CCC Northern Alps in five words explained
It’s hard to deny that riding a ‘name’ climb will always provide a good moment on the bike. Connecting with recent race history via the road graffiti ; imagining the thousands of fans at the side of the road ; measuring yourself occasionally against another rider. The Galibier, Iseran, Izoard, Alpe d’Huez are spectacular natural arenas for our sport. I love this beautiful contrast between the immobile and eternal nature of these places and the surreal, ephemeral frenzy that a Grand Tour stage brings to them, just for a day or so !
There are many areas in France to choose from for a few days of class riding. The Vercors should be on every rider’s list. It’s dense forest, deep gorges, huge walls of gracefully towering rock and wide open high plateaux combine to offer the rider a tough but beautiful ride. I have never had as much admiration for our road-builder ancestors as here : when tunnels were not an option ( there are some impressive ones here nevertheless) , roads were somehow carved into rocky overhangs and today remain in perfect condition. But don’t look down if you suffer from vertigo !
Amongst all of the iconic climbs in this area, there are some real pearls that thankfully still remain less visited. Perhaps there is too much choice ?! Our journey explores much of the Ain region in the first two stages : full of roads that match the best of Alpine, but only ridden by the locals. Pontis, Arpettaz, Pra l’Etang, Mont Colombis,….I could hand out many more. To ride the intimate, quiet roads somehow enhances the experience of riding the Giants.
Stage 8 is a CCC take on « La Marmotte » Sportive : 207km with over 6000m of UP. On the menu :-the Glandon, Croix de Fer, Mollard, Telegraphe, Galibier, Lautaret and the Sarenne to end with, and including a ‘bonus’ loop before St Michel de Maurienne. It’s pure Alpine Classic, with a CCC touch. It’s a huge day out and for many their ‘targetted’ stage of the event. Just like the Sella Ronde day on the CCC Dolomites, or the multiple-Mont Ventoux stage on the CCC S Alps, this is a day of (almost) no surprises and yet it replies generously to all expectations every time. Pure Classic Alps.
I recall the first time I rode this one : nearly 40°C in Susa. The first extraordinary section through the woods with its numerous tight switchbacks was stiffling. But the tarmac was silky and expectation was pumping. I was lucky though to be riding it a week ahead of the Giro. The next 9 kms of gravel had been rolled hard for the race. It was less hard than I expected but the beauty, the wilderness and the views, both of the high slopes around and of the summit, with the old fort ruins looming mysteriously, far exceeded my hopes. In 2017 we rode this same section in July, after months of drought and of 4x4’s churning up the tight bends. We could hardly remain upright as we tried to turn our wheels in the deep, loose gravel. Views were obscured by dense fog. 50 metres from the top we could still not see it. And yet smiles were beaming on all faces. The Finestre doesn’t dissappoint.