought us through some amazing areas of the mid-pyrenees with river gorges of jutting granite and lush river valleys spotted with little villages.  Its was to be a fairly mellow day of riding, but it turned out to be rather epic and it ended with us all taking a dip in the pool, and dining at a restaurant in Quillian celebrating Guy's 35th birthday with nothing better than foie gras as decorated by sue (with tomato aspic) and she is still without luggage after flying easyjet from paris (let that be a warning to you all).  We have a GREAT group of people and probable the best I've ever travelled with to europe.  This has already began to be a most amazing trip.

Tomorrow is day two...and we work our wau to aix la thermes (over a big ski area).  Stats for the day:

Weather: sunny and upper 80's
Miles: 60
Elevation: 4200
Time: 4 hours 10 min.
Foie Gras: yes and some of the best yet
Destress Factor: 8 (gettting unwound)

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All Together

Wow, what a day. I began with a ride to Certes (just about 10 miles from the Spanish border) in what felt like Seattle drizzle but provided for some great coolness in the air. Returning after 2 hours of riding, I came back to the gites (inn or b&b) to find Guy with his look of French bother after having some interesting stories of closed bike shops (until September) then finding and auto shop that was having fun experimenting with his fancy bike headset, all of it didn't seem to we raced back to Toulouse just before picking up some very tired all night travelers from the west cost of the US.

Zoom forward to 4:30pm - Toulous airport, Guy and I text messaging back and forth about Sue's lost luggage (still no sign of it tonight) a drop off of a car, a pickup of the too small van, some more nearly lost luggage from the Roberson's THEN a great first dinner together in Cassaonne (incrdible castle town - medevil) paid for by Debbie befor any of us could blink.

After arriving back to the Gites around midnight the 7 of us found 6 beds. Ouch, not good for tired people. What was amazing was how many people were willing to compromise at this late hour. Chris was the first to crash on the floor, so all worked out. Travelling is all about flexibility. If you don't have it, you should travel alone or not at all.

Saturday, September 02, 2006

Thuir and St. Columbier

Guy and I reached are stay at Castelnou, this charming hillside beaux arts (potters, ceramics, artistians) town nestled in the foothills of the Pyrenees. Its a hillside village with narrow streets only wide enough for pedestrians.

We went for a quick ride (1 hour 20 min) through the town of Thuir and St. Columbier where Guy easily won the king of the mountain points on the first two of the days three climbs. We found ourselves on a quiet road draped with grapes of a muscat wine growing region and a road that warned us of 15% slopes (which were no problem for our 29 tooth gearing). The ride back had us climbing the col into castelnou where Lisa found her self again, gradually pushing pace until she summited the top of the col, breathing hard and beaming with joy of thinking about nothing more than victory of pushing hard and not giving in. Chest constrained, yet loosening with the bliss that surrounds (give me another few days and ill be totally free). The days stats:

Temp: 82, sunny
Time: 1 hour 20min
Elev: 1300 ft climbing
Foie Gras Factor: success (about an 8)
Happy Factor: 9+

Friday, September 01, 2006

French Look

Guy and I are cracking ourselves up giving each other french looks of bother...which is a slight roll of the eyes upward, a pursing of the lips and an ever so slight bust of air from the mouth. The big cities are always full of french bother and Guy got lots of it from the madame running the boulangierie this morn picking up his cresent (actually he asked for crosaint in the most beautiful accent and still got the bother). Thank goodness we just landed at La Figuera (the fig) in a castle town outside Thiur (silent pronounciation because its all constanants and french do not pronounce them). Going for our first ride in 30min.

Bags love Copenhagen

I finally arrived in Perpignan (tiny airport) on the Med near the Spanish boarder. The town and area feels closer to Italy in nature rather than France. Most seem to speak Spanish and French, which is a God send given I am unable to speak the tongue of my heritege.

I rented a fine little Peugeot wagon and proceeded to fly on the highway to Toulouse to grab Guy from his flight coming in from Frankfurt (via Copenhagen). I could barely keep my eyes open and the french radio stations were not helping (because I didn't know the lyrics) I got on my crackberry and drove at 135kph. Guys plane flew overhead as I drove into the airport, yet Guy's luggage thought I'd would enjoy Copenhagen another day.

