Archive for the ‘Road Biking’ Category

Le tour et la vie Genev/CERNois

July 21, 2012

Short stories, three posts in one, because it has been a while and because, porqoui pas?


Col de la Faucille, down the valley of the Valeserine through limestone tunnels and slender tree forests with curling roots, buttressing a verdant and invisible canyon before dropping at last down into Bellegarde. Bellegarde, industrial blocked Bellegarde, on the other side of the pass, Stage Finish, le arriveé. When I saw the tour in the mountains last year, the whole experience seemed larger than life itself: So much so that it warranted three gushing and fangirlish blog posts on the matter. Before then I had watched the tour on television every summer for almost as long as I could remember, and being there for the first time and in fact, being in the Alps for the first time was nothing short of, well, magic. But this year in Bellegarde, the scene was flooded with fans and everything happens faster that I can really parse. I did manage to cheer for my favorites: Allez pour Voeckler, the Frenchman with the German name, Hopp hopp for Jensie, who came in third, venga venga para Valverde, and Go Go for Cadel Evans, who, for the record, looked absolutely pissed. But the highligt of the day was that I mananged to scream HEEEEJA HEJA at the Sweeeede in the polkdot jersey, which is not something one gets to do often at the tour.

Afterward, I drug myself home through rural France, up and over the pass into Pays de Gex, because as I have learned the hard way a few times: One Does Not Simply Roll Out of Bellegarde. I’m not sure how I got tricked into doing over 100k on my mountain bike on the road, but somehow it happened. It often does.


I’m uncertain as to what kind of parallel universe I am in, now that I am apparently chic enough to stand on street corners in Genève in the company of three Parisians and a horde of friendly Polonaise. But despite all odds, this seems to be my current reality. Nevertheless, I accept it and stand on the corner on this warm but rainy Swiss evening, trying to engross myself in the mental exercise of pretending I can speak French. It’s not easy, because truth be told I don’t speak French and even just the Europe-south-of-Copenhagen mindset is still not something that comes to me completely naturally. One of the smiling Poles is distractedly swirling her glass around this cobbled street in Medieval Geneva, flooded in golden lamplight; it’s the kind of place that apparently bores Parisians and Poles but makes Americans swoon. It is booooring here, she whines. We will go to the party of the summer students, yes? Ve ‘ave a car, so porqoui pas?

Once at CERN, le soireé de summerstudent resurrects vivid memories of the only middle school dance I ever attended before I promptly decided that wasn’t my scene. At the very least, it smells a bit like it: socks and vodka. We appear to be in something like a gym (at least it smells like it) located behind one of the hostel buildings and soon enough, my friend whispers in my ear. She says: See, there are the boys with big hair and bad tshirts who’ve never danced before in their lives. Surely, they are failing about, maybe some of them are or soon will be a bit sick with alcohol. If the party has any redeeming feature, it is that watching budding physicists dance is somewhat amusing. What this scene mostly glaringly lacks in comparison with my horrid middle school memories is the presence of the coiffed Orange County elite; the ones who arrived in limousines while my friends and I arrived (or didn’t arrive at all) by bike, bus, or minivan. But seeing as this is not Orange County and is instead an empty building in a particle physics lab in semirural SwitzaFrance*, it should come as no surprise, and really, I don’t miss them. As the music achieves a level terrible I have never experienced prior, I notice that above the ‘bar’ there is a whiteboard that lists the prices of drinks as ‘uncertain’ and quotes Heisenberg. CERN: It is a special place.

Le Soireé de summerstudent, I don’t think I will be back.


I’m standing at the computer when hear a loud noise. Never a good situation. My colleague, who is arranging water cooling lines, looks over at me. What was that? I ask, as his eyes inflate to the size of M12 washers. It was a splash. I toss him some paper towels and quickly negotiate my way around the experiment to check on the bakeout controllers. I curse out loud: An entire controller had shorted out. I guess the breaker tripping must have been audible , because the powers that be run down from upstairs and after a few minutes with the multimeter deduce that, while it’s not clear exactly what happened, something shorted to ground. We, the two of us who know exactly what happened, just stand there exchanging nervous glances. I can’t take it. Well, I say, slowly, there was water.


*I am coining this term.

Ride Report: Col du Grand Colombier

June 16, 2012

It turns out that getting 6 or fewer hours of sleep for two consecutive weeks does not come without consequence. And so today, a day off, I am regulated from actually riding my bike, to simply writing about it. It’s maddening, sitting inside when the Central European Climate just decided to agree with the calendar and make it summer.  So, outside it’s pushing 30 (a bit too hot, admittedly) and I’m inside recovering from some strange illness which has taken my voice and, apparently, my will to stay awake past 7PM in the evening. On the plus side, you all finally get to hear about the trip up Colombier with three women from CERN Velo Club.


