actually it isn’t a French Alps ride, but I crossed the border to France by a few meters at the top. The road goes from the Valle Varaita to the Queyras, in the Hautes Alpes.
I parked the car at Sampeyre (31 kms to the summit) and began to prepare.
I met two Dutch cyclists looking for a loop to go back towards Cuneo. I suggested the Colle di Sampeyre, 14 km, to reach the Maira valley from the Varaita valley.
Ok, ready, undershirt on, arm warmers and wind gilet in the back pockets. There are some mixed kms with false flats, little descents, and some switchbacks to Casteldelfino (21 to go) where I stopped for a coffee and a half twix (do we call it twix just in Italy? It was called raider when I was a kid)
The road continues and the wind was blowing at my back, and I flew on the flat along the reservoir lake. Then some steeper parts began, but not too long, to reach Pontechianale. After the village there are other difficult parts, and if you don’t take them a little easy, you’ll pay it later.
Chianale (10 to go) is the last village before the hard part begins. I had problems with my carbon rims and brake pads last week on the Izoard descent, so I borrowed two normal alu wheels for shimano from a friend, and I was lucky, they have a 27, mine just have a 25 teeth.
When the road narrows and gets steeper you see a “-9 km” written in yellow on the asphalt. That’s where I put the 34x27 and never changed it again until the top, I don’t think I would have done it with the 25.
At -8km there is a panel with 14% gradient, and you can feel it. Then two three swithbacks to give you some breath, even if momentary.
The wind was still helping a bit, no trees, the sun was out, I was sweating more than I tought. A guy with a very nice Cervelo was going down fast. Altidude 2000, so 700 meters to climb, 7 kms to go.
I was hoping for more switchback, instead I got some very steep long parts along the side of the mountain.
I had my jersey open, and my bottle was about to finish, but if I touched my brake levers I could feel them quite cold, so I imagined a chilly descent.
At 3.5 to go there is a very wide bend, and you get 300 meters of almost flat road.
You would say it’s a relief (of course it is) but after your legs pedal faster than they did in the last 6 kms, you get 500 hard hard meters to the -3 sign.
And I did struggle from there to the top. A few swithbacks, some snow on the side, sun high in the sky, and sweat on my face.
-2 , will I do it? The altitude is above 2500 meters, the legs turn slowly.
-1, I kept seated, I couldn’t stand on the pedals, I could see the last turn before the top.
At 500 meters I got some “allez!” from some hikers, I was really struggling, the last turn is 200 m from the top, it finally gets less steep and I reached the line of the Italy-France border.
Ouff! 2744 meters, the highest I climbed on my bike, the hardest climb I’ve done so far.
Gorgeous view, I look forward to see it on tv for the Tour stage.
I asked some water to some French tourists in a car, I got half a bottle. I ate my other half twix, put my wind gilet and arm warmers and headed down.
It was warmer than the Izoard, I was better equipped, but I did not feel the cold on my thighs, knees and hands as in the first kms of the Izoard.
It’s a full 10 km downhill, your neck and arms can fell it. I was now below 2000 mt, other turns, and pedalling after them to keep the legs going. I have no computer but I guess I reached over 80 kph on the 14% part.
Very nice first 10 km part.
Now I knew I would get a less steep road, and a wind on my face.
Along the reservoir I think I was below 30 kph, while going up I was really fast.
Some other easy parts and I finally got to the car. I took my phone from the saddle bag: 4 pm. It took me 3 hours.
I changed and went to a bar for a much needed big coke and a local cheese sandwich.
Same as for Izoard: eat and drink, bring some warm clothes, don’t kill yourself on the run in to the beginning of the real climb.
The real worst part of the day: the 2h40'min drive back home in the late afternoon traffic (just kidding!)