2016-07-14 (Day 28) Pierrefonds – Aix les Bains

Today’s photo shows Lac du Bourget with the Mont du Chat in the distance on a cloudy summer’s evening. We had arrived in Aix les Bains the day before and liked the place so much we decided to stay another day. We had  already driven about 800 km from Pierrefonds in 2 days so it was nice to not have to drive anywhere for one day at least.

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Distance traveled on Tuesday in Jeep – 480 km. Total so far – 560 km.  After a good night’s sleep and a hearty breakfast, we set off from Pierrefonds at about 10 o’clock. Initially, the traffic was light and we made good progress until on the Troyes by-pass, I missed the exit and then wasted about 15 minutes trying to get back on the right road. Near Brienne-le-Chateau, I obviously was driving faster than I should have been as we later got a speeding ticket in the post.

Typical speed camera and speeding ticket in France. Speed cameras are not as common in France as they would be in the UK or Ireland but they do exist. If you are caught speeding between 1 – 19 kph over the speed limit the fine is €68, though it is reduced to €45 if paid within 15 days. Had we been driving a private car with an Irish number plate, we never would have got a speeding ticket. But because it was a car hire vehicle, the fine was first sent to Budget car hire who then sent it on to us. Fortunately, I was only slightly over the limit and only had to pay €45. If I had been 20 kph over the limit, the fine would have been €135 and if driving at 50 kph above the limit, the fine is €750.

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French website for paying speeding fines. The last few years, the EU has introduced rules to make it easier for countries to fine foreign drivers. As part of this initiative, the French government has made their speeding fine website available in a variety of languages.From May 2017, cross border fines will apply to UK and Irish vehicles in France so a lot more Irish people will be getting tickets in the post. Fortunately, the rest of our drive from Brienne-le-Chateau to Lons-le-Saunier was mostly uneventful though near Chaumont, all cars were being stopped by French police and ordered to pull into a lay-by. There was a team of officers in the lay-by looking for ID from the drivers and then opening each vehicle’s boot. Fortunately,the policewoman soon realized we were on holiday and after taking one look at all our equipment in the back of the Jeep, she just waved us through.

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Camping La Marjorie in Lons le Saunier.  It was about 8 o’clock in the evening before we made it to our campsite for the night here at Camping la Marjorie. I had stayed here the previous year on the Tour de Travoy and rated it one of the best campsites I had come across. However, last year the sun was shining whereas when we arrived in the Jeep on Tuesday evening, it was pouring with rain. However, the next morning, the rain had stopped and we managed to get some good shots beneath their famous sign.

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Packing everything into the small boot in the Jeep wasn’t easy. It was quite a squeeze getting all our luggage into the Jeep  and tou can see from this photo that the boot was full to the roof. Normally, on the Tour de Travoy,  I try and tweet something every day just to let people know I am doing OK. But due to all the driving, I hadn’t tweeted anything in a few days so I decided to tweet this photo with the byline “After 3 day’s driving, we’ve finally made it to the Alps but it has not been easy packing all our gear into the Jeep”

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Distance traveled in the Jeep on Wednesday – 200 km. Total traveled so far – 760 km. The plan today was to drive from Lons le Saunier to Aix les Bains. The quickest way was via Bourg en Bresse but we wanted to go through Switzerland and see Lake Geneva so we decided to go via the Col de la Faucille instead. Faucille means “scythe” in French and is so named because the mountain resembles a scythe in that the Lake Geneva side of the mountain is steep like a scythe’s blade with the it’s end rammed into the ground whereas the other side is much flatter similar to the shape of the scythe’s shaft.

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Col de la Faucille in the Jura mountains.  The Col de la Faucille is one of the most famous climbs in France and it recently featured in Daniel Friebe’s book about the Top 50 climbs in Europe “Mountain High”. We climbed the col via the N5 from Marez and went down the D1005 to Gex. But there is a third way to climb the col via the D436 from Saint Claude and this route will be used by the 2017 Tour de France on Stage 8 which finishes at the nearby ski resort of Station des Rousses. On a good day, you can see Mont Blanc from the summit of the Col de la Faucille but today was very cloudy and there was no sign of Mont Blanc.