“How, how in holy heck, are we going to get up there?” I remember thinking while riding through the forested part of the Colombier, the Jura’s most infamous mountain for cycling. Every few minutes a gap of sky would emerge between the pines and the Col itself would become visible: with sheer granite walls, it appeared a route more suited for rock climbers than for cyclists.

Suddenly, there was a switchback and the forest stopped and everything opened up into a grassy expanse. For the first time, the road ahead became visible and we knew what we were in for.

Oh. I see. Yes, that is indeed how in holy heck we are going to get up there. We are going to climb.

I traced the road for you

We had been climbing for 12 km already, not counting the (x km) ascent to Col du Richmonde we bagged en route. I’m not going to pretend that some ziggzagging did not take place* on that last bit of road, which makes the rest of the Colombier seem like child’s play. It is this stretch of road that makes the Col infamous: there are four ways up, but all of them end with the killer grade. And on July 10th, the tour de France will ascend it for the first time in history, at a markedly faster pace than my own.

But oh, the view from the top! Not other worldly like summits in the Alps, rather quite the opposite! Colombier is airy but green and the view below is is lush and so wonderfully earthy. From the ridge of the Jura the Rhône valley opens up below in a turquoise flume between legions of verdant hillsides, dotted with toylike villages. And in the distance, the Alps, as always, white and violet. You look out over the whole region and be more present in your own skin solely because you are so aware of the geography and your singular place in it.**

Descending was marvelous: woody, winding, reminding you you’re alive. It was only after passing Sessyel, a town at the base of the mountain, that the heat really set in. As we climbed out of the Rhône valley, with still 85 km left until home, Jenny’s rear innertube exploded. At first we thought it was a heat pop, but then we noticed her tire was shredded. We booted it the best we could, and she rolled back to the train in Sessyel. And then there were two.

Next came 40 or so km, a blur of rolling hills, of vast and breathless farmland, agrarian raptures. We were, however, chased by the knowledge that we were running low on water. It’s funny how the senses heighten for survival: On the backside of a roller, I thought I heard the sound of water flowing. I brushed it off as a hallucination until Sue called out: Did you hear that? We pulled the brakes immediately and backtracked. Water, indeed, gushing out of one of the small roadside fountains, made explicitly for this purpose. We would make it home alive.

It is worth noting, that the climb out of Bellegarde and over the pass into Pays de Gex is not insignificant.

40 km later, I saw the CERN water tower in the distance, and I was not, by any means going to get on any road that led me in the opposite direction. Soon enough I was back at work, and my colleague in the office next door was confused as to why I could barely walk. I sat in the CERN cafeteria for almost an hour before I could muster the courage to ride home.

Voilà: first ride more than a century (170 km) ride with over 2000m of climbing. Here’s to many more!


*For the record, I still believe Galibier is a tougher climb. Not as steep on average, maybe, but longer, higher, and in thinner air. Up next Colombière (the Alpine one) and Col de Cou. Stay tuned, as I continue to avoid the whole Planning For My Future ordeal by climbing as many mountains as I conceivably can during my limited free time in this strange place, which just may as well be called “Heaven for Cyclists.”

**Parts of this description are borrowed from a letter, apologies to the one person reading them twice.

Ride Report: Genevarundan, Doing it Better

May 24, 2012

Swapping stories about about climbing Old La Honda road in Palo Alto, CA in good ol’ American English with someone you just met while riding your boss’s road bike* through Switzerland is not something one usually deems highly probable.

Swapping stories about Vätternrundan in good ol’ Scanian Swedish with someone you just met while riding your boss’s road bike through rural Switzerland is likewise not something that seems highly probable.

Accomplishing both on the same ride, as I managed to do last Sunday while riding the 190 km around Lake Geneva (a ride I did alone last summer) with CERN Velo Club, surely is a sign that some constellation, somewhere is aligning in my favor.

Genevarundan, as I call it on this blog and in my head, was this time around, infinitely easier. Possibly due to a) Well, I’ve actually been waking up early and riding intervals lately and b) Generally company makes such ventures better if not for the conversation, then for the draft. I felt strong, even if the pace was admittedly low and the road admittedly flat. All was well until the Fillet du Pêrche et pommes frites, a semi-forced lunch at restaurant outside of Montreaux, sank down like a greasy weight at the bottom of my stomach. But the cramps stopped after Evian and slowly but surely Geneva, the Saleve, the Jura, all the things familiar curled up around us. When it was over, we all ate ice cream in front of Jet D’Eau and later I successfully sneaked my professor’s carbon road bike past my landlady and into my room.

