July 2013 and we are off on holiday for another two-centred stay; 10
days at Lake Garda in Italy and 4 nights at Annecy in France coinciding
with a little bike race they have over there.....
Italy first and we were staying in Peschiera del Garda in the same place as last year. I did consider the Gavio Pass this year, but despite being nearer than the Stelvio would probably take longer to drive to. And everyone knows the Stelvio. So an early start for the 2½ hour drive to Prato allo Stelvio for the 16 mile climb ascending over 1,800m. There was a bit of high cloud so the temperature in the lower section was more bearable than last year's effort but the clouds were burnt away by the time I reached the middle section of the climb - some punishing ramps between the hairpins through the forest. Finally I was above the tree line and onto the famous stretch of 23 hairpins in the final 7 km. I was suffering from the altitude and had to stop a few times to catch my breath, but I managed what the Giro d'Italia didn't this year and reached the top of The Stevio Pass. The Stelvio ranks alongside Ventoux and the Col du Madeleine as the hardest climbs that I have ridden.
The summit of Passo del Stevio at 2,760m
I had considered returning to the car via Switzerland; dropping to the
Passo del Umbrail and Mustair, but it is a long day so returned the way
I came. 2hr 48 minutes to get to the top and 39 minutes to descend -
though that still represents a lower average speed than Alex Dowsett can
manage at Steeple but he doesn't have to contend with hordes of German
motorcycles and Italian drivers (like the French, the Italian drivers
treat cyclists with great respect, especially those who have conquered
the highest climbs).
For more family-friendly cycling, there is a flat cycle path from Pescheira to Mantova, virtually all well surfaced though winter tyres are a great advantage due to some short gravel sections. That is a 56 mile round trip. We also cycled various quiet lanes around the hill-top villages south of the lake, including Volta Mantovana, Monzambano, Ponti sul Mincio, Castellaro Lagusella and Salferino.
Soon the 10 days in Italy passed and we drove via The Grand St
Bernard Pass, home to the St Bernard breeding kennels, to Annecy for 4
nights. My original intention had been to drive the hour or so to
Samoens to ride the Col de Joux Plane. This has been described by Lance
Armstrong as one of the hardest climbs he has done. And he was on drugs
(and that is not even allegedly!) but after a long drive from Italy why
not just ride the HC climb on my doorstep? I had previously climbed
Annecy-Semnoz (or the Cret du Chatillion as it used to be known) by car
and motorbike but was surprised by height and steepness of this climb. I
took the direct road straight out of Annecy, which linked up with the
Tour de France route about halfway up. Annecy is at about 450m, the
summit is around 1,700m - this was a climb of around 1,350m in less than
16km at an average of 8.5%. This is a bigger climb than the Alpe d'Huez.
The summit at Annecy-Semnoz, 3 days before the main event
On Friday we rode the cycle path from Annecy to Faverges for the Tour de
France. The riders had already crossed the HC Cols du Glandon and
Madeleine before the lesser known Col du Tamie. After Faverges they had
the Cols de L'Epine and the Col de la Croix-Fry before finishing in Le
Grand Bornand. We had checked out the vantage point on the previous day
- in a bar on a corner as the riders headed from Faverges to Cons
Sainte-Colombe. We arrived early for lunch and a drink and to soak up the
excitement of the publicity caravan. Never before have I seen so much
fighting over worthless pieces of tat - but I managed to grab a
polka-dot hat, some fridge magnets and a coupon for a free baguette!
About an hour and a half later the riders started to come through. Off the front was Pierre Roland of Europcar on another doomed solo breakaway. Next was a small group featuring eventual stage winner Rui Costa. Another group included Contador's old climbing buddy Daniel Navarro. The group of favourites came through some way down on the leaders and I was amazed at how close the riders back in the cars are to the vehicles. There were a couple of Grupettos with Griepel and Cavendish, resplendent in his National Jersey. And that was it - the biggest sporting spectacle in the world was gone and we had a manic ride with hundreds of bikes squeezing onto the cycle route back to Annecy. Unfortunately we drove home the next day so missed the GC shake-up on the slopes of Annecy-Semnoz
|The Stelvio Pass is up there somewhere|
|Advance warning of road closures on the Annecy-Semnoz climb|
|St Bernard dogs are bred at the top of the Grand St Bernard Pass|
|On the piste-cyclable, cycle path that runs from Annecy to Albertville. Flat cycling in the Alps|
|The tour caravan features an amazing range of floats and add-ons to cars|
|Posing with our new hats courtesy of the tour caravan|
|And finally some riders go through - Jane was a fan of the pale blue Madones of Leopard Trek|