Early morning mist hung over lake Annecy obscuring a watery sun. Arriving at the foot of the Col de la Forclaz, the road kicked up and the sun started to break through the clouds. Soon, as we climbed higher, for anyone able to concentrate on anything other than chewing their stem, there was the treat of beautiful, far reaching views over the lake below.
Group 4 had a distinct international feel to it. Irish riders rubbed shoulders with Brits but the real treat was having Severine and Denis in our ranks. Ride captains and riders alike scrambled to remember their basic French in order to communicate. I apologise for not having paid more attention at school, but conducting ride briefings in French was just beyond me!
The highest point of the whole Alpine Challenge was still to be reached as we started the second race section of the day, the ascent of the Semnoz. Having been a little bit too casual in my reading of the ride cards it had only been the day before that I realised that our route had changed from 2013 and this time we would not be just tackling the lower slopes. This time we were climbing all 12.2km to the top.
The group reformed at the summit. Another fast descent beckoned, albeit after a few tricky kilometres off the summit. Down we shot, straight back into Annecy. Day 1 was done, but at a high cost in terms of effort expended. It was almost 7pm. Refuelling and rest were the highest priorities.
Day 2 dawned with more perfect weather. Today, the main obstacle was the Col des Aravis. Col des Aravis is a personal favourite for me; it starts in the picturesque, alpine village of La Clusaz, passing chocolate box pretty traditional chalets. The gradient never approaches the double digits encountered on the Col de la Forclaz and the Semnoz the previous day. With the village falling away behind you and meadows all around, steep, craggy peaks soar up either side of you into the clear blue sky. As the gradient eases towards the top, Mont Blanc is revealed in the distance and there is even a cafe at the summit for a quick espresso while you don your gilet for the descent.
Day 3 always comes too soon. An uptick from Day 2 in terms of difficulty as we had the unclassified climb of the Col de l'Epine to soften us up before the timed ascent of the Col de la Croix Fry. Col de l'Epine proved to be the dragon that was comprehensively slain by an exceptionally determined Steve representing Help for Heroes our charity partners, Digging as deep as I have seen, he clawed his way up chanting alternately words of encouragement and personal insults to himself. Whatever it took, he found it and rolled over the summit elated.
After the hard work was done, sandwiches inside us, we clipped in for the descent of descents. Joining us for the last few kilometres was HotChillee founder, Sven Thiele. We carefully negotiated the tight turns at the top of the descent but once we passed through St Jean de Sixt the road opened out and Group 4 flew with Matt and Graham at the front pushing the pace alongside ride captains the Bull and Nibs. Big grins!!