Categories
2010 Austria Italy

The Alps #4

In preparation for the Marmotte in the French Alps, in June 2010 I cycle over various mountain passes in Austria and Italy. The trip offers peaks (Klammljoch, views of the Dolomites, enthusiastic Italian cyclists, thirteen peaks) and lows (motorcyclists, flies). In nine days’ time, I cover 800 kilometers and climb about 16,000 meters.

Day 1: Innsbruck > Wald im Pinzgau (108 km)

I travel by night train to Munich and from there I take the super slow Regiobahn to Innsbruck. In Bavaria the view from the window doesn’t bode well: low clouds and drizzle. I arrive in Innsbruck at twelve o’clock. I have to find out where the Innradweg leads to the east. Luckily a nice man, who cycled from Austria to Sicily twenty years ago, points the way. At Wiesing I turn right, into the Zillertal. I don’t have to take the busy main road here all the time, but I can mostly take village and rural roads to Zell am Ziller. The Zillertal is not beautiful by the way: everywhere I see family hotels (with indoor swimming pools – even with a giant slide) and other large chalets for winter sports. It is very commercial here.

The stretch from Zell am Ziller to the Gerlos Pass is wide and super boring. First, I have to climb 400 meters at 7 to 8%, followed by a piece of false flat to Gerlos, and then 8% up to a ski area. It is becoming very cloudy. Not being able to see the surroundings doesn’t really motivate. From 1,300 m there is snow. On top of the pass road (1,620 m) it is only 3 °C and it rains. After an eighteen-kilometer long, ice-cold descent I see a campsite on my left. I am shivering when I arrive at the reception. The friendly camping lady laughs at the pile of misery in front of her. First, I take a shower and warm up. It’s getting dark when I finally sit in my new tent with a plate full of spaghetti. That tent, a Hubba Hubba HP 1, is twice as small as what I am used to, so a bit claustrophobic.

Day 2: Wald im Pinzgau > Lienz (92 km)

Today I first cycle some fifty kilometers on the Tauernradweg to Bruck. According to my plan there I can continue on the Hochalpenstrasse. I have been looking forward to this for a long time: the fourteen kilometers long climb at 10% on average is one of Europe’s most difficult pass roads, harder than, for example, the Tourmalet, Stelvio, Galibier or Timmelsjoch. Unfortunately today it is heavily cloudy and there lies snow from an altitude of 1,400 m. If expect it’s snowing up there; the pass road will probably be closed. But even if the pass is open, I don’t feel like cycling in the freezing cold for hours, let alone the long descent with cold fingers.

In short, I cycle on through the main valley to take the train to the south a bit further on. And that plan works out quite well. The Tauernradweg goes from Bruck over small country roads, which are varied and sometimes very steep. And even I’m cycling downstream today, I’m still climbing more than 600 meters. After a while the wide valley becomes narrow: Bundesstrasse, the local road, the railway and the river are wriggling their way through the canyon. Down in the depths I notice groups of rafters.

At the Schwarzbach train station I try to find information about the train journey to the south. But there is no overview map and ticket offices are closed. How inconvenient! I buy a ticket to Lienz via Spittal, and exchange the bad weather on the north side of the Tauerngebirge for the beautiful weather on the other side. At the campground in Lienz I’m short of money for a camping spot, but the nice lady doesn’t think that’s a problem. On the campground there is a renovated country house with underneath first-class sanitary facilities. I take a shower while listening to German covers of Sky Radio music songs.

Day 3: Lienz > San Lorenzo di Sebato (82 km)

All over Europe, Dutch pensionados are on the road with their caravans. So also here on the Lienz campsite. Most of them are looking a bit bored. Couples have nothing left to tell each other, and boredom is only interrupted by agonizingly slow walks to the toilet block. Pretty sad when you think about it. When you stand between them as a cyclist with your tiny tent, the men (the women stay in the caravan) come by spontaneously for a chat. Well, that’s nice. And to our surprise we even have a common acquaintance, because after all, the Netherlands remains a small country.

Anyway, from Lienz I start to cycle on a well-constructed bike path along Bundesstrasse 108 to the northwest. There I face a very strong headwind. At a beautiful ruin a couple is haying with scythes. The man tells that the wind is always fierce when it is raining on the north side of the Tauern. I can confirm this, because I cycled there yesterday. At Huben I turn left, into the Defereggental. It’s quite demanding with a climbing average of 10% in the first couple of kilometers, followed by several steep parts in tunnels and galleries, and from Mariahilf also 12%, although there are also long stretched of false flat. Luckily I have tail wind from now on. The valley is not so spectacular.

At Erlsbach the bottles are empty and I tap water at a local’s house. I ask if the unpaved Klammjoch pass road can actually be cycled. After a lot of thinking he says “yes”, so I’ll take my chances. Shortly after that I no longer follow the main road to the Stallersattel (2,052 m), but instead turn right towards the higher Klammljoch. The road is quite steep for a few kilometers, on average 10-20%. As soon as I start to wonder if the Klammljoch was such a good decision, a small tractor comes from behind with on it the friendly man who has just given me water. He says he has to transport something, wishes me good luck and drives on. By now the road is unpaved, but it is easy to ride. Near Oberhaus there is a café with a terrace, and there the man with the tractor looks out for me. How thoughtful! I take a picture of him and continue my cycling trip.

The quality of the road becomes a bit poorer, but never becomes really difficult. Only local motorized vehicles are allowed here, and besides a dozen hikers, a couple of mountain bikers and a single car driver, I don’t encounter anyone for the next couple of hours. From now on the valley is very beautiful: highly recommended! There are many green pastures and I can see fresh snow on the mountain sides. The track goes higher and higher along the mountainside, but it’s only during the last few kilometers that I can actually see the pass. It takes until 6 pm before I reach the deserted Klammljoch (2,288 m). From there I enjoy the view of the beautiful mountains and threatening clouds in the evening light on the Italian side.

Descending on the gravel road, with its many hairpin bends, goes unexpectedly well. Only the gutters that they have dug every thirty meters drive me crazy. Near the beautifully situated Knutten-Alm I reach the tarmac again. After Rein in Taufers I plunge into a very steep descent along the wild mountain stream; from this side the climb of the Klammljoch is certainly not a piece of cake. From Campo to Bruneck I descent mostly false flat between the busy traffic. I don’t see a campsite in Bruneck itself, but fortunately Google on the phone offers a solution, and in the nearby town of San Lorenzo I do find a camping spot. Again, I eat my meal in the dusk.

