Sunday, 5 January 2014

Best of 2013 - Le Stag!

Now that we're well into 2014, I've been thinking about what I'll be doing on two wheels for the next 12 months.

But in thinking about that, I realised that  I never got around to blogging about the highlight of my biking year in 2013 - Le Stag!

Due to travelling all day and night from Morzine back home in a slightly tired and emotional state (hungover), the days after Le Stag were used to clean clothes, recover and ride around Hamsterley Forest. Then life took over and the post was "going to be done at the weekend", but things kept cropping up.

So I'm doing it now!

Le Stag, July 2013

What was Le Stag? If you follow Bishop Auckland Biking on any social media, you may know what I am talking about. If not, I'll tell you. This was my best friend Sam's stag do (bachelor party).

Groom and best man (if I do say so myself!)
I was his best man at his wedding in September and therefore charged with organising his "last few days as a single man". That's not really true these days as I feel that stag dos are more a celebration of friendship and show your friend that you are happy for them for their forthcoming nuptials.

A number of ideas were floated around but the one that stuck was heading to France to catch some of the 100th Tour de France and partake in some two-wheeled adventures of our own.

So after studying the Tour schedule, maps and working out some logistics, a plan was devised. We'd arrive late Wednesday 17th July and find our chalet in Morzine. It was called La Maison Rouge, so we would have no problems finding a massive pink building. The building wasn't pink and we eventually found it after driving up and down the valley side numerous times. It was 2am when we finally got in.
La Maison Rouge? La Maison Brun more like


We went to Thonon-les-Bains and white water rafting, "to break the ice" as Sam put it, to get things going. And it did - heart rates, adrenaline and lives were flashing before our eyes. A bet was placed to see who would be the first to fall into the cold water. I don't think I lasted more than a minute before I was in.
White water rafting - huge amounts of fun/fear


The day when the bikes started. This was stage 19 of le Tour, 205 km from Bourg-d'Oisans to Le Grand Bornand and was the final mountain stage of the race. We drove to Thônes and headed up the mountain to wait for the riders to come through. We were approximately 20-30 Km from the finish.

The caravan came through first, with all of the people in the cars/vans throwing out sweets, caps, sausages(!?) and jerseys out to the crowds, keeping us entertained. It was quite a spectacle and lasted a while and between us we managed quite a haul.

Then we started to see helicopters in the distance, more important looking cars coming through and the clouds rolling in.
Helicopter and rain - heading right for us
Pierre Rolland was the first rider to pass us. He led a group by a couple of minutes, but he couldn't hang on to the lead.
Pierre Rolland of Team Europcar
It was as if someone flicked a switch as Rolland came past in the dry, but humid conditions as the rain started to fall. The drops were huge and rumbles of thunder could be heard. Those of us who had come prepared began getting waterproofs on. It was so hot and clammy though, I just stayed as I was.

By now the atmosphere felt very tense, not just down to the rest of the race being a few turns down the road, the helicopters buzzing about our heads, but that impending feeling of a thunderstorm brewing. It was extremely exciting!

Shortly after the rain started, the rest of the riders started coming through. I don't have many photographs due to the downpour forcing everyone to hide their cameras, but the photo below should give some idea as to what the riders had to endure. The stage was eventually won by Rui Costa from team Movistar.
Battling gravity and the rain
As we walked down the mountain back to the car, the thunder and lightening was immense. The thunder and lightening struck at the same time, seemingly right around us. It was exciting but frightening at the same time and was an experience I'll never forget.

On returning to the chalet, we watched the highlights on TV and were surprised when we made a brief appearance on TV!


Mountain biking! We hired bikes from Alpine Sports in Morzine. Despite a mix-up in the booking (we had less bikes than people), I would recommend using Alpine Sports if you would like to go mountain biking in Morzine as the owner, Mark, went out of his way and arranged bikes for all of us, calling in a favour from other rental shops. The bikes we had were a mix of GT Force 2 "All Mountain" bikes and GT Fury downhill bikes. I took a DH bike as some of the lads weren't used to riding bikes and these Fury bikes were heavy! The Force bikes were light and nimble, despite being full suspension.

GT Force looking down on Morzine
To get the best out of the mountain biking in Morzine, the ski lifts are equipped to take you and your bike up the mountain; another first for me. An unusual feeling being so high up in the air, swaying about with only a metal bar in front of you for safety!

The routes were well marked and there were plenty of them, for all abilities of biker.

The first ride we did is shown below:

We stopped at the bottom for some lunch and a drink, and the guys knew we were coming as Mark from Alpine Sports had phoned ahead. Another reason to hire your bike from him! After some petting of the local cows, we headed out for some more riding.
Cows. With bells on.
Unfortunately, on this ride, Sam's father-in-law to be came off his bike and shattered his collarbone. Sam had to take him back and to hospital as they both had hire of the same car. This was disappointing, but it's one of the risks of what we were doing. In fact, despite the experience we had and the terrain we were on, to only have one injury is good going! The rest of us continued on the ride and crossed into Switzerland to ride back to where we had lunch and then down into Morzine.

The end

By far and away, this was the best bike-related adventure I had in 2013. After flicking through the photographs and looking at the routes etc, I'm disappointed in myself for not writing about it at the time. I suppose I have got to relive the adventure to some extent however, so its not all bad! Sam is talking about going back to Morzine for more biking, but in the same sentence he mentions Alpe d'Huez...

At Avoriaz.

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