High-Alps MTB Tour 2002

 

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

 

 

Day 5, Wednesday, July 24, 2002: Lac de Tignes – Col de la Seigne (2515m) – Courmayeur, Italy

 

Today we wake up at an elevation of 2000m in Lac de Tignes. Andi starts the day with a short off-road MTB trial.

To warm up, we pedal past the shops we better remember from various skiing vacations many years ago. It is a strange sight to ride past the restaurants and shops we have only seen so far from the Apres Ski circus.

We enjoy clear skies and views of the Mt. Blanc in the distance. After a short warm-up along the lake shore in the ski resort we gear up for a long downhill ride all the way to Bourg St. Maurice, a vertical drop of more than 1000m. It is a long ride, and we are still cold when we get at the bottom. Shortly thereafter we arrive in Bourg Saint Maurice.

We are happy that we only need to endure this traffic for a brief period of time, as we take the less traveled road climbing up again towards the North. Only a few days ago the Tour de France has been passing on this very same road. We still see signs alongside the road as well as chalk markings on the road and garbage at some rest stops. We certainly pedal at slower cadence and move along with slower speeds; nevertheless we managed to cross many passes and covered quite a distance over the last couple of days as well.

During our climb we stretch out over several km, as each one of us rides up at their own speeds. After about 700m or 1 hr of climbing we wait at the intersection where our path leads away from the big road towards the East into the ‘Vallee des Glaciers' just South of the Mont Blanc.

The sun beats down and it is quite hot at 1:00pm. Shortly after this intersection we stop for over 1 hr and have lunch. Little did we know how quickly the weather would deteriorate! Within less than ˝ hr the sun is gone and dark, low hanging clouds cover all the mountains and threaten with rain.

We continue to pedal uphill into the valley. We have a high mountain pass ahead of us to get to our destination of the day: The famous Italian mountain village of Courmayeur, on the South end of the Mont Blanc tunnel connecting Chamonix in France with Courmayeur in Italy. We just hope for the best and that the rain will hold out a couple of more hours.

Once at the end of the road we need to hike up another 800m or so, pushing the MTB if not carrying it. On the before-mentioned 4-day MTB trip in 1995 around the Mt. Blanc Frank and I saw a rider coming up this same slope. He had so much luggage loaded on his bike that he needed to make two trips: One for the luggage without the bike, then descending and coming back up again, this time with the bike! Compared to that we enjoy our “Travel-Light” approach that allows us to shoulder our bikes and small packs and carry everything up if need be.

While there is harldy any sun, the clouds don’t develop into rain either. Overall it is quite scenic looking back into the valley we have been riding up.

Andi happens to be the first of us four and ahead by a few minutes. For some reason I accelerate and try to catch up with him. He thinks I’m trying to race him and so he accelerates as well. So we engage in a little race to the top, which pegs our heart rate at 180 bpm and keeps us sweating like crazy! We are oblivious of the unfolding clouds and we certainly don’t mind the cool wind. At the top the col is occasionally shrouded in mist. Every now and then the clouds still open up and we can already see down towards the East into Italy.

We are again at an elevation above 2700m, but still more than 2000m lower than the high slopes of the Mont Blanc to our immediate North-East, with 4807m the highest point in Western Europe. One we stop moving it gets cold quickly; so cold in fact that Andi decides to keep going down, while I bundle up and wait for Markus and Frank.

The following long descent is a bit technical at times, but we can still ride down most of the way.

Once we get far enough down the valley, we get out of the shade and enjoy some beautiful light in the afternoon sun. The round, white-capped summit straight above our heads is the top of Mont Blanc.

The light is magic. We stop and take lots of pictures. We envision the cover shots of bike magazines with similar light and surroundings. The covr story: “Come bike the Alps!”

We decide to hike up to the moraine of this huge glacier coming down from the high elevations. While somewhat unusual in the sense that we are now moving on foot without our bikes, this reveals some stunning views up and down the glacier, which is covered with several feet of dirt and rocks at its bottom.

The further descent into Courmayeur is a summer dream: We follow our long shadows and the sun is about to disappear behind the mountain range and the wall of clouds which formed due to the strong Westerly winds. The colors are brilliant, and its moments like these that you never want to end… This is why we came to the Alps to enjoy scenery like this!

Soon we are in the cool shadow of the mountain range. We roll down towards the valley, in part at very high speeds. Once in the village of Courmayeur, we seek out a decent auberge, file in with our MTBs and check in.

Next we all take a shower and put on our fresh cloths – or shall we say, the not-so-sweaty cloths – to get ready for dinner.

Dinner has rarely tasted any better, with fresh-baked oversize pizzas, so big that the four of them hardly fit on our table. We toast the preceding five days wth a glas of red wine.

Hard to believe, but this will be our last night on this trip! We have only one more day to ride over the Col de Ferret into the Swiss part of the Alps and back to Lourtier. Tomorrow evening we will already depart back to Munich!

 

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