Day 4: San Lorenzo di Sebato > Cortina (94 km)

After a visit to Bruneck’s mega-sized Spar, I cycle through the old town to the east in search of the cycling route. The bike path turns out to be very well constructed, and goes partly unpaved along the river, and partly on narrow agricultural roads. As soon as I cycle from Prags to Platzwiesen, “sweat flies” start to spoil my good mood. It’s warm and windless, and when those little bitches smell a sweating person passing by slowly, they strike without mercy. Dozens of flies try to get a spot on my body, while the rest keeps swarming around me. When I look over my shoulder, I see many more. I quickly find out that can stay ahead of them from fifteen kilometers per hour, but they only stop at 20 kilometers per hour. And this speed is quite a challenge when ascending.

During the last six kilometers from Brücken to Platzwiesen only buses and cyclists are allowed. The last 1.5 kilometers to Platzwiesen are extremely steep. From there (2,040 m), the view of striking Dolomite peaks is extraordinary! I drink a large coke on the terrace of a restaurant and then I start the descent on a mostly bad road. I bounce a lot and get cramps in my hands from constantly squeezing the brake levers.

From Schluderbach (1,430 m) I continue on a wide road to Misurina and enter the Italian-speaking part of the region. I cover the 300 meters’ difference in altitude quite easily, although I sometimes feel cramps developing in my left upper leg. Maybe I’m just nervous for the hard climb to Tre Cime: seven kilometers long, two-thirds of which are between 10 and 15% on average. Normally this is quite difficult, but in this case I have already climbed 1700 meters. At the foot of this climb I leave my front and back bags at a house and start climbing. It is a beautifully constructed toll road, with many wide hairpin bends, which are sometimes extremely steep (up to 20%). At the end of the road (2,333 m) I enjoy one of the most beautiful views of the Alps.

Then back down to the Passo tre Croci. From that’s just 150 meters of climbing, but the cycling doesn’t go very smoothly anymore. The descent to Cortina is simple. In this very touristic city it is difficult to find the campsite; the local hotel lobby has apparently managed to keep all the road signs to campsites outside the town center. Fortunately Google on the phone helps me out to locate the campsite. Camping Rocchetta is a really nice location, with plenty of shelter, lots of tents and few caravans, nice music (blues, Bruce Springsteen) in the sanitary building and a very friendly camping boss. I can be satisfied about today: I have cycled a beautiful route with beautiful views and have broken my cycling holiday climbing day record.

Day 5: Cortina > Bellamonte (84 km)

I take the busy R48 to the west and ride to the exit to the Passo di Giau. On the Michelin map this pass road looks attractively narrow, but in reality the road is wide. The road is quite steep, with an elevation 640 meters in the last 7.5 kilometers. Unfortunately, the many trees prevent me from seeing much of the surroundings. The relatively low summits are the disadvantage of the pass roads in the Dolomites. For those who prefer the wide views I recommend the high cols in the French Alps.

On top of the Passo di Giau (2,233 m) I end up on a Sammelplatz for the many German, Austrian and Italian motorcyclists. I’m waiting for a while on a half empty terrace, but the waiters neglect me. So I change my routine and descent without a coke. And what a super descent this is! Up to Caprile I count more than 35 hairpin bends. The part down to Cancenighe Agordino (773 m) turns out difficult because of the strong south wind. I even get hungry and next to the beautiful lake near Alleghe I eat my last sandwiches.

I get a can of coke in a café and turn right into the road to Falcade. This valley is not so special, apart from a single view of a beautiful side valley. At Cavida the road becomes very steep, just like the part after Falcade. The road to the Passo di Valles I also have to climb quite a bit, with the gradient quite constantly at around 10%Added to this the long straight stretches, the wind, the still high temperature, and the lack of view make this not very easy. Therefore I am relieved to arrive at the Passo di Valles (2,033 m). Should I mention that spectacular views are absent here as well? Anyway, according to plan I would now take a détour to the Passo di Rolle, where the road leads along one of the most beautiful mountains (Pale di San Martino) of the Dolomites. But it has become simply too late to climb another 300 meters on an unpaved road. Too bad. I quickly descend to the beautifully situated and mosquito-filled campsite of Bellamonte.

Day 6: Bellamonte > Weissenbach (111 km)

After shopping at the local Coop I descend further to Predazzo (1,018 m). Here a man comes approaches me, points at the bike and asks if it is a car. I answer “Neither, it’s a tank.” He can’t imagine that I’m travelling through the mountains with all these bags. From Predazzo I take an excellently constructed cycle path to Moena, where I continue on the regular road. A group of friendly Italian road cyclists from Naples comes alongside and I can keep up with them for quite a while.

At Pozza I turn left onto the Karerpass. This is a very boring road, with sometimes steep stretches, but all in all the climb is not that hard. On top of the pass (1,745 m) there are many hotels – it is a ski area here. I turn right to the Nigerpass (1,688 m). From there I see beautiful mountain walls on my right (Rosengarten), while on the left there are sometimes beautiful views of the Austrian Alps. The descent of the Nigerpass is quite demanding: it starts with 15%, halfway through the village of Tiers 20% and from Blumeau to the main valley the remaining 500 meters down are steep as well.

In the valley from Brixen to Bolzano the river, highway, regional road, railway and bike path squeeze themselves through the sometimes quite narrow valley. At a certain moment, I ride through a 500-meter long tunnel exclusively for the bike lane. In the suburbs of Bolzano numerous works of art by children are standing and hanging next to the cycle lane. What makes me less happy is the temperature: over 30 °C. In the picturesque Bolzano city center I acquire liters of water and a few bananas at the Spar. From the Rathausplatz I take a narrow and winding road to the Valle Sarentina. The first half of the long valley is uninhabited and peculiarly narrow, with lots of nets on the rocky walls to prevent stones falling on the road. During the first ten kilometers I count no less than twenty tunnels – nice and cool in this hot weather!

After the last tunnel the Valle Sarentina transforms into the wide Val di Pennes. Everywhere the farmers take the hay from the land – apparently there is a thunderstorm coming. Fortunately, it stays dry today. There is no campsite in the entire valley, and after more than 100 kilometers of cycling I don’t feel like camping in the wild. That’s why I get a cheap mountain hotel in Weissenbach (1,330 m) and cook pasta and tea in my room. Tomorrow I will finish the Penserjoch.

