Fleche Velocio 2002
Fleche Velocio
March 2002

This year we chose the route from Lausanne in Switzerland to the 390 km distant Digne-les-Bains in the southern French Alps as our route for the Fleche. In the Fleche a group of 3 to 5 people are allowed to chose a route that is at least 360 km long to a predetermined point (this year Digne-les-Bains) in about 24 hours. One arrives at the meeting point in the morning on Easter Sunday together with many other Randonneurs.

Most of us spent the night in the camper van in the town park of Lausanne. Among these were the randonneurs Karl, Thomas, Volker and I and Tina and Gerd, who were part of our "support crew" driving the camper van. Martin, a member of our team, and Marion, part of our "support crew", spent the night in a hotel in the town. 6 people in the van was quite a bit, but we all got enough sleep for the long trip lying ahead of us. In the morning we has a nice early breakfast around the van, and then got ourselves ready for the ride.

Five gladiators at the start.
Five gladiators at the start: Thomas, Karl, Volker, Martin and Steffen
Picture courtesy of Karl Weimann.

We met Martin and Marion at there hotel, where we got the first stamp in our pass before set out. We left Lausanne at sunrise, and it was fairly cool and overcast. At first I had believed the weather forecast, which predicted sun and 20C, so I wore fairly thin clothing while biking off. After a couple of hours feeling too cold, I changed into warmer clothes in Geneva, where we stopped to get our second stamp of the journey. We chose a hair dresser salon, which seemed to cater to the tastes of more well-to-do women in Geneva. At first they didn't know what to think as five sweaty bikers came in early on a Saturday morning. The person running the place just spoke French, and Martin and Volker took over the attempt to communicate with her. We presented a change of pace for the people in the salon, who were curious to hear what we were doing.

It's always a bit difficult navigating through unknown streets in a largish city, but using the mountains around Geneva as our orientation we got through to the border to France fairly well. I began to look out for a quiche, which I had been thinking of for a couple of hours now and then, but for lack of a bakery in the countryside I settled for a sandwich from Karl and a granola bar from Martin, who were both kind enough to share their provisions with me. I always forget something when biking, and and this time it was food.

Taking a break.
Now and then we took a break!
Picture courtesy of Volker Schrenk.

In Aix-les-Bains we got to the next control. We got our stamp in a pub from the barkeeper, who categorised us a being crazy and quickly went on to other things. I filled up my water in the toilet sink, and was advised by another user to drive a motor bike next time; "it's easier and faster".

Here our support crew was waiting for us in the camper van with spaghetti. This went down well with all of us, and by the time we set out again we were well rested and fed. We started off a bit slower to allow the food to digest a bit, but we had time. One of the nice things about the Fleche is that if you don't plan too much more than 400 km, you have time for eating and slowish biking when the time seems to call for it. The one thing one lacks is sleep; one or two hours in the night is the most one is supposed to take (no pause should be longer than 2 hours - one of the Fleche rules!). Martin had set up the riding plan, along with a timetable of where we were supposed to be at which time. In this way we knew when we could bumble along and when we were behind in time.

The next stretch was a bit warmer and sunnier; for the first time I considered taking a layer of clothing off, but decided to leave my winter things on in order to feel some warmth before biking through the cooler night. On the way to Grenoble (our next checkpoint) it was spring and lots of people were out on a warmish Easter weekend. Now and then little kids and older people waved at us; these two age groups seemed to be the only ones who noticed that we must be on a long journey by the way we looked.

When we got into Grenoble we were greeted by our support crew, who had set up a feast in the camper van. First we had pan-warmed Pita bread with a tasty dip. Then came spaghetti with meat sauce as the main course. Towards the end of the meal it was getting quite dark, and we all started packing ourselves up in our warmest winter clothing, because it was already a cool 10C. By the time we finished getting dressed, and doing all of the little time-wasting things one sometimes does, it was dark.

Dressed for the night.
In a reflective mood - dressed for the night!
Picture courtesy of Volker Schrenk.

We set off to drive through Grenoble, which turned out to be a long-term proposition. Grenoble's larger than I thought. We were all looking impressive in our reflective winter gear with lights all over the place. Lots of people took an extra glance as we rode through the streets of Grenoble in our group. We were the bike version of "The Electric Horseman"! At one point we stopped to ask someone directions from some long-haired youth who smelled like pot 10 meters away buying some take-away food out of a fast food van (the ones which open a window on the side of the van where you order). He was pretty amused at our asking the way to the Col-de-la-Croix-Haut; an alpine pass about 65 km away and some 1000 vertical meters higher. After having a good laugh he pointed out the way, and assured us that we had been going the right way the whole time.

