Days 30 to 37: Grenoble to Zurich

28 June 2016

I’m really not in the mood for writing this but here goes. And we’ve got a lot to cover, too, all the way from Grenoble through to Zurich, so make yourself comfortable.

I fretted over the route from Grenoble through to Zurich for a bit but finally decided to take the route through the Alpes via Chamonix rather than going via Geneva. I’m glad I did. My legs aren’t, but the rest of me is. On the downside it meant doing Alp D’Huez with luggage rather than leaving it safely stashed with Stevan and Sophie for a day, and it also meant a lot more climbing. Upsides include the route from Albertville to Chamonix where I spent much of the day with Mont Blanc peering down on me.

So, after waving goodbye to some familiar faces in Grenoble, a tough three days’ riding to Vallorcine for my last rest day. Alp D’Huez was good fun, less so the final climb of the day up to a ski resort where I’d booked a chalet for the night. I’d had a cunning plan to go over the top of Huez down to the resort but was flummoxed by the “road” being only suitable for 4x4s. So, down and up it was. The Strava segment “Who booked this place?” said it all. Arriving completely off-season, it was touch and go if anywhere was even open for dinner, but the only place open in town thankfully rustled something up for me.

Col du Glandon the next day was quite the challenge after Huez but the comments of the cyclist near the top on seeing my bags of “Bravo! I give you all my respect” and the wonderful scenery were enough to get me through the final climb. Albertville, my overnight stop, didn’t really endear me as a place but I did happen upon a wonderful family run French restaurant, which was great after I’d resigned myself to eating at the generic bbq chain near the hotel.

Mont Blanc popped into view in the distance as I finished the first climb of the day out of Albertville and then kept me company for most of the ride to Vallorcine. I’d left early that day to avoid the predicted hot afternoon but things were slower going than I’d hoped (and a leisurely lunch in Chamonix didn’t help) so I ended up out in the sweltering 37 degree afternoon heat anyway. Oops.

Vallorcine is a small Swiss/French border village sat snugly in the mountains, which had the pleasure of my company for the referendum result. A much-needed rest day after 300 kms and around 8,000 m of climbing. You can see that my 110/110/50 km day plan has gone out the window of late; the ride via Chamonix was a bit longer than the Geneva route and I wanted to make sure I hit my rest day in Zurich. The rest day in Vallorcine wasn’t so much that, either, having got up at 4.45 when I couldn’t sleep any more. I wish I hadn’t. I’m not going to go on about the result here, I’ve done that elsewhere. It was fortuitous to have stumbled on a B&B run by Brits though, complete with British TV, so I was able to glue myself to rolling BBC coverage until I could face it no more.

I’d been poring over the weather forecast for a few days since big thunderstorms were forecast on Saturday and I’m not a huge fan of lightning when on my bike. There were some forecast early Saturday in Vallorcine, then more later in the day at my destination, Visp. If I was lucky, there was a window during the day I could do the ride into Switzerland if I got up early. So, a 6.15 departure it was. The storm in Vallorcine had gone through a couple of hours earlier, so I just needed to avoid the second one. Nothing like a bit of torrential rain to start the day with, but that soon cleared up as I descended into the Rhone Valley. Right on cue, at around midday, the clouds started getting greyer and tumbling down the mountain. Glancing behind me every few minutes, the sky was getting darker and darker, and I still had about 25 kms to go. Deciding to make a dash for it, and helped by a sturdy tailwind, I raced the storm down the valley and was about 200 metres from the hotel when the I heard the first clap of thunder. Turns out I also got a top speed of 73 km/h in the process. Helped massively by the tailwind of course.

Sunday was the final big climb of my trip, over Furkapass to then drop down to Zurich. My legs weren’t feeling particularly great and it took all my willpower not to succumb to the very tempting train that goes through rather than over the mountain. The ascent turned out to not be too terrible but that was made up for by the descent, with the mountain doused in cloud most of the way.

The long downhill to Zurich yesterday was a welcome respite for my legs, although the roads were probably the busiest I’ve been on and Swiss lorry drives now have the prize for being the least considerate of my trip. Quite unpleasant at times, I was very relieved when I turned off the main road to embark on the small climb up and over a hill and down into Zurich, with a more pleasant pedal by the lake to finish on.

And so the ride nearly draws to a close. It’s looking like I’ll have clocked up about 3,200 kms of riding over the six weeks and around 41 kms of climbing. As of yet, no punctures. Let’s see if I can make it to Munich without one…

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