Alpine Cycling Adventures. Part 2

in cyclefeed •  10 months ago  (edited)

This is a series of posts on my daily rides and other events on our holiday in Bourg d’Oisan in the French Alps. I started to write an account of each ride individually and then thought that I was missing some interesting stuff either side of those rides and thought I would add it for your reading pleasure. It’s a daily diary if you will.

Ride 2 The Col d’Ornon

Today was the arrival of the first set of our friends, Gavin, Laura and baby Henry. I was initially going to hold off on my ride until Gavin arrived and then go out together, but it was getting late so I went for it. I got on the road fairly sharpish and headed straight down the bypass to the same point as yesterday but this time I stayed on the road to The Col d’Ornon. This is a steady climb that travels through a valley. It is 7 km from this point with a max gradient of 10%. My legs were still feeling a bit heavy but this time I was determined to stay the distance and get to the Col.


I reached the village of Ornon and stopped to get some water. One of the great things about cycling in this region is that there are fresh water taps in each village that are supplied by the streams that come down from the mountains. This really makes organising your ride a lot easier and one less thing you have to worry about.

The Finishing Straight

My dad at the summit a few years back

You cross a little bridge when you leave the village and that signifies a steep section on the climb. It feels like 25% but is probably 10% but this year it had new tarmac laid which seems to make me go faster. At the end of this section it opens out so that you can see the beautiful views. It’s just past this point where you reach a couple of hairpin turns and you know you are on the finishing straight. That finishing straight does always seem to go on longer than you remember it but nevertheless, I made it to the Col and slumped over the handlebars.

From the village of Bourg d’Oisans to the Col d’Ornon and back is 28 km. At the base the climb is 11.1 km. The maximum gradient on this climb is 10% but the average is 5.8% over the total climb and total ascent is 764 meters. The highest point is 1380 meters and Bourg d’Oisans is at 720 meters. My target time was an hour and ten minutes.

Orrrrrr Gone!

The descent is long and fast and one of my favourites. It has some moments that are a little dangerous with big drop offs over the side of the road but other than that you can see down the road with advanced warning of cars and work out your best line to the corners. You go back the way you climbed and you really do fly down the hill. I’m hitting 70 km by the time the hairpins come around so it’s hands down on the drops and hard on the brakes. Start out wide and then swing in to the apex (on the correct side of the road) making sure there are no cars coming up the climb, keeping the speed out of the corner and then back to the power on the pedals. The village of Ornon goes by in a blur and you are descending fast again.

The Col d’Ornon is actually a Tour de France climb. It has been used eight times from 1966 to most recently in 2017. It has been used only once in the direction that I have climbed it and that was in 1979. It is categorised as Cat 3 climb.

Don't Look Down

This is the point where there are some sheer drop offs to your right side so it can be a nervous descent for some. Though for me it just seems to motivate me even more. There is real beauty and art in finding the right line on the road and committing to it. Trusting in your bike to hold the road while you lean your weight side to side to keep the maximum speed into and out of the corner. I don’t feel more alive at any point in my life than I do while I’m descending a mountain road.


I reach the bottom in less than ten minutes and, with a huge smile on my face, time trial off back to the campsite. I get back and have a quick shower and wash and hang up my kit ready for tomorrow. We are cooking a spaghetti bolognaise tonight in preparation for the first of our friends, Gavin and Laura with their baby son Henry, arriving.


They found Bourg with no issues, located their guesthouse in the village and unpacked. We described the little journey to get to our chalet and within minutes they were there. We met them out the front and it was great to see them again. It had been a year since we saw them and in the meantime they have had little Henry. Along with all the other friends we meet here, they are friends from the school in Thailand that we all taught at. Gavin and Laura are teaching in the UK again and have travelled from Norfolk.

The Plan

We catch up over the bolognaise and a few beers and plan out the next few days. The rest of the friends arrive tomorrow but we definitely have time to get a good ride in before they show up. We decide upon Les Deux Alpes. Partly because it’s a medium difficulty climb to start with and partly because the others can have a day out at Venosc, catch the cable car and meet us at the top for a meal.

The other thing to mention is that I had forgot to use Strava for the first couple of rides so from now on I have some Strava data to add. We agreed to leave at 9am from our campsite.

Les Deux Alpes

We started off this ride with a nice easy flat journey along the valley and then we suddenly turned in to the main alp road to Briancon called the D1091 and then you are climbing. It’s not really a recognised climb but I would imaging that it is 5 - 6% average all the way to the base of Les Deux Alpes.

Ride Options Are Everywhere

The first thing of note that we hit was the first of four tunnels. It’s fairly wide and reasonably well lit compared to some of the local tunnels. Gavin was a first timer in the alps and was concerned that this was not the start of the climb as it was fairly intense for a through road. The road eased off slightly after about 5 kilometers and you drop into the pretty little village of Le Freney d'Oisans. This is the exit point for the balcony route (another great ride in the area) from Alpe D’Huez, so I know it well from the past. We quickly passed through Le Freney and started to steadily climb once more.

