Outdoor shots from French Alps and one from Glacier National Park

Col du Télégraphe and Col du Mollard
July 25, 2000

Distance: Approximately 98 km.
Climbing: 2325 m.
Map: Michelin #244, Rhône-Alpes

Col Profile
Mollard Atlas des Cols des Alpes, Volume 3, P. 150
Télégraphe Atlas des Cols des Alpes, Volume 3, P. 150

Well my bike finally arrived at the hotel at 8:30 am. courtesy of a taxi driver dispatched from Lyon by Air France. I quickly got my bike out of the bag and checked it out. (There's always that moment of anxiety when you first open your bike bag after a flight.) Whew, no damage. Thanking the driver I signed the paper work and was now offically ready to start my vacation.

The plan for the day was to give the racing equipment (ie. tubulars) a shakedown run and to take it easy while still notching up at least one of the climbs out of the Arc valley. Being anal retentive and, as I've said before, a terrible descender I decided to ride the Télégraphe so I could then ride the descent to Valloire even though I'd seen it on yesterday's drive. I'd decide which of the other cols to ride today after returning. Remembering my resolution about gearing from yesterday I installed the 26 tooth on my tubular rear wheel to yield a 13-14-15-17-19-21-24-26 8 speed. With the 39 low up front that would do nicely.

(Below: Looking east up the N6. The right
turn onto the D902 and the start of the
climb of the Télégraphe is up ahead a
short way. The Savoy Hotel is on the right)
Looking east up the N6. The right turn onto the D902 and
            the start of the climb of the Télégraphe is up ahead
            a short way. The Savoy Hotel is on the right

After some more running around and the usual pre-ride preparations I clipped into the pedals at 10:00am. Heading east on the N6 for a couple hundred meters I turned right onto the famous D902 and began the climb to the Col du Télégraphe. The switchbacks on this steady climb of 7 to 8 % come frequently right from the start and I soon found myself in a steady rhythm to match the grade.

I love riding climbs like this. You know you're climbing but you're moving along, not crawling - working but not busting a gut. And you've even got a few gears to spare back there. And the pavement was perfect. Love it. I really was working harder than I should have been given the plan for the day. Oh, but it's so hard to resist! About half way up I put it into the 26 and turned it over easily for the rest of the climb, enjoying the scenery.

(View of the Fort du Télégraphe from near the top of the Col)
View of the Fort du Telegraphe from near the top of the Col

All the accounts I'd heard of the Télégraphe were of a steady, moderately steep grade with less than inspiring scenery. I was happy to see that the former observation of the grades was correct while the assessment of the scenery was perhaps jaded. I'd sure like such scenery on my suburban toots around the suburbs of Boston. Maybe average scenery in the Alps is better than good scenery most everywhere else. All in all this was the perfect way to start the trip - a steady grade with a good to excellent surface and lots of switchbacks to get you into the swing of things.

At the summit of the Télégraphe I stopped and asked a fellow cyclist if he would snap my picture with my camera and I returned the favor for him. There are so many cyclists here that this is standard practice. I got back on and started the short descent to Valloire.

Climb stats: 11.5 K in 49:35 for an average of 13.9 KPH

Col du Telegraphe
(Above: Looking north at the Col du Télégraphe)

The descent, around 5 K's from the Telegraphe to Valloire, proved to be nothing serious. The first half is quite gentle and presents no serious difficulties and the second half is a bit steeper, although nothing like steep, with a few dog leg bends.

Although the descent proved undaunting (which is saying a lot for a chicken-s%%t descender like myself) I had been having problems with my front tubular tire which I'd glued on just before the trip so I took it particularly easy.

I didn't stay long at Valloire, a fairly big-ish ski town, and was soon climbing back up to the Col du Télégraphe. It was pleasantly sunny and the temps had warmed to the upper 60's. The descent back to St. Michel-de-Maurienne was uneventful and I was soon near the bottom where I came across two fellows coming up on fully loaded mountain bikes (with knobby tires). They looked to be in difficulty even though they had only just started the climb. One in particular had a look about him that said "Why am I doing this again?". "These two are in for it." I thought and, sincerely hoping they didn't have heart attacks, finished out the descent.

I returned immediately to the hotel where I put on the clinchers both because of the problems I was having with the tubulars and simply to save miles on them. While at the hotel I happened to encounter Mdme Barbarot who informed me that bad weather (rain and possible lightening) was coming in the afternoon. I packed the rain cape and polypro top accordingly.

