Jerry’s Tour of the Alps 2008 – Monday July 21st

Espinasses — Col Lebraut/Serre Poncon — Embrun — Col Agnel/Colle dell' Agnello — Colle della Ciabra — Cuneo (217,3 km, 4263m, 13-27°C)

Col Lebraut

From now on I was lucky with the weather for the last three days. I started this morning in Espinasses (660m) (or Celliers) and it was a wonderful morning. The road round the great Barrage de Serre-Poncon is rather hilly. I knew there was a col on the way to Embrun. What I did not know was that this climb also involves a little descent, but it was not long. The pass is Col Lebraut (1110m) and you have lovely views over the dam and surrounding area on most of the climb here. The descent could apparently be made via two roads, but I just took the direct road down (probably the most boring one).

I got a bit tired on the busy road toward Embrun, but was lucky to get help to keep the speed up from a guy who was going to take part in the triathlon Embrunman race later in the week. – If I got it right – probably not, as I see it took place in August, but the Italian guy was probably checking out the road and he had apparently been having a look at Tour de France that I learned had departed from Embrun the day before and went over the Col Agnel/Colle dell' Agnello to Italy (only I never got to learn where they was stopping … which turned out to be the same place as me).

Col Agnel

I stopped at the big supermarket outside Embrun (790m). I was there for almost an hour shopping and eating (it was not popular to use some of the chairs in the shop though). The supermarket was just as filled with people as any other grocery shop I have been to in France – one wonders if one would ever manage to get out again (not very pleasant). The italian cyclist recommended that I too the road on the south side of the Durance river, but stupidly I did not follow his advice (the road was not obvious (but one follows the river on the north side upon entering the town and then cross a bridge later) (D467).

The N94 road is a “funny” busy one where you are allowed at times to bicycle and at other times not (certain stretches are not allowed to cycle on for no apparent reason other than that those were wide and good (and that cannot be good for bicycling, you know)). You are supposed to turn off onto the abruptly rising N2094 soon after leaving Embrun. I was disobedient, but turned off at the next turn-off straight up to Châteauroux-les-Alpes (from where I turned down to the not allowed main road when coming from the other direction another time). I had a short stop again (already) at a bakery there, but then I did not stop for long. I know a fellow Cent Cols member living here (that I have communicated with) and I should have seen him, but I had no idea in advance that I would be getting here, so unfortunately I missed to see him again.

Col Agnel

I was to follow the road the Tour de France took into Italy the previous day over Col Agnel/Colle dell’ Agnello (2744m). This is a very, very long road from Embrun which keeps climbing more and more, but the real climb does not really start before turning off the main road from Guillestre (1000m) at Ville-Vieille (1379m). The road up from Guillestre through the Queyras is quite nice! (There are apparently two passes on the way up there, technically at least (even if not very obvious): Col de l’Ange Gardien (1347m) (just before the road turning off north to Col de l’Izoard and Briançon) and one Club des Cent Cols only recently noted at Château-Queyras: Le Collet/Coulet (1390m).)

I have only descended this way before from Col Agnel/Colle dell’ Agnello and remembered the road as not very steep (because the Italian side is in fact steeper). However, the road up here is really steep, but in stages/ramps and it get more consistently steep as you approach the real pass. This pass, should be noted, is number three of all the asphalted passes (where you can descend on both sides) in height in the entire Alps, so one should expect a long hard climb from either side!

Colle della Ciabra

I was lucky with the weather though and it was warm enough that I did not have to put on the wind jacket at the top of the pass, where I had two photos. The TdF riders had passed here the previous day in 5°C and rain apparently ;-). The road down to Italy is very nice with lovely views, but it is steep and one could easily go too fast down, so take care here! I let some Italian guys pass me by on the way down (and then passed them by later on). In Italy it is usually easy to find water and I had some good water on the way down here and then I stopped at the hopeless grocery shop in Sampeyre (971m). It is hopeless because, just like last time I stopped here, I had a difficult time finding anything reasonable to eat. This time I bought a big dry cake (this would be non-edible in normal circumstances, but nothing normal with this cycling tour, so …).

