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Wednesday, 30 May 2012

France - Day 7

I hope none of you thought that including the song by Gilbert O'Sullivan in the last post was too maudlin. I'd meant it as a joke about being on my own!

Got up good an early this morning as most of the guests staying at the hotel work in the building trade (judging by their vans), so breakfast was served from 06:30 to 07:30. I'd spoken to a couple of British BMW riders who'd been staying at the hotel the previous night on their way home from the Monaco Grand Prix, and they had said that not only had they ridden through heavy rain, but when they tried to go over the Alpe d'Huez, it was closed. They had continued up anyway and had to clear rock slides and ride through snow before they made it over! As I had intended riding some high passes today, this surprised me that passes could be blocked so late in the year.
First stop of the day was at the local 'E. LeClerc' supermarket for petrol and a few other things. One of the things I do when I go away one the bike is take a collection of old t-shirts, socks and underpants, and discard them after wearing. I was starting to run out, so bought the cheapest ones they had in the supermarket.

12 pairs of 'tennis socks' were only 7.90 Euros, 6 pairs of underpants were 4.90, and 3 t-shirts were 8.50, (a bit more than expected - I've bought T-shirts for 1 Euro on previous trips), so wearing them and throwing them away won't break the bank. I don't need 12 pairs of socks, so if I can't fit them into my luggage, the excess will be left behind. While I was there I also bought some toothpaste for 40 cents. I can't understand people who carry everything from home – they have shops in other countries!
I also bought a Michelin map of the local area. Michelin maps are not only very good quality, but they also mark particularly scenic roads in green, so if you've got the choice of a 'plain' road and a 'green' road, then you know which one to take.
My plan was to start by riding over the Col du Galibier, followed by the Col du Télégraphe, both popular climbs in the Tour de France. However, as I grew closer there were signs advising that Galibier was closed. A quick look at the map gave me the alternative of the Col de la Croix de Fer, another TdF favourite, so I headed there instead.
The climb up Croix de Fer is superb, with big open views up to the still snow covered mountains. It was getting colder the higher I got and there was snow piled at the sides of the road. Just before the summit I stopped for rest amongst some of the best scenery I had ever seen, and noticed nearby a family of marmots doing whatever it is marmots do.

I stopped again at the summit where there is a small café. Although it advertised 'souvenirs' and I was looking for a sticker for my garage wall, all they had was a few postcards.
Once past the summit and the scenery completely changes – much more mountainous with tight bends, deep valleys, trees and a couple of tunnels. I had to ride over quite a lot of gravel due to roadworks ahead of this year's Tour.

Once down from the pass my next destination was the Col du Madeleine, another TdF climb, but it was closed as well. I got the map out and looked for interesting (ie winding), or 'green' roads. As I was riding along I would take a road just because the word 'Col' (pass) appeared in the name. As a result I discovered lots of really good roads – this is what I had come for!

Eventually I made my way back to Grenoble, stopping in a nearby town to buy something to eat.
From a riding point of view, this has been the best day of the trip so far, with lots of interesting and mostly deserted roads through spectacular scenery. Tomorrow I'll start the journey home. I've got about two and a half days to get to Zeebrugge.
'Song of the Day' is what was going through my head when riding up the high passes:

*** UPDATE: Photos now uploaded to here. ***

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