What your camp ticket includes:
You'll be accompanied on your rides by experienced guides and coaches. You will be back from cycling in the early afternoon to also enjoy non-cycling tourism activities.
Here is the itinerary for the week, note that you always have the option to take a day off or do your own ride if you want to.
It’s finally happening: A Gran Fondo and an adventure abroad! Who would have thought? With COVID and all. Everything have been cancelled this year, but finally something good is happening. I’m participating in the first edition of the GFNY Alpes Vaujany. And I’m not only doing the Gran Fondo, I’m doing the camp leading up to it as well.
GFNY Alpes Vaujany is the latest addition to the international brands european calendar. GFNY also got races in Portugal and Italy, and I’ve previously participated in the GFNY Deutschland, which unfortunately folded last year.
But GFNY Alpes Vaujany is ON! And the camp starts a week prior to the event. The camp is a great idea. As the name reveals, GFNY Alpes is set in the picturesque mountain village of Vaujany in the Romanche-valley. Same valley as the Alpe d’Huez and Bourg d’Oissans. I’ve done events in the region before, but always arrived one or two days before, and thus been quit rusty on the descents and struggling with finding rhythm on the ascents.
So it’s a nice change of pace with a whole week leading up to a race. A little background: My name is Nikolaj, I’m 31 years old and from Denmark. The northern part. I can go for a 100 kilometer ride and still only do 200 meters of climbing. So I live in a flat place. But then we got the wind instead. I’m quite skinny and ride at the danish elite cat. C level, so its fair to say I’m an experienced cyclist.
My journey to France begins in Aalborg, Denmark from where I go by car to Hamburg in Germany. From there I took the auto train to Lörrach at the swiss border and drove the rest of the way to Vaujany. The auto train travels at night, which is a nice change of pace, being able to sleep all the way through Germany, which is usually a dreaded car ride.
So saturday afternoon I’m arriving in Vaujany and checking into the Hotel V de Vaujany, a nice four star hotel which is the officiel partner accommodation for the GFNY event. I have time for a quick spin before all the camp participants meet for drinks in the hotel bar early in the evening.
The weather is perfect, 25 degrees and almost no wind and the weather forecast seems to be the same for the week. Vaujany is situated a third up the Col du Sabot, which is a really punishing climb.
Just a quick dash down to Allemond and back up to get the legs going after the travel. But no- one told me it was gonna be 10% the entire 5 kilometers up to Vaujany? They didn’t feel that steep in my car. So I’m running a little late for the aperitif meeting. Arriving at the bar the others have already gathered. Uli Fluhme, the founder of GFNY, is entertaining.
“It’s gonna be a very boutique camp this year” he states as I enters, referring to the five other persons in the room. Unfortunately, due to COVID and travel restrictions, only four others have been able to make it to France. Around twenty-five where expected, mostly from the US. But it’s okay, as Uli says, it’s gonna be more intimate this way.
The spring lockdown in Europe is a great conversation starter and quickly everybody is talking. The great thing about camps like this is that you get to meet people from different countries and backgrounds. And the COVID-19 edition of the GFNY Alpes Vaujany camp is no different. The others come from Poland, Switzerland, Belgium and an Argentinian guy from Germany. One of them is a doctor, another is a chef. One do triatlons, another bought his racebike in the spring and this is his first time in the mountains, while another is a seasoned Gran Fondoist who travel the world to do events like GFNY.
It’s a great group and I’m really looking forward to the coming week.
Day 1: Easing into it
There is an official program for the week, but the plan is due to changes depending on weather
conditions and the groups form. Everyday we meet at the town plaza, where we can get an espresso before take off at 10. The meeting time is no later than 15 minutes prior to take off.
With only five of us campers, there’s almost as many GFNY guides, so they can cover us 1:1 which is nice. The point of the camp isn’t to get in shape or better condition for the race. That’s impossible with only a week. Instead the goal is to prepare everyone for the challenges ahead. In this case it’s finding the rhythm on the climbs and getting confident on the descents. If it where the GFNY Italy camp, the mainfocus would be on bike handling and technique while riding the gravel sections on the strade bianche.
