There has been a slight shortage of snow here in Chamonix recently. At first I found this quite depressing. But then I remembered my bikes. Now I enjoy skiing, but I didn't realise how much I loved cycling until I went a month without riding a bike and then finally got back in the saddle. Awe. Some.
And in honour of that feeling, of the wind touching the back of my neck, of the rhythmic swoosh of the pedals, of the 'jesus it's gonna wash out' fear when I take a corner too fast, I've made a list of my top five pieces of tarmac.
1) Farringdon Street to Blackfriars Bridge, London, UK
OK so Farringdon street is a mess - the tarmac is pish. But the corner which sweeps you onto Blackfriars bridge from the traffic lights is fantastic. First it bends left and you get pushed up against the hoarding. Then you crank your legs, overtake the 'style over speeders' on the outside; a cab is close on your right as you swing back round to the right before the pristine tarmac pings you back left. There's a traffic light halfway through this motion where some people stop as they think it's for those going straight on but it's not, so you keep your speed and end up hooning it onto the bridge with a velocity that is easy to maintain right up to the apex. Supreme fun.
2) Servoz to Lac du Passy on the Route de Servoz, Haute Savoie, France
This is one of those brilliant descents which descends slowly so you need to keep pumping the pedals and the result is you feel like you are flying. The corners are mellow so you can get really low on the drops, knee out and take them at speed. It begins on an undulating woodland road then stretches out into a yawning race down to the plain of Sallanches, the Mont Blanc Massif leering at your back. The climb back up is also great - can be taken at a much higher speed than your typical Alpine ride so makes you feel like you are made of steel.
3) The D1212 from Flumet to Megeve, Haute Savoie, France
I ride this on the way back to Chamonix from the Col d'Aravis. You're slightly tired. It's been a long day. The road winds gradually uphill. Then when you get to the public toilets on your left it flattens out ever so slightly. Suddenly the bit is between your teeth again. You thought you were tired. Turns out you just weren't trying hard enough. So you push into a harder gear and start to move faster. By the time you hit the final right hand bend and come over the bridge into Megeve you feel like a freakin champion. And you've left the rest of the gang for dust because they were pacing themselves for the long ride back into Cham. Sweet, if temporary, victory.
4) Highway 12 from Lolo Pass to Kooskia, Montana to Idaho, USA
There is tarmac made for riding and there is tarmac made for living. Highway 12 is the latter. Creeping through the Clearwater National Forest it will bring you back to your senses in a way no other road can. You are encased by trees and traffic is pretty light leaving you free to smell the air, feel the coolness of the natural canopy and hear the sound of rushing water always to your left. Oh my stars it's an amazing road. I could ride this every day for the rest of my life and never feel like I was missing out on anything.
5) St Jean du Bruel to Treve, Auvergne, France
What I love about cycling in the Auvergne is that the region is bloody amazing for bike riding, yet the only people who seem to know this are 80-year-old French men in yellow and purple lycra. This piece of tarmac is 14km uphill - smooth, hairpin and muggy, through thickly carpeted hillside where the view is impossible to see. Then you get to the top, ride flat for a bit then take a left turning. Wow. The road drops away, seeming to carve out a path in the land as the ground opens up into a big chasm. The view from here on in is immenses - steep, jagged rockside that takes on a deep historic feel almost like as you ride you are chasing the centuries back. When you get to Treve you can have a dip in the river before the rest of the loop back to St Jean. The whole ride will see you crank out about 40km - so not long but you'll feel like you've seen all the world has to offer.
6) The bit under my wheels