I feel in remarkably good shape after yesterday’s 6000ft of climbing, and two hours of music. I think the day of rest before it must have been very restorative.
So today’s plan seems light in comparison. 4000ft of climbing up to Val d’Isere, a very British ski resort.
Val d’Isere isn’t actually at the top of the hill. When you look at the GPS’s helpful profile of the route, it shows the climb going on, another 4000ft, over the Col de l’Iseran. And then down, magnificently, for nearly twenty miles.
The Col de l’Iseran is one of the biggest and best, and highest and most wonderful. It’s so important, they close the road to motor vehicles from time to time, so that cyclists can enjoy it unhindered.
So maybe I shouldn’t bother to stop at Val d’Isere? Maybe I should do another three Hartsides, and roll on down into Lanslebourg Mt. Cenis, the conquering hero?
Well, we’ll see how it goes, shall we?
No decision has to be made, of course, until we reach the very British ski resort.
The road is nothing like as beautiful as yesterday’s. I expected even more spectacular mountains, since we are even higher up. But there’s little to see of them – the road is overshadowed mostly by cliff.
And even where there are views it isn’t safe to look at them. This is a main road – the only road – and it isn’t very wide. Sometimes there are little concrete barriers, which make it feel a bit safer. But sometimes there aren’t, and a swerve in a lorry’s slipstream could turn into something a lot worse.
The traffic is fairly unrelenting, and to be honest it’s not that much fun.
It gets worse as we approach Val d’Isere. There are several avalanche protectors – great pillared roofs across the road – which amplify the traffic noise, and make it feel faster and closer.
And then the tunnels. They are truly terrifying.
It’s three hours’ ride. And Val d’Isere is not an appealing town. Perhaps in the winter, when it has a purpose, it would look fine. But now, with the weather closing in, and the skiers elsewhere, the approach is through a ghost town of abandoned hotels and lifeless apartment blocks.
I’m tired. There’s a roll of thunder, and the rain starts in earnest. It’s cold.
I don’t want to stay the rest of the day here. But the conditions are most unsuitable for going any further.
I think the weather has to have the last word. It would be pointless to climb the same height again, through very cold rain, and then face a dangerously wet descent. And not be able to see anything from the top of the most iconic of all Alpine passes.
Well maybe the weather made the decision. Or maybe I realised I couldn’t actually do it after all.
In the place where I have lunch, watching the worsening rain, there are four young cyclists, sleeping on the couches. It seems to me a trespass on the diner’s hospitality. Until the mother of one of them explains they are on an endurance ride across France, and they’ve done a thousand miles in the last four days, with virtually no sleep.
I don’t think she meant to rub it in; but I can be a sensitive soul, sometimes.