Sunday, September 26, 2021

Col de l'Iseran - France

Last Wednesday I erased the Col de l'Iseran from my bucket list. It is the highest paved road in the Alps used only occasionally by the Tour de France as the weather can be treacherous as we saw in the 2019 race when stage 19 was abandoned following heavy rain and mudslides.

"Cols" are passes which for centuries have provided a way through the mountains. In this case the col takes its name from the Isere River which it follows from Bourg Saint Maurice in the north to the summit and then descends with the Arc River to Bonneville sur Arc in the south.

For me, it is a three hour drive to Bourg Saint Maurice and I have been waiting for a break in the recent freezing rainy alpine weather. Finally with a forecast for a couple of sunny calm days and a high near 50 I am on my way.

With a reservation for a small Airbnb apartment for a couple of nights I really luck out. I tell the owner my plans for the next day and she says if I have problems that I am to phone her and she will come and get me. A layer of security I sincerely appreciate. I also get a free St Bernard dog called Rocky who is very insistent that I play fetch.

Wednesday is perfect, sunny clear and calm. I leave at 9am and take it easy for the first 15 miles on the D902 up to the dam at Tignes where the road levels off and I go through avalanche sheds and several lighted tunnels as I ride around the lake to Val d'Isere.

Val d'Isere is a huge ski resort which in summer is a ghost town but there is one store open where I get a pastry and a coffee. Since emerging from the tunnels the scenery is gorgeous - the high Alpine mountains in every direction.

I leave for the final 10 miles and 3000 feet knowing the thinning air and the steeper grade will make life harder. But it is the most beautiful part of the ride - through alpine meadows ringing with the sounds of cowbells and a backdrop of rocky snow capped peaks and distant glaciers. I stop each thousand feet of climb to drink, munch on cookies and take photos and finally I am there - the summit - the sign - the restaurant - a beer.

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