Tour 2012,  22 - 27 June

stagedistance (km)climbing (m)
Chambéry - St-Pierre-d'Entremont - Grenoble - Vizille872030
Vizille - La Mure - Mens - Le Noyer - St-Bonnet-en-Champsaur1352820
St-Bonnet-en-Champsaur - Chorges - Espinasses - Barcelonnette1042060
Barcelonnette - Allos - Cayolle - Barcelonnette1223270
Barcelonnette - Parpaillon - Pontis - Barcelonnette1152540
Barcelonnette - Bonette - Isola - Lombarde - Cuneo1533210

map   pictures

Stage 1 (22 June 2012): Chambéry - St-Pierre-d'Entremont - Grenoble - Vizille


Big surprise to start this tour! I wanted to take a train to Grenoble via Geneva and had found a good connection on the web page of the Swiss railways, all with trains taking bicycles onboard. At the station in Zurich, they could not issue a corresponding ticket because the last train would be... a bus. I had time in Geneva to ask again, and they told me that this was because of construction works lasting the whole summer. All right, but why could they not adapt the electronic time table? No answer. Well, the train ride ended in Chambéry.
Taking a quick look at the map, i easily found an interesting road from Chambéry to Grenoble over the Chartreuse massif. I changed thus my plans and rode first towards the Granier pass. I knew this climb from my 2004 tour, but this time i enjoyed it better. The sky was blue but the air was fresh, just perfect to ride. To make some change compared to the previous time, i did not just cross the Fosse tunnel but climbed on a gravel road to the real Pas de la Fosse, just some 30 m higher in elevation. After this pass and the Granier, i continued straight down to St-Pierre-d'Entremont, then up to the Cucheron pass. There was very few traffic and it was a very nice ride. Because they don't always have much fantasy in France, the town after the next descent was again named St-Pierre, this time St-Pierre-de-Chartreuse. Still keeping the same general direction, i climbed the to the Col de Porte, the highest point of this day. In the descent, i crossed three further passes without having to climb at all, first Col de Palaquit, then Col de Vence, and finally Col de Clémencières.
At the bottom of the descent, however, there was a big change in the landscape, not only that it was flat for the first time of the day, but mainly because it was now a big city, Grenoble. Bicycle roads were very easy to find throughout the city, but not so easy to ride. There were first many construction works, and then the bicycle paths were not well paved. Nevertheless, i did not take me too long to cross the city from the north to the south. I reached Vizille at roughly 17:30 and decided to stop there rather than to start the long climb to Laffrey. Seven passes in an improvised afternoon ride: why should i complain about wrong train time tables?

 distance (km)altitude (m)climbing (m)
Pas de la Fosse12870600
Tunnel de la Fosse13820 
Le Cucheron361140510
Le Diat40790 
Col de Porte481330540
Col de Palaquit511150 
Col de Vence57780 
total87 2030

map   pictures

Stage 2 (23 June 2012): Vizille - La Mure - Mens - Le Noyer - St-Bonnet-en-Champsaur


