The Alps 2012

On 1st September Nick Khan & Martin Harris travelled to Bike Village for a week of cycling Cols made famous by Le Tour de France. Bike Village is a family run venture in Landry, near Bourg St Maurice, in the heart of the Alps. Though catering mainly for mountain bikers, they welcome roadies and it gives an excuse for the guides to don their lycra and give their road bikes a run. Landry is only a couple of hours from either Geneva or Lyon airport,  but we chose to drive the whole way. It is 600 miles from Calais, but easily do-able in a day with an early ferry and driving via the peage (toll) motorways.

The highest pass in Europe - the mighty Col de L'Iseran

Day 1 - Cormet de Roselend (1967m) & Col du Pre (1703m)

What better way to start the week than with a closed-road climb of the beautiful Cormet de Roselend. The mountain tops had a dusting of fresh snow from the previous day, but the weather was perfect with some high cloud keeping the temperature cool for climbing. The climb started in Bourg St Maurice and was closed to motor traffic at Les Chapieux where there was a stall offering cheese, salami, cakes, coffee and cold drinks. You don't get this level of service at North Hill! There was another stall at the top and an accordion player for entertainment. We dropped down to the Lac de Roselend for coffee before a short sharp climb to the Col du Pre. We than had a long and fast descent to Albertville for a quick beer before the train back to Landry.
Day 2 - Col de la Madeleine (1996m)

Another cool morning offered perfect conditions for the 1500m climb up the Madeleine. The Bike Village van dropped us at Montalbert for the descent to Moutiers via Notre-Dame du Pre before starting the Madeleine. We were down at 500m in the valley so had a long, hard climb. There is something about the Madeleine that makes it harder than it should be; the heavy air in the lower forest section doesn't seem to cool you, the granite road surface seems to slow you down and the constant changes in gradient never allow you to keep at steady rhythm. The scenery was fantastic and after a coffee at the top, it warmed up for descent.

The Col de la Madeleine is up there somewhere

Day 3 - Col du Petit St Bernard (2188m)

The weather was warming up and today we rode the Petit St Bernard. This climbs above 2000m and can hardly be described as Petit (the Col du Grand St Bernard rises to 2469m). The climb from Bourg St Maurice to the ski resort of La Rosiere is a steady 6% all the way and suits my style - I slow down quite considerably when it gets above 7%! The top section above La Rosiere was a bit tougher as it goes straight into the wind, but we reached the top and crossed the border into Italy for a well deserved coffee. The descent was fast and we enjoyed a 'recovery drink' in Bourg before riding down the Piste Cyclable towards Aime to have a beer while watching a game of Petange at the swimming lake.
The old border crossing at the Col du Petit St Bernard
Day 4 - Le Tour du Lac Annecy

We gave the mountains a miss today and drove to Annecy for a flat (and fast) ride around Lake Annecy. The western side is traffic free on another Piste Cyclable along the bed of an old railway line, including a short tunnel. At the southern end of the Lake, we dropped onto the road for the ride along the eastern shore, including a 10% climb at Bluffy. The cycle tack continues all the way to Ugine.

Day 5 - Le Col De L'Iseran  (2770m)

A perfect day greeted our climb up the highest pass in Europe, the mighty Col de l'Iseran. There are higher roads (see table below) but they are either loops or dead ends. I donned my Stelvio jersey for inspiration and we thoroughly enjoyed the climb. The scenery was perfect with blue sky, warm temperatures and some snow on the peaks. We even saw a couple of Marmottes. We then had a 50km descent back to Bourg St Maurice to enjoy

Snow topped peaks surround the Col de L'Iseran
Day 6 - Val Thorens (2325m)

Val Thorens is France's highest ski resort at 2325m and while it might not be the most picturesque resort, the scenery at the top was awesome. This was the warmest day of the week and we had a 35km ascent from Moutiers, climbing over 1800m from our start height of just 500m. 6 days of riding took their toll and I cracked with 10km to go, but my lunch and energy bars somehow gave me the energy to reach the top. Nick was flying and even chased down a French cyclist in the final 2km. We didn't even need arm-warmers for the descent. This was a great climb to finish our week and just had the 600 mile drive back to Calais to enjoy the next day.

Clouds cover the peaks above Val Thorens
The highest roads* in Europe are
Rank Name Height Location Comments
1 Pico Valeta 3,380m Sierra Nevada, Spain Track over the summit, unmade over 2,600m? Access forbidden down the southern slope.
2 Otzal Glacier Road 2,830m Tirol, Austria Dead-end road
3 Cime de la Bonnette 2,802m Southern Alps, France Mountain loop road built just to be the highest paved-road route
4 Col de l'Iseran 2,770m Central Alps, France Highest true pass in Europe
5 Stelvio Pass 2,760m Alps, Italy Highest road in Italy
6 Kaunertal Glacier Road 2,750m Tirol, Austria Dead-end road
7 Col Agnel 2,744m France / Italy Highest border crossing
8 Col de la Bonnette 2,715m Southern Alps, France The true pass at the foot of the loop road to the Cime (summit)
9 Col de Restefond 2,680m Southern Alps, France Close to the Bonnette (and on the same road), an alternative route via the unmade Col de la Moutiere
10 Col du Galibier 2,645m Central Alps, France Iconic route often featured in Le Tour
* There are higher unmade paths and tracks accessible my 4x4 and mtb


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