We camped out at the Holiday Inn in Toulouse and strolled the charming streets of this city dining on an amazing Bordeaux (from St. Emillion) some fabulous foie gras, canard and lamb. We crashed with plans to get up, grab Guy's bike and head for the Med and spin to Spain before our group arrives tomorrow. Let's see how far we get.

Thursday, August 31, 2006


I just landed at CDG (paris) and gorgeous fall feeling day at 55 degrees. The flight from Miami to Paris was about 8.5 hours and I slept 4 hours of it.

I sat next to a very cool Frenchman who just spent 1 month in equador with his wife (who is from there). You've got to love the time off they get. We talked culture and societal issues until we both landed on our mutual language of love...FOOD! I just got a fabulous new recipe for povre (pepper) as his grandfather is a pepper farmer (table varietal but left as corns) in Bordeaux. I also know where I'm going to ride and explore next year - Bretane...his village.

I will now need to go through customs with my bike, find the air france bus to the Orly airport for my flight to Perpignan (on the Med). I then pick up my dear friend Guy (pronounced gee en francis) in Toulouse around 6pm. For those of you following this blog, I am 6 hours a head of east coat or 9 hours ahead of west coast (Seattle Time)..

Oh no good movies on the plane. Don't take American overseas...stick with Northwest, KLM, SAS or British Air.

Wednesday, August 30, 2006

On the eve of my departure. I'm on a 6:55am flight from Tucson to Dallas, then Miami (yes Ernesto is a factor) then Paris and Perpignan.

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

2006 TOUR

Stay tunned at the 2006 TOUR will begin here in just a few short weeks. I'll be bloggin' from my crackberry again this year...with the details of each ride. The pages will be filled with images upon my return.

Monday, October 03, 2005

Reading Instructions

This Blog was the live journaling of my 14 days cycling in France. I suggest you take the scroll bar and go all the way to the bottom and work your way up to get the day by day events as they unfolded. Happy Reading.

Sunday, October 02, 2005


Here is the link to the sepia france video I made post the trip.
Sepia Video Link

Monday, September 19, 2005

Flying Home

I'm on flight 33 from Amsterdam to Seattle. Its a 10 hour flight and I'm on my second movie. The first was really good (Lords of Dogtown) and I cried at the end. I like it when a movie touches you...just not when you have 200 people on an Airbus 300 watching you do itas there is no context since everyone is watching or doing something different. That's okay..I'm human.

I had the chicken and skipped all the hydrogenated breads, crackers and nasty-plastic-looking deserts. I supplemented with a yummy clif bar.

Well after I get off the plane I must catch another plane to Tucson until I will finally reach my destination in 15 hours of flying. My best bud Suze is greeting me at the airport to give a hug, take my bike and exchange luggage (play baggage to work baggage). I owe her big...but I did manage to get her a really cool jersey from the top of Alpe d' Huez...a mere pittance or nothing of what her frienship means to me.

So...with this email I will conclude my online journal of Picard's 2005 Tour de France. I do plan to tour again next year with a larger group (say 4-5) selected, hand-picked individuals. Also...check back to this site in about7 days when I've posted all the pictures to go with these stories.

Bwon Jure,
Ohva Wah,
Wah la,
Tah tah

Sunday, September 18, 2005

Ride 14 - last ride Bourgonne Valley

Not a cloud in the sky for what was feeling like a crisp fall day (similar to those late morning rides you take on thanksgiving day as the smell of turkey penetrates the house). The lighting was different this morning,softer and lower in the sky. Wow, fall had seemed to fell overnight.

Big plans to "suck the marrow" out of our last day riding in France we planned a sizable loop from Clo du Columbier out the Bourgonne river valley,turning south just about 15k from Dijon.

We rode the back way out of Pommard through several little valley towns giving our legs the much needed warm up on such a cold and chilly morning. I decided to take our chances on a little dash road that climbed up the plateau from the little town of Morrissey. The climb quickly turned to triple chevron (steep) and it sustained itself for about 1km at 15% (at least!). Once at the top we had a great view of the entire Bourgonene valley. Catching our hearts and breath...we proceeded on the little road, which turned to dirt, then rock, then boulders and back to dirt again. It was actually a really great, quiet French country road. When the road dumped us out (after 3k's) it took a minute or two to located ourselves on the map. Got it!

