29 July 2011

Sunday social ride

UPDATE:  The Sunday ride started according to plan.  Tristan, Graham and I headed out on dry pavement, Jerome caught up, and we met Tom and Ludwig at Tamagawahara-bashi.  6 people -- not bad for a group of expats on an early Sunday morning in mid-summer, with a questionable weather forecast. We decided to head for Takao and then, if all went well, over into the low hills around Sagamiko. The sky was very dark.

As we headed out the river to the WNW, we could see rain and very low clouds, and soon we entered the precip -- real tsuyu (rainy season) or September typhoon season weather, with tiny drenching droplets of warm rain.

Ludwig quickly said he wanted to head back, not favoring a ride in the wet.  But he kept with us to the bridge over the Tamagawa, where he and Tom decided to head out Yaen-kaido toward Onekansen, rather than Takao (an easier "u turn" if the rain did not let up).  Somehow I was expecting that even if Ludwig and Tom showed up, they would probably head off in a different direction, since they like to ride solo and have finally become a good fit for trips together.  Graham, Tristan, Jerome and I pushed on toward Takao, starting up the Asagawa.

The rain got heavier and heavier, the closer we were to the hills surrounding Hachioji.  We were still a few kilometers short of Hachioji Station, at a place where the route along the Asagawa involves multiple turns and road crossings, when Tristan slipped and went down -- I heard a "bam" of someone hitting a guardrail behind me.  He banged his thigh hard, but fortunately nothing broken, just what looked like it will be a nasty, painful bruise.

We continued on into Hachioji, found a Denny's and sought shelter and breakfast, to see if the weather would improve.  It did not, so we headed back.  (Except for Jerome who, having had at least 3 cups of coffee and 4 of cola, decided it would be a shame not to at least go up to Otarumi Pass and back, having made it this far).

By the time we got back across the river the rain had almost ceased and we were on dry pavement again.  We did a short detour, one trip up the Yomiuri-V-Dori to show Tristan and Graham the location, then Tristan and I did a  semi-team time trial along the road on the Kawasaki side back to Futakotamagawa, Graham not far behind.

When I got home, my wife and son reported that it it had not rained at all in Tokyo while we were getting soaked just a bit closer to the western hills.


ORIGINAL POST:  It has been awhile ... but is anyone else in town (Tokyo, that is -- not Bremen, London, Grenoble or one of the other branches) and interested in a social ride on Sunday, heading out relatively early Sunday morning?  I think Jerome is also in.

Maybe a 7:30AM start from Kaminoge (my house), or 7:10AM Ebisu, or 8:00AM from Tamagawaharabashi (the bridge that crosses the Tamagawa just after the Keio-kaku keirin stadium and leads to Onekansen)?

No detailed route plan -- depends on the weather and the group. 
The forecast is for cooler, cloudy weather, with a chance of rain showers -- could be worse.

Leave a reply in the comments or drop me an email if you are interested.

24 July 2011

You're wondering now what to do......

...now you know this is the end.

Not related to cycling at all but still so sad.

23 July 2011


I started my trip with a day alone in a largish European city (Munich) with no plans except to relax, recover from jet lag and look around, before MOB would join me and we would head for Sonthofen and the start of Transalp.

I finished the trip with a day alone in another largish European city (Lyon) with no plans except to relax, recover from Sunday's event and look around a bit -- time to kill before a flight out to Frankfurt the next morning and on to Tokyo. 

I would be on the same flight, but 24 hours later than those other remarkable athletes returning back to Tokyo -- the "nadeshiko" Japan national women's football (soccer) team, fresh from their World Championship victory in Frankfurt.  Okay, okay, the use of "other" in that last sentence was a bit over the top.  Still, I had a great trip, and I cannot wait for Paris-Brest-Paris!

Etape Race Preparation - Compare and Contrast A Day with Jerome and a Day with a Tour Operator

The morning after Bastille Day, Jerome, Didier and I headed for Clermont-Ferrand and the Auvergne region, site of many small, extinct volcanoes, and also of Act II of Etape du Tour, the stage from Issoire to St. Flour.

We had today, Friday, and tomorrow, Saturday, to prepare for Act II.  I wanted to enjoy Friday with Jerome and Didier and then rest on Saturday with my tour operator's group, get two good nights' sleep and be ready for a big day on Sunday.

