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Alpe d'Huez - Part 2 - Games in the big ring

When we returned the next season to France, we set up base in Alpe d'Huez, where the next two parts of our story unfold. Our whole team sutto was based there and of course there are only two ways up in Alpe d'Huez from the valley below. The way everybody knows from the TV coverage, and the 'back way' which is not as steep but twice as long, and comes out at Huez which has the last 4 switchbacks to negotiate. And so is still a majorly difficult climb.

While we did turbo on alternate days, and alternated between the front and back bike routes to climb the mountain, it did get monotonous and the boys would think of ways to break up the boredom, by games, races and the like. Some I had to ban as I can remember the lads decided that for a bit of an adrenaline rush they would race down the mountain, not just up it. This was fraught with danger that kids, especially Aussie ones, did not appreciate, till one day on one of the absolute mad dashes, Marc Lees miscalculated the turn and speed into it, and had to hit the brakes in a very violent manner, so much torque was delivered to the frame that the frame completely snapped, just broke away behind the fork stem. I was following in the car and was amazed that he didn't hit anything. The good news for us was he was a very lucky boy, didn't even lose some skin on the road, but was so close to losing his life that from that day racing down the hill was banned. We honed our cornering skills, on the less tight switchbacks of the back of the mountain pass. Up till now Cyrille was only famous in the group for one thing - he would be very difficult to find when training was finished. Anytime I would head around to our accommodation I would find most athletes, however Cyrille was a ghost! Once he finished his work, he was gone. Where he went we didn't know. His lack of English would allow him to slip off and not say anything and we basically never questioned him, as he was always at training, enthusiastic, and working very very hard. However the rest of the time he was unremarkable. He didn't descend like the other French guys, Dinan and Brittany for that matter are pretty flat, and so he was just like the Aussies! However, Cyrille became famous with one particular game the boys used to play, and it was to define him throughout his triathlon career. It was the key to him gaining respect, not only in our group, but in later years all the French came to know that you attack Cyrille Neveu on a mountain climb at your own peril. The game somehow started when all were deliriously tired! This happened frequently in camp, lots of these stories come from the madness of when athletes were tired and just seem to think 'what the hell, lets do something really crazy!' So became the new game: how far can we ride up the alpe d'Huez, and how many switchbacks could be done, in the big chainring. The boys set about out doing each other at every opportunity. As a coach I was horrified, NOT! by this game as the lads were just getting stronger and stronger. Now here is where the story goes from hard, to really hard, to crazy on the meter that measures these things. We had some great riders in the group Ben Bright, Lachy V, and the great and I mean truly great, Hamish Carter, who indeed at the time was the best hill climber I had ever seen in triathlon. He was a mountain goat, so it was not like we had any soft riders. These boys were tough, but one thing I noticed was that as each record was broken, 'I did 5', then a week later, 'I did 6', it was obvious to me Cyrille always matched it. He never did break the record, he would just equal it. But he did it. By half way through the season the boys thought they were pretty hot shit as they were doing 11 switchbacks, or half the hill, and thought that this was some kind of world record. Again Cyrille matched it, didn't go one better. Despite looking about 10 times worse and in more pain than the other lads, match it he did. One day, the French asked if they could invite an old triathlete from Brittany obviously who was a favourite of the French boys. Again not known worldwide, as he didn't swim so well, but Danny could ride a bike, and Danny was a hero in Brittany because as a triathlete he would enter all the time trials around the region and beat all the Tour de France riders. He was that good. One of the rumours is on his travels, and he was a traveling wilbury, a free French spirit wind surfing in Mauritius, teaching diving in the reefs of Indonesia, trekking the mountains of Nepal, you get the picture, Danny was up for anything, and of course good looking to go with it, so left a trail of broken hearts where ever he applied some of his craziness.

Rumour has it when he ventured to America he joined the famed group on the very long climbs where 'The Grip' Mark Allen used to torture the athletes with his famed build up. Danny joined for a few rides and I have heard from more than a few French, that a mad Frenchman was putting the grip on the grip, when he did these rides! When asked about it, Danny just shrugged and would say 'He rides ok that Mark Allen but he needs some work on his strength'. Danny had one other trademark on his bike, he would only ride the big chainring, and thus when asked, he would just say 'real men only ride the big ring'. So I don't know if the French brought Danny in to show Hamish and the boys they still had a way to go to be real men, or he heard from his mates this crazy gang at Alpe d'Huez had his mentality. However he arrived for a week's camp, and then the fireworks began...


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