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Stories of Woe

Welcome to the Stories of Woe page. It's where I'll post any story from any rider that I feel is worthy. If you've had a great adventure, a funny story, or an event of personal triumph on a bike then I want the scoop! E-Mail me and share your story with others. - mchayes@hayesauto.net

Let's Begin -

I've dreamed of traveling to Europe and climbing the famous climbs in the Alps and such. My friends Mark and Marshall McDuffie made such a trip during the Tour de France 2011. This is their story...

McDuffie Bros. Tour de France Trip / Alp ridin’ trip.  (as seen by Mark)


First, let’s get the bad stuff out of the way.  The travel part of our trip was VERY bad.  If it involved a plane, a train, or an automobile…it was bad.  Flight cancellations, missed trains, missing tickets, spending the night in cities that we weren’t supposed to be in…you name it…it happened to me and my brother, Marshall.

Now… on to the good stuff.  We stayed in a little town in the French Alps called La Grave.  It’s basically on the climb up to the Col du Lautaret, roughly halfway in between Alpe d’Huez and The Galibier.    Our hotel, Le Castillan, was very small and seemed like it was stuck in the 1800’s, but they had good coffee, croissants, and Nutella.

The perfect room for sleeping with your bike.

My brother Marshall ready to dish out some pain
Me outside our hotel first ride
On Monday (July 18), we finally got to ride.  We weren’t prepared for how cold it was.  It was roughly 40F and windy.   We started with the ride up the Col du Lautaret .   From where we started, the Lautaret was roughly 10k in length and averaged 5.8%.  The summit of Col du Lautaret is the beginning of the HC climb up the Col du Galibier.   It’s a left hand turn at the top of the Lautaret  that gets you started on the Galibier.  The Galibier is unbelievable.  It’s long at 8.5k and exposed.  There were no trees anywhere.  Visually, it was incredible.  It was about 40 degrees F and the wind was howling.  It had some easier sections that were in the 5% to 6%, but the end was brutal.  After all of that climbing, you get hit with 9% for the last 1k with a little section at the very end that is around 12%. 

Me at the summit of the Col du Lautaret
Marshall at the summit of the Col d Galibier

From the hotel, it was a total of 14.3k of climbing averaging around 6%, and there were no dips like we have here on Neels Gap.  It was all up with no breaks.  Once at the summit of the Galibier, we snapped some photos and then descended back down to the top of the Lautaret.  We stopped there to try to warm up a little bit before we continued descending back to the hotel.
Marshall on top of the Galibier

Once back at the hotel, we grabbed some lunch and a little bit of rest for our legs.  While eating, we decided that we would go ride the HC climb of Les Deux Alpes.  It would involve a long descent (14k) which was basically a continuation of what we had been descending. 
Marshall: Unknowingly ordering snails and pasta for lunch
The summit of Les Deux Alpes
About half way to the base of Les Deux Alpes, we went through a tunnel that was about a quarter of a mile long and, in sections, pitch black dark.  I couldn’t see my hand in front of my face.  Marshall was in front of me, and I completely lost sight of him.  It’s very unnerving when you’re going 25 to 28 mph with no point of reference for anything.  No road, no bike, no curb, no handle bars…nothing.

 We reached the base of Les Deux Alpes and started climbing.  It’s rated as a HC climb and was 9.8k long and averaged 6.2%.  However, the last 5k averaged 8%.  It was totally different from the Galibier.  It was protected by trees, and it had numerous 180 switchbacks.  Personally, I thought this climb was extremely difficult.  I suffered terribly.  It was made worse by the fact that we had the climb of the Lautaret and the Galibier in our legs.  We reached the summit, hung out for a few minutes, and then descended back down to the base of the climb.  The descent was great...a lot of fun. 

There was a lake located at the base of this climb called the Lac du Chambon. (I think).  It was stunning.  We got to ride by this several times as it is located between our hotel in La Grave and Alpe d’Huez.  

The road we took daily on the left of the picture.

                          Lac du Chambon as seen from the base of Les Deux Alpes.

