Tour 2001,  21 - 27 July

stagedistance (km)climbing (m)
Lignières - Neuchâtel + Montreux - Les Gets - La Colombière - Les Aravis1622640
Les Aravis - Les Saisies - Cormet de Roselend - Bonneval1473200
Bonneval - La Madeleine - Le Galibier - Briançon1323390
Briançon - Vars - La Condamine - Vars - La Chalp1372810
La Chalp - Izoard - Montgenèvre - Assietta - Susa1383380
Susa - Mont Cenis - Iseran - La Rosière1213840
La Rosière - Grand St-Bernard - Martigny + Neuchâtel - Lignières1603240


Stage 1 (21 July 2001): Lignières - Neuchâtel + Montreux - Les Gets - La Colombière - Les Aravis


After two weeks waiting for better weather forecasts, i finally left Lignières this Saturday morning. The sky had cleared up during the night and it was really cold (5 degrees). First, i rode down to Neuchâtel, where i took the train at 7 towards Lausanne and then Montreux.
The French Alps were the goal of this tour, but the first part, to Thonon, was flat, just around the lake of Geneva. Then i turned left, towards the mountains, along the Drance valley. There were several groups of people on the river, either with river rafts or with canoes. The road was first climbing very gently along this river, then more and more. Because i had had breakfast very early, i was already getting hungry. I noticed it not only in my stomach but also in my legs. A stop at a bakery was necessary. And a second stop at noon, as i arrived at Les Gets. After this first pass, i continued more or less to the south, over Taninges, Cluses and then to the Colombière pass. This was a very nice climb, on a small road with not too much traffic and a beautiful mountain landscape. There is a village called Le Reposoir below the pass, meaning a place to rest. I didn't rest there, but i understand why it may sometimes be necessary: the three last kilometres of the climb were really steeper. Even if La Colombière is not very high in elevation, it is for sure not an easy pass. The descent was also nice. I decided then to climb towards the next pass of this tour, but to see on the way if i could find a place to stay. I was very lucky to find the last free room in a small auberge below Les Aravis. Beautiful mountains, nice people, hearty and tasty supper (all guests together), then the sound of the cow bells under the stars: i liked that place and slept very well.

 distance (km)altitude (m)climbing (m)
Les Prés (Lignières)0920 
Les Gravereules194020
La Coudre1155080
>>> Montreux14390 
Les Gets981160790
Col de la Colombière13916101130
Le Villaret150860 
Les Quatre-Vents1621360500
total162 2640


Stage 2 (22 July 2001): Les Aravis - Les Saisies - Cormet de Roselend - Bonneval


I woke up just early enough to be on time for the opening of the breakfast buffet. The other guests were going to hike in the mountains and i was therefore not the only one to eat so much for breakfast. Having already done most of the climb to Les Aravis the day before, it was no longer a hard task to reach the pass. From there, i rode directly down to Flumet, where i crossed the way of my 1996 tour. This time, i went up to Les Saisies, but there again i didn't stop at the pass, simply because i didn't like so much this place with so many tourists and cars. In the descent, i left the main road near Hauteluce and took a very small road down to the valley, joining the main road again just before Beaufort. At Beaufort, i didn't buy some of its famous cheese, but pastries, which i put into the pockets of my jersey. I stopped at a picnic place in the forest above to eat them. There i met an absolutely astonishing man, in his seventies: Yves Blanchin. Seeing me arriving by bike, he began to tell me a bit about his life as a passionate cyclist. Among other things summing up to 350000 km (!) he had done Paris-Brest-Paris, 1200 km in 3 days and 2 nights. Or the popular race of Paris-Roubaix in 37th position (out of more than 4000) as he was already 55. Or Albertville-Barcelona for the olympic games. Then he showed me one of his old bikes which was in his small car. It had been built in 1903 and had a so-called retro-pedalling: the chain goes over two independent free wheels in such a way that you can pedal normally on a flat road... and change to a shorter gear simply by pedalling back when the road goes up. Must be funny to see it in action!
But then i had to go back to my (almost) modern bike and pedal (forward!) to the Méraillet pass near the barrage of Roselend. Because it was Sunday, there were all kind of tourists around, biking, hiking, sailing or just lying in the sun or sitting in the car. The climb, however, went right on to the Cormet de Roselend. It was not very difficult but rather long and the descent to Bourg-St-Maurice was nice. Then, however, i had to ride along the Tarentaise valley and had some (dry) headwind. It is around 3 that i arrived at Aigueblanche. I started to climb to Doucy in order to ride over a ridge and join then the road to the Madeleine pass. Unfortunately, the road between Doucy and Celliers was cut because of a big landslide. And this was not indicated at the bottom of the climb, at least not there where i went. On the contrary, at Aigueblanche there was still a sign indicating the Madeleine pass, three or four years after the landslide! Anyway, it is only at Doucy that, asking for the way, i heard from two ladies that i had to go back to the valley. They also told me that i was by far not the first one to fall into this trap. Very disappointed about the French road services, i turned back and went to the usual road to the Madeleine. I was already tired and my motivation was also a bit down because of this detour, but i didn't want to stay in the valley. So i rode up to the first village on the way to the pass, and even left this road to find a nice and quiet little hamlet to stay overnight.

