Friday, 12 August 2011

100 cols - The Alps

One more mountain chain to cross - the French Alps. As a beautiful introduction to the Alps the route first takes you through two splendid series of gorges - gorges du Verdon  and gorges de Cian. The latter is especially spectacular due to the dark red color of rocks. After that the 100 cols route follows the Route des Grandes Alpes, taking me over major passes from Tour de France in 4 majestic days.


Les gorges du Verdon.

Gorges de Cians.
First day (134 km, climbing 3300 m): from Beuil you climb to Col de la Couillole and then take a breathtaking descent of 18 kilometers and 1200 m down to Saint Saveur de Tinée. Just when you've taken a deep breath in St. Saveur and thanked him that you survived the downhill from Couillole, you start your first Alpine climb - the highest pass in Europe, La Bonette, at 2802 m. If you come early in the day, as I did, you still have the time to enjoy the warmth on the 23-kilometer downhill to Jaussiers, which will give you some momentum over the next climb to the Col de Vars.

Down the col de Couillole.

Climbing Col de la Bonette.

View over La Bonette.
Second day (164 km, climbing 3600 m): descent to Guillestre, climb to Izoard, hurricane downhill to Briançon, long graduate climb to Lautaret where I leave the 100 cols route (which turns right to Galibier) and follow another fantastic downhill through the dark endless gorge to Bourg d'Oisans. There I check in a hotel, climb Alpe d'Huez without luggage and go back, down the 24 hairpins, each named after a winner of this TdF stage, to come to Burg d'Oisans before the night.

Third day (175 km, climbing 4600 m): climb from Burg d'Oisans back to Lautaret, then to the left to Galibier. I had a fortune that the road to Galibier was closed to cyclists until noon that day, and at the top there was free coffee and snacks. Then again a fantastic descent to Valoire, up to Col de Télegrafe, 800 m down to Saint Michel de Maurienne, a side climb to Aussois, another climb to Madelaine, and - since I didn't find a reasonably priced room in Bonneval - I climbed Col de l'Iseran in the cold of approaching evening and descended to Val d'Isère with my feet almost solid frozen.

Top of Galibier - road was closed to cyclists for the morning.

From Galibier looking down south.

And another shot.
Descending Col de l'Iseran, looking to Val d'Isere.
Fourth day (139 km, climbing 3000 m): to start with, a 1000 m gradual descent to Bourg Saint Maurice, then up to Cormet de Roselend, along the lake and down to Beaufort, another three ups and downs for the cols Saises, Aravis and Croix Fry, and ending this grandiose Alpine section with the descent to Thones.

One of the last climbs in the Alps.
Good bye Alps.
Days 20 to 24: 731 km (min 119, max 175, average 146). Total: 3397 km.
15 cols: Couillole, Bonette, Vars, Izoard, Lautaret, Alpe d'Huez, Lautaret, Galibier, Telegraphe, Madelaine, Iseran, Roselend, Saises, Aravis, Croix Fry.


  1. I don't like when Col de la Bonette is said to be the highest pass in Europe! ;-)
    It's actually the fourth, after Iseran, which you've done, Stelvio and Col Agnel. The "loop" road around is higher than Iseran, but it's not the highest paved road in Europe either. It may be a very high and nice pass, but it's not the highest pass or paved road or anything else, perhaps just "highest through road", which sounds ridiculous. The whole thing looks to me a sort of cheat to let people believe it's the highest pass in Europe disrespectfully of the other ones.

  2. Hi Mathieu,

    I apologize to "pass collectors". Bonnete is still a beautiful pass even if not the highiest one.