155 kms, 3,800+ metres of elevation.
Standing on this particular start line was the culmination of months of training. I missed Gold last year due to darn Joux Plane providing a struggle after 123 kms and nearly 3,000 metres of climbing. Would it prevent me from achieving my 2018 goal?
If you've never ridden a cyclosportive, you should. It's a mass start race and while that might sound scary, the standard of riding and skill is exemplary. Riders are protected by motorcycle outriders, marshalls at junctions who stop traffic and the whole atmosphere is electric.
With bib number 142, I was shepherded to the front start pen so got to experience the 'effortless' speed on the first short climb out of Morzine. The lead car with sirens blazing led us up the hill towards Les Gets before we plunged down a descent to the base of the first climb just below Montrinond.
The Col de Joux Verte is a classic Alpine ascent, 14 kms of super roads, with 7% sections leading to steeper sections and hairpins just under 'Goat Village' (Les Lindarets) which has goats everywhere and a small but thriving tourist industry based on goats! It's considered by many to be a HC climb.
The descent on the Alvoriaz road is fast with speeds around 70 kms/hr without really trying. The hairpins are smooth and flowing and then you arrive back in Morzine before heading further down the valley. Next up was the category 2 climb Col du Corbier - short at only 6 kms and a steady 7-8% gradient.
From the summit is a huge flowing descent through hairpins and Bonnevaux before, what I think, is one of the most beautiful sections of the ride to Ecotex.
The short category 4 ascent of about 3 kms to the Col du Grand Taillet has spectacular views across a wide valley. Several hairpins break up the climb which in some ways ends too quickly.
The descent through La Forclaz is technical but also amazing. Full concentration required but it's a mental effort not to be distracted by the views which reveal themselves through the trees. After a very short kick-up the next descent continues on a wide fast main road before turning left and the feed station at La Vernaz reached after a 3 kms climb of about 6-7%.
More descending into a wide and open valley followed by a gradual 9 kms climb 4-5% to reach the summit of Col de Jambaz. The descent to Megevette is superb, wide road and masses of vision for high speeds.
But, Joux Plane is looming! The next section is quiet, peaceful and lulling into a sense of calm as you gradually climb your way to the road leading to Col de Ramaz (a favourite climb of mine). We join the road just north of Messy so now follows another long descent down to Mieussy where we turn onto the road to Taninges edging ever closer to the big one!
A brief water stop at Taninges and we're heading to the base of the Col de Joux Plane. This climb is tough, it's hard, it's unforgiving and it does all it can to break you after 123 kms and the climbing completed.
Plus, the route takes you onto the hardest entrance to this climb through La Pampraz which includes some spiteful ramps of 20% before you hit the Joux Plane proper some 10 kms from the summit. Factor in the heat - it's a south-facing slope and absorbs the heat. I recorded 35C for the first 5 kms, it dropped a little for the next 2 kms. Cloud cover during the last 3 kms was a relief. Don't be fooled by the kilometre signs that tell you averages of 7%, 8%, 9% - the reality is more like 9% with ramps in places of up to 15%. I crawled at 6-8 kms/hr, sometimes a lot less, it's a grinder, even with 34x29 gearing.
Everyone suffers, with muttered 'Bon courage' passing between us. The 'knowing looks' connect you with fellow sufferers. The legs burn, your head pounds in the heat from above and from the tarmac below. The trees promise shade but they don't provide much during the early afternoon. During the last 2 kms the gradient eases to about 6%, then 5%, then 4% and the last kilometre is gratefully received.
Just 22 kms from the summit the finish line beckons. Technical and fast down to Morzine for the third time and the bottom of the Col de Joux Verte and the final 3 kms climb of 4-5% and the finish at the spectacular Lac Montrinond.
I've done it! Gold Award, 4th in my age category (missed a podium 3rd place by just over a minute) but my goal was achieved. 08:10:24. Will I be back next year? Hell, yes - I've got a podium place to get!!
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