8 days of cycling with one rest day
Average TSS 125
Longest ride 64 miles
Featured ride: Climb up Mount Ventoux
Getting to Europe:
We flew none stop from San Francisco to Frankfort and then on to Geneva via United Airlines. The trip over was wonderful and we slept on the plane.
We arrived in Geneva at 6:30 PM and we were picked up at the airport by Santana and whisked off to dinner. Entertainment included classic Suisse horn instruments and lots of yodeling. The food was good but a little heavy for our taste.
After dinner, I went to the garage of our hotel in Geneva and assembled our bikes wrapping up at 1 AM. We were scheduled for breakfast at 7 AM and we were cycling at 8:45 AM.
There were 71 tandem teams and 8 single bikes. Typically, Santana allows only tandems and we have done three tours previously with them on our tandem – Sonoma, Tuscany and Mallorca. This tour allowed single bikes so we opted to bring our Cervelos. There was a wide variety of ages and experience among the cyclists. Like previous tours, we found some other cyclists to ride with, and many times, my wife and I rode by ourselves and did a lot of team time trial.
Colotandem, a BF member, and his wife from Colorado contacted me on BF and we hooked up on day one. They are mountain bikers and have a mountain bike tandem and the recently got a new Peketa road tandem.
We rode with them along with another tandem to our destination which was a Suisse museum. The museum was part of our tour and featured many interesting things.
We hung out at the museum for about 45 minutes and then it was back to attend a chocolate factory tour.
The chocolate factory was a very small operation but they opened up their process to us and explained the details of making fine chocolate candy. We had to get dressed up in clean room suits.
The best part was the tasting. Suisse chocolate is some of the world’s finest and it did not disappoint.
Here is one of the interesting parts of the tour. All the routes were given to us as a GPS file download so we had to have a GPS device such as a Garmin 800 that would show the route plus detailed maps of Europe loaded into our Garmins. Once selected, the Garmin found the route and we had to watch the route line, ride the bike and sightsee at the same time. Of course, if one was on a wheel, we were paying attention to the pace line.
The courses were complicated that took us on small back roads with little car traffic and through towns with many turns. It would be impossible to stay on the course without GPS guidance. I found this both a blessing and a curse as we got off course sometimes. However, the Garmin immediately flashed off course and we had to turn around and go back.
Santana started each morning with a route discussion and pointed out options and special tours they had set up in advance. Typically, we had three options from easy to more difficult.
We always beat the ship to the destination and got to hang out with other cyclists and get to know each other. And the docking locations offered interesting places to eat and drink.
Planning for Mount Ventoux:
Mount Ventoux is an epic climb and many consider it the most difficult climb in Europe due to the height, length, grade and wind. The Tour de France was climbing it on Sunday and we were climbing the same route they used the following Tuesday. Our cycling started on Friday morning in Geneva. Our training goal was to ride a lot of tempo on the rides leading up to Ventoux and then have an easy day before the climb.
The ship was an integral part of the cycling tour and it served as transportation between cities as well as providing meals and lodging. Santana moved the ship during the day to facilitate lunch and dinner. For example, we had breakfast in one city and met the ship in another for lunch and then in a third for dinner. We stored our bikes on the top deck of the ship that served as a sun deck and a place to work on bikes.
Service on board ship was excellent with great accommodations.
Getting into the EU:
Switzerland is not part of the European Union. Santana managed all the necessary procedures to allow 150 cyclists, their luggage and bikes to cross over the border into France. The cyclists and our luggage were loaded on buses and our bikes were put in large trailers that followed the buses. We were dropped off at various starting points in France with a GPS course to get to the ship. We did the medium course that was 44 miles. Some did the longer 64 mile course and others chose an easier 20 mile route.
Here we are unloading bikes at the 44 mile drop off.
Mount Ventoux is an epic climb in Europe and this would be the apex of our cycling trip.
The sun rises over the giant of Provence with a castle in the foreground and me on the ship with my bike.
I had a light breakfast and took a banana, two sleeves of energy drops and two South Beach bars. I ate the energy drops on the climb and saved the bars and banana for the top.
We were bused from the ship to the base of the climb and used the lower section for warm up. Santana moved the ship to a new location while we were riding. From the top of the climb, it would be 46 miles back to the ship.
The climb up Mount Ventoux can be visualized in three sections. The first is easier with a grade of 5 to 6%, the second and most difficult, is 4 miles of 10% average grade, and the third, the moon scape that is 8 to 9% with the last 1.5 kilos averaging 10%. The middle section is brutally difficult since there is a lot of 12% grade. I was fine with the 10% grade, but I could have used a lower gear for the 12% grade. My legs loaded up on the steeper sections although I do not believe it would have changed my climb time or VAM.
Coming out of the forest (difficult section) onto the moonscape, one breathes some relief only to realize, that there is a lot of climbing left and now the top is visible as well as the road that seems to go on forever.
Today, there was a constant stream of cyclists with people on the side of the road cheering us on. I assume a lot of the people cheering were left over from the TdF and may have had friends doing the climb.
Santana put us out in two waves. The slower riders first and the more experienced cyclists followed about 45 minutes behind. I caught my first tandem from the first group in 45 minutes. I would give this team the most heroic ride of the day. The stoker was cooked and her head was on the handlebar of the tandem. She would get up and try to pedal and then collapse. On the steeper section, he was standing. They made it to the top – a great effort.
Climbing Mount Ventoux for two hours reset what I consider difficult climbing. I averaged 950 VAM for the climb.
On the moon