Day 3 – Wednesday 2nd August – Bellecombe-en-Bauges to Séez (292km)
The campsite, called Les Framboisiers (hence the name of the dog), was wonderfully quiet and sleeping on mushy grass was a lot more comfortable than the hard, dry ground of the night before, so I woke up feeling refreshed and ready for a very long day of riding.
First, I had to make the remaining 90km to Thonon-les-Bains, where the route proper started. After leaving the campsite I crossed the second pass on the area, Col de Leschaux, and then rode down to Annecy. The city was beautiful (once again my GPS opted for the sightseeing route across the centre), but the ride from there to Thonon-les-Bains was rather forgettable – mostly motorway and a slow drive along a route nationale packed with delivery lorries, slow moving caravans and elderly people in small Peugeots.
This time the GPS did the right thing and took me to the starting point of the route, in the D902, instead of some neighbourhood in Thonon-les-Bains (maybe I am programming it wrong?)
I was very excited to finally be on the route, but compared to the roads I had been riding so far, the beginning was a bit of a disappointment – the D902 is a fairly important thoroughfare and, at least until Montriond, there was a lot of traffic. But don’t despair if you come to ride this route, things get better soon. Be patient and be careful, there are a lot of local people using this road and some of them are in a hurry – I saw some pretty on the limit overtaking in just a few kilometres, so do not take risks.
This bit of road passes through the Col des Gets, the first one in the route, but it is quite an unremarkable one (I actually did not realise I was there until I had passed it, so there are no pictures of it). The road then goes down to Cluses, where most of the traffic disappears onto the A40 heading for Geneva or Chamonix. From there on, the route takes a much smaller road, the D4, up to Col de la Colombière. Once more, this was the cyclists and bikers’ territory, the odd car quickly overtaken with a burst of acceleration as soon as there were a few metres of clear road ahead. In such narrow roads it is important to make sure the cars know that you are behind them and have the intention to overtake, as there is not much space, there are usually sharp drops with no protection whatsoever and the driver is usually distracted gazing at the amazing views, so you could be easily pushed off the road while overtaking. Always use the indicators, flash your lights or even sound the horn before starting the manoeuvre, use the shortest gear possible and watch out for cyclists coming the other way.
The col was rather narrow and there were a lot of cars parked at the top, as it is the starting point of many hiking routes. I stopped to have a rest, had some fruit while enjoying the views and went on my way down the other side.
The next one was Col des Aravis. A lot of hiking routes started from this one too, and in the distance, covered in snow, the Mont Blanc rose majestic, a sight to behold.
The descent down the other side of the col was gentle, across vast open fields of grass dotted with barns and wooden houses that seemed to have come out of a postcard. At the bottom of the valley I crossed the town of Notre-Dame-de-Bellecombe and started the ascent towards le Col des Saisies.
This one was flat and open, and had a skiing resort that, unlike some others that were closed in summer, was bustling with activity. I stopped, sat under a tree and took out the map to study the situation. It was well past midday and I was already getting tired – these roads were taking their toll, riding close to 500km day in day out was not an option here. I had been considering the idea of splitting the way to Briançon in two, and I thought that it would make for more relaxed riding, as well as giving me more time to write at the end of the day, so I decided to ride one more pass and then look for a campsite.
On the way down from Col des Saisies I noticed that I only had one bar left on the fuel gauge, so I thought that I would look for a petrol station once I reached the town at the bottom of the valley. Once there, however, there was no petrol station to be found, at least not in the direction I was heading, so I decided to take the risk and ride up the last col with the fuel I had left. To my surprise, I made it past the beautiful Lac de Roseland, across the Cormet de Roseland pass and down to Bourg-St-Maurice with fuel to spare. I was expecting the fuel light to come on on the way down, as I was past 300km, but it didn’t. Not only that, but when I filled up the tank only took a bit over 14 litres, meaning that there were still more than four left.
It was mid-afternoon as I left Bourg-St-Maurice, but it was tremendously hot down in the valley, and coming up next was Col de l’Iseran, the highest one on the route, and one that I wanted to enjoy, so I decided to call it a day and stopped at a campsite in Séez. It was quite a big place, the first with a bar, so I treated myself to the first beer on the trip, which did not help with the writing.
8. Col de Leschaux 897m
9. Col des Gets 1170m
10. Col de la Colombière 1613m
11. Col des Aravis 1486m
12. Col des Saisies 1650m
13. Cormet de Roseland 1967m