Going out of Grenoble a 65 km uphill climb started. It was dark, and we could just see the city lights of Grenoble fading away. At first it went slightly uphill, which not everybody noticed. A couple of riders mentioned that they thought they were having a bad phase, because it felt so difficult to bike at 25 km/hour. The steady climbing kept up warm, even though the temperature was dropping. After a while we got to a village with a drinking water fountain in the main square with great alpine water. We filled up our water supplies and set on the way to the first pass again.

Filling up our water bottles.
Filling up our water bottels with fresh alpine spring water.
Picture courtesy of Volker Schrenk.

By now a full moon and the stars were out. Now and then the road seemed steep, but in the moonlight it was difficult to judge whether or not we were going up or downhill for the most part. It was getting cooler, but we were kept warm by the exertion of biking uphill. Finally we got to the Col-de-la-Croix-Haut, and stopped to take a couple of pictures. I took a glance at the thermometer on my bike, and saw that it was now 0C - freezing! After the bike uphill we were all soaking wet with sweat too.

At the Col-de-la-Croix-Haut.
Volker at the Col-de-la-Croix-Haut.
Picture courtesy of Volker Schrenk.

Now we started the descent to the next checkpoint at Aspres-sur-Buech. As we started off the temperature combined with the wind chill and we started to get cold. The coldness kept increasing, and as it did so we kept biking faster. We covered the 29 km in about 40 minutes, which gives an average speed of about 44 km/hour. The next day we drove back over the same stretch with the camper van, and saw that the road went uphill now and then; apparently we had been so cold that we didn't notice. My gloves were drenched with sweat and they were sitting nicely in the wind on my tri-handel-bar on the way down. By the time we got to Aspres-sur-Buech the water in our drinking bottles and in the drinking hose from my camel back had frozen. We got to the camper van, and I hopped in and sat myself in front of the heater. A couple of the others felt more inclined to not warming up, perhaps fearing that they wouldn't want to go back into the cold again. Our support crew had been sleeping; it was about 3 in the morning. We placed a postcard with time, place and all of our signatures in a post-box in Aspres, instead of getting a stamp at some store. We had no alternative, because no one was open.

We all biked off onto the cold again, and were happy for every slight uphill climb as a chance to get a bit warm. After a couple of hours we reached Chateau Arnoux, which was 25 km away from our goal Digne-les-Bains. It was 5 in the morning, which was too early to arrive for the Fleche, so we hoped for a place to turn in to for warming up purposes. Surprisingly, a lot was going on in Chateau Arnoux at this time. We first stopped at a person setting up a stand full of bikes. We thought that must have something to do with the Fleche, but it turned out to be someone setting up a stand at a flea market. Across the street was our salvation; "Chez Fred" was open. "Chez Fred" was a cafe, which was half filled at five in the morning. We stayed until almost 6, and managed to warm up fairly well in that time while drinking strong little coffee's and having a couple of croissants. The whole time people kept coming in and out, each drinking a little coffee. We were noticeable, of course, in our soaking wet, smelly, fluorescent outfits with a tired look on our faces. At 6 we got our stamps, and set out for the last 25 km of the journey.

Chez Fred.
Arriving at Chez Fred in Chateau Arnoux.
Picture courtesy of Volker Schrenk.

We slowly biked towards Digne-les-Bains; we had lots of time. On the way we saw our first other Fleche team. They were just taking a break alongside their support crew. They look cold. After a while two other riders from another team from Germany passed us. I talked to Heino and Henner for a couple of minutes, and then dropped back to the others. When the sun finally touched us Volker biked a bit ahead and took the following photo from the other side of the road.

Sunrise on the way to Digne-les-Bains.
Picture courtesy of Volker Schrenk.

As we got into Digne-les-Bains we followed the signs to the large hall, in which the Audax Club Parisien (the organisers of the event) had rented. We arrived and were greeted by our support crew, who had helped us so well through the journey. The bike parking lot was interesting. We stood in line to get a ticket and our bikes were marked with the number on the ticket. Then we placed the bikes in a fence labyrinth and were safely rid of the bike until we wanted to pick it up again. We then went into the large hall and found an exhibition inside having to do with bikes and specialities of the region (lavender packages, etc). We then got a glass of wine and a piece of bakery, which were donated by the organisers. After that it was off to the showers. There was only one faucet for water (no separate cold and hot) and it was set on very hot. After scathing ourselves we were warmed up again, and feeling good. We watched a bit of the performance in traditional dancing put on by the local people, and looked at the exhibitions a bit more. When we had arrived the hall was fairly empty, but now it was really full. Then we packed up the camper van and head for home.

All of us.
All together at the exhibition in Digne-les-Bains; Marion, Martin, Volker, Steffen, Thomas, Tina, Karl and Gerd.
Picture courtesy of Karl Weimann.

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