We then rode for about 25-30 miles dead into the wind. Bill pulled or I should say shielded me for all but 1 or 2 Km of the northward journey; thank goodness for Midwest guys that know how to ride in wind - cause I'm horrible.

For much of our ride we paralleled the Bourgonnene canal, rolling into charming little town after town. We had a brief 45 minute lunch stop in La Forie spending a total of 3-4 euro at the epicure and Bolangierie for afilling lunch.

After reaching the terminus of the canal we climbing up the plateau again (to ensure we ascended at least 3500 feet each day) we strolled through the town of Urency. The ride back toward town was fast and furious. I was feeling strong, rested and with the wind now at my back I could climb like the billy goat I've become on this trip. Yes!

Racing through Beaune and back to pommard I was absorbing the smells of the country, the fresh air and the warmth of knowing I am heading home after a GREAT trip.

The stats for the day:
Temp: 45F at 9am, warming to 67F by mid afternoon. Sunny and Windy
(probably 20mph)
Distance: 67 miles
Ascend: 3580 feet
Time: 5 hours 45 minutes
Calories: ? Misplaced chastised - but lots!

Ride 13 - Beaune

Well I had enough of Bill's it was now disrupting my sleep and thus my riding. I never knew once could snore on the inhale and the exhale!

Now with my own room...dumping 90 Euro for each of the remaining nights in France, I could now SLEEP! Ahhhhhhhhhh.

So this day of riding (and I'm writing about it on the plane from Lyon to Amsterdam) was a bit sluggish given my lack of sleep. The day broke about 30 degrees cooler than the day prior. With the wind blowing very hard and the feel of autumn in the air...I was not much into riding. After 60 minutes of fighting the strong winds that would nearly slow my bike from 18mph to about
7mph in one gust, I decided to ride the tailwind and head back home. I gave Bill the map and peddled a blistering pace through the vineyards of the Bourgonenne.

Back at Clo du Columbier in Pommard, I took a shower, a brief nap and then headed into Beaune for a little sightseeing. It was a busy town full of shops, tourist and some of the first English speakers I would hear on the streets of France. I walked into the most exquisite frommage shop where the waft of stinky cheese filled the hall. There were the smallest of cherve morsels (almost Belgian truffle in size) selling for nearly 5 Euro (or 7 dollars). I figured each breath I took in the shop had to be worth a quarter. Ahhhhhhh!

Dinner that evening was in Volay...and a gastronome de regional. I had croq en vin and immediately attempted to discover its ingredients to replicate when home (I think I can do it). Dinner was most certainly accompanied with a fine Bourgonenne (Burgundy) from Volay; perfectly matched!

I was so full it took me at least 45 minutes to digest then fall a sleep.
Stats for the day:

Temp: 47F - scattered clouds and WINDY!
Distance: 12 miles
Time: 1 hour 25 minutes
Ascend: 1250 ft
Calories: ? Too few and forgot my chest strap.

Saturday, September 17, 2005

Ride 12 - Pommard to Couches

With great ambition we set out for a big day...the sun was shinning through the window and across the its harvest time in Burgundy!

After breakfast and upon suiting up, the clouds rolled in and a light cover seemed to drape over the Burgundy valley. The towns and the roads were buzzing with the annual festival of commerce...known as harvest, which was happening all over the valley, from town to town, from vineyard to vineyard, from house to house. You could see people full of joy, with a spring in their step as this year's crop seemed to hold so much promise. Bill and I followed the cycle trail in the valley, which seemed to take us through the most vibriant of towns, vitners, wineries and shops. Every building and structure seemed to all play a role in the wine making and selling process as this year's grapes would push the prior year's grapes to it's next location. As we rolled into Volay (a great wine making town and one with plenty of Grand Cru) the grapes, crushing and cask cleaning stained the streets and sweetened the air as narrow grape picking tractors bustled through the streets.

