Joe Laverick and five other cyclists are keeping rider journals for The British Continental this season. Based in France for 2020 and supported by the Rayner Foundation, Joe rides for Chambéry Cyclisme Foundation (CCF), AG2R La Mondiale’s development team. This is his seventh journal entry…
I gave [my Dad] a hug, said my goodbyes and lifted my mask over my mouth and nose. I had an airplane to catch
Allez. C’est parti. After four months back in Lincolnshire it was time to return to ‘chez moi’ in Chambéry. It was a long four months but it was a good four months. Training on empty roads and having some time with family, it wasn’t all that bad. However, it wasn’t real life. Real life these days is in France. A trek down to Heathrow Airport awaited with my Dad. I gave him a hug, said my goodbyes and lifted my mask over my mouth and nose. I had an airplane to catch.
A surprisingly busy flight with some bizarre logic of “let’s social distance while boarding to then be sat shoulder to shoulder for two-hours”. Descending into Switzerland, it was like arriving in a different part of the world. A mere four months ago, the mountains were snow covered, and you couldn’t go anywhere without a thick coat. Nowadays, shorts are essential and it’s one of the greenest areas I’ve seen!
My first full day in France was pretty busy. My car battery was completely dead after sitting idle for months. €85 down by 10 am is always a nice way to start a day. A trip to the service course followed to say ‘Bonjour’ and get a couple of bits sorted. A mammoth hack to Carrefour was next with a fan high on the hit list. My wallet *significantly* lighter than a few hours before, I spent the rest of the day cleaning my room and making it more homely.
I got my head down pretty late, a little knackered after a day of travel and sorting random stuff. A great way to prepare for the next four days. We had the Route des Grandes Alpes ahead of us. A 650 km route with around 15,000 m of climbing. Tackling the most famous Cols in the Alps, the route took us from Thonon-les-Bains on the edge of Lake Geneva, all the way down to Menton in the south.
Thonon-les-Bains – Albertville
Starting on the edge of Lake Geneva, we went full cycling team mode, pulled up on the side of the main road and got changed in a local park overlooking the lake. I was a little jaded after the travel but excited to get going. The easiest of the four days, we *only* had three Cols to navigate, including the 17 km Col de la Colombière (1613 m). We rode through Morzine, the first in a long list of ski resorts we visited during the week. Spirits were high. It was gonna be a big few days, but the sun was shining, and we were riding our bikes on the most stunning roads in France.
150 km, 3,358 m of elevation, 5h 30m.
Albertville – Saint Michelle de Maurienne
For the first few days, we were riding in the Alps near to our base in Chambéry. Hence, we returned home each night. After a short transfer from Chambéry, we arrived on the edge of Albertville. With the first-years staying at home, the group was much smaller. We had a mammoth day on the cards. While we only had two Cols, they consisted of the 20 km Cormet de Roselend (1968 m) and the Col de L’Iseran (2,764 m), a cool 47.5 km of climbing.
The Cormet de Roselend is the most beautiful climb you’ve never heard of
We started the day as easy as possible, trying to wake our legs up. The Cormet de Roselend is the most beautiful climb you’ve never heard of. As we rounded a corner half-way up, a huge lake was revealed and what was just an average climb, got catapulted straight into my list of ‘Top 5 Beautiful Places I’ve Ridden’.
We saw our first bit of snow at the top of the Roselend, and then descended to the bottom of the Col de L’Iseran. L’Iseran is a horrible climb. At 47km long, it goes on for a couple of hours, dragging both literally and metaphorically. We had our first quiet patch at the bottom, as we all weighed up the next two hours climbing. Trust me, a quiet patch is a rarity when riding with CCF. We passed through the luxury ski resort of Val d’Isère, and kept tapping on to the top. Of course, a small race occurred in the final few kilometres, something that’s buckets of fun at 2700m in the sky! At the summit of L’Iseran , I was convinced that it was day done and that we had a long descent home. Alas! The cycling gods were blowing a big headwind onto us through the 55km valley.
166 km, 3553 m of elevation, 6hrs.
Saint Jean de Maurienne – Jausiers
On paper, day 3 was already the hardest stage. Add the fact we began 10 km before the mapped starting point and then finished 10 km after, it was long. The Col du Télégraphe (1566 m), Col du Galibier (2677 m), Col d’Izoard (2360 m) and the Col de Vars (2111 m). Four very big cols.
