Cycling the Col des Aravis from St-Jean-De-Sixt (1487m)

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Wednesday 13 September 2017

Cycling the Col des Aravis from St-Jean-De-Sixt (1487m)

The 1487 metre high Col des Aravis is an often used Tour de France climb, ranked at category 2. Some information I've seen online claims it has been used over 30 times, but I haven't checked that anywhere official so it could be rubbish. Anyway, however many times it's been featured, it's not hard to see why it's a relatively regular one for not only does the Col des Aravis connect the Departments of the Haute-Savoie with the Savoie and link up other more challenging cols nearby, it is also very picturesque with sweeping views of green hills rising into rocky summits, dotted with wooden chalets and set to the soundtrack of cowbells, all finishing with a fantastic view of Mont Blanc. What's not to like?

There are various altitude profiles for this climb online, some of which place the 'start' in the village of Thones which is 19km from the summit and an extra 8km of gentle climbing further away from St-Jean-De-Sixt, which is all well and good and probably very lovely. We, however, had camped the night in St-Jean-De-Sixt directly on the Route des Grande Alpes, and saw no reason to ride slightly downhill and 8km in the 'wrong' direction. Some of the more major climbs have a pretty clear starting point, like the Alpe d'Huez which goes from flat roads to 13% in the blink of an eye, but this is not the case for the Col des Aravis, so we instead stayed on the Route des Grande Alpes and headed straight out of the friendly Camping Le Cret in St-Jean-De-Sixt where a nearby sign informed us that the col lay 525 metres above us and 10.5km away, so 5% average. Yet again, however, the devil is in the detail and averages should be taken with health warnings.

With an opening three kilometres at a gentle 2-4% it wasn't until we reached the village of La Clusaz that the real climbing began. Perhaps choosing a Monday morning wasn't the best time since the busy road from La Clusaz had a steady stream of cars, trucks and motorbikes passing us for at least the first half of the climb....when they all seemed to mysteriously vanish (there were probably were as many cars higher up but they didn't seem as loud and close).

Anyway, back to La Clusaz and the road maintained a pretty even gradient of around 6% from here on up. One marked kilometre was 7% and there were a definite handful of short sections steeper than that, but on the whole we were able to maintain an even rhythm for most of the climb and enjoy the view. Above about 1200 metres altitude we found we had risen above most of the residential areas which is when the view really came into it's own. Cow filled meadows and pine trees peppering the lower rocky flanks of the jagged ridges towering above us made this a really special place to ride a bike together.

Reaching the col to find plenty of parked cars, a bus tour group and a busy souvenir shop was a little bit of a shock, but everyone seemed friendly and smiling and there were plenty of other cyclists there as well completing the ascent from both sides. Unfortunately the promised view of Mont Blanc was hidden by low cloud to the east with snow dusted rocky slopes just visible before they ascended into the mist.

We hung around for twenty minutes or so to enjoy being on the top of a col together for the first time since 2015 (we've been riding up separately as I mentioned in my previous post) then threw on some extra layers for the chilly descent and a late breakfast awaiting us at the bottom. It had been a good way to start the day.

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