What’s more: Women cyclists, against all of my previous notions, do exist here! We were three girls in the pack on Sunday, and I’m happy to say we were easily the three strongest riders (Physicists don’t get to train much, I guess). In fact, a girls trip up Colombière, that road that is the stuff of legend, is in the works. We’ll see what the whirlwind brings.**


*And this time, I had the guts to ask him myself if I could ride it. He agreed, less grudgingly than before, but on the condition that I replace the rear derailleur cable. Done and done.

**On the CERN front: Many hours on vacuum systems, control systems, rewelded joints, etc. Apologies for only writing about fun. More on less important things later.

Route Report: Laguna Loop

February 15, 2012

Forgive me, but: this post only applies to cyclists living in the Orange County area, a subset of the population which I realize does not typically coincide with the subset of the population reading this blog. However, on the off chance that another soul wandering this land of infinite good weather and infinite freeways on two wheels comes across this site, I want to spare them the pains of figuring this out.

It seems sort of like an obvious route, but honestly, it took me about a month to trailblaze a variation of it that a) is longer than 20 km b) includes decent climbing and c) does not dead end onto any major freeways.

Start and end point is the Back Bay Parking lot, on University and Irvine Ave.

Words of advice:

1. Be careful on Laguna Canyon Road. It is a popular road for cycling, but honestly, it is heavily trafficked and the shoulder is narrow and poorly maintained; sometimes it is even obstructed with washed out sediment and/or construction barricades. Also, it’s often windy.

2. At the bottom of Laguna Canyon, stay to the right and take the short and steep detour up Cliff. It is very worth it for the ocean view, but most of all for the evasion of the horrendous PCH/Laguna Canyon intersection.

3. When riding on PCH through Laguna or CDM, just chill out, ride slowly, and pay attention. As far as I can tell, there is not a time of day during which these areas are not crowded. You will be riding between a line of parked cars and a line of moving cars, so getting “doored” is a very real thing to worry about.

4. Enjoy the Newport Coast climb into Kobe Bryant’s neighborhood, the next climb (up Ridge Park) is steeper!

5. Once you’ve summitted Ridge Park, turn around, and begin to descend: Stay alert to cars! First time I went down this, I was so entranced by having discovered such a wonderful, fast, singing-at-the-top-of-your-lungs, the-road-is-ALL-MINE descent that I failed to notice the Land Rover behind me until he honked and sped angrily by. Drivers here are not necessarily friendly, and are not used to cyclists.

6. Just use the crosswalks at MacArthur and San Joaquin. It’s not worth the risk.

So, total distance traveled is about 58 km according to my bike computer, 35 miles according to Google maps, which remarkably is pretty much the same distance when you take into consideration the arbitrary margin for error that I just magically came up with.

Weird News: Bartoli v. Coppi

October 13, 2011

A legendary rivalry played out on sprawling Italian mountainsides; an allegory so perfect it simply can’t be fiction.

I’m not sure how I came across this, but:

(click on the link in the article for the picture of them doing the water bottle handoff. Let’s just say it makes modern day cyclists look like giant wusses…)

Strange 20: Grenoble, Grenoble Part 1

August 5, 2011

As if you hadn’t had enough of Le tour de France.

So much there is to say about the day after riding the Galibier, in which I tagged along with my coworker Will, his wife and his sister to watch the race deciding time trial in Grenoble. With my number of days left in Switzerland dropping below the two week threshold, life has suddenly exploded into a deluge of misbehaving hardware, misbehaving positrons, night shifts, day shifts, farewell dinners, and, ahem, hikes at the base of the Matterhorn (!). Normally I’d have more words, but in the interest of not letting Le Blog die and losing my ten to twenty regular readers (you know who you are), I have decided to resort to Cheating With Modern Technology. Voilá: Stage 20 in pictures and short captions.

Yes, that would be Mark Cavendish, the greatest sprinter in the world, in Green.<3 ❤


Sucks for this guy; they started three minutes apart!

the most Luxembourgian man alive. After I took this picture he introduced me to the former president of Luxembourg, who was also at the race to support Schleck^2.

At the line. See that open window in the press booth? Phil and Paul were in there!

Cómo se dice ‘venga’ en Vasco?


Perhaps even better representin’

Andy’ s only day in the Malloit Jaune

After Cadel’s victory, and down the middle of the street: “Aussie Aussie Aussie!!! Oj Oj Oj!!!!”

Stage 19, Part 2: Col du Galibier

July 28, 2011

We rode up, and up and up…and up.

Continued fromPart One.

