We are in Italy having survived the Alps... just. It was physically some of the hardest days I ever have ever known especially crossing the Col de la Travasette with my elephant-like bike (heavily loaded with its four panniers!) - I will defintely tell that story in a blog or two when I have mentally recovered. But for now I will go back to Vaison La Romaine and our journey until we split and rode on alone to our respective possible Hannibal passes.
Ben reading an odd but excellent book at the top of the old city of Vaison la Romaine with the towers of Mont Ventoux in the distance. (Michel Houellebecq's the possibility of an island. Ben is finding an appropriate quote but for now - http://www.goodreads.com/author/quotes/32878.Michel_Houellebecq )
Vaison La Romaine was a fantastic town and we were sad to leave it, however the ride to Chatillion en Diois was one of the most memorable rides I have ever had. It was hard, this was the beginning of the alps proper so there was no avoiding going uphill. It was also spectacular as the mountains grew and grew as we crawled our way over them and each one loomed larger than the last. It was also dark for most of the ride as we began at 5pm with 100km to ride! This was unavoidable, filming always takes priority and we are making sure we do not miss any of Hannibal's trail even if it means riding at odd hours. However once we reached a col at about 10pm and knew that there was 25km of downhill to the campsite, we rolled in the dark with silence, a full moon to guide us and towering, ominous mountains for company. It was a stunning unforgetable hour of riding, which ended at a deserted campsite with our poor photographer Zissi waiting for us wondering what we could possibly be doing cycling out at that time of night.
Darkness falls in the lower Alps
The next day we rode throughthe Gorge de Gats. This is possibly the place where Hannibal was ambushed by the locals whom he surprised by taking their battlements at night - they had gone off to their villages for the night to have a good sleep we presume....it seems like a pretty odd thing to do when you have just ambushed the biggest army ever yet to cross the Alps and they are really quite pissed off and waiting for an opportunity to destroy you. But this is the way things happened according to the ancient historians. So Hannibal did destroy them from their own battlements but with heavy losses and they did regroup and attack him as he tried to get the rest of his army up the gorge but Hannibal saved the day riding down and scattering the enemy. We did some fantastic filming here, it is a spectacular gorge with sheer cliffs either side and really is a perfect site for an ambush. Our riding began late with a big climb out of the gorge, taking us further into the Alps and after a desperate search for sustenance, which we eventually found at an extremely odd cafe, which looked more like someones front room and we were served by the French equivalent of the hill billies from Deliverance - however they make very good hot chocolate! We rode on in the dark up through Mens to La Mure, more spectacular cycling but we were a bit shocked to hear that we had been riding along a cliff edge for a lot of the time we just couldn't see it! But we did see a car driving straight at us and we all took evasive action thinking he hadn't seen our not very blazing head torches but he was just turning left. After this scare Zissi very kindly escorted us to our next stop. We have been through some stunning towns in France, the vast majority have been beautiful to ride through but La Mure is, unfortunately just like it sounds..
Racing down the Alps - excited that we were briefly going down not up! (Zissi Kausch)
Approaching the Gorge (Zissi Kausch)
Sam getting ready to ambush Hannibal (Zissi Kausch)
Zissi catches us warming up in the Gorge (Zissi Kausch)
Climbing out of the Gorge de Gats (Zissi Kausch)
As we rode on the next day and the Alps got steeper and the riding harder. A motorbike cannonball run equivalent came past us the other way in what looked like an official race on public roads. They came close to taking us out on many occasions, hence for health and safety we had to stop here for a long coffee break!
Sidecars too (Zissi Kausch)
We also knew we were to split company this day which meant we all had a sense of foreboading - this wasn't all emotional, after all it was only a day or two! More we have come to rely heavily on each for drafting - sitting behind each other as we cycle - it saves a lot of energy! The split was made at the base of Col du Galibier - Ben unfortunately for him had to go over this 2645 metre tour de France special, Danny and I much more fortunately rolled south - 30 km downhill all the way to a day off in Briancon!
Ben feeding up to get himself over Col du Galibier (Zissi Kausch)
Ben goes left, Danny and Sam right....(Zissi Kausch)
Thanks again to Zissi for all of the great photos!