July 18th – 19th 2017 (Days 71 -72) This week’s photo shows 2 sports-car’s passing the 4 km to go sign on the Col de Vars. The sign says that the next km will average 10%. This was the steepest km of any climb I have tackled so far on this year’s Tour de Travoy. Once the gradient goes above 7% you have to stand on the pedals or else you will fall over. On the Col de Vars, the last 5 km average 9% so I had to stand on the pedals for the best part of an hour just to make it to the top. At no stage did I have to push the bike though I did stop a lot to take some photos. Taking a photo allows you to catch your breath and on the last 5 kn of the Col de Vars, I took a lot of photos. The number 1 rule on the Tour de Travoy is the steeper the climb, the more photos you take. This strategy certainly worked on the Col de Vars as I eventually made it to the top and got about 50 great photos as well.
Total distance cycled Tuesday July 18th from Jausiers to Guillestre – 45 km (includes 1,300 m of climbing). Total distance cycled so far on 2017 Tour de Travoy – 4,315 km. Very tough day as the last 5 km on the Col de Vars averaged 9%. That is tough with just a bike let alone with a 40kg trailer, the same as having bag of coal strapped to your bike.
Leaving Jausiers on the D900 heading towards the the Col de Vars. On this stretch of road, I got overtaken by some Australian cyclists who I had met at Camping Planet. They had set off from Nice, 2 days earlier and were heading towards Briancon for the Tour de France. They were hoping to see the finish to Stage 19 the following day at Serre Chevalier, only 20 km from Briancon. Stage 20 was due to start on Thursday in Briancon and finish at the Col d’Izoard only 25 km from Briancon. So the town was the ideal venue to watch the last 2 Alpine stage of this year’s race.
The Tour de France was due to go through the small town of La Condamine Chatelard in 2 days time.
Sign for the Route des Grandes Alpes.
Tunnel near the town of Saint Paul sur Ubaye.
Cross at the start of the steep part of the climb to the Col de Vars.
5 km to go sign saying the next km would average 9%.
Deep valley ravine.
Graffiti in praise of Bernard Hinault who attacked on the Col de Vars during the 1986 Tour de France. Stage 17 of the Tour that year went from Gap to Serre Chevalier and featured the climbs of the Col de Vars, the Col d’Izoard and the Col du Granon. Hinault’s attack proved futile as he lost the yellow jersey and over 3 minutes of time to his great rival and team-mate Greg Lemond. The next day, Hinault tried to win back the Yellow Jersey by attacking Lemond on the climb to Alpe d’Huez but both riders ended up crossing the finish line together holding each other’s hand aloft. Hinault finished the Tour that year in 2nd place, 3 minutes behind Greg Lemond.
A huge marmotte foraging alongside the road. In 3 years of travelling to the Alps every summer, I had only spotted a marmotte once before. That was when descending the Grand Saint Bernard into Italy. But the photo from that day is very fuzzy as the marmotte was quite far away. This marmotte was only 10 yards from the road so I was able to get a great shot.
More graffiti on the climb of the Col de Vars. This graffiti translates as “Everything’s fine”
Lots of campervans on the Col de Vars. I must have passed about 50 campervans parked up on the climb 2 days before the Tour de France was due to go past. Obviously, by going to a climb early, you get to pick the best vantage point to see the race go past. This hairpin about 1 km from the finish had a great view down to the valley below and was arguably the best spot on the climb.
View of the valley below the Col de Vars. This photo gives you a good idea of the view the campervan occupants in the previous photo would have had. With a pair of binoculars, they would be able to see the race all the way to Saint Paul Ubaye almost 10 km away.
More campervans near the summit. I remember thinking that if there was 50 campervans on the Col de Vars, there must be 500 on the Col d’Izoard. I was wrong as on the day of the stage, I passed at least 1,000 campervans on the Col d’Izoard.
Travoy and myself at the summit of the climb.
View from the summit.
Going downhill from the Col de Vars was a lot more fun than going up it.
Tourist office in the ski resort of Vars.
