Volunteer Story: The Alps Cycle – 17th June 2017
The Alps Cycle – 17 th June 2017
The summer of 2017 saw Richard Walkland, Christian Layton Hannam, Dan Sibley and Ben Hewlett spend 7 days cycling through the Alps to raise awareness and funds for IndiGO
Volunteers. Here’s a detailed account of their story!
Had we known what we were going to put ourselves through when planning this trip, it may
well not have happened. Luckily, with the faultless planning of trip organiser, Richard
Walkland, and some very stubborn determination from all four riders, we successfully
completed the challenge raised some money for our charities in the process.
Bright and early at 4am on Saturday 17 th June the team assembled as we headed to London
St Pancras to catch the 0618 Eurostar from Paris. Having sent the bikes ahead, for collection
at Gare du Nord, we pulled out of London musing over what was to come.
On arrival in Paris, safely re-united with our bikes, we completed a short ride to Gare du
Lyon, where we then caught a TGV train down to Grenoble. A four-hour train ride through
France allowed us to do final checks and get the obligatory social posts uploaded.
At 1pm, with chains oiled, gels stashed, helmets tightened, the journey began. Over 900km
sat in front of us, and we couldn’t wait to get started.
It was important we made a prompt start, since, whilst it wasn’t one of the harder days, we
still needed to cover 120km by sundown. Straight out of Grenoble we hit our first climb. As
the realisation of what lay ahead sank in, the excitable chit chat died away. What took its
place was a steely focus and determination which, unbeknown to us at that point, would
form the foundation for us to complete the challenge that lay ahead.
Luckily, we navigated the first climb with aplomb as our derrières became acquainted with
their new best friends for the next seven days, our saddles. We pressed on, and with a few
hydration and picture stops completed, we safely navigated our way to our first night stop
A lovely guest house and warm host welcomed us in, before we headed out to devour the
first of many pasta dishes.
Well rested and breakfasted, we set off. Not before a group video message wishing a Happy
Father’s Day to those we couldn’t be with. Destination: Malaucène. Slightly less climbing on
this leg, and 130km to cover. We didn’t hang around either. Taking full advantage of a flat
start, the team practiced their grouping, forming a peloton of 4 and smashing through the
first 80km with ease (NB – French roads are magnificent). The momentum continued after
lunch, but as we neared our destination, the excitement was dampened as we saw the peak
of Mont Ventoux emerge in the background – day 3’s challenge. Luckily however, our hotel that night (Le Clos Saint Michel) had a spa, so concerns for day 3 were all but forgotten, as
we frolicked around in the sauna and Jacuzzi.
Concerns returned. On paper this was right up there as one of the hardest days. 158km
long, with over 5,000m of climbing. The challenge: Mont Ventoux. This was the first of the
key, iconic climbs that the trip had been based around and needless to say, there was a
nervous anticipation as we left the hotel. Fortunately, we would be staying at the same
hotel that evening, so all excess baggage was left in the rooms.
There are three ways up Mont Ventoux. Our first ascent was from the Bédoin side as we
took advantage of the cool 7am temperatures, calm roads and got our heads down. Two
hours’ worth of climbing later, we arrived at the peak with an overwhelming sense of
achievement. The fresh 9am breeze, meant we didn’t hand around, and a quick selfie and
chocolate bar later and we set off down towards Malaucène, to begin the 2 nd ascent. The
next two hours were easily some of the most challenging we would do on the trip, taking on
sections with over 12% gradient whilst battling the temperatures of the midday sun.
Undeterred, the team persevered regrouping for lunch after successfully completing the
second ascent of this notorious mountain. With energy levels flagging, and not wanting to
jeopardise the remainder of the trip, the team split, with one headed off towards Sault to
complete the 3rd ascent, and the remainder back to the hotel where everyone re-grouped
for some much needed R&R before day 4.
Up bright and early to start day 4. Technically the longest with 160km to cover, but with less
climbing. The French scenery continued to deliver beautiful panoramic views as we cycled
through a number of quaint towns and villages, all so quintessentially French. Before long
we reached Mens. This was the first of two legs, as we honed in on our next iconic climb.
Bar one minor altercation with a garage mechanic who was overly keen to inflate some
tyres, we arrived safely, camera roll full of pictures and hit the hay.
With 3 days remaining, we were at the halfway point. That said, there was still a lot of
cycling left, and despite exhaustion starting to creep in, the team pressed on as we headed
towards our next stop, Le Bourgd'Oisans. It was here, where after lunch and a quick dip in
the river, we readied ourselves for another of France’s iconic climbs, L’Alpe d’Huez. Back
and forth, back and forth… the loops were never ending. Eventually though the climb gave
way to wood cabins and bars, marking the end of the notorious climb. Another awesome
sense of achievement which had us smiling ear to ear. With the sun setting and group selfie
captured, we headed back down to our hotel, digesting the achievement over another big
bowl of pasta!
This was a long day. Both varied and interesting, it took in Col du Lautaret (28km, av 3.1%),
Col du Galibier (18.1km, av 6.9%) and Col du Télégraphe (11.8km, av 7.8%) all of which
would later feature in the tour. The cycle away from Le Bourgd'Oisans and L’Alpe d’Huez
provided some of the most beautiful scenery of the trip as we set course for our
penultimate stop, Saint-Jean- de Maurienne. With the exception of a ‘minor navigational hiccup’ that led to a brief stint on foot (see pictures) it wasn’t long before we were cycling
through La Grave, and en route to Col du Lautaret, which quickly turned into Col du Galibier.
Surrounded by snowy peaks, we headed towards the summit, which would be the highest
and coldest point of the entire trip at 2,600m above sea level. The elation at the end of the
climb was welcome, albeit short lived as thunder clouds loomed around us. So with a swift
hot chocolate, we were on our way. We descended through Valloire, experiencing the one
and only rain shower of the trip, before we descended in towards our penultimate
destination. Day 6 complete.
After everything we had been through, it felt odd putting the kit on for the final day, but as
we would soon find out, we were more than ready to complete the challenge. The day was
loaded at the front, two big climbs in the form of Col du Chaussy (16km, av 6.4%) and Col de
la Madeleine (19km, av 8%) to wake us up, with the final 90km being downhill and then flat
in to Annecy. Both climbs were completed with the same steely determination (if not
more…) that had driven us at the start of the trip and at the top of Madeleine (our final
climb), it was evident that not one rider had any more to give. With 90km still to go, full
blown jubilation was put on hold, and after weathering the blazing sun and what seemed
like a never ending flat road into Annecy, we rolled in to our final destination with an
enormous sense of achievement. Trip complete.
Whilst the social media and the video diaries painted a pretty picture of the trip, the
following day, all four riders suffered varying degrees of exhaustion and sun stroke, as
confirmed by a rather stunned French doctor as he listened to what had just been
As we rested up in Annecy, it was evident how much the trip had taken its toll on us.
Coincidence that it should happen within hours of us completing the trip? I think not.
Instead I think it’s a beautiful example of the rather cliché phrase ‘mind over matter’,
highlighting what the body can achieve when you focus on a goal.
We raised a total of £2,575 for our charities and are hugely proud of what we achieved.
Bring on 2018 and the next trip…Italy anyone?