September is here and it is now time for my traditional week in the
French Alps. This year I am back with Guy and Helyn at King of the
Mountains, a converted old school building in the hamlet of Riviere
d'Ornon a few miles from Bourg d'Oisans, the home of alpine cycling. It
is a 600 mile drive from Calais but easily do-able in a day but as well
as the long established Bike Express coach service and flights to Lyon
or Grenoble, you can now catch a train direct from London to Lyon
leaving a short connection to Grenoble and the bus to Bourg. Something
to think about for next year.
Day 1 - Alpe d'Huez & Col du
Sarenne and Les Deux Alps
Where else to start but the Alpe. An hour and a quarter of pain and then
the holiday begins! I did think that I may be on course for beating my
best time of 1:13:27, but sadly age is catching up with me and I
couldn't even beat 1:15 Not sure of my exact time, was around 1:15:30
but I had lost interest by then, thinking more about the coffee stop
and the rest of the day.
The Alpe was its usual busy self but the Sarenne, though busier than
previous years, was still a lot quieter. This is my favourite part of
today's ride; climb out of the resort, a drop down on the road that is
Europe's longest black ski run in winter and then a climb up to the Col
at 1999m. The descent offers awesome views of the Ecrin Mountains, but
the road is a little rough, gravelly (is that a word?) and steep with no
barriers so you must concentrate. But it is still probably safer than
riding through Leigh on a Saturday morning.
After descending to the Barrage below Mizoen, it is time for another
600m of climbing to the resort of Les Deux Alpes and a plate of chips
for lunch before riding back down the Bons balcony road to Bourg. Over
2000m of climbing in total.
Day 2- Cols du Glandon & Croix de Fer and Villard-Reculas / Pas de
A big day of climbing today with about 2500m in total. The climb up to
the Croix de Fer is a favourite of mine. A 25 minute warm up from Bourg
to Allemond, past the first dam and along the lake before climbing
through the forest to Riviere d'Allmond. Here the road drops about 150m
before climbing back up at 12% until a couple of switch-backs are
reached. Here you climb up the valley side to be above the level of the
water held back by the mighty Barrage de Grand Maison. The road
undulates before settling in to the final section of the climb. 2.5km
from the Croix de Fer, you have a short sprint up to the Col du Glandon
(1924m) offering views to Mont Blanc before the final push to the Croix
de Fer at 2067m and a well earned lunch.
The day was not over though, after descending back to Allemond, I rode
up to Villard-Reculas. Last time I rode this it was the first climb of
the day so I found it very enjoyable. This time the pleasing glimpses of
the Lac du Verney were somewhat offset by weary legs but eventually the
final corner was reached leaving just the gentle amble up to
Villard-Reculas. A quick stop to take in the scenery before continuing
to the high points at the Pas de la Confession at 1542m and a gentle
descent into Huez before a faster drop down into Bourg, courtesy of 16
of the most famous hairpin bends in cycling.
Day 3 - Villard-Reymond, Col du Solude & Villard-Notre-Dame and
Maronne / Le Rosey-Chatelard
For a change I brought two bikes with me this year; the Madone for the
road stages and my new Gary Fisher inspired Trek Dual Sport. A hybrid
with 63mm front suspension, disk brakes and a triple drive chain. Not a
mountain bike but one well suited for the unmade roads onto which I was
I started with a short roll down the hill to Ornon (Pont des Oulles) for
the unmade track to Villard-Reymond. There is a 'proper' road to Reymond
from La Pallud further down the valley but I was keen to ride the
abandoned road, mainly as there are two tunnels.
The surface started poor but was easily handled by the Dual Sport but
after exiting the first tunnel I was in a stretch that had to be walked
due to the number of fallen trees. This is not a road that is going to
be re-opened in a hurry. After the second tunnel I was back on the bike
for the short climb up to Villard-Reymond and the Col du Solude. The Col
offers a great view over the valley to Alpe d'Huez, Pas de la Confession
and the Auris balcony road.
After the Col it was a gravel road down to Villard-Notre-Dame. Possible
on a road bike, but not recommended. Notre-Dame is a village of just 42
people but if you have seen the road down to Bourg then you will think
that it is 42 too many. It is a properly surfaced road starting in the
forest but soon clings to the cliff edge high above the valley floor.
The barriers are almost non-existent and there are some unlined and
unlit tunnels to navigate - one over 600m long with a 90 degree bend.
Not for the faint hearted. Imagine driving that every day.
After reaching Bourg, it was time for a quick lunch before riding up to
La Garde at bend 16 (the first bend is number 21) and then turning onto
the Auris balcony road. I have ridden this all the way to Le Freney
before but today it was as far as L'Armentier for the climb up to
Maronne / Le Rosey- Chatelard. This could be done on a road bike but
there was so much gravel that the descent was much steadier with the
bigger tyres and disc brakes of the Dual Sport. The road is the other
side of the River Sarenne to the Alpe d'Huez but at the top it was easy
to see how the ski areas interlink.