The route of this second day was something serious right from the start: i had to climb to Laffrey on the national road, which is part of the Route Napoléon. The good thing on this Saturday morning was that there was not yet too much traffic. At Laffrey, i had a good reason to leave the main road since it would give me the opportunity to ride over two small passes, Pas des Blanches and Col de la Festinière. I joined the main road again when arriving at the nice town of La Mure. Then, however, i took a small road down to Ponsonnas. After this village, the road became so narrow and with so many potholes that i was wondering if it would bring me anywhere or if i would have to climb all the way back to La Mure. Fortunately, my map was right and i joined a larger road that brought me to a high bridge over the Drac River. On the other side, i wanted to climb to the mountains of Trièves to find some passes. However, one of the roads was closed.I had to change the itinerary and went in this order: Col de Laye, Col de Masserange, Col Accarias, Col de Cornillon and Col du Thaud. After climbing to the first one, it was very easy the reach the next ones. Then i went down to Mens and stopped at a bar for a mini-pizza and a drink. The next pass was again not far away, Col St-Sébastien. This brought me to a sort of high plateau above the Drac River. Some tributaries of the Drac, however, forced the road to make some detours and to go down and up again. Later, i entered the valley of one of these tributaries, the Souloise River. I rode to St-Disdier, then further up to the Festre pass. I did not want to cross the pass, but i don't like either to go forth and back on the same way, so i tried to make a loop. I took a very small road over Lachaup, but then it was not paved beyond this hamlet and i had a few kilometres of gravel road. As i reached the Festre, i bought a drink and went back to the north, this time on the regular road. Then i turned right over the Rioupes pass and down to the Souloise valley. The road went along a deep canyon before arriving at the town of St-Étienne. I felt still enough energy to go over a last pass, Col du Noyer. It was quite an easy climb from this side, while the other slope is steeper and longer. As during the whole day, the landscape was changing all the time, with mountains of different shapes and colours, with diverse crops, with forests and multicolour meadows. With the nice weather i had, this was so beautiful that i had to stop quite often to take pictures. After the descent from the Noyer pass, however, the only remaining challenge was to find a place to stay for the night. It was really some challenge, but finally i managed it successfully, at St-Bonnet.

 distance (km)altitude (m)climbing (m)
Pas des Blanches91010730
La Festinière1996040
Pont de Ponsonnas31600 
Col de Masserange40930330
Col Accarias4689080
Combe d'Andrieux49850 
Col de Cornillon5089040
Aubépin (Cornillon)52840 
Le Thaud5388040
Moulin Jalay (Mens)56730 
Col St-Sébastien61980250
Les Achards7095060
Moulin des Achards71870 
Les Veyres811000130
Pont de la Baume83910 
Col du Festre991440530
Les Combettes1021320 
Col de Rioupes1041430110
Pont de Giers1081240 
Col du Noyer1181660420
Les Baraques131970 
total135 2820

map   pictures

Stage 3 (24 June 2012): St-Bonnet-en-Champsaur - Chorges - Espinasses - Barcelonnette


Third day of nice weather on this tour. And third day of slight north-west wind to help me a bit. Carefully studying the forecasts before deciding the date of departure can help! I went first on the main road to the south, passing Col Bayard. On this Sunday morning, the traffic was not too heavy and the climb was easy. In the descent down to Gap, i turned left to go over the Manse pass. The road had a good bicycle lane up to the pass and i could just enjoy the climb. There was no real descent from there as the road went along the valley towards the village of Ancelle. From there, the next pass was across the same mountain ridge as both the previous ones. Col de Moissière was just a bit higher, but the climb was neither long nor difficult. The south side, however, was longer, steeper and narrower. I continued on small roads towards Chorges. After this town, i took one of the roads running around the Serre-Ponçon Lake. It was first a bit frustrating because i could barely have a look at the lake through the vegetation. The road climbed and went around a hill, which means that there was a pass, Lebraut. From then on, there were some nice view points over the lake, then also over the dam. Unfortunately, it is not possible to go over this dam and i had to ride further down to cross the Durance River which comes out of the lake, then to climb again on the other side. On the south shore, the road went also over a pass, called simply Le Collet, but apart of this it went several times up and down towards the Ubaye valley. It was quite warm but the wind was favourable. I was in no hurry and reached Barcelonnette already around 3 o'clock.

 distance (km)altitude (m)climbing (m)
Les Baraques2970 
Col Bayard81250280
Col de Manse181270260
Pré Palié191250 
Les Forests211350100
Château d'Ancelle221290 
Col de Moissière291570280
Les Borels37960 
Les Carles38101050
Le Villard46820 
Col Lebraut501110290
Les Lionnets56800 
La Croix5786060
Le Collet69990330
Les Terrasses73102030
Le Lautaret741000 
Pré-Vieux (St-Vincent)771140140
Le Lauzet-Ubaye84900 
Les Thuiles981110210
total104 2060

