The Coffee Ride, Col du Petit St Bernard, France
By Adrian Hill French Alps 08 April 2018
This ride is an all time favourite with our clients and is always used on the last day of any of our week-long camps or weekends. We call this our “coffee” ride and is a great finish to a tough few days of climbing in the Alps.
The Col du Petit St Bernard, or the Colle del Piccolo San Bernardo if climbed from the Italian side, is at 2,188 m and on the France-Italy border; located between Savoie, France and the Aosta Valley, Italy. So it’s always pretty cool to pop across the border to grab a decent Italian coffee!
We normally have a gentle spin in from Aime to get the legs ticking over. This can be via the cycle path beside the Isere river or the back road via Peisey. Either way it is a nice spin and fairly quiet.
The climb starts just outside Bourg St Maurice in the Tarentaise Valley which is a pretty famous ski town and also famed for other big TDF climbs such as La Plagne, Col de l’Iseran and Cormet de Roselend to name a few…
The reason this climb is so loved is that it averages only 4.4% with a max gradient of 6% which in comparison with most Alpine climbs is very easy, but it is 31 km long, so that kind of makes up for the gentle gradient!
The road is quite wide and just hairpins away. You do in peak season get a fair bit of traffic but normally you can ride two abreast and just line out if and when a car approaches, so never too much of a problem.
We normally try to ride up in a few small groups at varying speeds and on the early slopes with the gentle gradients this is possible. But with the climb being so long you still have to treat it with respect. On the way up there are some fantastic views across to the Beaufortain and the ski resorts of Val d’Isere and Tignes as well back down to Bourg St Maurice below.
After 22 km you reach the resort of La Rosiere and then pick up signs for Italy. From here the last 9 km of the climb are probably the toughest especially if the wind is against you. The whole time from here you can see the Hospice near the summit so you know you’re getting near but the road keeps turning away and keeps you guessing.
In early season, end of May to early June, the Petit can have some impressive snow banks either side of the road after a big winter season, making for some great photo opportunities.
Normally clients get to the Hospice and think that’s the summit, and if people are battling each other for KOM many a sprint has been launched too early with the actual summit being 1 km up the road! Once the hard work is done we spin across the border into Italy to grab a café macchiato and normally sit in the sun outside the bar surrounded by stunning views and the mighty Mont Blanc behind you.
Then for our clients, as this is a last day’s ride, it is just an out and back so we finish off with a gentle 31 km descent back down to Bourg St Maurice, generally peppered with photo stops before a regroup, and then back to base to pack bikes and have a few beers.
My wife, Shelley and I set up Alpcycles over ten years ago. We started with a goal to deliver amazing supported riding to every guest out on the road, ensuring they were well fed and looked after so they could relax and enjoy their time off the bike, as well as on it too. Ten years later and as well as continuing to deliver challenging, quality training camps, weekends and bespoke packages; we have grown into one of the leading providers of iconic and challenging events such as La Marmotte Grand Fondo, Maratona dles Dolomites and the Haute Route events, holding Official Tour Operator status for all of these events. I am still a guide, mechanic or driver come rain or shine with the rest of the team, and can sum up what it means to me in one line; “I think when cycling is everything to you this reflects in how your trips are run”. We are still as excited to ride in the mountains as we ever were and we share that passion with our experienced team of staff, who come together every summer with their wealth of knowledge and love of riding. Ultimately, it is our team that helps us to deliver the perfect road cycling experience to our guests, who, whether longstanding or new to Alpcycles know they are not just a number.