Well it was not Paris it was the Alsace regoin just across the Rhine river from Germany. Scene of stage 13 of the TDF in 2009. That day Heinrich Haussler, an up and coming German, solo’d off the front on the col du platzerwasel in epic cold and rain to beat Sylvain Chavanel in true style. Around work and with friends we have joked about this climb due to Paul Sherwin and Phil Ligett’s inability to pronounce the name (audio file below)
I arrived after much more traffic then anticipated (there was a construction closure of a major autobahn for miles on what would turn out to be a holiday weekend (Bastille Day) think closing the I-5 on 4th of July weekend…. I pulled into wintzenheim France about 11:30am a bit flustered I had planned to stop at a local market to grab a few last minute items (water, some bead, recovery food for drive home) but it being a holiday nothing was open not even a gas station (almost ran out of gas on the way home too due to more traffic and closed gas stations I wasn’t the only one saw many people in the side of the road out of gas on the way home)
Forecast for the day was 70% chance of rain But totals were 0.5-1mm not must rain just light showers.
I knew from reading up, the Valley benefited from an eddy created by the mnts and saw little rain (but high mnts would more likely see rain)
Anyway I had 2 full bottles, 4Gu’s and a larabar (600kcal) this was not enough but would have to do.
I set out of this beautiful French village and straight into the Valle du Munster this valley greeted me with a block head wind like I have never ridden in! 25+ mph no lie I was stomping on the pedals at 10mph and at one point a gust blew me off the road and into the grass…. 45mins in I contemplated going any further… It was brutal. See my big nemesis is the wind. Many people fear big climbs I fear wind. I maybe small but in the wind my size is not an equalizer like on a climb. It is a detriment, see because I’m small I generate a high power/weight ratio but in the wind it’s all about how much power you can make regardless of size. I have 2 options in wind. 1 hammer the shit out of it and crush myself in the process. Or go slow and have it take 2x longer and go slower and prolong the pain… Like ripping a bandage off or pulling it off slowly. I tried to do a good half way measure but after 15miles of slight up hill into a bad wind I was really crushed!
I stopped in the town of Munster saw a lotto/horse betting place open (all other shops closed) but I saw a drink cooler and grabbed an orangina:) (and I tried to not look like a dear in head lights when the cashier started talking to me in French…. It’s amazing how you can tell what someone is saying due to body language I think I pulled it off) I sat down in the town square protected from the wind and ate my Lara bar and drank the orangina.
From here the 1st climb of the day was to start. The first few miles were still into the wind and not steep 3-4%. I begged for it to turn south and start climbing. I came up on a tour bus of old peeps hanging out at the base of the real climb I saw a sign “col du palzevasal OPEN” I kicked on the Jets and though ok lets do this. I knew the steepest part of the climb would be the start I ripped up that 1st switch back and looked down and saw an older gentlemen pointing up at me. Yup that’s right my motor is finally being put to good use! A couple switch backs up I catch a very small car going very slow…. It was loaded to the gills and had 2 people in it I passed them on the Inside of a switch back to the driver yelling “Alle Alle Alle” so awesome! (he did catch me later on a flatter section of the climb) about 15mins in to the main climb I was feeling it legs burning, mouth a gape, sweat running off my chin. I dialed it back a bit I was still felling like I was in the back of a convertible for an hour and the wind def took a toll on me. I had some fun took some pics and had to stop at one switch back to navigate. (motion X gps app you can cache the maps such a great app!)
I crest the top and see the sign “Col du Platzevsal” I stop take a couple pics but didn’t want to stay long as it was now 50F and I was sweaty and cold. I put on my rain coat and pushed on.
Turns out that wasn’t the top:) I thought it was a longer gap but the climb up la bestfirst pretty much started after a small DH…. A much smaller climb but the legs were feeling the 3,000′ I had just climbed.
I was in the clouds now, not steady rain but it was wet the road damp and my Views of the amazing landscape blocked:( I’d catch peaks as breaks in the clouds rolled by a reminder that I was basically at the top of a ski resort. Then I looked to my left and saw the top of a chair lift just below me…. I have to be close to the top and I was La bestfirst compete!
