Cycling the Cormet de Roselend from Beaufort (1967m)

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Friday 15 September 2017

Cycling the Cormet de Roselend from Beaufort (1967m)

Our third day on the bikes in a row and our fourth climb during that time, so it was with tired legs that we started this challenging but beautiful ascent. Following the Route des Grande Alpes from the north this was the biggest climb so far, reaching close to 2000 metres, and we knew it would be quite tough, but we had no idea just how hard on our bodies it would be. With an on paper 6% average, rising 1227 metres over 20 kilometres from Beaufortain (740m up to 1967m) this turned out to be a real climb of two halves, connected by a stunning, brief and undulating interlude.

We drove down from the Col des Saisies first thing in the morning and decided it was only fair that Esther have a go at being the first one on the bike for a change, meaning I would follow her up in the camper an hour or so later and meet her at the top before cycling down and then back up again myself (instead of me going up and down first before following Esther up in the camper as usual). We found a handy motorhome aire in Beaufortain and with the sun just breaking over the surround hills Esther set off. 2 hours or so and another challenging drive later and I was helping a physically exhausted and very cold Esther into the camper, with her saying "I almost called you to pick me up".....I would find out why shortly afterwards.

It's a funny thing but having already driven up the road to the col, so having seen the view (which is a large part of the reward when cycling up a hill) made it mentally very hard to get going myself. This, combined with the half hour or so it took me to descend back to Beaufortain before I even turned a stroke uphill on the main climb, hammering home just how long and steep this climb was, put me in a peculiar state of mind. It's one thing heading uphill with camper at the bottom, knowing that although I probably won't, if I did want to I could always just turn round and roll back to comfort. This time, however, the motorhome was at the top. There was only one way I could go.

Anyway, back to the actual climb and as usual the 6% average gradient hid the real experience, which in this case started with a near relentless 12km opening portion through forested hillside with plenty of switchbacks as well as long drags and gradients at 8%+ most of the time (the markers made monotonous reading,  8%, 8%, 7%, 8%, 5% [a treat], 8%...) It was hard. Maybe it was the previous three climbs we'd done over the past two days, but it really dragged with the markers passing by slowly and painfully.

Then, at 8km to go, things changed. Emerging into a stunning rocky bowl containing the turquoise waters of the Roselend lake created by a dam with vertical, towering rock faces on the far side, rolling green hills on the other sides and a peek of Mont Blanc poking up from behind one of them was breathtaking. I'm talking picture postcard perfection here. It was brilliant and was even coupled with the fact that the next 2km of cycling was easier. Gone were the 8% markers to be replaced with markers that didn't have any gradient on them at all. Not that this meant it was flat, unfortunately. No gradient turned out to be code for downhill.

Yet again my mental arithmetic which had been optimistically telling me "it can't go on like all the way to the top" was shattered by the loss of (I guess) 75 metres around the lake shore. Still, it was a beautiful way to lose it.

With 6km to go the road kicked up steeply again, zig-zagging under the sheer rock faces and rising above the lake in a continuation of the picture postcard view for another couple of kilometres, until heading around a corner the final approach was in sight. Four more kilometres at 5-8% over a boulder-strewn, green, rolling hillside and past the refuge at Plan de la Lai,  led up to the Cormet de Roselend, where a relatively peaceful col was populated by a handful of cyclists, motorcyclists, car drivers and two enterprising Frenchmen selling Saucisson, cheese and bread....Oh and Esther standing in the sunshine with Leela and her 4 puppies all waiting to say "well done". We would also go on to spend the night up here ....offering refuge to a couple of late arrivals whose own support car was nowhere to be seen but were very grateful for the cup of tea and shelter we could provide from the wind while they waited.

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