This next section is about 4% but long and straight. We got a rhythm going and felt reasonably good during this stretch. The mountains are morphing all around you as you go deeper into the alps. They start high and just get higher and higher until you just won’t believe your eyes.

The Reservoir

We got to a little part of the journey that descends and then goes through another tunnel and out into a beautiful scene. In front of us is a huge reservoir that stretches beyond where you can see through into the valley. The main Briancon road goes over a bridge and down the left of the reservoir past a plume of water coming from the reservoir that really is quite something. This is the base of Les Deux Alpes and it heads into the other direction from the bridge.

Cannondale Buddies

We stopped to take some photos and then we were both eager to get this climb underway. It starts as a solid gradient, probably 7% or close to. Gavin seems to be keeping up a good pace after his earlier concerns and that is good because I’m inside my comfort level at that moment, just! It was fairly warm but not ridiculously hot as it can be and we were in a nice rhythm. There were a few riders going up the mountain but we were holding our own only getting passed by a couple of riders. Actually, one of those riders was a very fit and professional looking woman who said ‘nice bike’ to Gavin as she went past, as she had the same model Cannondale.

The Duex Alpes climb is 9 km with a maximum gradient of 10% but an average of 8%.

Mont de Lans

We reached the first point of note and that is the roundabout and plateau at Mont de Lans. This offers a tiny bit of respite before the rest of the climb. We were both feeling ok at this point and plough on. You can tell we are ok because we’re still able to talk to each other, it’s when you hit the red line, or close to the red line, everything tends to go a little quiet.

Stay Away From The Red

One new edition that they have added to the climb is the counting of the hairpins “a la D’huez.” It’s certainly not comparable in terms of turns but it’s a nice addition. The leg burn was starting to kick in big time. Gavin had the legs on me but, to be fair, only by a little. I was managing a redline situation at this point but doing reasonably well with it.


I’ve stopped monitoring my heart-rate the last few years mainly because my Garmin had all but packed up and I didn’t want to spend the cash to replace it. For anyone that is using one, it is a fantastic guide to your ride. Back in the day I used to be able to ride in the 160’s to mid 170’s without ‘redlining.’ I could pretty much ride all day at that rate as long as I refueled and had plenty of fluids. If I start to hit the upper 170’s then my day will rapidly shorten. I’ve measured my heart-rate as much as 198 on D’Huez on one of my early rides a few years back. It is the only time I’ve ever felt I needed to stop and got off of the bike to rest on a climb. I say rest, but I was probably stood there for 3-4 minutes before my HR slowed and I jumped back on to continue the climb.

Oink Oink

As we approached the final corner I warned Gav that it was a little deceiving and that this final stretch was a ‘bit of a pig!’ Sure enough, it gives you that feeling of hitting the resort fairly quick as it opens up but Nuuuuuuuu! It goes on forever, never quite flattening out and your legs just start to sting because your brain is saying ‘finished!’

The Jets and the Sharks

Eventually you get there and it plateaus. As the name suggests it really is two alps. You are in a valley between the two peaks and it has a very individual feel. In the summer it is very much cycling territory with road bikers climbing up from the base and downhill mountain bikers rolling down from the ski pistes, but we all meet at the resort in a melting pot of cycling.

We did it

We roll along the high street as quick as our lactic acid filled legs will allow and take in the sights. It’s Gav’s first summit and he’s rightfully feeling pleased. We have a little fist bump and start looking for the girls in the restaurant that we arranged the evening before.

Here is an account of the girls journey from my daughter Jaime

The four of us got in the car and started our journey to Venosc. Travelling down the winding roads of the Alps is just astonishing. My parents always fight about who gets to drive through them. The whole way down you have an icy blue stream to the right of you just inviting you to take a swim. The journey takes about 15 minutes, but those 15 minutes couldn't be anymore beautiful.

This is Jaime at Venosc on one of our first visits

We drove up into the village of venosc to show Laura and Henry the old, small village containing cobble stones and cottages with little baskets and shutters making the houses look pretty and vintage. We went at the wrong time really, lunch time, when everything, and I mean everything, is shut. The French are very particular about their lunch times. Mine and my mums favourite jewellery shop is in venosc. They sell handmade crafts for all ages, each of which is beautifully carved and carefully painted in all vibrant colours. Unfortunately, that too was shut so Laura and Henry couldn't have a look, but she was still astounded by the beauty of one small village. Henry was pretty mesmerised too.

We were all getting pretty hungry and decided that it was time for lunch. Laura and I walked down to the gondola to save us the trouble of putting the pram back into the car. Mum drove the car back down and got the tickets whilst she was waiting for us.The tickets were relatively cheap and it's all worth it. Even Henry had to get a ticket! It was free though! Getting on wasn't the easiest with a pushchair as you can probably imagine: taking it all apart, putting it on, actually trying to get on ourselves with a baby and then repeating the same at the other end. But once you are in, you are in.

