June 9th 2021
Today was an early start as I wanted to do a longer ride. The fog hung in the valley and started to dissolve as I got higher, making for some beautiful views.
My goal today was to ride up to Tignes in the hope to spot the Jumbo-Visma team which are on altitude camp there. But because the main road from Bourg to Tignes is quite big and boring I made some more adventurous plan. I had heard a lot about the mountain hamlet of Le Monal just above Saint-Foy-Tarentaise-Station. Only accessible via a gravel road, prohibited to cars, it looked great from the pictures I saw.
As I exited Seez I followed the main road in the direction of the Col du Petit Saint-Bernard. After the first 6 hairpins I left the main road to get to Montvalezan, the road used when the Tour finished in La Rosière in 2018. But instead of climbing further to the col, I followed the main road and started to descend in the direction of Sainte-Foy-Tarentaise.
But just before reaching the centre there is a small road to the left to the village of Le Bathieu. From here on in it’s just an absolute delight to ride. Very quiet, no cars, some nice views but quite steep. A few hairpins take you through the lovely hamlets of Le Raffort and Chavarnier. I then continued straight on to Montalbert and the main road to Sainte-Foy-Station although it’s possible to continue higher and then rejoin the ski resort through a gravel road. Maybe next time…
But today I traversed the ski resort and followed the narrow, paved road. Eventually it turns into a good quality gravel road. I was riding 30mm tires without profile and that worked just fine. Last year, the Jumbo-Visma’s did this ride on their race bikes. Once you exit the forest, you suddenly find yourself in a setting which I can best describe as the Shire. Beautiful green pastures spread against the mountain slopes. A first hamlet, L’Echaillon, consists of a narrow road through some shacks. The next stretch of road runs parallel to a little river before crossing it and continuing through the fields to the main attraction of today. Exquisitely placed in a little bowl in the valley, the hamlet of Le Monal looks like a postcard. A gorgeous collection of stone houses, far away from all civilization. When I rode through it a couple of women were walking around with their phone in the air, frantically looking for a signal.
After Le Monal there is a very steep passage (20 %) which I just about managed to ride without having to get off my bike. The descent traverses another couple of lovely hamlets before turning into asphalt at Le Chenal. A great descent and 10 hairpins later we rejoin the main road to Tignes. However, it’s only 2km before the turn-off to Tignes-Les Brevières which is the quieter and more scenic route to the dam.
The Tour de France passes here on July 4th and it was worrying to see how much road works there were still going on on this road and also on the main road into Tignes. As I road through Tignes I spotted the black/yellow Jumbo bus and I road past their hotel. It was abandoned but 200m further I spotted none other than Primoz Roglic having a quiet walk on his rest day. He was kind enough to have his picture taken.
I started the long descent into Bourg and decided to stop for a coffee in Pause Koffee, a local coffee bar where you often see cyclists. And lo and behold, who was just getting of bike and also looking for a table ? None other than Wilco Kelderman. I’ve been a fan of his for years (I can vividly recall my heart breaking on last years Stelvio stage in the Giro). Luckily he is every bit as friendly as I hoped and he joined me for a picture.
So all in all a memorable ride, from the discovery of the gorgeous roads around Le Monal to some chance encounters with some pro riders. It doesn’t get a lot better…