So today we just take a short ride to Bourg d’Oisans in the other end of the valley, just to get the legs going and to give the GFNY guides an image of the groups abilities. We have a follow care, which carry spare tubes, energy products and water, as well as our personal bags with extra clothes and what not.
It’s chilly in the morning at this altitude, so we all descend into the valley with jackets on and drop them at the car at the bottom. Instead of riding through the valley on the mainroad, we go along the Romanche river and the cycling path. Theres several other groups out riding. It’s nice to see, that the world is still standing in this unusual and crazy year.
Bourg is a cozy little village and after a short spin through the village we head back to Vaujany. The climb is hard and there’s no hiding. I’m the first back at Vaujany together with Cedric Haas, the GFNY Alpes Vaujany racedirector and former pro, and Mathias van Aken, GFNY’s SoMe- manager and also a former pro, though only on continental-level. His career was unfortunately ended too soon because of an injury.
The rest of the group follows shortly after and that’s it for today. The swiss, Demetrio, is also staying at the same hotel as me, but the rest have brought family members and stay at chalets and other hotels in Vaujany.
Tomorrow the famous Alpe d’Huez awaits.
Day 2: Ride the legend
It’s hard work organizing a Gran Fondo, so today Uli and Lidia Fluhme won’t be joining us. Instead it’s the lead guide, GFNY’s own Mr. Wolf. His real name is Mirco and he’s italian. His nickname you ask? He got it after the Tarantino character in Pulp Fiction. You know? The guy you call when you are in trouble and need something to be fixed, whether it’s a rear derailleur in need of an adjustment or a car ful of someones brain. Well, Mirco is the same sort of guy. He fixes things. And he’s short and got a grey beard which actually give him some characteristics as a wolf.
Today Mr. Wolf will be leading our group to Alpe d’Huez and the twenty-one hairpins. We ride down through the valley as yesterday and at the roundabout before the climb we stop to drop off any unnecessary clothes. I empty my pockets completely, only leaving a gel. I want to do a good time on this climb. It’s monday, so the race is still six days away. I can go hard today - and I’m gonna.
Mirco want’s a picture at the bottom. He’s not gonna race this climb. Instead, Mirco will stay with the last man in the group, making sure that everything is alright. The follow car will also be riding behind the last rider, and only occasionally overtake the entire group to take pictures.
I’m focused. I got music in my ears and as soon as everybody is ready to go, I go. The Alpe is hardest at the bottom. I’ve done it once before in real life, in another event, and several times on Zwift. But that’s not the same. The climb is hardest in the bottom. The first three kilometers rises with around 10% and then it continues with 7-9% until the top.
I go hard from the bottom. There’s not much car traffic, but instead there’s a lot of other riders going up. I leave them all behind. My legs are great and the only one who can follow me, is an old man on an e-mountainbike. We exchange a few words in French, before he drops down and sits in my wheel. Finally at the top. I can see the finishline. The old man is still there and outsprints me on the last 200 meters.
I’ve set a great time, just under 44 minutes and a place among the fastest 100 people on Strava. A great confirmation of my condition before the GFNY Alpes Vaujany race. I turn around and go back until I meet Mirco and the car. They are with Maciej from Poland. It’s his first time in the mountains. It’s a real baptism of fire. I saw the others further ahead, and ride up to them and together we finish the climb. At the top we take pictures and order lunch.
After a while it’s time to go back. We ride down the Col de la Confession, which starts (or ends) two kilometers from the top of Alpe d’Huez. From the top of Confession there’s a nice view of the valley. Mirco gives a masterclass in descending for those interested. It’s a nice descent with long straights and not too high speed.
Back in Vaujany, Mr. Wolf invites me to dinner. His cousin works at a restaurant on Les Deux Alpes an hour away, so in the evening I go there with the GFNY-crew to have crepes.