Final climb of the day was back up the Col d'Ornon for a well deserved
Day 4 - La Berarde and Col du Cloy
Another day without the car, roll down to Bourg for the climb to La
Berarde, deep in the Ecrin Mountains. Most of the climbing is done by
the time that you reach St Christophe leaving a lovely ride, high up the
valley side eventually meeting the river again at La Berarde. The
scenery here is just stunning. Snow-capped mountains and hiking trails
leading to refuges high in the sky. The town itself is one street of
bars and restaurants that look slightly lost out of season, with just a
handful of hikers and bikers taking advantage.
The descent to Bourg is fast and the climb back up to Riviere d'Ornon
was a lot easier today on the Madone than yesterday on the Dual Sport.
Night Ride - the Col du Cloy. This was possibly the highlight
of the week. After dinner, Guy drove us up to Huez and guided me along
some sections of single track and gravel road to the Col du Cloy at
1600m. The single track descent straight off the Col was a little
technical and at times I was wishing that I had my mountain bike but
this was a fantastic experience. The ride back to Huez also featured
some single track sections; I did get off and walk a couple of short
parts but would love to do some more night riding. It was a round trip
of about an hour and a half, still had plenty of life in my front light
battery. You wouldn't want to lose your light here - there were no
street lights to back you up. The church at Dutch Corner was lit up
beautifully and was just visible on the last of the off-road sections.
Day 5 - Col du Sabot, Lac Bessan, Col du Cloy and Col du Maronne
The Dual Sport was out again today as the route features some more
unmade roads (some from last night!).
First up was a drive to Vaujany and then a ride up to the Col du Sabot.
Listed as both 2100m and 2130m, this was to be the highest point of this
year's tour (what, no trip up the Galibier?). The road surface is good
enough for a road bike and the other climbers of the day were all on
such machines. This is not a popular climb as it doesn't lead anywhere,
it just ends at a very small car park but the views are amazing. The
climb up is long and twisting but as you get higher the view down the
valley keeps getting better and better. At the top you can look down the
other side to the road up to the Glandon & Croix de Fer and the Lac du
For the second part of the day I drove up to Alpe d'Huez (via
Villard-Reculas & the Pas de la Confession) for lunch and the short ride
to Lac Bessan over the little known Col du Poutrain. A lovely picnic
spot but today was not the weather for hanging around. There was a path
from here back to the foot of the Col du Sabot - the hiking options
around here are pretty good, especially in the height of summer when the
cable cars are running but this is France and the fun police close
everything down when the schools go back....
After Lac Bessan I then rode most of the way to the Col du Sarenne
before taking a gravel road to Col du Cloy. Some of this was the same
as the route ridden last night. It looked a bit different in the daylight.
Rather than take the single track descent, I took another gravel track
that went around the mountain to the Col du Maronne, a couple of
kilometres up from the end of Day 3 ride. It is only when you are on
these gravel tracks that the full size of the ski area becomes apparent
with smaller resorts all feeding in to the playground that is Alpe
d'Huez in winter.
Day 6 - Lacets de Montvernier and Col de la Croix de Fer
And that was it, my last day was upon me but perfect weather and a
stunning ride made it a special day. I started by driving up to the Col
du Glandon before taking a fast and cold descent to St Marie des Cuines
(last year's base camp). The ride along the valley warmed me up before
the short but spectacular climb of the Lacets de Montvernier; 18 hairpin
bends in less than 4km. The climb itself was straight forward but this
is a section of road like few others (have a look at the Col du Turini,
famous from the Monte Carlo Rally for something similar).
A short climb to Col du Ventour at Le Chalet before dropping into Saint
Jean du Maurienne for the final climb of the week, the north face of the
Col de la Croix de Fer. The official stats of 30km long, 1522m height
gain and an average gradient of 5.1% do not tell the whole story for
there are two sections where you descend giving you 200m more
climbing and 7 lost kilometres. The real stat is more like 1700m in 23km
at around 7%. By now the temperature had risen and the effect of days in
the saddle were beginning to tell. The hardest section was probably in
the final resort of Saint Sorlin d'Arves but the final 5km above the ski
resort on the narrow road to the Col were just stunning. What a way to
end this year's trip.
6 mountain day and a bonus night stage; even the organisers of the
Vuelta would raise their eyebrows at this itinerary. And you thought
that Matt had it tough in his 24 hour TT......
My thanks once again to Helyn and Guy (and their other guests) for
great accommodation and brilliant food and the bonus night ride.
Unfortunately this will be the last time that I can stay at King of the
Mountains as they are closing it down to concentrate on their transfers
business. I have had 4 great weeks with them over the years and wish
them all the best for the future but will be back to the Alps soon,
indeed I am already thinking about how many bikes I need to take next
Photo Gallery Coming Soon