Occasionally something comes along that’s too good to miss. A weekend in the French alps blasting up some cols and topping up the racing tan lines is one of them. All that was needed was some new friends…
By the middle of the afternoon I was adjusting the height of my bars on the summit of the Corbier – not bad seen as I’d been sat, eating corn flakes, at my breakfast table in Sussex less than 12 hours before that. Bars and seat position sorted and I was chasing my friend Nick down the steep switchbacks on the other side of the climb, which was a good shock to the system after a year away from the Alps.
We just about survived our first ride (queue plenty of laughing from myself and our guide Ian when Nick got a little hot into one of the corners). Aside from out-breaking himself, Nick Frendo has been busy through the winter setting up the Montem Cycle club with his mate Ian Walton – both well travelled guides with plenty of experience in finding the best routes around. The “clubhouse” is in Morzine, in the Savoire region, but Montem run weekends and weeks throughout Europe.
Montem is slightly different to most holiday companies in that it caters for groups looking to maximize their riding on shorter getaways – quality rather than quantity. Everything is catered for from the moment you land to when you have to sadly make your way back home (I haven’t felt so upset by the end of a holiday since family holidays as a kid – a measure of how spoil you are on one of these trips)!
After our first ride on the Thursday afternoon we were able to take some time to relax and share some stories back at the chalet/clubhouse, which feels very much like the club coffee stop – a group of individuals, but with a shared love of being in the mountains. The next morning at breakfast there were some anxious faces…who knows what to expect in terms of pace, ability and expectation. Our fears were quickly replaced by the thrill of riding up through the clouds from Morzine and then down the road to Evian for a coffee break.
The early morning warmers and jackets were consigned to the van on the hot run back through the rural alpine farmland for an early lunch and some sunbathing in the hot tub. On Saturday we attacked the climb up to L’encrenaz and then around to Mieussy via the Col de la Ramaz. Lunch in Taninges preceded our assent of the Joux Plane, which Ian headed up like Floyd Landis, leaving me in his wake – one of my highlights of the week as I had to push so hard just to stay close enough to hear his squeaky crankset on the switchbacks above me.
Helen, Mark, Julian, Paul, Stephen and even Nick and Ian had once again put their anxious faces on at the breakfast table on the morning of the “Queen stage”. Colombiere was weighing heavy on our minds! After the long swoopy descent to the valley the road ramped up through the trees – constant gradient, but nice and cool. By the flat section in the middle the lead group was down to four and with our own soigneur, Kelly, in the support van it was impossible not to start thinking about what it would be like to be racing up this mountain in a grand tour.
So with Contador alongside me, Froome just behind and Nibili keeping his powder dry, that must make me Nairo Quintana…wishful thinking! – Maybe the altitude was getting to me. Either way, Ian and I ramped up the pace a little chatting away and concealing how out-of-breath we both were. As the switchbacks gave way to the final drag the gradient rose up ever so slightly, as did our heartrates. Working too hard to look round, (and not wanting to give the game away) could I hear Ian dropping off my wheel? Time to make it stick, up with the pace again, head down, pushing on the pedals – maximum attack!
We still had Aravis and the road back up to Morzine coming – big day in the mountains! Nick made a fine breakaway on the Aravis so I set about hunting him down – long switchbacks making it easier to look up the road and then, just before the catch, Mont Blanc rises majestically from the road. The best thing about the alps is how the scenery changes from valley to valley, topped off by some cheeky racing amongst new friends. I ended up not wanting to leave either the mountains or the people behind.
Therefore when an extra early morning assent of Joux Verte was suggested by our soigneur I made sure I was in the queue. The quarter-to-five-am start had put everyone else off, but I was keen to get another few miles logged on the Parlee Altum R that I’d rented for the week. My legs were feeling ok despite the last few days and the two of us got some odd looks from the cattle as we climbed up in the darkness. The sun peaked out from over the mountains just in time for the last 200m sprint to the col – perfect finish to the ultimate weekend in the alps.
Massive thanks to Nick and Ian, who couldn’t have done more during the week – they built our bikes, shepherded us in the hills and kept us laughing the whole way. Thanks to Kelly Thomas from Roadside Therapy for all the bottles, jackets and for getting our tired legs ready for the next day – again, nothing was too much work and it made it so much fun being on the bike with that kind of support. Lou and Alice kept us fed and watered. But also a big thanks to Helen, Mark, Julian, Paul and Stephen who, as corny as it sounds, became really good friends.
You can get in touch with Montem by following this link; http://www.montem.cc/
Glen rides for the Southborough & District Wheelers. He races Mountain bikes in the UK National XC Points and Eastern XC Series, Road bikes in the Surrey, South-East and Eastern Leagues, TT in the South East Region and ‘Cross in the LCCA League. He receives personal support from Helly Hansen, The Velo House, Scott Bikes and THE.ÆIGHT.BICYCLE.CØMPANY.
Glen runs The Velo House with Olly and Matt, a coffee shop, workshop and bike shop welcoming all cyclists and even well behaved non-cyclists. We’re based at 5 St.Johns Road, Tunbridge Wells, TN4 9TN – 01892 554 505 – firstname.lastname@example.org.