Thursday 16 August 2007

The Lost Boys Tour d'Alsace: Part 3

Strasbourg sweets...

Thursday, July 5

Well, yet another miserable day. The dark clouds still rolled overhead but taking our place in the S-Max, and Chill following in his ‘Onda, as the French call it, we bravely headed out to one of the great goals of the trip: the Ballon d’Alsace.

The Ballon d’Alsace, although not on par with some of the other climbs in the region, let alone the Alps or Pyrenees, was immortalized on July 10, 1905 when it became the site of the first official mountain climb in the Tour de France, the first edition of which had taken place two years earlier. I have done a translation of a German story about that first ride. The Tour de France, nothing if not with a sense of its own history, did the same stretch on the same day in 2005. The climb is interesting not only for its history but because you can approach it from three different directions. Our plan was to start in St-Maurice-sur-Moselle, ride up to the top and then head east downhill to Serwen before turning around and going back up. The idea was to descend again and then circle around and ride another big climb, the Col du Ballon de Servance. Lots of climbing and descending in a very contained area. Or so the plan went...

The drive was pretty miserable, and further than we had expected. It was pouring rain as we drove, and we stopped at a roadside bar on the N-66 for some coffee and with the hope that the rain would relent. As we pushed on, it was clear that this was not going to happen. We parked at the local tourism office in St-Maurice, which was directly across from where the road up the Ballon began and it was here, O My Brothers, that I decided to pack it in and wait in the car.

Basically, it had not stopped raining, it was bitterly cold and I had only brought gear suitable for normal July weather to Europe with me. I loaned my armcovers and windvest to Steve Z. and everyone packed on their raingear. The group bravely headed out on the 13 km climb and I contented myself with figuring out the S-Max’s navigation system.

Ready to attack the Ballon d'Alsace

Just over an hour later the Lost Boys returned. It was an epic trip but they had only gone up to the top and turned around once photos were taken. The summit, which is only around ll78 m, was 6C, so I could not blame them for the dash up and back. I got cold just listening to the tale of woe, and was disappointed to here that once they reached the top, of course, they could not see anything due to the fog and clouds. So much for our historical ride...

To cheer ourselves up, we piled into the car again and headed off to visit Strasbourg, birthplace of Marcel Marceau, for a few hours. At this point the weather had become quite glorious and we walked around the main square and admired the huge gothic sandstone Cathedral of Our Lady. Of course, at that moment the authorities threw everyone out of the place so that they could give the daily noon lecture on the famous astronomical clock. We passed by an amazing store selling a vast array of cookies and soon wandered off for some food ourselves, enjoying mammoth sandwiches in an ice cream place.


After we did the long drive back to the gite, the weather actually improved enough that I decided to go out by myself and just ride north along the main road through the vineyards. I passed Ribeauvillé, of course, but in Bergheim I turned off the road to take some photos of the town showing the fortified walls. I noticed a sign on a sideroad pointing to a German World War II cemetery and decided to look, riding upwards through the vineyards until the road ended. I had an excellent view of Bergheim and the surrounding Rhine Valley, and rolled back down to the main road, turning right and passing through Rorschwihr and coming to St-Hippolyte, which was about to celebrate its Beer Festival on the coming weekend. I photographed the banner to prove to the others that there actually was beer in Alsace, and turned around. At this point the rain returned but I got back to the gite without getting very wet but with only 21 kms on the bike computer.

Friday, July 6

Of course, now that people were starting to leave the weather improved. The Thin Man had departed the evening before, taking the night train back to Berlin. Chill was drove out, heading back in the direction of Geneva while Anti-Gravity Jon packed up his bike. Dr. Chef, Steve Z. and I were under less time pressure and we agreed to head off to the north for some nice climbs near the town of Villé, which meant retracing my ride of Thursday to St-Hippolyte and then continuing.

The weather was quite good and we reached the first major junction at Chatenois quite rapidly. The next stretch of road, a short piece of the N-59 and then a long stretch of the D424, had the most traffic of any part of our rides and we were relieved to get to Villé. However, the roads were poorly marked here and we departed with some confusion and much consultation of the maps, eventually finding our way to an excellent climb, which took us along the D23 to Urbeis and the Col d’Urbeis (602 m). We turned right on the D214 and were rewarded with excellent views as we climbed further to the village of Le Climont.

Steve Z. had asked me about some creaking noises his bike was making and I had a sense of foreboding. Sure enough, in Le Climont his cassette body failed, exactly as mine had in Maryland a month earlier, and his Tour d’Alsace was at an end. Dr. Chef and I continued on the most direct route back to the gite, passing the Col de Steige (534m) and riding at time trials speeds through Maisonsgoutte and Ville and then back all the way home, with only a moment or two of rain along the way. We did stop to take pictures of us at the Col sign, of course. Once back at the gite, Dr. Chef took the S-Max and went back to collect Steve Z., and that was the end our week in Alsace. At least we had managed to put in 85 km in one day, with a reasonable gain of 720 m.

Saturday, July 7

Mario on his Gios at Haut-Koenigsbourg

Well, things were not quite over. My friend Mario and his wife Birgit arrived on Saturday morning. They were camping a few miles down the road and he was picking me up in preparation for the next stage of my trip, a week in the Black Forest, just across the Rhine. Steve Z. and Dr. Chef were preparing to head off to the Frankfurt Airport with the rental car and we said our goodbyes.

Stork on the prowl

I went with Mario to the campsite--where storks were wandering around, cadging handouts-- and we put on our cycling gear and took our bikes out for a ride, going back up to Chateau du Haut Koenigsbourg and enjoying the descent to Ste-Marie-aux-Mines, the climb back up to Ribeauvillé and then returning to Hunawihr and the campsite in Zellenberg.

There were showers to be had and we got changed. Mario and Birgit packed up the VW Westfalia van and we drove up the street for lunch in Riquewihr, including a wine tasting, before going east and crossing the Rhine into Germany. A short while later we were in Biengen at a very comfortable guest house, and met up with Frank, from the Harz Mountains, and Brett (a fellow Squadra Coppi rider) and his girlfriend Lex, the others in our party. We walked down the street and over an uproarious dinner on a restaurant terrace planned our upcoming German cycling adventures.

Birgit samples the flammkuchen in Riquewihr

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