Rain, cold, corona, a shortened course and an organisation that nevertheless went all out to please the few participants. These are the ingredients of the first edition of the GFNY Alpes Vaujany. It's an adventure that I have added to the list of most epic rides ever.
The GFNY Alpes Vaujany sees the light of day this year. Not to be confused with La Vaujany of Cycling Classics France, the gran fondo that is usually organised a week before the Marmotte Granfondo Alps. "Yes, but surely this gran fondo will also be held a week before the Marmotte," you might say. That's true, but that's just coincidence. Because this year the Marmotte has been postponed to the first week of September, it's scheduled exactly one week after 'the new Vaujany'.
The route mouth watering: the Col de la Croix de Fer, descend to the Maurienne valley and then back through the heavier side of the Col du Glandon. Finally, the final climb follows to the winter sports village of Vaujany. Legendary names in an enchanting setting. 117 kilometres and 4000 meters of elevation.
As one of the few gran fondos this year, the organisation of the GFNY Alpes Vaujany has managed to ensure their event actually takes place. The COVID measures had already been approved at an early stage by the French authorities. In February there were some 420 registrations, but with the arrival of corona that number stagnated. Promotions, e.g. from the Cyclocalendar, hardly helped. To make matters worse, horrible weather was predicted. Enough for the last people in doubt to throw in the towel. In the end, only 180 of them picked up their starting number.
In the early morning it is actually dry. I can't believe it. Well, no. The first drops come down at about half past nine. Beforehand I having doubts about my clothes. I decide on an undershirt, cycling jersey, arm warmers, knee warmers and a wind stopper. The GFNY buff from the goodie bag is a welcome addition against the cold. My rain jacket goes into the back pocket for the descent. I had hoped for some light splashes at the start, but it's raining seriously. I decide to put on my rain jacket over my wind stopper. The price of the best-dressed rider will pass me by this day. Cyclocalendar has been invited by the organisation and so I am allowed to start at the front of the VIP compartment.
At 10 o'clock we're shot away and the first 5 kilometres from Vaujany to the foot of the col is a neutralised descent. Under dry conditions this already makes perfect sense and now completely. Everything is disciplined and calm. Many riders ride with an ass saver and I hate myself for not buying one. I have fitted my bike with new brake pads, but I get the feeling that these are already half worn. Splashing water from my predecessors, rain and many bends make it uncomfortable. Luckily everyone comes down in one piece.
The climb to the Col de la Croix de Fer starts right away. Lovely, the rain has stopped bothering me right away. Riding is fine now, because there is a lot of oxygen in the air. This corona year I have trained much less than other years and I am about 3 kilo heavier than normal. I don't imagine much of an achievement. I assume that my fellow riders are mainly the more fanatical cyclists, so I will be overtaken a lot. That happens, but in the end I find a group of people with my qualities.
Until Rivier d'Allemond it's tough climbing as the water flows down the road. I take the steep descent after the village with caution. Then the steep part follows until the Barrage de Grand'Maison. I've only just passed the reservoir or I already see the lonely leader arriving in the opposite direction: the Italian Vincenzo Pisani. How is that possible, I think to myself. After many minutes, the next group of Belgians Frederic Glorieux and Michiel Minnaert (Marmotte winner in 2018), among others, comes along. And I still have kilometres to go to the col. I just keep on riding and hope in vain that the rain will stop. On the summit, the organisation distributes green rain capes. They've done their upmost to ensure the safety of the participants. The whole climb I haven't been cold or warm. My choice of apparel seems to be the right one.
Now I turn around and plunge into the descent. However, plunging is not really the case. For the first few kilometres, I whizz along the Glandon over the straights on my way to the dam. The road is wet, but clear. I feel the cold along my uncovered calves and am happy with my overkill of clothing. After the dam it is different. Here it goes steeply down and the hairpin bends make the descent tricky. I love fast descents, but today I especially feel the urge to return home safely. Like an old lady, I go down and still catch up with several people. It's very slippery; in one of the hairpin bends I have to apply the brakes. Oops, that was close. The short, steep intermediate climb is a welcome change. Don't squeeze the brakes, just warm up again. Then it goes down quickly. The road is a bit straight here, when it is dry you can let go of the brakes here. Not today; just like an hour and a half ago the water gushes down. I am taking it easy.
It's not long before the climb to Vaujany appears. Supplies at the foot would be welcome if the normal distance had been covered. Now everyone is driving past it. I'm going up with a group that is pretty equal. The sun is actually breaking through, while it is still drizzling. I actually get warm and unzip my clothes. It is a difficult climb of about 5 kilometres. Just steep uphill and nowhere to rest. Luckily I can still keep going reasonably well. The last kilometre takes me through some narrow streets and after 3:22 I cross the finish line. Not even hammered, the race was too short for that. However: "This was a race I'll never forget".
1. Vicenzo Pisani (Ita) 2:06:25
2. Michiel Minnaert (Bel) 2:10:56
3. Frederic Glorieux (Bel) 2:10:59
Find here all results.
GFNY is the American company of Uli and Lidia Fluhme and stands for Gran Fondo New York. In 2011 they organised the gran fondo in The Big Apple for the first time. From 2014 GFNY grew to a World Tour. Meanwhile 20 gran fondos are part of this circuit. Each cycle the best participants in each category qualify for the grand final in New York. Participants are obliged to ride in the poison green with a black GFNY shirt.
It is one of the largest and most experienced organisers in the gran fondo realm. That also proved to be the case during the weekend. In the preparation everything was done to make the event actually take place. The speed and flexibility with which it responded to the difficult circumstances was admirable. As was the eye for the safety of the participants. Everything was taken care of down to the smallest detail. There are even signs on the roads that are not part of the route: Wrong way, turn around. You can tell by everything that they have already organised more than 70 gran fondo's. BE A PRO FOR A DAY is exactly the right slogan.
Want to know more about GFNY and the World Tour? Read everything here.