map   pictures

Stage 4 (25 June 2012): Barcelonnette - Allos - Cayolle - Barcelonnette


Being in Barcelonnette, there is a standard tour that can be made over three passes to the south. The question is then: in which sense. I decided to make the counter-clockwise circuit and started thus with the Allos pass. It is a good but narrow road, not very steep but long and with few traffic. Early in the morning, there were only a handful of cars and motorcycles. The landscape is wild and gorgeous and i very much enjoyed the climb. On the other side, there is a ski resort and thus less wilderness, but i also had less time to look around while riding down. Arriving at Colmars, near the fort, i turned to Col des Champs. It was again a narrow but good road, almost entirely in a forest. I climbed thus in the shade in an almost untouched nature. In the descent, i noticed that my choice of the counter-clockwise sense was good: the road was a bit broader and in a perfect state, offering a fast but secure descent. In the opposite direction, it would have been a harder climb because it was exposed to the sun. Arriving in St-Martin after these two passes, however, there was still the biggest one awaiting me, the Cayolle pass. As it would take me roughly two hours to climb, i made a drinking stop at the bottom and another in the middle, near a small lake. There was a slight head wind, but when you climb it does not make much of a difference; it had even the little advantage of some cooling. It is difficult to write more about this third pass without repeating the same things as for the previous ones. The main difference was probably a more challenging descent, on a narrow, winding and a bit bumpy road. Once it turned to the west, the valley became narrower, almost like a canyon. Altogether, this roundtrip was certainly one of the nicest rides i ever made and i was very happy as i returned to Barcelonnette after 8 hours in total and almost 7 in saddle.

 distance (km)altitude (m)climbing (m)
Le Plan21120 
Col d'Allos1922401120
Col des Champs542100830
Col de la Cayolle932330550
Grand Pont1131330 
Le Plan1201120 
total122 3270

map   pictures

Stage 5 (26 June 2012): Barcelonnette - Parpaillon - Pontis - Barcelonnette


I decided to make another roundtrip from Barcelonnette, but with a mountain bike that i rented. I went to the Parpaillon, a famous pass with a long gravel road and a short tunnel at the summit. I took first the road to La Condamine, then started to climb into the Parpaillon valley. At the end of the macadam at the Sainte-Anne chapel, the road was closed. Even for pedestrians, horses and cycles. This was due to of some road works, but i thought that this may be just because of insurances, not because of real dangers or hindrances. And it was. There were only two (friendly) workers and one machine, which i was able to pass easily and without any danger. This was still before leaving the forest and reaching the Parpaillon sheepfold. And from there, much remained to climb. Even if the gravel road was good, the pedalling efficiency is not the same as on a road with a race bike, and it took me till midday to finally reach the south entrance of the tunnel. After the sheepfold, i had seen only one descending mountain biker and three marmots. Apart of them, i was apparently alone in this valley. Some people in Barcelonnette had told me that the big doors of the tunnel would still be closed from the winter, but they were open. This means that i had the choice between the very steep climb in the spree to the Parpaillon pass, or the tunnel with thick ice on the ground (or mud, or water at places). Since i did not distinguished any track among the stones towards the pass, i decided to enter the tunnel. For light, i used my cell phone, something i had already done to walk during the night in a forest. Here, however, it was too weak because the light from the end of the tunnel prevented my eyes to adapt to the darkness. I managed to keep my feet dry for about 2/3 of the tunnel, but then i stepped into a deep puddle of water. Well, better water than mud. At the end of the tunnel, i met two walkers and saw a few more further down, which means that i was no longer as alone as on the other side.
Soon after starting the descent, i took a short dirt track left towards the Girabeau pass. The other side of this pass was so steep that i preferred to come back to the Parpaillon road and to ride over La Chalp to the Durance valley. The descent was very long, first on gravel road, then (from an elevation of roughly 1850 m) on a paved road. The next part of the tour was the least interesting because of the traffic and the warm head wind. The traffic receded after the national road went on a bridge over the Serre-Ponçon Lake at Savines. The wind was no longer a problem once i took the road to the south over Pontis and Col de Pontis. This pass offered some very nice views on forests, meadows, and again the lake. After the descent and its many hairpin curves, the wind became a ally. I was glad about it because this was becoming quite a long circuit.

