Sunday, 7 August 2005

Defi de l'Oisans

31st July to 5th August 2005
200km and 12,000m ascent by 8 stages over 6 days
Results| Photos| Benoît's Report
The Defi de l'Oisans is a stage race around the GR54, starting and finishing in Les Deux Alpes. Stages 1 and 5 are non-timed walks, although the descent on Stage 5 degenerated into a bit of a race for Le Scottish Team with Trevor almost wiping out a group of hikers. The race therefore consists of 6 timed stages, ranging from a 4km time trial to a 54km endurance stage. The steepest climbs and descents and most dramatic trail running are reserved for the final three stages.
Stage 2 - Cluy to Le Chazelet Stage 3 - La Grave to Villar d'Arene Stage 4 - Villar d'Arene to Les Guibertes Stage 6 - Vallouise to La Chapelle Stage 7 - La Chapelle to Valsenestre Stage 8 - Valsenestre to Les Deux Alpes
Day 1: Sunday 31st July
Stage 1: Les Deux Alpes - Cluy, 15km, +800m
The initial waking stage, down the hill through Mont de Lans and Freney d'Oisans, and back up the other side to Cluy where we had an early buffet lunch.
Lac Chambon
Stage 2: Cluy - Le Chazelet, 26km, +1640m
The race proper started at 11:30am. Benoît Laval quickly established his lead on the run up to Col de Cluy, followed by Guillaume Rousset and Christophe Le Saux. I trailed in 4th place on the longer climb towards Col de Sarenne, with Noël Vandenbussche on my heels. Noël nipped in front after the road section and disappeared in a cloud of dust down the steep loose hillside towards Clavans le Haut. I mucked up the next bit by turning right at the second road instead of carrying on down the hill. This brought me out at hairpins above Clavans le Haut and missed the village, thereby thoroughly confusing me as to the whereabouts of the first ravito and also allowed Franck Barbier to catch me. Franck and I arrived together at the ravito which was in fact at the lower village of Clavans le Bas. Some welcome shady wooded paths lead you steeply down to the bridge across Le Ferrand, before a sharp slog up the other side to the picturesque village of Besse and a quick ravito - Franck and I arriving together. It is after Besse that this stage really starts. You get 1km of road before hitting an endless set of switchbacks in the heat of the day. Franck steadily pulled away up the 700m climb to Col Bichet, and had disappeared when I reached the next ravito. Just behind, a certain Manuel Gorman was closing me down ominously. I shuffled as best I could across the plateau towards the Col du Souchet knowing Manny would pass at any moment. The views at this point are quite stupendous looking across at La Meije dripping with glaciers. Manny and Jean-Michel Vigues passed simultaneously just before the col. I followed on the perfect runnable path trying to keep imminent cramp at bay. Manny had vanished but Jean-Michel was catchable. On the drop to Le Chazelet I cut all corners through the sea of hairpins and comfortably made the bridge before Jean-Michel. I turned to "sprint" up the steep road to finish, just as hamstrings and calves in both legs fired off into cramp. Fearing my legs would lock, I gingerly half-walked, half-trotted up to the finish line, 5 minutes behind Manny and Franck who finished hand in hand!
Manny 3:12:05, Chris 3:17:21, Steffen 3:38:00, Trevor 3:42:50, JD 4:05:58, Dave 4:07:20
Day 2: Monday 1st August
La Meije from Le Chazelet La Meije plus church at Les Terraces
Stage 3: La Grave - Villar d’Arène, 4km, +310m
After wandering down the hill from Le Chazelet to La Grave in wonderful early morning light, we all got in position for the contre la montre Tour de France time trial style. Starting at 30 second intervals in reverse order from the overall standings. The stage starts with a mental downhill tarmac sprint to cross the Romanche River for the first time. Then a 300m slog up delightful wooded paths, reining in as many as you can before another eyeballs out descent to hurtle across the Romanche on a small bridge and a very steep switchback before arriving in a sweating gasping heap in the centre of Villar d’Arène, all ready for the afternoon stage! Manny was the only person to pass me, and he clocked the fastest time.
Manny 21:01, Chris 23:07, Steffen 24:14, Trevor 25:30, Dave 26:24, JD 27:55
Stage 4: Villar d’Arène - Les Guibertes, 23km, +740m
After a healthy early buffet lunch we were back on the trail again at 11:30am. Fast running along the banks of the Romanche, then steadily up to the Villar d’Arène Refuge before gradually climbing up and over the Col d'Arsine. The initial descent is quite tricky and rocky passing several lakes. Then motorway forest paths before hitting a more or less flat final 4km run in. I caught Manny at the final ravito, but he pulled away on the last 2km. Steffen and Trevor both had good runs, finishing within seconds of each other.
Manny 2:14:20, Chris 2:15:49, Steffen 2:26:50, Trevor 2:27:04, JD 2:42:40, Dave 2:50:57
Day 3: Tuesday 2nd August
Stage 5: Les Guibertes - Vallouise, 19km, +950m
Walking stage. Bad weather. Cold and raining. Very unpleasant at the Col de l'Eychauda. Almost hypothermic.
Day 4: Wednesday 3rd August
Stage 6: Vallouise - La Chapelle en Valgaudemar, 54km, +2800m
