Stage 1 - Courmayeur - Les Arc 1800
Climbs- Colle San Carlo, Col du Petit St Bernard, Les Arc 1800
Time- 4hrs 2 mins
I had my reservations about what lay ahead today after hearing the rain beat down on our hotel roof overnight but to my surprise when I drew back the curtains in the morning the roads were miraculously dry. Ominous clouds hung heavy in the sky so there was still an air of apprehension as we gathered in the car park after breakfast for some final bike checks. Then, after a quick team photo under the iconic ‘C’ at Courmayeur it was a cacophony of ‘clicks’ and ‘clacks’ as cleats engaged and we set off.
Flashes of pink streaked down the road as we had a sweeping wide open descent to the town of Morgex. So, after just 10km of descending we take a rather abrupt right turn at Morgex onto a road that seems to rear up like a wave in front of us, and this marks the start of the beastly Colle San Carlo.
This climb would continue without dropping below 10% for the next 10km. The road was densely lined by trees the whole way up which, along with a cool mist hanging in the air made things almost claustrophobic, as the only escape was uphill! The group inevitably fractured as the effort started to take its toll on everyone’s legs. At this point I was very glad I had swapped out my rear cassette for an 11-32 giving me a gear I could continue to spin even on these steep ramps. It was great to hit the top of our first climb and feel like we had really notched one up on the belt.
We had a short descent to La Thuile which was so quaint we all made a quick and unanimous vote that a short stop for ‘espressi’ was essential before we crossed into France and the land of, well, less good coffee. Charged up on caffeine our group set off to tackle the more approachable slopes of the Col de Petit St Bernard.
This led us to our lunch stop on the far side of the col where our awesome support team were waiting with an amazing spreads of sugary treats, baguettes, soup, and of course our day bags with some warm layers to throw on. The gang started to regroup over the top and some relieved faces were spotted as we felt we had broken the back of Stage 1, two climbs done, one climb to go. At almost 2,200m altitude and with the brooding skies and a brisk wind things were starting to get a bit chilly so we started to head off in dribs and drabs.
The descent took us through the town of La Rosiére, site of Geraint Thomas’s heroics from the Tour last year before we reached Bourg Saint-Maurice. The final climb took us up a fairly busy road up to the ski resort of Les Arc, in our case, Arc 1800. As we turned onto the climb the sun started to poke out from the clouds making for a lovely warm finish to the day with stunning views across the valley to the Mont Blanc Massif distracting from the tired legs. Cruising into the town of Arc 1800 I felt as if I might have missed the warning that the place had been evacuated, such is the scene of a ski resort in summer time. However this all melted away when we reached our hotel, the Aguille Grive, which was absolutely stunning. Each chalet had balconies and big open living spaces which led to an impromptu post ride yoga sessions as the perfect warm down to our first in the saddle.
Beers followed as the sun dipped below mountains, and subsequently ran out! That has to be a record for a cycling group – drinking a hotel out of beer inside to two hours. As I had long since suspected – Le Cure, “A drinking charity with a cycling problem’. A change of location allowed the imbibing to carry on into the night for some. This was confirmed by the rather shoddy rendition of some 80s classics booming through Les Arcs at 2am.