The views are absolutely stunning. Underneath us is a downhill mountain bike trail called Le Diable (the Devil). Sounds delightful right? It looks absolutely terrifying, I don't know how people do it! Depending on the weather you can sometimes see people paragliding down Les Deux Alpes. It looks so thrilling, I'd love to be able to do it someday. The total journey takes around 5-10 minutes travelling to an altitude of 1650m.

Once at the top, we assembled the buggy and made our way up to Le Cellier, an amazing restaurant that serves the best tartiflette!! About 30 minutes later, a very sweaty Dad and Gavin turned up after cycling Les Deux Alpes. We all sat and ate our tartiflette and soon said goodbye and good luck to the guys for the descent down the mountain.

Le Cellier Website

The restaurant that we visit is Le Cellier. It is a cracking little restaurant tucked away in the back of the resort, more towards the cable car end. We have used it a few times and the food and service is great. It’s always fairly quiet in the summer but I can imagine that it would be packed in the winter. Jayne had already ordered us a Tartiflette which is a favourite of mine and is classic mountain food. It is a dish of potatoes, garlic, onions and bacon finished of with a whole reblochon cheese baked over the top! To be fair this is not really a mid cycling meal, but it’s lovely and I appreciated it being there ready for us when we arrived. The girls were sat down and gave us a little cheer when we arrived. We sat down to our awaiting food and got stuck right in. I don’t know whether it’s the quality of the food, the air, the exercise or what, but food tastes so much better in the alps. Even the coke tastes amazing.

Hello Google

There is an interesting story from Le Cellier from 2015 when we were last here. I had cycled up and met Jayne and Jaime in a similar way also at Le Cellier. As we were eating our food a Google street view car came past with the 3D camera on the top. We forgot to check until earlier this year and sure enough there is a shot on Street View of us sat at the restaurant.

Lets Go

We finished up and Gav and I were both eager to get back on the road and finish the ride off so we kitted up and made our way back out through the high street. If this was Gavin’s first climb, it was also his first descent! As we hit the slope I drifted ahead and give Gav a line to follow. When you do this for the first time it is an intense situation. The speed is a little disconcerting, every little bump in the road seems to exaggerate, braking is hard work and starts to cause an ache in your wrists and fingers, your neck hurts because of the angle you’re at and you tend to look just in front of you worried about holes and debris instead of looking further down the road and picking the best lines, which increases that feeling of speed. This stays with you for a while but eventually; after a couple of weeks, it gets easier.

That's More Like It

Gavin was descending steadily and was gaining confidence as we went. He shouted out to me to go for it so I decided to test the bike out and see what I could do. The descent on Les Deux Alpes is a mixture of hairpins and normal corners. There is a roundabout to contend with and a few of the corners are blind but generally, for the gradient, it’s fast. I let go a little more and watched the odometer rapidly increase. My maximum speed on the descent was 83.5 km per hour. That’s more like it! Great fun.

Back to Base

We came together again at the bottom and Gavin was pretty happy. He had safely navigated his first descent and hit a max speed of a very respectable 65.9 km per hour. We continued back down the main alp road towards Bourg d’Oisans. There is a little climb to face on the way but generally it is a nice downhill journey back through Le Freney and through the tunnel and back along the valley to the campsite.

For the Stato's

The Strava segment for the climb of Les Deux Alpes was acheived in 59:39

Alpine Cycling Adventures. Part 1 Here

Next time: The creepy Notre Dame, a ride with the Teenagers and more visitors!

Thanks for reading.



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What a thing, bicycling through the French Alps! Wow! Sounds like your crew had a marvelous time! Thanks for sharing your travelogue with #steemitbloggers 😊


Thanks for your comments @thekittygirl

We did have a wonderful time, if a little exhausting.

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Thanks @cyclefeed


You are welcome!

83 km/h seriously?????


lol. Oh yes @jasiu

I am a tad crazy but the speed is very addictive. I record a quicker speed in a later ride that I will cover soon.

Cheers, Gaz

Those Views are spectacular!


You're not wrong @ericstotle

The whole of the area is incredible. Well worth a visit.


I see now that you like steep climbs 😁 You really would love Mallorca! It is great that there are water taps on the way. It does make it much easier!

70km?! You're one of those "crazy" guys I saw there! 🤣 You enjoy the adrenaline kick a lot.

This looks like an amazing adventure!



I do love the mountains and climbing them is hard but so rewarding. The views on the way up and at the top and then the fast descent are reward enough for me. I am a little crazy to go so fast but I also believe I'm a decent bike handler and I'm pretty safe too.

The whole holiday was a lot of fun.

I've seen have addictive it can be from my friends, when they passed a certain distance and they just can't stop to just want more! Great journal!


Thanks very much @joelai

The whole process is very addictive. If your friends go out in a group that can be very social and another reason to keep it going. You tend to egg each other on a bit and go further.


Yes, they do go in a group, always!

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