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Our European excursion for 2017 took us to the French Alps to ride a few of the iconic Tour de France climbs. Fourteen of us made the journey, staying in Venosc, near Le Bourg d'Oisans for between 4 and 7 nights. We booked a large villa called Chalet Freeride, which provided ideal accommodation for our trip with more than enough bedrooms, large communal lounge and dining room, inside bike storage, terrace and garden for relaxing, and a self-service bar.
Le Bourg d'Oisans is between Geneva and Toulouse, slightly closer to the latter. We chose to fly to Geneva as it offered a much wider choice of flights, allowing us to arrive early afternoon on day one with enough time to settle in, unpack our bikes and go for a short ride to ensure everything was in working order. Geneva had the added bonus of allowing us to meet up with our club mate Bruce who currently lives in Switzerland and was joining us for the trip. Transfers between Geneva and our accommodation were booked with Chairlift who provide an excellent service.
The iconic Alpe d'Huez was our climb of choice for day one. Venosc lies about 15km East of Bourg d'Oisons which provides a gentle warm up before hitting the climbs. Alpe d'Huez starts about 5km out of Bourg and you are very soon onto the first of its 21 hairpins, all of which are numbered in reverse order which can serve to either motivate or depress depending on how you're feeling as you reach each one. The climb is 13km long and reaches an altitude of 1815m.
As with all our club rides, everyone takes the climb at their own pace and we re-group at the summit or an agreed point thereafter. This is ideal as it means those that want to race up can do so, whilst others can enjoy the scenery. All 11 riders made it to the top where we posed for the obligatory group photo before enjoying some well-deserved lunch in one of the bars at the summit.
After enjoying the fast descent back to Bourg, some chose to return to base while others decided to bag another climb. Turning off the D1091 onto the D526 just outside Bourg gives you the choice of staying on the D256 to ride the long steady climb to Ornon, or by taking a right hand turn onto the D221 at the foot of the Col d’Ornon you can ride the steeper climb up to Oulles. A breakdown in communication meant that two of our group took on the Col d’Ornon while five took on the climb to Oulles. It’s fair to say that those that rode up to Oulles had the harder time. It’s a relentless climb of around 9% with little or no respite and with the temperature in the high 20’s it was a very good test. The climb is 9km long reaching and altitude of 1400m.
Day three saw us split into three groups. Group One took the stunning “balcony ride” by taking a right turn after the first few hairpins of Alpe d’Huez. The road climbs gently from La Garde towards the ski resort of Auris. Whilst there is plenty of climbing, this is a relatively easy ride on very quiet roads with beautiful scenery.
Group Two headed to Ornon, taking the D210, which is a narrow twisty "cut in the rock" climb of around 8km with sheer drops on one side. This opens to greener terrain at the top and the dead-end village of Villard-Reymond. A short walk across a goat track picked up the equally narrow descent (gravel to start with) through Villard-Notre-Dame and four unlit tunnels back to Bourg d'Oisans.
Group Three took on the much longer and harder ride to the Col du Galibier. This is a very challenging ride reaching a much greater altitude (2645m) and therefore tougher climatic conditions.The route to Galibier takes you first along the Vallee de la Romanche. Elsewhere this road would be considered the main road, although with little traffic in this part of the Alps and fantastic views either side it’s a great ride in itself. The road climbs steadily up to the Col du Lautaret, where you turn left to complete the final section up to Col du Galibier. The descent is fantastic, particularly the valley road again.
Day four saw the whole group take on the Col de la Croix de Fer. This was the longest climb of the week being around 30km long. The first 10km is probably the toughest section at a steady gradient of around 9%. There is a downhill section in the middle of the climb and then another steady section of climbing until you reach the final third of the climb where the gradient eases and the scenery opens up with long range views towards the summit at 2067m. After a cool drink at the summit the fast descent back towards Bourg made it all worthwhile.
Our base was a great place for walking as well as cycling and the three non-cycling partners enjoyed exploring the local area on foot. Note that the terrain is hard in this area and many of the paths rugged so good walking kit is a must. It was also very hot when we were there so you need to carry sun block and water.
We also managed to sample white water rafting at a local centre, organised by our host, which we all enjoyed – only a couple of people fell in the river!
Our reflections are that the location was ideal for a number of Alpine climbs. Chalet Freeride is about 13km outside Le Bourg d’Oisans and the ride back is predominantly uphill although nothing steep. Will is an excellent host with good knowledge of the area and also provides great home-cooked meals that were very popular. The chalet has everything you need for this kind of trip including good showers and washing machines for your kit.
Transfers and accommodation were both excellent and we would thoroughly recommend both to anyone considering this type of trip.
If you are planning a trip to the Alps and would like any further information, feel free to contact us via the website.
Chalet Freeride, Bourg d'Arud Venosc, Venosc, 38520, France
Contact: Will Corder
Contact: Guy Little