Reflecting on the week of riding in Aigle, I’m certain I speak for all Sufferlandrians in attendance that is was one epic week. One that changed me forever. On the morning of the Friday, we had just one official camp ride remaining before wrapping up the week as World Tour VIPs.
The group was full of aching and sore bodies, after being pushed through test, trials, track work and tremendous climbs. Although in true Sufferlandrian style, give a man (or woman) a descent breakfast and a coffee, and the body is ready to go again. Under the guide of Alain, local legend and guru on riding in Switzerland, we would find ourselves a nice ride to end the week. Although the weather was threatening to dampen our spirits.
We elected to ride against the weather in pursuit of some clearer skies. So we made the journey towards lake Geneva along the banks of the Rhone River. The pace was calm, and the terrain was far smoother than the previous days in the mountains. We had little ambition to tackle another big climb, but Alain had a small ‘400 metre’ ascent in mind. Just across the border in France.
The 17 kilometre ride to the French border, and the starting point of the selected climb, the Route de Noval, would act as a calming reflection on the week gone. It gave us all a chance to reflect on favourite disciplines or moments, which made this one of the most amazing cycling experiences for all. As we got closer to Lake Geneva and the French border, the clouds cleared slightly, allowing many of us to de-robe the wet weather gear.
Stopping just short of the border, Alain gave a a brief on the climb ahead. He claimed it to be a 400 metre ascent, but we would find out the truth, mainly through the ambitious attack by Jeff who thought he heard the climb was just 400 metres long.
The climb starts in the small French town of Saint Gingolph, and immediately drives into a 6% grade. Within minutes we were living the buildings for the tree line, as the road winded its way up the side of the mountain. For those that had the energy, one could look out over lake Geneva to admire the stunning view of the alpine lake coming to life at the start of the day.
With little road traffic up the road, it played the perfect canvas for the group to weave its final achievements for the week. Some decided to press on with the attacks, while others took their time to enjoy the beauty of the region. I chose to start conservatively, but as my steady pace caught the attacking powerhouse of Jeff, I was lifted to a new level of motivation (or was that ego?).
Drawing from Neal’s climbing lessons, I chose to experiment with his tips on getting out of the saddle. Which mainly focused on gear shift and cadence. No surprise here, my climbing seemed more powerful and efficient as I pressed on, passing Jeff and leaving him behind. Could this new found skill help me chase down the likes of Braith and Jared?
In my head I was planning for 400 metres of elevation, but once we started approaching 500 metres I knew I had to assume I had no idea where the top was. Mentally disconnecting from ‘known’ is tough on the bike, especially on a climb. Once you have a reduce confidence in the ascent and distance, your pacing falls off. Not knowing if I can attack? Or how much I need to save for.
Finally the rest point came into sight, giving me the knowledge that I could press on for the final 300 metres. The rest spot was a small car park come access trial right on the banks of a small stream, which is actually the border between France and Switzerland.
While we waited for the remainder of the group to reach the meet point, we all dived into Brevet’s food stash in the back of the car. We had all come to like the coke/water mix, that gave us the sugar fix needed to press on. We also learnt that we could be going down a different descent, one in Switzerland. A tight twisty road that lead us back down a road that at places was 15% decline, a tough test on the wet roads.
Once at the bottom, we regrouped for what would be the final 20 kilometres together as a group. The mood was quite somber, as we glided across the valley towards Aigle. The group was going to miss the daily routine of two ride sessions a day, we had all thoroughly enjoy our time together. But of course, there was room to challenge ourselves once more.
Nine kilometres from home, the pace kicked up from the 34km/hr average, to over 45km/hr. A spontaneous race had broken out on the narrow bike path that followed the river back to the World Cycling Centre. It was a our chance to push the body. The feeling of pushing the body and bike to higher speeds is fascinating. The mind and body battle to know what is possible, and the competitive nature of being surrounded by the group only adds fuel to the fire.
That’s final push saw the pace stay above 45km/hr all the way back. A fitting end to the amazing rides of the week. From the World Cycling Centre we had our final coast back to the hotel where many would start the process of packing bikes away for the journey back to our respective hometowns. It was the end of riding, but we had one more very special event as a group. VIP access to the Tour de Suisse