2022 Credit card tour of the Alps

My fitness plans were in tatters. Due to moving and being depressed with the house and the location, I’d done absolutely no training all year. No activities whatsoever. I’d barely left the house. I weighed 85 kilos.

On 20th May, I transferred to Bédoin and started training for the big event starting on the 14th of June when Andy, Gisli and Dave were due to arrive from the UK to do some epic col bagging, starting with Le Cinglés, the three routes up Ventoux.

Would it be possible? I packed in as many miles, as much food, and as much rest as I possibly could in three weeks…

The boys arrived from the UK on Monday the 13th, and we had a celebratory dinner at https://www.leflandrien.com/ to carb load for the next day.

14th June. Le Cinglés. 139.74 km 4,375 metres climbing

The three sides of Ventoux. First time up Ventoux in two years, and only three weeks after starting training. Would I make it?

Of course. But slowly and painfully. We started at 6am, and we all said we’d take it steady.

Gisli set off from km 0 in Bédoin in 53×14 at 25mph. I lost his wheel before we even got out of the village. I stayed with Dave until the Saint Esteve bend, then just settled in for two and a half hours of suffering. I was over an hour slower than my PB of 2019. It was like a billion leg presses.

It was too cold to wait at the top, so the boys descended to Malaucène for a snack and coffee. I met them at the café and after a short break, we began the second side.

Just as I was arriving at the top I saw the figure of a cyclist lying in the road at the summit, and said to the rider I had caught up and was riding with, “Oh look, somebody is a drama queen!”. It turned out that it was Andy with terrible cramps in his legs. He couldn’t actually stay on his bike. He managed to stretch a little and was able to descend.

Andy with severe leg cramps at the top of the mountain.

There was a pro race going on that day, so descending to Sault took more time than usual because we had to stop to allow the race caravan and peloton and dropped riders to pass going upwards.

A great lunch at the Promenade de Justin

We stopped for lunch at the Promenade de Justin which is a great restaurant with fantastic views. We had a full meal with pasta and plenty of ice cream to give us energy for the final climb. We waited until the pro race finished, so it was a relaxing, long lunch.

The climb from Sault is not that steep, so I wasn’t feeling too bad with my extra weight. I managed to keep up with Dave and we caught Andy who was suffering after his cramp episode. Gisli of course just disappeared up the road.

We all caught Gisli up at Chalet Reynard where the road was blocked for the pro race. A soigneur for one of the teams gave us cans of coke, so it was quite a welcome break before the final hard section.

The team at the last summit of Ventoux

15th June. Rest day. Transfer to Le Bourg d’Oisans

Andy did the driving, it was a very comfortable and relaxing journey. We stopped for a superb meal at the Hotel de la Poste in Corps before continuing over the Col d’Ornon and down into Bourg d’Oisans.

16th June. The Marmotte (or not) 159.68 km 4,130 metres climbing

A Marmotte day in which I failed to complete the full route. I felt a bit better, but was still dropped on the steep parts of the initial Col du Glandon. I did manage to catch up with Andy in the last 2k with a huge effort. Gisli had been waiting for us.

Lac de Grand Maison
Dave, me and Andy at the Glandon summit.

Gisli of course nipped off to tick the Croix de Fer which was another few km of climbing away. He was strong enough to catch us all up later.

The extremely fast and dangerous descent off the Glandon

After an amazing descent, the valley road to Saint Michel de Maurienne was quite tough. It’s upstream up the Arc river valley, so a big chainring ride, but tiring. We stopped for an ice cream in Saint Mich, and then tackled the Télégraphe. This col starts fairly steep and gets easier. Again, at huge cost, I caught Andy up at the end.

Arriving at the Télégraphe
Pizza and ice cream at the Col du Télégraphe

After the annoying descent into Valloire, we started the Galibier. This was where my efforts and lack of base miles caught up with me. Everybody just rode away from me. I actually stopped after Plan Lachat and sent a text saying to go on without me. There’s no coverage up there so they were still waiting for me when I arrived. Gisli had been there for an hour.

