Tour 1996,  21 - 26 July

stagedistance (km)climbing (m)
Lignières - Orbe - Givrine - Faucille - St-Julien1941740
St-Julien - Salève - Plainpalais - St-Pierre-d'Albigny1352780
St-Pierre-d'Albigny - Croix-de-Fer - Madeleine - Celliers1353530
Celliers - Albertville - Chamonix - Vallorcine1261890
Vallorcine - Forclaz - Mosses - Saanen - Zollikofen1952040
Zollikofen - Gurnigel - Lignières1201930


Stage 1 (21 July 1996): Lignières - Orbe - Givrine - Faucille - St-Julien


Passes in the French Alps were the main goal of my 1996 bicycle tour. I started once again from my parent's home. It was quite cold on the heights of Lignières on that early Sunday morning and i put a newspaper under my jersey just for the first descent, down to St-Blaise. From there, i followed the northern shore of the lake of Neuchâtel. I rode partly on main roads, partly on small roads, partly on bike paths. It was not always easy to chose between roads with much traffic and other ones going always up and down. At least, i had a good allied for the whole day: the 'Bise', the northeast wind, blowing parallel to the Jura mountains.
From Yverdon, at the end of the lake, i could ride on good country roads. Slowly, i was climbing and leaving the foot of the mountains on my left side, and finally i reached the Givrine pass, which is just before the border from Switzerland to France. I did, however, not go far away from this ridge of the Jura and crossed it again further south, at the Col de la Faucille. Coming from that side, it was only a small, very gentle climb, and i could take advantage of the longer and steeper hillside for the descent. I reentered Switzerland near Meyrin, not far from the CERN (Centre Européen de Recherches Nucléaires, where the World Wide Web was invented). I was for the first time in the canton of Geneva by bicycle. Just opposite to the idea that i had from the city of Geneva, the countryside around proved to be very bicycle-friendly: well marked routes, good bike paths, not so many dangerous crossings. One thing, however, seems to be rare in the villages around Geneva: hotels. Rather than riding into the city to find one, i went further south, crossed the border again and stopped in St-Julien. Thanks to the Bise, i had been able to make a long first stage.

 distance (km)altitude (m)climbing (m)
Les Prés (Lignières)0920 
Les Gravereules194020
La Lance3949060
Granges-St-Martin (Orbe)66440 
Les Monod (Mollens)90690250
Moulin de la Goille91680 
Le Vaud116820 
Le Muids120710 
Col de la Givrine1341230520
La Cure1371140 
Les Dappes1411250110
Col de la Faucille154132070
Sur Allondon178440 
total194 1740


Stage 2 (22 July 1996): St-Julien - Salève - Plainpalais - St-Pierre-d'Albigny


The breakfast at the hotel in St-Julien was under average, for the taste, for the amount, for the choice and for the surroundings. At least, the weather was still good as i hit the road and went first towards Collonges and the up to the Salève. It was a small and steep road with very few traffic on that Monday morning. Once at the Croisette pass, i continued along the ridge, appreciating the view, sometimes (right) to Geneva and the Jura, sometimes (left) to the French Alps. The road went up to the Pitons pass, then down over the Convers pass to Cruseilles, joining then the main road to Annecy. There was much traffic this way. And then i could not avoid to cross the city of Annecy. It was only after turning right from the lakeside road that it was quieter again. I went along valleys with two small passes between them, Leschaux and Plainpalais. It was around noon when i arrived on the first one, and i just took something out of my pockets as a lunch. In the descent from the second of these passes, i found a small road cutting over the mountain to the Isère valley, avoiding to have to ride through Chambéry. This led me over a further small pass (Marocaz). I was now around 2 o'clock and i was getting hungry. I wanted to buy something as i arrived in the valley but the shops were closed: the south-european habit of a siesta obviously extended so far. I had to continue with an empty stomach. Then, instead of crossing the Isère and continuing towards the Maurienne, i went up to the town of St-Pierre-d'Albigny. I just wanted to drink and eat something there, but then i decided that i was quite tired and that i should stop there for this stage.

