As you’ve heard, Gary (my father), John (brother) and I (Gray) just returned from a cycling trip in the French Alps during the Tour de France. Gary just turned 65 and retired at the end of June, plus he’s a huge cyclist and Tour fan, so we decided this would be a great way to kick off his retirement. As an added bonus, we found out after booking the trip that Lance Armstrong would be riding his final race and goingfor a 7th consecutive Tour win this year.
As the first day was just a warm-up ride, I thought in this first entry I’d give a little background on the trip and getting to France. I’ll go into more riding details in the entries for subsequent days (I’m only going to get to one day at a time).
First, the trip itself. As an “epic” trip and one involving the Tour de France, it was tough. We weren’t sure we should attempt this sort of trip (I had not ridden since they were called “10 speeds”), but the Backroads folks convinced us we could do it with proper training. Training involved between 1,000 and 1,500 miles for each of us between January and June. For me, that was two or three mornings a week before work, either indoors on the trainer or a 10 mile ride around the neighborhood, and usually a 40 miler with some hills on the weekend. They certainly don't make mountains in Atlanta like they have in the Alps.
All of the riding in France (one warm-up day and four full riding days) was either up or down – no flats. In all, we rode about 175 miles and climbed over 20,000 feet. That’s a lot of feet. As about half of the miles were downhill, you can get a sense for how steep the other half were. This was probably the hardest physical activity I’ve ever done in a one week period, but all three of us made all of the climbs and left with a great sense of accomplishment.
We traveled with a tour company called Backroads, and they were incredible. They did everything except ride the bikes for us, and this trip included premiere inns and incredible food. We’d all highly recommend this company for cycling, hiking or multi-sport trips all around the world.
As we were using frequent flier miles, the trip to France was a bit circuitous. John and Gary flew from Raleigh to Atlanta, then we changed in both Miami and Paris on our way to Geneva. From there, a 45 minute cab ride got us to Annecy, the meeting point for the trip. As we were two days early, we took in the sites in this beautiful town on Lake Annecy.
A boat ride on the lake and some rental bikes for a short ride along the shore helped us shake off the jet lag and start to get into adventure mode. John had his first (and only) flat tire of the week before we even started the Backroads trip.
On Sunday July 10 we met to the other 14 trip participants and rode by bus to our first hotel – Le Fer a Cheval in Megeve, one of many ski towns in the Alps. This was the nicest of our three hotels (although all were nice). The two Backroads leaders had bikes ready for all of us, and we spent an hour or so putting our seats, pedals and computers on, and getting them fit for a week of riding. Then it was off for a “warm-up” ride of 13 miles. The best part of this ride was discovering the beauty of the triple chain ring – these bikes had some truly low gears, which we were going to need going up all those mountains. The bad news was that the “warm-up” ride had more hills than we expected. About 1,100 feet of climbing, and a couple pretty steep parts. It was good for us though, and enough to get us into the spirit of things and make dinner taste especially good that night. Gary and I roomed together at this hotel, and John bunked with a jovial fellow named Oscar.
Cumulative stats at end of Day 1: 13 miles / 1,100 feet.