2016-06-27 (Day 11) La Thuile – Bourg St Maurice

Today’s photo shows Travoy parked up alongside a St Bernard Dog statue opposite a souvenir shop at the top of the Petit St. Bernard. At 2188m, the Petit St Bernard climb is 400m lower than the Grand St Bernard that I had climbed 3 days previously but there were much more shops and restaurants at the top of this climb so I was able to get lots of souvenirs.

2016-06-27_strava

Total cycled today – 45 km. Total cycled so far – 530 km. Unlike the Grand St. Bernard, which averages 10% for the last 6km, the Petit St Bernard climb only averages about 7% for the last 6km. Not only is the climb good, but so too is the downhill section to Bourg St. Maurice. It is a lot of fun and goes on for what feels like forever and it also has some stunning views of the valley below you most of the way down.

20160627_114915-2Tourist ofice in the centre of La Thuile. I left Camping Rutor around about 11 and headed back towards La Thuile. You have to go through the town and then loop past the tourist office which the day before had been mobbed by people watching the Gran Fondo go by. But today, there was hardly anybody about.

20160626_123706-3Huge poster for the Ladies Ski World Cup. On the 20th and 21st February 2016 La Thuile hosted the Women’s Downhill and Super G Alpine Skiing World Cup. The International Ski Federation (FIS) Alpine World Cup tour is the premier tour for alpine skiing competition. The inaugural season launched in January 1967 and the 50th Alpine World Cup season began on 24 October 2015, in Sölden, Austria, and concluded in Saint Moritz, Switzerland on 20 March 2016. This was the first time the Alpine Skiing World Cup had ever visited La Thuile and their were numerous posters and banners still up around the town advertising this race.

Podiums from World Cup weekend at La Thuile. In all, there were 3 World Cup races at La Thuile between Friday the 19th and Sunday the 21st of February. The week before at Crans Montana in Switzerland, the downhill race was cancelled due to heavy snow and it was re-scheduled for La Thuile to take place on the Friday. The re-scheduled downhill was won by Swiss skier Lara Gut, the downhill on Saturday by Italian skier Nadia Fanchini and the Super G race on Sunday was won by Tina Weirather from Liechtenstien.  By finishing 2nd in Saturday’s downhill race, Lindsey Vonn secured enough points to win the overall downhill title for the 2016-2017 season. The weekend attracted over 10,000 spectators to La Thuile and was such a success that the organizer’s have applied for the women’s World Cup to return there in 2018.

20160627_123352-2Cappella di San Bernardo. About 3 km from La Thuile in the small village of Pont Serrand is the Cappella di San Bernardo. The church dates from 1417 and above the entrance door there is a painting of Saint Bernard of Montjoux with a dragon in chains behind him. Saint Bernard was born around 1020 and is most famous for building a hospice at the top of both the Grand St. Bernard and the Petit Saint Bernard. The hospices were built to provide refuge to weary pilgrims crossing the Alps on their way to Rome and are still in place to this day.

20160627_124908-2View from above the ski resort of La Thuile. The road up to the summit of the Petit St Bernard is such a beautiful climb. The first half to La Thuile yesterday was stunning and the second half today to the summit was even better. The road twists and turns as it climbs above you and the views down the valley are just breathtaking. Compared to the Grand St Bernard, there is much less traffic and also much more shade from trees alongside the road.

20160627_130526-2Refugio Lo Riondet. The Refugio Lo Riondet is a famous landmark on the climb towards the Piccolo San Bernardo as the climb is called in Italian. In the winter, the road up to the Rifugio is closed but dinner guests can drive to Pont Serrand where they are then transported for about 3 km by snowmobile to the Rifugio. After a sumptous meal and some drinks, the guests are then transported back to their cars in Pont Serrand via snowmobile or if they prefer, can ski back downhill using powerful torches to guide their way in the dark.

20160627_131344-2View from above the Rifugio. Here is a shot looking down on the Rifugio Lo Riondet  from the road above it. You can just about make out 2 cyclists in aqua blue tops stopped beside the barrier on the main road. I had spotted them much further down the climb and despite the weight on Travoy, managed to stay the same distance ahead of them the rest of the way up the climb. They, eventually made it to the top about 10 minutes after me, and one of them kindly agreed to take a photo of me at the summit.

22-rifugio-lo-riondet-inverno-la-thuile
Source: Rifugio Lo Riondet website

Rifugio Lo Riondet in winter. This is what the Rifugio  looks in the middle of the winter when it is surrounded by snow. You can clearly see the track of the road as it makes it’s way past and then around and then above the Rifugio. I had thought the pylons and ski lifts in the top left hand corner were at the summit but when I got up to them, I still had another 5 km of climbing still to go.

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Snow and ice near the summit of the Petit St. Bernard. Near the top, the landscape gets much more barren as you would expect as I was now over 2,000m in altitude. There were still quite a few snow drifts alongside the road and in places, there were huge puddles from the melting snow.

20160627_135556-2Piccolo San Bernardo Express ski lift. About 500m from the summit, I passed under the Piccolo San Bernardo Express, which is a ski lift that only operates in the winter. It starts at 2160m and can transport you up to 2533m to tackle the black and red ski slopes at the top of the Petit Saint Bernard. It was built in 2002 and can transport up to 2,400 people per hour.

Sign at the top of the Petit St. Bernard. At 2,188m, the summit of the Petit St. Bernard is 400m below that of the Grand. St Bernard. But the climb of the Petit St. Bernard is beautiful whereas the Grand St. Bernard climb is just brutal. I had photographed 2 cyclists about half way up the climb and I managed to make it to the top before them. I think they may have been Italian and both were at least 60 years old. They made it to the top about 10 minutes after me and  one of them kindly agreed to take a photo of me beside the sign at the summit.