This was fun to peddle through the steep narrow towns, dancing on my peddles and peering into shops with bright stainless churning equipment engaged after being dormant since last year. Everywhere was buzzing and the roads were busy bussing pickers from vineyard to vineyard...and trucks were carting grapes back to the town to rest prior to crushing (pinot grape) or to be instantly crushed (chardonnay - for white burgundy).

After passing the town of Sauntenay, the southern edge of the Burgundy region the roads quieted and a heavy mist fell from the sky. The mist turned to rain and Bill and I quickly searched for a lunch spot to hopefully wait out the weather.

We found this little dive bar run by a lively and odd French couple that didn't speak an ounce of anglse...but for some reason thought I spoke french. Bill, often oblivious that he was in a place unrooted in his language (except when ordering food and not getting anything close to what he ordered)...would often begin speaking as if he was ordering from some chick taking his breakfast order at Denny's. Embarassed by his "DumbAmerican" behavior... I would apologize to our host (in French) and speak slowly using a mix of French, Italian and English (in that order). I'm getting really good at it...and I immediately understand many of the questions being asked back when Bill has that distant stare trying to understand the words rather than the context in which they are said. A lot of times its putting yourself in their place...doing a little work. Bill seems a little lazy, or not as sharp to it...and still says to the shop owner when checking out..."How's it goin'in?"

Oh well...lunch was fabulous but took some time to get. Actually a lot of time to get. It was a good thing because it allowed the rain to pass (for the most part). Dux cafes later and some amazing canard (duck), which required waiting over 70 minutes because the restaurant owner seemed to be drinking the profits at the bar - while his wife shuffled to and from the kitchen (distracted by friends coming in the joint) bring us each element of our meal. Soon I was on my way with a shortened riding plan given the weather. Tracing a path back to Pommard (you don't pronounce the "d") we arrived back to Clo du Columbier (our wine residence and Chateau) we showered and headed into Beaune (Boone) for dinner regional but got completely soaked walking into town (unfortunately it was the first time during the entire trip I put on pants - yet wished I hadn't). We did manage to find a great little restaurant called le gran blue where we ordered the degustation menu au vin. Fabulous...and I took pictures of each course.

The stats for the day...

Temp: 65F clouds with rain
Distance: 50 miles
Ascend: 3400 feet
Time: 5 hours (including LONG lunch and rain delays)
Calories: 850

Friday, September 16, 2005

Ride 11 - Col du Chat

What a great morning.

Bill wanted to toodle into Chamberey and I needed one more look at Col du Chat, feeling my heart beat as I wound around the tight cliff edges peering out over the massive lake filling the valley below. After another great breakfast with pain au olives and frommage de chevre (which Tony fetched from the next town over)...I set out for my solo climb. It was great as I passed one, two, three, four riders when I reached the summit in 45 minutes feeling like I am in the best shape of my life.

Descending down, my sweat cooled against my skin, starring out over the lake, pondering where the days travels would take we were checking out and heading to another region in France and likely the Burgundy region.

Getting back to the Chambres (room), Tony insisted I use the outdoor shower (which only had visual protection from the adjacent neighbors and not Tony), but I told him I'd use my room shower given that check out time had not expired. He was disappointed and said something about it being okay for Clinton to sleep with his assistant but I couldn't take an outdoor shower. Didn't quite follow the logic...but Tony was also HIGHLY perplexed that Bill and I were not together (yet traveling together) and that we had asked for separate beds. Tony did try to match make me with the young Frenchman traveling with his parents and also staying at his inn...I loved that he tried!

Bill arrived back from Chamberey and I was napping under the big tree under laying on the lawn. We packed up and headed to Lyon, to pick up our bike boxes then drive north to the beautiful rolling hills of the Burgundy region (just north of Macon and south of Dijon). We strolled into Pommard and to an amazing little vintner...Clo du Columbier where an old Chateau set in the vineyards would be the venue for our last few days and nights in France.

Upon arrival in Pommard, we ate bread, pears, cheese and chocolate before turning in.

