There is an old Flemish proverb which says that “what is said when drunk has been thought out beforehand.”
If I’m honest, it’s not the most poetic sounding pearl of wisdom I’ve ever heard, but a friend and I found the truth in it to our great delight one Friday evening recently.
The premise was a sociable glass of red wine and a chat – nothing unusual there – but the subtext was bikes. To be honest, the pair of us are both well rounded and (at least vaguely) interesting people with full and interesting lives, but the subtext is always bikes. Each conversation we have is simply filler until we reach the next bike related topic up for discussion.
And this Friday, two bottles of wine later, it turns out that the next bike related topic was a cycling holiday. How about that for a result!
Truth is we’d been sounding each other out for a couple of weeks, suggesting semi-serious plans for a little European jaunt knowing full well that our respective wife and kids might have something to say about it. As the drink flowed it transpired that, each in our own way, we’d been given the marital nod (so to speak); permission is a strong word, but tacit approval was definitely in the air.
Nice, in the south of France, was the first suggestion, with its promise of blue skies and sun kissed tarmac, but we quickly concluded that to drive the entire length of France would take a big chunk out of our week of freedom before we’d even got started.
“So”, we thought, “where gives us the best chance of both sunshine and mountain roads with the minimum amount of travelling time?”
In other words, how far can we reasonably get in a day?
Our conclusion, and a solid piece of decision making even if i say so myself…the Vosges mountains, in eastern France near the border with Germany. Seven hundred miles (and one ferry crossing) from the north of England; it’s a long day in the car, but it’s a day nonetheless.
The Vosges might not quite be Alpine in scale but there are climbs which head up over 1000 metres in altitude, and are not for the faint hearted; the Grand Ballon, the Ballon d’Alsace, and la Planche des Belle Filles, to name but three. Throw in to the mix some rich Franco/Germanic food and a solid reputation for beer and wine production and we could just be on to a winner here.
It seems French pro cyclist and Tour de France 2014 podium finisher Thibaut Pinot (a.k.a. the next big thing!) grew up in these parts, and of course honed his skills riding these roads, so what’s good enough for him is surely good enough for us. He also happens to log his rides on Strava like the rest of us, which gives us rank amateurs something to aim at.
Having looked up a few of the climbs in the Vosges it seems they’re pretty testing even to a man of Pinot’s class. His best effort on la Planche, for example, gives us an interesting (if intimidating) yardstick; when a serious Tour de France contender is posting an average speed of just 11mph, it’s fair to say this winding road up to the ski station is no walk in the park!
Let’s be honest, me and my mate – try as we might – will be getting nowhere near this.
Having said that, I would also venture that Thibaut Pinot doesn’t generally tackle these slopes after a night on a cheap camp-site with a few French beers…
Not that I’m making excuses in advance, you understand!