It must be pretty grim climbing something like that in the third week of the Tour
The Télégraphe was actually pretty tranquil. At 12 km, it was relatively short in the grand scheme of things, and we tapped up it pretty easily. After a very short descent we were at the bottom of the Galibier. The descent is so short, they’re basically the same climb. 18 km at 7.2%, the Galibier is one very big mountain. We were at the point in the trip where we were climbing at our own pace. The first-years were an awful lot fresher after they’d sat the previous day out. During the final km’s of the Galibier, it struck me how much respect I have for pros. It must be pretty grim climbing something like that in the third week of the Tour.
Down the Galibier and up D’Izoard, I was absolutely sweltering. Our computers were reading 30°C+ and I was beginning to realise that I was not acclimatised at all. Reaching the top, I stumbled into the small shop, clutching my phone, ready to buy an Orangina with my ApplePay. But no, of course they don’t offer contactless at the top of the mountain. Scrounging some change from my teammate, I was 50 cents short to buy a slice of the fruit tart as well. My eyes must’ve said it all because the shop owner knocked the 50 cents off and I was away with the sugar-rush fairies. We rushed down D’Izoard pretty quickly as they were about to close the road to film an advert. The bonus? The descent was practically dead and boy it was fun. Arriving in Jausiers, we found our accommodation for the night and collectively breathed a sigh of relief. We were 75% of the way to Menton.
173 km, 4493 m of elevation, 6hr 35m
Jausiers – Menton
Oh yeah! We’ve reached the last day we’ve only got… ah, around 6.5 hours to go! Out of our accommodation, we were straight up hill. Scratch that, we were straight up a mountain. It wasn’t any mountain either. Boy oh boy no, it was the Cime de la Bonette (2860 m). The third highest road in Europe, and the highest road that isn’t a dead end. A casual 23 km at 7%, we were passed pretty early by a woman on an e-bike. If she wasn’t going so fast, I’d have chased her down and traded bikes.
The altitude got to me. It was like breathing through a straw
La Bonette was pretty standard, scenery-wise. I’m sure if you’d never ridden in the Alps, it’d seem beautiful. But after three days of hacking around, it was like any other mountain. That was until we got to the last 2 km, where, quite frankly, the altitude got to me. It was like breathing through a straw, and I got to the top pretty slowly! Descending back into the valley, we had a monster of a tailwind, and now I could breath, I felt much better.
We met up with Larry Warbasse in the valley, he’d seen the route on my Twitter and figured he’d tag along. Ripping the through and off, we were making some pretty good progress through the mountains. Up and down the uneventful Col Saint Martin (1500 m), we met with another couple of World Tour guys and ex-CCF riders, Matteo Jorgenson and Clément Champoussin. The 15 km Col de Turini (1607 m) was longer than expected, and with fatigue strong in the legs, it was a bit grim.
The final climb of our trip was the Col du Castillon (706 m). We hit it at 6 hours in and I decided to do an effort up it. 7 km at 5.5%, it was over before I knew it. It’s amazing what a few days in the Alps does. There’s not a single 7 km climb in all of Lincolnshire. After four days in the Alps, it felt like a speed-bump. Descending to the Côte d‘Azur was incredible. The drivers are horrendous, but morale was high.
I’d advise every cyclist to put the Route des Grandes Alpes on their bucket list
I love the south of France. I came to Nice on a family holiday when I was just getting into cycling. 15-year-old me declared that I’d love to live there one day. That sentiment stands strong. It’s an amazing place. My only regret of the whole trip is that we didn’t get some time to explore Menton. A beautiful place, it would have been a great way to end the trip with a bit of time on the beach eating ice-cream. But no, we had a 5.5-hour car journey back up to Chambéry. Heavy legs and heavy eyes, the road trip passed quickly. What an incredible four days. I’d advise every cyclist to put the Route des Grandes Alpes on their bucket list. But trust me, take more than four days to do it!
180 km, 3963 m of elevation, 6hrs 36m
Full Trip Data:
15,347 m of elevation
One very tired Joe.
Featured photo: Joe Laverick
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