Col du Galibier is a 17 km climb, though the first seven kilometers are more gradual (and by gradual I mean solidly around 5 to 7%) and lead you to the base of the real mountain. On a the day of a tour stage these first kilometers climb out of an Alpine valley and though makeshift villages of motorhomes and cars. All roads and paths are all peopled, and fanatics draped in the flags of their respective nations are huddled around small tvs and radios listening to the race. I can’t help but think: 1. Goodness, I didn’t know there were even so many cycling fans in the world! and 2. If half the population of Norway is here, then surely this must be the entire population of Luxembourg. Within these first kilometers, a few people on shiny road bikes pass us, but no matter: the Mtb badass factor automatically makes up for it.

But the truth is, we didn’t realize just exactly what we were in for until we rounded the corner of the valley and the zigzag path the road takes up the mountain made itself apparent before vanishing into shrouded heights. At this point the summit is still invisible and there is nowhere to go but up. We start climbing, really climbing, and I can’t shake the feeling that we must be leaving the surface of the earth. Riding clear into the sky. Are we on the moon?

Climbing an Alpine pass is not just like riding up another hill. It is ascending into the otherworldly. Air thinning around you, the altitude begins to take effect and every kilometer becomes something like a battle. Having stupidly not eaten enough, I begin to daydream about food: there’s a crushed coke can on the side of the road and for about a minute all I can think about is the saccharine, bubbly concoction. Soon enough I’ve forgotten all about coke and I somewhat dizzily muse about how I will eat pancakes for dinner. You know when you reach the pancake fantasizing stage, the small ring is an unfortunate but merciful reality. Slow going, it is, and even lacking pancakes, but knowing I’m following the wheel of the tour peloton (sort of), I have never been so happy climbing in my life.

Faint sounds of running water are just audible over my own breathing and the crank on the bike turning over slowly, methodically. We seem to be chasing a stream that in places dives beneath the ground only to reappear again a kilometer later, trickling out of  the mountainside. Counted among the plants hardy enough to grow at such altitudes are low grasses and small flowers, sporadic dots of color between piles of slate, effortlessly concealing their true grit with the façade of fragile beauty.

We slow down a bit to catch race report from a couple of die-hard Luxembourgers in a motorhome with a radio (who had also painted “ANDY! FRÄNK!” in alternating blue and red letters on a nearby outcrop). Pierre Rolland had taken the stage and the white jersey; a man reborn on the slopes of Alp D’Huez as yet another new hero for French cycling, if only for his temporary vanquishing of the formidable Contador. Certainly there is no love at all for poor Contador in France, as the mocking letters ‘Adios, Contador!’ painted on the road beneath us silently confirm.

Seven percent grade is still climbing, but it feels like reprieve when you’ve been riding the last several at nine. Reprieve is shortlived, however, and the last three kilometers throw themselves into wild switchbacks in the 10% range again. At once I understand completely why they call they call this kind of a mountain Hors Catégorie.

We don’t even notice it was cold until we realize we can see our breath, our suspicions confirmed by the sudden appearance of ice on the left shoulder of one of the switchbacks near the summit. I experience a brief flashback to the coldest ride of my life before the road mercifully crests and folds over the Galibier. From the summit the world opens up and our feet, and we can even look down the other side of the mountain, “the easy way up”, where Andy Schleck had his solo victory just the day before, Alp D’Huez looming somewhere in the distance.

“Heaven must be somewhere close,” is all I can think to say, followed shortly by “I think I’ll put on my jacket now,” my voice little more than a raspy exhalation formed into intelligible sounds.  the high is ultimate and everything: Altitude, adrenaline…the rush of having just completed the longest climb in France on a mountain bike made for eleven year old boys to huck off curbs as they ride to elementary school…as well as a whole new kind of respect for the tour racers.

We had made a pact before we left that we wouldn’t let the Alpine air get to our heads at the top of the Galibier and give into the urge continue on to Alp D’Huez, some 50 kilometers distant. Fortunately that was an easy pact to keep, though I did think: if there were a car and some food waiting at the top of Alp D’Huez, I might be more than tempted.

I’ve made some remarks before about the descents in the Jura being epic. Such remarks were lies. I am fully aware that ‘epic’ is a far over used word amongst mountain bike folks, often finding themselves lacking a better word, but I can say with complete confidence and fullness of meaning: Descents in the Alps are EPIC.

Both my breaks and my fingers (gloves…not…warm…enough!) being at minimal functionality, I was quite literally going as fast as I physically could. Apart from a few warm moments spent behind a motorhome, I ride down the mountain whilst alternating one hand on the bars and one hand inside of my jersey for warmth and trying to ignore the numerous bodily extremities in which I had lost feeling. Wildly unsafe, yes, but constant danger, bitter cold and Alpine highs make you braver, and I ride the descent of my life.

