When it comes to high mountains, none are more recognizable in the sport of cycling than the Alps. After all, it is here where many of the greatest stories have been played out in cycling’s legendary grand tours, the Tour de France and Giro d’Italia. And for Jérôme and Julien, two avid cyclists from the southern French city of Lyon, there could be no better way to celebrate the end of a long race season than with a weekend getaway in the Alps. On tap, we decide to tackle four very different climbs in two days. Simply put, it’s the perfect way to enjoy the autumn colors, reconnect with some epic climbs—and discovering others. So, on this October weekend, we pack up our bikes and take off on an alpine adventure.
Words/Images: James Startt
After leaving Lyon, we head east toward Albertville, host to the 1992 Winter Olympics, before climbing to the picturesque mountain village of Beaufort. Jean greets us at our lodge, La Grange de mon Père, helps us get settled in our rooms and directs us to a local restaurant in the heart of the village. Beaufort is in the center of a mountain valley of the same name, but for any Frenchman the village is known primarily for its tasty brand of cheese, celebrated since Roman times, whose strong odors are matched only by a distinct salty taste.
Needless to say, every dish seems to include the local cheese in some way, shape or form. And, of course, considering the climbing scheduled in the upcoming days, we see no reason to eat lightly on the eve or our adventure-packed weekend.
“What I like about the Beaufort Valley is its rustic nature,” says Jérôme, a longtime alpine guide. “It’s still very agricultural and it is one of the least developed valleys in the Alps. There’s a certain timelessness here that I just love.”
The sound of cowbells wakes us in the morning, reminding the three of us that we are far from our daily routine in the city. Over breakfast, we discuss our first climb, the Cormet de Roselend. While this may not be the most frequented climb in the French Alps, it is undoubtedly one of the most stunning. Over coffee in front of the fire, we look at the local map and quickly decide there is really only one way to access the Cormet, and that’s from the Col du Pré, a narrow, sinuous climb that will drop us down to the Lac de Roselend, a sublime turquoise mountain lake cradled in the heart of the mountains. And though we don’t know it at the time, we learn later that the 2018 Tour de France will arrive on this same road midway through stage 11.
But today the roads are ours. The autumn colors are in all their splendor as we’re greeted by a radiant sun that christens an abundant Indian summer here in France. Even the cows seem surprised to see us so early in the morning, as only a few locals are tinkering about. Arriving in the village of Arèches, Jérôme spots an old friend, a Monsieur Blanc, who’s warming up his vintage Citroën DS for a different kind of ride through the mountains. Monsieur Blanc seems just as intrigued by our state-of-the-art Look bikes as Julien and Jérôme are fascinated by his classic car. But, after a quick chat, we take our separate paths.
Choosing proper clothing for these alpine climbs is another challenge, for while the sun is shining now, we know that the cool mountain air will only drop as we climb. Julian opts for GORE BIKE WEAR distinctive Power 2.0 Thermo jersey with the classic GORE-TEX Shakedry jacket in his rear pocket, while Jérôme goes straight to the Shakedry with only a thermal base layer beneath.
Climbing through the trees we crest the Col du Pré and descend toward the Lac de Roselend. At the reservoir’s dam, one of the largest and most impressive in France, we roll across, enamored with the deep blue of the lake and stunned by the abrupt drop-off on the dam’s opposing side. Once across, we skirt around the lake, past a pristine 17th century chapel, before attacking the final slopes toward the Cormet de Roselend summit situated at 1,967 meters (6.453 feet) above sea level.
On the way up, the lush vegetation soon fades into jagged rock formations. And, just as suddenly, the morning sun vanishes. Overcast skies merge with our first glimpse of snowcapped peaks, while the temperature instantly drops as it can only do in the high mountains. Julien quickly stops and pulls out his Shakedry jacket and a pair of Road Gore-Tex gloves; he’s soon off again in pursuit of Jérôme as they make their way up the final kilometers of this memorable climb.
“Wow, I’ve heard of this climb, but never climbed it,” said Julien. “I’ll come back. It’s amazing!”
“Let’s hit the descent too!” Jérôme says, only too happy to show off another side of the Roselend after cresting the summit. “It’s great! And we can finish in the Ville des Glaciers. Nobody ever goes there!”
Soon enough the two riders are off on the challenging downhill, clearly not ready to finish this ride quite yet….