Friday, October 10, 2014

Chamrousse out of Grenoble

After my epic ride of L'Alpe d'Huez, Lac Bassen, and Col Sarenne the day before, I found myself back at the Campanile Süd in Grenoble. I'd thought to find someone closer to the centre ville, something with a bit more character, but I was tired and having difficulty navigating the twisting roads of the city, and so turned on my Garmin Edge 500 navigation and followed the route I'd programmed to reach the Campanile. The Campanile is relatively cheap, has decent wifi, and provides a simple but nutritious breakfast. I decided to go with the safe bet. Luckily there were still rooms available.

I checked out the next morning, left my backpack (my sole luggage for the trip) at the desk, then set off for Chamrousse, which had been recommended to me by a friend. If you go into Strava Segment Explorer, zoom into Grenoble, and move the climb selector over to "HC", the Champrousse climb becomes the obvious candidate.

It was used in the Tour de France as a time trial during the giddy Lance Armstring years, 2004 as a time trial. Of course, Lance crushed it. Ten years later, in the far more palatable year that is 2014, it served as a stage finish. This latter fact was attractive to me, as I provide the names painted on the road, a ubiquitous sign of recent Tour passage, a motivator.

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2014 Tour stage, from Velo in Oberland hotel

There's plenty of other climbs near Grenoble, gaining less alitude. These are older, more historic climbs, the Chamrousse climb being an access road to ski resorts on the summit. So to some degree I was trading quantity for quality. L'Alpe d'Huez is also a ski resort climb, and it's a wonderful climb, however. So I really didn't know what to expect.

Overall the ride was a bit of a disappointment, though. After the day before, my standards were exceptionally high, however.

It opened with a long, gradual uphill grind to the start of the climb. This was on a 2-lane road with remarkably heavy vehicle traffic. Strava Route Finder did a wonderful job of route definition, and I was able to follow it closely enough (a few wrong turns) with my Garmin Edge 500. But still, I find squeezing myself on the edge of a busy roadway an experience I wish would end sooner rather than later.

Eventually I reached the first of two turn-offs to Champrousse. The access road is essentially a big loop, intersecting the road I was on in two places. But the net distance from Grenoble was similar either way. I chose the second, more eastern climb, since that is the one the Tour had used.

Soon enough I was on the climb. There's not much to say about it: up, up, up I went. There were some altitude markers near the bottom, but generally I saw very little indication of how far was yet to go.

I knew I was supposed to take a right off the main loop road to reach the ski resort. Suddenly I saw signs for Champrousse: there's a lower resort, "Chamrousse 1650", and an upper one, "Chamrousse 1750", the number presumably the altitude in meters. My Garmin wasn't providing much guidance here; I forget why (the screen was in one of its blank moods, perhaps), but I reached a narrow road to the right which didn't seem like it should have been the turn, but I wasn't sure. I circled a few times, considering it, before continuing on the main road when I realized the Tour woudn't likely have gone on something that narrow, and in any case there was no road paint in the corner.

This was the correct decision, and I reached what was obviously the correct turn soon after. Knowing this was the end, not only of this climb but of the climbing during this little trip into the French Alps, I put in a burst of effort (as much as my tired legs could produce), and reached the top.

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View from Chamrousse

The constrast with L'Alpe d'Huez was striking. While L'Alpe d'Huez was mostly empty other than a hot-spot catering to the cyclists, this was virtually completely empty. Despite the proximity to Grenoble, a very outdoor-oriented population-center, and good weather, there were no other cyclists, or much of anyone, up here. There was one bar which might have been open, but I didn't think so. It was all rather anti-climactic.

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After recovering a bit, eating some of my food, drinking some water, and finding a place to pee, I set off on the descent. Once again I was relatively cold, but not shivering. Unlike the day before, however, it didn't warm as obviously as I descended. To the contrary, several times I passed through clouds which increased the chill. I was glad to finally reach the bottom.

I then headed back to Grenoble, fetched my backpack, and rode to catch my train back to Geneva, and from there, Basil.

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