We did have to climb again to get back over the summit of telégraphe. I would’ve complained if I hadn’t simply been thankful to be warm. Once telégraphe was summited for the second time, the descent is warm and winding, woody and mostly free of cars. We didn’t end up taking any mountain bike short cuts on the way down, despite the somewhat haughty talk of it on the way up. In the interest of returning the bike in once piece this was admittedly a wise decision. Still, I can only imagine what wonders those unmarked paths hold. One day, I’ll be back. Me and the Alps are unfinished business.

Once back at the car, changed, and sitting eating the much anticipated recovery muffin, I realize that my face hurts more than my legs because I literally haven’t stopped smiling for the last eight hours. I also can’t stop thinking how lucky I am that my eyes have seen such places, how CERN seems so much more than 2 and a half hours away, how far I’ve come since my summer two years ago spent suffering through Quantum Hell, and how the poor craptastic tank of a mountain bike had aspired to more than it was ever, ever, meant to be. Running through my usual mental litmus test for happiness, I come to the conclusion that I’d really rather not be anywhere else in the world at this moment.

Especially not night shift at CERN. Which is exactly where, in an torpid tale of misfortune and woe, Daniel found himself five hours later. God, at least for now, I’m really glad I don’t have more responsibility on this experiment.
Although, for a few days my workaholic professor was giddily under the impression that I too, had pulled the whole ‘ride the Galibier and then go to night shift’ trick. Maybe I should’ve just let him keep on believing.

Vive le tour! Et vive le vtt!!!!

to be continued…

Ride Report: Stage 19, Part 1(telégraphe)

July 26, 2011

“Oh my God. Look at the Alps. Just look at the Alps. Just…Look.”

Guess where this ride report begins?

As I’ve mentioned before, our lab has a small but solid contingent of tour de France devotees, so much so that we stream it into our control room sometimes. One of the devotees, Will, had been planning for a while to drive out with his wife and sister (also tour fanatics!) watch stage 19 and 20, an outing I practically begged to be invited to. But there was another adventure in the works: another tour devotee, Daniel, had the crazy awesome idea to go ride part of the stage, and wanted know if I was in for it. Daniel has been working on this silly experiment for a silly long time and is moving back home to Brazil in a couple of weeks. Hence, stage 19 of this year’s tour, a mere two and a half hour drive from Geneva, seemed a lot like the last chance for either of us to see the tour live and to ride the Col de telégraphe plus the Galibier, which combined constitute the longest climb in France. Of course I was in for it. Obviously. No question.

We’d been floating the idea for a while, but the realization of it was of course dependent on things like antiprotons and ultra high vacuums. Weather, also, was also a factor. In the preceding days the forecast had told us various truths and lies, including: snow, near freezing temperatures, partial sun, full sun, and the inevitable rain. It wasn’t until 15 hours beforehand that we finally bit the bullet and made the car rental reservation.

And then there was my bike problem: the person who loaned me my bike has  indeed returned to Switzerland, and the bike that has been my means of transport and fun for the last months is now surrendered to him. Work is always crazy, so attempts to access the bike rental place were thwarted due lack of time and funds, and my chances of borrowing Joel’s bike for such a venture were slim to none. My only option seemed to be to beg for day use of the craptastic tank. He graciously obliged. Craptastic tank it would be! While waiting in downtown Geneva outside the rental car agency, I decided to photograph my bike situation, just so you all could see how truly great it was:

You get the idea.

Remembering  the title of Lance Armstrong’s book (which I’ve never read) “It’s Not About the Bike,” I convinced myself that well, it had been so many years spent waking up early to watch stage finishes and dreaming about the Alps while in school or at work during summers that I wasn’t about to let poor bike quality steal this opportunity from me. I was actually more than fine, even a little proud, about the prospect of doing it on a mountain bike. Daniel, solidly on team hardtail and knobby tires for “philosophical reasons” would do it on nothing less.

But this brings us back to where this post should have started: the Alps. So much of beauty is in contrast; When you spend a good portion of your life thinking about things so small they’re invisible, there’s something truly to be said about peering out the windshield and discovering that everything in your field of vision is mountain. It is constitutes a saturation of senses, and we drive for a while awestruck and caught in that inconceivable brand of speechlessness. It’s easy enough to overwhelm yourself trying to imagine the force it must have taken to thrust whole sections of the earth up in impossible angles, or tracing the faint arc of a rainbow forming between the clouds clinging to dizzying cliffs and already tasting the fragrance of the air. Surely, you think, a grin slowly curling up the edges of your mouth, this place must be like nowhere else in the world.

Such magic cannot even be vanquished by a frantic phone call from CERN. One of the PhD students lost a wrench under the experiment to pull of  the magnetic field. On this experiment, it (whatever ‘it’ is) never ends.

But oh, the Alps, the Alps. As I have remarked before: Mountains Suspended in Sky.