The climb from Lac du Chambon back to La Grave was nothing to sneeze at.  It was long (14k), steady (average of 4%), and mentally grueling at the end of a long day.  I was slobbering all over myself by this point in the day and was very happy to be done. 

  We were really feeling the ride from the previous day.  We decided to go rent a car in Briancon and drive over the Col de Izoard and the Telegraphe.   We took a cab to Briancon, arrived at the rental car place, and were told there were no cars.  This seemed to go hand in hand with all of the travel woes that we experienced.   We then took a cab back to the hotel.  This turned out to be one of the best car rides I’ve ever been on.  Our cab driver missed his calling as a Formula One driver.   It included a lot of passing and driving on the wrong side of mountain roads.

Wednesday was not much better with regards to the weather.  However, we couldn’t just sit there.  We decided to head out to Alpe d’Huez.  This ride would start right off the bat with some serious descending.  It was wet, cold, and windy.  It was approximately 27k of downhill before we hit some flat land.   I have some friends that would have absolutely bombed down this descent.  It’s a really good descent.  After a little bit of riding on the flats, we arrived in Le Bourg-D’Oisans.  This is the little town at the base of Alpe d’Huez. 

27k to Alpe d'Huez
Marshall at the last turn of Alpe d'Huez

We took a right turn around a round-a-bout which took us to the base of Alpe d’Huez.  You take a left hand turn, and then it goes straight up…forever.  TV doesn’t even come close to representing this climb properly.  It’s almost 14k at an average of 8%.  It has 21 switchback turns which are numbered from 21 at the bottom to number 1 at the top.  The turns are almost flat with no banking, and they just redirect you to the next wall that you have to go up.  It’s the most brutal climb I’ve ridden.  I haven’t done Brasstown Bald yet, but I have done Hogpen Gap many times.  Hogpen is pretty hard.  This was harder.  

I had to include this pic to prove i did it...sock hat and all...
We got to the top.  It was freezing cold, and it had sleeted a little bit on the way up.  We didn’t stay long at the top, and we were now faced with descending Alpe d’Huez…Scary is about the best way I can describe it.  It’s one of those things that I was glad to be done with.  We hit Le Bourg-D’Oisans for lunch, and then climbed the 27k killer back to La Grave.  Again, I arrived slobbering and tired.  The folks at the hotel must have thought something was wrong with me.  I always showed up slobbering and barely able to walk.  Marshall, on the other hand, seemed to handle it all much better than I did.  We got some supper and hit the hotel to get some rest.  Thursday, we would get to see our first stage of the tour.  It would mean riding up the Latauret again, stashing our bikes, and walking up the Galibier.

More to come…

TDF 2011 Report:  The chronicles of Mark and Marshall McDuffie’s trip. 
Part Deux:
Thursday brought the first stage of the Tour that we would get to watch.  We would ride our bikes up the Lautaret, stash them, change clothes, and then walk up the Galibier and watch the tour climb the mountain.  It turned out to be the most dramatic day of the tour as Andy Schleck attacked with 60K to go to the finish to win the stage while Cadel Evans single handedly and methodically pulled a 4 minute gap back to 2 minutes with a slew of riders riding his wheel.  We hung out between 4k and 3k to go.
Me at 5K to go.
Once the last riders made their way past us, we began the long trek down the mountain.  Marshall decided that we should take a short cut down a trail that went from one level to the next.  This involved more than one fall on my rear end on the way down.  Chad Hayes and Trace Nabors would have thought they were in mountain bike heaven.

