The ‘BikeHikers’ and Kevin departed Munchwilen on Monday morning, destination French Alps to watch what would be a series of gruelling mountain stages in the 2013 Tour de France. As this year was the 100th anniversary for the Tour de France, the emphasis was the French Alps and some of the classic mountain passes. We were going to see the Tour ride climbs such as the Col du la Madeleine (1993m), Col du Glandon (1924m), Col du Sarenne (1999m) and the famous Alpe d’Huez (1765m).
This was the first time riders would be required the ascend Alpe d’Huez twice in the same day. The Tour has climbed Alpe d’Huez in 26 editions but only once, in 1979, has it ascended Alpe d’Huez twice in the same Tour, but never twice on the same day.
We were also going to watch the final individual time trial at Embrun, 31km in distance with a total altitude gain of 1200m, Dan Martin (Garmin Sharp) described the course as ‘the most technically demanding time trial there has ever been in the Tour De France’.
We drove down to France via Genève and headed to Albertville. From here we left the main roads and drove over the Col du la Madeleine to Le Chambe. We then headed up the valley towards Modane where we turned off at St Michel de Maurienne and drove over the Col du Télégraphe (1566m) and the famous Col du Galibier (the highest paved road in the Alps at 2645m and last climbed in the Tour de France in 2011, Stage 18 won by Andy Schleck)
Once over the Galibier we drove down to the Col du Lautaret (2058m). This Col separates the “north” (mainly in the Rhône-Alpes région) and “south” (mainly in the Provence-Alpes-Côte d’Azur région) geographic areas of the French Alps. From the Col it was an easy 20km drive down to our camp site at Le Grave, at the foot of the north face of La Meije (3984m)
The Time Trial
We left the camp at 6am and drove to Briançon (at an altitude of 1,326 metres it is the highest city in the European Union) then down to Embrun (direction of Gap). We had some luck as we were not entirely sure of the actual time trial course and had decided to drive further to Savines-le-Lac where we crossed Lake Serre-Ponçon (Lac de Serre-Ponçon). After crossing the lake we were stopped by the gendarmerie and were fortunate to secure one of the last 3 car parks, as it turned out we then had a 5 minute walk to a point mid-way up the Côte de Réallon (1227m). We had a great view as the riders biked up the 6.9 kilometre-long climb at 6.3% – category 2 and were able to offer encouragement and advice as they passed. Chris Froome took out the stage but we saw some great racing and a number of riders were passed going up the hill.
This was the highlight of the 2013 Tour de France. Tour riders started in Gap and had a ride of 122km to get to Alpe-d’Huez. Along the way they would ascend Col de Manse, 6.6 kilometre-long climb at 6.2% – category 2,Rampe du Motty, 2.4 kilometre-long climb at 8% – category 3 and Col d’Ornon (1 371 m), 5.1 kilometre-long climb at 6.7% – category 2. Once they arrived in the village of Le Bourg-d’Oisans they faced Alpe d’Huez, 12.3 kilometre-long climb at 8.4% – category H, Col de Sarenne, 3 kilometre-long climb at 7.8% – category 2 and once again Alpe d’Huez, 13.8 kilometre-long climb at 8.1% – category H
We had driven up to Alpe d’Huez on Tuesday to look for a road that would not be closed and would provide access to a good viewing point. It was estimated that between 700,000 and one million fans lined the road from the town of Bourg d’Oisans up to the finish, at an altitude of 1,850 metres, and access to the road had been closed to cars for days before the race arrived. We located a minor side road that would allow us to drive to the village of Villard-Reculas and from there we had a 4km walk to the road the tour riders would take. We positioned ourselves on bend 18, amongst the German Fans. It’s hard to describe the atmosphere as this was one of the greatest sporting events and perhaps may not be repeated for some time. We arrived at our viewing point at around 8am and the riders were not due until 4pm however the atmosphere was incredible, one big party with 1 million cycling fans anticipating some of the most exciting kilometres of racing in the 100th Tour de France.
The photographs will portray the experience better than I can explain it, however this was the tour highlight that we will not forget and if you get the chance then go to Alpe d’Huez to watch that tour stage, you will not be disappointed
Bourg-d’Oisans / Le Grand-Bornand
Once we managed to get off the Alpe d’Huez, (our ‘secret’ pathway we used had around 10,000 people all using it at the same time to descend so it was a walk that required patience and a sense of humour), we headed to our car (from where we had parked cars were parked either side of the road for a further 4km) and then drove in the direction of the Col du Glandon. When following the tour you really need to decide ahead of the stage where you want to see the riders. Roads are typically closed 12 hours before the tour goes through and you cannot ‘follow’ the riders. We preferred to watch the tour on uphill sections as the riders are slower and the peloton tends to be more strung out so you get to see more. Also, Europeans will park their campervans in the best places days before the riders go through (on the Alpe d’Huez fans were arriving 3 weeks before the stage) and prime spots such as on the Col du la Madeleine are filled with campervans. We had decided to sleep in the car and ended up parking in the village of Le Rivier d’Allemont, this village is located on the lower slopes of the Col du Glandon and we had a great position to view the tour as it passed through
Once the riders went through, our 3 stages of the 2013 Tour de France were over, all that remained was returning to our campsite and packing up. To drive back to Switzerland we ended up driving via Briancon and over the Col de Montgenèvre (a high mountain pass in the Cottian Alps, between France and Italy) and then through the Fréjus Road Tunnel (connects France and Italy. It runs under Col du Fréjus in the Cottian Alps between Modane in France and Bardonecchia in Italy. It is one of the major trans-Alpine transport routes between France and Italy being used for 80% of the commercial road traffic). This then took us onto the French motorway system that we followed back to Genève. Driving on the French motorways is almost as exciting as the Tour de France, only the motorways have crazier drivers and higher speeds.
It was a 560km drive back, a few dramas along the way with weather (tremendous electrical storms in the west of Switzerland and a navigational error that cannot be attributed to Trip Leader, I am sure Gaby will explain that her ‘sense of direction’ is not what it used to be…) and we arrived back in Munchwilen on Friday night at 10.30pm. A great 5 day trip, hopefully the photos will give you an idea of our time watching the 2013 Tour de France.