Southend Wheelers in the French Alps

Four Southend Wheelers (Martin Harris, Martin Sutton, Mike O'Kill and Terry Butcher) set off for Bike Village in the village of Landry, near to Bourg St Maurice, for a week of cycling the mountains made famous by the Tour de France. Whilst primarily a centre for mountain biking, Bike Village has a great location and great local knowledge for road cycling, with famous Cols and climbs to ski resorts on their doorstep. Some rides were guided, whilst others included a helping hand with a short drive to/from a more convenient start/end place. Each day finished with a great home-cooked meal, washed down with a glass or two of beer and wine.

A gallery of images from our week can be seen here, our itinery for the week's rides is recorded below. We drove from Essex to Landry; an early start for the 7:15 "breakfast" ferry preceded a 600 mile drive from Calais, arriving at Landry around 19:30, using the peage (toll) motorways all the way. The weather was poor for the first two days, but this was followed by 4 days of blue skies and glorious sunshine.

Day 1 - Col de Petit St Bernard
Sam from Bike Village guided us on a steady climb of 5-6% from Bourg St Maurice to the Italian border, via the ski resort of La Rosiere. An ideal first day climb which would have given some great views had the weather not been so bad; the Col is at 2,188m and is a category 1 when featured in the Tour de France.

Day 2 - Les Arcs & The Refuge de Rosuel
Sam again guided us on another damp ride from Landry up a slightly steeper climb to the resort of Arc 1800. Had it not been raining we would have had views of Mont Blanc! After passing Arc 1800, we descended through Vallandry and Plan Peisey to Peisey-Nancroix for the climb up to the Refuge de Roseul for a late lunch at the gateway to the national park. The rain had stopped by now and we had a fast and dry descent back to Landry. The relatively early finish gave a chance to ride the cycle path (piste cyclable) along the river valley to Aime & Bourg St Maurice.

Day 3 - Cormet de Roselend & the Col du Pre
This time Ollie was our guide on a glorious day for the ascent of the Roselend. We rode the flat 5km from Landry to Bourg St Maurice before immediately starting the climb up the Cormet de Roselend. The views just got better and better until finally the Col was reached, at an altitude of 1,968m. Rather than drop back the way we came, we descended the north side down to the Lac de Roselend and left the main road for a brief ride along the lake and over the Barrage de Roselend for the short, sharp climb to the Col du Pre at 1,748m. The snow-capped peak of Mont Blanc could be seen in the distance; this really was a beautiful ride. It was then a long, fast descent to Albertville to catch a train back to Landry.

Day 4 - Alpe D'Huez & Col de la Sarenne
Wednesday is normally rest day at Bike Village, so we jumped in the car for the 2 hour drive to Bourg D'Oisans to tackle the famous 21 bends of the Alpe D'Huez. All of those Sunday training rides helped Martin Harris & Terry Butcher beat their previous best times up the Alpe but fastest of the group was Martin Sutton at 1:09:39. Time for a drink and a refuel at the top before a choice of descents; back down the 21 hair-pins or the slightly longer route over the 2,000m Col de la Sarenne and the Barrage du Chambon (at the foot of Les Deux Alpes) to Bourg D'Oisan for the return drive to Landry.

Day 5 - Col de la Madeleine
A short drive was offered to the village of Longefoy, before a descent to Moutiers and a ride along the Isere valley to Notre-Dame-de-Briancon at the foot of the Col de la Madeleine. The height here is just 500m, so with the Madeleine topping out at 2,000m that leaves a climb of some 1,500m over about 24km at an average of around 6%. Unlike most Alpine climbs, the gradient varied dramatically from level sections to sections over 10%. The heat and stillness gave some parts a Ventoux-like feel and this must go down as the hardest climb I have ever done. Spurred on by the great views, I finally reached the top and phoned Sam and arranged to be met at the foot of the climb to save riding back up the N90 to Landry.

Day 6 - Col de l'Iseran
Whilst possible to ride all the way from Landry (a vertical gain of over 2,000m), we took up Sam's offer of a lift to the resort of Val D'Isere, one of the highest ski-resorts in France at around 1,800m. From here it was a climb of almost 1,000m to the Col d l'Iseran at a whopping 2,770m. The weather was perfect with blue skies and a few clouds around the snow-capped mountains. Martin Sutton and Terry also saw some Marmots, strange beaver-like rodents that give their name to one of the toughest sportives (Col du Glandon/Croix de Fer, Col du Telegraph, Col du Galibier & Alpe D'Huez). The average gradient of the climb is around 7% with some notably steeper sections. Above 2,500m the air gets a but thinner, but the views spurred us on to our final climb of the week. What a way to finish the week - the highest true pass in Europe. There are higher paved roads (the Cime de le Bonnette in France reaches 2,802m, the Otztal Glacial Road in Austria 2,830m and the track over Pico Veleta in Spain exceed 3,000m, though it is not paved to the top) but this is a special climb. We then descended approx 50km back to Landry.

Photo Gallery
Wheelers in the French Alps 2010
Bike Village

Martin Harris
September 2011

Martin Harris, Mike O'Kill, Terry Butcher and Martin Sutton at the highest pass in Europe


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