On the way into Clermont-Ferrand, we drove right past the exit for the hotel where my tour group was staying and instead went straight to the center of town to pick up their friend Isabel at the train station. Isabel is a longtime French resident of Japan, temporarily living with her sister in a town near Avignon, post-Fukushima.
Isabel at the start village's Michelin exhibit, where Didier got new tires and tubes.
Michelin is headquartered in Clermont-Ferrand.
We saw lots of Michelin men in the region, some much larger than this.

Next we headed to Issoire, registered, ate some sandwiches, and enjoyed the atmosphere of the start village exhibitions. Didier got a new rear cassette (adding a few extra teeth) and some Michelin tires. If Clermont-Ferrand was lacking in character, Issoire looked like a very nice, large and relaxed town in the countryside.
Registration Friday highly recommended - not crowded, and a very relaxed mood.
Produits du terroir.  We skipped the sausages, but enjoyed
sandwiches on very nice artisanal bread.
Jerome in his touring garb -- horse drawn carriage available from central Issoire
to registration.  Much classier than the buses up the hill in Valfrejus last week.
My fellow travelers told me that Auvergne is the "real" French countryside, and that I should be prepared for a big and tasty meal tonight.  The mood was very festive -- and felt much more authentic than around the start village at the ski town in Valfrejus the previous week.
KTM top of the line model in orange and black. MOB's next bike?

As usual, traveling with Jerome things happen a bit spontaneously, without all the advance planning that some might think such a trip requires.  Didier had booked a hotel room for himself and Jerome for Saturday night in the small town of Saint-Nectaire, but they had no room for Friday, and none for Isabel, who they hoped would stay both nights (and could drive the car from Issoire to St. Flour, avoiding the need to spend Saturday in a shuttle operation).  I had my hotel room waiting back in Clermont-Ferrand, about a 40-minute drive away from Issoire, further from Saint-Nectaire.  So we headed toward Saint-Nectaire to scout out the situation and see if lodgings were available for them Friday evening.

At the hotel Didier had booked for Saturday, after much back-and-forth with a clerk, who was eventually overruled by the manager, it seemed they could only get one room for Friday night and no more than their current one room for Saturday.  The other hotel in town was also fully booked.  At least we got some recommendations for restaurants in the neighboring towns, having realized that everything was a bit further apart than we had thought -- further from Issoire to Saint-Nectaire, further from Clermont-Ferrand, and further on to La Bourboule, a town up the valley where we had been told there was a great place to eat.  We would keep looking for lodgings, but in the worst case Isabel could have the one room and Jerome and Didier could crash in my room back in Clermont-Ferrand.  (I had a double bed, and the camping mat from Transalp Camp).
Saint-Nectaire as seen from in front of its Romanesque church
Murol, from the chateau above
Jerome surveys Murol from the chateau

Isabel rests as the rest of us climb to the chateau.

We strolled up to the chateau above Murol, then finally drove to Lac Chambon and our next destination, the restaurant Le Grillon (The Cicada), overlooking the lake.  It was a meal memorable for the setting, the company and the uniformly high quality food in a simple eatery.  Of course, we tried the delicious local cheese.  Jerome profusely complemented our waitress on the food and as she was heading away across the room loudly pretended to place a call to a friend "Edouard" (being Edouard Michelin, founder of the Michelin Guide) and tell him to come over straight away and be ready to assign some stars.  After dinner, we stopped by the bar/pizzeria down the street where a live music band was playing out front.  I was amused to see that after our restaurant had closed, the waitress (who must have been in her late 50s or early 60s) also had made it down the street and into the bar for the live music and drinks.  The whole town was there, music wafting out across the road and over the lake.  Of course, if you lived nearby, you were subject to all the noise, so you might as well come join the party!  It really started hopping after 11PM when a group of 20-30 college students came in from some event and each ordered a meal.

The patron of the establishment came off the dance floor and behind the bar briefly, to get himself another drink (definitely not his first of the evening), and Jerome asked him about lodgings in the town.  He said he would check and headed back outside.  We saw him 10 minutes later, dancing away.  When he finally returned, he apologized, but said the one place he was thinking of was closed for the night, and he did not have a key (as it was not his place).  He did suggest a place down the road in Murol that we might try -- the Hotel du Parc.