One of the more interesting things that we witnessed during this entire trip was the tour riders descending the Galibier after the stage was over.  We couldn’t believe it.  After a long day in the saddle, those poor guys were forced to ride down that mountain in the midst of pedestrians, campers, and amateur cyclists…crazy.  We saw a lot of pros go flying past us as we walked down the mountain including George Hincapie, Robert Gesink, Andre Greipel, etc…
We found our bikes in the spot where we had left them, changed our clothes, and the descended the Lautaret along with what seemed like a million other cyclists, pedestrians, cars, and campers.  All of them leaving at the same time and going to the same place.  It was akin to leaving Athens, GA after a Georgia football game except the game was on a mountain and we were riding bikes.  Unbelievably, it was a relatively safe endeavor that could be best described as organized chaos.
Friday would bring the day of the stage that would take the riders up the I’zoard, the Telegraph, the back side of the Galibier, down through our village, and then up Alp d’Huez.  Since the tour would be passing through our town, we had to get on the road early before they shut down traffic on the roads.  We made the long descent down to Alpe d’Huez that we had done a few days earlier.  My buddy, Chet Warner, would love this descent and would really be able to bomb it.  At the base of Alpe d’Huez, Marshall decided to go ahead and change clothes and stash his backpack in a hiding place.  Once he accomplished this, we rode up Alpe d’Huez .  We decided that we would stop at “Bocht 7” (turn 7) to watch the race.  This is better known as “Dutch Corner” because it is totally taken over by the Dutch cycling fans.  They all wear orange, sing crazy songs, chant, climb on tour official’s cars as they try to pass through, etc…They are CRAZY!  By the way, one of their favorite songs is “Country Road”.  You know:  “Take me home, country road, to the place, I belong, West Virginia, mountain mama, take me home, country road.”  What better place to watch the stage than at Bocht 7 with these people.
Marshall offering expert advise to Andy Schleck for his breakaway attempt.

Once we found a good place to settle, Marshall realized that he had left his I-phone, money, and other valuables down at the bottom of the mountain.  He decided that it was best to walk all the way back down and retrieve his valuables and then walk back up.  It took roughly 3 hours for him to accomplish this task.  He made it back in time to see the race come through.  Alberto Contador came through first.  He had attacked, much like Schleck the day before, a long way out from the finish.  He was then followed by Peter Velits and Sammy Sanchez.  Then, a larger group came through that contained Cadel Evans, Andy Schleck, Frank Schleck, Ryder Hesjedal, Damiano Cunego, Pierre Rolland, etc...  Once the peloton made it through, we changed clothes and descended back down Alpe d’Huez.  This descent was even crazier than the one from the day before.  It is a wonder than no one was hurt, killed, lost, or otherwise.  It’s certainly nerve racking to descend something so treacherous surrounded by other cyclists, cars, campers, and pedestrians.  When we reached the bottom, it was time for the long ascent to the village that we had done before.  For me, this long gradual climb back to the village was excruciating.  It always occurred after long rides up HC climbs, and it always came at the end of a long day.  Each time, I blew up and proceeded to get dropped by Marshall.  He made it look easy.

Done with riding, we caught some supper and then packed up the bikes.  We caught a cab to Grenoble the next morning, and rather than stay to watch the time trial, we considered it best if we went ahead and beat the crowd out of Grenoble.  We boarded our train to Lyon, caught the connecting train to Paris, and then exited that train while fighting the people who were trying to get on the train.   The train platform folks were also trying to send off the train while Marshall was still on board trying to get one last bag.  They yelled at me in French as I stood in the door of the train in order to keep the door from closing.  That kept the train from leaving.  I yelled back at them in English while they continued yelling at me in French.   Marshall made it off, and all is well that ends well.  

Sunday morning, we headed to the train station to catch a train into Paris so that we could watch the last day of the tour as they rode circuits around the Champs Elysee.  We were informed that ALL trains to Paris had been cancelled.  They told us to take the bus.  We walked to the bus station and found about 200 people that were going to take the bus also.  We decided, once again, to take a cab.  We made it to downtown Paris, saw the race, saw the sights, and enjoyed the day.

We got up the next morning and headed home.  More travel woes occurred that I won’t mention.
All in all: A good trip because of the company of my brother, the coffee, the croissants, the scenery, and the riding.  We were blessed with safety in ultra-dangerous situations.  We were blessed with health.  We were blessed with beautiful landscapes.  We were blessed with no mechanical issues at all.  We were blessed…period.