London to Paris complete, I had 24 hours to try and recover from riding for 22 hours overnight and prepare for my first few days in the Alps. Continental Europe was roasting and I was getting quite worried. Should I have spent more time riding 'loaded' before the trip? Was it really a good idea to ride to Paris before tackling the mountains? It was time to find out.
I'll throw my hands in the air straight away and say there is a bit of a gap between Paris and Geneva which I decided to plug by catching the TGV; three hours by train meant more time to spend in the mountains.
After an early start I arrived in Geneva at 11:30am and as soon as I stepped off the train was greeted by a wall of warm air that threatened to stifle any energy I'd recouped in the last 24 hours. I'm a Yorkshireman so heat would never be my strong point. The Alpine region, much like the UK, was experiencing some above average temperatures.
Not a problem I thought! On paper this was a pretty flat day that would take me down to a lake and along the valley floor; textbook chill day right? Wrong. After a pleasant tap out of town and a few reminders to myself what side of the road to ride on, I began to climb away from Geneva and up the Col Du Mont Sion in the midday sun. This was a climb that Strava hadn't even registered but had significant sections over 10%. I'm not going to lie, if the rest of the Alps had been like this, I'd have spent the rest my time swimming in Lake Annecy. The steep start and sun really caught me off guard whilst fully loaded and a bit fatigued.
Lucky I struggled over the top and the descent cheered me up almost as much as the view of the lake in the distance. First official Col conquered, I decided a traditional European touring lunch of baguette, cheese and ham was required and stopped off at Carrefour. Note to anyone reading - don't take your bike around the supermarket on the security guard will steal it from you and march you out with words you don't understand. Thankfully after negotiation I got my lunch and refuelled for the second half of the day. Sadly though, I lost my headphones and no longer had Beyonce for company; the rest of the trip would be quiet!
If you've never been to Annecy, I can tell you it's every bit as beautiful as Google suggests. The water is a crazy blue and exceptionally clean, almost to the point it looks photoshopped through your eyes. The bike paths are crazy too; a proper two lane bike path that snakes around the lake and forces drivers to give way to riders at intersections. There were all sorts of riders on this section but it was a big enough path that it never felt slow or crowded.
Lake left behind, I headed up my second col of the day; the Col Du Tamie. I was apprehensive after the last one and immediately dropped into the smallest gear, and simultaneously got overtaken by a women in a dress towing her child. Are my legs really that bad already? Thankfully not; it turns out E-bikes are popular in France and I haven't quite got cause to cry yet. The Tamie it turns out is ace and more realistic of the rest of the Alps; smooth, long but ultimately not so steep. A place where I could settle into a rhythm and finally start snapping and enjoying the views.
The further south I headed the bigger the mountains around the valley became and by the time I arrived in Saint Jean De Maurienne I had a real sense of being back in the mountains, four years since I'd last been out there climbing Mont Blanc. Finally I was where I wanted to be.
It had been a long day and was already 8pm but I needed to eat before I did the last climb so rolled my way down to a little place called Le Sun that did pizza, chips and other calorific foods. Sat outside were a bunch of Americans on a guided cycling week having their dinner; safe to say they looked baffled when I rocked up with most of my house on my bike, and even more baffled when I ordered a huge pizza, fries and a coke without even thinking. We had a funny chat about what we were all doing and they took it in turns to try and lift my bike up; good luck lads!
Dinner done and sun setting, it was time to head to the one climb that I'd yearned to ride for so long; the Lacets De Montvernier. This beautiful miniature mountain featured in the tour two years ago and features 17 switchbacks in the space of 2.5km. It's like someone squished a mountain down into a pocket sized edition. You can't ever get bored on this climb as you're changing corner every 150m. No sooner do you start than it's over and you can walk up to the church at the top to get the cool photo looking back down all of the switchbacks.
I decided that this would be my home for the night. I've never wild camped before and certainly never slept in a field, but tonight would be the night. I pitched up behind a bale of hay, safely out of sight of the village and settled down for the night. Another lesson learnt... you don't need a sleeping bag in the Alps in summer unless you're trying to simulate being a boil in the bag meal.
So ended day one, perched in a field, atop a pocket sized Alp, feeling like a boil in the bag meal. Welcome to the Alps!