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.


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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:

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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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About copperharvest

Software developer, cyclist, rock climber.
This entry was posted in Bike touring. Bookmark the permalink.

3 Responses to 2019 Credit Card Tour of the Alps

  1. Ed says:

    What an interesting little tour. Almost like real touring!

  2. bikingtrev says:

    A great read, Nigel. I’ve done a few of those Alpine climbs – Alpe DHuez, Lauteret, Galibier, Glandon and Col DOrnon. Brought back a few memories for me. For our Alpine tour years ago, we used a saddlebag and bar bag, carrying about the same amount of kit as you.

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