Category Archives: Tdf trip planning

Information on seeing the Tour de France in person, including the process I go through myself each year- figuring out the TdF route, finding places to stay, rental cars, trains & more.

A great ride backward is even better! Gorges du Nan revisited

Going back in time, only in reverse. Guess that makes sense if you go back in time, right?

Exactly two years ago today, Kevin and I rode part of this ride in the opposite direction, descending through the Gorgues du Nan and thinking maybe this would be a better ride in the opposite direction. Today Larry and I proved that right. Or maybe wrong. Not sure. It was a much shorter version of what Kevin and I did in 2015, when we took the train to the beginning point and rode back to Grenoble afterward; that ride was 54 miles with about 4000ft of climbing. Today’s ride was a much shorter version, just 23 miles (we drove to the start/finish and drove back afterward) and 3400ft of climbing. Partly shorter because rain was threatening to move in this afternoon, and partly because Larry, well, let’s just say he doesn’t have many opportunities to climb much in Texas!

That’s Larry on the ground, at the top of the main climb. He’s not exactly dead, nor could he claim to be alive at this point.

Whether the ride is better in this direction or the other is up for debate; clearly the Gorges du Nan section, with its cliff road, is the payoff, and descending it puts it at the end of the ride, vs the beginning if you climb. The best case for climbing it is that you have more time to experience the insanely-built road than if you descend, and we climbed at a speed that allowed a lot of opportunity for viewing the gorge. 🙂

We started the ride in Cognin les Gorges, giving about, what, 300 meters or so before you hit the base of the hill? And when I say hill, I mean it in the meanest-possible way because this is a relentless uphill journey without any descents or even flat spots on the way up. Over 3000ft up, 3000ft down. Consider this a “compact” ride. It goes UP for about 9 miles, and it goes DOWN for about 9 miles. We did find a little village with water about 1/2 way up the climb, which was a good thing because Larry goes through water very fast. Fortunately, we were climbing at a rate where water wasn’t an issue for me, despite the fact that I’m drinking about twice what I used to do to my meds.

The views on the way up are stunning, the road surface pretty good, and the cars… well, maybe we saw 5 or 6 the entire time we were on the mountain? France is pretty amazing that way, once you get off the main roads and onto the fun stuff.

The descent doesn’t favor high speed, as it’s got a lot of corners with decreasing radii and quite a few that are even banked the opposite of how they should be, but after that long climb, it’s a pleasant relief for most. Me? Yeah, I would have liked to have climbed more, but I’m kinda nuts that way.

Post-ride Ice Cream

At the end of the ride Larry and I stopped at the same place Kevin and I had lunch before riding back to Grenoble. Two beers, a panini and ice cream later, Larry was fully revived. I chose Orangina over beer, and a Salami sandwich (but did go for ice cream too). Our last ride in France, so it made sense to celebrate a bit.

Tomorrow morning we take a train at an entirely-reasonable hour (9:15am) to Marseille for the Tour de France time trial, arriving back around 9pm. Then pack up and leave the next morning for Paris, to see the finale, and head home on Monday. I love being in France, and it’s great the Mike F, Becky and Kevin can take care of things in our Redwood City store while I’m gone, but it’s my business to get people to enjoy cycling like I do, and that’s best done in person, in a bike shop. That’s the point to Chain Reaction. –MikeJ

A long way to the top, but we got there!

Why is the Tour de France so different, so special compared to all other bike races? What compels some us like moths to a fly to travel thousands of miles to a mountain top like this?
It wasn’t easy getting to the Izoard, but it didn’t have to be. Advance information pointed to limited access to the mountain and a complete closure of the backside, so Larry and I left early enough to try to get to the side the race was climbing. That plan didn’t work. Briancon was totally slammed with cars and the police had already shut down the roads you could use to get to the base of the climb. Unfortunately, we thought we spotted a loophole… a tiny little road shown on either apple or google maps, don’t recall which.

One to make Kevin jealous- he likes to get the reflections in the sunglasses. Nailed this one!
That tiny little road bypassed the closed arteries and reconnected to the highway outside of town. Or so we thought. We drove our rental down that tiny, very steep, single-lane road, with cars parked on one side and a wall on the other, only to get almost to the bottom and discover three other cars had the same idea… and found the road blocked. No exit. Imainge backing up a stick shift car in those conditions. It’s worse. We had a seriously-smoking clutch but somehow got the car out of that hole in one piece.

We decided what the heck, let’s try the backside, it can’t really be shut down. Or hopefully. But first we went back into town to see the actual stage start, which was actually pretty cool. After that we drove a couple miles out of town to find a place to park, got on our bikes and voila, joined literally THOUSANDS of other cyclists doing the exact same thing! The road wasn’t closed to cyclists, just cars, and it was a great ride on a really nice day.

Larry found a place 120 meters from the finish and took a zillion photos, mostly of hands and cameras people put in between his camera and the riders, but he did get a great shot of a very happy & relaxed-looking Warren Barguil, the stage winner. I did something very unusual and hung out above the finish line, actually watching the riders come through instead of trying to take lots of photos.

On a personal note, there have been no issues regarding my cycling and the chemo drug they’ve got me on, despite expectations otherwise. It does cause a lot of itching, but Allegra seems to take care of that. Which of course I ran out of! Fortunately lots of pharmacies in France, so I’m itching to pick some up tomorrow. Also, had Kevin been with me this year, I think I would have surprised him, riding much stronger than he would have expected. –MikeJ