 distance (km)altitude (m)climbing (m)
La Condamine141290150
Chapelle Ste-Anne201750460
Tunnel du Parpaillon312640890
Les Ecuelles332440 
Col de Girabeau34249050
La Chalp451660 
Les Esmieux (St-André)56990 
Pont Neuf60800 
Le Moulin6884050
La Pinède69790 
Col de Pontis811300360
Cimetière d'Ubaye86800 
Le Lauzet-Ubaye94900100
Les Thuiles1081110210
total115 2540

map   pictures

Stage 6 (27 June 2012): Barcelonnette - Bonette - Isola - Lombarde - Cuneo


After my stay in Barcelonnette, i wanted to go towards Italy. Not over the Larche pass, which is forbidden for bicycles and has anyway too many trucks, but over the Bonette and Lombarde passes. I was among the very first to climb from Jausiers to the Bonette and i saw only few cars, few motorcycles and just one cyclist on the way up. And again, the landscape was great ant the weather was perfect, with just a few harmless clouds. The climb was long, but under such conditions i did not mind at all. At the elevation of approximately 2650 m, a gravel road went to the right. At this point, the road crosses a saddle of the terrain: this is the Faux col de Restefond. Less than 1 km further, it becomes clear why this pass is named false, because then there is the true one: Col de Restefond. The road, however, remains slightly below the ridge and does not cross the pass. To be able to count it, i dismounted my bicycle and pushed it to the pass itself. Then, again less than 1 km away, i arrived at the main pass, Col de la Bonette. From there, i went also around the mountain, where the road climbs up to 2802 m of elevation. This little loop may be useless, i used it to make a few more pictures from the alps all around. After returning so to the Bonette pass, i went down to the fourth pass of this series, Col des Granges Communes, also called Col de Raspaillon. Then came the long descent to St-Étienne-de-Tinée and further to Isola. After St-Étienne, there was a very strange bicycle lane on the road, with both directions on the same side of the road, but with no separation other than the painting. Did you ever try to ride between a bicycle and a car, both in the opposite direction? It does not fell safe at all...
Anyway, after a snack and a drink in Isola, i started the second serious climb of the day, only a bit shorter than the first one: i went up to the Lombarde pass. The first part was quite hot, but then the cooling effect of the elevation made it easier to ride. The road was quite broad and not too steep, at least up to the ski resort of Isola 2000 (the number indicating the elevation). This completely artificial resort, as many of them in France, was quite ugly and dead in the Summer. I barely found a bar to buy a drink. It was extremely expansive, even for somebody coming from Switzerland. The last part of the climb was above the forests in a landscape of bare rocks, scree and some grass. After a short stop at this last pass, i took the road to the Italian side. The descent to Vinadio was quite long and the narrow road made many curves. From Vinadio to Cuneo, i followed the main road. The smaller road on the other side of the river may be better for bicycles, but i missed the right road branch and then followed the easiest route. In Cuneo, i found an hotel near the train station.
The next day, the train ride back home would be the most adventurous part of the tour. I even had to ride my bicycle twice between different trains, once in Milano because of lacking connections that would take bicycles onboard, and once in the descent of the Gotthard because rockslides had cut the railway for several weeks. The good thing is that you often meet interesting people not only on bicycle but also in trains...

 distance (km)altitude (m)climbing (m)
Faux col de Restefond2926501440
Col de Restefond30268030
Col de la Bonette31272040
Cime de la Bonette32280080
Col de la Bonette332720 
Col des Granges Communes362510 
Isola 20009020001140
Col de la Lombarde942350350
Stiera (Gaiola)135670 
Quinto Piano (Roccasparvera)13870030
total153 3210

PS / 5.7.2012