Day 3: Reaching new heights
Today is an early start. We meet at the plaza already at 9. Today we are going to one of the highest passes in the Alps: The Col du Galibier. We have to drive there by car. Lidia and Uli have brought their minivan from Italy, which have room for everyone except me. As an official member of the Wolf pack now, I’m invited to ride in the follow car with Mr. Wolf, Mathias, Cedric and Sara, the GFNY event coordinator.
It’s a fun gang and a great way to get to know the GFNY organisation from the inside. We stop at the Col du Lautaret. This is where the mainroad between Grenoble and Briancon/Torino meets the road to the Maurienne-valley. From here you can ride a few kilometers to the top of Galibier, or descent down to either the Romanche-valley or to Briancon.
After taking pictures we turn our bikes towards Galibier and get going. I’m riding easy. Just as yesterday, I got my eye set on a new pr up the Galibier. I’ve done it two times before, but always with the Telegraphe as an appetizer. The col du Galibier ends in 2642 meters, so the air is noticeably thin up here. Because of my low weight, I reaches the top as the first on, and even have time to ride back down one kilometer to the cafe at the tunnel, to get an espresso while I wait.
I meet the others at the top and we take more pictures. It’s like standing at the ceiling of Europe and you can see the Mont Blanc from here. There’s a lot of other riders and motorbikers, even though the summer season is nearing it’s end. We agree to descent down to Vallois, but don’t agree on a definite meeting point. Mirco is fast on the descents, but I too am a good descender. He stops to take a picture with Mathias, which leaves me to be the first one to reach Vallois. I stop to eat an energy bar while I wait for the others. But no one is coming.
After waiting for what I think is a long time, I decides to go back up the mountain. I’m standing in the middle of Vallois, a small skisport village. But there’s two roads through it, and maybe the others stopped before entering the village. I roll through Vallois and to the start of the Telegraph climb. Here I turnaround. I gotta make sure I make it to the start of the Strava-segment.
Galibier is a rather long climb and with the thin air it’s hard to predict how legs and lungs will react. I ride hard, but can’t ride as hard as yesterday on the Alpe. Nearing the top, I am really feeling the lack of oxygen. Approximately two kilometers from the peak, I see some of the others. I climb the Col du Galibier in 60 minutes and make it into the top 80 on Strava. I passes Maciej on the last 200 meters so it’s perfect. Uli apologies for the misunderstanding with the meeting point, but it’s okay. When you go fast, you have to wait anyway, and the valley was warmer than the mountain top.
We ride back down to the cars and have lunch together at the restaurants in the intersection at the top of Lautaret. Mr. Wolf orders a burger Royale. Okay, that’s not the name of the burger, but it should be because it’s loaded with bacon, cheese and something I can’t recognize. I settle with pasta, but Mr. Wolf gives it a judgemental look “Nick, that is not pasta, trust me” he says, with his italian accent.
Tomorrow we will ride the Croix de Fer, the first climb of GFNY Alpes Vaujany. 25 kilometers up into the air.
Day 4: The iron cross
Today is a preview of the route on sunday. The GFNY Alpes Vaujany starts in Vaujany, rides down the Col du Sabot, goes up the Croix de Fer, descents into the Maurienne Valley and go up the Col du Glandon, and back down the Croix de Fer and Glandon descent (which is the same), before heading back up the Col du Sabot to Vaujany.
So we get to see both the first climb and the last descent of the race. Perfect. I’ve done the Glandon before, but today I’ve got no plans of going full gas. It’s time to rest the legs. My initial plan was to stay with the others, but with my low weight I’m just spinning away. There’s no traffic and only few other cyclists. You can really feel that we are in the end of august and the season is over.
The weather is once again perfect. Temperatures in the low twenties and a little breeze. The Croix de Fer is a tricky climb that can be split into two sections. Common for both sections is, that they both have long straits and small descents. The first half of the climb is the steepest and have sections with over 15% incline. The other half is not so steep and have sections with close to 4%. So the average gradient for this climb is cheating. I take it easy on the first half, trying to ride in the endurance zone, but can’t help to push a little tempo on the steep sections.