Exhausted at the Galbier Summit.

The descent to the Lautaret was closed for tourmac repairs, but we “insisted” and climbed over the barriers. Not a great move. The tar was wet and sticky and we all arrived at the café with 3mm of road stuck to our tyres. We each spent an hour chopping and scraping the tar off before continuing the descent to Bourg d’Oisans.

I had decided not to try Alpe d’Huez with my state of unfitness. It would only totally destroy me and I had a 900km tour planned for the upcoming week. I turned off to go back to the apartment and book a meal for 8:30 when the guys thought they’d be back.

Andy carb loading the the Restaurant La Romanche

17th June. Bourg d’Oisans to Grand-Aigueblanche. 127.33 km 3,563 m climbing

First day of solo touring. The others drove to the Pyrenees for some more famous cols. I had a hotel booked in Grand-Aigueblanche, so I had to start early. I had to do the Glandon with baggage this time.

After the descent, I felt I still had the extra energy for the Lacets de Montvernier, so I headed up the Arc valley for a few k until the start village, Pontamafrey.

On the crazy hairpins of the Lacets de Montvernier

It was extremely hard to reach the little village of Montvernier, so I was very pleased to find an excellent place for lunch, the Ô P’tits Lacets. A big meal of fish and chips followed by ice cream and plenty of water and I was ready for the last climbs, the Col de Chaussy and the Col de la Madeleine.

I bumped into Stefan, a german cyclist at the restaurant and he was heading for the Col de la Madeleine too so we rode together.

At the Auberge du Chaussy

Stefan had this great shortcut to get to the Madeleine… via le Lac du Loup. Very scenic, but it was 10k of off roading to get to 2k from the summit of the Madeleine. Not terrible with the 32mm tyres on the bike, so quite fun. But bloody hard!

At the Madeleine summit. Mostly downhill from here to the hotel.

The Hôtel de la Cascade was a budget option for the night. Good restaurant though.

18th June, Grand-Aigueblanche to Annecy. 110.73 km 1,278 metres climbing

A good start to the day. Heading down the Isère valley, a training bunch caught me up. I managed to latch onto them and rode the train all the way to Albertville.

Crossing the Isère river at Albertville.

Heading down the D925 out of Albertville, I was caught by a guy out training. We got chatting in broken French, and I told him I was heading for Annecy. He modified his route to guide me onto the quiet bike track between Albertville and Chambery which was very nice. He then showed me the turn off for the Col du Frêne, and I started the climb.

Hot at the col du Frêne
Great descent though a picturesque Alpine valley.

I planned to stop for lunch in Leschaux, but had not realized that it was at the top of the Col de Leschaux. This was a very hard and hot climb and I was out of water.

Luckily there is a very good restaurant right at the crossroads at the top of the col. I had the best meal so far of the holiday at the excellent La Baratte

Fantastic view to the spectacular Lac d’Annecy

When I got to the bike bath round the lake, I was shocked to find out how popular e-bikes and various forms of e-vehicles are now. Everybody was steaming round the lake with zero effort. I managed to get “on” a guy on a fat tyre e-bike who then tried to drop me without putting effort in, but just by switching up the power on his bike until he was doing 40kph. No way was he dropping me!

The Annecy bike bath is a dangerous mess these days.

Another budget option. The Centre Jean XXIII is more like a hostel than a hotel. No check in until 4pm. No bar, no restaurant. I had to walk to a burger joint which was not satisfactory, but the only option in walking distance. The breakfast room had a good view though.

View from the breakfast room

19th June. Annecy to Samoëns. 112.30 km 2,825 metres climbing

After a rudimentary breakfast I headed out of Annecy towards Thônes.

Out of Annecy

After Thônes, the climb to Saint Jean de Sixt was amazing.

At Les Villards-sur-Thônes

A slight descent to Le Grand Bornand, then the climb of the Cole de la Colombière.

Looking down on Le Grand Bornand from the climb of the Colombière
Elevensies at the Restaurant La Colombière
Descending the Colombière towards Cluses

Cluses is quite a pretty town on the Arve river, but it was a heatwave and the valley was hot, and the air quality was bad, so I decided to have lunch up at the Le Café Du Col at the top of the Col de Châtillon.