St. Bernard dog and an ibex statue beside the the old customs post. While taking some photos of Travoy at the top of the Petit St. Bernard, I had left the camera  on my bike switched on and when I later reviewed the footage, I was surprised to see some shots of me at the top of the climb.

20160628_145631-2Brexit and Rex-it. There are loads of souvenir shops at the summit so I was able to stock up on some trinkets. Compared to Lourdes, everything was much more expensive but compared to Switzerland, everything was reasonably priced. I got two fluffy St Bernard dogs, one for my younger brother John and a little one for my new nephew Cormac. Cormac was born the same day I climbed the Grand St Bernard in Switzerland but it was that late when I got to the summit, all the souvenir shops were shut. John’s dog, I was going to call him Rex but after the events of last week will name him Brexit. As for the other fluffy dog, I have a feeling Cormac will be just as destructive as his older brother Paidi, so I will call his dog Rex-it.

20160627_143821-2View of the Petit St. Bernard from the French side of the border. I stayed at the top for about half an hour but because it was so cold, I decided to descend to Bourg St Maurice to warm up. I put on 2 layers of clothing and bid adieu to the Petit St. Bernard. About 500m into the descent, I stopped and managed to get this shot looking back at the summit.

20160627_144340-2Petit St. Bernard statue and hospice. About 1 km from the summit, I went past the famous Petit St. Bernard hospice. Unlike the Grand St. Bernard climb in Switzerland, the hospice is not located at the highest point of the climb but instead is positioned further down the mountain so as to be much more visible from the valley below. I really like this shot as not only do you get a good view of the hospice and St. Bernard’s statue, the photo also gives you a good idea just how steep the climb actually is.

Ski resort of La Rosiere. About 5 km from the summit of the Petit Saint Bernard is the ski resort of La Rosiere. During the winter, it is possible to get a ski lift from La Rosiere to near the summit and then ski from there down to La Thuile.

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Source : Igluski.com

Ski runs and lifts between La Rosiere and La Thuile. Together both La Rosiere and La Thuile make up the Espace San Bernardo ski area. Incredibly, there are a total of 306 snow machines for guaranteed snowfall over the course of the ski season. The resort generally caters for intermediate and beginner skiers but there are a number of red and black runs. A week’s lift pass for the Espace San Bernardo costs about €200 for adults and about €140 for children and there are a total of 150 km of pistes to ski on.

IMG_20160627_172906623_HDR-2Camping Versoyen in Bourg St. Maurice. I made it to my campsite for the night in Bourg St Maurice about an hour after leving the summit of the Petit St. Bernard. The climb had taken about 5 hours to climb over 2 days but less than an hour to come down. My pitch for the night only cost €7 at Camping Versoyen, which is named after the river that flows through Bourg St. Maurice. I had plenty of time to pitch my tent and go shopping before settling down for the evening to watch the England – Iceland game at Euro 2016.

vlcsnap-2016-06-28-16h33m41s892Iceland 2 – England 1. There was a lot of clapping and cheering around the campsite when the referee blew the final whistle in the Iceland – England match in Euro 2016. Obviously, the French like the English as much as the Irish do and the locals were delighted to be playing Iceland in the quarter final rather than England. The game was shown in France on the M6 channel and there was a lot of glee at England’s demise on their after match show, L’Apres Match.

vlcsnap-2016-06-28-16h47m13s605L’Apres Match TV show. The show was presented by Davide Ginola and Nathalie Renoux and they had 3 pundits in the studio, one of whom was William Gallas, the ex-French defender. Davide Ginola was looking well for a man who had suffered a heart attack and then a quadruple heart bypass operation only a month ago. The L’Apres Match show went on for over an hour and featured highlights from Iceland – England, a look ahead to France – Iceland and also highlights of Spain’s defeat by Italy earlier that day. Their main feature was about Antoine Griezmann after his outstanding performance during the 2nd half against Ireland when he could have scored 5 goals. There was also a long discussion as to who should replace Rami in the French defence as he was suspended for the quarter final against Iceland.

vlcsnap-2016-06-28-16h47m49s8453D holographic interview with the Iceland captain, Ragnar Sigurosson. However, the most impressive part of L’Apres Match was the 3D holographic interviews with some of the Iceland players. They had a small green studio set up in the stadium in Nice and were able to project a live 3D image of the players into the TV studio in Paris in front of Ginola and Nathalie. All the interviews were in English with the Icelandic players and also with their Swedish joint manager Lars Lagerback. No English players or pundits were interviewed though a reporter did speak to some English fans outside the stadium. The show ended with video clips of French fans singing Griezmann’s On Fire and the Icelandic commentator describing Iceland’s 2nd goal against England. The presentation overall on L’Apres Match was very slick and way ahead of any coverage I watched in either Belgium or Switzerland. The TV rights in France for Euro 2016 are shared between M6, TF1 and BeIn Sports. France’s next game was due to be shown on M6 but the 3 other quarter finals were being covered by TF1.

Arguably England’s worst defeat ever. It is ironic that just a few days after the Brexit vote, England were knocked out of Europe by the only team left in the competition that is not in the EU. Iceland has a population of 320,000, which is less than County Cork yet were still able to turn over England with a population 200 times greater. There is no professional football league in Iceland while the Premiership is the richest league in the world. Some of the Icelandic players are only part time footballers and one of their 2 managers is a part time dentist. Most of their players also work on farms and fishing boats to supplement their income but they were still able to beat a shambolic English team. It was no surprise that Roy Hodgson resigned just half an hour after probably England’s most humiliating defeat ever.

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