 distance (km)altitude (m)climbing (m)
Les Quatre-Vents01350 
Col des Aravis31490140
Nant Rouge261430 
Col des Saisies301630200
Col de Méraillet591610870
Lac de Roselend621590 
Cormet de Roselend681920330
La Léchère138450 
total147 3200


Stage 3 (23 July 2001): Bonneval - La Madeleine - Le Galibier - Briançon


Thanks to the good meal of the evening before and to a good night, i started to ride to the Madeleine pass with all my strength back. It was still a long climb but i could enjoy it. On the left side of the valley when riding up, i could see the landslide which had caused me a detour; it would really not have been possible to get through, even by foot. It was still early and there was almost no traffic up to the pass. In the first part of the descent, i had to be careful not to slip over the numerous cow droppings. Once down in the Maurienne valley, i was happy to see the new highway. Not that i intended to ride on it with my bike, but because most of the trucks were on this highway, making the main road much less terrible than the first time i had been there (for my 1996 tour).
With a little help from the wind, i could ride at a good pace towards St-Michel. I bought a picnic and stopped at a little square in that town to eat it. I saw a motorcycle with a licence plate from Neuchâtel and i talked to the couple riding this motorcycle. They were actually preparing a future bicycle tour. It was noon as i left St-Michel to the Télégraphe pass. I was glad that the road was largely in the shade of the forest. As i arrived at Valloire (together with two German cyclists), the grocery store was closed and i went to a restaurant to have a drink, just to change a bit from plain water or those drinks prepared from powder in the bike bottles. Then i rode up to the Galibier, one of the highest passes in the Alps. The slope was irregular and especially hard in the last few kilometres. Fortunately, i had kept enough energy for this last part (my altimeter-watch had been useful to always know how much climbing remained). Now there were clouds around the mountains; from the pass, some lightning and rain could be seen. That's to say that i didn't stay long on the pass. The first part of the descent was really nice, but before arriving at the Lautaret pass, the road was wet. And then there was also more traffic, making the security more concern than speed. On the last, less steep stretch to Briançon, i rode together with a cyclist from that city. Once there, i looked for an hotel. The first one where i stopped had just one room still available. I was lucky again.

 distance (km)altitude (m)climbing (m)
Col de la Madeleine1919901040
St-Avre Baillat39440 
Col du Télégraphe731570860
Le Col751550 
Collet du Plan Nicolas942410980
Col du Galibier972650240
Col du Lautaret1052060 
Forville (Briançon)1321320 
total132 3390