An old couple touring the Alps in a Morgan three wheeler arrived for lunch!

After lunch, I planned to ride up to Morzine before “descending” the Joux Plane to Samoëns.

Well. The climb is to Les Gets, and Morzine is in the next valley. I had to climb the very steep, very hot Col de Joux Plane from Morzine. Again I ran out of water and was very pleased to see the Les Lhottys restaurant open at the top.

Fat downhill mountain bikers were arriving here on the fucking ski lift. A sport for slackers!

At Les Lhottys at the top of the Joux Plane climb

The descent is just breathtakingly gorgeous:

The Hotel Gai Soleil was a great choice. A nice garden with a pool, and a relaxing bar to hang out in until dinner.

20th June. Samoëns to Arêches. 97.36 km 1,912 metres climbing

I found this day extremely hard.

Very nice, relaxing breakfast in the hotel at Samoëns.

The climb back over the Col de Châtillon felt quite hard. I thought I’d recover on the false flat to Sallanches.

The turn off and start of the climb to Megève seemed to come too soon. The climb was very hard and exposed.

The views were amazing though.

Mont Blanc from the Megève road
Mont Blanc panorama
The view from Combloux

Descending from Megève, I had thought I’d lunch at the col de Saisies, but I was knackered. I stopped for an excellent lunch of Angus beef and potato gratin with local Beaufort cheese at Restaurant les ronins at Praz-sur-Arly.

Lunch at les Ronins

I found the climb to Les Saisies very hard and tiring.

At the col, pretty knackered.

I got a bit lost on the descent to Beaufort and lost some time. It was the hottest part of the afternoon when I began the climb from Beaufort up to the very nice hotel Le Christiania in Arêches. I was feeling feeble by the time I arrived. I had to have a nap with a wet towel on my head to gather myself to go onto the terrace for a beer.

Looking at the very hard first climb of three climbs tomorrow.

21st of June. Arêches to Mont Cenis. Rest day.

After breakfast I realized that I was never going to be able to do the col de Pré, the col d’Iseran and the col de Mont Cenis today.

I went to the tourist office, and asked about taxi companies who could accommodate a bike. The Up & Down Taxi company are bilingual and work with skiers and mountain bikers so had no problem picking me up.

The hotel let me nap in my room until the afternoon, and the taxi picked me up around 3pm.

The taxi dropped me at the Hôtel le Malamot up at 2085 metres. The weather was cold and rainy and after a shower I had a quick beer and an early dinner and went to bed hoping that the weather would improve.

22nd of June. Mont Cenis to Les Ougiers. 144.77 km 2,886 metres climbing

The weather in the morning did not look inviting. But it had to get better. Didn’t it?

The view from the Hotel le Malamot

I put on my rain jacket and long gloves and started out. Luckily, there was a climb back to the very top of the col, so I got warm before I had to descend in the Rain down to Lanslebourg.

I time trialled down the Arc valley to try to keep warm.

The Redoute Marie-Thérèse. An ancient fort on its precipice.

By the time I reached Saint Michel de Maurienne, the storm had passed, so I took my bad weather clothes off. I heard from a local that the Galibier road had been finished, so I decided to go that way. The climb to the Tèlègraphe went OK in the warm sun, and I stopped at the col for a pizza again.

The Galibier was almost as hard as it was the previous week. But mainly because the storm returned. It got colder and colder the higher I climbed. But I had absolutely no choice but to get over into the Romanche valley to get to the next hotel. Just before Plan Lachat it started to rain and I put my rain jacket back on and continued climbing quite hard to try to stay warm.

Towards the top I was cold even though I was riding as hard as I could. I barely had the energy to get a summit photo but it had to be done!

Shivering cold in a storm at the top of the Galibier.

