Will they or won’t they ?
We first considered going through the Alps at the col de l’Echelle, but a landslide near Chambon lake was blocking our way. We then decided to go through the col de Larche, more to the South. We were told it would be easy and give us a nice view on Ubaye valley. We could also have seen Barcelonnette and its Mexican houses. But we had to change plans. Firstly because a thunderstorm was expected on the weekend we wanted to go through the Alps (September 12th and 13th), and it would start earlier in Barcelonnette. Then, cycling is forbidden in the col de Larche, because of landslide hazard in the first 300 meters. We weren’t worried about that at first, since many cyclists use that road anyways. But with the storm, we started thinking about other ways. A third one remained : the col du Petit Saint Bernard (passo del piccolo San Bernardo), in the Tarentaise valley.
This pass was also said to be easy. It starts from Bourg Saint Maurice and gets you to Italy in La Thuille, near Courmayeur and the Mount Blanc tunnel. We could get to Bourg Saint Maurice easily, cycle on this road, and the storm was supposed to be a little late on the northern Alps. That’s why we changed our minds and opted for this route at the last minute (the very morning we were leaving Grenoble), and took a regional train to Aime. The road between Grenoble and Chambéry wasn’t very appealing and the Tarentaise valley south of Aime has several tunnels we wanted to avoid. We thus arrived in Aime on September 12th in the afternoon and took the nice cyling path that goes up to Bourg Saint Maurice. We were welcomed there by Anne and Jerem, two Warmshowers hosts living in La Côte (well-named the Uphill in French), just over Bourg Saint Maurice. We camped in their garden and enjoyed a nice view over the valley while eating a nice dinner cooked on the stove for my birthday (guess what we had for dinner!).
But the thunderstorm did come during the night from Saturday to Sunday. We took our time in the morning and had a nice breakfast before leaving. Our goal for the day : reaching the pass of the little Saint Bernard, 2188 meters high. 31 kilometers and an average 5 % slope stand between us and the top.
We are warming up in the first kilometers. We are breathing heavily and sweating under our rain clothes. But soon, here comes the sun and we can put the jackets away. Turn after turn we go, with a nice speed of 8 km/h… A cyclist met in Grenoble told us « You’ll have to be patient ! ». Now we understand… Up and up we go, and when a car passes us in a roar, La Fontaine’s turtle comes to mind. We chat and use the landscape as a reason to take breaks.
After an hour and a half of uphill, we stop for lunch on the side of the road. We are almost halfway to the top. We are tempted to become impatient, but blue skies and the view on the mountains and valley help us wait.
We arrive in La Rosière, a ski resort 1850 meters high. For us, it marks the end of the turns. We indeed have only 8 kilometers left to cycle before reaching the top ! Epic music is playing in our heads as we realise we are almosŧ there. But our day couldn’t have such an easy end, and the wind was about to come in play. 6 kilometers from the top, we reach a 4 % part (easy!). We can already see the top ! But with the top comes the wind from Italy.
We’re fighting against the wind but we are having a hard time. We try and turn ourselves into reeds (again following La Fontaine). In order not to break, we must learn how to bend under the wind. Pedaling, pedaling, just pedaling, during « the longest 6 kilometers of my whole life ! »(Rémi). The arrival is all the more heroic.
We cycle through the highest point with huge smiles on our faces, thinking about all the people who cheered and helped us on our way up, about our friends, families, people following us. We had promised that we would cross the Alps, without realizing what it really meant. Here we are, and now we see ourselves as heroes. And after such a day, heroes deserve a nice chocolate with chantilly !
For more pictures, click here!