Temp: 78F Sunny
Distance: 11 miles
Ascend: 1400 feet
Time: 55 minutes
Calories: 550

Wednesday, September 14, 2005

Ride 10 - Col du Chat & Col de l'Epine

I slept so good last night, it must have been the best night's sleep in a few years. I probably went to bed around 10pm and did wake once until 8:30am! Wow, you've got to love vacations where there is no TV, no internet...just breakfast and your bike that waits dawn. Cool!

Tony and Angela had fresh breads, confitures, yoghurt, cafe, Gruyere and jamon all waiting for us. We breakfast on the deck that faced the rising sun, the town of Chambery and the beautiful lake below us (maybe 1000 feet below). It was an incredible way to start the morning. Bill and I filled our bellies while chatting about the sad state of Americans and our culture. We then suited up and mounted our bikes for a big climbing day over, around and back over the spine of mountains protecting the Lac du Bourget, called Mont du Chat.

Bill seems to be feeling better and his ego seems to have a tough time giving me the KOM jersey at the top of each Col, but Hah! I crossed the first Col, Col du Chat several, maybe 50 meters before him; I'm becoming a scary fast climber and I notice my endurance during the climbs is monster caliber! Yessssssssssssssssssssssss!

After the Col du Chat we rolled into the Rhone river valley where vineyards peppered the landscape with old farm houses strewn between. We could hear culverts of water running along side as the road wound through the wavy landscape and our bikes followed them like a song. After crossing the Rhone twice we found ourselves in another fluerie town (French towns in association to display flowers EVERYWHERE, and I mean everywhere) called Yenne, which seem to be quite the center of the Rhone valley in France'sSovie (Savoy) region.

It was 12:30pm, knowing I needed food soon, bill was not ready for lunch, so we pushed on. BIG MISTAKE! Bill learned today you don't want to hit empty on the Lisa blood sugar meter AND we hit the big "E.". Ouch. Lisa becomes irrational, mean and generally not the life of the party. Lisa usually knows this and brings a bar, GU or both the "break in case of emergency.". With no town for 10K and no loyal French boulangier open until
2:30pm, needless to say both bill and I will bring rations next time...that's if he will ride with me again.

After some food and calmer heads prevailed in the small town of Novalaise (where nearly every store owner except one was on vacation until October) we set out for our second big (actually the bigger Col) of the day. This was a monster! We had just over 600m to climb in a little more than 6km to 1040m atop the Col de l'Epine (one the TDF often includes)...the math says average of just under 10% and it felt like it. Bill led out and without much km's to aid in digestion, we went out strong. I was feeling really good (now with the blood sugar at normal) so I took the lead on the climb with about 3K to go. My legs had a strong and solid cadence and I could feel my body really ease into the pace, enjoy it while absorbing the tree canopied roads of this most magnificent climb. Feeling that Bill was probably 20 meters back I could hear him wheezing (residual cold)...then with 1km to go I heard a click, click...and he was standing on his pedals, breathing heavy to take the Col.

But it was too soon, so I increased my tempo and he fell behind...knowing he'd attack in another 200 meters or so. My legs where feeling heart rate had room to spare...but as we approached the Col, bill hammered with his massive legs, so out of zone, pushing the hardest I've seen him (maybe taking out aggression from my low blood sugar event) and he zoomed on ahead. I picked up my tempo...going so hard and putting me out of MY zone, that I nearly at my lunch again. Bill claimed the Col. Drats.

The down slope from l'Epine was gorgeous. We could see the Alps, Chambery and the extent of the Lac du Bourget. The road was like another song, rhythmic, sweet and full of was exactly what I need after a REALLY hard ride.

