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St Gervais powder day!

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An Alpine Autumn

It’s been a very mixed autumn, weather-wise. Cold temperatures and snow in the first week of October meant a rare opportunity to ski on the 12th.

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This snow obviously wasn’t meant to last long, giving rise to some beautiful, sunny and warm days.

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This has given us ample opportunity to hike, trail run,

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…and mountain bike of course.

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The last couple of weeks has seen some fairly variable weather, this week has been colder with the onset of a couple of Atlantic systems. Taking the chance of a break in the weather, I went to Chamonix to recce the course for next June’s vertical kilometre trail run, a 3.8km time trial from the centre of Chamonix, under the Brevent lift line, to Plan Praz, at just over 2000m in altitude. It’s pretty steep and with the snow down to 1600m, made the upper sections a little tougher!

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The forecast is for up to 60cm of snow tonight and into Sunday. So hopefully it’ll be time to get the skis out for Monday.

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Yesterday’s Forest Fun & Frolics

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Singletrack mountain bike trail at the back of the chalet

I’ve been meaning to ride this trail for a number of years. It’s not a trail as such, it’s an unmarked path, used by loggers to access parts of the forest behind the back of the chalet. It’s steep, rocky and rooty. In places it’s virtually unrideable. But whilst it’s not fast and flowing, it’s technical, and demands skill and concentration. Even more so, when the trail was damp after recent heavy rainfall. Still, it was a lot of fun, and something to do on a beautiful early November afternoon. Chris.

Étape dispatches. The Importance of Water.

Much can be learned from last Thursday’s 150km recce ride, prior to the main event in July (see blog below).

Water is the first word that springs to mind. I ride a bike with a compact frame. That means it’s small. The frame is also a size “small”. Which means it can only take 1 water bottle on it. This generally isn’t, and hasn’t been, a problem. Riding in the Alps, there have always been drinking fountains a plenty, “Eau Potable” being a common sight in most French villages I have passed through, as well as dotted along the roadsides. In addition, regular social stops for the obligatory “petit café”, afford the opportunity to remplir le bidon, as the French would say. Yesterday’s recce ride was partly to ascertain the locations of these drinking fountains. It wasn’t a social ride, as I was riding alone, so no sitting about drinking coffee.

Starting the ride in Annecy fully hydrated and carrying 750ml of drinking goo, I found a fountain at the top of the first climb, the Côte du Puget. It wasn’t necessary to stop so early (15.5km) and replenish, but I did anyway. That was a good move, as the next immediately obvious roadside fountain was located in Aillon-le-Vieux, a good 35km down the track. Although only late April, it was a hot day, and I fully understand the importance of hydration.

20130501-173336.jpg Drinking Water (not on étape route!)

So, refuelled and ready to go, it was on to Aillon-le-Jeune, up the moderately graded Col des Prés, down through Thoiry, and up to St-Jean-d’Arvey, where my next obvious trough hopefully awaited, prior to the first of the two big climbs, Mont Revard. Only, it was nowhere to be found, and being a Thursday in April, no-one was to be found. A ghost town has more life off-season than many of these little villages and hamlets. Still, no worries, my bottle was two thirds full anyway, so I assumed all would be well.

I have since read, although not substantiated it, that there is a fountain in St Jean, if you turn left and go down the hill for a bit once you arrive in the village, rather than taking a right, and hitting the climb immediately.

20130501-173550.jpg A water bottle. Amazing!

Although I was feeling a little thirsty on this long but not demanding climb, I still had plenty of fluid, more than enough to see off Mont Revard, drop down to the other side, and find a fountain. I just needed to start rationing it. 12km into the climb, and 4km from the summit, the little ski station of Le Féclaz hoved into view. A quick look around yielded nothing positive on the water front. Subsequently, I have established (again not seen first hand), that somewhere in Le Féclaz, there is an innocuous industrial building, which apparently has a tap inside. Good to know.