It was so cold that I almost curled up into a foetal position and gave up. But I didn’t feel like dying of hypothermia, so I put my thermal jersey on, wrangled wet long gloves on and started the descent into stinging, bitterly cold rain and wind. I could barely control the bike I was shaking so much. I knew I had to get down to the Lautaret where there would be a café and maybe warmth. Once at the Lautaret, I just kept going, pushing hard down the descent to try to get warm. I didn’t take my cold weather clothes off until Le Freney d’Oisans right down in the valley.

I stayed in the great Hotel Au Bon Accueil again. I like that place. It’s run by cyclists, for cyclists. It has a hose and a bike washing station and a bike garage with tools for bike fettling. I forgot to take pictures. Probably too tired.

23rd June. Les Ougiers to Serres. 125.22 km 2,238 metres climbing

A fairly leisurely start. The weather looked great. I stopped in the valley to take one last look at its magnificence.

The Romanche valley
Panorama of the Romanche valley

The climb to the Ornon seemed fairly easy. I caught and dropped an unloaded cyclist.

Again, I took the col de Parquetout to bypass a long slog on a main road to get to Corps. It’s 11%, but only about 7 k long.

At the Parquetout
Great view of the western edge of the Alps from the Parquetout descent.

From the Parquetout it’s all downhill to Corps where I had an excellent lunch at the Hotel del la Post. It was getting windy, and it was a south wind which was a headwind. It was bringing rainy weather with it.

After lunch I rode through the Shangri-La like Pellafol Valley. A fertile, well watered plain nestled between mountains.

The Pellafol valley

Through the Défilé de la Souloise and towards the final pass, the col du Festre. A rain storm finally arrived, but I had checked the wether app on my phone and I knew the rain cell was small and fast moving, I sheltered under a tree from the worst of it, then continued in merely drizzle. It was a doddle compared to the Galibier the day before!

Sheltering from the rain for 10 minutes
Dampish at the col du Festre

After the col it was mainly downhill to Veynes, then Serres where I checked in at the Hotel Fifi Moulin. Another good choice. Very nice rooms, and a good garage for bikes. No restaurant though.

I strolled down to the Café du Commerce for a beer and a meal. The meal was enormous. The starting salad filled me up and it was all I could do to fit the filet steak and chips in. No chance of a desert.

Chilling with a beer in Serres on the last night of the tour

24th June. Serres to Bédoin. 100km, 936 metres climbing.

The climb to the col de la Saulce at the top of the Gorge de Saint May felt quite easy.

More bad weather on the way.
Go to the top just before the rain hit.

The “descent” down the gorge de Saint May wasn’t very much fun. Started fairly cold with heavy rain at the top, just merely damp at the bottom near Nyons. Once I got to Mirabel-aux-Baronnies, the clouds parted like a choir of angels had commanded it. The sun came out and I was in the Provence I know again! The land of warm weather, olive trees and vineyards.

I got back in time to get some groceries in and sit on the terrace enjoying my view!

View from the apéro terrace!

Lesson learned. Get your base miles in over winter and spring!

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2019 Credit Card Tour of the Alps

 

Day 1. Bédoin to Le Lauzet-Ubaye. 159km, 2591m climbing.

An early start and a very relaxed pace up the climb from Flassan to the col de Notre Dame des Abeilles with its annoying three summits. The view down over the Sault valley at lavender harvest time was worth it. The whole area smells of lavender at this time.

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After Sault, and the high village of Ferrassières, they were cutting the lavender on the climb to the col de l’Homme Mort:

homme-mort-lavender

This over dramatically named pass after Sault is not that difficult, and is a regular on my training rides:

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There’s a fantastic descent down its eastern side which is “average downhill” (we all know what that means!) through the Gorges de la Méouge all the way to the Durance valley:

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Once into the Alps, I took a nice meal at the Les 3 Alpes at Remollon:

les3alpes

Then, alongside the Lac de Serre Ponçon, it’s the very busy hilly D900B towards Barcelonnette. Ride a dead straight line here, and go as fast as you can. Those loaded 18 wheelers do NOT slow down:

d900b

Day 2. Le Lauzet-Ubaye to La Salle-les-Alpes. 132km, 3382m climbing.