Now after a hot shower and a guzzle of water, I'm enjoying the late afternoon light as it filters through the vineyards just south of my chambre. Stats for the day:

Temp: 78F sunny and wonderful
Distance: 53 miles
Ascent: 5400 feet
Time: 5 hours 45 minutes (including 1hr wait for Boulangier to open)
Calories: 1450

Ride 9 - Chenaz and Aix Les Baines

Glorious morning! Our ride we scheduled around le lac du Bourget or le Tour de Lac was a great day to spin the legs on a nice flat road (or so I thought). We started the ride with the cool morning air and gentle lake fog and mist hitting our faces then a rapid 2500 foot climb to get over the Mont du Chat (unbeknownst to me). I climbed like a cat in a tree, up, up and up...and soon we were staring out over the entire lake valley (the largest lake in France). Our roll off the col into Chenaz was very beautiful and warm...passing towns decorated in the most beautiful flowers. We then rode along the canals at the end of la lac then traversing back south along the lakes eastern edge to Aix Les Bains for our much needed lunch stop. The ride back to our lovely Chambres d'Hotes was mellow and flat...taking a nap then strolling the town for dinner - full of Gruyere, pommes de terre, wine, glace,.

We returned back to our gracious guests to share a bit of Football where Lyon was clearly beating Madrid. The stats for the day...

Temp: 78F sunny with scattered clouds (magnificent)
Distance: 43 miles
Ascent: 3100 feet
Time: 4 hours and 20 minutes (including stop to velo store and crepes)
Calories: 1100

Monday, September 12, 2005

Ride 8 - La Berarde

Weather moved in the night before, so we made contingency plans for a really light low elevation ride in the Alps before we pack up the van and head north to the Savoie region and specifically Chambery for more climbing mixed with lake rides.

Waking up around 7am, there was not a cloud in the sky...Praise Jesus! Bill wanted to do the 60K ride up to the Alpe town of la Beradare...and I didn't reject the notion.

Leaving our Chateau around 9:30am the air was cool, the sun bright and the day...full of promise - my legs felt really, really good. The ride started with about 15k of flat valley riding to warm the legs, then at the turn-off to la Berarde the road began a slow gradual climb 1-4% for the first 3K and then cranking up to 9 and 10% in two sections of the 27k of road. I climbed hard and strong at about 7-8mph with a solid, steady cadence. I was putting distance on Bill. For the first time during our Tour de France the sun shined on our faces every minute of this ride, except when the road carved through the steep rock cliff canyons only to be exposed to light by the precarious turn that seem to hang over the gorge and river several hundred meters below. Wow, fear of heights and ledges would certainly make you freeze in complete anxiety around some of the sharp turns and corners we took on the bike.

I climbed 3500 feet on my trusty little Merckx today. We spotted large massive water falls dropping from the heavens into the gorge and soon and without notice...I'd look across this massive gorge and see that I was now eye to eye with the very same water fall (now in the heavens myself).

Today's most amazing experience was seeing the depth, drama, layers and ruggedness of the Alps. The sun exposed so much of them in the foreground and in the background, layers upon layers...and they were breathtaking! The jagged, rugged peaks were so alive and to stare at them for 2 hours while hearing the fall of water, feeling the beat of my heart (rapid one at that) and the smell of the fresh alpine air...C'est Magnifique!

Reaching la Berarde, hungry and with much lactic acid in the legs (from 8 days of solid, hard cycling) my body is wondering when it will feel that Herman Miller Aeron chair in my office again...well 7 more days! Bill on the other hand caught a cold and pushed himself a little too hard today (well maybe I didn't make it too easy for him - you know that fragile male ego). Bill is now suckin' down vitamin C, taking some French decongestant and breathing really heavy...actually its a little annoying...but I'm concerned that he may not recover. What really sucks is he can't taste the food. Needless to say I'm negotiating with him...well because you can't taste that cherve, why don't you pass it to me! Its not really working - but I keep trying.

Well...when we left la Berarde...about 5 riders from the Netherlands came rolling up and we immediately had a bond. We all took pictures together...but one thing I noticed, Dutch cyclists never match and are really not fashionable cyclists...not everyone can be like those Italians.

Checking out of our Chateau, we headed to Chambery. We manage to find this house above the lake with only three rooms. The owner (another guy from Holland or shall I say the ubiquitous Dutch) is our gracious host. Well, I just finished snacking on some fruit and tomatoes (they are so sweet here, they are like candy) and I'm headed to bed. Stats for the day...

Temp: 56F at the start warming to 67 by mid-day. Sunny with sparsely
scattered clouds.

Distance: 43 miles
Ascent: 3800 feet
Time: 4 hours and 20 minutes (including lunch stop)
Calories: 1398