Anyway past Revard (81km), and Trévignin (94km), I arrived in Montcel (97km). My last water fill up was at 50km. It was beginning to look a bit desperate, until I spotted a human being, locking up a shop, and clearly in a hurry. I asked her if there was anywhere to fill my bottle, and without hesitation, she unlocked the shop, took my bottle inside and refilled it. I could’ve hugged her. But she seemed in a rush.

23km later, Quintal, and the start of the big Semnoz climb. Thankfully there’s a fountain here, right at the bottom of the climb. In July, there’ll be a liquid station here. 11km earlier, in Gruffy, there’ll be a full feed station.

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So, in summary, even without feed stations (of which there’ll be plenty come July 7th), water wasn’t a problem as such. The issue I had was not knowing when the next fountain would come. Or even if it would come. And the worry that goes with that. Being April, there was still plenty of snow high up. One idea I had was to dig into the dirty snow, find some clean stuff, and fill up that way. Which was preferable to my other idea. That was to fill up from a stream that the cows drink from, with all the shit that might entail. I also observed a fellow road cyclist thrusting his bottle into an old dear’s hands, as she was going about her business outside her barn. So, it wasn’t just me!

Footnote: on return to my car in Annecy, the water I’d left inside had boiled, and the bananas had cooked themselves. I drank the hot water, and discarded the bananas on the motorway. Note to self: next time, leave a mug of tea on the dashboard. And slice the nana down the middle, stuff in some chocolate, wrap in tinfoil, and enjoy a tasty hot treat on return.

And here’s a little video, posted by the organisers A.S.O., of a couple of French homeboys cycling up the Semnoz, complete with a suitably dramatic “Gladiator” music score. Just to get the juices flowing:

Étape du Tour 2013 – Annecy to Annecy Semnoz

This year’s étape takes place in little over 2 months time, Sunday July 7th, and follows a broad loop on a tour of the less well known Massif des Bauges, south of Annecy. And because the route doesn’t tackle any “famous” climbs and cols, cycling purists have denigrated the event to a “why bother” route, or a Sunday afternoon leg stretcher after doing Saturday’s altogether tougher La Marmotte. The étape is only 130km, how hard can it be? Yesterday, I set off to find out.

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Departing Annecy town centre at 10am, I followed the excellent cycle path along the shores of stunning Lake Annecy, until arriving at the small lakeside town of St-Jorioz. The actual event will take place on the main road, a flat 7.5km run, before turning south at St-Jorioz and hitting the first climb. The Côte de Puget is 5.4km at an average gradient of 5.8%. It’s not too long, and never too steep, and can be tackled in relative comfort by reasonably fit cyclists. UK cyclists with no alpine training would be advised to take this first climb gently, there’s a long way to go! A short descent to le Cruet is followed by the second climb. On the official étape website, this is listed as the climb to the col de Leschaux, 3.6km at 6.2%. This is slightly misleading. The climb begins at le Cruet, climbs through the hamlet of St-Eustache and ends in La Chapelle-St-Maurice. Again, it’s not a tough climb by any stretch, it reminded me of Normandy, with its rolling hills through the green countryside. Unlike Normandy, rock walls tower above to the left, and on the right is the Semnoz, to be climbed much later from the other side. After La Chapelle-St-Maurice, the route descends quickly to the Col de Leschaux.

Fast and flat is how I would describe the few kilometres from the Col de Leschaux to Bellecombe-en-Bauges. Following Bellecombe, a short, punchy climb finds us in La Motte-en-Bauges, and a few km later is a very short climb through the centre of Le Châtelard.

Descending out of Le Châtelard, take a right turn over the river, and hit the 6km climb to Aillons-le-Vieux. At an average of 4%, it’s steady but not that hard. It’s important to keep taking fluids and fuel at this stage, and to keep energy for the second half of the route. A short descent into Aillons-le-Jeune, and the first of the three hardest climbs arrives. The Col du Prés, 3.5km at 6.5% is, on paper, quite straightforward. However, the heat of a July day, coupled with a headwind, will quite possibly make the climb feel a whole lot harder. The descent from the Col du Prés is fast and technical, passing through Thoiry, with views of Chambery down below. Another short, punchy climb is encountered after crossing the River Leysse on the way up to St-Jean-d’Arvey.

