The descent off of the south side of the Col de Saisies is a terrific drop with switchbacks and gentle chicanes. However, for those looking for more impressive views and a descent worthy of Mel Gibson’s career, there’s a small road at the end of town that takes a different, far more switchbacked route to the valley below.
I’ve been dreaming about riding this road since the first time I rode it, back in 1999. It’s a double-chevroned affair, pitching between eight and 10 percent most of the way down.
After Monday’s ride, an amusement park attraction like this road was just what we needed.
You won’t see any pictures from Monday’s 80-ish miles and more than 8000-feet of climbing (over the Col de Cou and the Col de Feu) because it rained the whole day (though there were a few minutes here or there in which water stopped actively falling from the sky). I was well prepared, but it’s not the sort of ride I’d want to do for two straight weeks, nor was I willing to sacrifice my camera.
Light rain greeted us at breakfast but by the time we were ready to pull out of Taninges, the rain had stopped and the streets were beginning to dry.
We rolled from the hotel and headed for the Col de la Colombiere, a Category 1 climb used in this year’s Tour de France. In fact, we rode a fair chunk of stage 9’s course. At 16.5km, the Colombiere was tough, but the worst was reserved for the final few kilometers at the top, enough so that the climb averages 6.7 percent. We made a quick stop at our van for food and drinks and began the drop, which, all things considered was probably my favorite descent of the day.
Coming over the top of the Colombiere, I was amazed at just how quickly the road sank and I was reminded of this Graham Watson shot of Dag-Otto Lauritzen coming over the top of the Col du Glandon in 1988. The look on his face says it all.
The next climb we tackled was the Category 2 Col des Aravis. On the whole, it wasn’t so bad; at 7.6km and an average gradient of 5.9 percent, it reminded me of a fair number of climbs I do in Malibu. It was chilly at the top, and we spent just a short time at our van before heading down to the town of Flumet for lunch.
Immediately upon crossing a bridge in Flumet you begin the ascent of the Col des Saisies. This Category 1 climb averages only 5.1 percent, but that figure is deceptive. There are kilometers that average three percent while other kilometers average eight percent. The changes in pitch were disruptive to my rhythm, but honestly, the flatter pitches were welcome.
The best news of the day was that Albertville—no, we didn’t continue on to the Col de la Madeleine—where out hotel was located, was 26km away and nearly every meter was downhill.
We’re taking some liberties with the actual Route des Grandes Alpes. When we ride out of Albertville, the route heads up the Cormet de Roselend, some 24km uphill from the point we finished the descent of the Col de Saisies. That’s not what we’re doing Wednesday.