Serre Chevalier Briançon Tour De France Etape du Tour 2017
With the Etape de Tour starting in Briançon in 2017 there are going to be many active cyclists visiting Serre Chevalier and the surrounding area, so with this is mind I've put togeter a guide for those looking for cycling routes when visiting Briançon and Serre Chevalier - click here
As someone who has visited La Grave pretty well every year for the past 15 years in the winter back in 2011 it was a first for me in staying in the Alpes in the summer high season.
I have in the past taken my bike with me when going out in the winter. In fact my second trip saw me cycling up Alpe D'Huez after a morning's snow boarding, and we used to cycle up and down to La Grave from where we were staying just above La Grave village in Ventillon before breakfast (some 400ms vertical) most mornings before snowboarding, that was in the days when I was cycling fit!
Having serioulsy injured myself this year in the winter skiing (ACL etc) I have been cycling a lot in the UK prior to my expected operation, however that was put back a month to the begining of September so I decided to join my mate Jes who always goes to La Grave climbing every summer and do some cycling.
We stayed in La Grave at our favourite hotel, Hotel Edelweiss, run by good friends Robin & Marlon.
The Hotel Edelweiss is extremley cycling friendly and is a great base for a weeks cycling in the area being close to some of the most famous cols used in Tour de France, such as the Col du Galibier, Col D'Izoard, Alpe D'Huez, Les Deux Alpes, Col du Lautaret and other less well known cols such as Col du Granon and the Col de Sarenne.
Climbing the Galibier
Obviously there are others, Telegraphe, Agnel, Vars, Croix de Fer etc and if you have strong cycling legs then there are some good circuits that are achievable in a day.
For those that may have come across this blog via Google etc I'm a 53 year old guy, who is reasonably fit, though not super athletic as I still like my food and drink, hence staying in the Hotel Edelweiss :)
I used to time trial, hovering around the hour mark for a 25 but that was a good 15- 20 years ago. I switched back to running from cycling around 10 years ago and ran cross country marathons and half's. 1hr 40 was a good time for a cross country half over the South Downs with around 1500m of vertical. I tweaked my right knee in September 2010 which then saw me back on the bike, and with my more serious ACL to the right in April I upped the miles; and prior to going out to the Alpes was doing 90 mile sportives.
In the winter I go ski touring and regularly skin up from Col de Lautaret to Col du Glaibier as well as taking the dog up to Col D'Izoard and Col du Granon, so cycling up to them was something I was really looking forward to!
So below you'll find the diary of my five days. There are also link to all my routes on the Garmin Connect site so you can see the times and distances of the various routes I did.
If considering cycling Alpe D'Huez then I'd strongly reccomend the route that I did that day, though maybe not doing Les Deux Alpes as well!
And one more thing.............
You would be so surprised as to just how many different shapes and sizes and on different types of bikes ride in the mountains. Usually in the Spring you only see the hard core guys but this trip for me was a first in that it was high season summer and I was amazed at all the people cycling.
Take a look at this link of photos of people cycling up and you'll see what I mean!
12th August - Another great day, though hard as expected!
Today was tough as expected. The plan was to do the Col d'Izoard which like Galibier yesterday was closed to traffic and only open to cyclists from 09:00 to Noon. I was joined by Per and Jes and they were well up for a ride. We headed off in the cars to park up some 15 miles or so south of Briancon and approach the col from the Queyras.
As we turned off the main road I was surprised to see that there was no mention of the Col being shut on the automated digital signs, in fact they did mention the Col was shut, but only on the 15th for a race. As we neared the final junction for the road up to the Col there were still no signs, but eventually as we cycled through the final village of Brunissard so indeed the road was shut.
Although it's a superb idea to shut the Cols for cycling the communication that they are shut is hopless, as we came across so many people that were unaware of the closeures, and had cycled up the previous day for instance no knowing that the following day it was only open for cyclists, so they really did miss out on a classic day.
Plus all the car drivers and motor cycles who did not know and travelled up through the valleys en route to elsewhere only to be stuck till the road reopened at noon!
Anyway fantastic climb, legs tired, Per went off and Jes stayed with me, at the top we descended and pleased to report that my technique had improved over the previous four days and on the descents I more or less kept up with them.
One amusing incident was at the top this Irish chap was there with presumably his kids all in their local club outfits and flying the Emerald jersey etc I heard him telling the boys who must have been around 15 or so "Now now going over 80km now do you hear?" - later on one of them flew past me!