So where to ride? I decided to hit the Col du Mollard reasoning that it was easier and closer than the Croix de Fer and I wouldn't have to bother with the light for the Croix de Fer's notorious tunnels. By the time I pulled out at 12:15 it was already getting cloudy.

The first stretch of this ride on the N6 was fairly busy and heavily developed with various types of industry. But the road was quite wide and it wasn't all that far to St. Jean-de-Maurienne and the base of the Col du Mollard so it wasn't so bad. After 15 or 20 minutes I was in the environs of St. Jean-de-Maurienne and ready to start the climb under now fully overcast skies.

I confess that the approach to this climb on the map doesn't look exactly like what I remember. The map shows a left onto the D906 and another left onto the D81 which takes you to the D80, the road over the Mollard. I remember coming to a rotary soon after entering the city limits of St. Jean-de-Maurienne. I got onto the D81 off that rotary and swore loudly - flat tire!

Well I was soon over the peevish feeling that came from getting the first flat of the season on the first ride of my vacation in France. Life's tough. ;^) I fixed it and started off again stopping soon after at a little bakery to fuel up with some pastries.

The climb up the Mollard starts right at the right hand turn from the D81 onto the D80. The switchbacks here are even more frequent than those on the Télégraphe and tighter too given that this isn't exactly a major roadway. The surface wasn't quite as nice as the Télégraphe climb but it was OK. As for the scenery it was mostly wooded so there wasn't a lot of awesome scenery, although if there were scenic views peaking through the trees I couldn't have seen them too well given the weather. The grade itself was not hard at all and I was able to keep up a steady 14 to 16 KPH turning the 39X24 easily most of the way. Easy does it.

All the while I was climbing through the forest the clouds were getting darker. Just after the tight switchbacks cease and the road emerges from the forest comes the tiny village of Albiez-le-Jeune (Albiez the Young) which, as I remember it anyway, was not much more than a few houses and a restaurant/bar. After 4 or 5 more K's I approached the larger village of Albiez-le-Vieux (Albiez the Old). At the entry into the town the road squeezes between two buildings so narrowly that I couldn't help but think that most of the tanks, er um vehicles, that you see on American highways would get themselves wedged trying to get through. It was somewhere around this point where I felt the first few drops of rain. I pressed on and fortunately the Col du Mollard came soon after.

Climb stats: 18.8 K (?) in 1:09:29 for an average of 16.2 KPH

I stopped long enough at the top to snap a photo and put on the polypro and rain cape for the descent back to Albiez-le-Vieux. In the short time that it took to get to Albiez-le-Vieux the rain turned from a trickle into a steady but moderate shower but I had the right clothes and the temp's weren't too cold (low 60's) so it was actually comfortable.

At Albiez-le-Vieux I made the turn towards Albiez-le-Jeune to descend back on the same route on which I came up. Being a wimp I took it easy on the long section of tight switchbacks. About half way down I was passed by another rider who was a better and more adventurous descender than I for sure. I held him in my sights for only a few minutes and then I was alone again. Soon enough I was back at the base of the climb and starting back to the hotel.

As I said before, this stretch of road is dreary, well as dreary as riding in the Frenchs Alps can be, and I was tired so it was a bit of a slog back to St. M-d-M. "Where did all this uphill come from?", I found myself thinking. I was also wondering how there could be a headwind when I had a headwind coming in the other direction only a few hours earlier. Probably just the tired legs.

After getting back to the hotel and drying off the bike I went up to the room and stuffed some newspaper into the shoes to dry them out. (Good tip from Bruce Hildebrand's Guide to Bicycle Touring in Europe. ) Then a warm bath and I was feeling much better.

Dumb things I did today:
  • I should have just skipped the reconnaissance ride up the Télégraphe and descent to Valloire and done a combination ride of the Croix de Fer and Col du Mollard. The original plan was to do the reconnaissance ride as a quickie ride on the day I arrived but of course that plan went out the window when my bike took that unfortunate side trip to Paris. But I'd driven it the night before and should have left it at that.
  • Looking back on it I regret not having taken the left onto the D110 at Albiez-le-Vieux as an alternate route down the Col du Mollard. This alternate route parallels the lower part of the D926 which climbs the Col de la Croix de Fer and likely the scenery is better there since this climb is rated highly on most folks scenic scales. That return route would've dumped me out in St. Jean-de-Maurienne only a short distance away from where I came out anyway.

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