After two years cycling in the Dolomites, I missed last years’ tour in the Pyrenees due to a bad fall in Goa. That had caused my family a lot of stress and me a lot of frustration of not being allowed to cycle by my doctor. The reason of my fall became never clear. I am still alive due to quick action by Sylvano, a friend of mine, as normally I always cycled into town on my own…
I had trained quite a lot to join this years’ tour which covered the route from Geneva to Turin. Training for the mountains though is really difficult unless you are actually in the mountains.
Aug 30 Delft to Amsterdam (71km)
For our journey we had two support buses each with three drivers. I had promised to collect one of the two buses today so in the morning I cycled from Delft to Amsterdam. I got a bit of a drizzle after Schiphol Airport but reached the rental company in time and was more or less dried up by then due to the wind. I parked my cycle in the bus, drove to a friend’s place to collect our luggage, and found my way to the starting point. This was a small farm where we had to load all the cycles, luggage, and food for along the way: a lot of energy drinks and energy bars. The owner of the property, a fellow cyclist who unfortunately could not join this year, offered us a great home cooked lasagna. With a most satisfied stomach the three of us said goodbye and drove towards the south changing drivers a few times.
Aug 31 Geneva to Les Carroz d’Araches (56km, 1,230 metres)
After driving overnight to Geneva we sat down for a light breakfast not far from the station and waited for the rest of the gang who had either travelled by bus or train. I volunteered to drive one of our buses on the first day keen to cycle the most in the coming days. After receiving our beautiful new group jersey, easy to spot one another along the way, the group cycled 56km out of town to Les Carroz d’Araches. Especially in the beginning there were a number of dedicated cycle paths which was nice for the guys but a pain for me with the bus. On top of it, my bus did not have a navigation system nor a USB charging point so I had to rely on my mobile which ran out of battery at some stage. We stayed at the Village de Vacances les Flocons with dinner at the local Grizzly pub where I enjoyed their Swiss cheese fondue.
Sept 1 Les Carroz d’Araches to Orsières (105km, 2,510 metres)
Today we cycled 105km to the foot of the Col du Grand Saint-Bernard (2469m) across the French-Swiss border. The first 10km was all down hill to the A40. Then slowly we cycled towards the Col de Bassachaux (1792m). From there we cycled downhill and crossed the Swiss border at a small non descript point, a small tunnel for cyclists and a clear sign that this border crossing had no meaning. We crossed Morgins and reached Monthey at the bottom of the mountain and headed towards Martigny. We followed route 21, the Route du Grand-Saint-Bernard, till a road works sign blocking the road got us confused as to which route to follow. We opted to ignore the sign and soon had to walk some distance across the wet mud roadto the other side of where the road was cut away. From there on we continued our climb and quite quickly reached la Rosière, a tiny village of hardly a dozen houses housing our accommodation in Gites du Pélerin, an old house behind the ancient village chapel.
Sept 2 Osières to Aosta (61km, 2,450 metres)
Nearby Osières towards Aosta was a single 40 odd kilometers long, for an elevation gain of 1,983 meters, climb to the Col du Grand Saint Bernard on the Italian border. Being the first major climb of our tour it was a pretty tough ride. Reaching the tunnel was one thing but the noise of traffic in the tunnel was quite intimidating. Traffic was warned well in advance to keep 1.5m distance from cyclists and as such traffic was not much of a threat. The real difficulty came after the tunnel for the last 9 odd km to the top. With a gradient of 8-10% it was the steepest part. I was happy to reach the top and almost missed seeing the statue of Saint Bernard as it was elevated quite a lot on a stone pedestal.
The way down was a long beautiful descent, most of it following a river, with great views and many clear visible curves. It made racing down the mountain a real joy. Today was exceptional though. We stayed at Hotel Casale in Aosta.
Sept 3 Aosta to Séez (78km, 2,070 metres)
Today we climbed 55km to the Colle del Piccolo San Bernardo or Col du Petit-Saint-Bernard in French, on the Italian-French border. The first 35km was relaxed pretty much of it following the river on our left. While the group behind me enjoyed their coffee I started the real 20km climb shortly after Pré Saint Didier. It did not take long to come across the first 8 hairpin bends. After La Thuile were even more hairpin bends until I finally reached to top with a statue of a St Bernard dog in front of the border crossing flags. It felt great to have cycled in a relaxed manner to the top enjoying the great views and beautiful weather. From there it was some 1,200 metres down the mountain to our hostel in Séez.
Sept 4 Séez to Orelle (110km, 2,750 metres)
Col de l’Iseran with an elevation of 2,764 metres is the highest paved pass in the Alps. It is near the border with Italy and a frequent climb in the Tour de France. We approached it starting from Séez, just after Bourg Saint Maurice, passing short tunnels and avalanche galleries. The climb to Col de l’Iseran was 42 km. Over this distance, the road ascends moderately some 1,800 metres to Val-d’Isère. After our coffee break there the last 15 km was a climb of another 895 metres at, according to my Garmin, a rather consistent average of 8%.