Once down the bottom near Briancon we followed a quiet road that traversed the valley and kept us away from the main road for 10km or so, then once we rejoined, it was a team time trial back to where we left the cars into a strong head wind with me getting spat out the back a couple of times!
Col du Galibier
11th August - Almost and easy day!
Yesterday while riding up to La Grave saw on the signs that Col du Galibier was shut today to traffic from 09:00 - Noon and only open to cyclists. So we left here in the van and drove up to the Col du Lautaret and parked up there rather than cycling all the way up. By the time we were ready a fair number had already started the main ascent, that few turned into hundreds later on!
The joy of cycling without cars was brilliant. Most people were cycling up to the Col from Serre Chevalier, sort of equivalent to cycling from La Grave, which I did on Monday. Our game plan was to take advantage of no traffic and descend down the other side. Once at the summit had an enforced rest whilst waiting for Tim and then we made the descent down 600ms or so to were the road was closed on that side, to a very pleasant cafe for a quick coke.
Tim's now lost his top end downhill speed on the bike as he's now paranoid about his wheels overheating and getting a blow out, so at least I can now stay with him.
After the pitstop it was back up to the Col. I cycled a little harder as I wanted to try and ensure that my descent would still be on traffic free roads, so I didn't hang around at the top, nor wait for Tim. Descent was superb with still loads of cyclists coming up. I was about 100ms (vertical) with just about a km to go as they opened the road, and that was a good call as it became a little crazy with loads of motorbikes blasting up the road overtaking the cyclists going uphill and coming close to the ones going down!
Once back down waited for Tim who made it to the top of the Col just as the first motorbikes had sped up to the top, so his journey back down was a little arduous.
Quick shower back at the hotel and then off out in the van to the little village and Auberge I came across yesterday - really very fond of this place as it's so off the beaten track. High season here in the summer in the Alps is really busy, the main negative is that it seems everyone just jumps in a car to go anywhere, where as a while back they would walk up to a Col. Talking to various people seems as a sign of the times there are no longer the volumes of walkers that used to be all over the area. In the hotel ten years ago they would have had 600-700 walkers a year, that's now down to 60 - 70!
And again a superb omelette!
GPS Track Log for today
Plan for tomorrow is do the Col D'Izoard in reverse driving in to the Queyras, leaving the transport there and then do a 80km circuit. Only trouble is that Wootton and Per will be doing it as well, so my turn to get spat out the back me thinks!
Alpe D'Huez, Col de Sarenne and Les Deux Alpes
Wednesday 10th August - getting tired now!
Left La Grave and cycled down to the bottom of Alpe D'Huez (49 mins) and waited for TIm. In the meantime there were loads of cyclists parking up or cycling past on their way to begin the ascent.
Weather was warmer and less wind than yesterday, made steady progress up to Alpe D'Huez passing quite a few cyclists and having quite a few pass me. Tim went at his own pace and I met him at the top (eventually). I then left him and traversed the Alpe along to the Col de Sarenne, which involved another climb.
Was a stunning route made all the better by leaving the madness of Alpe D'Huez and it was obvious that very few cyclists knew the route. Once at the Col dropped down some gnarly roads to Clavans where I found a great Auberge, and had a superb omelette & chips, there's something about the altitude that produces a real fluffy omelette!
Left the Auberge and headed on down to the main road, was tempted to go back to La Grave but feeling sort of ok decided to do the climb up to Les Deux Alpes to get some more vertical in. Once there turned around quickly and once back on the main road, started the long slog back to La Grave.
Legs and body are now tired, don't know what to do tomorrow, but the Galibier road is closed to traffic and only open for cyclists from 09:00 - 12:00 so we might do the other side. Friday the Col D'Izoard is also shut so that means we'll probably do that from the other side as well!
Today's GPS & HR track log here
Col du Lauteret and Col D'Izoard
Tuesday 9th August
Started the day climbing up the Col du Lauteret with Tim then dropped down to Serre Chevalier and decided to pop into Mojos for a cup of coffee, and as you can see it was market day and the place was heaving.
On the descent down soon became apparent that Tim's better going downhill on a bike that the usual method of transportation he usually uses when I'm in the mountains with him (skis / board) and like the others he soon left me!
After Serre Chevalier it was down into Briancon and then the climb up to the Col D'Izoard.
Think this winter we walked / skinned up there three times, and it did not seem that steep, in fact coming down on skiis it was a schuss all the way, so I was more than surprised when it started to get quite tough.
Obviously I though Granon was not that steep when we walked up that this year as well!
