Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Allevard to Valloire

On Tuesday, I rode my bike from Allevard to the ski resort of Valloire, and in the process climbed two Tour de France passes.

View Allevard to Valloire in a larger map

The day started with breakfast in Allevard, in the Hotel du Dauphine. The standard buffet was laid out in the dining room, an inexplicably large room in the back of the hotel. The building, being old, has a lot of quirks, one of which is that the dining room holds 20+ tables, but is only reachable by walking through the lobby, the sitting room, and a back hall. The breakfast itself was the standard fare of croissants and coffee, which is fine, but I'd love to see some fruit or scrambled eggs one of these days.

D525 near Allevard
I got out just before 9 AM, and headed north on D525, toward La Rochette. This road was absolutely gorgeous, running along woods and something that, back home, would be a major river. OSM calls it Le Bréda, and incidentally calls D525 the Rue de la Mirande.

D525 meets up with D925, which I took north into La Rochette. This road has signs up indicating that the tour was coming through on the 13th, so the road would be closed. In fact, I'm riding the TdF route in reverse, more or less.

La Rochette is a charming but small and, well, slightly run-down village. I had a good time getting lost in its little streets and seeing all the old buildings that may have been built by the Neanderthals, for all I know. But too many shops were closed, and the town didn't seem too lively.

Along D207
Eventually I found my way along to D207, which climbs over this mountain to get to the Maurienne, the valley of the river L'Arc. To be honest, getting there was the only goal; it would be too long a ride to go around to the entrance to the valley further north. That meant that I would climb the first hill that I've actually heard of, the Col du Grand Cucheron. In fact, this would be the only climb on this year's Tour that I would also climb my tour (although I climbed it in the reverse direction).

The road runs through an industrial area, then begins a climb through a generally residential area, and then becomes rural. Along this stretch I started hearing lots of cow bells, in this case actually attached to grazing cows. Musically, it's better to have one good cow bell, played with gusto, rather than many uncoordinated bells.

The first climb marker on the
road to the Col du Grand Cucheron
At about 2500 feet the road flattened considerably and started winding among pretty little villages. But then I saw a climb marker, and everything changed. The marker tells you that you have 3 kilometers to climb, and the next kilometer averages a 9% grade. I knew, at this point, that I still had nearly 300 meters to climb, so the last 3 kilometers were all going to be like that. It was at this point that I really started feeling the 20+ pounds sitting in my bag, not to mention the extra pounds I carry under my skin.

After much huffing and puffing I finally made it to the top, and took the obligatory picture next to the sign. Well, an obliging Frenchman did, at least. The only other ride was taking a... nature break, and I didn't want to bother him. I put on my jacket and headed down.

Almost immediately I had to stop to absorb the view. From the descent, you can see the valley floor and the whole line of unbelievably tall and steep mountains on the other side. It's a fantastic way to enter the valley; it hits you all at once just how lucky you are to be there.

Looking over the Maurienne for the first time, from D207
As a descent, the road is good and I could have gone a lot faster than I did. But that heavy bag was affecting my balance, and besides I hadn't pumped up my tires now for 10 days, so they probably had no more than 60 PSI. And I was in no hurry. I stopped several times to get pictures as the structure of the valley revealed itself.

The river and highway squeezing through
the L'Arc valley
D207 ends in an extended rest stop called Epierre, where the reality of this tight little valley becomes clear. Through the bottom of this V runs a river, a highway, train tracks and a surface road. The surface road is called D1006, and again I thought that since there was a major highway running parallel, that this road wouldn't have much traffic. Wrong again; it had no shoulder, and lots of traffic, again largely respectful, but loud. It's just a lousy cycling road, but I don't see any alternatives. Maybe it's better on the weekends.

I wasn't all that fond of this part of the ride. Not only is the road loud, but it climbs very slightly. Not enough that you notice, but enough to make you wonder why you're going so slowly. So it seems endless.

The bell tower in
My plan was to stop in St-Jean-de-Maurienne, where the 12th stage of this year's Tour de France will start, three days after I passed through. I missed the proper turn into town, and had to backtrack through what turned out to be a gated community. This valley is aluminum country, and very industrial. While I had high hopes for this town in the middle of cycling heaven, hosting a stage start soon, it turns out to be another small town weathering a tough era for heavy industry. Its charms were lost on me. But it was also hot when I got there, so maybe I was just grumpy.

After riding around the main part of town and buying some water, I got back on D1006 and was pleasantly surprised to find a bike path. That helped a lot. Before long I had reached St-Michel-de-Maurienne, at the foot of the Télégraphe climb, which turns out to be much closer to what I was hoping St-Jean-etc would be. I still haven't got the hang of lunch, so I bought a sandwich at the grocery store and sat in the shade next to the first climb marker to eat it. Meanwhile dozens of riders passed up and down the road.

Having eaten, it was time to get moving and begin the long slog up to... well, the middle, really. Most of the riders heading up would climb the Télégraphe, and then follow it with the Galibier. I'm only doing the first one, and will stay overnight between the two climbs in a town called Valloire.

The first climb marker, at the intersection
The road up to Valloire is called D902. The first climb marker is immediately next to the turn from the main road, so the first few kilometers are still climbing through town, on the other side of the river. Eventually you enter the woods, and on this hot day I was happy for any shade I could get.

Somewhere along the way the road runs through the Aire de Pique Nique, with several groups of really nicely made tables on the side of the road. This is where I should have eaten my lunch. Live and learn.
Hairpin on the climb to the Col de Telegraphe

The grade is pretty consistent, but it was late in the day for me, and I was getting run down. I managed to make it to the top, and again got the obligatory picture. At the summit you can see the Maurienne on the one side, and the Valloire valley on the other. Amazing views.

Entering Valloire. The road to the
Col de Galibier continues directly south
After that it was a pleasant descent into Valloire, and the supreme joy of finding my hotel. Strong riders at this point would continue right up the Galibier (and maybe then onward to the Alpe d'Huez), but for me, it was time for a shower and dinner.

Elevation profile
This ride was about 63 miles, with 6000 feet of climbing. On my tour, it was the longest transition ride, and therefore the longest ride I was actually required to make. On the following day, which is today as I write this, I was deciding between a very long ride (over the Col de la Croix de Fer) and a shorter ride (up to La Toussiers - Les Seybelles, the finish of tomorrow's stage). I'm a little worried about tomorrow, dragging my heavy bag up to 8500 feet, so instead I chose a third option: a nap.

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