Highest point of the day 1280M. Then the rain came on the ridge line after the top it rained hard!!!! It was cold below 50f and all I had was a rain coat (no knee Warmer’s, shoe covers, hat….) I saw a small mnt cafe where a group of motorcycle guys were having lunch I stepped in to curious looks (BMW adventure type bikers not Harley) but looks of who is this crazy guy up here in shorts in the rain. The waiter/barista spoke to me and French all I could say was Bonyer Café…
I apologized for my lack of French. He thought nothing of it and said “you are cold from rain” I just shook my head just as I blew into my hands so I could make my fingers work. I really enjoyed that coffee but it wasn’t getting much better out. The barista gave me a news paper (an old school trick you put it under your jersey to absorb the sweat/water as drier = warmer) I left him 4euro on a 3euro cup of coffee I was greatful.
I tossed a leg over my bike and though ok time to get off this mnt! I knew the decent was dangerous from reading up. Steep sections with tight hair pin turns (aka you’d get up to 40mph on the straights but could you brake enough to make the turn?) and it was wet so I went very cautious. I did let it hang out in one turn totally locked up me rear wheel but still didn’t take a foot out (rookie mistake you see roadies make all the time, stay clipped in get that bike under control!)
I got down to the next village and the sun was out I found a trash can to ditch the new paper and I took off my jacket to try and dry off. Ah was so nice to feel the sun on my face. I rolled thru a handful of deserted villages all closed up for the holiday. On one had it was disappointing not to see them bustling with people and shops open. But on the other hand I owned the roads no cars, no people, just me, hammering thru town at 20mph over ancient cobbled roads.
Finally I was out of water and needed some badly! I saw a cafe that looked open but nobody was there I stepped in and I think the owner was having lunch with his wife. I asked if he knew where I could find water he walked behind the bar and filled my bottle no hesitation I was so thankful!
Now it was up the 3rd climb of the day not a big one just ~900′ of vert I was feeling ok not great bit ok, this lead to a super fun DH the roads were dry again and I was feeling good but worried about my food and water situation…. I had 1 GU left no water and 2 more climbs to go.
I started my way up into the mnts again this time I don’t even know the name of the climb all I know is it was getting cold again but my legs were feeling ok, I got to the top and knew from the profile it would be a hairy DH. It was just that, lots of switchbacks and then out of the trees bam! Open fields of grapes and an amazing view of the valley below.
I rolled on down to town desperate for food and water. This town had a few people milling about I was optimistic. I saw a small cafe with the door open I poked my head in Bonjure? a small women appeared and greeting me with a lot of French:) I replied no palvue francé with a frown. She smiled and asked if I wanted a coffee. I asked if there was water and food. Only perrie and sweets. So it was mineral water and big piece of apple pie for me! Can I just say I have no idea what was in that pie but it was amazing! Some sort of sweet cheese and roasted apples it was odd But amazing! I asked if she had more water and she said you can drink from the square fountain. (mind you this is not in English it’s in body language and hand motions) I thanked her many times she def saved my day!!!! I rolled over to the fountain and sure enough at the bottom read “eau potable” sweet! I filled up and rolled on over to the next town an amazing walled city where I knew I would hit the final climb of the day.
This climb was not in the tour I just found it on google maps it looked steep and brutal so I wanted to go for it! I shot out of town powered by apple pie! Hit the early ramps and was railing the corners apexing the turns and climbing in my big ring.
I passed some locals (at least their jerseys were in French) they looked fit and jumped on my wheel. As it ramped up steeper I was hoping they’d pull thru and do some work. They did and were putting the wood to me. We exchanged pleasantries and repeatedly attacked each other. It was really fun! I saw a steep switch back coming up and though ok here I can do damage I came from the back and rocketed out of the turn gave it all I had and just kept going praying I was near the top if I was more then 3-4mins out I was going to blow up! I timed it just right beating the guys by a handful of seconds (and claiming the Strava KOM:) we had a laugh and said our good byes on the DH as we went different ways. The skies opened up again now in the valley and I didn’t even bother to put on my rain coat I just soft pedaled and basked in the I insanity that was that ride. Was it really over? I was sad! But my legs were not they were happy to be done. I was sad also knowing that this was a once in a lifetime thing. If I ever do get back to these roads someday sadly my fitness will not be what it is now. I doubt i will get to enjoy these roads the way I can now.
As I loaded the car up the rain got heavier a sign that it was a good time to end the ride 60+ miles 9,900′ of climbing 4 GUs, a Lara bar, 5bottles, an orangina, and a slice of heavenly apple pie!
Merci Wintzenheim Merci