Cycling the Col du Petit St Bernard from Bourg St Maurice (2188m)

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Sunday 29 October 2017

Cycling the Col du Petit St Bernard from Bourg St Maurice (2188m)

Until a couple of cyclists we met suggested this as an "easier but pretty col to cycle to", I admit I'd never heard of the Col du Petit St Bernard. Having spent our autumn charging up various more well known cols I was even a little dismissive about trying it at first. However, now that we have done the ride I wouldn't hesitate in recommending it to anyone, for various reasons and not only as this was our fifth French-Italy border visit on our bikes this year.
At almost 30 km long from Bourg St Maurice, this is a long climb. Some statistics I saw online suggested the ascent was anywhere only 26km long, but don't believe it. We actually started the climb in the village of Seez, a couple of kilometres already up the climb because that's where we had parked, and it was still almost exactly 28km from our motorhome to the top.

Anyway, one of the reasons I enjoyed this climb so much was the gradient. The average is 5.1%, yet unlike so many other climbs in the Alps (like the Col du Glandon at '4.8% average' for example) this time the average really is an accurate reflection of the actual gradient all the way. It never gets much steeper and it never gets too much shallower either. In fact the steepest part of the climb is the opening portion, after that I was able to hold a fast tempo with several gears in hand all the way from the bottom to the top.

In terms of views the people who recommended this climb were right. The first 20 km is pretty, with good views along the valley in several directions, but it was the final 8km that was the best in my opinion. After passing through a ski station the road enters a hanging valley with few signs of civilisation. The top is almost in sight now, visible as a distant building, so it's hard to believe it is still so far to go. But it is.

In fact the top is actually another kilometre beyond the building you can see as you approach and it is even necessary to descend a little into Italy to find a col marker sign, but that's worth it too because on a clear day Mont Blanc (or Monte Blanco anyway) is right on display. It's brilliant.

The only downside during our visit, and this is only because we visited at the end of October, was the bitter cold. It was so bad with the wind chill on the long descent that I even had to stop a dozen times on the way down just to thaw out my hands so I could brake. It only took me just 1 3/4 hours to get to the top with the continuous gradient but then a whole extra hour to get down in this way! There was a lot of snow by the side of the road on those final 8km, as the pictures show.

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