Touring The Alps In May

Postby Guy Trainor on Mon 14/Jun/10 1:24pm

In response to a few requests for info. re my recent cycle-tour in the French, Italian & Swiss Alps with my soul-mate Deborah, this is a 'transit' post to Vorb via the KMTBP website (from which it will be promptly removed). Guy.

ImageMy bike: Thorn Raven Sport Tour in matt black with Brooks B17 saddle. Deborah's: same in cobalt pearl blue with Sella Italia Lady Gel Flow saddle
Both fitted with Rohloff Sppedhubs 500/14 (14 speed), Grizzly 26" mtb/trekking rims, Thorn & Shimano kit parts, Thorn pannier racks, Ortlieb panniers, Altura barbags. We carried full camping gear and clothes for alpine touring.

ImageAfter picking up the pre-ordered bikes from SJS Cycles in England, we used the Bike Express to transport us to Valence, Fr. An invitation from a couple of touring roadies on the coach saw us follow them to Le Bourg D'Oisans, where we shared their self-catering accom. for the first 4 nights. Never having been a TdF follower, I was blown away by the stunning mountain scenery & the quality of the roads.
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The liberal use of switchbacks made the gradients of the climbs always manageable. The there-and-back to La Berarde is a gem with its towering cliffs and myriad snow-melt waterfalls - one of the bonuses of touring in May.
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Below, one of the disadvantages of touring in May, though I'm told you can cop this weather at any time in the Alps. Deborah cresting the Col du Lautaret at 2058m (year-round skiing!) We each wore out a set of V-brake pads on the 40 kms descent back to D'Oisans in the rain. There are numerous cols to delight & challenge around here, making it a bit of a mecca for roadies in the summer.
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Having a crack at Alpe d'Huez is mandatory, where everyone pits their time up the 21 bends against previous TdF champions.

From here we made our way via La Mure & Gap to Barcelonnette, another magnet for roadies with some of the steepest cols in the Alps (quite a few still closed in May). A big mtb scene here as well.

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Fortunately, the Col d'Larche over into Italy was open and we crossed in perfect weather.
The difference in road quality was immediate and much of the housing was of poorer standard.

On the other hand, the people were alot friendlier. For the first time, we actually had people returning our waves and roadies calling greetings ('Chow!") as they passed.

The food & coffee was a lot cheaper, too.

ImageThe tent gets its first outing! We didn't encounter any open campsites In France (most opening in June) and were beginning to wonder why we were carrying all the extra weight. Italy remained a bit hit-and-miss, given our avoidance of big towns, but the superb weather made it our preferred option when we could.

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Our GPS was a big help in keeping us on the minor roads, leading us through many small towns that all went to sleep in the early afternoon.

We had to remember to buy our bread & cheese before midday if we wanted lunch. The bars remained open, though, so coffee was always available. Unfortunately, my kiwi 'flat white' does not exist in Italy, home of espresso. We often saw locals down these like shots.

Our Italian phrasebook got a good workout in these towns!

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Folowing our noses north lead us into the Valle d'Aosta, a stunning valley flanked by majestic mountains. One side-trip took us up to the base of the Matterhorn. As our preferred col crossing into Switzerland was still closed by snow, we had to follow the valley up to its head under the towering presence of Monte Bianco.

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The climb from Aosta to the majestically-situated town of Courmayeur is a favourite with local roadies, esp. on a Sunday morning! Exploring some of the minor valleys from here revealed stunning mountainscapes tho' we were grateful for our mtb gearing on some of the pitches.
In this valley, we were able to progress much further than the cars...

ImageFrom Courmayeur we were able to catch a bus through the Mont Blanc road tunnel to Chamonix, from where we immediately set out for Switzerland. A long climb up a beautiful valley topped out at the 1527m Col de la Forclaz from where we looked down on Martigny.
A series of swooping switchbacks took care of all the height we had worked so hard to gain!

ImageSwitzerland is a cyclist's dream with an extensive network of well-made & signposted trails. The road bike cyclepaths took us through farmland & small towns and, where necessary, alongside major roads. The drivers were patient & considerate to the extreme, sometimes embarrassingly so cars, coaches & trucks would build up behind on a narrow stretch of road.

ImageOur tour ended at Interlaken which we used as a base to explore the area, including the obligatory ride up to Grindelwald to stand at the foot of the Eiger.
We camped every night in Switzerland which ultimately justified carrying the camping gear, tho' touring a month later would have seen more regular use.

Throughout the tour we preferred to dine out to sample the regional cuisine and to give our evenings an enjoyable focus. But being able to brew our own drinks, even in hotel rooms, was well worth having the cooker!

This was our 'shakedown' tour and, bar a couple of unnecessary items of clothing, set us up well for the next trip. Hmmmm, Spain..? Or East-of Interlaken..? Sometimes you have just too much choice...<div class="blogger-post-footer">Image


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Original Published: 10:15am Monday, 14th June 2010 - NZST
Guy Trainor
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Re: Touring The Alps In May

Postby Trail on Mon 14/Jun/10 1:30pm

Wonderful part of the world over there. Looks like you had fun.

