2016 Petit Saint Bernard

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The photo above shows Travoy opposite a souvenir shop at the summit 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.

2016-06-26_StravaTotal cycled today – 30 km. Total so far – 485 km. After an easy start along the Aosta valley, the road really started to climb after I turned off the main road at Pre Saint Didier towards La Thuile.

20160626_111859-2Road junction at Pre Saint Didier. I reached Pre Saint Didier around 11 and started the climb towards the Petit St. Bernard. After struggling up the Grand St Bernard in Switzerland, 2 days previously, I wasn’t looking forward to tackling the climb. But while the Petit climb is just as steep as the Grand St Bernard climb, it has much more shade. Also it was much cooler today than on Friday and that really helped.

20160626_114746-2View of Pre Saint Didier from about 2 km into the climb. The Petit St. Bernard climb also has loads of hairpins as you can see from the photo above and because of the Gran Fondo, there was little traffic. After about 2 km into the climb, I couldn’t stop smiling as I was enjoying the climb so much. I felt really fresh and despite the heavy load on Travoy, made good progress up the climb.

20160626_121652-2Elevaz waterfall. About 5 km from Pre Saint Didier is the small village of Elevaz, which is dominated by this huge waterfall.The climb of the Petit St. Bernard has to be one of the best climbs in the world as I was surrounded by stunning scenery and there was very little traffic on the main road. I have a copy of Daniel Friebe’s book “Mountain High : Europe’s 50 Greatest Cycle Climbs” and criminally, the Petit St. Bernard is not included in this book or his follow-up book “Mountain Higher“.

Mountain High and Mountain Higher. To be honest, I can understand why the Petit St. Bernard is not included in either of Daniel Friebe’s books as it rarely features in the Tour de France or the Giro d’Italia. Ironically, neither does the Grand St. Bernard but it is is included probably because of it’s history and it’s height. However, the Grand St. Bernard is a terrible climb to cycle up due to the traffic and the 6 km long tunnel. In contrast, the Petit St. Bernard is just stunning with loads of hairpins and breathtaking scenery. Perhaps, in a few years time after a few more Tours de Travoy, I will compile my own list of the 50 best climbs in Europe. So far, I have only tackled a few big climbs, but as of now, the Petit St Bernard would be top of my list.

vlc-record-2016-08-27-20h01m02s-VIRB0045.MP4-.mp4_snapshot_00.22_[2016.08.27_20.04.48]Andrea Gallo, on his way to win the Gran Fondo La Mont Blanc. About 2 km from La Thuile, the SS 26 goes into a tunnel. I put the lights on on my bike and started cycling through it. As I was about 2/3 of the way through, a car went past me in the opposite direction with its horn beeping. The noise from the car horn was really loud  but there was nowhere to pull in and maybe check to see if there was something wrong with my bike or trailer. I couldn’t understand as to why the car had been beeping but then a cyclist appeared in the tunnel followed by a support vehicle with 2 bikes on it’s roof. I immediately copped on what was happening. This was the leader of the Gran Fondo, Andrea Gallo, who was now heading down the hill towards the finish in Courmayeur.

20160626_124031-2Marco Aguzzi, who finished sixth in the Gran Fondo La Mont Blanc.  I had noticed marshalls standing at every junction on the way up the climb but I had no idea what they were doing as there were no signs for the Gran Fondo on the climb. None of them made any attempt to stop me so I assumed it was fine to keep cycling on. However, on exiting the tunnel there was a marshall there who started waving at me to pull in. I no sooner had stopped when the 2nd cyclist in the Gran Fondo went past me and then a minute later the third cyclist. I then waited for about 10 minutes as about 5 other cyclists in the Gran Fondo went past, one of whom is in the photo above.

20160626_123535-2Looking back down the tunnel on the main road to La Thuile. Then out of the tunnel I had just cycled through,  another cyclist appeared and the marshall waved at him to pull in also. But after talking to the marshall, he then started walking up towards the town of La Thuile up the footpath behind a barrier. As I wanted to get to the campsite in time to see the Ireland – France game, I decided to follow the other cyclist towards the town centre.

20160626_125108-2La Thuile town centre. There was quite a crowd watching the cyclists as they made their way through La Thuile. There were also quite a few motorists and bikers with no interest in the race but who were stuck behind the barriers and were instead just getting some lunch as they waited for the road to re-open.

Men and women’s podium from the Gran Fondo Monte Bianco. Meanwhile, down the valley in Courmayeur, the winner of the Gran Fondo was just after crossing the finish line. The men’s Gran Fondo race was won by Andrea Gallo who cycled 120 km (2,950m of climbing) in 3 hours and 53 minutes. The women’s Medio Fondo race was won by Olga Cappiello who cycled 95 km (1,950m of climbing) in 3 hrs 22 minutes. The Medio Fondo skipped the Colle San Carlo and so did not go through La Thuile.

gran_fondo_results_top_10medio_fondo_results_top_10Results of Men’s Gran Fondo and Women’s Medio Fondo race. Both the Gran Fondo and Medio Fondo cost €50 to enter and there were 8 age related categories for men and 2 for women with prizes for each category. Over 1,000 cyclists took part in this sportive and many of them would have used it as a warm-up race for the Maratona dles Dolomites the following week-end. The Maratona is one of the biggest sportives in the world and attracts up to 15,000 cyclists from all over the world to the Dolomite region in the north-east of Italy.

virb0046-mp4_snapshot_25-46_2016-09-27_15-43-29Some cyclists taking part in the Gran Fondo. As I made my way to the campsite, I was overtaken by some cyclists who were obviously in the Gran Fondo and at this stage, were about an hour behind the leader.

Camping Rotor in La Thuile. The campsite is named after the Rotor river, which flows past the campsite and also through La Thuile.

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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 the50th 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.

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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.