We park the car in St. Michel de Maurianne, a village at the base of the first climb of the stage (a bit more than 11 K from the top), and are instantly surrounded by all kinds of tour fanfare: Carrefour signs, French people eating breakfast, Dutchmen on fancy bikes, and half the population of Norway (God care for Norway right now, seriously, it’s been a rough couple of days). A category 1 climb, the Col du telégraphe starts out like it means it: with an 8% or more grade for the first several kilometers. As usual with me and climbing, the key is to just hit a good rhythm and keep going. Neither of us has bike computers and are thus mercifully spared the knowledge of exactly of how slow we are going.

Part of the way up the Col, the we are greeted by the unmistakable clamor of Cow bells, which we sort of ignore until we are startled the accompanying cries of “Go team ……. !” Our coworker Will, and his sister are sitting on the side of the road next to a stars and stripes, as well as an Aussie flag they’ve unfurled for Cadel. After quick stop and a chat, our legs are magically refreshed by the knowledge that we have friends on the mountain.

A couple of kilometers from the summit we’re stopped by a guard who informs us that we are not allowed pass this point. Fortunately for us, a group of Italians is nearby and one of them, in alarmingly staccato and hand gesture filled French, convinces the guard to allow us to continue if we walk our bikes. the Italian dismounts and begins to clickclac his way up the mountain in his carbon soled shoes.

It’s walking, but hey, we’re happy to still be making time up the mountain, so we follow suit. Daniel makes some crack about how for the Italians, it’s not good enough to break the law; they prefer to bend it. Just as my mind is about to go the direction of ‘geez, talk about bad stereotypes,’ a cheerful (and rightfully so!) Aussie pushing a road bike walks up next to us and remarks, as if on cue, “Now, only an Italian could’ve make that happen.”  We all have a good chuckle, and a few minutes later a man riding a bike that matches his kit, europro in the flesh, zips by whilst proudly professing something in Italian about how stupid the police are. All I can think is: I love the world.

Midway up telégraphe: Half Dome, much?

Once out of eyesight of the guards, we also begin to ride again. Ride again, that is, only to be stopped right before the summit. Ideally, we would have liked to continue to the Galibier, but the guards at this point were more attentive and would not let riders past, even if said riders were Italian and ‘walking their bikes.’ So it was decided: the top of telégraphe would be the place we’d see the guys go by.

But first: the Caravan. Possibly the most bizarre commercial endeavor of all time, the tour caravan consists of weird floats from even weirder companies manned by weirder yet people chucking cheap freebies at the crowd. It’s mainly just a way to keep spectators entertained while waiting for the riders, but good lord, the people on the floats throw out goods as if they were ninja stars. More than a couple times I find myself fearing for my life as packets of laundry detergent and chocolate milk powder and key chains and the likes were chucked at my eye level out of speeding vehicles.

We surrendered all of the free crap that we managed to grab (not that much to begin with, actually) to this happy pack of French children next to us on the side of the road, the greedy little buggers.

And this was not even the strangest car. 

After the caravan had passed, everyone was on high alert for the arrival of the riders. We find a place were the road going up the opposite ridge is visible, and wait anxiously for the first signs of the peloton. the whir of the tv helicopters begins to fill air…

“Här kommer dem!” the woman in front of me yells. “Här kommer dem! Här kommer dem! kom o titta!” I echo, spotting a distant cyclist and shouting over my shoulder, not realizing at first that this is in fact Swedish. Nevertheless, the sentiment is relayed before I can correct myself (“I mean..Here they come! Look!”) or comprehend the bizarre occurrence of screaming in Swedish at a Brazilian while wearing a Cal kit on this mountainside in France. When it finally hits me, I look down and sure enough, as fate would have it, a blue and gold flag is neatly rolled up and leaning against the roadside wall where the woman and her family are standing. My happiness at this moment (as if this were even possible) increases a hundred fold.

Attacks began early on in the stage, and even before the cyclists reached us the peloton had absolutely exploded. Unmistakable at the front: Andy Schleck and Contador at his shoulder. Contador is a picture of focus, hawklike and menacing. If there ever was a ‘zone,’ he was in it. Andy Schleck is dancing on the pedals and looks, as always, like he’s a smiling twelve year old boy (not far off, actually). All of them are inhumanely fast, and surprisingly shiny (baby oil? the myth must be true…) Seeing these guys in action was nothing short of witnessing Gods (or, ahem, drugs) among men, even if I was more than a little perturbed that Cadel Evans didn’t appear to be in the lead group.

Le next group to pass contains the man in yellow, the malliot jaune: Voekler, who in the span of a couple of days had become a true hero for French cycling. the crowd, even the non French among us, erupts into an avalanche of “ALLEZ” s for the Frenchman with the German name. It’s hard not to be swept up in such joyous madness. Allez thomas Voeckler! Allez thomas Voeckler! Allez allez allez allez!!

