It’s become an annual occurrence of mine to cycle around Europe in my summer break from Colombia with a few friends in tow. This blog documented my coast to coast trip across the USA in 2010, and also mentions trips from Barcelona to Milan in 2011, and to Spain from England last year, but for one time constraint and another, I’ve not always been able to go into as much as detail as I’d like to have done. Anyway, this year saw the 2012 crew decide to embark on another tour across Europe on our bikes, so myself, university mate, James Birchall and sort of university mate, Andy Kenny, put our heads metaphorically together through Facebook messages over a few months to come up with the plan of cycling from the Basque city of Bilbao, on Spain’s northern coast, to Geneva, just inside the Swiss border and on the edge of the mighty Alps. As our trips tend to coincide with the Tour de France, we also thought we’d stick in an ascent of the legendary Alpine climb, Alp D’Huez, where the tour was going up in its 100th anniversary year, and why not also pass by the engineering magnificence of the Millau bridge in the south of France? There we had it, route sorted!
|In Spain, with views over to the Pyrenees and France|
|The world's tallest bridge, the Millau Viaduct,|
|James trying to shelter from the hail|
Spirits were raised the next day by a return to clear blue skies and scorching temperatures, as well as some lovely cycling through the Ardeche region, passing scented lavender fields, before we met up with our crooked companion, Andy, that evening. His knee hadn’t quite repaired itself on the beach in Barcelona (blame the beer), but he felt up for the challenge to plough along with us for the second week towards Geneva, where he was then set to start another week of intense cycling through the Alps on a separate holiday. Cycling predominantly with his right leg and a concoction of drugs that would make Lance Armstrong jealous, he more than kept up with James and I, leaving the prospect open of still being able to make it up Alp D’Huez.
Before that however, we had to stop off in Grenoble. I’d previously heard good things about this place, but I reserve the right to call this city perhaps the most boring one I’ve ever had the misfortune to stumble across. I’d say cycling 6 miles in the evening, along main roads, without finding even one bar open, makes it more akin to the nuclear decimated Chenobyl than a supposedly wealthy western European city. At least we weren’t short of conversations though with our campsite neighbours well involved in their own domestic dispute and the campsite itself boasting toilets that smelt very much of stale urine. A lovely place to stay, it was not. Anyway, the Alps beckoned and at least Grenoble has a good cycle network, enabling us to make a rapid escape for the mountains.
|Alp D'Huez - Andy 3rd, James 1st, Me 2nd|
Unfortunately a visit to the Grenoble campsite was once again called for, where our rubbish bag from the previous stay still hadn’t been removed, but we treated ourselves to a rotisserie chicken and manufactured a fridge out of Andy’s pannier for the beer. All that was now left was the 100 miles or so of cycling to Geneva, via a stop off at beautiful Lake Annecy, to complete another cycle tour across Europe and finish with a few well earned beers! Geneva is as expensive as you might have imagined, and also full of prostitutes we realised, which you might not have thought of. Consequently walking around slightly inebriated at 3am looking for a takeaway felt more like walking down the seedy Avenida Sexta in Cali or Amsterdam's Red Light District than a classy European city, but I suppose nowhere's ever perfect. It does have free public transport to the airport though, which is a very advantageous when taking your 25kg cardboard box and bike back home!
|Last day's cycling at Lake Annecy|
Here are some facts and stats about the trip:
Distance travelled - 722 miles (I think!)
Longest day - 85 miles, Lavaur to St. Affrique
Average mileage over 14 days - 52 miles a day
Highest point - 1,850m, Alp D'Huez
1,000m+ passes - 3
Accommodation - 11 camping nights, 4 hotel/Chambre D'Hote/hostel nights
Hottest day - 40oC, Viviers to St. Donat
Punctures - 0
Thunder storms that stopped us cycling - 4
Hail storms that stopped us cycling - 1
Evening meals - 9 'Pasta Delights' cooked on the stove, 5 burgers/pizzas eaten in restaurants
Countries visited - 3, Spain, France and Switzerland
Song of the tour - Ian Brown - Stellify