Saturday, October 1, 2011

Gruyere Sportif–Smell the Cheese, Feel the Breeze

So much to cover, so little time to post it. It’s now been a month since yet another successful tactical strike by Ranch forces. Let’s break that down—plus other Summer ’11 updates--for the global Ranch-loving community…


First, we don’t really have that many photos to post…but this one above obviously says it all as far as the summer ’11 Verbier rides went. Good times in the heartland of Ranch ridership.

The summer activities by the Verbier chapter included yet another successful participation back on July 24 by Riders Howe and Sharkbite (this time accompanied by local Verbier rider Raph) in the greatest regionally-organised, homemade bicycle race of all…the annual Le Chable Mauvoisin race. Howe and Bite commenced the day with a descent down the Verbier road at about 7.30am in steady rainfall. Our heroes’ technical cornering skills were tested both by the soaking road conditions and the finger-numbing chill. A slow descent indeed, but the boys made it down safe. As usual, this year’s race featured a start in Martigny for semi-pro Swiss types with fancy “elite” cycling licenses…and a normal human being race starting from Le Chable.


It was a chilly, wet morning and both Howe and Bite were feeling it, big time. Even the long pre-start visit to the local café (including pre-race stress testing of its toiletary facilities), plus some uphill warm-up rides, could not remove the chill on the bones.

Yet another strong performance from Howe and Bite ensued. About 15 or 20km and a good 1000m of steady alps climbing up to the Mauvoisin inn…and once you get going on that, you warm up pretty quick. Both riders deployed their local “domain expertise” to the max, knowing the steeper ramps to lay down bursts on…and where to hold energy in reserve…in what is a long and testing climb. And this year, there were no flat tyres for RiderHowe.

There was one clear objective: show the rear of the London Ranch cycling jersey to as many local “Happy Sport” team riders as humanly possible. Unfortunately, it became clear that some of these local mountain-goat-biker-men are definitely not human at all, since a couple of them beat the Ranchers to the top (including the overall race winner, who put in a mind-crushing 51 mins 30 secs time). But every year the Happy Sport fear levels grow, as the Ranch boys push it to new levels and lay down new PBs each time. This time the combination of RiderHowe’s relentless power deployment and slick Cervelo frame brought him to the top in 1:12.02, while SharkBite duelled with relentless junior riders to bring it home with a 1:04.48 time.

Promptly recognising the tit nipply temperature conditions, the boys checked in to the Mauvoisin inn for the best thing of all: a long, long coffee in the warm café with maximum post-race banter.

Mauvoisin was just one of many, many excellent summer 2011 riding experiences. Here is a typical shot…LoneWolf dorking it just above Volleges. What a day! What a view!


And here we have 3 stooges at the top of the Le Levron climb, taking a pause to discuss future applications for lycra textiles in the 21st century.

Ranchers on top of Col du Lein Aug 2011 (2)

Summer rides to Le Levron, Mauvoisin dam, Bruson, Champex, you name it, meant that when August 28, 2011 rolled around, Riders LoneWolf, Howe and SharkBite were ready to tackle a healthy gran fondo challenge. That challenge came in the form of Switzerland’s Gruyere Sportif…


The tactical strike began with ruthless precision at around 6.30am, when the LoneWolf-mobile swung by both Howe’s and Bite’s houses to form up the squad and begin the mission deployment. 3 bikes on the roof and the boys were quickly on the road to Bulle, inland from Lausanne, to arrive early enough for pre-race check in and bike preparation activities. En route, the squad exploited its know-how from past missions to the fullest. Pre-fuelling on snacks and liquids and, most importantly, swinging in to the local gas station before race arrival in order to yet again test the ruggedness of Swiss plumbing installations. Anybody who saw two grown men, at 7.45am on the outskirts of Bulle, enter the hallway of the Tamoil gas station and super shop was probably pretty confused by the levels of excitement and enthusiasm displayed when LoneWolf and Bite found the two doors for the men’s and women’s 1-person facilities. (Quote of the day as LoneWolf peels left and grabs the open door of the Women’s toilet “Psyched…it’s Women’s and Handicapped!!!” Sight of the day: seeing the expression on the face of some swiss lady when Wolf emerged 5 minutes later, grinning, satisfied and race-ready.)


