#1 Climbing Mont Ventoux from Sault. Mont Ventoux is a super, super climb past lavender fields to start with, then pine forests and finally limestone rocks that look like the surface of the moon. I had got up at 6 o’clock to tackle the climb before it got too hot and my early start paid off as I reached the top in 94 minutes. When I checked my stats on Strava, I was amazed to find that I had climbed Mont Ventoux faster than 85% of the cyclists that have tackled this fabled climb. Over 20,000 cyclists have climbed Mont Ventoux on Strava making it and Alpe d’Huez the 2 most popular mountain climbs in the world. Having climbed both, I have to say I prefer Mont Ventoux as there is less traffic and the views from the top are better. But such a beautiful climb also has a tragic history The photo above is taken about 1 km from the summit and you can just make out the Tom Simpson Memorial to the right of this photo. This is how close Tom Simpson got to the top of Mont Ventoux during the Tour de France in 1967 before he collapsed and it may well have been the last image he saw before he died. Some of the best photos during the 2017 Tour de Travoy were taken the day I climbed Mont Ventoux and the one above was certainly the most poignant.
#2 Visiting the Musee d’Orsay in Paris. The Musee d’Orsay is a delight with lots of famous paintings but the stand out exhibit is the sculpture of the Little Dancer ballerina by Edgar Degas. The sculpture dates from 1880 and was originally sculpted in wax before being cast in bronze. There are lots of famous paintings and sculptures in the Musee d’Orsay but unlike in some museums, such as the Louvre, the exhibits are not overwhelming and the crowds not as big so it is well worth a visit.. With only one full day for sightseeing in Paris, myself, my sister and my niece could not have picked a better place to spend our day than at the Musee d’Orsay.
#3 Stunning vistas along the Route des Grandes Alpes. This photo shows Mont Blanc as viewed from the road up to the Col des Saisies near the small mountain village of Hauteluce. At 4,808m in altitude, it is the highest mountain in Europe and it really dominates this part of the Alps. It is so high it is one of the few mountains in the Alps that is covered in snow all year round and it is this snow and it’s height that makes it stand out, especially in the middle of the summer. It is an incredible sight whether approaching it from the Aosta Valley in Italy as I did on last year’s tour or from here in the Savoy region of France. This was the third time on this year’s tour that I had caught sight of Mont Blanc having already spotted it on the way to the Col d’Iseran and also from La Plagne. I had seen many a mountain while cycling the Route des Grandes Alpes from Menton on the Mediterranean Sea but none were as impressive as Mont Blanc. By the time I got to Hauteluce, I had already covered 550 km of the Route des Grande Alpes and only had another 100 km to go to get to Lake Geneva. So the sight of Mont Blanc was even more welcome as I realized I had almost completed my main aim of this year’s tour to cross the Alps with Travoy.
#4a Visiting the Basque Region of Spain Guernika is a town in the Basque region of Spain that is famous for being bombed by the German Luftwaffe in 1937 during the Spanish Civil War. The event was immortilized by the Spanish painter Pablo Picasso who produced this modernist masterpiece and arguably his most famous painting just a few weeks after the bombing. The real Picasso painting is now in the Reina Sofia museum in Madrid but in Guernika, there is a replica made from tiles. I believe it is the same size as the original and measures about 8 m long by 3.5 m high. It is quite a stunning reproduction and the fact that the replica is outside for anyone to see only adds to it’s appeal.
#4b Visiting the Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao and getting to see a Holy Communion service in the Artzain Onaren Cathedral in San Sebastian. Just like in Dublin, there are loads of churches and cathedrals in San Sebastian. The first one we came across we went into as I wanted a stamp for my pilgrim’s passport. But instead of getting a stamp, we stumbled upon something much better, a Holy Communion service. The girls were all dressed in white and while most boys had suits on, 2 were dressed in sailor’s outfits. This is the traditional Holy Communion outfit in the Basque Country and it was an incredible sight to see the children and proud relatives looking on. We only stayed for 10 minutes, but getting to see a Holy Communion service in San Sebastian was one of the highlights of our week-end. What made the service even more memorable was that it was totally by chance as there were no notices at all outside the cathedral.
#5 Watching the Tour de France on the Col d’Izoard. The photo above shows the Simon Yates and Chris Froome leading the peloton during Stage 18 of the Tour de France. The photo was taken about 3 km from the stage finish at the top of the Col d’Izoard. Romain Bardet and Rigoberto Uran are hidden behind Froome but you can make out Louis Mentjies and just behind him Dan Martin. Dan looked very tired when he went past me and it was no surprise when he finished 17 seconds behind both Froome and Bardet at the top of the climb. The stage was won by Warren Barguil, who was the second rider to pass me about 20 seconds behind Darwin Atapuma at the 3 km to go banner. Warren, whose nickname is WaWa, caught up with Darwin between the Casse Deserte and the finish before dropping him and winning the stage by 20 seconds. It was an exciting end to what had been a very cagey stage as Froome and Team Sky chased down any attacks by the other GC contenders. Froome looked comfortable as he passed under the 3 km and finished with the same time as Bardet to effectively wrap up his fourth Tour de France title.
