Wow. That’s the best way to describe my experience this year with DuVine. I had high hopes for this trip, based solely on my adventure last year with DuVine. So high that I was a little nervous that if this trip didn’t live up to expectations it would tarnish my memories of Belgium. Thankfully the trip exceeded my hopes and met my (unreasonably high) expectations.
Every member of the DuVine team that I had dealings with were terrific. At my business we work under the mantra, “Make It Easy To Do Business With TwinPro” and I think DuVine do as well. They make it easy and offer services to make it even easier!
Our guides, Arien & Krysten, do all the standard guide things with skill and ease. But it’s the little things they do, above and beyond the expected and required, that made the trip truly exceptional.
This was my sixth cycling-specific trip and third to watch Le Tour. You’d think that getting to a spot at the side of the road to watch a bike race would be something that anyone could do; and you’d be right. But DuVine do more. They make it an event.
Most of us are familiar with the circus clown car where it appears as though an endless supply of clowns are packed into a tiny car. Arien and Krysten have harnessed that magic and used it to their advantage with a seemingly endless supply of treats and drinks, all prepared and presented at the side of the road as if from a complete kitchen!! Incroyable!
I’m sure that most readers have long since given up reading my praise for DuVine but if not… If you’re thinking of going on a cycling trip, please contact DuVine. And tell them I sent you. Thanks. Maybe I’ll see you on my next adventure with them.
Up early and checked out of the hotel, we made our way by van to the Grenoble train station. We had to catch the TGV to Paris. As we drove through Les Deux Alpes we watched cyclists and skiers getting ready for the day. It’s funny seeing folks in cycling shorts and shirts next to people in full ski gear!
The drive to Grenoble took us through the Romanche River valley – a valley filled with hydro electric projects and signs of an industrial past.
Once onto the train you could almost see the riding mode get turned off in each of our travelers. The reality that the riding was complete and the tour was winding down felt good and bad all at once.
As we pulled into Paris the rain started. A fitting bookend to our tour that started with crazy rain on Allos.
Arien and Krysten got us to our hotel, fed and then over to the Champs d’Élysées where we watched the finale of Le Tour from grand stand seats. When I say “we” only Brad, Margaret and I stuck around to watch the finish. Everyone else had returned to the hotel. The rain, wind and cool temperatures were not ideal for racing or watching but as we’d come this far I wanted to see it through.
After the race we rejoined the group at an amazing restaurant called “Derriére”. Wow. Great food in an incredible setting. It even had a secret smoking room that you accessed through an armoire. Wild!
After hours of great food and drink most of us retired to our hotel for a final night of sleep before heading our separate ways. Most. A few hearty souls went out to a club and parties with Tour riders until 4am…
Our final day of riding saw us ride an amazing climb out to La Garde and then up a couple of switchbacks to turn 14 where Arien and Krysten had the van set-up with tents, chairs, snacks and drinks.
The ride to Alpe d’Huez was amazing. The first part of the climb was tough but it saw us gain lots of altitude quickly, which made the second part of the ride all the more spectacular.
The road was carved into the side of the mountain face. With 1000 foot plus drops at the edge of the road!
Arriving at Alpe d’Huez you could feel the excitement in the air, even though there was almost five hours until the pros came through.
Having settled in to our space on the mountain we enjoyed a delicious picnic lunch before we set off to explore the chaos of the Alpe.
At Dutch Corner the party was in full swing. Thousands of fans lined the road dressed in orange. The music was pumping, people were singing and dancing, and the beer was flowing! If you get to Alpe d’Huez on race day be sure to swing by corner 7.
We returned to our base to watch the race as we had to ride back to the hotel. With a few hundred thousand people on a mountain with only one exit road, you want to be near the front!
We took the same route back as we took to get to the Alpe. It was equally stunning in reverse!
Once we’d showered and changed we went out for dinner at a great little restaurant in Les Deux Alpes. Food, drinks and laughter took us well into the night. Another amazing day.
Alpe d’Huez. Woo hoo! The day before the pros race it. We rolled out of the hotel and descended into the river valley. This ride alone is awesome. Switchbacks, amazing vistas, tunnels, and tons of speed as it’s all downhill. And then a ripping flat stretch before making the turn onto the first slope of Alpe d’Huez.
This climb is famous in cycling history and many amazing races have taken place here. I wanted to better my time from when I rode it in 2008, but I was also determined to soak in the atmosphere and have a beer at Dutch Corner. I did both.
After finishing my beer I continued towards the summit, riding steady until the final switchback where I did my best Chris Froome impression and hammered it for a bit. The final couple of kilometres through the town is my favourite part of the climb. Ripping through town, under the building, around the round-about, and then up to the finish line in front of the grand stands is amazing.
We hung out in town for a while as the rest of our group completed the climb. Having shopped and caught our breath we got back on our bikes and rode the Col de Sarenne to our spot for lunch. An amazing off-the-grid, (and off the beaten path) refuge in the mountains. The food was ready upon our arrival and it was INCREDIBLE.
After lunch we descended the most crazy road I’ve ever been on. One filled with breathtaking views at every corner, and life-taking falls if you took a turn too hot!
In the evening we were on our own to explore the town. Six of us went out and had dinner at La Maison de Raclette… Eating traditional Alpine dishes! We had a great time.
After a fun couple of days in Jausiers it is time to leave and move to Les Deux Alpes. The trip is roughly two hours of winding mountain roads. Still worried about getting car sick I sat in the front seat. It helped, but it didn’t eliminate it completely. I guess this is the new normal for me post-concussion.
Our ride today was an “easy” one with only one Cat3 climb. In the blazing sun. Without any wind. And barely any shade. Wow. It was a hot one. But the descent more than made up for it with stunning views and vistas at every turn. And there were A LOT of turns.