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View of Lake Geneva in the distance. It was raining as we drove up the mountain but the sun started shining as we made our way down the far side towards Geneva. The climb up the Col de la Faucille from Morez averages only 3 % but the climb is much steeper on the other side and drops at an average gradient of 8 % down to Switzerland. There are a lot of lay-bys on the descent where you can stop and take in the view of Lake Geneva in the distance.

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Jeep Renegade at Carrefour in Segny. We had driven all the way from Pierrefonds almost to Geneva on one tank of diesel but the red light was on so we stopped here to fill up the Jeep and do some shopping. The kids were delighted to discover that they sell chocolate covered Mentos in France something you can’t get in Ireland. The French really love their chocolate and put chocolate into pastries, buns and even Mentos mints. But trying to find fruit bread or fruit cake is difficult and as for shortbread, forget about trying to find some in France and just bring your own.

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Clock at Geneva train station. 5 km from Segny, we crossed the border into Switzerland though there was no sign of any border guards at the customs posts. 10 mins later, we were in the centre of Geneva. I had offered a prize for whoever could take the best photo in Switzerland but it is difficult to take a good shot from a moving vehicle and this photo were the best anyone could manage. I am hoping to make it to Geneva again next year as during my attempt on the Route des Grands Alpes, so I will try and get some much better photos then.

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D’Velos bike shop in Epagny near Annecy. The D’Velos bike shop is a Shimano Service Centre so we stopped off here to see if they could fix the gears on my bike. One of the members of staff could speak English and I was able to explain to him about the gears not changing. He said that sometimes the cable  between the shifter and the derailleur can fray and I might not need to get a new shifter but only have to replace the cable. He said it was impossible to tell without taking off all the handlebar tape and then looking inside the shifter. The cable fraying would explain why some days I only had 3 gears before it stopped changing completely. He said that if I left the bike there the weekend, he would get someone to look at it on Friday as they were shut Thursday for Bastille Day. I agreed to leave the bike with them and told them I would collect it on Saturday.

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Camping du Sierroz in Aix les Bains. There was a lot more space in the Jeep without the bike though it was still cramped in the back. Lucky, we didn’t have too far to travel to make it to our campsite for the night here at Camping du Sierroz in Aix les Bains.

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Breakfast at McDonalds. Thursday was Bastille Day in France so most shops and cafe’s were shut for the day. But McDonald’s was open so we stopped off here for breakfast.

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Cycles Toinet in Aix les Bains. There is a bike shop beside McDonald’s and they were also open on Bastille Day and were hiring out bikes. As the prices were reasonable, we decided to hire a tandem and a mountain bike and a kid’s bike. There was a cycle path alongside the shop and the plan was to follow the path into town and then head to the promenade along the lake.

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Kid’s bikes are only €3 to hire for an hour at Cycles Toinet.  However,when we got to the town centre, rather than go towards the lake, we decided to go back towards the bike shop as the skies were getting very black. Sure enough, the heavens opened and we were forced to take shelter under a tree. We were stopped for about 15 mins but there was no sign off the rain easing off. The hour was now up so we had to make our way back to the bike shop eventhough we got absolutely drenched. Luckily, we all had jackets with us and it wasn’t too cold but the rain ruined what had been a pleasant spin.

Some photos in Cycles Toinet. It was still lashing rain after leaving the bikes back so we decided to wait a wee while in the Cycles Toinet bike shop to see if the rain eased off. Not that I minded one bit as I was like a kid in a toy shop surrounded by some of the best bikes money can buy. The shop had bikes for sale that cost over €5,000 but the bike that stood out was this Giant Road E Plus 2 which was for sale at €2,500. The same bike in the Giant store in Dublin is priced at €3,200 so here it was for sale for €700 less.

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Giant Road E Plus 2 in Cycles Toinet. The Giant Road E+2 comes with a Yamaha mid-drive motor and a 400 kWh battery which is built into the frame.The bike is limited to 25 kph so is actually not much faster than a normal road bike. But with the weight on Travoy, I normally only average 15 kmph during the Tour de Travoy so having an electric bike means I could average up to 200 km per day rather than around 100 km at the moment. The problem is to travel 200 km on an electric bike you would need at least 2 spare batteries. Replacement batteries for an electric bike are not cheap and cost an average of €500 each. Also, the batteries take 4 hours to charge so 3 batteries would take at least 12 hours to re-charge if you only have one charger. Maybe, in 5 years time, batteries will be much cheaper and it will then be time to invest in an electric bike.

