Racing the setting sun

It starts with the descent; living at 1200 metres in the winter the only way up is a cross-country ski run, so training starts with a drop to the Rhone valley. I feared the worst- 5pm rush hour down the mountain- but the road is clear. I promised the wife I would be safe, so took the blind corners a little slower than normal but I still reach the valley floor in just ten minutes.

Through vineyards just starting to turn green and along primrose and snowdrop lined lanes the sun still shines, although less brightly than when I left home. The threat of darkness quickens the pace, and although the valley is warm and tempting thoughts turn to the long climb ahead.

As the sun drops below the Pointe de Bellevue and France to the west a line is drawn on the mountain alongside me. Like the light used by Oscar Egg to try and pace the hour record in years gone by this line becomes my target. As the sun sets I rise, ascending on the steeper roads to Fenalet in the 39×25 before changing up on the more gentle gradient through the pastures to Les Posses. The pastures smell of fresh cut grass; a dog barks.

The sun seems to be holding a position as I ascend, but I can see the line of shade creeping up the vineyards below covering the roads climbed just minutes before. As I reach the final stretch into Gryon and beyond a two-stroke moped pulls out in front. I use this as a another target, aiming for the back wheel like bridging across to a break in a race. The smell reminds me of summer jobs coppicing woods as a teenager, with two-stroke fumes filling my lungs like the chainsaw used to.

Reaching Barboleuse feels good, the road levels out and the speed heads north of 20kph for the first time, and a final spurt brings the climb to an end- not quite a record but good for March. Jersey zipped up, gilet back on and it’s the cool down through Villars to home, the sun now just a semi-circular glow above the mountains to the west.

As I take the back route on the low road I realise it is now shady and cold, with snow still lurking on the edges: better watch out for ice. The battle with the sun is seemingly lost, yet like so many battles in my mind I refuse to be beaten so reach back, flick the switch and turn on the rear light.

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One Response to Racing the setting sun

  1. Ben Saunders says:

    Love it. Nicely written, bro. I may need to join you for an intensive Alpine weight loss programme if this f$%*ing Arctic weather doesn’t clear!

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