Day Two: We wake up to bluebird skies and we are quickly off to the Col de Grand St. Bernard (2469m) which separates Switzerland and Italy. It drops you into the Aosta Valley…hot and muggy by being a Sunday I counted at least 400 bikes throughout the day.
Up the valley dodging the locals who like to ride 2 cms off your tire if your not riding fast enough. What a great start. Then towards the the south face of Mont Blanc (Monte Bianco) and a spectacular climb up the Col du Petit St. Bernard (2188m). Not as high as the senior version but just as many turns on impeccable pavement. This col separates the Italians and French and drops you into the valley of Bourg St. Maurice, Les Arcs, Tignes and Val d’Isere.
This was our first really fast section on the downhill section and my first intro to riding very heads up. Knee scraping corners can be rudely interrupted by either bikes or trucks in your lane as you come around. All quite exciting really. The descent from many of these passes can be over 6000 ft! Do the math given a reasonable grade that a car or truck can drive up and you are talking hundreds and hundreds of corners. Magic.
We then had a fast run along the valley floor…still haven’t seen a single policeman and everyone is riding fast. Up through Val d’Isere which is a beautiful old town and ski resort to the Col de Iseran at 2770m. One of the most beautiful of the passes due to the views and the aspect of the road that constantly throws the views at you of spectacular glaciers and peaks in all directions. We finished the day in the Val Cenis area which is this amazing above treeline valley hosting a fast and swooping road along a river with towering peaks along each side. We stayed the night in a great B & B in Lanslebourg and since we are traveling in the off season for these mountain resorts…prices are dead cheap..20 Euros for the night. How can it get better than this?
The Super Duke is proving to be the perfect choice, incredibly flickable with some of the best brakes every put on a bike. Perfect roll on power for every turn so you don’t have to be in the perfect gear…particularly helpful on unfamiliar roads. Very precise throttle control gives you the feeling that your right hand has a direct link with the rear wheel. The bike is comfortable enough for long days…and this was a long, long day with over 350 Kms of riding roughly took over 9 hours with only one 45 minute stop!
Next day there were five passes on the menu… Col de Izoard (2360m), the famous Col du Galibier (2646m), Col de la Bonnette (2860m – the highest paved pass in Europe), Col de Vars, (2110m) and Col de Lauteret (2058m).
Being Monday there is very little traffic. The was a huge day with the highlights being the Col du Galibier and the Col de la Bonnette, not only because it is so high but also because of the history as this was part of the route the Napoleon took on one of his adventures. He had set up a camp called the Haute Camp that housed some poor recruits for a very long time up high in no man’s land.
The finish of the day is in the town of St. Etienne de Tinee. Only in France would you see the 55 + year old couple on a ZX 9R, riding over the pass with no gear… he was wearing knickers with no socks or gloves. His lovely wife looking like a couple years over 60 perched up on the back with the same very light gear…holding onto the dog. That’s right, a poodle actually! Alll while managing to stay on while Dad rips around the corners.
We caught up with them at the end of the day in St. Etienne playing Pentanque and both of them looked like they stepped out of the Mercedes on the way to Monaco. Only in France…composed insanity! We drank some of the tastiest beer of the trip…well deserved from our point of view.
We holed up at another great B & B for 40 EU each with breakfast. We were up early for the next day to ride the Alpes Maritime route which includes the Col du St. Martin, Col de Turini which is particularly famous as one of the most important sections of the Rally of Monte Carlo.
This was an incredibly twisting and variable in rise and run; large drops and gorges shape the roads such that when you look back on them you can’t really see how the route made progress. Hard to imagine how they built and engineered these roads so many years ago. It’s all very rugged limestone mountains, dry and steep.
To think that this route was raced at night in the winter is mind-boggling. Truly brave lads to race this section of road.
By this time the temperatures were in the lower thirties and we went looking for some maritime breezes off the Med. Down to Monte Carlo. A quick look at the beautiful people as we look down over the cliffs above Monaco and it’s like Dirk said, “you can smell the money just rising up”. Everyone looked impeccably dressed and driving way too many nice cars.
We then turned north to the highlands through the spectacular medieval town of Vence. The old walled city is spectacular and still fully maintained and used as residences and for shops. Really well done and preserved. The roads out of Vence to the highlands and plateaus behind the ritzy shoreline, while not huge on relief, most are at about 1200 – 1800 metres… they don’t take a back seat in excitement for riding. Perfect asphalt rules with amazing corners, amazing rising and falling crests…everything.
One of the most unique aspects of the ride is the variety of smells throughout the countryside. Heads full of lavender, thyme, coriander, are giving off these amazing odors. We finished the day in the village of Castellane on the Verdun river.
– Written by Jayson Faulkner