We made it back to Murol where, miraculously, the immigrants who ran the Hotel du Parc were still awake and accepting guests to fill up their last few rooms.  It was not the best of accommodations, but at least we had someplace, and it was pretty clear there was no way I would get back to Clermont-Ferrand that night.  Didier was my roommate.  He snored, worse than MOB, so I slept with my iPod on.
Roomies.  I thought I was done with that after MOB headed back to Germany ..

In the morning, I noticed that the only "art" in the hotel were old posters of cyclists, local heros from the great duels of the 1960s between Anquetil and Poulidor.  Anquetil won the Tour 5 times.  Poulidor defeated him in many one-day classics, and was a perennial second or third in the Tour, but never managed to wear the yellow jersey.  He was the son of a farmer and a self-taught natural talent as a cyclist, an incredible story of someone who lost his greatest battles, but (or perhaps because so) remains incredibly popular to this day.  Poulidor and Anquetil had their greatest battle on the Puy de Dôme, the 1500 meter tall volcano on the west edge of Clermont-Ferrand.  Relationships within many families suffered as people chose sides, Poulidor vs. Anquetil.  And on Sunday's stage, mixed in among the the fans' painted slogans on the roadway left over from the Tour a week earlier, as we climbed the Pas du Peyrol, among markings for "Sylvain" [Chavanel], [Thomas] "Voeckler", "Andy" [Schleck] and others, I laughed out loud when I saw someone had written "Poulidor", still cheering him on in large white painted letters, only 40 years too late.

Raymond Poulidor -- the local hero -- rode for Mercier his entire career
Anquetil = Lance Armstrong
Poulidor = Jan Ullrich, but with personality, and without the career-end disgrace
True to his word and feeling a bit guilty about not getting me back to my lodgings on Friday night, Jerome treated me to the hotel, awoke earlier Saturday than he probably would have liked, and drove me back to Clermont-Ferrand.
Jerome enjoys (?) an early Saturday breakfast.
The waitress is the same woman who checked us in late last night, back at work.

Back in Clermont-Ferrand, I could sleep some more, in a noticeably larger, cleaner bed, and had none of the distractions of the French countryside to interrupt my race preparation.  In fact, in order to maximize our chance of success on Sunday, my tour operator had thoughtfully booked our group at a faceless Hotel Kyriad (somewhere between a Motel 6 and a Days Inn), in the middle of the Zone Industrielle du Brézet, just off the highway exit and near the little-used airport.  No distractions at all as we tried to focus on our race plans.
Zone Industrielle du Brézet.  No distractions. Nothing at all of interest.
I took a short warm up ride ... actually, not so short,
to try to find the nearest supermarket.

We had really crappy food for dinner -- pasta without sauce that must have been cooked for at least an extra 45 minutes -- but that would not cause us any digestive problems.  I did not see or hear any live music or other entertainment nearby.  Great for an early night to sleep for the big race.  Not so great for a visit to France.

I must say that while the two guys from the tour operator who interacted with us -- Sébastien and Vitor --  were really nice, the tour organization left something to be desired. They need to learn to post (or email) written explanations, instead of depending upon word of mouth for passing on crucial information like what time the bus leaves, from where, and how to meet up with them after the finish, etc.  (they were supposed to meet riders at the finish of Act II ... but failed to do so for anyone I spoke with, leaving us cold and wondering where we were supposed to go for our clean clothes we had deposited in the bus and the promised showers).

But the crappy food, even if barely edible, did not make me sick.  And the breakfast was tolerable -- hard to mess that up -- and they had us to the start line well in advance, with plenty of extra time in which to get cold.  Maybe the lack of distractions, fun, culture, or interesting food is why two of our group placed so well -- 25th and 40th, out of the thousands who rode?

The contrast between Friday and Saturday was almost too much.  With Jerome, Didier and Isabel, I had seen a vibrant countryside that was authentic, with rich colors, delicious flavors, warm smiles, healthy animals, and a beautiful sky. On Saturday, I was in an industrial zone in a Motel Six-clone.

In Issoire, we had seen a rag tag local marching band as we left the registration area.  My fellow travelers did not seem impressed, but for me they will symbolize the quirky, slightly disorganized and charming side of Issoire and neighboring towns that I saw.  I could not get the tune out of my head as I lay resting on Saturday in the Zone Industrielle.  I don't think there is much risk if you watch this sketchy video of part of the song, but be careful, if you do get hooked, it could require a trip to the Auvergne.  Just let me know -- I can lend you some maps I picked up and am saving for my return.