Stage 4 (24 July 2001): Briançon - Vars - La Condamine - Vars - La Chalp


I took advantage of being in a city to go to a bar with internet access and to read and send e-mails. I also sent a few postcards.
From Briançon, i took the main road to the south, along the Durance river. Then i went left to Guillestre and up to Vars. The slope was changing again and again, but i reached the Vars pass without any problem. On the other side, the first kilometres had a new macadam, allowing a good speed without risks. Then there were road works, and finally the older surface with many bumps and some potholes. After St-Paul, i was not sure which way to take, having thought of several options. The circumstances decided for me: the road to Larche was forbidden for bicycles. Someone told me to try the old way on the other side of the valley, joining the regular road on the other side of the forbidden passage. I went there, but the gravel road was really too bad for my 23-mm tires. I had also asked about the Parpaillon pass, but everybody told me that it was, on that side, only for mountain bikes. I finally decided to ride back over the Col de Vars. Because of the heat, the tires were gluing to the road. But this became really bad as i reached the zone with road works. A whole group of cyclists descending from the pass had just ridden into the brand new macadam and they were trying to clean their wheels. I had been lucky to be earlier to ride there downhill. Now, to go uphill, i preferred to walk in the grass on the roadside for a while. Even so, i could not avoid to have also gravel gluing to my tires. On the other side of the pass, there were also two places with road works, but nothing so bad. The remaining of the descent was easy. Back to Guillestre, i took now to the right, entering the canyon of the Guil. With some tailwind, i was able to ride above 30 km/h. But then i went up into the Izoard valley and the slope became much more serious. I stopped at La Chalp, a part of Arvieux known for its steep road, steep not only for Tour-de-France riders but also for amateurs like me. There again, i found a nice little auberge and had time for writing notes about the stage before having dinner with other guests.

 distance (km)altitude (m)climbing (m)
Forville (Briançon)01320 
La Gagière36890 
Col de Vars6021101130
La Condamine771270 
Col de Vars942110640
Guillestre Riou-Bel113970 
Le Pont-de-Pierre1181060 
L'Ange Gardien1291350290
La Chalp1371680330
total137 2810


Stage 5 (25 July 2001): La Chalp - Izoard - Montgenèvre - Assietta - Susa


I could appreciate again the advantages of being early to climb a pass: fresh air and very few traffic. Unfortunately, the small museum on cycling at the Izoard pass was closed. After the climb, i could enjoy the descent on a good road. I arrived again in Briançon and this time started to climb to Montgenèvre. From the lower town of Briançon, i had already seen the old forts, but now i had a better opportunity to look at them from the road. After an easy climb across pine woods, i arrived at Montgenèvre, pass and border to Italy, around 11. This pass was fortunately closed to heavy traffic during the day and only cars were disturbing (those French diesel cars and their bad smells!) The descent to Cesana was on a good and broad road, with almost no need to touch the brakes. Then i climbed again, towards Sestrière. This was a very quiet ride, but the difficulties were ahead. I wanted to try riding over the Assietta mountain ridge and then to cross to Susa, in the other valley, over the Finestre pass. I knew that this was a gravel road, but one which can be done with a road bicycle. Well, this was not wrong, and i actually managed this long ride across several small passes without any damage or puncture. There were even other cyclists with road bikes along this trail, but i would not do it again. The view was nice, but i had few opportunities to look around, the road capturing all of my attention. The worst was for the shoulders because the handlebar was badly shaking. So it went over the passes Basset, Bourget, Cotte Plane, Blegier, Lauson, Assietta and finally Finestre! Only the lower part of the descent to Susa was on macadam again, and then over an incredible number of hairpin curves in the forest. Once in Susa, i still had to ride around to find a place to stay for the night, but it was good to pedal again on normal roads!

 distance (km)altitude (m)climbing (m)
La Chalp01680 
La Platrière62220540
Casse Déserte72190 
Col d'Izoard92360170
Cesana Torinese531340 
Costa Treceira742460430
Colle Basset752420 
Colle Bourget782300 
Costa Piana842290 
Monte Genevris862480190
Colle Blegier882380 
Colle Lauson912500120
Testa dell'Assietta94257090
Colle dell'Assietta952470 
Montagne d'Usseaux1071920 
Colle delle Finestre1102180260
Colletto di Meana1171460 
total138 3380