Day 7: Weissenbach > Salthaus (79 km)

The Penserjoch has a nice elevation profile: the higher you get, the steeper it becomes. The first six kilometers only 4% (gentle cycling), then three kilometers 7.5% (no worries), and finally five kilometers at almost 10% (ouch!). The pass road draws long, perfectly straight lines through the wide green walls, similar to the southern approach of the Cime de la Bonette. The numerous motorcyclists are really disturbing. The early ones among them ride quietly and enjoy the landscape, while the late risers race as if there is a competition going on. At the top of the Penserjoch (2215 m), a local road cyclist (and former motorcyclist) explains: “Vor allem die Österreichischer Motorfahrer sind schlimm”.

The descent is long, curvy and fun. Unfortunately, for a long time I cycle behind a badly driving Italian in a BMW who cuts corners rather sharply, and several times almost collides with oncoming traffic. But he doesn’t seem to learn from it: the driver has the memory of a goldfish, and as we know goldfish can’t drive.

After this I go to the Jaufenpass. With an 7.5% gradient on average over fifteen kilometers, in theory this road is not so difficult. But it’s going to be a small drama. It is very hot and there is no wind >>> sweat flies time! For a couple of hours I cycle with a swarm of these bitches on and around me. And there’s nothing I can do about it. I spontaneously feel sorry for the poor children in Africa who suffer from them every day. The Jaufenpass leads almost to the top through the forest, so there are no beautiful views that could soften the suffering.

On top of the Jaufenpass (2,099 m) I get a coke and enjoy the much nicer view on the other side. The descent goes well until I see a sign “Bad road surface”, and before I know it, I ride into a hole and my right front bag falls off. As there is a car just behind me this could have ended very badly. The damned Ortlieb bag hooks … these also gave me problems on Iceland. I wonder why the local road authorities put effort in erecting such a sign but fail to repair the road. My mood deteriorates further when I arrive at the campsite in Saltaus (335 m): contrary to the pictures on their website it is just an unimaginative stretch of strips of grass and gravel road offering little shade.

Day 8: Salthaus > Umhausen (86 km)

After the bad experience with the heat on the Jaufenpass it seems better to me to go to the Timmelsjoch early. At 7.15 am I leave and an hour later I have breakfast in St. Leonhard. From the village of Moos the actual climb starts. Through a series of hairpin bends and steep stretches of road (sometimes 10 to 15%) I quickly climb a few hundred meters. After that the road becomes lees steep for five kilometers (7 to 8%) and goes through a number of tunnels to the north. The beautiful valley below me is almost uninhabited. In the distance I can already see the pass height, but to get there I still have to cycle more than fifteen kilometers.

Italian cyclists regularly overtake me, point to the panniers and shout ‘Ciao’ or even ‘Complimenti’. At a certain moment one cyclist even wants to be photographed with me. I like that so much! They are so much more friendly than those grumpy Swiss and Austrians. About eight kilometers from the summit the main road bends to the left and becomes steep: 11% for two kilometers, and after a stretch of false flat another three kilometers 10% on average. The narrow road climbs via numerous “genuine” hairpin bends, a bit similar to the classic eastern side of the Stelvio. A lady on a racing bike comes alongside (“Respect!”) and chats with me. From the dark and wet 500 meters’ long tunnel at the top of the rock face the road continues to the pass height (2,474 m) which is right on the border with Austria.

I continue immediately. The first part of the descent is fine, but then the road climbs another 150 meters to Hochgurgl. I would have liked to camp in Sölden, but the campsite in this terrible ski resort is rubbish. Anyway, for me the upper part of the Ötztal is one big horror show with all those ski villages, lifts and roads. I cycle on through the much more beautiful middle part of the valley. This goes down false flat, but the strong north wind prevents me from make progress quickly. Finally, 25 kilometers after Sölden, I can pitch my tent in on the campsite in Umhausen. After today’s ride, I allow myself not to cook, and order Wiener Schnitzel with fries and a large glass of beer.

Day 9: Umhausen > Innsbruck (65 km)

And also this morning the sun shines when I get on my bike. I get some bread and drinks at the local M-Preis and go off to the village of Ötz. The pass road to Kühtai starts with a gradient of 10% and leads up with a few bends along the mountainside. Next the road follows a mountain stream through a green valley to the east. It’s very muggy today, and the only cooling is provided by the mountain stream. The slope is irregular: sometimes 5% and then again pieces of 10-13%. Halfway the pass in Ochsengartenwald I order a large coke. That gives me the necessary energy; after that I hardly need to stop. Even a stretch of 800 meters at 15% on average I continue cycling easily. I tell the road construction workers here that they are not doing their job properly because the road is much too steep. The answer: “Doch, das ist für die Radfahrer zum trainieren.” That makes sense. After a few more climbs and a reservoir I reach Kühtai (2,017 m).

So far, the valley was hardly inhabited, except for a few loose cows and horses. But up here there is an outburst of very ugly ski hotels (type: French ski resort) that ruin the whole area. So I get the hell out of here. Down in the valley of the Inn it is still some ten kilometers riding to Innsbruck. I would like to take a shower before I get on the train, but when I ask the campsite owner (also owner of a Porsche Cayenne) in the village of Völs if I can do this (and pay for it), he refuses: “Es ist leider nicht möglich, nur fur Gäste die zwei, drei Tagen bleiben. Wir sind eine Familiencamping und haben in den letzten 50 Jahre noch niemand nur zu duschen gehabt. Est ist nichts persönliches. Gute Reise. Und viel Glück mit dem Holländischen Mannschaft” (World Cup Football 2010). What a cowardly way of saying that he does not want cyclist on his site. The clock is ticking and so I cycle to Innsbruck where I refresh myself a bit on the station toilet. I take the local train to Munich and next the night train back to the Netherlands. This nine-day cycling vacation has been good training for the Marmotte!

Statistics

– Day 1: Innsbruck > Wald im Pinzgau (108 km; 1,150 altitude meters)
– Day 2: Wald im Pinzgau > Lienz (92 km; 620 alt.m)
– Day 3: Lienz > San Lorenzo di Sebato (82 km; 1,785 alt.m)
– Day 4: San Lorenzo di Sebato > Cortina (94 km; 2,585 alt.m)
– Day 5: Cortina > Bellamonte (84 km; 2,441 alt.m)
– Day 6: Bellamonte > Weissenbach (111 km; 1,952 alt.m)
– Day 7: Weissenbach > Salthaus (79 km; 2,013 alt.m)
– Day 8: Salthaus > Umhausen (86 km; 2,200 alt.m)
– Day 9: Umhausen > Innsbruck (65 km; 1,233 alt.m)

Epilogue

After just one day at home from the Dolomites I drive to the campsite in Bourg-Oisons at the start of the Alpe d’Huez. I’m there to ride the Marmotte, a 176 kilometer cycling with four climbs totaling 5,000 meters: the Glandon (1,924 m), Télégraphe (1,566 m), Galibier (2,642 m), and l’Alpe d’Huez (1,860 m). I train on the Col de la Croix-de-Fer, and then take a rest day. Further training is of no use after the cycling holiday.

