Wednesday, 7 July 2010

The silence of the lambs

Six grown men and their bikes in a minibus head along the péage from Valence to Grenoble, chatting enthusiastically about cycling, the countryside and the weather.

The atmosphere is relaxed, jovial and polite. Names are exchanged; questions are put. Once the minibus has joined the queue of traffic through Grenoble, however, there is only quiet. Terrain has turned from rolling valley to sharp, sheer inclines and craggy ruggedness. We're in mountain country and those of us planning to cycle in it are silenced by the scale of them.

I have to remind everyone that we'll be riding over the passes that skirt and hug these huge rock formations rather than going straight over the top of them, but it's cutting no ice. These things are frightening. We are the lambs to the slaughter and we're rendered silent by the enormity of our fate.

That or we've run out of superlatives to describe our surroundings. Once we're out of Grenoble, it becomes simply breathtaking.

But by far the longest silence is saved for the first ramp of the Alpe d'Huez. Our guide, Craig, from Veloventoux warns anyone who hasn't been here before to close their eyes, though none of us do. A clay-grey wall rears up like a striking concrete cobra as we round the bend and I'm dumbstruck.

It snakes on for hundreds of metres before switching backwards and upwards again, spitting gradients of sickening venom as it slithers skywards. We've come less than a kilometre and I want to go home already.

There is little let up in the slope and our collective jaw rests snugly in our chest as we reach the peak. We must climb this after 100 gruelling, mostly uphill miles. It's the first time I genuinely believe I haven't done enough; that I'll fail.

More on the psychological struggle in the next instalment tomorrow...

1 comment:

  1. Nice building of the suspense!

    You ever considered writing Hollywood screenplays?!