It has been a little while since my last post and, quite frankly, I have no excuses. Sometimes it’s tough when riding with others to take the kind of pictures that are ‘bloggable’. Other times, I am simply lazy. But as I arrived back in Annecy last week to see the autumn colours dotted across the hills, I realised that there may be precious few bright days left! More importantly, it was time to look for those long-sleeved jerseys!
And so, for this post, I have decided to do a bit of a round-up about my experience doing hill climb races in the Tarentaise. And also, it gives me a chance to profile three little climbs in the area at once. So this, I guess, is a ‘three-for’ post.
There are numerous hill climb time trials across the Savoie and Haute Savoie in August and September. I think particularly as the cyclosportive season winds down, it is a relatively easy (and cheap) affair for local ski towns and a great way to highlight their summer activities. For climbers they are also short, fun, and relatively cheap (ranging from free to EUR 14) way to keep racing as the hot summer days make long alpine sportives a bit of a drag.
- Les Coches
The first little climb in this series is the 9.2km from Bellentre via Montchavain to Les Coches. Like all hill climbs in this area, it generally ends at a pretty little ski resort somewhere on the Vanoise side of the Tarentaise.
From Bellentre, you head across the river and turn left towards Landry (and toward the Rosuel Valley if you were doing the climb up to the national park) and then a right towards Montchavin Les Coches. I guess it isn’t on anyone’s ‘to do’ list as I couldn’t find a profile for the climb. Based on Strava, however, it is approximately 6.5% average (7% for the first 6km and 6% for the last 3km) the entire way and it is fairly consistent. Nothing much in terms of views but if you were in the area and looking for a quick little training ride, then this is a 30 – 40 minute effort and a nice little 15 – 20 minute cruise down afterward. Good for intervals, low cadence days and other boring training efforts we have to do!
As for the race itself, in case you’re interested. It was a mass start out of Bellentre with a neutralized opening for the first two kms or so until the turnoff where the climb began. There were around 30 of us who turned up for the climb – it was a free event – and lots of familiar local faces. And the odd celebrity – Jeannie Long0 (59-time French National Champion and 13-time World Champion) was there with her husband and the only ones in skinsuits! [note: next year, get skinsuit and scare everyone at uphill time trial events]
Of course I wasn’t expecting too much when up against the most decorated female cyclist of all time – even if she is 57 years old! – and was fairly content to come in second. Jeannie came down and gave us some encouragement on the final kilometre, defying her reputation of being a bit of a bitch. We followed her down after the race and admired at her ability to fit that enormous trophy into the back pocket of her skinsuit. Definitely something to learn from. BUt you’d also think that someone at her level would be able to keep their equipment in better condition (hello, squeaky brakes!!!).
Still, while I may have been happy with runner up in 2016, next year, Jeannie, I’m coming to get you!!
Unlike the Montée Bellentre – Les Coches, Courchevel was a far more sophisticated affair. First of all, it cost EUR 10 to enter (a whopping good deal if you do it on the final Sunday and get a fantastic lunch in the village afterwards). Second, there is prize money at the end of the month. Third, there are four dates spread across July and August for you to have a crack. Fourth and finally, it is a real individual time trial where you start on a ramp with two guys holding the bike and counting you down. It all feels very pro.
But really, it was the prize money that lured the pros. I turned up on the final day – a Sunday morning – for the climb and immediately spied three pros. Fanny Leleu – a French woman who came 6th in the Tour de France Feminin who had already raced this one but was back for another crack at the money. She was already in the lead with a 50′ climb. Then there were two Colombian women racing for an Italian pro team, who turned up with their support van.
I actually found this to be positive – it took all the pressure off and allowed me to treat the ride as TT practice without worrying about the outcome. It was funny watching the lead-up to the race. The start time was self-selective as you chose your dossard number by the time you thought it would take you to reach the top. I figured I would take just over an hour and so opted for the 300 group (the slowest). The fastest (an estimated time of under 50 minutes) was reserved for the 100s and I saw many a bloke rocking a number that defied what I would asses were his physical limits. Still, hubris is well-known principle in cycling.
The climb itself is not all that spectacular. Although admittedly I spent the vast majority of my time staring at my Garmin as I tried to work out my new power meter readings, Froome style.
The course is 15.5 km with 1,000 m of elevation gain. This amounts to around 7% average throughout the climb. I miscalculated my effort a bit and was following the signs by the side of the road, thinking it was another two or so kilometres to the end when the TT stopped at the Hotel Mercure. Still, the climb itself isn’t bad and you pass through a couple of nice little villages en route – La Praz and then the Courchevel village – which would have coffee shops and whatnot open even in the summer.
I hope to get back out here again in October as I will be staying in the area and I will update this post with some pictures, accordingly.
3. La Rosière
La Rosière is a ski town known to many who tackle the Petit San Bernard climb to Italy from Bourg St Maurice (the other end of the Tarentaise valley from Courchevel). But if you’ve only ever climbed up the main road, then you’re missing out.
The La Rosière Montée tackles the alternative route up to the resort. The road is windy and steep, passing through small villages as you climb out of the valley. From Seez, you begin the climb towards the Col du Petit San Bernard before taking a right towards Montvalezan. The road then winds up at around 8 – 10 %, with some pitches into 11 or 12% at times. Once you pass through Hauteville, you will pop out at the main road, with the final three kilometres an easy 4% or so. If you aren’t racing, this is the time to take in the view to your right as the valley floor seems an impossibly long way down.
The entire montée is 15.5km from Seez and beautiful both ways. If you are coming back down the village route, be careful of the technical corners and it’s also a bit difficult to even see the first sharp left hand turn. Or you can just cruise down the main road again, though it is much, much longer.
The race itself was a fun one. Again, it was the final Friday night of the season and there had been I believe six climbs in total. One of the local fast guys – from the Macot La Plagne club – had been there every week and was rewarded with a bottle of wine for his efforts. He also managed to snag second place, which was an impressive feat given the competition.
The pool was around 30, with three women. I would estimate about one-third of the racers from Macot La Plagne club as most of the racers are based in the area. Another third was made up of the AG2R development team, at least some of whom had competed in the Tour de l’Avenir earlier that day, and already climbed the 50km up Col de l’Iseran plus the rest of the stage. But nothing is too much for a bunch of 17 – 20 year olds and they were out of the start gate like nothing I’ve ever experienced. And then there were around 10 of us who made up the remainder.
It was a mass start, with about 200 metres neutralized at the beginning to get everyone out of the parking lot and then a blistering start by the young pros. I settled into my pace and was fairly happy with making it up in 59 minutes. It could have been faster but then there’s always next year. And I won a vest. Perhaps my most useful racing prize of the season.
I’ll be sure to come back and post more pictures once I’m in the area again but till then, here’s a slightly dark picture on the way down and a podium shot. A beautiful climb and next time I’ll be sure to keep going and have lunch in Italy on top!