On Saturday, July 3, the time has come. I start just before 8 am. The trip itself is beautiful, but with a temperature reaching above 30 °C makes cycling hard. For a long time everything is fine: even when I am often overtaken, I also stay ahead of many others, especially on the steeper stretches. But when I arrive at the first steep kilometer of the climb to L’Alpe d’Huez the energy has gone. In hindsight I should have relied less on the poor food supply by the Marmotte organization. If I had brought enough, easily digestible food myself, I could have distributed my energy better. I’m feeling nauseous and exhausted. During the last kilometers on the Alpe d’Huez I firmly conclude that this is the first and last time ever that I will participate in something so ridiculous. (But on the way back to the Netherlands, I’m already planning the 2012 Marmotte event.)

After great effort, I reach the summit of Alpe d’Huez after two hours, fortunately without cramps, vomiting or walking. Total riding time is ten hours and 40 minutes (net time excluding the descent of the Glandon), which is just ten minutes too long for a silver medal – but I made it, and that was my goal.

Categories
2008 France Italy Switzerland

The Alps #3

This is the report of the Tour de Nivolet, my cycling holiday in mountainous areas in Switzerland, France and Italy. Results: nine passes and a very special off-road detour. In seven days I cycle some 600 kilometers and climb 12,700 meters.

Prologue

When I was a kid I was studying the map of the National Park Gran Paradiso: all those narrow valleys leading to Italy’s pride. I also noticed a high pass road, the Colle del Nivolet, suited for motorized vehicles on one side. That was where I wanted to go once. Last year I was watching the map in order to decide exactly where in the Alps I should go next and googled ‘Nivolet’. One of the hits led me to Jerry Nilson from Sweden who had cycled over the pass road. It made me curious, so I mailed him, and his reply was as follows:

‘Hi Willem,

(…) it would be easy to just go right soon after the Refugio-shop where the asphalt ends and simply walk down the path along the little stream. You will probably not be able to cycle more than 200-300 m or so down this vague track, which soon turns into paths. I think you get over on the right side of the stream and try not get too far off from it – many confusing paths down there – but as long as you seem to go in a somewhat straight line ahead it should take you down to the cross and the serpentine path down to Pont. The serpentine path is wide and good, but I still managed to fall headlessly down the steep side (no good with cycling shoes). The walking takes you 3 hours at normal speed without stopping down to Pon, a bit longer than one would suspect looking at the maps and even while being there, but it is some way down. If you have heavy packaging it might take a bit longer. Hope you will have nice weather and a nice trip!

Jerry Nilson’

With the opportunity of crossing the Nivolet this way I really had to go…

Day 1: Martigny > St Gervais-les-Bains (80 km)

Yesterday I took a night train for the first time since I went on Interrail back in ’92. Not very cheap, but quite convenient. From Lake Geneva I am sitting in a train carriage with twelve Japanese tourists who make pictures of almost everything they see. The conductor informs me that this group booked the entire carriage, but he has no problem whatsoever with my presence. We have a nice talk about his house near Montey.

It is 11.15 am when I get on my bike and leave Martigny. After a few kilometers I turn right to the Col de la Forclaz: a not very spectacular road that starts between the vineyards. The height difference to the pass height is just one kilometer, but I have to do it in thirteen kilometers at 8% on average. The temperature – 30 °C in the shade – makes it a tough ride. From the beginning to the summit there is no shade, and despite that I am wearing sunglasses and a hat I develop a headache. Just like at off-days during previous cycling holidays in the Alps I declare it’s the last time I cycle with luggage in the mountains.

When I have finally reached the summit (1,526 m). I buy myself a large coke. On the bike again I go down to France until I have to climb again, this time to the Col des Montets. To be honest, it is pretty nice here, and certainly not as neat as in Switzerland. On top of the pass (1,461 m) I can see a large white bulb: that must be the Mont Blanc! The descent is beautiful, with at the left hand the immense Massif de Mont Blanc with all its steep ridges and glaciers.

Argentières and especially Chamonix are terrible places crowded with American tourists. After Chamonix a four-lane road starts, which even becomes a highway a bit further. I am lucky to find this road sign “cycling route” and continue on a secondary road. Great. For 90 minutes I climb all kinds of narrow and steep roads, and climb a few hundred climbing meters more than planned. The sun makes my hamstrings hurt. I cycle at such slow pace that a road skier is overhauling me. I hope nobody is witnessing this.

And then at last, there is the road to St Gervais-les-Bains. The ascent to the campsite, some three kilometers behind the ski resort, is easy. The friendly camping boss tells me that the temperatures in this region have been very high this year, between 30 and 35 °C. After getting instant noodles there is little time left to watch the bats fly before it’s completely dark.

Day 2: St Gervais-les-Bains > Bourg-St Maurice (96 km)

St Gervais is a nice town, quite sophisticated so to speak. In contrast, the higher situated town of Mégève is a ski resort without soul, the big supermarket where I get my breakfast being the only positive element. On the map the ride from Mégeve along the river looked promising, but in practice it is fairly dull. I am happy to turn left, onto the road to the Col de Saisies. From the very start there is quite some climbing involved. I do not enjoy the landscape around here: the entire area is destined for skiing. Even on the summit of the road (1,650 m) are ski slopes, drag lifts, a restaurant and other entertainment. French ski area planners sans frontiers…

But, let’s stop whining, as a much more beautiful part of France including the magnificent view of the Mont Blanc awaits me. In the nice town of Beaufort I have lunch in front of the mini-Casino. Next starts the ascent of the Cormet de Roselend. The first few kilometers I cycle in the woods and there it is relatively cool. But then the shade becomes less, and the temperature rises to 30 °C. Due to all the sweating I attract lots of nasty flies circling around my head all the time. After a while I cross the ridge and reach a high-altitude valley with a reservoir. It is beautiful here! The view of the surrounding mountains is panoramic, and commercial activities, as with some of the other pas roads, are absent. After a coke I climb another 400 meters to the summit of the pass road (1,926 m).