Issoire Marching Band from David Litt on Vimeo.
As we climbed up to the Chateau Murol, we passed two women who had just finished their show with birds of prey and were walking the birds down the hill.  I thought these two might have fit right in with the band.


A famous brand requires its own special mark.
Cervelo has its é.
Apple has its ... apple, with a bite taken out.

In German, Austria and Italy I saw all kinds of cars and bicycles.  In France I saw all kinds of bicycles, but three brands of cars still seem to predominate, immediately recognizable by their hood badges.
The Peugeot Lion -- Jerome's rental

The Renault diamond -- Chez Bouhet

The Citroen double chevron -- Chez Bouhet

I did not see them anywhere outside of France.

Sights of Sonthofen - The Ordensburg

MOB and I arrived at the Sonthofen starting pen for Transalp very early, and decided we should stretch our legs a bit to warm up since we would start the day with a climb and needed to be ready -- a practice we abandoned on subsequent mornings, realizing it was more important to preserve energy.  Our quick trip around the Southern edge of Sonthofen took in some very nice territory, and one monumental stone building upon on the hill that appeared to be part of a large military facility, complete with fences and barbed wire.
The Ordensburg -- National Socialist Training Center in the 1930s, and
French, then American, then German military facility in the postwar era.

Sonthofen, nice country on the edge of the Alps!
Sonthofen is deep in Bavaria, a region of Germany that was, one might say, especially enthusiastic about that certain German government that took power in the early 1930s.  Juliane and MOB had mentioned to me that the conservative political party in Bavaria, the Christian Social Union (sister party of the Christian Democratic Union that operates in the rest of the country), would have (or at least had had) its annual party congresses in Sonthofen.

So I guess it was not a surprise that the most prominent building in the area is the Ordensburg, which, to quote an authoritative source (err, well, to quote Wikipedia) served as an "Adolf-Hitler-School for the education of party cadres."

Rest Days - Colombe and Grenoble

Jerome, Didier and I left Annecy for their "base camp" at the house of Jerome's brother, Matthieu, in Colombe, a pleasant town in the countryside about 30 minutes from Grenoble.
The view behind Chez Bouhet in Colombe

After the obligatory bicycle ride to stretch our legs in the valley nearby -- not to mention the short climb up the Col du Parmenie, with side trip up to the Abbey Parmenie on top of the hill above the Col --  we returned and were taken to dinner with Matthieu, his wife Crystelle, and their son Matthius, at a friend's condominium in Grenoble. 
Once and future Directeur Sportif shows how NOT to ride --
in crocs and with arms constrained
The team wants to go straight to dinner and skip the ride.
But the Directeur is relentless and sends us out.

Once we start, we go further than expected and return 45 minutes late.

Grenoble is significantly larger than Annecy, less a museum piece and more a real city, but it nonetheless has a spectacular physical setting, nestled in a valley between the Alps and the Massif Chartreuse.  We had a delicious meal and much good conversation, some of which I understood.  We watched the fireworks from the condominium balcony, had more food (cheese!), drink and conversation, and then returned to Colombe.  It was well after midnight, but I got the sense that probably if Matthius and I had not been there, the party would have gone even later.
In Grenoble, we saw many signs warning of street closings scheduled for today, July 23, as we drove around town and repeatedly crossed the path of the Tour de France's closing time trial -- last chance to mix up the standings before the final stage in Paris.
Jerome and Didi unwind in Grenoble
Bastille Day Sunset from Bea's condominium
The French helped the Americans in the revolutionary war.
The Americans returned the favor in WWII.

Rest Days - Annecy

Annecy -- bicycles, dogs, canals, flowers and tourists
After my suffering on the Galibier and Alpe d'Huez on July 11, my tour operator's group doing both days of this year's Etape (the "Twin" program), moved to Annecy, a beautiful city in the Alps, just a bit south of Geneva and on the shores of Lac Annecy.  Annecy is sometimes called "little Venice" because of the canals that extend from the lake throughout the old city.  I thought that not only the canals, but the old city's well-preserved almost Disney-like setting full of restaurants, shops and tourists, also resembled Venice -- the main difference being that if you walk a block or two outside of the old city you are in a modern, mid-sized European city, whereas the real Venice stretches on and on.

