Last week an advance party of five members of Muswell Hill Peloton headed to Oz-en-Oisans near Le Bourg d’Oisans. Average age 51.4 years and average weight 80kgs.
London was dry and enjoying plenty of warm sunshine for the time of year. Conversely, France appeared to be in the midst of a typical English summer. As we sped south, stage 5 of the Tour de France was taking place, in part, on the Paris- Roubaix route in torrential rain, and the treacherous conditions claimed the scalp of defending champion Chris Froome even before the hallowed but slippery cobbles of Arenburg.
After a long day of travel, we were fed handsomely by Andy and Jill at Chateau d’Oz which is situated near the base of the Col de la Croix de Fer (or Glandon, depending on your viewpoint), perched above Allemont by the side of Lac Vernay.
Thursday dawned cold and wet. Conditions were not forecast to improve, so we donned waterproof gear, and stuffed as much extra clothing and food as we were able into our aerodynamic saddlebags and bulging rear pockets.
The planned route took us down the valley to Rochetaillee and along the D1091 to Le Bourg d’Oisans, a dynamic hub for outdoor activities with a population of 3000 whose number is swollen by thrill seeking bikers, hikers, skiers and snowboarders.
The town is corralled by numerous mountains and perhaps the most famous climb in road biking starts right on its doorstep, L’Alpe D’Huez.
But we had decided to climb the Alp by the back door, via the gravelly Col de Sarenne, which involved grimping up 3kms of Alpe d’Huez at 10%, followed by a foggy ascent of the D211A to Auris before hurtling down to Le Freney on the D1091.
It’s all uphill from Le Freney to the summit of Sarenne. About 15 kms at an average gradient of 7% with prolonged ramps of 9%. It’s no place for vanity or even aesthetics. What you need is a comfortable bike with adequate low gearing and plenty of patience.
When we did eventually arrive at the top, we were greeted by a chilly wilderness. No one wanted to hang about for a picnic. Winter gloves, thermal leggings, arm warmers and under helmet skull caps were thrust on to our shivering body parts before tackling the ups and downs at 2000m on route to lunch at Alpe d’Huez.