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This marks the halfway point of the route, with “only” the 2 main climbs to come. The first of which, the 16km climb to Mont Revard is long, but not steep by alpine standards. At a gradient of 5.4%, it’s important to get the right cadence and rhythm, and not to expend too much energy. In many places, the gradient eases off to almost nothing, so plenty of opportunity to rest, eat and drink.

A long descent follows, then turn sharp right before Trévignin, and along flowing country lanes through the hamlets of Montcel, St-Offenge, and Cusy. A very short climb out of Cusy, take a left fork, and drop down into the gorge, crossing the Pont de l’Abime.

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This is a stunning bridge over the Chéran gorge, and is immediately followed by (another) short, punchy ramp into Gruffy. Onwards to Viuz-la-Chiésaz, where there is another short climb up to Quintal. By this stage, you will have covered almost 120km, and the climb to the Semnoz is the last obstacle.

An 11km climb at an average gradient of 8.3%, and after 120km of cycling, this is (in my opinion) a tough climb. Straight out of Quintal, it’s steep and unrelenting, through green forests and white limestone. I can see why it reminds the organisers of Mont Ventoux. After about 3km, it eases ever so slightly, just before the junction with the D41 coming up from Annecy. Take a right here, and just keep spinning. It’s another 7 or so km at a fairly consistently steep gradient. If the sun’s shining, which it was yesterday, it’s hard work. In July, it may be unbearable.

But if you make it to Semnoz, be proud of your achievement, and dismiss the killjoys who relegate this event to just another club ride. For sure, this étape doesn’t have the high altitude alpine cols or summits. Nor does it have the massive distances of some if its previous incarnates. But with about of 3500m of climbing, it’s definitely not a walk in the park, and my feeling is that some of the more dismissive riders might be in for a shock.

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ESF statement after ski hosting banned

STATEMENT ISSUED ON BEHALF OF ESF FOLLOWING COURT RULING

AGAINST LE SKI

Following today’s court ruling in France with legal action brought against UK tour operator, Le Ski, Simon Atkinson, Director, ESF has issued the following statement:

“ESF has incorrectly been cited as being the organisation for taking the Le Ski to court for its own protectionism. It should be stressed that ESF has not brought the action in the French courts, but the Public Ministry’s (French Administration) did so in pursuing action against Le Ski for non-compliance with French regulations, after a Border Police Patrol Control found them to be contravening French law.

Under Article L.212-1 of the Sport Code in France, it is legal requirement to have a qualification to teach or lead skiing if remuneration is received.

The laws governing sport in France say that it is illegal to ‘teach, lead, guide, animate’ without an appropriate professional qualification. For professionals, and in particular for ESF, security on ski slopes is of paramount importance. Wintersports touring needs to be conducted with maximum security for those being escorted on the slopes with qualified guides/instructors. France recognises the equivalent professional qualifications for instructors and guides from other countries. Any qualified ski instructor and guide is allowed to operate in France and there is cooperation between European Ski Schools, so the qualifications obtained are to reach the European standards terms of certification. Certificates to operate officially are issued directly by the Ministry of Sports.

ESF will not receive any re-numeration as a result of this judgement other than its legal fees being paid for representing them as a “Civil Party” and importantly, ESF has never sought otherwise. The fine required by the Public Ministry to Le Ski is factored upon an infringement of law and missing Social Taxes to be paid on such activity. Contrary to some opinion, there is no financial gain to ESF.

This is not an ESF led court action, but the organisation has rightly shown its support for French law to be upheld and that for those organisations using hosting or other personnel to ‘guide’ such people must possess a valid qualifications to do so.

ESF is committed to ensuring the safety of UK tourists using French resorts for wintersports.

ESF reiterates its commitment to supporting the UK ski industry and will work with UK tour operators in finding workable solutions for lawful guiding on the French ski slopes”.