Candle Power

I have just returned from a spectacular week of cycling in the French Alps. Six riders, all friends with Stockton Bike Club connections, hooked up with the touring company 44 | 5. The roads, food, accommodations and social ambiance were all first rate; we had a terrific trip. Allow me one shameless plug: if you are considering cycling in France you should check out 44 |5 . 

This is the first blog post about my adventure in the Alps

When I am cycling in Europe, I regularly go into a cathedral to light a prayer candle for safe cycling. I have absolutely no conviction that this habit I have formed contributes anything to keeping me out of harm’s way, but I also can’t prove that it doesn’t. For some reason it makes me feel  awed and reverent to be an a very old and beautiful church, dim and quiet, with art on the walls and light shining through the stained glass windows high above me. I drop a Euro or two into the box, take a candle (sometimes two, one for Stoker and one for me) and light it and put in on the rack next to the other supplications. I don’t ask for good legs or good weather or to be fast up the mountain. I only ask for safe cycling for Stoker and me. To protect us from the dangers of the road.

The Briancon Candle (top): Help Down the Izoard?

So far it has worked. In May Stoker and I fell (our first crash) riding our tandem across some wet tram tracks. Our bodies and the bike were both unharmed; we continued the ride without incident. The day before this Stoker did the lighting honors in a cathedral next to the Mediterranean. We kept the habit throughout the trip. And on the second night of my recent tour I went into a cathedral in Briancon and dropped a 2 Euro coin into the box for a 1 Euro candle in hopes of a little extra mojo.

The next day we climbed the Col du Telegraphe and the Col du Galibier. These famous climbs are used regularly in the Tour de France, and they are quite long and hard. The ride was only 47 miles, but featured over 7,000 feet of climbing. I felt really good and pretty strong on the Telegraphe. But on the Galibier, I got some bad leg cramps, despite drinking plenty of water and taking electrolyte tablets. I often have issues with cramps on longer rides, and I was really struggling. I even had to stop twice in great pain, afraid to move and cause another muscle to seize up. I eventually made it to the top, and on the descent the cramps went away and didn’t return for the rest of the trip. I can’t blame ‘candle failure’. Remember I don’t ask for ‘good legs’, and on this particular climb I had some of the worst legs possible.

The next day, at the top of the Col d’ Izoard (which my fellow rider Scott kept referring to as ‘the lizard’) our guide Gerry warned us that there was a really steep section on the descent and that we should be careful since it went through a village. I’m always careful (and slow) on the downhills, but slow is relative. As I exited the village down a straight road dropping at about a 10% pitch I was probably doing  about 35 mph. I heard a ‘pop’ and the a ‘hiss’ and my rear tire lost pressure. Quickly. Like ‘explosive decompression’ quickly.

This kind of thing can cause a pretty disastrous crash, but I was able to bring the bike to a safe stop and dismount without incident. ‘Candle Power?’ I can’t prove it wasn’t.

The flat set off a chain of unfortunate events that lead to a series of other tire troubles which caused me to have to sag one long descent and miss one entire day riding in the van, but that is a long story for another time. For now I will only say that I finished the trip safe and sound, so the candles haven’t let me down yet.


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  • Blog Author

    Rich Freggiaro

    Richard Freggiaro is a Stockton area native who grew up on his family’s farm. After an nine year detour to Davis for College, Washington DC for work, and Iowa for graduate school, he returned to San Joaquin County and spent the next quarter century farming with his father. He has been married to Diane for 31 years. He is (mostly) retired which leaves him plenty of time to ride each of his 4 bikes, and he is an enthusiastic and passionate cyclist. Read Full
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