All posts by Mike

Sometimes feeling small is the absolute best!


As the blog title says, you can feel very small in the shadow of something so immense. Just one more thing cycling can do for you. Put you in your place, in a very awesome sort of way.

Visiting the Tour de France isn’t all about riding the same roads as the race and being in huge crowds all day long. It’s also about the things that make France special, like trying to figure out why anyone would build roads in the crazy places they do. Oh yeah, there’s the food too, especially if you like the type of meat that hangs on one of those big rotating thingees and the scrape the meet off in layers.

Today was our first full day, which meant it was time to hit the ground running, er, riding. Originally the Tour de France wasn’t in the plan at all, until I discovered that the stage finish was too far from where our ride would be ending. But mostly, since my friend Larry had never ridden a bike in France, I wanted to introduce him to some of the special back roads with great pavement, little traffic and once in a while, a bit of insanity you’d never see practiced in the US. Since we were staying in Grenoble, what better way to start than the Vercors.

Most haven’t even heard of the Vercors. The Alps, the Pyrenees, and if they’re really educated or a bit snooty, they’ll let you know about the Massif Central. But not the Vercors, which is good and bad. It’s almost as if it’s a semi-unknown semi-autonomous region in France, build within its own miniature-but-powerful mountain range. Perhaps no coincidence that it was also central to the Resistance movement in WWII.

I discovered that amazing piece of road, the Combe Laval/Col de la Machine, 5 or 6 years ago on a trip with Kevin. It was a beast of a climb, but that ridiculous road with the incredible views (shown in the photo at the top) made it worthwhile. But, the climb getting there was really grueling (Col de la Machine) and the payoff, the cliff road above, actually came too early in the ride. So I made some improvements. 🙂

Basically we did it in reverse, and it would have been completely awesome if not for the gnarly headwinds we faced once we had descended the mountain and were riding the flat roads into the town of Romans, where today’s ‘Tour stage finished.  I think I could improve upon it further still (even after dropping the flat section because there’s really no need to ride into Romans); the route we traveled up was supposed to have some cliff roads of its own, but a few years ago they abandoned the fun part in favor of a modern, uphill tunnel that’s over a mile long. Still, a very pleasant ride heading up to it. You can view our route below, including photos taken along the way if you click on the map.

Long travel day to France behind us

Larry standing in for my son Kevin, sleeping on the train…
It’s 10pm here, probably 2pm back home? Time to get to sleep after being up pretty much continuously since 7am yesterday morning. It starts with a 9:30am flight from SFO to Chicago, followed a couple hours later by a 6:20pm (Chicago time) flight to Paris, arriving 9:30am (Paris time), then a train that’s supposed to leave at 11:57am (Paris time) but is delayed due to suspicious baggage, which might also have been why they chased us (and everyone else) out of the place we were eating in the train station 30 minutes prior. So the train we’re taking to Grenoble, which has a 14 minute connection in Lyon, is now 10 minutes late. 4 minute connection. That’s just not possible with two people, two bikes, two suitcases, right?

Good inexpensive food is never an issue in France…
That’s where technology comes in. When you buy your European train tickets from Trainline.eu, they send you updates on what track your next train will be leaving from, which saves you a LOT of grief in crowded, complicated euro train stations. And it turns out we arrived on track K, and were leaving on track J which, just this one time in my life, actually was adjacent, just like it ought to be!

So my friend Larry from the way-back days, who’s seeing the Tour de France for the first time, arrived with me in Grenoble in one piece, not much the worse for wear. Of course, Larry can sleep on planes, and trains, and even hotel rooms, while I’m up plotting out details and just generally a bit restless because, as they say, does anybody really know what time it is? I sure don’t!

That rarest of all rare photos; me having a beer!
Tomorrow morning we take a train out to an obscure city adjacent to the Vercors, a spectacular mini-mountain-range, where we’ll do a pretty gnarly 54 miles ride, carrying all of our camera gear because the end of the ride conveniently drops us off near tomorrow’s Tour de France stage finish! Then we take another train back to Grenoble, pick up the rental car which we’ll need for a couple days from now, and just keep on moving on, one foot in front of the other, riding our bikes in France.