Distance Cycling in the Alps

Distance Cycling in the Alps

All Terrain Cycles Team Rider Harry Carpenter Blog on his latest adventure :

They say you should play to your strengths, mine is distance. My Achilles heel is climbing, so what could go wrong trying to climb some the biggest routes in the Alps this summer?

Col de l’Iseran (9,068ft)

July saw my daughter and I in Val d’Isère, however tempting it was to roll down the valley to start the climb properly at Moûtiers the road looked pretty awful so we rode it from Val, it’s definitely the best bit of the climb and was pretty steady away, a nice warm up, beautiful views……

Stelvio and Umbrail (9,045ft)

A few days later saw us camped at Prato, Italy, just north of the Stelvio. An early start is strongly recommended to avoid the worst traffic so we were on the road for 0630hrs.

A chilly 10km steady drag leads to the first hairpin, thoughtfully numbered to remind you that you’ve 48 to go……. once through the woods the views are a mixture of distraction, terror and intimidation but keep tapping away and you’ll get to one of the most iconic views of the alpine cycling world, even if it’s 10 minutes after your 16yr old daughter arrived there, cracking ride Em!

With traffic building we headed over and forked right into Switzerland to descend the Umbrail Pass, which had just recently had its infamous gravel section tarmacked, a quiet and amazing descent led us down, back into Italy and to the campsite, one of the best rides I’ve ever done.


Sella Ronda

Further into Italy saw us in the Dolomites, well worth the journey. The “classic” circuit of the Sella Massif is incorporated into the Maratona Dles Dolomites, a beast of a ride but the Ronda cherry picks the best bits, with some stunning limestone scenery it’s an awesome ride packing a huge punch for only 33 miles, choose your day though as the weather can be fickle and the traffic can be busy.


Großglockner and Edelweißpitze (8,435ft)

Further east saw us in Austria and the mighty Großglockner, the highest pass in the country. As a toll road it was pretty quiet to start but the traffic soon built, I found myself alone as Emily had danced up ahead again and was soon being passed by tourists, motorbikes and souped up German supercars, I could cope with this, what demoralised me more was the rotund tourists on e-bikes gliding by…. but we all got to the top in our own desired manner.

Now, the “top”, there are two tops, the first slightly lower than the second, however an unpleasant descent and ascent through busy tunnels to get to the second looked unappealing (and I was knackered), so we retraced our steps and struck off up the rather steep and cobbled Edelweißpitze, higher than either of the pass’s high points, what a view at the top but the 17% cobbles were a challenge after the 2hrs of grinding to get there. A cracking 17 mile descent saw us back to the car, chapeau to Emily for nailing the 12 mile main descent at an average of 31mph to bag 7th lady of all time on Strava, top skills lass. 

Col d’Izoard (7,743ft)

A few months later saw me back in France with a change of riding partner, Bob Whitfield, Settle Wheeler’s secret weapon and, just shy of 70yrs old, one of the fittest people I know, an inspiration and thankfully someone who can eat Aldi tinned curry and rice pudding day in day out, catering was sorted then….

Driving through France we stopped off and had a very pleasant stay and ride round the newly upgraded cycle paths around the Lacs d’Orient, then onto Briançon in the French Alps. We followed the Durance valley south then headed up towards the Queyras and north up and over the Izoard, a pretty unique environment of sandstone spires, scree and trees. A cold descent down to Briançon led us to the west side of the valley for the “balcon” back road back to the campsite. A great circuit.Durance Valley

A couple of short rides of note were a trip up to Fort Dauphin and the dead end valley of La Biaysee, both incorporating once again the westerly Durance valley back road which gives amazing quiet riding with stunning views. With the autumn upon us the colours were amazing.

Cime de La Bonette (9,193ft)

The big one, the biggest in France, if you believe the signs the biggest in Europe (but it’s not). I was actually quite surprised at how pleasant and enjoyable this ride was, I was anticipating pain and misery but the views were amazing and it was so quiet. The difficulties started past the old fort as we passed into clouds and the temperature dropped, we soon found ourselves at the col, but the loop road above it, the high point was showing as closed. Undeterred we rode on, rock fall from the scree covered summit cone was the issue but we dodged the shattered rock to complete the summit loop and descend to thankfully warmer roads, albeit being used to bring down the goats and sheep to the winter pastures, just like being home in The Dale’s.

Grand Gorge du Verdon

A few hours further south saw us in Provence and the spectacular limestone gorge of Verdon, a 76 mile circuit of the gorge with 8500ft of climbing gives some amazing views and some big climbs, the Routes des Cretes giving some quite amazing and unnerving riding, just remember it’s a one way road for half of it and it runs clockwise (although having accidentally ridden it anticlockwise the French drivers were very sympathetic and encouraging).

So after all that lot I can climb a little better, surely for longer although the steep kicks of The Dales still bloody hurt.

Points to note, in the height of the summer set off as early as possible to avoid the heat and any traffic although it can still drop 20+ degrees from bottom to top at any time of day. In October there’s not a lot open, most of the campsites although showing as open all year round were closed, as were nearly all the bike shops and if anyone finds some glasses on the Col de La Bonette, they’re Bob’s.

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