Briançon Climbing Weekend – Day One

Possibly motivated by the beautiful photos of Steepclimbs’ recent Rockies climbing extravaganza, or more probably encouraged by the fact I have my good friend Clément’s car for the month, Shoko and I took a long weekend and drove the 4 tiny hours that it takes from our front door to the Hautes Alpes, where some majorly fun climbing can be found, I’m finding!

I worked in the morning on Friday, so it was nearly 5pm when we got into the hotel in Briançon, but there was plenty of sunlight left and I had itchy feet. A quick scan of the Michelin and I was off. Here’s the parking lot of the Ibis, showing the promise surrounding Briançon.

I think Sunday’s climb is down that way, but I didn’t have time for monsters like Izoard, so I headed up towards Italy instead.

The climb, the Col de Montgenèvre (crossed in Stage 17 of last year’s Tour de France, by the way), is a mere 8km from the city, but involves 500 meters or so of vertical climbing. As can be guessed by the photo above, it is busy (especially in August), being the main road between the town and Italy.

A kilometer or so after this photo was taken the road transformed into a real European cycling climb, i.e. the switchbacks started. Once I got onto this part the world slowed down and it was pretty peaceful, even with the crowds of campervans, cars and motorcycles. At the top is a ski station, which more or less straddles the frontier (Italy is actually a couple of km down the other side).

I found another big tall thing on the other side of town; this one erected to honor “Napoleon, Emperor and King’, who had this route built, according to the plaque at the bottom.

I should thank Mr. Napoleon for his handy work because my descent was a fast, eye-watering experience and, even with half the day on the road and the other half sitting at my desk, thanks to him I worked up quite a nice apetite for dinner.

I leave you with some fortifications above the old town of Briançon, built by Marshall Vauban, which I presume are part of the group that is classified as a UNESCO World Heritage Sight.

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