First on my agenda was a second spoke repair of this European trip, so my rear wheel would again be rideable on Sunday the 17th.

Annecy - Alps, canal intake from lake, and tourists
When I used to take longer business trips internationally, I would sometimes try to find a barber shop and get a haircut.  Since my hairstyle does not present much challenge, even for a barber or stylist of modest talents, the risk is low.  And I find that this experience once in awhile gives me insight into the place I am visiting, as well as a comparison of the cost of a service that is not directed at tourists or business travelers.  I thought I might try the same this trip with spoke repairs.

I asked at the hotel desk for a bike shop that might handle a repair.  Just as in Ravenna, I was directed to a shop nearby -- in this case only a 5-minute walk away, just down the street from the entrance to the SNCF train station.  I had my first doubts when I found the shop, but saw only motorcycles in the window.  I almost headed back to the hotel before realizing that, indeed, if I kept walking, there was another smaller window with bicycles, and a separate entrance.  There was a long line of customers waiting for service at the motorbike cash register, while the bicycle area was very quiet.  But there were road bikes on display as well as hybrids and VTTs (the French term for mountain bikes), and while no English was spoken, the mechanic was friendly, he seemed to understand right away what was needed and accepted my spare spokes, spoke nipples and wrench.  Just as in Ravenna, he asked me to return at 5PM, and told me the shop closed at 7.

When I returned, the mechanic charged me 20 Euros for the repair (4 times the Ravenna cost) and then took me out to the back of the shop to deliver my bicycle.  To be completely fair, he did need to take the wheel off the bike and return it when done, and to remove and restore rim tape, tire and tube, whereas in Ravenna I had shown up with only the wheel, so that certainly involved a few extra minutes of work.  But the cost was steep--maybe the kind of money that people expect to pay for even the simplest motorcycle repairs?  He also explained to me, with gestures while talking in French, that while he had been able to get the wheel "true" laterally he had not been able to make it "round" vertically -- it looked to me as if he had not tightened the new pair of spokes enough and so there was a vertical bump at that part of the rim, but he said (if I understood correctly) that it had just not been possible.  I was just glad to get my bike back and to have the new spokes installed.  As soon as I got back to the hotel garage/bike storage, I took the wheel off and did my best with the spoke nipple wrench to make the wheel both "round" and laterally "true".  In 15 minutes or so, working without a wheel truing stand, I got it much, much closer than he had.

Annecy is a beautiful city in a spectacular Alpine location, near some of the best ski resorts in the world.  Somehow, only a week before my visit, it lost the 2018 Winter Olympics bid to not-so-world famous Pyeongchang, South Korea.  Jerome told me that the South Korean bid was "perfect", whereas Annecy was resting on its laurels and its bid was flawed.  I think I can perhaps understand the result, after my bike repair.

Blue sky = time for a quick ride?
The next day (July 13), we had heavy rain most of the day, but the sky finally started to clear in late afternoon.  At about 5:30PM, as soon as I saw some blue sky and dry pavement outside, I got my bicycle out of the garage and headed for a 40km ride around the lake (the 2009 Tour de France individual time trial course).  If I had been as fast as Alberto Contador that day, I might have made it back before the rain started.  But I was not.  I was in recovery mode, and riding at a more leisurely pace even than usual, so I was just approaching the far end of the lake as the skies really darkened and the rain started.  On the return leg, the heavens really opened and I was riding in standing water, getting well-sprayed by passing cars.  Still, at least my wheel repair seemed to be holding, and little did I realize that the ride in the rain was perfect preparation for Sunday, July 17.

Looking back at Annecy.
Need to ride faster.
Not fast enough!

David and Didier
The next day, Jerome and Didier stopped by to pick me up for the visit to Jerome's brother's house outside Grenoble.  Before leaving, we had lunch with Michel, one of Jerome's business contacts who had returned to France post-earthquake (or should I say "post-Fukushima"), together with Michel's wife, daughter, and their English cocker spaniel, Max.  They were accompanied by another friend and his dog (some kind of terrier).  Walking around the old city eating ice cream, we greeted many other dogs (and their owners), which seemed to be a kind of national pastime.  With my return to the guidance of Jerome and Didier (or "J.J." and "Didi" as these old friends call one another), the quality of food I was eating and wine I was drinking, not to mention the quality of my interactions with the French, improved dramatically.

