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.

20130501-173716.jpg Another fountain (also not on étape route!!)

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:

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