Briançon Climbing Weekend: Day Two

For our first full day in the high Alps I planned a ride that Shoko and I could do together. She is disadvantaged by the fact that I go a bit faster these days and, more importantly, her equipment hasn’t been upgraded quite like mine has. Don’t tell her this, but I’m horrified every time I lift up her Trek hybrid. I’d forgotten they make bikes that heavy!

The plan was to at least ride up the flat part of the Vallée de la Clarée which, you’ll find out soon enough, is something to behold. In the first village along the valley we encountered our goal of the day: the Col de l’Echelle, a short mountain pass (1762m), in fact the lowest that connects France with its neighbors in the Western Alps (Switzerland and Italy). More on that, coming soon…

First, a couple of photos to show the scenery on our way up the wide (for now), wonderful valley.

Apologies for the blurriness, but this was taken on the go, as usual. The department of the Haute Alpes, like several others in France I think, have embraced the vélo, marking routes that, among other things, climb the many mountain passes they are blessed to possess. Some do boucles (loops), I noticed on Day 3, but they all share the same information, namely where you are going, how high it is, how high you are, and the gradient for the next kilometer (there’s a sign every km). It’s a great idea and gives the rider either motivation, dread, relief or horror, depending on the information at the bottom (the 3.8% on this sign means smooth sailing for at least one more click).

After nearly 20km of this bliss we turned to climb our little col, somewhere to my right, hidden up that narrow valley you can see.

And even though it was short, it certainly wasn’t easy. The average was close to 9%, but my little-wife-that-could chugged up it with little visible strife.

The day was still young and the rest of the main valley was beckoning us up it to see what was at the end of the road. But first, a coffee break…

What happened to our road is that it started to go up, following the river as the valley narrowed and gained altitude.

After passing Névache, the last village along the road, things started to get rustic and the traffic, except for an irritatingly frequent shuttle bus, stopped.

To give you some idea of where we are in the world, Tour de France fans among you will know of a little climb called Galibier. It is just on the other side of the mountains above.

After riding up this postcard for quite a while we finally reached the tiny settlement of Laval; at 2000 meters, higher than the col we were just so proud of climbing!

Stay tuned for Day Three, when the little wife that could, could again; and Mr. Patterson’s mountain mojo makes a epic return.

14 thoughts on “Briançon Climbing Weekend: Day Two

  1. Hi Gerry …. umm, do I mean Shoko?

    I have a Trek hybrid also, and rode it my first tour in France. My sense is that it’s not just the weight, though that counts, but even more the geometry of the bike. By the way, giving up the triple was anxiety producing, but the compact crank is just as effective.

    Love the photos… makes me want to explore another set of mountains, and another border area, in France!

    • And the width of the tires, etc., etc.,..The Alps are very different in atmosphere. I’d choose them out of season, like you do the Pyrenees anyway, but there are some outstanding rides there.

  2. That’s my kind of coffee break …
    On the subject of heavy bikes, I’m back to whizzing up hills way ahead of Chris now that I’m on my lightweight road bike Dave. It was a slog on the mountain bike. Much better for me but male pride may be slightly dented …

    • Sounds like Chris will shortly be living my dilemma, i.e. finding the cash to buy a new bike to keep up with his riding partner(s). Three of mine are now under the UCI weight limit, which doesn’t seem fair to me at all!

      • To borrow from a Lance expression “it’s not about the bike”‘, but more about the legs, and you’ve shown you got the legs. And I’m sure I don’t need to remind you about the extra body weight some of us are carrying!
        You + Sub-UCI weight bike = Very Dangerous.

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