Ever since I started watching the Tour de France and riding a bike have I wanted to ride in France and tackle some of those big name climbs. The “bucket list” is quiet long and after a short three day stint in the French Alps the ‘list’ has just became longer.
I love being in the mountains. Love it when I was a snowboard and I do love riding up them. But there is just something to standing in a valley with a 360 degree vista of mountains and that fresh mountain air.
Don’t get me wrong, I love that we are fortunate enough to live on the Sunshine Coast and have the beach, but I could just as easily live in the mountains. We found ourselves in Bourg d’ Oisans, a small little french village that is a perfect base for falling more in love with riding your bike.
The local Office de tourisme has a little booklet of 30 cycling routes around the L’Oisans.
“From small country roads to solitary mountain passes, lost in the clouds. Come and explore the six valleys of this fantastic area with its winding roads, its perched villages, sitting on mountain tops like eagle’ nests. L’Oisans and your bike, that’s just a nice love story!”
Oh was I in for a treat.
We based ourselves literally at the base of Alpe d’ Huez and it’s famous 21 switch backs. We had the motorhome parked at a camp site and since we arrived after lunch and it didn’t get dark till after 7pm, a little ‘warm up’ ride was in store.
Jump straight in and ride up the 21 switch backs. As I said we were literally at the base. The 0km marking was there as soon as I turned out of the camping ground. I decided to go into town first as a warm up.. hitting 12% off the bat for 2-3km isn’t the most optimal way to warm up.
20 minutes later I was heading up the “road up to the alps”, as it is affectionately called. I just cruised it at my own tempo, not pushing it but just soaking it up. Reading the names of past champions on each of the 21 swtichbacks and wondering how Marco Pantani road this 14km stretch in 37’35” with Lance being next in 39’41” (23.4km/hr avg). Ouch. In 2004 there was between 500,000 to 1 million spectators flanking both sides of the road. Mind boggling.
I passed some Canadians on the way up, taking a photo and I offered to get one of them both. I was in no rush, just grateful to be here. We got talking and rode the rest of the way up together and then my 14km up and back turned into a 55km loop and 3 hours of scenic beauty as we continued up to Col de Sarenne (1999m).
The only thing that would have made this more special would have been if Charlotte was riding up too. We will come back for that.
That was my warm up for the following days out and back ride to Le Col de la Croix de Fer (plus the little 200 meter detour to hit Col du Glandon too). This was a beautifully tough ride and total distance was only 80km. Approximately 2h30″ to get to the 2068m Col de la Croix de Fer and 1h15″ to get back to Bourg d’Oisans. The hardest part is early on after you pass Allemont and climb up to Rivier (goes on forever) before a quick steep four hairpin bends to a stream and a strenuous climb to the Grand Maison Barrage. This was the hardest part while the rest to Col du Glandon en-route to Col de la Croix de Fer was filled with awe inspiring scenery.
Thankfully there was Chalet du Glandon and Chalet du Col de la Croix de Fer which were both overt (open) where I refuelled. I hadn’t passed any riders all morning. Maybe because it was raining when I started but up here it was mid 20’s – at the top of Glandon I met Kurt from Belgium and we rode up the last section to Croix de Fer together, took some photos and grabbed a baguette fromage and coke to restock. Kurt was ‘riding’ with his 68 year old father in law. We caught him on the way back through some village – he had turned at Col du Glandon. Pretty impressive effort at 68!
Day 3 would be a late start. After yesterday I wanted Charlotte to experience the beauty of these Alpine passes. So she got her long run in before we packed up and headed towards Le Grave. I jumped on the bike here to start climbing the 11km to Co du Lautaret en-route to the famous Col du Galibier.
This side just happened to be the ‘easier’ side to climb up to the 2,646m col. So after meeting Charlotte and Mack at the top and taking photos, we decided to re meet up in the ski town of Valloire. I descend down the 17km and promptly turned my Specialized Venge around and pointed the nose back up to climb the harder side. It was 4:45pm and I was doing the math on how much light I would have when I re descended to Valloire. Time to push it a little.
I had passed five riders on the way back up that I had seen climbing when I descended earlier. One of them swearing in French and another walking (with 4km to go!). 1h15min and I was back up. 24min later I was back in Valloire. Back in the motorhome we headed for St Jean De Maurienne and much needed food.
The thought process was to stay the night parked in an “aire” (place for motorhomes) and then get up early and ride Col du Telegraphe and then start our long journey back up to Calais for the tunnel train back to the UK.
Unfortunately the weather turned nasty with winds that were moving the motorhome and a lot of rain. Bummed I missed the last bucket list climb for the trip but I know I’ll be back. We headed up to Lac Annecy where we (I) decided to go check out Chamonix (as it was so close a mountain pass or two 😉
Chamonix is massively impressive especially when you look up and see the L’ Aiguille du Midi and Mont Blanc to the right. There is a gondola that goes up L’ Aiguille du Midi which I would have love to have done. Mack was considered too young and you could only go half way due to the winds. I’ll have to come back in both summer and winter.
For the trip back we decided to head into Switzerland and the drive just blew me away even more and I found another col to put on the bucket list. Col du Forclaz – the beast would be climbing from Martigny. Some stomach churning sections looking down for sure.
Then it was a couple of solid driving days to make the tunnel train back to the UK. In hindsight it would have been better to fly to Genoble, hire a car and rent a “Gite” for a week or so then do the amount of driving. Next time . As there will be a next time 🙂
Go Pro Footage getting edited.