So lesson learnt, what may seem not too bad walking turns out to be really tough on two wheels!
So eventually made it to the summit, though Tim was suffering a fair bit.
As you can see stopped off down at the bottom for something to eat, though from the look on Tim's face he was not best pleased with his plate of cold meats as he really wanted to sit down and have roast lamb!
So back down to Briancon and then the long climb up to Col du Lauterat and Tim was not too sure he could make it, in Monetier he rang Jes up to see if he could come and get him, but he bravely contiuned - so we ended up with a broken Tim by the end of the day
Monday warm up day, lift to P3 and then up glacier to entrance of Pan de Rideau, one of the extreme off piste runs. Climb up and along ridge above the Triffides, not difficult but very exposed. Rest of the day was spent messing around with a cyclist!!
Tuesday, back up to P3, across the glacier to Col de la Girose, four rappels down the couloir, cross the glacier below the south face of Le Rateau and then climb up the ridge to the summit. Interesting climb with snow from Sunday melting higher up soaking some sections of the climb meaning you really have to trust your boots for grip on the wet granite rock. Quite a long day with loads of day trippers causing queues at P3 for the lift back down.
Wednesday, easy start, 10 am depart to P2 for climb up Enfetchores and over Breche de La Meije to Promontoire refuge for overnight stop. More to follow when I get back Thursday afternoon.
Beautiful start to the day
Col du Lautatet and Col du Galibier and Col du Granon
Monday 8th August
Afternoon - whilst back down at the hotel waiting for Jes and Per to come back down had the stupid idea of tackling the Col de Granon, there's a book here in the hotel with all the cols, profiles. elevation etc and thought that it would be a bit of a challenge for the afternoon!
The Granon has only been used once in the Tour de France, it starts in Chantermerle, middle village of Serre Chevalier and is billed as one of the steepest & toughest climbs in the Alps, but surely can't be that bad, as I did the Galibier in the morning!
For those that watched the Tour this year, you might recall the commentators getting animated when the gradient starts to get to 8% and then 9%, well this fecker is pretty well 9-11% all the way and way more at times. Ok it's not too long, but along with the strong 40mph wind it was so hard!
Jes and Per tore off downhill at the start having left the van some seven miles uphill of where the climb starts, I was taking it easy with the strong wind blowing my wheels, once at the start of the climb they again shot off and I soon lost sight of them.
Only saving grace was that I knew the climb having walked up it a couple of times this year after my accident. They came down as I was in the last km of the climb as the wind and cold temps was not conducive to staying on the top!
View from the Col overlooking the pistes off Serre Chevalier on the other side
Coming back down I was worried with all the extreme braking about my carbon rims heating up and sure enough I ended up with a tube blowing, plus the heat has de-laminated one of the rims so my descent was quite eventful, luckily when I saw the others coming back down I did say to them could they pick me up at Tim & Mels in Mojos so that was a good call.
Garmin GPS / HR track log here
So not a bad first warm up acclimatisation day all things considered!
Morning - Jes was up early as him and Per were getting the first lift to do a acclimatisation day (getting use to altitude) up beyond the top lift station at 3,300. Game plan is that they go to Italy climbing and staying in huts above 4,000ms tomorrow for the next few days.
Meanwhile I let the weather settle down and went out on the bike for a bit of a acclimatisation ride myself, cycling up to the Col du Lautaret and then on up to the Col du Galibier (2,600m) . Had a quite strong wind behind me which was good on the climb but not to good on the descent as my deep rim wheels are none too stable in strong side winds. By the time I came back down there were loads of cyclists off all abilities going up there, was quite a sight to witness!
Few pictures from this morning - as you can see don't exactly keep the roads clear of hazards :)
Looking back down to La Grave from Villar d'Arene
And this is the GPS / HR track log
So now waiting for the others to come back down and then back out on the bike with them this afternoon.
Sunday 7th August
Disembarked Euro-tunnel 08:35 and made it down here in just under eight and a half hours, so a good trip.
Fair weather cloud most of the way to Grenoble which is where you start to go into the Mountains and then we had heavy rain all the way.
Later after dinner the weather cleared along with sporadic showers and as you can see produced a beautiful rainbow over the glacier.
Ironic in that temperatures are well down on what we had in March / April of this year!
We're staying at our old favourite in La Grave, Hotel Edelweiss, run by good friends Robin & Marlon who were most surprised to see us turn up on their door step,well not so much Jes as he comes out most summers, but me!