High-Alps MTB Tour 2002


A Mountain-Bike Week in the Swiss, French and Italian Alps




Day 3, Monday, July 22, 2002: Val Savarenche – Colle de Nivolet (2532m) – Val d’Isere – Col de l’Iseran (2770m) - Bonneval S. Arc, France

The morning dawns clear. Today will be one the most beautiful days, with two high passes from Italy to France.

We start around 8:00am and the air is still quite cool and moist outside. When the road into the Val Savarenche was built, it was planned to go all the way over the Colle de Nivolet to Italy. However, the last  2-3 miles or so were never built, so today no motorized vehicle can cross this pass. With the bicycles, however, one can carry the bikes over the remaining gap. That’s what we have planned – it’s actually the easy part of today’s trip. Hence we have to push and later carry the bikes up for about 750 vertical ft or so.

To our East, the Gran Paradiso is shining in the morning sun. A clear blue sky is greeting us again this morning, hard to believe after yesterday’s rain!

Andi, who has gone ahead a little bit, is playing with the big boulders. Bouldering, MTB-style:

After crossing some flat meadows we get to a few lakes near the top of the pass ‘Colle del Nivolet’.

After a short break and snack we head on up to the top of the pass. Sure enough, Frank has to fix another flat. He attributes this to the extra-thin tubes he bought for this ride to “save weight”. He later acknowledges this to be a mistake and declares this experiment to have been proven a failure.

In the meantime, everyone else is just enjoying the magnificent view towards the South into the Italian and French Alps. The road from the Italian side on the South is particularly impressive and we salivate when thinking about the downhill ride.

Just a little further down we leave the road and take a right turn to the West into some small side-valley at one of the two lakes.

I am not sure I have ever looked up a steeper flank of a mountain with the intent to carry my bike across! At one point we need to climb up a fairly steep rocky slope with a fixed rope as a climbing aid. We get creative and each develop our own unique style to carry the MTB over our shoulders.

Here again there is an abandoned road project, and the pass-road and tunnel through the mountain never made it past the planning stage. Where there is a (planned) road in some maps, there is just a vast bowl of mountain, rocks and snow.

The slope gets quite steep and we have to negotiate a rock band to get to the top of the saddle.

Finally we get to the top and are treated to a spectacular view. We also need to put on our wind jackets as there is a rather stiff and cool wind up here.

The downhill is not as steep, but starts with plenty of snow. As such, we are testing our “skiing” abilities on the bike.

Eventually we get back on dry slopes, but it’s still a technical descent. Surprisingly we can ride down almost the entire descent, with hardly any sections to carry.

At a short rest stop we enjoy a beautiful view to the West down to the little village of Val d’Isere and up to the Grand Motte mountain which we had skied in winters past.

The afternoon sun is painting beautiful colors and warms us. It is absolutely magnificent. It is already 6:00pm when we get to the paved road near Val d’Isere. We have one more pass to cross in order to catch up ith our original schedule: The Col de l’Iseran, with 2770m one of the highest passes in the Alps.

I enjoy the climbs in the late afternoon and evening; there is very little traffic, the sun is low and warm, the light is particularly beautiful. It’s been a long day already, and we are all a bit tired. We each get in our own rhythm up the long ascent.

It is 7:30pm when we all top out at the Col de l’Iseran. Andi and I shake hands – certainly another highlight of this MTB trip.

After a long and fast descent down some 1200m we get to Bonneval, check into a small pension, eat some dinner and go to sleep. Frank isn’t feeling all that well this evening, but after a good night of sleep this should be better in the morning.



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