The descent on the eastern side of the Roselend is amazing. At some point I have a splendid view of the Mont Blanc, but I have no time to lose. I continue quickly through a canyon with hairpins. I finally arrive at 7.40 pm in Bourg St Maurice. As the shops are closed I have no choice but to go to McDonald’s. At the camping I meet a Swiss couple of about 50 years old, travelling by bike with their luggage all around the Alps. I am impressed! This week I will hardly see people cycling with luggage; unfortunately I will notice hundreds of motor cyclists.

Day 3: Bourg St Maurice > Lanslebourg (82 km)

After getting groceries at the Intermarché, I leave for the Col d’Iseran at 9 am. The ascent consists of four stages: first an easy-going slope, then fifteen kilometers climbing at 5-9%, next an easy part through the ski resort Val d’Isere, and finally some more climbing at 5-9%. So it isn’t too difficult. The valley is beautiful, particularly the right side where the snow-covered Mont Pourri (3,779 m) rises majestically above the forests and alms.

It gets ugly though from the moment the ski resorts become visible. Around Tignes, situated a few kilometers westwards, lots of ski lifts are visible on the high mountains. In my opinion it is hypocrite to draw the boundaries of the French national parks just around these high altitude lifts. They might as well stuff the whole area. Having that in mind I enter Val d’Isere, which in fact is fully stuffed with ugly hotels, bar/restaurants and lifts. After a few more kilometers it starts drizzling followed by a hailstorm and sounds of thunder. On the highest point (2,764 m) it is dry again. I want to make a picture of myself next to the summit sign, but the two Germans who just arrived there in their old Land Rover keep posing on the same spot for several minutes. Well, they deserve to celebrate after such an achievement.

The south side of the pass road is far more beautiful and rougher, and ski lifts are absent. After Bonneval sur Arc it starts thundering: on my left the weather is terrible, while the sun is shining on the mountains on my right side. Very special. I really have to keep going in this long stretched valley. For just 6.50 euros I find myself a nice, small camp site in Lanslebourg. The numerous mosquitoes and flies force me to stay in the tent. My legs and nose are burnt despite using sun cream factor 25.

Day 4: Lanslebourg > Viú (103 km)

My left hip hurts so much that I cannot sleep any longer so I get up at 7 am. This must be what ageing feels like. No bread is sold in the supermarket, but no worries: I have saved some from yesterday, and have already cooked noodles before I left. The ascent of the Mont Cenis is not too difficult and in fact quite boring: a series of long stretched hairpins with only a few shade spots. At the pass height (2,084 m) the landscape changes. On the opposite side of the reservoir lake I can see beautiful mountains with lots of snow on their flanks.

Cycling down to the Valle di Susa is enjoyable: more than in Switzerland or France, Italian mountain roads tend to follow the shapes of the mountains better. So no boring straight roads with hairpins, but instead meandering roads with after every bend a surprise. Half way the descent the road is under construction and not passable, but I manage to lift the bike over large concrete blocks.

The lower valley going from Susa to Torino is hot due to the lack of shade. I follow the S24, a broad main road, which is relatively quiet thanks to the nearby parallel highway and siesta time. Then after a while, I encounter another roadblock. This time they have removed an entire bridge over a wild mountain river. I manage to find my way through a meadow and push my bike under the barbed wire just before the farmer and his cows arrive there.

The ascent to the Col del Lys has been giving me headaches for some nights. The height profile that I had grabbed from the web shows, amongst other things, one continuous part of three kilometers at 15%. With that steep part in mind, but also a temperature of 32 °C and a shortage of water, I am extremely reluctant to start this climb. But, after just a few kilometers cycling through a rich neighborhood I notice a roofed fountain where I can fill the bottles. Cycling on much happier I drink a large coke for only 1.50 euros in the shade.

I am starting to realize that the altitude profile I brought with me can’t be correct. The road is just fairly steep, between 5 and 10%. The profile must originate from an alternative ATB track. According to the road map the landscape is beautiful, but unfortunately I can’t see hardly anything due to all the trees along the road. One kilometer before the summit it starts raining and hailing. The temperature drops to 15 °C. On the pass height (1,311 m) I find shelter in a café and buy another coke. Immediately after it has stopped raining I get on the bike again. The beautiful road meanders along the flanks of the high hills and through little villages.

In Viú I buy groceries and check in at the camping. It appears to be one for mobile homes, but I am allowed to pitch my tent on a small piece of grassland covered with molehills. It keeps raining and with no camping alternative available I decide to stay. At the moment the camping manager charges 12 euros for one night (excluding a shower coin) I explode. He offers 10 euro instead and I accept reluctantly. After the cold shower (the coin didn’t work) I run through the rain to my tent where I will cook a delicious meal.

Day 5: Viú > Prese / Ceresole (89 km)

First on my action list of this morning is visiting Viú’s cozy village shop: a hot room full of flies and all kinds of food. The shop girl works very hard to help the many customers. After fifteen minutes it’s my turn. I am completely warmed up when I walk out of the shop with bread. The road to Lanzo meanders downstream along the hills. Lanzo is a nice town on a hill, with a long-stretched shopping street in the center, and also (covered) alleys and staircases. A small version of Perugia, one might say.

Next I arrive in Corio, where I eat the bread on a picturesque church square. In another village I ask a car driver the road to Rivara. The young woman points to the right direction and, to my surprise, keeps driving behind me for many kilometers until the junction where Rivara is mentioned on the road sign. This ‘service excellence’ confirms me in my belief that many Italians are helpful and cordial.

From Rivara on it is hot (30 °C) which makes cycling a challenge. There is barely any shade, but luckily also little traffic on the excellent road. I now enter Valle di Locana, the southern entrance to the Parco Nazionale del Gran Paradiso, which lacks ski areas. The Gran Paradiso (4,061 m), the highest mountain entirely on Italian grounds, is covered in the clouds today. Nearly 20 kilometers further on in the valley, in Locana (613 m), I buy myself a coke and eat a second roll with marmalade.

Next I climb for some ten kilometers to Noasca, which lies 400 meters higher. Time for another coke. Just after Noasca follow five steep (up to 15%) hairpins, and yet this “interval training” seems to suit me better than incremental climbs for long stretches, like previously today. What follows is a 3.5 kilometers long tunnel, 5-8% on average and in the middle for one kilometer 10-15%. This is doable, thanks to the low temperature here. Today I love tunnels!

Right out of the tunnel I see a gigantic cumulus in the air in front of me, and, at the same time, a road leading to a camp site. Time to call it a day. I can recommend this camping to all people interested in pitching a tent on a quiet, flat place and do not need hot water. The view of the Levanna mountains on the border with France (behind which the Col d’Iseran is located) is really splendid.