The long stage. Manny and I were in the final group of 8 runners setting off at 7am. Steffen, Trevor and JD started at 6am, and Dave was off at 5:30. The initial 7km of the valley was pretty steady. Manny drifted in front up the road but I passed him shortly after the first ravito once we were on the trail as I tried to follow Guillaume Rousset. A long steady climb up to the first col of the day - Col l'Aup Martin - a dramatic sight and the highest point on the GR54 at 2761m. Then an easy runnable path across to the Pas de la Cavale before hitting the first big descent of the day. This is where Manny crocked himself falling headfirst and slicing open his right arm. Thierry Arnier helped bandage him up and Manny continued with the race. I heard the scream behind and above me, but didn't realise how seriously Manny had cut himself.
The halfway point of this stage is the Refuge du Pre de la Chaumette, which is at the end of a fantastic long descent. I was just over 3 hours at this point. A long steady climb of nearly 900m takes you back up to the Col de La Vallette, then Col de Gouiran where I was catching JD and Christophe Le Saux. I caught JD on the traversing path before the steep slippy climb to Col de Vallonpierre. Here it was getting cold and misty. The descent from the col was down steep wet mud into thick mist. The line of descent was not at all obvious and I used instinct to locate the small lake and Refuge de Vallonpierre in 20m visibility. JD had latched onto me for this section and we met Trevor at the refuge staggering around in the mist. The three of us trotted down the long section of zig-zags until Franck came hurtling past and I snapped back into life and gave chase.
By the time I reached Refuge Xavier Blanc, I'd lost sight of Franck but still thought I might catch Steffen on the road so pressed on without stopping at the ravito. A steep climb to the road sets you up for 7km of tarmac to the finish. The gaps down the road were huge so it was hard to get too excited about catching anyone. I eventually passed Alice and Nathalie, and then started looking at my watch to get the stage finished. As the road turned sharp left into La Chappelle I caught sight of Franck maybe 200m ahead. I decided to charge him down, and almost caught him, Franck finishing 18 seconds in front. Manny finished 10 minutes later in some distress, and in need of immediate medical attention. Le Doc scrubbed out his wound and gave him 8 stitches. Manny prescribed himself copious quantities of beer, whisky and wine for the rest of the afternoon and evening to take his mind off the pain!
Chris 6:14:45, Manny 6:25:49, Steffen 7:13:07, Dave 7:22:27, Trevor 7:23:26, JD 7:29:05
Day 5: Thursday 4th August
Stage 7: La Chapelle en Valgaudemar - Valsenestre, 30km, +2520m
This stage traditionally starts very slowly and socially for the first 4km of road. I observed tradition for the first 1km but then decided to press on and open up a gap. I remembered that last year the lead group went wrong just after Villar Loubiere, so I hoped to be out of sight when the others arrived here. Once onto the zig-zags I could look down on the chasing four of Benoit, Noel, Manny and Christophe. It was not until just before Col de la Vaurze that Noel and Manny finally went past. I thought I might track them on the descent, but they took the first part of the descent at such a mental pace I settled for third spot into Le Desert.
I was wondering why Benoit didn't hurtle past, but discovered later that it was around this time that his partner Alex gave birth to Heidi, so I guess he was otherwise distracted. Benoit eventually passed on the long slog up to Col de Cote Belle. After Cote Belle there is possibly the best 30-minute descent of the route - a perfect runnable path down to the incredibly picturesque village of Valsenestre.
Manny had a good battle with Noel at the front and won the stage.
Christophe Le Saux emulated Manny with a matching gash in his right arm, requiring the Doc to drive him back to Les Deux Alpes to stitch him up.
Manny 4:06:15, Chris 4:24:21, Steffen 4:44:56, Trevor 4:48:31, Dave 5:19:03, JD 5:56:05
Day 6: Friday 5th August
Stage 8: Valsenestre - Les Deux Alpes, 20km, +2140m
The final stage, and in some ways the most dramatic. I wanted to start fast on the 1300m climb to Col de la Muzelle, but Benoit and Guillaume started faster. The final ascent to the col is quite sensational. Limiting friction on black shale. The first section of descent is rocky and loose until you hit better running before the Lac de la Muzelle. Manny caught me at the refuge ravito, but I ran through without stopping, soon passing Alice, JD and Manon before crossing the river for the fantastic descent to Bourg d'Arud. Manny caught me again and this time got well clear, both of us almost wiping out a young family on the trail.
Into the ravito at Bourg d'Arud I was caught by Christophe and Noel. After fiddling around getting my drinks and powders mixed, I gave chase through Venosc and managed to drop them both on the climb to l'Alpe de Venosc. This year I was far more organised with my drink and electrolytes and felt good on the climb. Once past the top cable car station it was a question of focusing like mad on the orange dots and arrows to get the route out onto the open hillside traversing high to the left of Les Deux Alpes. I could see Manny not far ahead, but not catchable. A couple more minutes and then the final descent into the finish - and the end of the Defi for another year!
Manny 3:10:03, Chris 3:13:08, Trevor 3:34:15, Dave 3:36:40, Steffen 3:49:05, JD 3:57:43
La Muzelle from l'Alpe de Venosc Col de la Muzelle from l'Alpe de Venosc Les Deux Alpes after the race

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