The way down to our accommodation in Résidence Orelle was some 68km down the mountain which was a long and easy ride though the many curves slowed me down. My max speed showed 70.7km/hr but that must have been for just a second as generally it was between 30-45km. Thinking of my family always makes me brake a bit harder. In any case, I mainly focussed whether my rear light radar indicated traffic behind me thus avoiding me to ride in the middle of the road with someone behind me.
Sept 5 Rest day
This was a day of rest. With my sleepy head I had forgotten that my bike was on the bus which was to be used for the guys who were going to get food for dinner. By the time I realised it the bus was gone so my legs enjoyed their well deserved rest.
Sept 6 Orelle to Saint-Chaffrey (71km, 2,220 metres)
We had a short 7km descent before the 12km climb to the Col du Télégraphe (1566m) started. This route is often used during the ascent to Col du Galibier (2642m) in the Tour de France. After our coffee break opposite the large Valloire sign and a short descent we therefore continued on the 19km climb to the Galibier recurrently the highest point in the Tour de France. After a great lunch at the summit we descended 30km to hotel Terressens-Cristal Lodge in Saint Chaffrey.
Sept 7 Saint-Chaffrey (Briancon) to Fenestrelle (63km, 1,940 metres)
We covered two cols and a final climb today. The first to Col de Montgenevre (1,860m), a small but pretty ski resort on the French-Italian border, was manageable and I was happy to stop there for our coffee break. We then crossed into Italy and moved on to the Colle di Sestriere (2020m). By this stage my legs were quite tired. Was it a lack of liquid or energy snacks? Who knows. The approach into the former olympic village was weird as the buildings can be best described as plain ugly. Lunch did me a lot of good though. We had a great lunch at LaVazza. The 22km descent was also enjoyable most it following the river. The third climb from the village Depot was the toughest. Even though it was only some 7km, almost all of it was at 9-10% and at the end of the day. Somehow I covered that quite well. The many trees and the altitude made it more pleasant. We stayed at the Pràcatinat Hotel, a refurbised sanatorium. I tried to continue the climb but the road turned into a dirt track which was a show stopper for me. I quickly returned to our hotel and enjoyed the well deserved shower and beer.
Sept 8 Final stretch to Turin (109km, 1,110 metres)
This day comprised of two short cols. First we descended some 40km from our hotel and had some coffee at a restaurant in the park opposite the railway station in Pinerolo. Then we continued to a short col of only 300m, descended a bit, and stopped for lunch around our 60km mark. Due to a lack of a volunteer to drive our food bus I had volunteered to drive it so I missed out on the 560m climb to Colle Braida (1008m). Even though the climb was nothing out of the ordinary, you could feel the muscles getting tired after 60km and the heat started to play up the reason I offered to spray some cold water on our guys. A young couple from Pinerolo climbed it too: the girl struggled as much as our guys but her friend was more agile and beat our fasted rider. But hey, they more or less were locals. Eventually we all reached Via Genova in Turino and had a fabulous farewell dinner. Most of the guys joined the wedding celebrations outside which turned out to be of a gay couple. I was too exhausted and enjoyed my last wine in Italy at the dinner table.
Sept 9 Homeward bound
After breakfast I drove to Geneva airport to drop of two of the guys and we continued all the way back to the Netherlands with initially me horizontally on the back seats. In Switzerland I woke up and enjoyed the stunning views of the mountains and witnessed the very long tunnels we passed through. The latter cost us 50 euro at the border. As we passed Montreaux on the Lake Geneva shoreline I played the song Smoke on the Water from Deep Purle. It was no longer 1971 so we drove fast only stopping a few times for fuel, a pee, or a snack, and reached home around 22:30.
I had purchased a rear light with a radar on advise from a friend in Goa as Indian drivers are notoriously bad and rarely know or obey traffic rules. The radar connects with my Garmin and warns for traffic behind me. This purchase turned out to be really useful in the Alps. While I expected it to be useful for the tunnels it was even better for the descents where you tend to ride in the middle of the road due to the very high speed. On open roads motor bikes tend to cross you at absurd speed. Cars tend to be slower and therefore less dangerous but still good to avoid having one behind you especially in case you get a flat tire.
The most dangerous thing I came across was me following our group’s descent that for some reason had passed a red light at the beginning of road works section. Probably it had just turned red but I didn’t know that as I was some 50 metres behind them. I should really have stopped as by the time I reached the end of the road works, traffic from the opposite site started to move now. After their long wait they were in no mood to wait for me to pass so I was effectively being pushed onto the green area on my right and just in time managed to get back on the road to avoid a big dip there…
After several days back home I went for a short ride early in the morning to go to a shop. I could feel a weird bump in my rear tire but was too sleepy to pay immediate attention and I intended to look at it once I reached. A few hundred metre before I reached though my rear outer Pirelli tire blew completely with an enormous bang and a few cm long cut. Was I delighted that it had not happened in the Alps…