Day 6: Prese > Aosta (74 km)

I can definitely recommend the Colle del Nivolet! I first climb to Ceresole, which is situated at the border of a long-stretched basin. There are few hotels here, but at least six (!) campsites two of which packed with scouting army tents. I have breakfast at a lovely spot near the end of the lake. Ski lifts are absent. Instead, I see huge traffic signs stating that during the summer, motorized vehicles are not allowed on the upper part of the pass road, to give some space for hikers and bikers.

From the lake onwards I cycle some 600 meters in eight kilometers before I arrive at a smaller basin. And from here it’s another 400 meters’ climbing along a steep mountain wall to reach the pass height (2,612 m). The road is narrow, diverse and not very steep, and offers excellent views of the part done so far beneath me. The only negative thing are these terrible flies, which are only absent when the wind blows them away – for a few seconds.

When I reach the pass height there is no summit sign. How can I prove that I have been here… One kilometer further I drink a coke and eat a banana, and while enjoying the view of the Gran Paradiso, I leave for Aosta. The hikers up here look surprised that I’m cycling on a non-suspension bike with luggage on a hiking trail. But I have “secret information”: Jerry Nilson’s e-mail has convinced me of the possibility to descent on trails by bike. And hey, he did it in three hours, so I can do that as well.

The first part goes more smoothly than I’d expected. I cycle through a high valley in which a small stream is meandering. The trail follows the east side of this stream. Often I have to walk, but sometimes it is possible to cycle for a few hundred meters. I really haven’t got a clue what took this Nilson so long – this is really easy! I am getting very excited and imagine that, on a happiness scale of 1 to 10, I currently score a straight 10.

Shortly thereafter appear a few man-sized rocks which I have to clamble. No problem. But then yet another rock, and another… There are boulders, rock plates and mud all over the place. This continues for a long while. This is not very enjoyable with a heavily loaded bike. But, I keep on going because, according to Jerry’s briefing, from a cross a simple path to Pont leads down to Pont.

It takes me more than 90 minutes to reach that cross. But then the real trouble starts. I look into the deep and notice a small path zigzagging 300 meters down. At this very moment I realize that Jerry might have cycled on a cross-bike or a racing bike with only a small rucksack… For the next two hours I manage to take myself, the bike and 20 kilos of luggage down over and between rocks. The brakes, which I am using all the time except when I carry the bike, are having a hard time. Several times the left pedal sticks into my right heel, I am fortunate not to fall.

I am so F U R I O U S that I want to keep ahead of an older lady walking here, but eventually I have to let her pass. Her companion declares it’s silly what I’m doing: it isn’t possible to descend from this mountain with such a bike. Sure, so what am I doing right now?! When I finally see the little village of Pont below me, I can hear thunder and it starts raining. All in all I took me some three and a half hours to get down from the Colle del Nivolet, which doesn’t sound too bad at all.

I put my raincoat on and head for Aosta at once, hoping to avoid the thundershower. Wishful thinking… It starts pouring down so heavily that I can hardly see the road. Using the brakes is difficult as the brake pads are worn out due to the constant use during the way down from the cross. After a few kilometers I am fortunate pass by a youth hostel where I can shelter under a canopy for a while. The shouting and screaming of the bambinos is louder than the noise of the heavy rain and the wild mountain stream nearby.

After twenty minutes I am so chilled that I have to get on the saddle again. The rain intensifies as soon as I am cycling. But now I really want to continue, even while some parts of the road are floated with water. Despite that I have to keep my eyes almost closed, I notice the beauty and roughness of the valley, which for many kilometers offers little more room than for the river and the road I am riding on.

Then at last I arrive in the sunny and broad Valle d’Aosta. The main road leads me into Aosta’s old town center in no time. I order a tourist menu at Ristorante-Pizzeria “Moderno”. The starter, a simple pesto pasta, is just perfect. But the main dish, a tasteless piece of chicken, is gross. Fortunately the ice cream tastes well again. The camp site is located a bit higher next to the St Bernard pass road offering a view of Aosta (600 m). I drink three cups of tea, listen to the thunder far away and dive into my sleeping bag. What a day!

Day 7: Aosta > Martigny (78 km)

All that I take for breakfast is one liter bottle of milk; I have to score bread somewhere along the road. While still riding in the outskirts of Aosta I see a hitch hiker with a folding bike standing next to the road. I shout: ‘Come on, cycle with me to Switzerland!’ After a few minutes he appears next to me! His name is Ingo, is German, works in Algeria, and arrived yesterday by plane in Milan to hitch-hike to Switzerland via the Grand St Bernard. At the other side of the tunnel he will meet a friend with whom he wants to go rock climbing. Ingo cycles with for several kilometers, quite a performance with those little wheels and an old weekend bag on the rear carrier. After having climbed some 300 meters he stops and resumes hitch hiking again.

The pass road is not steep, and this encourages me to cycle a little bit too fast. As a result I almost get cramp in my left leg. From Étroubles (1,264 m), where I can buy bread and chocolate, I decide to continue in the lowest gear, to prevent any more cramps with still 1200 meters climbing ahead of me. Near the junction of the pass road and tunnel road it starts raining. Too bad these low-hanging clouds, but at least it’s not so hot as earlier this week. Most people use the other, covered road leading to the entrance of the tunnel. The old pass road, that has little traffic, is being renovated completely. Bulldozers, excavators and laborers are all around here.

After five and half hours of cycling I finally reach the pass height (2,469 m). It is raining and the temperature is below 10 °C. As usual on pass roads in the Alps, German Motorfahrer take pictures of each other after their “riesen Leistung”. Toll! What remains for me is a long descent. The upper part is fairly steep and has some hairpins, but thereafter I can cycle 50 kilometers per hour for a long time using neither pedals nor brakes. In Martigny I use the shower facility of the local camping and catch an early train to Basel, where I switch to the night train to the Netherlands.

Categories
2005 Italy Switzerland

The Alps #2

This is the report of my cycling trip in south-east Switzerland and north Italy. With the Gavia as the highest point and the Splügenpass as the most beautiful. The other pass roads were disappointing. Anyway, I can add eight mountain passes to my bucket list. In five days’ time I travel some 400 kilometers and climb 7,600 meters.

Day 1: Thusis > Pontresina (67 km)

The first part from Thusis to Tiefencastel is an easy but not so enjoyable climb on a wide and busy road. Near Filisur the valley splits in two. I turn right and follow the river Albula. The climb to Bergün is demanding at almost 10% during several kilometers. Hereafter the climb gets less steep as the valley opens up. In the distance I can see beautiful mountains. Next follows another steep part: three kilometers at more than 8.5% – this pass road is tricky. The road squeezes itself through the valley, and then, at last I can see the summit. Still seven kilometers to the pass height though, which lies 500 meters higher.