In the heart of the Alps now, and lots of cyclists about. With my lightweight touring bags, I rode with (and ended up dropping) many of them. This was a brisk day. The start was clear and cool. Perfect conditions:

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At certain points I rode with some Belgians on a van-supported bike tour:

thebelgies

I had a chain off incident part way up the Col de Vars which cost me about 5 minutes (more on that mechanical issue later), but I repassed everybody who had passed me, and stopped for elevensies at the top:

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The descent off the Vars towards Guillestre is amazing!

varDescent

The col d’Izoard is long because it starts with a long false flat up the Guil river. The real climb begins at the left turn towards Arvieux. It was here I stopped to try to find what was the annoying squeak from my pedals. I found the 34 chainring held on by only four loose bolts! That was why I unshipped the chain on the Vars. I tightened up the remaining four bolts and continued.

The final 5 k are the hardest, and I was fully racing the van-supported Belgies by this time. I arrived at the Izoard Monument ahead of them and breathless:

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Another fantastic view towards Sestriere and the Vanoise range from the Izoard descent:

izoardDescent

After a fast descent (with some climbing involved) to Briançon, I arrived at the hotel in La Salle les Alpes in time to watch the finale of the Tour stage to Gap.


trentin.jpg

Day 3. La Salle-les-Alpes to Les Ougiers. 74km, 1864m climbing.

An eventful day! The Galibier was full of people:

GalibierFirstk

After coffee and a muffin at the incredibly crowded Lautaret, I attacked the Galibier climb to get some Strava times only to find that Strava messed up the tracking, and has not recorded my ascent on which I caught and passed lots of unloaded cyclists! Here’s proof I made it though:

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It’s a big, wild mountain valley up there with not much phone or data coverage:

viewFromGalibier

Look at that weather! You’d think it never rains in the Alps in summer! I descended to catch up with some people from the Orwell Wheelers I had met on the way up and we hung out and watched the race.


Quintana looked totally at ease when he passed us.

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Unlike Romain Bardet who looked as stressed as all us amateurs had been on the climb!

Bardet

Alaphilippe and Pinot were doing OK on the wheel of Thomas at this point.

ThomasAndAlaphillipe

What should have been a quick blast down the Lautaret to Bourg d’Oisans was in fact an epic which took some people 24 hours!

The Lautaret was jam packed as the passes always are on Tour stage days. I descended as fast as I dared, threading between cautious non-cyclist-cyclists, walkers and motorists.
After Villar-d’Arêne, a thunder and hail storm appeared, and made descending very cold and dangerous. Because I had touring kit, I put a thermal layer and rain jacket on and was fine. The saddle pack acted as a mudguard. Lots of people were shivering on their bikes.

Just after La Grave, in the blinding hail, with slippery brakes, I saw brake lights ahead, and assumed somebody had had an accident. When I got there, there was in fact a big landslide blocking the entire road, and spilling over the wall and down the cliff. All the motorists were trying to do 3 point turns. I shouldered my bike and clambered onto the debris slope, hoping more rocks did not arrive and push me over the edge. A quick scramble and I was on the downhill side in fast flowing, muddy water.

I was in no condition to take pictures, but here’s an image of it taken by somebody else the day after:

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In the cold and wet, with no following motor vehicles, I descended at full power to get warm. I flew to the Lac du Chambon at top speed and across the dam and turned right to head down to Le Freney-d’Oisans. Some time after I passed that right turn at the end of the dam, this happened:

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I made it to the fantastic Hotel Au Bon Accueil just in time to clean and lube my bike in their fantastic workshop before a shower and dinner. Some guests were not so lucky.

BonAccueilWorkshop

A short time after the landslide that I scrambled over, the emergency services arrived and closed the area down because of the danger of further slides. Hundreds of cyclists had to be put up for the night in a gymnasium in La Grave in wet clothes, wrapped in space blankets. The people caught between the multiple landslides had to be helicoptered out.

Day 4. Strava bagging round Bourg d’Oisans. 131km, 4171m climbing.