Approximately half way up there’s a lake and the plateau opens up. This is where it flattens. I put it on the big chainring and get a little carried away and starts to ride closer to sweetspot than endurance pace. It’s a really great climb once you get up to the plateau and I’m going super fast past the left turn up to the Col du Glandon peak. I continue three kilometers further up the road to the Iron Cross, that marks the end of the Croix de Fer. There’s a little cafe up here.
But the wind is cold and I haven’t brought a gilet, thinking I would be riding with the others and having the car right behind me. So I turn around and go back down. The car is parked at the lake, where the climb is flattening. Perfect. I fill my bottles and put my gilet in the back pockets.
I’ve passed Demetrio, the swiss from my hotel, a few hundred meters further up the road. Together we climb to the top where a few of the others are waiting. We have coffee before we go back down. This is the end of the official program. Demetrio and I head to the top of Glandon before descending all the way down.
We are done riding earlier than the other days, so I take advantage of the extra spare time to take the lift in Vaujany and hike a little on the mountain top. The views are amazing.
From the top you can hike to Alpe d’Huez. And you have a full view of the valley and Vaujany. The plan for tomorrow is to go by car to Col d’Izoard.
Day 5: Last day in paradise
The trip to Izoard is cancelled. The legs are getting tired all around and no-one was to keen on a long car ride to Briancon. So today we will do a short ride - to the top of Col du Sabot. The climb is brutal, but at least we start one third up the climb, from the plaza in Vaujany.
The weather is perfect again today. I’m taking it super easy, riding the climb in my lowest gear. It takes forever to ride the 10 kilometers to the top, when you try to push the pedals as easy as possible. The road is more like a goat path, than a road. And the road rises with 10% average.
But the reward at the top is huge. At the end of the road, there’s a turnaround point, nothing else. We leave the bikes behind and hike 100 meters further up. The views are amazing. From here we can see the lake and plateau on Croix de Fer/Glandon, the top of Col de Madelaine and the peak of Mont Blanc. We sit and talk for a long time.
Suddenly, with a gloomy tone, Cedric states “C’est l’apocalypse”. He’s referring to the weather forecast for tomorrow. Which truly is the apocalypse. Today is the last day with great summer
weather. Tomorrow the rain will come and on Saturday it will be hell on earth. Sunday looks a little better, but still with rain.
We enjoy the last of the sun. Tomorrow will just be a short spin before the rain, and on Saturday there is nothing planned.
Day 6: Calling Mr. Wolf
Somehow I’ve broken my bike. I’ve been changing tires on the bike, but had to do it in the small hotelroom. So I’ve turned it upside down, which is a bad idea when you have hydraulic brakes. And now the rear brake doesn’t work properly. Okay, so the bike is not broken, but it needs to be fixed.
Todays ride is a bit earlier than the other days, because of the rain later. It’s just a short spin down to Bourg d’Oisans and back again. I called Mr. Wolf last night and cried help. “No worries Nick, I will take care of your bike”. But now, when he’s standing at the plaza and looking at it, the verdict is clear: It need to see a mechanic to be bleeded.
Luckily we still got Sara driving the followcar. I can still brake with the front brake, but going down the fast and steep Vaujany-climb is no fun with a malfunctioning rear brake. So I get in the car and the bike takes the roof.
Down in the valley I’m dropped off at the cycling path along the Romanche river. Perfect timing, as the others arrive here in the same moment as my Garmin receives the satellite signal. We roll along the river and into Bourg. A couple of the others also need to go to a cycling shop. Mr. Wolf and I finds the mechanic. A big guy, with a facemask similar to the one Bain is wearing in Batman.
We tell him what’s the problem and he looks at the bike. Then he pumps the brake ten times and the problem is solved. Mr. Wolf and I looks at each other and shrugs. Apparently the bike wasn’t that broken at all.