As usual, families and motorbike riders rest from their tremendous efforts on the summit (2,312 m). I continue right away. At this side of the pass the valley is rough, almost gloomy. After a long stretch the road goes down via a series of very steep hairpins. In front of me is the wide Oberengadin valley. The last bit to Pontresina is harder than expected because of the headwind blowing from the Berninapass. I am glad when I arrive at the camping site, some four kilometers past Pontresina near the Morteratsch glacier.

Day 2: Pontresina > Bormio (71 km)

Purely based on the map one could conclude that today’s stage is potentially superb, including four passes above 2,200 m. In practice it is disappointing. Starting with the Berninapass, a boring climb on a quite busy road. The part with the curves right after the summit (2,326 m) is okay, but soon I have to turn left to Livigno, via the Forcola di Livigno (2,315 m) to be precise. These few kilometers climbing at 9% are not so easy, but the highest point is not far away. The view is limited from here as it has started to drizzle.

Partly due to the weather, Livigno looks like a sad place. So I continue quickly to today’s third pass, the Passo d’Eira (2,208 m). I think this road was constructed for ski tourism, as it is wide and has a mild gradient. I order a coke after I reach the top. Then I descent, and go up again, this time some 400 meters to the Passo di Foscagno (2,291 m). The road now becomes busier. I guess that due to the bad weather many day tourists are so bored that they take their cars and drive to tax haven Livigno (where they sell with cheap petrol).

According to the map there should be a camp site south of Bormio. When I arrive there the site appears to be terrible, and I decide to return. I’ve really had it after a full day riding on wide roads through the rain. I take a cheap hotel room and have dinner on my bed.

Day 3: Bormio > Ponte di Legno (44 km)

June 5, 1988 was a memorable day. The finish of the Giro d’Italia was in Bormio, and the route to Bormio went over the high Passo di Gavia. During the climb it started snowing. Many participants got into trouble. Many gave up, and some cheated by using vans only to get on their saddle again after the difficult part. Dutch rookie Erik Breukink was the toughest of them all and won this stage. In the final ranking he even became runner up after Andrew Hampsten who won the Giro that year.

Today I travel on this famous Gavia. Unfortunately I go in the less scenic direction. The classic, steep approach is from the south. I notice this: the northern approach is very boring and, apart from a few stretches, not steep at all. I am not able to see much due to the low clouds. On top of the pass road (2,621 m) it is cold. The narrow road is constructed high above the valley. When I descent my brakes have to work hard. The green mountains here at the south side are exceptionally beautiful.

Down in Temù I find the camping soon. This campsite is one of the most lovely I have been. The boss is a nice bearded Italian. Many Dutch come here as well pitching their heavy stormproof cotton tents. A fine place to relax for the remainder of the afternoon.

Day 4: Ponte di Legno > Domaso (130 km)

Today I will be cycling the Mortirolo! This is the mountain rim to which four very steep roads come together from different directions, and is often included in the Giro. I climb the Mortirolo from Monno. The distance is eleven kilometers and the gradient almost 8%. Not too hard, though my legs start hurting during the last few kilometers. It is a nicely built road in a not very spectacular environment. On the summit (1,852 m) I cycle on a plateau for a while. At random I take a road to the south, which brings me via many “ups and downs” to the terrible ski resort Passo di Aprica (1,181 m).

I descent some 850 meters to the main valley leading from Lago di Como all the way to Bormio. Today’s destination lies at the famous lake. But before I will arrive there I still have to cycle for another 65 kilometers. And this is no fun: the road is very busy and people tend to drive fast here. Although all drivers keep a close eye on cyclists, like anywhere else in the Alps, the idea of lorries overtaking me at a speed difference of 80 km/h horrifies me. At Sondrio I cannot resist the McDonalds. After 130 kilometers I finally arrive at the camp site in Domaso. Before pitching the tent, I buy myself a cold beer first.

Day 5: Domaso > Thusis (95 km)

The southern approach of the Splügenpass is just perfect. First I can warm up a little cycling along the beautiful Lago di Mezzola to Chiavenna (333 m). In this busy town I buy some food for today. Next follows a stretch of 10 kilometers at 6-7% on average, which is not too hard. But then: ouch! In front of me are eight kilometers at an average gradient of 8.5%. That is tough. The positive news is that the road is very diverse: sometimes it is carved out of the rocks resulting in weird tunnels and very sharp turns. The drivers of sports cars coming from behind hardly find it difficult to see me in time.

After the steep part, eight easy kilometers remain to the pass height. There is a ski area on the right of me (Mademiso) but I am glad not to see any of it. So far, the landscape has been a bit of a bummer, but up here it is really beautiful. On the pass height (2,113 m) I say ‘Hi!’ to the Swiss border guard and then I am back in Switzerland. The north side of the Splügenpass is quite boring. After a series of hairpins I arrive in the main valley soon.

From Splügen the road descents along the Hinterrhein. The Via Mala, the old trade route through the narrow gorge, makes this part of today’s stage very interesting. It is an appropriate end to conclude cycling holiday with its best climb on the last day.

Categories
2004 France Italy

The Alps #1

This is the report of my cycling trip around the border of France and Italy, in June 2004. The highlights are some of the big pass roads (Agnel, Bonette) as well as a few less known cols (Fauniera, Sampeyre). I also bump into a statue of Marco Pantani. In six days I travel 315 kilometers and climb 8,700 meters.

Day 1: Guillestre > Sampeyre (78 km)

Yesterday I arrived in Guillestre when it was already late afternoon. It was 34 °C when I pitched the tent. Today it is more cloudy and a lot cooler. My chain gets off after just a few hundred meters. What a start! I continue my trip with filthy hands through the gorge to Queyras. The Parc de Queyras is one of those quiet places amidst of the large French ski areas. It is relatively rough and primitive around here. After a while I see a junction and think: Haven’t I been here before (1993)? and turn right. After a few very steep kilometers I get second thoughts, and then I find out that I have taken the dead end road to Ceillac. Silly me. I turn around and get back on the right track.

After Chateau Queyras I turn right on the D205 in the direction of the Col d’Agnel. I drink sports drink and eat some of the Isostar bar. A colleague of mine said to me that this nutrition would surely help me to climb better. But to be honest my stomach starts aching… I can see the highest mountain of the whole area: the Monte Viso (3,841 m). Still twenty kilometers and 1,350 meters climbing to go. The landscape here is panoramic and deserted. But what a tough pass road: after 1,200 meters of climbing the last six kilometers are 8.5% on average. Added to this the Isostar misery: I feel sick and have to throw up. I will never eat that shit again.