The storms of the previous day had completely disappeared, it was a perfect day for some riding. First job with fresh(ish) legs was a run at Alpe d’Huez for a cappuccino at the top of town:

image1

Great view from the Descent off Alpe d’Huez

LeavingAlpeDHuez

Then a descent through Villard Reculas to Allemond at the start of the Glandon. The view down to Bourg d’Oisans is amazing!

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The Glandon climb is hard, with some soul destroying descents and steep bits in it, so no stops for pictures. Until the top!

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And The Croix de Fer is so close. Why not tick that too? It would be counted as a climb in the UK. Now it seemed like an easy 5 minute hop:

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Some welcome nosh with a view of the Croix de Fer at the Hotel du Glandon:

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After the descent of the Glandon, I bagged the climb back through Villard Reculas to Huez, then descended to the valley floor to return to the hotel.

You can see the valley where the hotel is at the top of the picture. It has the broad river heading right out of the main valley. You can also see the first few ramps of the Alpe d’Huez climb at the bottom of the picture:

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Just before dinner at about 7pm one of the Riders On The Storm arrived back at the hotel. After very little sleep in wet clothes, not much water and little food, he and the other cyclists had set off back up the Galibier at 7am at very slow club pace, all helping each other out. They had plodded all the way to Valloire where they filled up with food and water and set off down the Telegraphe, to head for the Croix de Fer and back to Bourg. A 140km day after a night in the gym:

stranded

Day 5. Escape from the Alps! 121km, 2533m climbing.

The objective for today was to make the journey out of the unstable weather of the Alps and to within striking distance of Bédoin. The main obstacle being the Ecrins range which stands between Bourg and the Durance valley. I chose to go over the col d’Ornon and head for the small town of Corps where I know there’s a good restaurant because I ate there after watching the Alpe d’Huez stage there last year. The weather was threatening and cold, but not stormy. Descents required a rain jacket for warmth.

The start of the Ornon looked forbidding today. You can see the hanging road up on the right side of the valley:

StartOfOrnon

It didn’t seem to take long to get to that road and look back to the start:

PartWayUpOrnon

The descent on the west side was claggy and cold:

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This time, I found the “short cut” from the Ornon road to Corps, the col de Parquetout and cut out some 30 or so kilometres of hilly main road. It did involve a 7km climb at an average of 11% in the rain, but was well worth it. It was followed by one of the better “average downhills” all the way to Corps and a nice fillet steak at the Hôtel de la Poste


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After lunch, the last leg out of the alps and through the amazing Défilé de la Souloise and close to the ski area of Le Devoluy:

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The last pass out of the real Alpine landscape and weather system was the Col de Festre:

ColDeFestre

Back on the arterial D994 at Veynes, I picked up a strong tailwind from the Alps and flew into Serres where the next hotel was, arriving minutes ahead of the predicted rain storms. Job done. Time for pizza and beer!

Day 6. Serres to Bédoin. 100km, 936m climbing.

An easy day in theory. But it started off with a long and not very beautiful climb to the last pass between the Alps and home, the col de la Saulce.

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After that it was another “average downhill” down the Gorges de Saint May.
The Mistral was blowing straight up it though, so it was a matter of pedalling hard downhill all the way to Nyons. No photos from here, because it’s not holiday territory.
It’s training run territory. Turning towards Vaison at Nyons though made the Mistral a tailwind, and I flew back home to Bédoin at warp speed.

Equipment used.

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Canyon Ultimate CF SL  road bike.

Ortlieb 16 litre saddle bag.

Ortlieb Ultimate 6 handlebar bag.

I found for “credit card” touring, this was entirely enough baggage. I never filled the saddle bag to its maximum of 16 litres. It held my bad weather kit, shorts, tee shirt, flip flops and wash kit. The handlebar bag was a convenient stash for phone, tools, keys, cash, passport, maps etc.

Both bags were well tested to be completely waterproof, and the saddle bag in particular is a very effective mudguard. Descending the Lautaret in a storm was only mildly uncomfortable.

The route can be found here: https://www.strava.com/routes/20700074

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