Demetrio and Maciej who went inside the shop comes back. Mr. Wolf want’s to wash our bikes, so we go to a gas station. But on the way back to Vaujany it starts raining. Mr. Wolf, who is italian, have barely been hit by a single drop before he says “Guys, you don’t wanna ride in this kind of weather. Let’s go back and find a cafe”. I agree with him. Going back for espressos sounds fun, so I’m all in. Riding in the rain with our newly cleaned bikes, not so much fun.
After sitting at the cafe for some time, and the rain only getting worse and worse, Mr. Wolf calls the ever kind Sara to pick us up. She demands a coffee for her service. This has been a nice last day of the camp. The Garmin reveals, that I’ve only been riding for a good thirty minutes today. Easy spinning, after a great week.
Day 7: Apocalypse now
Sleeping in and waking up to a grey and rainy weather. The clouds are laying heavy over the valley. I’ve got an italian roommate last night, Zacchi. He’s a nice guy from Como, who normally go on training rides with the local italian and danish pros living in the area, so he got a lot of stories.
We only leave the beds to go for breakfast, and to pick up our race bibs and goodiebags. We meet a couple of other guys, mostly some friends of Zacchi from Italy. The race will be on tomorrow.
It’s the day before raceday and from my room I have a clear view of the apocalypse. Zacchi and I spend half the day discussing what is the best clothes to wear. The only subject of disagreement is whether or not to wear leg warmers. Zacchi thinks it’s the best idea, but being danish, I’m pretty sure I can manage without. Demetrio, who is a doctor, gave me a cream for vaginal examinations, which he insists is water repellent and great for the legs. I’m cautious about trying out new stuff on race day, but maybe I give it a go.
Other than that, we agree on a Gabba-kind-of jacket and VeloToze for the feets. We watch the pro’s crash around in Nice, in the Tour de France. The riviera haven’t seen any rain for months, so
the roads are slippery. In the afternoon, there’s a small break in the rain, so I sees the opportunity and go for a quick leg opener.
It’s not too cold in the valley. I descend down to dam and go straight in the roundabout, to the start of Col de Confession. But instead of turning onto the climb itself, I take the right turn and descend down to Bourg d’Oisans. The valley is silent, no one to see. I turn right on to the mainroad and make my way back to Vaujany. I push hard up the climb in Allemond to the top of the dam. I passes another rider who ventured out into the apocalypse.
It’s nok too bad ascending in rain, actually you don’t feel the water the same way, when riding on flats. I’m, gonna skip the vaginal cream. Back in Vaujany I’m boiling. Guess the long sleeve warm jersey under a Gabba-jacket was too much.
Now there’s nothing more to do. Tomorrow is raceday. Tomorrow it’s GFNY Alpes Vaujany. I contemplate the past week. It’s been a fantastic week. I’ve met a lot of great people and made some fantastic memories. This is definitely not the last time I’ve gone on a GFNY Camp.
It’s been the perfect lead up to the race tomorrow. And the perfect break from my normal life, in this unusual year. Everybody here have a story to tell about COVID from their own country and it’s a great conversation starter. But once you are here, it’s all about cycling and the current situation in the world is quickly pushed aside and forgotten for a week. I recommend everyone to go on a cycling camp, the next time the apocalypse knocks on the door.
For sure I have never been more prepared for a Gran Fondo. My condition haven’t improved during the week. But an entire week of climbing and descending high mountains have prepared me mentally and technically for the challenges ahead. And that is key for a good experience.
Two months later
It’s now November and the GFNY experience seems far away, and yet as it was yesterday. My phone is buzzing. It’s Demetrio writing to me in WhatsApp. He wants to know if I’m going to GFNY Cozumel in Mexico. Not this year amigo - no one is leaving Denmark due to restrictions it seems.... But a friendship have been made and we agrees to meet at a GFNY in Europe next year, perhaps in Italy, with Mr. Wolf. And that’s what GFNY is about. Not only to ride like a pro for a week, but also to meet new friends and get new experiences together. I can’t wait for my next GFNY.