While the TdF riders apparently went on to climb up the Prato Nevoso (1604m), which is a nice climb, I decided to do another not very known climb up to Colle della Ciabra (1723m) from after Melle (I went through Melle looking for the road) (656m), which is only slightly harder ;-) (see (search on ‘nevoso’ and ‘ciabra’)). This road up to Santuario di Valmala (ca. 1380m) is a very good and nice lonely road.

I was a bit late and when I passed through the first little village the church bell announced it was 19:00. When I reached the Santuario the bell rang there for 19:30 (I think). I think I was up at Colle della Ciabra (1723m) at 20:00 rather exactly. This is where the asphalt ends (the sign is at the other end of the pass, so you have to cycle 200m further on a flat bad gravel road to get to the sign). The road from the santuario is very poor even though asphalted as it is very thinly asphalted (it looks good, but is like cycling on a washing tray). After the santuario the road goes down a little and starts to rise again as it comes to the first pass on the road at Passo Pian Pietro (1352m). It is more exactly from here the road is bad. This is where you join the old military ridge road that goes all the way to Colle di Sampéyre/Col d’Sampeyre (2284m) and beyond. It is called Strada dei Canoni and is a road very popular with MTB cyclists (understandably). (There were plans on asphalting the whole road, which would have been super for us road bicyclists, but the plans had been ditched now as there was not much economic sense in it, I think.)

Colle della Ciabra

You come close to Colle di Valmala (1541m), but it is at least 200m on a bad and steep gravel road from the asphalt road (so I did not visit it). Then you also pass Colle di Palmascura (1614m). Colle della Ciabra was the last pass road in the whole of the Alps that I needed to climb to finish the goal of having climbed all asphalted pases in the whole of the Alps, so now I was certainly happy. There were some dubiousness around another climb (if it should be counted as a pass or not), that I climbed in the last day, but more on that later. It was difficult to get any good photo over the fantastic views from up here, but for what it is worth you see in the last photo here the view south from the Ciabra pass.

Now, I just had decide where to go for the night (which was quickly approaching now). The idea had been to go to Cuneo, but it seemed a bit to far off now. However, I decided to give it a try in the end. At Passo Pian Pietro, I decided to take the sign-posted(!) gravel road down to Lemma. This turned out to be pretty rough and was just about possible to use with a road bike in places (I really do not recommend it and chances that you will fall off the bicycle on the way down are around 50%, so be warned). My tyres fortunately did not give up on me and I managed to keep myself from falling. I also took the right way at the next unsigned crossroad. The asphalt road down through Lemma was one of the best and nicest roads I have ever cycled down on, so that helped making the overall experience better than a nightmare.

I arrived close down at Colletto di Rossana (617m) and then got further down. Now I managed to chose the wrong road in trying to make a short cut over to a road more directly heading to Cuneo, but eventually came onto the pretty straight road to Cuneo. Now I cycled against the falling darkness and I kept a speed far above 30 km/h for at least 10-15 km. Just as I reached the outskirts of Cuneo it got dark, but I eventually got over a bridge and came into the center of the city at around 21:30.

I asked for a room at a decent looking hotel, but ominously noticed some TdF vehicles outside and the hotel was fully booked. I went on to search for a less good hotel that I had stopped over at before, but did not find it and asked at yet another small hotel, which was also fully booked and by now I understood what he told me – that the TdF was in town and would start from Cuneo the next day. They also only have 5 hotels all-in-all in Cuneo and the one I had stayed at before had closed down. He suggested I might have to go pretty far to find a hotel, but I said that was not likely I would do – especially not as I was planning to take one of the first trains in the morning leaving Cuneo. He then mentioned a place where I might be able to get a bed if I did not mind sleeping under less than ideal conditions. There was a hosteria run by some some very “simple” (not meaning “bad”), but nice people. The place was likewise simple and I am sure the doors all used the same key ;-). They had ONE room left and the others were also occupied by cyclists like me. They had a perfect location in the city though!

I had to hurry to get something to eat, so I skipped taking a shower and went out on town in my cycling outfit (much to the amusement of some, I can guess, as the town was packed with people). I noticed a restaurant a bit away from the main street and went there and had some very good food (service was less than good though). Then I went over and had an ice cream at a place I saw between the restaurant and the hosteria. Great ice cream! The girls asked me if I had found a place to stay for the night (I almost wished I had not … ;-)). I had to be up before 6:00 in the morning to catch the first train.