Saint Jean de Maurienne and Col du Glandon, Col du Mollard aka Tour de France 2012
Drove over the Col du Telegraphe on a wet, misty morning and landed on St Jean de Maurienne. We'd been through here last year on a long, miserable road section on the way to the Telegraphe, and I just remember that I couldn't wait to get this bit over with. We'd dropped steeply and precariously down into this concrete jungle. Massive infrastructure, roads, hydroelectric dams, thundering river, a working, large town. St Jean was a good base but I didn't expect much from it! Wrong! After two nights there, I would feel very differently!
Both decided to have today off, in view of the weather, and what the cycling we had planned for the coming days. So we pitched the van at the excellent municipal campsite, Camping des Grands Cols. Very friendly and efficient staff and excellent facilities. Bread could be ordered each morning, bar and snacks open pm.
We wandered into town and walked the St Jean way around the cathedral, and admin buildings, following little pointing finger studs in the pavement. But the town itself is not greatly interesting, apart from the fact that this year it hosts the Tour de France. They go from Albertville up the Col de Madeleine, from La Chambre up the Col du Glandon, onto the Croix de Fer, down to St Sorlin, across to the Col du Mollard, down to St Jean, then finishing on the summit of the ski village of La Toussire.
After an evening spent "enjoying" the delights of Jersey News on our neighbours radio!, we set off down the six mile main road to La Chambre. Busy and intimidating with lorries, it soon came to an end in green, rural, old villages. From there the road works it's way, relentlessly climbing following the river Glandon, through little villards, to the Chef Lieu, St Alban des Villards. Time to take a breath as the road flattens off for a kilometre, before climbing continually up through the meadows eventually reaching the Col du Glandon. The last three kilometres are nasty, 10, 11 and finally 10%!!!
Chatted to some of a group of French guys from Alsace on the way up, and kept passing and being passed by some of them. They even asked me if I'd like to join them, taking pity on a lone woman! As usual, Ian's doing a similar route but at a different "cadence", ie. faster!
The rest of the final ascent from Glandon to Croix de Fer is easy, as the road sweeps round at a gentle gradient. Time for a buttty, hot chocolate, and take in the views, not quite as extensive as a few days ago, because of cloud cover.
Then the high speed descent through St Sorlin, into the Arvan valley, on to St Jean d'Arves, and then climbing up through pretty, old wooden chalets perched on the sides of meadowland, Belleville, les Rieux and La Villette, with chickens roaming free in the gardens! Another climb onto La Mollard, but a glorious circuit. Time to pause and take in the views over the Belledonne mountains and the Massif de la Vanoise. There's a notice board at the top, telling one of the fables handed down, before TV and Radio killed the art of story-telling. It tells of a labourer who bought a new mule and took it up the Le Mollard, from a village right in the bottom. Half way at Gevoudaz, the mule started to shake and tremble, and the man told the mule that he hoped he hadn't made a mistake buying him. He promised he would make an offering of 5sous at the chapel, if the mule managed to get him up the mountain. The mule did so, and the man cheered at having got up Le Mollard, and not having had to spend his 5 sous, at which point, so the fable goes, the mule dropped down dead!! You must always keep your promises, especially if they involve chapels, sacred offerings and mules!
Anyway, back to the route, now descending ferociously steeply. Hands suffering from brakeitis, forgetting to breathe, and balls of feet killing, trying to keep sore ar..e off saddle, whilst careering down lumpy road all the way directly into St Jean.
That's me done for the day, 6700ft ascent, 40 miles.
Amazing to think that the "tourers" do that plus Madeleine first, and then climb again all the way up Toussire. Ian finished there himself, and was chuffed but cream-crackered when he got back!
I'm saving myself for tomorrow. I've persuaded Ian to do a slight detour and head for Beaufort from the east via Modane, Val d'Isere and Bourg St Maurice, so that I can experience going over another major pass between France and Italy, the Col d'Iseran, at 2764m, one off the highest passes, depending on where you stand on La Bonette. Now, we cheated really, doing it the shortest way up, already at a significant height when we set off from Bessans, near Bonneval, where the recognised climb starts. Only 8 miles, height gained is nearly 1000m, average gradient of 7.3%, and max of 10.5% .
That's the stats, but the reality is a beautiful ascent up to the plat, where it flattens off slightly, and then through the tunnel of the Pont de l'Ouiletta, with views over glaciers towering above Bonneval.
I met up with Ian descending, about 4kms from the summit. He was on his way down to collect the van, having parked up at Bessans. Time for a celebratory hot chocolate at the summit, complete with the usual motorcyclists and Dutch cyclists!
Col de L'Iseran
After Ian picked me up from the summit, it was back down the other side to Val d'Isere and Bg St Maurice. A couple of hours later we were approaching Beaufort and our lovely site at Les Sources where we've been each year. Horreur! The site was closed. Tourist Info told me that they had stopped doing the site, but were alive and well and enjoying their retirement in Beaufort. Ah well! The municipal site down the road out of town would be fine. Actually very nice, but extremely hot day and desperate for shade!