Hello dogs of France!
Au revoir, Annecy!

French version of the sign  -- one way except bicycles

22 July 2011

Team Rwanda -- Climbers

It was only last year that James M. was in Cameroon for a UCI sanctioned stage race.  Positivistas might enjoy an article by Philip Gourevitch in the current New Yorker magazine about the development of a cycling team and a few remarkable young cyclists in a place that only a few years ago was known only for being one of the world's worst killing fields.   You can find it here online.

21 July 2011

Etape Acte II -- from Issoire to St. Flour -- "Made to Measure for a Strong Man"

Having returned to Tokyo this morning, I can at least use my jet lag induced wakefulness to give a brief report on Acte II of this year's Etape.  I will follow up later with the more interesting bits of my trip to France and some good stories of my happy time with the family Bouhet, as well as photos before and after race day ... but not enough time tonight.

Acte II was to follow Stage 9 of the Tour de France, 208km and 3600+ meters of climbing from Issoire to St. Flour via a loop through the mountains of the Massif Centrale and some beautiful countryside.  Even though the stage did not include any Galibier or Stelvio, no Mortirolo or Alpe d'Huez, it did include at least six Cat 2 and Cat 3 climbs, the highest being the 1589m elevation Pas de Peyrol, as well as lots of other nasty shorter sections of climbing.  So we knew it would be a hard course.  One analyst declared it "made to measure for a strong man. ... Except for the first 50 km, it's just climbs and descents all of the way. It’s a real leg-breaker."  Cyclingnews quotes another as saying "People associate the Alps and Pyrenees with the brutality of the Tour, but days like this are generally much, much harder. They will be full gas for 150km, and lots of strong guys will be targeting it."

When the pros had ridden it the week before, it had been a scene of some memorable crashes, including one that knocked Dave Zabriskie, Alexandre Vinokourov and several other top contenders out of the 2011 Tour, and another crash where a France TV4 publicity car hit Juan Antonio Flecha and Johnny Hoogerland and sent them flying, Hoogerland directly into a barbed wire fence.  One of the younger British riders with my tour operator had told his parents, who never watch cycling, to be sure to watch Stage 9 so they could see where he would be riding the following week.  He deeply regretted this as the carnage revealed itself and his parents began to question his sanity.  People called it a crazy stage.

Another potential issue was the weather.  From Friday onward, the forecast for Sunday had predicted at least some rain.  Some of the forecasts were for "heavy rain", while other suggested there would just be showers off and on throughout the day.  No one mentioned particular cold.

When I awoke a 4AM I stepped outside briefly -- warm and a bit humid, but still dry.  So I planned for rain gear but nothing extraordinary -- my usual summer sweatband and half length gloves, normal jersey, bib shorts and socks, and my goretex shell for any rain and to keep a bit warmer on the descents.  I did put on some thin arm warmers, in the thought that I might be cold standing around at the start, but otherwise typical gear for a summer ride with some risk of rain.

The rain started as we were still en route to Issoire and had really picked up by the time I got out of the bus and found start area #6.  Fortunately, I was able to wait standing under a shop awning, and to duck into a restaurant for a large hot cafe au lait -- still dry, I felt ready to go, with the prospect of conditions that would maximize my comparative advantages (strength and a little extra meat on the bones, plus training that did involve riding 200km in the rain and cold every once in awhile).  I stepped back into the rain just as the gun went off and the front group started, and after 15 minutes of inching forward, we too were off.

Conditions were wet but tolerable for the first 40 km.  My rear tire flatted at that point, just at the bottom of the first climb, and I changed it and moved on without incident.  Many people were suffering flats and other mechanical issues in the wet -- the small gravel and gunk that gets onto the road in the rain always seems to cause these. Later I heard many complaints of riders whose hands were too cold to change a tire or even to open a presta tire tube valve after they flatted.

