This was a big challenge for the senior team, for six days taking on at least one major col as climbed by Tour de France pros in past years. But, fortified with regular intakes of local beer, wine, bread and copious quantities of regional delicacies, they managed to get 'up and over' safely and with a smile.
Organised by Exodus, the team joined nine other hardy souls, a good proportion of whom were seriously better cyclists, and could even beat Jan and Heyddie down the hill.
Our adventure started in Cuneo, northern Italy, the first big test to climb the hill from Vinadio to reach the Col de la Lombarde (2350m), and there cross into France. A long hot slog of 95 km with an ascent of 2170m, the workload measured by Fabian's Strava 'suffer score' of 371, denoted 'Epic.'
|Climb to Col de la Lombarde|
|Fabian and Heyddie at the Col de la Lombarde, part of stage 16 of the 2008 Tour de France|
There were numerous ramps of between 9 and 10%, followed by a long descent to the ski mecca of Isola 2000 and multiple hairpin bends to reach the lower village of Isola. The last part of the day was a tiring pedal up the valley to our overnight stop at St. Etienne-de-Tinée. An exhausting first day, Jan pledging to fuel himself more the following day (and that didn't mean more beer!).
|Fabian en route to the Col de la Bonette|
|Heyddie with Brisbane riders Debra and John just below the Col de la Bonette |
(col used by the Tour in 1962, 1964, 1993, 2008 and 2016)
|Looking back on the ascent|
|Heyddie setting off to climb the final slope to the Cime de la Bonette 2850m|
|Cime de la Bonette, seen from the descent route|
Continuing north-westwards, next day took us along the Ubaye valley, with a 4.5 km 'excursion' (all uphill and steep at the top...) to view the century-old bridge above a deep ravine, the Pont du Châtelet above St. Paul-sur-Ubaye. Returning to the main route, we then took on the climb to the Col de Vars (climbed by the Tour twenty times since 1947), an ascent of 8 km but with steep gradients (9-10%) taking us to the col at 2109m in hot sunshine. A wonderful descent, even enjoyed by Fabian, yielding views north to the high peaks of the Ecrins, brought us to the small town of Guillestre, and the great little Hotel le Catinat Fleuri. The day's stats: 52.4 km, 1090m climbed, and the Prez's 'suffer score' just 136 - 'Tough.'
|Jan working hard to reach the Pont de Châtelet|
|The senior team at the Pont de Châtelet|
|And so the climb starts...|
|On the descent to Guillestre|
Our fourth day in the saddle took us 17km through the Gorges du Guil, involving some tunnels, although thankfully lit. We then turned into the Combe du Queyras, following the Guil in an initially wide open valley, before some steep turns led us to some long straight uphill sections through to the village of Arvieux. This was followed by some steep hairpins up through the forest to reach the famous la Casse Déserte, a section of barren rockscape immediately before the summit of Col d'Izoard at 2360m. A great col, with massive views, followed by a long, fast descent of some 20km to the large town of Briançon. We stayed at the Hotel Edelweiss, last visited on our 2005 Tour of the Ecrins trek.
Stats: 50.7 km, 1399m of climbing, Strava suffer score 142, 'Tough.'
|View from hairpins above Arvieux|
|Approaching la Casse Déserte|
|Fabian climbing the Col d'Izoard|
|Heyddie and Jan, Col d'Izoard, 2360m (col used by the Tour de France 23 times since 1947)|
|Top section of the descent from Col d'Izoard before coffee stop at Chalet Napoleon|
|Team dinner in Briançon|
Our penultimate day took us up to the Col de Galibier, 2645m, a long haul of some 4-5% on the busy road out of Briançon, with expansive views to the glaciated peaks of the Ecrins. A short tunnel brought us to the Col de Lauterets 2058m, after which the proper climb to the Galibier began.
Sweeping hairpins, dodgy road surfaces, the high pitched alarms of marmots, and precipitous, unprotected drops, preceded our arrival at the col, only attained by a final kilometre at a lung-busting 11% gradient. What a great top!
A technical descent to Valloire followed, the town full of traffic associated with a 4WD festival, before a straightforward 6 km ascent to the Col du Telegraphe at 1566m (not so easy to climb from the other direction!). After a sunny lunch stop, there followed a very long descent to the Maurienne valley, before a fast flat bunch ride to reach St. Jean-de-Maurienne. Good hotel - Hotel du Nord. Today's stats: 86.6 km, 1595m climbed, Strava suffer score 177, 'Extreme.'
|Glaciers on the Ecrins|
|Approaching the Col de Lauterets|
|The only way is UP!|
|Top section of the Col de Galibier climb|
Decision time: to do l'Alpe d'Huez or not? In the case of Jan and Fabian, this was easy. No way. Too tired, too bloody hot! But for Heyddie, another challenge, and one completed by nine of the group. Chapeau to all!!
Stats excluding l'Alpe d'Huez: 79.1 km, 2154m of climbing and a Strava suffer score of 207, 'Extreme.' Heyddie's stats: 107.6 km, 3182m of ascent. His suffer score? Easy, he would say!
|A tough start to a long day: the climb up to the Col du Mollar|
|Hot climbing above St Sorlin d'Arves|
|A happy Heyddie|
|Col de la Croix de Fer (climbed by the Tour 15 times since 1947), with Col du Glandon in the near distance|
|The 'elite team' at the top of l'Alpe d'Huez...Chapeau!!|
Our final night was spent in the cyclist's mecca of Bourg d'Oisans, with a predictable quantity of beer and wine to celebrate a safe and enjoyable week.
And, finally, a big shout-out to Thierry, the leader employed by Exodus, and the Aussie John, who got around the entire trip with suspected chicken-pox!!
The full week covered 412 km and without l'Alpe d'Huez, the total ascent was 9971m (30,910 feet...more than Mount Everest!). A great trip.