 distance (km)altitude (m)climbing (m)
La Croisette131180680
Col des Pitons181340160
Col des Convers201310 
Col de Leschaux67900440
Pont Detrier (Lescheraines)74580 
Col de Plainpalais891170590
Les Roues (Montoux)114810150
La Guillère115760 
Col de Marocaz119960200
St-Laurent (Cruet)127360 
total135 2780


Stage 3 (23 July 1996): St-Pierre-d'Albigny - Croix-de-Fer - Madeleine - Celliers


To cross the Isère valley was no problem, but then i came on the main road of the Maurienne, and this was almost the hell. There were so many lorries that i was almost continuously passed by them. And no bike path to escape and find some security. This very uncomfortable situation had just one better aspect: the wind made by the trucks helped me and i could ride with a good speed. From Epierre on, i could pull off and take a smaller road, first on the left then on the right side. At St-Etienne-de-Cuines, i left the Maurienne valley (a first time) and went up to the first big alpine pass pass of this tour, the Glandon. I was a long but nice climb. There were few motor vehicles and even fewer cyclists.
From the pass, i did not descend far, but climbed again to the neighbor pass of the Croix de Fer (iron cross). I had only 2 km to climb and i was therefore soon at this second pass. The descent was long an nice, but the roads in the town of St-Jean were just a field of bumps and potholes. Then i was in the Maurienne again and i had to take again the road with that terrible heavy traffic. Not for long, at least, since i turned right before La Chambre. I did not want to get as hungry and thirsty as during the previous stage, and i stopped there to buy some food and drink.
Dark clouds were gathering in the sky as i began to climb towards the Madeleine pass. After only a few kilometers, a thunderstorm broke out. I had to stop at a small house along the road as it rained heavily. But not for long. After some 10 minutes, i could start again. The road was wet, but this was no problem as i was riding uphill. After two further short stops, i reached the pass. There was a roadside sign indicating 2000 m. On my (official) map, however, the elevation of the pass was indicated as 1993 m. And i have another map giving only 1984 m. Believe whatever you want, i retain 'approximately 2000'. The weather was still uncertain and i did not stay long at the pass. In the descent, i found an hotel at Celliers. I did not only look good, i was really a good place to stop for the night. Three minutes after my arrival, it began to rain.

 distance (km)altitude (m)climbing (m)
La Chapelle31460140
Le Girard3642010
Le Villard Martinan501100620
Le Châtelet51111010
Col du Glandon611920810
pt. 1907621910 
Col de la Croix de Fer642070160
Le Crêt87800 
Col de la Madeleine12520001560
total135 3530


Stage 4 (24 July 1996): Celliers - Albertville - Chamonix - Vallorcine


The next morning, it was still raining. After breakfast, i decided to wait a little, hoping for the rain to stop. After an hour, as the weather was still bad, i finally put my rain jacket on and started the descent towards Feissons. Because of the wet road, i had to ride carefully. The rain finally receded as i was riding in the valley towards Albertville and Ugine. From Ugine, i went to the Arly gorge and climbed to Flumet, then further along this high valley to Megève (in the winter a ski resort). Then there was a descent again, down to St-Gervais. Fortunately, the road was now dry.
There were traffic jams in St-Gervais, but, with my bike, i could pass the car lanes. Then, when i arrived in the Arve valley, i wanted to ride to the right, to Chamonix. The problem, however, was again the heavy traffic. There were so many trucks that i did not dare taking the main road. Instead, i first went the opposite way, crossed to the other side of the valley and took a small road. I was not sure if this was the best because this small road did not appear to go through on my map. I asked some people and they told me that there was a passage. And they were right, even if i must have been lucky to find the right way through the woods between Vaudagne and Les Houches. Anyway, i arrived safely in Chamonix. On this gray day, the place was quite ugly: many cars around, but no mountains in sight. Could have been any average city at rush hour, not a famous alpine station. I did not stop there at all.
On the way to Argentière, it began to rain again. As the rain was getting worse and worse, i stopped a while and found some shelter. After a while, however, i began to feel cold and decided to go on and climbed to the pass of Les Montets. After a short descent, drenched and cold, i stopped at the next best hotel. At Vallorcine. Not far from the Swiss border, but these few kilometers made a big difference on the price when i phoned my brother Yves about the next stage.