After the yellow jersey group come the sprinters, dragging their tree trunk legs up the mountain. I catch a fleeting glimpse of thor Hushvod’s rainbow world champion Jersey and dissolve breifly in to fangirlness.

“Courage! Courage! Courage!” is the cheer of choice for the stragglers who have dropped off the back of the last pack. I can’t help but wonder if they’re loving the cheering or loathing it. Certainly having been in such a position before (last up a climb), I know the feeling of wanting to punch every single person cheering square in the face. When you’re in that much pain, even the most goodnatured encouragement can sound a lot like bitter, sarcastic mocking. Similar sentiments were completely embodied by Contador later on in the day’s stage, when he totally decked an unruly spectator on the slopes of Alp D’Huez:

Respect, Contador. Respect.

Before getting back on the bike I chatted it up with the Swedes, who said they flew into Switzerland and rented a car to spend their summer holiday following the tour. No Swedes in the tour this year, I remark. “Jaaaa, men det är kul ändå!” Is the beaming reply. Ah cycling: bringing Western Europe and some parts of America and Australia together.

We returned to our bikes and in a seated, granny gear sprint through a maze of lingering spectators and errant children, powered across the King of the Mountains line at the top of the Col du telégraphe. We continued down the mountain with the all too short descent into the Alpine valley and toward the formidable base of the Galibier. Our view of the tour for the day may have ended, but the ride, the ride was just beginning.

to be continued…

Coming Soon…

July 25, 2011

A multi post account of Stages 19 and 20 of Le tour de France is coming soon to this blog….as soon as I get off night shift…

watch this space!

Ride Report: Genevarundan!

July 16, 2011

As with a few of my ride reports, it seems, this one begins at an ungodly hour in a lab.

“Oh, now let’s really piss him off,” Daniel says as my professor is about to walk out the door, away from the Stick and towards a much deserved week-long family vacation in Greece. I’m terrified at what he’s going to say to “piss him off”. Something’s wrong with the Stick. We forgot to do something. We blew up the experiment.

“Joel?” He yells across the zone.

An exasperated “yes” is thrown back at us from just outside the door. Joel trudges back toward the apparatus.

“Can Arielle ride your bike this week?” Not what I expected, but I’m grinning nonetheless. I’ve got an inkling that he’s just amused at the idea of someone doing something horribly hilarious to the poor bicycle (this poor bicycle has a history of horrible hilarity) and personally escaping the blame. And, Joel hates to lend out his bike.

“Ugh. Sure. Fine,” he replies. Daniel is visibly surprised. I can’t help but let out the childish, hissing kind of “Yessssss!” At that moment I knew what I had to do. I had to ride around Lake Geneva.

Almost a whole week passed before I got the opportunity to take advantage of the road bike reluctantly loaned to me. On Friday, however, the day came when I wasn’t needed, and with my professor back on Saturday it was my last chance. Genevarundan skulle det bli!

My goal was to hold pace at an average 30 km/hr, plus or minus 10 km/hr for uphills and downhills. though I must admit, after several weeks flailing about on the craptastic tank of a mountain bike, riding a road bike felt just a little bit like cheating. Riding the craptastic tank of a mountain bike had also imbued me with a sense of urban recklessness; I’d grown used to jumping up and down curbs, hopping tram tracks, and taking little detours through dirt here and there. Riding a road bike, and a road bike that belongs to my professor nonetheless, requires just a bit more attention. I very quickly discovered the bike was also a bit too big for me, and the seat for some reason, wildly uncomfortable. Such things, however, matter little when your other option is far less than desirable for such ventures. Speaking of ventures, here’s how it went.

Le Grand Depart: the start of the ride in Geneva, near the Famous Jet D’Eau

Geneva to Laussane. Headwinds, Headwinds. Vineyards opposing the lake, a translucent pearly blue.

Laussane is officially the olympic city, for some reason still unclear to me. there was some sort of IntraEurporean gymnastics competition going on, so the streets were packed with gymnasts and their families, an interesting crowd. Also, this cool fountain with a diver:

Laussane: there are worse places to eat lunch, for sure. 

Sadly also, in Laussane, my camera crapped out. No idea why, but it was probably for the best since I would’ve never made it home before dark if I’d stopped to take a picture of every single interesting thing that I saw.

Laussane to Montreux

Vaud is a wine growing region, and the road to Montreux is flanked by terraced vinyards. In the small city of Vevy I rode by the Nestle Headquarters (where my neighbors friend’s son supposedly works).  At the foot of a mountain, Montreux is made of hilly streets, stylish fountains, and bright yellow canopies. Montreux, in the throes of its famous Jazz festival, was a very quaint and crowded headache to cycle through. I was however, cheered by the sight of 50 odd Swiss boy scouts headed towards the train station, hiking backpacks and sleeping pads in tow.

