In July 2009 we returned to France to do some more cycling in the French Alps and to watch a few stages of the Tour de France. We met up again with our friends Jeannette and Ross from Australia and my brother Andy joined us from Oregon to celebrate his 50th birthday. We spent a week in Briancon, in the same place we stayed in 2007, and then moved to a town on Lake Annecy right near Annecy for the second week. Greg, a Canadian/Aussie currently living in Colorado, joined us for the second week in Annecy to round us out to 6 riders.
We had some great rides – actually all of the rides were terrific. We had lovely weather – only really one day of rain, and then some snow(!) on our travel day from Briancon to Annecy. While in Briancon we did many of the rides we did in 2007, with a few extras thrown in. Of course, we had to do the day out to Alpe D’Huez and back so that we could compare it with our memories of the prior trip, as well as to give Andy a chance to show us all that, despite being the oldest of the group, he was a very fit 50-year-old.
One of the time trials on the TDF was around Lake Annecy and it was easy walking distance from the house we rented to the route. So after an early morning ride some of the group walked into Annecy to watch some of the riders take off, and then walked back to our village and staked out spots on the route to watch the riders as they came through.
We also rode up one to one of the Tour mountain stages, Col des Saisies, and watched along with thousands of other people while the Tour rode by. We had sun, rain, wind and a great experience that day.
We have some great memories of that trip:
- Riding up a canyon in Italy trying to find our way back across the border to France, having been assured by an Italian at the bottom that this was the way to go but wondering as the road started to disintegrate and turn into rocks, becoming more overgrown as we went on. We finally ended up at this beautiful little village with a great little fountain with fresh cold water where we figured out that yes, as we had all started to think, we were going the wrong way…. So we turned around and went back down to find the right pass to go over.
- Andy, a vegetarian, having cheese fondue with potatoes, lots of potatoes, and more potatoes, at a fairly nice restaurant that couldn’t figure out how to serve veggies without meat. They kept suggesting more potatoes – not sure if Andy will eat potatoes again…
- Eating way too much cheese, sausage, olives and bread as an ‘appetizer’ before dinner after some long days on the bike, and then being way too full to eat much more (though we always seemed to find room for some chocolate…).
- Getting caught up in riding the 5 eagles, which are 5 passes you can ride within a 7 day period to get something from the local chamber of commerce (or Dave thought it was but we all started to wonder). The fifth pass (Col du Granon) was, we thought, going to be a relatively easy one, as it was only something like a 45k ride from our house. The climb turned out to be pretty hard – pretty steady climb without many breaks, and part way up it started to rain. When we finally got to the top it was freezing, we were wet and the wind was blowing. Fortunately there was a little coffee shop (a hut really) at the top that served some lovely hot chocolate, so we fortified ourselves for a bit before heading back out into the cold to make our way down. After all that, when we went to the local chamber of commerce to see what we got for riding the 5 eagles they said that wasn’t really going on any more. Dave tried to back out the door quietly as we all came after him. Fortunately for him they did have some nice bike jerseys that we could buy as souvenirs…
- Stopping at the local farmers markets when we happened upon them, wandering through and buying more cheese and more sausage and more olives to gorge on (see note above!)
- Trying to get home by at least 4pm each day so we could watch the last hour of the Tour live on TV (while eating cheese, sausage, olives and bread…)
- Getting to spend 2 weeks riding with Andy while he got to check a big one off his bucket list.
Below are some pictures from the ride, as well as Dave’s suggested itinerary that he sent out to everyone to provide some training incentive….
Rides in Briancon
Izoard circuit -65 m, 105 km – South out town on N94, right on D4 at Prelles, down the valley to Mont-Dauphin, D902 up the valley and ultimately over the Izoard. From here it is 20 km downhill to Briancon.
Alp D’ Huez Out and back -103 m, 166 km – North out of Briancon on the N91, 27.7 kms to the top on Cul du Lautaret, easy climb, then 34.4 kms nearly all down hill to Le bourg-d’Oisans and the base of the Alp. From here it is 13.2 kms of TDF legend to the lunch stop at the top. Once there, turn around and ride the whole thing in reverse. Beware the 34.4 kms back up Lautaret are not hard but it is a slog.