Stage 6 (26 July 2001): Susa - Mont Cenis - Iseran - La Rosière


In the first slopes from Susa to Mont Cenis, i joined a group of three French cyclists riding from Antibes to Thonon in 5 stages. I had already seen two of them the day before and we rode together for a while, but then i went ahead. The climb was not very hard but long, first in forests of broadleaf trees, the in less dense conifer woods, finally across pastures and rocks. Above the barrage and the lake, already in France again, the road went a bit down and up to finally reach the pass. It was 10 o'clock as i arrived there. The descent was no problem, except that my hands were aching on the handlebar every time the road was uneven: a consequence from the bad treatment of the previous stage. At Lanslevillard, i took right to the Madeleine pass. Not the same Madeleine as in the third stage of this tour! The first hairpin curves were steep and my knees also began to ache a bit, another after-effect of the Assietta ridge. After a very short descent, the road went along the valley and climbed very gently towards Bonneval. I stopped in this well preserved, very picturesque village and bought something to eat at the bakery. Next thing on my programme was the Iseran pass, the highest of this tour and one of the highest of the Alps. It was an absolutely beautiful climb, with views over the valley and to the glaciers on the mountains building the border to Italy. There were many other cyclists on the way over this famous pass. And many on the top, enjoying the nice weather and the pride of their climb. The ride down to Val d'Isère was fun, but then there were more motor vehicles, a flat part along the lake of Tignes and also some road works. I did no go further down than Ste-Foy but took instead a small road climbing to Montvalezan. It was now hot and i was glad that there are many fountains in this part of the Alps. Finally my road joined the road to the Petit-St-Bernard and, after three hairpins of this very gentle climb, i reached La Rosière, where i could stop for the night. From the hotel room, i had a splendid view to the massif of the Arcs.

 distance (km)altitude (m)climbing (m)
La Caisse2420601560
La Caisse252030 
La Vachère302040 
Col du Mont Cenis31208040
Col de la Madeleine451720260
l'Ile (Bessans)471670 
Col de l'Iseran712760950
La Daille891790 
Tunnel du Chevril93182030
La Rosière1211850790
total121 3840


Stage 7 (27 July 2001): La Rosière - Grand St-Bernard - Martigny + Neuchâtel - Lignières


The remaining of the climb to the Petit St-Bernard was also easy thanks to its gentle slope. Then, on the Italian side, it was a little bit steeper, just enough to reach good speeds between the smooth curves and enjoy the descent in the morning sun. Arriving at La Thuile, i had to ask to find the road to Arly, over the San Carlo pass. In the distance, this pass did not make a difference compared to the main road over Pré-St-Didier. It was a small but good road with few traffic, but this calm had to be paid by climbing a steep slope. Then, however, i had to join the main road to Aoste, where i arrived at 11. From there, i had 1900m to climb towards the Grand St-Bernard pass. The first part of this climb was not very interesting: traffic, heat and air pollution. The bad smells of the air pollution receded first, then the heat, and the traffic as the road to the tunnel split from the pass road. Since it was the last pass of the tour, i did not worry about saving strength for later. Instead, i rode without pause up to the pass, just taking time to refill the bottles. Then, however, i took time for a lunch at the hospice before going into the long descent to Martigny. As so often, there was much wind in the lower part of the Entremont valley. From Sembrancher, it was even necessary to pedal hard against this headwind.
In Martigny, i just caught a train to Lausanne, where i changed to Neuchâtel. As i arrived in Neuchâtel, it was just beginning to rain a little. Because it was hot (around 30 degrees), i was actually glad about these few rain drops. I pedalled hard up to Les Prés sur Lignières and arrived just at 18 o'clock, as i had announced by telephone from Lausanne.
This tour 2001 had been a hard one considering the number of passes and the heights to climb. In spite of a few problems with closed or unpaved roads, and thanks to the very good weather, it had been a beautiful tour. The hospitality i found in this part of the Alps will also remain in good memory.

 distance (km)altitude (m)climbing (m)
La Rosière01850 
Col du Petit St-Bernard92190340
La Thuile221470 
St-Charles / S. Carlo301970500
Col du Grand St-Bernard10124701210
>>> Neuchâtel146460 
La Coudre14951050
Les Gravereules159940470
Les Prés (Lignières)160920 
total160 3240

PS / 4.8.2001