PEZ Rides Chamrousse!
Tour de PEZ St.12: The climb to HC category ski station at Chamrousse is the capper on the Tour de France’s first day in the Alps. I saddled up for a closer look on two wheels at the stage 13 finish, and find out who’s already set up camp.
While today’s stage from Bourge-en-Bress to Saint Etienne promised – and delivered – a finish for the sprinters, we took the day to point straight at Grenoble, and the chance to ride the climb to Chamrousse. We’re smack-dab in the French Alps now, and caught glimpses of Mont Blanc on the drive down from Geneva this morning.
My original plan was lofty – riding both the col de Palaquit (Cat.1 14km @ 6%) before the 18km 7.3% climb to Chamrousse over a 60km distance, but one thing you learn on Tour is that biting off less than you can chew is usually the best option.
My climb up took about 3 hours – the pros will do it in about 1 – and was a lot of time spent in my bottom gear. The day was already at around 30C degrees when I started in the town of Gieres at 27km to go, but in my ongoing battle with Mino’s gps, we blasted off in the wrong direction, adding about 3 more km to my day. This was not about logging big miles – nosirree Bob – it was about checking out the climb, taking some photos, and hopefully meeting some folks on the way up.
Let’s check the stats:
• 18km long
• comes at 179km into the stage
• base elevation: 413 meters
• summit elevation: 1730 meters
• average grade: 7.3%
• steepest pitches: 3km from 9% – 11% in lower half of climb
This is a nice climb on well surfaced roads, but for the cyclo-tourist it bears noting that most of the climb is in forest, and views are minimal. That’s not to say they’re completely missing, as a few vantage points offer some pretty stunning views of the valley below, and the bustling city of Grenoble (pop. 160,000).
The climb has featured in the Tour before – for a TT in 2001 – just don’t ask me who won it as we all know records from that decade are – well… confusing.
After the ceremonial coffee to start (and my only other fortification for today’s ride was a banana – simply too hot for anything stronger), I peeled out at the crack of noon – nothing like digging in to the hottest part of the day…
There’s a few kms of gentle rise here leading to a left turn that signals the start of la Chamrousse. It’s a small road and is filled with traffic, but the spa town of Uriage-les-Bains offers up some nice atmosphere and a couple of good photo ops.
A couple kms later – just past an unexpected golf course – you hang a left and the climb begins immediately. I’m loving how these Euro-climbs all begin with such declarations – 8% straight up.
I kept waiting for someting to happen on the lower slopes – maybe some interesting villages, or nice views – but it was pretty much all business – the first 4kms read off like this: 8% avg, 8%, 11%, 6%, then a very brief 3% respite along km 5.
I noticed the heat right away – it was warm, and windless – sort of like putting your trainer in a 30C degree room and cranking up the watts… for a while. This went on for some time, and the screw tightened over the next 2kms of 9.5%, then 11%.
There’s a brief flat section about half way in a place called Premol – but other than a bunch of campers and a pretty still looking pond, I’m not sure if there’s a town here or not. No matter, it’s onwards we go.
In the distance I see a lone figure churning out a pace not much slower than mine. It’s hot and I note the knickers. Some meters later I pull up beside Bernadette – a cheerful French woman, who’s obviously still full of life. We attempt a brief conversation and then bid each au revoir.
By now I was about an hour in and starting to feel the grind. Some runners jog past down on the way down, or did I just imagine that? A cool stream presented itself so I stopped for some cool water, and shortly lost my rythm. Luckily Mino had stopped for a few pics and I was able to regroup with a banana, and swap out the helmet for a cap with Mrs. Pez’s words “Be careful” echoing in my ears.
The climb goes on like this for the next 5km, emptiness until I started seeing signs of life at the switchbacks of the final 4km. Groups of campers had collected themselves – sorted by country – the Belgians, the French, even an English crew was here.
At last – signs of humanity – and welcome relief from talking to myself for the past 90+ minutes. I look for some folks who might speak English- or Italian, and say hello – which also provides a good reason to stop. I talk to Alex & Eddie, flying a huge Danish flag, so I assume they speak English. They’re figuring out the rules for Chinese checkers off the iphone, and are actually both French but have set up their version of a retro ’80’s camp directly across the from a battalion of French super-campers. They thought the Danish flag was a good way to to take the piss outta their rivals.
Joacuim is Norwegian – and another likely candidate for a common language. He and a couple buddies rented a camper two days ago in Germany, and will chase the Tour for the next two weeks through the Pyrenees. Some good times ahead.
I find a lone Italian supporter – a fit looking woman about 50-something, well tanned and catching more rays in a lawn chair. She admits she’s really a Contador fan, but with him out, had to switch allegiances on account of making a banner.
Then this guy passes me – easily well into his sixties, and at least 3 gears higher than I am. I speed up to snap this pic. Later, on my way down I pass him again near the bottom… he’s heading back up. There’s hope for me yet.
Up top is the ski station used for the 1968 Winter Olympics – there are a few people around – summer hikers, the odd face staring out of a hotel window. But it’s way quieter than I expected. The Tour crew has just arrived – the barrier guys are unloading, and the various signs are posted for parking, press, arrival.
By now the big showdown between Froome, Contador, Nibali, Talansky, van Avermaet and others is a non event – can anyone remember this many GC big boys crashing out of one Tour? But the racing will be classic Tour de France – it’s hot, the Alps are stunning, and these climbs will be as fun to watch as they are punishing.
Thanks for reading and see you tomorrow ~