Montreux to St. Gingolph, (in which I unwittingly find Switzerland’s most visited landmark)

Make an abrupt exit off of a highway along a lakeside cliff just outside of Montreux, cross a wooden bridge and you’ll find yourself at Switzerland’s most visit landmark. Cateau de Chillon is hard to miss, being possibly the most badass castle I have yet to lay eyes on (Häckeberga Slott, sadly, just doesn’t compare). Since my camera was nonfunctional at this point, you’ll just have to believe me when I say I sat for a few minutes to marvel at this:

Picture is poached from elsewhere, but yes, that’s real.

I may just have to come back to actually tour the inside of this wicked awesome castle.

Once past the castle and turning the corner onto the East side of the lake for a few fleeting moments I’m riding directly toward the Alps. I stave off the urge to just keep riding towards them to vanish into their blue purple vastness, and holding the lake at my left shoulder soon find myself facing Geneva.

Confused directions, rerouting through onion and potato fields (talk about riktiga Skåne känslor!) and a bit of accidental offroading in a nature reserve afforded me the chance to see the Rhone where it comes into Lake Geneva (it comes out right near my apartment).

St. Gingolph to Evian:

St. Gingoplh marks the border to France, and maybe my favorite 20 or so kilometers of the trip. Rollingness, few stop signs, and general downhillishness made it fairly easy to hold the pace above 30, the road made even more pleasant since the lake is visible for most of it.

I filled my water bottle in one of the public fountains in Evian, remarking to myself disappointedly that authentic Evian water tastes well, a lot like normal water.* Evian Les Bains is as you may expect: Broad and open piscines gracing the shores of the lake are filled with women wearing clean cut bathing suits and tending to their laughing French children; German tourists (undoubtedly my favorite type of tourist stereotype) wander manicured green parks along the water; Stone colored Casinos with high windows help you remember/make believe you’re on some sort of Riviera.

Evian and south, however, is fairly densely populated, and sort of a pain in the neck to ride through.

Evian to thoron

French road construction logic is beyond my comprehension, although, this could be because French road construction logic is effectively no logic. At times it works wonderfully for cycle purposes: winding roads over are built without reason over mountains, their destinations being places few cars want to go. On the flip side: It seems more than a little unnecessary to build a bike path if it’s going to end in twenty meters. In thoron, moreover, there is a sign reading “toutes directiones” which even with my limited French I was able to decipher as “All directions.” the sign appears in multiple places and seems to point in, yes, all directions. I just don’t get it, and soon I find myself on the highway (sigh) though at least headed in the right direction.

Note to France: it would have been less confusing if there was simply no sign at all. You see, in Sweden, Germany, or any other place with Northern sensibility, dis n’ever vould’ve ‘appened.

thoron to Genéve

After a brief accidental detour through a lakeside town. Once I’m mercifully back in Switzerland, the road magically changes beneath me to one of superior quality. the geography, too, is slowly becoming more Genevan: the Saléve is again visible to the East, and the white tip of Mont Blanc peering from behind the distant peaks. I can even see the Jura on the opposite side of the lake, the bike lanes are again reasonable, and bus stops for Geneva public transit are beginning to pop up along the side of the road.

Geneve to CERN

I sort of gave up once I closed the circle around the lake, and rode a very slow, celebratory 10K back to CERN. Embarrassingly, I even had to stand up to make it over the slight bump in the road over the booster tunnel.

I rolled my professor’s bike back into his office, swapped off the pedals and raised the seat back up for him. Next I cleaned eight dead flies off of my face, changed into normal clothes and wandered down to the cafeteria to enjoy the only thing I’d ever wanted after such a ride: a classic Magnum ice cream bar, a european treat which to me tastes like sitting in Lundagård on a warm Sunday afternoon after a harrowing morning spent chasing the Lunedi cyclists all over Skåne. Or, now, tastes like sitting on the patio of the CERN cafeteria surrounded by physicists and breathing in the enormity of Mont Blanc on the horizon through the crystalline 6 PM sun. Meaning: tastes like heaven.


total distance (Geneva to Geneva): 170 km

total distance (road to CERN included): 190 km

total time: About 8 hours (for the whole 190), minus maybe hour’s worth of stopping, rough estimate (30 min in Laussane, 15 in Chateau Chillon, plus untimed quick stops in Evian, Rolle, Montreux, and other random places)

I think that counts as averaging  almost 30 (190/7 = 27). though it’s a little embarrassing, since I know guys who ride Vättern in less time 😉 But hey, I had no one to draft off of and I was wearing a backpack. So non aero, but so, so Euro.


*Everyone knows that bottled water is an utter scam, anyway.