Wednesday, 27 May 2015

Megavalanche 1 - Lost in Translation.

It was pretty much all Anna Glowinski's fault.

A segment she did on the Megavalanche (roughly 30km of downhill enduro, starting on the Pic Blanc glacier at the top of Alpe d'Huez and finishing in the valley 2,500m further down the mountain, and touted as the longest downhill race in the world) for the first series of Ch4's The Cycle Show fired the cyclist's imagination.

He thought in silence for a minute or two.  "That looks fucking brilliant" was finally his considered response (side note - it did not look fucking brilliant, it looked completely fucking insane).

And thus we found ourselves, a little over a year later, hunched over the cyclist’s laptop, counting down to the precise second the entries open for the 2014 event, painfully aware that every year it books out almost immediately.  The first gruelling task was to negotiate the online application while desperately fumbling with Google Translate and long-forgotton A-Level French.  For some reason I could remember the word for ‘Bishop’*, but sadly it wasn't required on this occasion.  Less than ten minutes later he has his place.

Travel arrangements, an apartment, babysitters (I am riding shotgun as support crew, but the kids won't have broken up for the school holidays when we go.  After some fairly tense UN-style negotiations we bring in the big guns and my father in law is drafted as chief peacekeeper, a role which will require drawing on every reserve of strength, tact and diplomacy, as well as making packed lunches and sitting through no less than 2 full junior school productions of Joseph and his Amazing Technicolour Dreamcoat.  The man is a hero.) and massive amounts of life insurance are all arranged over the next few months.  Due to the enormous bike and piles of ancillary kit, spares, clothes, and protection, we elect to throw it all in the car and drive.


And as we drive through France, I am struck by just how much France there is.  France is huge.  Every time you think you must have got to the end and hit Italy or Africa or whatever, there’s yet more France to drive through.

To break up the monotony of the Autoroutes, we had booked an overnighter at a small family-run establishment in the absolute middle of french nowhere which we shall call, for reasons which will become clear, L'Hôtel É-coli.  Clearly a well known stop off point for Brits making their way through the vastness of France to their chalets in the south, it was busy and seemingly exclusively patronised by retired geography teachers.  The place has been recommended by friends of friends on the strength of the restaurant.  We make a reservation for 7pm, and head to our room to wash off 12 hours of road.

The restaurant is pretty epic.  Starters; - something cheese, something beef.  A post-course palate cleanser of olive oil ice cream, which tastes exactly as it sounds.  The sommelier looks aghast as we order the wrong wine (red) and brings us a bottle she thinks better compliments the meal (white).  We drink it anyway.  Mains; - something langoustine, something more beef. I think a gin and tonic might have got stuck in there at some point too, but I cannot be sure; the reason being I was very tired and french wine does not mess about.  We stagger to bed with as much dignity as two knackered and pissed brits can muster.

The next morning, crucially before the forthcoming digestive onslaught, as we check out I book a room for the return journey.  As the receptionist asks what time we expect to be arriving I confidently ask for a seventeen-year-old, s'il vous plâit.  She arches a gallic eyebrow and writes it down.  I realise my mistake and desperately try to correct myself, stammeringly trying not to look like I belong on the sex offenders register.  It makes it worse.


*L'Évêque.  It's feminine, translation fans.

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