Day 11: Col du Petit Saint Bernard

July 15, 2018

So it begins. Today we biked the Col du Petit Saint Bernard, which lies on the border of France and Italy. The saddle of the pass lies at an elevation of 2188 meters (or 7178 feet) and the road is only open from May to October. Apparently, archeologists have found various objects that indicate humans have been using the pass since the Iron Age. Hopefully they won’t find us there someday.

Ready to roll (L to R: Phil, Martha, Jason and Dave)

After breakfast with the group, we loaded up the van with our gear and snacks and secured the bikes to the trailer. We drove about 30 minutes to the base of the Col du Petit Saint Bernard in the municipality of Bourg-Saint-Maurice. From here a portion of the group started up the mountain for the full 26km ride (the portion not named Matt and Jo).

Varsity team hits the road (L to R: Phil, Martha, Jason and Paul)

We stayed with Amy and the van for a bit longer and started our ride at roughly the halfway point of the mountain near the ski resort of La Rosière, which is where stage 11 of the Tour de France concludes on Wednesday.

Ready for the arrival of the Tour

Our ride was about 13km of 5-6% grade incline up to the summit, starting at about 1600m. A couple rest stops along the way to catch our breath in the elevation and we soon reached the top. The scenery was amazing, of course.

Helpful km markers with distance, elevation and grade


Looking back down at Bourg-Saint-Maurice


Heading up toward Italy


About 1-2km from the top


Final switchback


One mountain pass down!


It’s nice up here

At the top, we waited for the rest of the group to catch up. As suggested by Amy, our group proceeded to cross the border into Italy and take a cappuccino break — as one does in Italy. We were treated with beautiful views of Mont Blanc (most of it), the highest mountain in Europe, and the surrounding Alps.

Much better than the French cappuccino place


The hills are alive with drying laundry

The weather started to turn, so rather than descend into Italy (to La Thuile), we determined it would be a better plan to get back down on the French side to about 400 meters above sea level for lunch in Bourg-Saint-Maurice. The ride back down started with rain, but quickly warmed up.

Almost beat the weather off the col


Better weather descending thru La Rosière


Claiming a prime spot for Wednesday’s stage 11

It only took about 30 minutes to descend from the top back to Bourg-Saint-Maurice — despite riding the breaks the whole time. According to the bike-tracking app we downloaded, Matt hit a top speed of 35.8 mph (which can’t be right, can it?!?). After that adrenaline rush, lunch was delicious. Plus, the weather was sunny in the valley, which was perfect for the gathering throng of French soccer fans preparing for tonight’s World Cup Final.

Celebratory lunch Cokes


French soccer hooligans

After lunch, we rode along a 15km bike path (flat) to meet up with the van. The ride was very pleasant and the path followed a rushing river with plenty of kayakers, rafters, etc. We managed to keep up with the group (for the most part) and made it back in one piece, having survived the first day.

All together, Matt and I rode 35 miles on the day, including a gain of over 2,000 feet in elevation. When we got back to the Chalet, everybody ended up watching France beat Croatia in the World Cup Final, 4-2.

Back in Le Praz


Afternoon view from the chalet


Everything coming up Milhouse for France

Dinner again was once again fantastic and we were able to watch a recap of the ninth stage of the Tour de France over dessert. We hung out for a bit before getting to sleep. Another mountain to climb tomorrow, so hopefully we will be functional.

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