The first week of cycling the French Alps complete… yay! Having never done anything like this before, I had no idea what to expect. So far it’s been challenging, but it’s been good, and we both have been enjoying it (99% of the time).
The first couple of days were relatively easy – mostly downhill. The weather varied between raining, windy and sunny, but it was still a good introduction to the trip, and we managed to cover a fair distance – despite spending several hours lost, trying to find our way into and then out of Grenoble. We set up camp next to old castles, in farmer’s fields and in random grassy clearings… somehow always managing to be in an undesirable distance to a railway line (I blame Michael for that).
The first mountain pass!
On day 3 of cycling the French Alps we started our ascent up the first mountain pass, Col du Lautaret (2058m). A common route for the Tour de France and to my surprise a black cycle route (one of the hardest cycle gradings). There were many cyclists out training (I assume for the Tour de France) in their flash gear, flying up and down the hills, on their super-light, expensive road bikes, while we plodded along, carrying at least 15-20kg of baggage each, on our heavy hybrid bikes. We cycled the pass over 2 days, not wanting to over-do-it, especially as my knee is still recovering from the ski accident I had a couple of months ago.
The final 8km up to the pass was grueling. The wind was at it’s strongest, and the rain was no better. Michael and I made a deal that we were treat ourselves to a large pizza and beer when we finally make it to Italy… the chant in the last few kilometers, “Pizza. Beer. Pizza. Beer.”, made the cycle a little easier. There was still a fair bit of snow at the pass, it was freezing cold and nothing was open, but the views were amazing. It was definitely the hardest cycle day so far, but definitely my favourite day of the trip so far.
Next was the descent!
Flying down the mountains with all our baggage definitely scared the crap out of me… at stages we were exceeding 50kph, which is way too fast for me on 2 wheels (maybe I’m becoming more of a wimp as I get older, or maybe I’ve just accepted that I’m a bit clumsy and accident-prone). The views were amazing, but unfortunately I was too scared to take my eyes off the road, so didn’t get to fully appreciate them. Within an hour we arrived in Briancon, a very cute, historic town, with lots of cool old buildings and chateaus. We decided to recover in a budget hotel (which conveniently had a sauna and steam room)… and I enjoyed one of the best showers of my life ☺
Col du Montegenvre
The following day we had to conquer the final pass into Italy, which was the Col du Montgenvre (1860m), also a route common on the Tour de France, and a red route (second highest cycle grade). After the grueling Col du Lautaret, this col was a piece of cake, and we flew up it in about an hour. The town, Montegenvre is a ski resort town, and unfortunately didn’t have the best views from the top, and also no touristy sign post with the col and altitude displaced (I do like those cheesy tourist photos). We did take a few minutes at the top to enjoy a well earned Snickers, and top up the water. We then continued down the pass and into Italy. Overall, I really enjoyed cycling the French Alps and definitely recommend it!
The road down the Col into Italy was bloody steep, with amazing views I’m sure (if I could take my eyes off the road for 2 seconds)… and the number of motorbikes and long, freezing, tunnels just added to the terrifying experience. After flying down the Col for about an hour (the quickest 20km of the trip), we decided to set up camp.
The following day’s agenda: find a pizzeria and enjoy our grande pizza and beer reward! Yum!
Cycling the French Alps: Stats
Total distance: 300km
Number of days: 6 days
Passes: 2 mountain passes (1860m and 2058m)
Accommodation: 4 nights wild camping, 1 night budget hotel
Repairs: No punctures or anything major, but my chain did fall off once
Spendings: accommodation – 30Euro, food – 10Euro, other – 5 Euro (Total: 45Euro ($AUD67/ 37 pounds))