I finally arrive at the last few curves. The weather has not been great today, but now it even starts snowing. Completely on my own and feeling sick I cycle here at a height of almost 2,750 m. The descent must be spectacular, but I can’t see much of it. Unfortunately cycling is hardly possible: I can’t use the brakes because of my cold fingers (why did I leave the gloves at home?). This leaves me no choice but to walk for the first few kilometers. I am relieved when I arrive at Sampeyre. I can’t locate the local camping, and I am no fan of camping in the wild when soaked and cold, so I decide to look for a cheap hotel room. An excellent choice, since I can let my clothes dry and watch the World Cup Football lying on my bed.

Day 2: Sampeyre > Ponte Marmora (32 km)

I have not quite recovered from yesterday’s tour. I am sick and lack energy, and am certainly not motivated for a ride. On today’s menu is the steep Colle di Sampeyre: more than fifteen kilometers continuously at 8.6%. To compare: this is 0.5% steeper than the eastern approach of the Stelvio. But that pass road is far more impressive! Most of today’s ascent, starting from Sampeyre, is situated between the dense trees and offers no interesting details. It is only once I reach the summit that I suddenly realize the beauty of the view behind me: the Col d’Agnel next to the mighty Monte Viso.

The southern approach to the pass is more diverse. After having followed the narrow road for a few kilometers, I can choose between either Stroppo or Elva. I opt for the latter. This valley appears to be a gorge. The torrent leaves hardly any room for the narrow, carved road. The tunnels cutting through the succeeding mountain rims do not look very solid. The spectacular descent is steep so I am down in just a few minutes. There I bump into the camping site, which is not open yet. Someone is busy preparing stuff for the tourist season, and lets me take some water in the toilet block (which closes in the evening). This night I am on my own on the campsite till dawn.

Day 3: Ponte Marmora > Demonte (46 km)

Today’s route was the very reason to come to this area. I became curious when I found out that the unknown pass road to the Colle del Fauniera (or Colle dei Morti), which is not on the Michelin map, had recently been surfaced for the Giro d’Italia. (A truly revolutionary insight to cyclists in Western Europe: the “sacred” Michelin map does not contain all panoramic roads.) So I really needed to come here!

The climb consists of three phases: first I cycle through a rather narrow valley along the Marmora stream and take several curves through an inhabited area. Next follows a long steep part through the widening valley to the Colle d’Esischie (2,370 m), including more than five kilometers at 8.7% on average, with even higher percentages in some hairpins. Thirdly the other side of the Esischie to the Colle del Fauniera, an area that is rocky and rough compared to the green Marmora valley.

When I arrive at Fauniera I am surprised to see a tall statue of Marco Pantani, the road cyclist who recently died after a drugs overdose. I am now on the top of a very long mountain ridge on which several tarmac and gravel roads are situated. Probably these have been engineered long ago when France and Italy were (almost) at war. The (off-road) cycling possibilities must be endless, and I will definitely return here. Suddenly it becomes very cloudy, and I hear thunder coming. I head down on the steep narrow road through the deserted valley and seek shelter.

Day 4: Demonte > St Etienne de Tinee (67 km)

On this drizzling day I want to cycle over the Colle della Lombarda (2,350 m). I have not recovered too well from the Isostar disaster on the flanks of the Agnel. There is no energy in my body, so I can’t strain myself, which is fairly difficult bearing in mind that the first seven kilometers of the pass road are at 8.8%. (The Italian pass roads are steeper than the French and certainly the Swiss cols). Fortunately the second part of the climb is easy. I’m not impressed by the summit itself, so I carry on right away. The descent brings me to Isola 2000, a disgusting ski resort with ugly buildings and lots of ski lifts. There is one advantage, however: the wide road to Isola is perfectly suited for descending fast.

Down I arrive at the road from Nice to the Bonette. From here some fifteen kilometers separate me from Saint Etienne de Tinee. The camping targets outdoor people. The chef de camping gives me, quite premature, a Col de la Bonette-sticker (‘La plus haute route de d’Europe’) for my bicycle. Next to my tent there sits a man in front in a tiny little tent. He appears to be a very gentle Tukker (for non-Dutch people: from the eastern part of the Netherlands) of about fifty years old who was recently been made redundant. He was so furious that he decided to ride the French 100 Cols tour. We have dinner in the nice village. The daily distances and altitude meters he cycles are way beyond mine. I am starting to realize just how relaxed my vacation has been.

Day 5: St Etienne de Tinee > Chatelard (55 km)

When I wake up my neighbor has already left. The Tukker will go for both the Bonette and the Vars today, while I will stick to just one pass. My stomach feels good again – at last. I celebrate this by having baguette with cream cheese and a liter of milk for breakfast. At the start I ride for a couple of kilometers next to a German who started in Nice yesterday and is heading for Frankfurt. It is his first cycling tour in the mountains, and because he is a bit corpulent he has to let go after a while. I hope he will reach the summit.

This is again a road with three sections: first a long and easy approach (5%), next five kilometers of hairpins on the rim (8.4%) followed by ten kilometers at nearly 7% to the pass height. Once the hairpins start, the climb becomes interesting. Just at the moment that I wonder where the road on the rim is leading to, I can see a thin but clear line in the direction of a “sugar mountain” far away: the summit. I really like it here. I am doing so well that I forget that it is only 5 °C and keep cycling in a sleeveless shirt.

From the Col de Restefond a narrow road leads to an even higher summit named the Cime de la Bonette (2,802 m). Unfortunately it is not possible to complete this road by bike, as too much snow and rocks are blocking my way. This means I have to walk for the last part. Up here I have a spectacular view of the brown colored (due to erosion) Alpes Maritimes. The descent on the northern side is completely different, and also steeper. In Jausiers I have some late lunch and turn right to Chatelard where the windy camping is located.

Day 6: Chatelard > Guillestre (40 km)

Today I go to the Col de Vars (2,108 m). (In hindsight, I should have tried the partly unpaved Col du Parpaillon. However in 2004 I had not yet heard of this high pass road). This road is moderately beautiful and not too hard, except from one or two bits of 10%. I am on the pass height before I even realize, and there I buy myself a coke. When I descent the view of the Ecrins is marvelous. I arrive the camping in Guillestre and take a shower. Too bad that this vacation is history now – I have to return to The Netherlands.