Vars is the location for the fastest ever speed by a downhill skier. This record was set by Ivan Origone, an Italian skier, on March 26th 2016. He set off from the top of the Chabrieres piste at a height of 2,720 m and dropped 435m in a distance off about 800m for an average gradient of 52%. The starting gradient on the Chabrieres piste is 98% and this enables speed skiers to accelerate to over 200 km/hr within seconds of leaving the starting gate.
Screenshot of a video on the official Vars website showing the speed skiing world record. The Chabrieres piste looks terrifying but it is the fastest piste in the world and the only other ski resort with a piste as steep as Vars is in Verbier in Switzerland.
Total distance cycled Wednesday July 19th from Jaussiers to Aiguilles – 35 km (includes 1,100 m of climbing). Total distance cycled so far on 2017 Tour de Travoy – 4,350 km. Short spin today but only expected to do 500 m of climbing and ended up doing double that.
Travoy leaving Camping la Rochette in Guillestre.
Sign saying the Col de Vars would be closed for 6 hours the following day for the Tour de France.
Tour de France crash protection bales added to a roundabout near Guillestre. The route of the Stage 18 obviously took the riders into the centre of Guillestre before then starting the climb towards the Col d’Izoard.
Cyclist from the WM3 women’s professional team. I have been overtaken by thousands of cyclists on this year’s Tour de Travoy but nobody has ever dropped me as quick as this woman from the WM3 team. She was going the same speed up a 8% slope as I would if the road was totally flat. She obviously was doing some last minute preparation before the La Course women’s race up to the summit of the Col d’Izoard the following day. Marianne Vos, the famous Dutch cyclist, rides for WM3 but it was not Marianne as she has world champion stripes on the sleeves of her jersey. The only WM3 cyclist to finish within the time limit the next day on La Course was Kasia Nieuwiadoma but this is definitely not Kasia as she has the red and white Polish champion stripes on her jersey. This is probably Valentina Scandolara, an Italian cyclist and someone who has won mountain races in the past but it is sometimes so hard to identify a rider when they are wearing sunglasses and a bike helmet.
One of about a dozen tunnels on the lower slopes of the Col d’Izoard.
Small reservoir beside the Maison du Roy restaurant.
Sign for Le Boucle de l’Izoard saying next km is 2.4% and you are at an altitude of 1055m. Le boucle de l’Izoard is a 96 km loop starts in Guillestre and climbs the Izoard before.dropping to Briancon and then returning to Guillestre via L’Argentiere-la-Bessee.
Some canoeists in the Guil river.
White water raft in the Guil river.
Narrow gorge about 10 km from Guillestre.
Lots of canoeists in the Guil river.
15 km from Guillestre, the altitude is now 1280m.
World War 1 memorial on the climb to the Col d’Izoard. There is a war memorial in almost every town in the Alps but it is very unusual to come across a memorial in the middle of the mountains.
Road up to the Col d’Izoard from where you turn off for Chateau Queyras.
The climb of the Col d’Izoard was closed to traffic for 26 hours for crews to install barriers for the Tour de France. Normally on the last climb of a Tour stage, 3 or 4 km of barriers are installed from the summit down so that means thousands of barriers which take a long time to put in place.
Chateau Queyras. Proponents of the Col de la Traversette route for Hannibal’s Crossing of the Alps in 218 BC claim this is where he was ambushed. But Hannibal climbed to the summit a day after the ambush and as Chateau Queyras is about 50 km from the Col de la Traversette, there is no way his army could have marched such a distance in a day.
Another shot of Chateau Queyras. Polybius wrote that Hannibal was ambushed at a White Rock but the rock under the Chateau Queyras, which was built in the 13th Century, is not that white in colour.
Sign for Saint Veran, the highest village in Europe. Saint Veran is on the climb of the Col Agnel which takes you into Italy. But my route took me further up the Guil valley towards Mont Viso.
Small ski resort of Aiguilles.
Landslide on the road between Aiguilles and Abries.
Two hikers trying to coax a donkey across a bridge over the Guil river. You cross the bridge to access Camping Le Gouret, so these hikers had obviously spent the night at the campsite. But no matter what they tried, they could not get the donkey to cross the bridge. I watched for about 5 minutes as they tried all sort of tricks to get the donkey to cross the river but as soon as he caught sight of the bridge, he would not budge any more.