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Stage 12 of the Tour de France. Eventually the rain eased and we made it back to the campsite in time to see the Tour de France climb Mont Ventoux. Due to wind at the summit, the stage finish had been moved to Chalet Reynard. This meant the stage would be shortened by 6 km and the amount of climbing reduced by 500m. It also meant the crowd was packed into a shorter distance which might partially explain what was to follow.

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Chris Froome running up Mont Ventoux. Chris Froome along with Richie Porte and Bauke Mollema had attacked at the foot of the climb but about 2 km from the finish, they ploughed into a motorbike which had been stopped due the size of the crowd. I have been watching the Tour de France since the early 80’s when they would show the highlights on BBC Grandstand even before coverage started on Channel 4 and later on ITV 4 and I have never ever seen anything like what happened next. Crashes are common on Tour de France stages and both Porte and Mollema managed to extricate their bike’s and carry on cycling. But Chris Froome’s bike was broke beyond repair so he started running up the hill to get to the finish. Of course,  in the early days of the Tour de France riders would often run up steep mountain roads like a cyclo-cross rider carrying their bike on their shoulder. But in recent times, it is unheard of for any cyclist, either an amateur or a professional, to start running in the middle of a road race let alone the Yellow Jersey holder in the biggest race in the world.

Froome abandons his neutral Mavic bike by the roadside. How Froome managed to run so far in a pair of cycle shoes without slipping I have no idea. Cycle shoes are not easy to run in as they all have a cleat attached to the shoe’s sole which clips into the pedals on a bike. Chris Froome in the Tour de France was using a custom made pair of cycle shoes made by Italian firm Sidi. Like all cycle shoes, they have a rigid sole designed to transfer power to the pedal but while such a shoe is OK for walking short distances, it would be very uncomfortable for running up hills. Team Sky use Shimano pedals so Froome’s Sidi Shot shoes would have been fitted with a Shimano cleat. These cleats are not compatible with either Look, Mavic or Speedplay pedals which other riders use as they are a different size and shape.

Froome’s Shimano pedals compared to Mavic and platform pedals on the Mavic neutral bikes. The Mavic neutral service vehicle had 3 spare bikes but none were fitted with Shimano pedals. Instead, the 3 bikes were fitted with Mavic pedals, Look pedals and old style platform pedals. The French firm Look invented clipless pedals in the 80’s and their pedals are still quite common in the pro peloton but no modern cyclist uses platform pedals and Mavic pedals are very rare. Shimano introduced their own pedals in the 90’s and they would be by far the most common type of pedal used by pro cyclists nowadays yet incredibly Mavic did not offer a spare bike with this option. Instead, according to Mavic, Chris was given a bike with platform pedals while other witnesses state he was given a bike with Mavic’s own pedals. Whatever happened, he could not clip into the pedals on the bike he was given and that is why he soon abandoned the neutral service bike for a replacement from his own team

Chris Froome crosses the finish line at Chalet Reynard. Technically, it is illegal to run during a bike race and had Froome crossed the finish line without a bike, he could have been disqualified. But such was the crowd on Mont Ventoux, Froome obviously thought that the only way he could get a spare bike was to run to where there was more space. He eventually crossed the line about 2 minutes after the other Tour favourites. Team Sky immediately appealed and the yellow jersey presentation was delayed for about an hour as the commisaires debated what to do. They eventually agreed to give Porte and Froome the same time as Mollema who had crossed the line about 3 minutes ahead of Froome. This was a sensible solution as the crash was more the fault of the crowd and the motorbike than the 3 cyclists. Tour de France Directeur General, Christain Prudhomme, on TV later described the crash as “une situation exceptionelle” and most of the TV pundits and even the other teams seemed to agree with the decision.

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Bastille Day in Aix les Bains. Due to all the rain and a forecast of more thunderstorms, the Bastille Day fireworks were cancelled in Aix les Bains. However, most restaurants were open in the evening, so we treated ourselves to pizza in Les Voiles Brassiere about 1 km from the campsite. The pizza’s were huge but I made the mistake of ordering a topping of mince. There was a mountain of mince on the pizza and it slightly ruined what was otherwise a delicious pizza. The kids ordered adult sized pizzas and I had to help them finish eating theirs. Our bellies full we went for a walk along the port before heading back to the campsite.

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