Loop to Italie -49 m, 79 km – Head east out of Briancon on the N94, over the Col de Montgenevre. Just after the pass we’ll cross into Italie where Ross will order coffees for us in Italian. We ride down the valley to Ouix, then turn left and ride up the valley to Bardoencchia, then left up and over the Col de l’Echelle. The road to Bardoencchia may be busy but over the pass barely looks sealed. Once over the pass it is downhill nearly all the way back to Briancon.
Galibier out and back 49 m, 79 km – North out of Briancon on the N91, 27.7 kms to the top on Cul du Lautaret, easy climb (see above for profile). Turn right at the top and head up the famous TDF climb of the Col du Galibier, steady climb with a 12.1% sting in the tail, at the top. Grab a photo on the top, turn around and you’ve got nearly 25 kms of downhill back to Briancon.
Col de Granon out and back – 21 m, 34 km – If Nevache is easy, Granon is a beast. Uphill to the turn around with leg breaking average of 9.2%. The TDF finished here in 1986 and it is still the highest mountain top finish ever in the tour. Narrow tarmac winds steeply to the top where great views of the Briancon valley and surrounding mountains open. Some riders rate this climb as harder than Izoard – but it’s a good short day option 🙂
Rides in Annecy
Col de la Colombière out and back – 64-74 m, 103-120 km – Head to Annecy and ride around the lake until the turn off to Thones. Thones to Le Grand Bornand. I’m not sure what hills lie on these 25 miles but from Le Grand Bornand the climb up Colombière is described as follows:
The south side of the Col de la Colombière pass is a lot easier then its counterpart. The main reason for this is that when you start to climb in Le Grand Bornand, you”re already on 923 meters height. That only leaves you 690 heightmeters up. Not much more than for a Vosges climb. A good training for the other side of the passway. Only the last kilometers may force you out of your sadlle, with 7-9%..
Ok, it might be just a wee bit up-hill to reach Le Grand Bornand
Cormet de Roselend Out and back -84 m, 135 km – Mostly flat along the lake from Saint-jorioz to Ugine, then over the Col de la Forclaz, then up the valley to Beaufort and the base of the climb proper. The climb is described below, long and steady. The ride back is most flat except of course the “bump” Forclaz. An alternative return is the flater, longer ride into Alberville, it would add probably 10 miles but it would take out a pass. We’ll decide this once we have scaled Forclaz once.
With an average grade of 6%, this 12.4-mile climb to a remarkably beautiful pass is about 2 miles shorter and 1.5% less steep than the climb of Tourmalet.
Loop around Lake Annecy, via Col de Forclaz-31 m, 50 km – Repeat the usual route to Annecy, then head round the lake to Menthon. Turn off shortly after for the climb up the Col de la Forclaz. The climb is described below. From the summit we head down the far side to the lake road and back to Saint-jorioz.
Longer than Galibier, though not as steep. Bit of a sting in the tail, unless you like red!.
Le Semnoz – Classic route – 25 m, 41 km – Short ride with one good climb up to the top of the Cret de Chatillon. Once at the midway point, the last half of the climb rarely goes below 8%. Nice place for a break at the top with its restaurant, to enjoy the view on the lake and Mont Blanc.
Could be a nice ride to tackle the day the tour comes through. “Easy” 25 miles before heading out to watch the race.
Double Col – Col de la Croix Fry & Col des Aravis – 62 m, 100 km – Same route out of town as the climb over Colombiere. At Thones, we head south on D12, then left onD16 and over the Col de la Croix Fry, followed by a short descent. We then climb the Col des Aravis, which looks easier than Croix. We drop back down into the valley at Flumet. Before Flumet we have some flat through Gorges de l”Arondine, which is heard to be quite scenic, with numerous tunnels (bring your rear flasher and new batteries). From Flumet it is 25 miles back the Saint-jorioz, but best I can tell, they are sort of flat, sort of…