#6 Cycling through Provence and along the Gorges de Verdon. The photo above shows the Lac de Sainte Croix and the Pont du Gelatas bridge over the Verdon river. Before entering the Lac de Sainte Croix, the Verdon flows through a canyon, which is called the Gorges de Verdon, and it is as spectacular as the Grand Canyon in the USA. On a normal day, I take about 100 photos but the day I went through the Gorges de Verdon, I took over 300 photos. In recent years, smart cycle trainers have become very popular which allow you to train while watching a road on a video. The trainer responds to the gradient in the video (i.e the steeper the climb, the greater the increase in resistance from the trainer), which makes it feel as if you are cycling along a route for real. The world’s biggest manufacturer of smart cycle trainers is a Dutch company called Tacx and all their smart trainers come with a free sample video of the D952 road along the Gorges de Verdon. I have a Tacx Vortex trainer myself and have cycled the Gorge de Verdon video dozens of times but during the Tour de Travoy, I got to cycle the same road for real.
#7 Climbing the Col du Tourmalet. At 2,115m, the Col du Tourmalet is the highest pass in the Pyrenees and one of the highest in France. It really is an epic climb which gets steeper and steeper the higher you climb. It was the number 1 climb on my bucket list and the climb I was looking forward to doing the most during this Tour. With all the history associated with the Tourmalet, I was determined to do it in a good time. After completing the climb in 88 minutes, less time than it takes to watch a football match, I felt like I did the climb justice.
#8 Completing the mini-Marmotte. The Marmotte is the world’s most famous cycle sportive and includes the climbs of the Glandon, Telegraphe, Galibier and Alpe d’Huez in it’s 174 km route. The Marmotte takes place on the first Saturday in July and every year, over 7,000 cyclists enter it though some years, over one third of the cyclists fail to complete it. I have always wanted to try it so seeing as I was in the Alps, I thought I would attempt part of the route to get a rough idea what it takes to complete the whole event. I had climbed Alpe d’Huez in 2015 so decided to skip it and only climb the other big 3 climbs. Despite setting off at 7, it took over 12 hours to get to the top of the Col du Glandon and I still had 60 km to go to get back to Modane. It was after 10 before I made it back to the campsite and pitch dark for the last 20 km but luckily, I had a set of lights on the bike for going through the many tunnels on the route of the Marmotte. It was the first, and hopefully also the last, time on the Tour de Travoy that I had ever finished a day’s cycling in the dark. My total cycling time was 11 and half hours but total time on the road was actually over 15 hours. I was totally and utterly exhausted but it was the perfect insight into what it takes to complete the Marmotte.
#9 Climbing the Alto de Perdon in Navarra and visiting Pamplona. I had cycled roughly 3,000 km to get to Pamplona and I was roughly at the halfway point on this year’s Tour de Travoy. It was Hemingway that put Pamplona on the map when he went to the San Fermin festival here in 1923 and later wrote about the Running of the Bulls in his book The Sun Never Sets (Fiesta). Hemingway was arguably the greatest writer of the 20th Century and certainly lived life to the full. He traveled the world at a time when there were no jet airplanes and lived in Paris, Venice, Florida and even Cuba during his life. He is certainly revered in Pamplona with his image adorning many a shop and cafe and fittingly, there is also a statue of him outside the famous bullring in the centre of Pamplona. To get here, I had to first climb the Alto de Perdon which is one of the highest climbs for pilgrims making their way to Santiago on the Camino Frances. But the views from the summit of Pamplona and the Pyrenees in the distance were well worth the effort.
#10 Getting to see a fog filled valley from the summit of La Pierre Saint Martin in the Pyrenees. La Pierre Saint Martin is where Chris Froome produced shock and awe to decimate his rivals in the first mountain stage of the 2015 Tour de France. I too experienced shock and awe when I climbed the same mountain from Arette on a cloudy Sunday afternoon in June 2017. Shock at getting to the top within my target time of 2 hours and awe at some of the views from the summit. The summit is at 1850m and the mountain is so high, I ended up climbing through the cloud-line so that when I got to the top, it was like being in a plane and I was able to look down on the clouds below. At times, climbing La Pierre Saint Martin was like climbing a wall but the views from the summit made all the effort worthwhile. It truly is a wonderwall of a climb and deserves to be much more popular than it seems to be.