Friday, July 15, 2005

Alps Trip Day 9 - Champlas du Col to Lac de Mont Cenis

After a rather meager, but normal by Italian standards, breakfast I headed up the road to Sestrière to find the rough road that started the 'route des Crêtes'. It was truly worth the effort that was required to get to the start. It was one of the best rides I'd ever done. I'm going to seek these rough roads in future.

As soon as I got off the black asphalt onto the rough road peace descended. For the first hour I saw almost no-one. The initial ascent to 2400m was a bit tough, a bit more so than it would have been on asphalt, but less than I'd have imagined. The weather was perfect. The Sun never went behind a cloud and I never needed to either put on socks, which had the unpleasant side effect that my feet got sun burnt, or put on a jacket or windbreaker. The views were out of the World, across to the peaks of the valleys on either side of the range that the route followed. The alpine meadow flowers were out in force and were magnificent. Occasionally a marmot would scamper into view. There were lots of butterflies. The animal kingdom was best represented by grasshoppers, which numbered in there thousands. A Buddhist would have had quite a problem on the route, so many and stupid were the grasshoppers that it was impossible not to squash a few from time to time.

It was truly with regret that the route dropped me off back on asphalt after about 20km about 500m lower. Immediately the heat of the day began to impose using the blackness of the asphalt as an instrument of torture. Mercifully I only had to endure a couple of kilometres until the col delle Finistelle before the strada bianca restarted. I could see by the newness of the paving and the painted messages that the Giro d'Italia had passed this way though in the opposite direction. From the top of the col were a series of switchbacks that took me from 2000m to 900m, the first few of which were unpaved. If one counted the road all the way down to Susa 1400m was lost in 19km. I can see that this would have been a decisive stage. Susa was a historical town though it was too hot to hang around in. I couldn't find anywhere to have gelato so I left.

The climb from Susa to the night's resting place was very tough. The first few kms were steep and the heat was intense. I was quickly torn of my understanding that the climb to Mont Cenis would be easily knocked of before dinner. I'm glad that I met up with a French cyclist couple on the way up; it dissipated the despair of what seemed a climb without end and with neither dinner nor a bed in the foreseeable future. At almost 7pm we passed the French border.

Soon afterwards inquiries at a roadside hotel uncovered that gite d'étape accommodation. This was enough for me and I stopped, the French couple continued. It was their loss, the hotel; staff and clientele were a little rough around the edges, which made for nice viewing at dinner. It was filled with all the faded 60s charm to be expected from a 1-star hotel by a highway.

Distance - 85km
Time - 8:03
Max Altitude - 2542m
Tot. Ascent - 2903m

Colle de Basset – 2424m
Colle de Bourget - 2299m
Colle della Assietta – 2472m
Colle delle Finistelle – 2176m

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