After the first categorized climb, I settled into an incredibly long, hard slog, as the route went almost due west on a higher plain with a general uphill tilt, into an accelerating headwind and a real downpour ... over the next 40 km.  The wind was brutally strong and cold.  Very quickly the pace slowed, groups of 10, 20 or 30 riders making forward progress at 18-20 kph.  A rider from my tour operator, who ended up placing #40 overall out of the thousands of participants, told me that on this stretch even the front group was managing only a little better than 20 kph.

I started to see riders heading back down the road toward me, 1 or 2 at a time.  After 10 or 20 had passed, I realized what was up -- they had given up and were going downwind/downhill to seek shelter.  Then as I passed a village I saw a group of maybe 30 road bikes stacked by the side of the road, no sign of the riders, who were probably in one of the nearby houses.  Anyway, I pushed ahead, trying to move forward from group to group, whenever possible doing so together with another rider or two who would share the work. Sure, it was cold and wet, but not as cold, and not nearly as wet, as Kiyosato and Nobeyama in the driving rain at midnight in April

Anyway, I had one minor incident (another broken spoke -- this time on my front wheel, which remained rideable, barely) and so did two of the descents at significantly reduced speed until, 20 km or so up the road I did manage to get a spare wheel from the Mavic team to use for the last 50+ km, and slogged through to the finish, pulling a few groups on the downhills.

My time was 10 hrs and 5 minutes.  I was finisher number 1390, out of around 6000 who registered, 4000 who started, and 1982 who recorded official times -- a significant improvement on Acte I.  (The results, searchable by name or Dossard number, can be found here.  I was Dossard number 3113).   Only four riders managed to break 7 hours.  Jerome came through in 10 hrs and 53 minutes.  Didier had a major mechanical issue (broken derailleur hanger sends rear derailleur flying into gears) and was forced to abandon after 75 km.

Laurent had the most frustrating day.  He was in start area 9 and so further back in the stream of thousands than I.  When he entered Allanche, after a significant portion of the downpour/headwind/uphill section, it was "a war zone".  He was cold but otherwise okay, and made the mistake of listening to the organizers on-site who were telling people there was fog (true) and snow (false) on the Pas de Peyrol, and advising that they give up and head toward St. Flour by a lower road.  The police did apparently close Pas de Peyrol at one point and redirect riders by a different route, but that let them continue the rest of the course.  Laurent was really angry with the organizers, and with himself for having listened to them.  One expects he will have had plenty of chance to recover his spirit by riding the courses of Liege-Bastogne-Liege and Fleche Wallone this week.

I talked with another strong rider at the Lyon Airport, who had come from Canada to serve as "domestique" for a top competitor.  His leader had ended up abandoning with hypothermia on this stretch.  Our tour operator's group included about 15 Brazilians.  Not used to riding in the cold, only 3 completed the event.

The townspeople were great.  They lined the road in every city, town, village and hamlet, and they offered shelter and, apparently, hot liquids, to those who got in real trouble.  I was grateful for the constant cheers of "allez, allez, courage", willing us along.  This is the real French countryside, a part of France where epic cycling duels have been fought ... but that will need to wait for another post.

As the ASO website site notes, this 2011 second act deserves "a place on the podium" of the most difficult editions of Etape du Tour.

Elevation profile:

19 July 2011

More photos from Transalp 2011

Here are some more photos from David's collection about the Transalp 201 tour.
Andreas and Matthias from Bremen Team Wiegtritt and mob
Gerd, our hero of this year Transalp. Rarely without Klaus.

View from the Oberjoch. This was the first climb of many to follow. Taken two days before the race.
One way steet - except for bikes in Sonthofen. Nice picture composition.

The Hahntennjoch - the first climb I had to walk up partly since years. Matches well with the pedestrian sign.

Juliane and David J. in Imst
David L. in Imst

David and mob at the start in Sonthofen

The approach on the Silvretta road to the Biehlerhöhe Pass

Stephen and mob, the surprise visitor in Ischgl.

Not sure, but perhaps view from Arlberg pass. Gives the idea of the mountains ahead.

David J. and MOB at the start in Livigno.

David L. at curve #22 of 42 on the climb up the Stelvio

Mountains.  Somewhere in the alps -- taken from the Passo di Foscagna.
At the Stelvio Pass.
Climbing the road to the Stelvio

More mountains somewhere in the Alps, from Passo di Foscagna. You get the general idea.

David J. at the start in Livigno

Done. David and MOB, presenting the Transalp finisher medals and jersey.