At the bottom of the valley is Bourg d’Oisans. A great town that really comes alive for Le Tour. It is at the base of Alpe d’Huez; the holy grail of cycling climbs.
We stopped for lunch on a nice patio in the shadow of the Alpe… And talked about it, and how we were going to conquer it in the morning. Oh yeah!
A few brave souls decided to ride from lunch back to the hotel in Les Deux Alpes. It’s a very challenging climb up to the village and as I was already toasted from the last three days I opted for the van. Happy me.
We watched the final 50km of today’s stage in a TV in the hotel bar before heading out on our own to explore.
Dinner was a group event at the hotel restaurant, filled with great food, nice wines and lots of laughs. So much so that we were piloted asked to leave as they were trying to close up for the night! We’ve got a great group on this adventure.
After a restless night – the time change coupled with a sore back – we woke early for a big day of riding before watching the pros finish at Praloup.
The ride took us up Col de la Bonnette – the highest pass in Europe at 2802 metres. It was a long, 23km, and tough, 8% +, climb. Thankfully the scenery was spectacular so we were able to mostly ignore the pain in our legs and lungs!
At the top we quickly took some photos, bundled up, and headed back down. It was a perfect morning for riding which made for an extremely fun descent. Smooth pavement, quiet roads, and awesome switchbacks. Oh yeah.
Today’s stage of Le Tour finished at Praloup; roughly 12km from our hotel. We rode through the valley and climbed up to 3km from the finish.
The roads are closed to cars and bikes four or more hours before the race comes through. This meant we had to get there early and then pass the time on the side of the mountain. In the blistering heat and sun. Thankfully DuVine took care of us with food, drinks and tents to shelter us. Awesome.
Haven ridden up the climb we knew how hard it was. But when the pros came by they made it look WAY TOO EASY. But that’s why they’re pro.
After the race passed we got back in our bikes and headed back to the hotel. That’s when the rain started. It was the hardest rain I’ve ever experienced. Hard in the sense that it hurt when the drops hit my face. A lot. But it made for an exciting ride as the pros were also riding down to their team busses. Weaving through the cars and pedestrians while drafting two Katusha riders was a definite highlight for me.
Once we all showered and cleaned up we headed back up Bonnette for dinner at a restaurant described as being, “at the end of the world. Truly.”
And that’s exactly where it was. And it was amazing. Dinner, drinks, lots of laughs and then sleep. Perfect.
An early wake-up was required as I had to catch a train from the airport and get downtown. Much like Toronto, Lyon has a rail link that cost roughly $22 and runs every 15 minutes.
After an easy trip downtown, I collected my tickets for the train trip to Gap. While waiting for the train I watched a steady flow of commuters get off their trains and head into the city. I was struck by the number of people carrying or riding scooters.
Onto the train and out to Grenoble for a change of trains. At the station I ran into Brad – my friend from the Belgium Cobbles trip. He informed me that the train engineers were on strike and we’d have to take a bus to Gap. Boo.
The two and a half hour bus ride gave me motion sickness. Boo.
Once in Gap we were met by Arien and Krysten – our DuVine guides. They drove us to our hotel where we had a quick lunch under a tent. A great start!
After lunch we went for a ride. It was overcast and threatening to rain but looked good. So off we went to climb Col d’Allos. A nice 14km climb. As we approached the climb it started to rain a little. And then a lot. And it kept raining. All the way up, and all the way down. I loved it. No one else did. I hit the climb hard and didn’t let up – finished a few minutes ahead of the next guy. It was so much fun. I felt like a pro on a breakaway.
Once back at the hotel and dried off we had a nice group dinner before retiring to bed, resting up for the big day tomorrow.
After an uneventful flight where I managed to get about four hours of sleep I arrived in Paris to clouds and rain. Hopefully it’s the end of rain for my trip!
I made my way through the terminals, security and customs in record time achieving what I hope is the first of many KOMs! At customs the woman didn’t even look at me; she just stamped my passport and waved me away.
I made my way to the Air France lounge and settled in for a couple hours of watching planes and people.
At the scheduled boarding time I made my way to the gate… Only to find that none of the fates displayed any flight info! Ten minutes after boarding was to start I discover they’ve changed my gate! Over to the correct gate, onto the plane and then a quick flight to Lyon – highlighted by the howls of joy from the tree young children sitting in the row behind me. The flight was very turbulent and the kids enjoyed it like a roller coaster. So did I!
At the Lyon airport I walked what felt like 5km from my gate to the hotel… Through the maze of concourses, escalates, and elevators. I was full sweat by time I arrived at the hotel. Fun!
Some emails, dinner and a drink and then time for sleep. Day two is in the bag.
I hope that once the tour starts it will start to feel like a vacation. Fingers crossed!
My 6:30 flight was cancelled and I was rebooked on the 9:25 flight. This meant I would miss my connection in Paris to Lyon. Air France took care of that and booked me on a later connection. Although everything was resolved it’s not the way I wanted the trip to start.
My anxiety about the trip was already high enough!
Once at the airport it was a seven minute journey from the self-check-in to the Air France Lounge. Wow. Super easy tonight. Dinner, a couple of beers, and I passed the two and a half hours watching planes and people.
When it comes time for boarding chaos breaks out. Scheduled to start at 8:20 the gate agents announce that they will start boarding only when the line-up area is clear. No one understands and the line grows. Several announcements and 45 minutes later boarding begins. It’s ridiculous how rude most passengers are to one another and the staff. And how airlines have created this culture by charging so much for checked baggage. No one wants to check anything so they try to being more than they are allowed on the planes. Yikes!
At 10pm we finally pushed back and my flight to France began.