I am keen to head back over there and do a mountain bike tour through some of those regions. Travel light with a credit card styles... Would aim for July so that i could get over some high passes etc without the snow!!
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Re: Touring The Alps In May

Postby kaiteri on Mon 14/Jun/10 2:50pm

Yep, credit card touring feels pretty tempting when you're grinding your way up a col with a fully-laden tourer! I wonder about how available accommodation is in some of the more popular biking destinations during Summer, tho'. In Barcelonnette, we tried 4-5 two-star hotels before we scored the last room in the last.
When to tour the Alps is a trade-off, as you probably know, Trail. In May you get the magnificant snow-covered vistas but generally cooler temps (tho' the week before we arrived, Bourg D'Oisans was in the 30's!). In Italy under blue skies it was hot as and we were grateful to be there in Spring. I shudder to think what biking in those regions is like in high summer.
We'll probably aim for Autumn for the next trip.
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Re: Touring The Alps In May

Postby Trail on Mon 14/Jun/10 3:07pm

kaiteri wrote: I shudder to think what biking in those regions is like in high summer.


It is hot! :) but I like it :thumbsup: Nothing better than sweating away on the mountains before finding a lake to swim in! High summer has the problem of being very busy (both on the trails and in town for accommodation), especially in the popular towns. You are probably right to aim for the Autumn!!
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Re: Touring The Alps In May

Postby Oli on Mon 14/Jun/10 3:17pm

Alpe d'Huez on a singlespeed! Legend! :crazy:
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Re: Touring The Alps In May

Postby Trail on Mon 14/Jun/10 3:28pm

Oli wrote:Alpe d'Huez on a singlespeed! Legend! :crazy:


that would be super hard out... but a Rohloff is hardly SS :eh:

Guy Trainor wrote:Both fitted with Rohloff Sppedhubs 500/14 (14 speed)
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Re: Touring The Alps In May

Postby kaiteri on Mon 14/Jun/10 4:03pm

Speaking of Alpe d'Huez, on the way up we passed a mum(?) & youngster on their way down. He looked about 12. When we were coming down, they were on their way back up again! He was out of his saddle on the lower (steeper) section. They start'em young over there!
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Re: Touring The Alps In May

Postby mtb_matt on Mon 14/Jun/10 6:59pm

I guess things have changed since '97. When I toured around France, Italy, Switzerland and Germany in March/April every campground was open. Loved the pics.
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Re: Touring The Alps In May

Postby Oli on Mon 14/Jun/10 7:43pm

Trail wrote:
Oli wrote:Alpe d'Huez on a singlespeed! Legend! :crazy:


that would be super hard out... but a Rohloff is hardly SS :eh:

Guy Trainor wrote:Both fitted with Rohloff Sppedhubs 500/14 (14 speed)

oh lol, that'll teach me to just look at the pictures... :D
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Re: Touring The Alps In May

Postby Colin on Mon 14/Jun/10 8:46pm

:thumbsup:
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Re: Touring The Alps In May

Postby MTBChick on Mon 14/Jun/10 8:55pm

Wow, what an absolutely beautiful tour! :love:
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Re: Touring The Alps In May

Postby kaiteri on Mon 14/Jun/10 9:49pm

MTBChick wrote:Wow, what an absolutely beautiful tour! :love:


You should see some of he photos I left out - the patisseries! the gelato! the cheeses! - but I didn't want to give the wrong impression of what the tour was about :sly:
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Re: Touring The Alps In May

Postby jackymclaren on Tue 15/Jun/10 12:53pm

Ha ha ha! Getting your own back eh? Hey, it was great to read all this, and such detail! You didn't mention what kind of pedals your bikes were equipped with though, or the brand of cycling socks. I am very relieved to hear Deborah had a gel flow seat, however, sitting as I am on an inflateable rubber ring. A minor spill has kept me off a bike, well almost, for 3 weeks now but getting back in the saddle again tomorrow for an off roader. When I was 17 I hitched through Bourg D'Oisans with an Estonian friend, beautiful, I remember the gently coloured cows especially for some reason, all with bells on. The tent looks like a great idea. 5 years ago when I cycled a bit of Provence we just pitched ours out of site whenever we had had enough, surrounded by thyme, poppies and lavender, ahhh. It looks like you transected several climatic zones, how did the tyres cope with ice on the road? Not fun on hair pin bends when descending. Any problems with altitude? How long have you been back? Are you back? Has your horse like appetite subsided yet? Keep feeding it, it's amazing how for weeks afterwards you can just keep eating, eating, eating and still be starving. No need to write me a long reply, like all the others you have showered on me all year, you can tell me to my face in late July if you're around the home town. See you both very soon, Jax x
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Re: Touring The Alps In May

Postby MTBChick on Tue 15/Jun/10 12:58pm

kaiteri wrote:
MTBChick wrote:Wow, what an absolutely beautiful tour! :love:


You should see some of he photos I left out - the patisseries! the gelato! the cheeses! - but I didn't want to give the wrong impression of what the tour was about :sly:

Haha - no it's all part of the experience and it would have all dissapeared in the climb of the Alp d'Huez anyway ;) ! Do you have a link to any more photos in your blog?
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Re: Touring The Alps In May

Postby Al_Bushman on Tue 15/Jun/10 1:15pm

Mmmm - Memories. :music: Me and my better half did more trekking than cycling in the area you were for this tour, but I'll admit I was wishing I had my bike in some parts!

If you're planning another trip then the south of France (Provence) was stunning and well equipped with campsites (with pools). Alternatively Tuscany/ Umbria was also lovely, as were the Pyrenees in Spain/ Andorra.

I think out of 6 weeks of cycling in these areas we stayed in a hotel twice. In fact, when we landed in Nice, we set up our bikes in the arrivals lounge, ditched the cardboard and rode out of the airport! For pretty much the entire 6 weeks we lived in our trusty Macpac Minaret tent apart from a shocking weather day where we succumbed to a nice 4 Star Hotel for 2 nights. We had to stick our bikes into our Ground Effect 'body bags' and sneak them into our room :lol: .
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