Col de l’Iseran 2017
Col de Vars

Lots of cols yesterday, big ones and not empty of traffic. Word is out that summer has arrived in the mountains.

Col de Vars (2108 m.) and Col d’Izoard (2764 m.) are classic “Route des Grandes Alpes”. Part scenic and part sporty. The Tour de France comes along here in couple of weeks’ time so the surfaces are all in good nick.

Gendarmes lurking in the shade at the start of the Combe de Queras; the massive limestone gorge between the massifs on the route. Looked like they were checking and turning back overloaded or unsound bikes (eg tyres).

But the Col de d’Izoard is mythic for pushbikers and they were here by the van load. A lot from the Netherlands. Not badly behaved but just so many of them. On the other hand, one of the Dutch saw me with my camera and asked me to take photos of him on his pocket Leica . He did a good one of me too on my Nikon.

Combe de Queyras
Col de d’Izoard
Col du Lauteret
Col du Galibier
PUNTA BAGNA Valloire 2017
Val de Bessans
Col de l’Iseran 1983

Down and through Briançon, thermometers now indicating 28°C and on up the valley to the Col du Lauteret (2058 m.). This road used to be a Route Nationale trunk route to Italy via Mongenève so it’s an excellent ride. For the first time on this trip I encountered the sports bikes: packs of three or four riding fast and out for the day. The competitive side of me doesn’t like being block-passed at speed but you have to admire these guys’ technique as the flash of a Repsol Honda replica or a banging Ducati throws dust on your visor. As a UK bike mate reminds me, the line between good and mad is hard to find.

Lauteret is on the interface between two tectonic plates so there’s lots of weird geology around, which means bumpy roads for bikers. But overlooked by the glaciers and rocky peak of La Meije (3983 m.)

On up from Lauteret to the Col du Galibier (2645 m.). Also Route des Grandes Alpes and also mythic for the pedallers. Scores of them but... as an indication of what was going on down in the valley, they were outnumbered and out positioned on the road by hundreds of chopper bikers. I’m not massively enthusiastic about the mountains resounding to the throb of a thousand Harleys but it was good to see the cyclists held in their place for once, especially on this road, which they usually hog. (Sorry about the pun...). The chopper event turned out to be Punta Bagna 2017, the chopper bikers taking over Valloire. So yes, the second chopper fest I’ve happened across this summer. Harley Eurofest 2017  Is the chopper bikers group gaining popularity or is this just chance? Interesting that it’s Valloire, one of the more progressive of the Savoie towns, is taking on this group to augment its summer business.

Down the Col du Télégraphe (1566 m.) , it’s a route of scores of hairpins down the side of a glacial valley, laborious on account of the traffic. And so in to in to the heat of the Maurienne valley. 30° and more showing on the thermometers.

Running up the main road to the head of the Maurienne valley and then up a succession of granite hanging valleys to the Col de l’Iseran (2764 m.). This one’s mythic for me, I’d seen the altitude on my parent’s maps (2770 m,) for a long time but it was never a route my parents took. Thus it was a priority to ride on my first bike trip to the Alps in 1983 on my FJ750 triple. Note the tent, sleeping-bag, throw-over paniers and the Spandau Ballet t-shirt.. Happily the Col de l’Iseran is not a pushbikers Mecca but the col road is a slow scenic one on the south side, as pretty an Alpine valleys as you will find anywhere.

Over the top of the Iseran, wide views round the Vanoise: it’s a nature park and there are animals out there but not near the road today. Down in to Val d’Isère, the skiing mega-metropolis. And a long long way down to Bourg-Saint-Maurice.

Lots of green outside the balcony this morning, wild birds singing in the trees as the sunlight crawls down the valleyside opposite but the internet is rubbish and the restaurant is closed. This is Catholic country and it’s Sunday so lots of nice iron church bells calling the faithful to their knees...