 distance (km)altitude (m)climbing (m)
Panloup (Flumet)591020110
Le Jorrax (Praz-sur-Arly)601000 
Tirecorde (Praz-sur-Arly)621020 
Le Fayet81580 
Bois de Joux (Servoz)90860270
Tré les Balmes (Vaudagne)981110300
Les Houches101950 
Col des Montets1231460210
total126 1890


Stage 5 (25 July 1996): Vallorcine - Forclaz - Mosses - Saanen - Zollikofen


There were reports about yesterday's rainstorm in the newspapers and on the radio. Landslides near Chamonix had cut some roads. It is useless to tell that i was glad to have come through this, wet but safe!
For the fifth stage, the weather looked much better and it was a pleasure to be on the road again. After a gentle descent, i reached the Swiss border. Then the road went up to the Forclaz pass. From that side, it was an easy climb and the temperature was pleasant. The descent to Martigny was longer but fast because of only a few curves. Between Martigny and St-Maurice, the Rhône valley is known to be a windy place, but my luck was to find a calm day. On the other hand, i had bad luck with a tiny piece of metal on the road: flat tire just before St-Maurice! After repairing, i continued to Aigle. I was there, refilling my bottles, as i saw something like a rocket on two wheels passing by. Blue jersey. Festina. Oh, yes it was Laurent Dufaux. Too bad that i had just stopped, i could have tried to follow him for a while... even if i never used the kind of resources he did.
Anyway, i was feeling good and i started to climb to the Col des Mosses with a good pace. And i could keep a good pace up to the pass: this time the landscape and the weather were motivating, and i had to compensate for the shortened last stage. After riding down to Château-d'Oex, i had to go again uphill for a while, till i reached Saanenmöser, a small pass known (but from the other side) since my 1995 tour. It was early in the afternoon and this was already the last serious climb of the day. I knew, however, that i still had a long way to go. There was first the long descent along the Simmental valley, with some headwind which let often my speed drop below 30 km/h. Fortunately, there was not much traffic on that Friday. And then, all the way along the Stockental and Gürbetal. It was first a nice ride across the countryside, but then there was less country and some more traffic: i was getting closer to the city of Bern. I crossed the capital and arrived before five at Zollikofen. I was even too early at my brother's place, and had to wait for him to come back from his office. I took a shower and we went out for dinner, together with Wolfgang, a colleague and friend of mine (whose family just happened to be out of town).

 distance (km)altitude (m)climbing (m)
Col de la Forclaz121530230
Col des Mosses7514501050
Le Cuizon771380 
Col de la Lécherette78139010
total195 2040


Stage 6 (26 July 1996): Zollikofen - Gurnigel - Lignières


From Zollikofen to Lignières, it would have been a very short stage. Too short indeed. I took the opportunity for a detour to a pass still on my to-do list: Gurnigel. First, i had to go back and cross Bern again, but then i went a bit to the hills on the right (Längenberg) instead of taking the same road as the day before. Serious things began after Rüti: the Gurnigel pass in not very high, but it is steep! The average slope is 9%, but some parts are 12% or even a bit more. The road was good, across forests and alpine pastures, and the sun was shining. The Gurnigel lies between the cantons of Bern and Fribourg. On the Fribourg side, it is not so steep and the descent was nice. Then i continued from village to village across the countryside, a ride without any difficulty. I reached Le Landeron at about noon and began to climb to Lignières. On this sun-exposed slope, it was already hot and dry. As i finally arrived at my parent's, they were already having coffee, but they still had something left over for my lunch. As i was eating, i could start telling them the story of this tour 1996.

 distance (km)altitude (m)climbing (m)
Saga (Plaffeien)57850 
Ins / Anet10048050
Le Landeron110430 
Les Prés (Lignières)120920120
total120 1930

PS / 8.12.1996