Back in Nice, I was a bit disappointed to have turned back from the Dolomites a bit too quickly. It was Tuesday, the wife had three days of work to come, from Wednesday night to Saturday, and the children didn’t come back from their pilgrimage in Lourdes before Sunday. So my perspectives were to turn back to the office or, why not, to turn back to the Alps. I hesitated a bit (approximately the third part of a second) before making a decision. I have had in project since a long time now of climbing the Nivolet, since it was first on the list of the highest European passes I had not yet cycled. So on Wednesday afternoon I was back in the train direction Rivarolo Canavese.
I had made a reservation in a hotel in Cuorgné, and Rivarolo Canavese was the nearest station. But here came one of my stupid goofs. The train I took in Ventimiglia went to Torino Porta Nuova, and the train to Rivarolo started from Torino Porta Susa. I didn’t pay attention that it was not the same door and looked in vain for the train to Rivarolo in Porta Nuova station (in fact I should have made the connection in Torino Lingotto). Having realized my mistake, I rode to Porta Susa, to find out there were no more trains. I phoned the hotel telling I would arrive a bit late and rode the 40 kilometers to Cuorgné, arriving finally at about 11 p.m. Well, finally everything was fine as I was where I intended to be first and I had a nice (albeit nocturne) ride through the Torinese countryside.
The Nivolet road starts really to climb when leaving Noasca. There’s a 3.5 km tunnel just after, but the old road is on the left just before entering it. At first I was afraid, as I encountered immediately an un-paved stretch, with big rocks overhanging the road, but it was a very short passage, and the old road continues very nice afterwards. At some point, it enters briefly the tunnel, but gets out on the left just 200m after, up to the Ceresole Lake. After the lake the road continues to climb to two other lakes. There’s a brief descent to Lago Agnel before the start of the last stretch of the ascent. The views on this part are wonderful, as the road’s hairpins overlook both lakes.
After the pass, the road goes down a little then stops. To reach Val d’Aoste from here, there’s a path going down to Pont Valsavarenche where the road starts again (the alternative being 150 km of riding, all on valley roads full of traffic and in the heat). I had of course a pair of light sandals in my luggage for this purpose and so went ahead on the path. First it was more or less flat, with some parts that could be done on the bike, but finally the path begins a very steep descent, with Pont Valsavarenche far below (and a great view to the Grand Paradis in front). Well, it’s just a matter of walking aside the bike, and two hours after my start at the Nivolet, I was back on the asphalt again, on top of a long descent to Arvier and the Val d’Aoste road.
As I was riding towards Morgex, and the foot of the Colle San Carlo, I fell suddenly in front of the Mont Blanc. I was very impressed, as it looks so huge, one sees immediately it’s a mountain bigger than the others, great sighting. After San Carlo pass that was everything but easy and a downhill to La Thuile, I went for the last part of the passo del Piccolo San Bernardo. Although it was easier than the San Carlo pass, I was happy to reach the top as it was the beginning of the evening and I aspired to a rest. In Bourg-Saint-Maurice, I stopped in Relais de la Vanoise, which appeared to be perfect: nearly on the road of the Cormet de Roselend, good meal in the evening, correct room and breakfast at 6.30.
So at 7.00 a.m., I was climbing my fourth BIG of the trip, Cormet de Roselend, where here again Mont Blanc can be seen on the right. In the descent, after crossing the dam of Roselend, a short ascent leads to col du Pré, where begins a steep descend towards Arêches. From my studies of the maps, I’ve thought than taking the so-called Route des Colombières over Boudin instead of following the road would save me distance and elevation. In fact, it was not asphalted and the 12 m elevation I saved weren’t worth the detour. Anyway, it was a good rehearsal for what was going to follow.
Effectively, a few kilometres upper, the road turned unpaved once again, but this time there was no way to avoid it. In fact, the gravel section of the Cormet d’Arêches is not so terrible. I was with 700x23 tires and was never constrained to stop cycling, and I was at the pass in less time I had feared first. The only unpleasant thing being that at the end of the unpaved road, the asphalt comes back but only in the hairpins, the stones turning back after each curve. In the valley, the heat was intense. I had hoped that La Plagne climb was going to be a bit shady but in fact it was nearly not.
After La Plagne, my next BIG target was the Grand Cucheron, having done La Madeleine during a former stay in the Maurienne. I went to Aime station, aiming to travel by train along the Isere valley to Gresy-sur-Isère, but I had to cycle to Moûtiers, as a rock fall had destroyed the railway between Aime and Moûtiers. Cycling on the big Tarentaise road was not that horrible, as it was mostly downhill, it was quickly done and I could finally relax in the train.
It was late in the afternoon when I left the Gresy station. I was thinking of sleeping in Aiguebelle, which was not far away. But Aiguebelle turned out to be much smaller than I imagined. In fact it is a one-street town and the two hotels I saw were closed since years. I asked people for a hotel but they were sending me 20 km away in the opposite direction, so I kept heading towards Grand Cucheron. Fortunately, at the point where the Grand Cucheron road leaves the Maurienne road, I saw a sign indicating a B&B ahead. I immediately dialled the phone number and was really happy to hear a lady tell me she was OK to receive me. So I rode the fastest than I could the 5 kilometres climb that led to Saint-Georges d’Hurtières and found a bed I didn’t hope no more.
What’s more, I have been left alone in the flat, and I was free to go at any time in the morning. So I woke up at 4 a.m. and went for what was left of the Grand Cucheron climb in the dark. I arrived at the pass as dawn was breaking so had no problem of light in the descent. I arrived in Allevard as the bread shops were opening and had a nice breakfast before the Collet d’Allevard climb.
After the Collet d’Allevard, I went down and crossed the Isère in Pontcharra, on my way to the last climb of my trip, le col du Granier. Well the expression last but not least was here fully justified. The col du Granier appeared to be very steep, with very grainy asphalt difficult to ride on. On some places, there were patches of new asphalt that made me ride on the right or left of the road
indifferently as long as I was on the good coating. But after this hard climb, I had only 15
kilometres of downhill left to be in Chambery station.
kilometres of downhill left to be in Chambery station.
This time I bought a roll of wrap film, as I knew I had to take the high-speed train to turn home. I had the time in the regional train between Chambery and Lyon to dismount the bike and wrap the chain and derailleur. In the TGV I had an unpleasant remark from a ticket inspector about the way my bike was packed but nothing more, and at the end of the afternoon I was happily back home.