This race was a new challenge for the boys, as the route was unknown and the race—a UCI organised event—attracts a couple of thousand riders keen to explore the alpine scenery via a slickly organised sportif event. Riders Howe and Bite vowed to try and take it at a reasonable pace: 120km and 2000m of climbing lay ahead and both riders had had interrupted riding patterns in the preceding couple of weeks. LoneWolf, as usual, was shaved and ready to hunt.

The team got split right from the get go, as LoneWolf managed to climb over the start barriers towards the mid front of the couple of thousand starters, whereas Howe and Bite were channelled around right to the back. 5 mins after the start gun sounds, and under glorious sunny, summer skies, Howe and Bite were on the move and executing the race plan.

Tour de France level race-marshalling (including motorcycle marshalls, yellow flag and whistle-blowing guys on any road furniture, and comprehensive race direction signage) immediately distinguished this event as truly first class rider experience. From the outset, Howe and Bite powered carefully and mercilessly through a couple of thousand riders, and made their way through the first gentle climbs towards more competent cyclists.

A total breakdown of the route is impossible, but the highlights were roughly as follows. After heading up into the mountains, a long gradual valley climb in the direction of a mountain pass leading to Gstaad. This culminated in a final few kilometres of proper hill climbing, where Howe and Bite powered cautiously to the first summit and rest station.

Next came possibly one of the coolest descents ever…down 15km of single track farm road. From the outset, it was punctuated by riders on either side of the road, having either wiped out or with some kind of mechanical failure. It was all about keeping it smooth and controlled. The winding descent led from open pastures down into a forested valley stream zone, with the road winding through trees next to the stream for many kilometres. It was obvious that the road had been swept of any dangerous gravel and race signs warned of unusually sharp corners, but every corner was a new exploration and the boys never knew what would be coming next. Moments of sunlight alternated with stretches in the forested shade, and corner after corner unfolded, with brief bursts of top gear power applied in between. Rider heaven.

From there the course descended into Gstaad and began another long, gradual climb towards Le Diableret. Howe and Bite got separated into separate groups by intervening riders on the descent to Gstaad, then re-united near the summit of this next climbing section. At the top, another rest station, another opportunity to urinate all over the Swiss countryside. Unfortunately Bite’s urination hid him from Howe, so the team were separated again. But at this point it didn’t matter. It was all about tooling down another big descent, linking up with a groupetto, powering through the third and final climb, then yet another truly amazing descent…to the final rest station…then 40km of flat or gentle downwards climbing (unfortunately against a strong headwind) to bring it back into Bulle and the finish line. Both Howe in front, and Bite behind, managed to slot into highly effective 12 to 18 man groupettos, that worked with clock-like leader alternations to bring each pack home with maximum energy efficiency. And make no mistake, doing that last flat 40k into a headwind solo would have been an experience to avoid.


Rider Howe. 119.99km down and 0.01km to go, JFG’in ‘er to cross the line and do the Ranch proud. Final finishing times: SharkBite 4:36, Howe 4:31, Wolf 4:00.

Back at the race finish, the boys reunited promptly at the Wolf-mobile, re-fueled, packed up and exited quickly. Start at 9, finished and out at 2pm. And the Swiss race efficiency kicks in, with text messages to all the riders with their finishing times…and in LoneWolf’s case, the news that his top quartile finishing time qualified him for the UCI world championships (which unfortunately turned out to be in Belgium the following weekend, so that obviously wasn’t going to happen).


Grabbing snacks from the gas station on the way out of town, the crew comprehensively debriefed on the race en route back to Verbier and fully restored all energy levels.


Mission team returns to base, sporting (R to L) Gruyere event cycling jersey, classy Mauvoisin race souvenir T-shirt and, classiest of all, Ranch gilet/wife-beater top.


This man has found a new mentality…and it’s closer to his heart. RiderHowe sets new post-race fashion highs, twinning the Ranch wife-beater top with black nylon track suit pants, stylin shades, and (not quite in shot) ball cap featuring the Val De Bagnes “two homies in a bathtub” regional logo. Dress for success.