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 Post subject: French & Italian Alps Report - October 2013
PostPosted: Thu Oct 10, 2013 4:52 pm 
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French & Italian Alps Report - October 2013


A bit of background;

I go to the Alps every year in September with my roadbike. This year I had to cancel my trip at the last minute when my Dad fell seriously ill abroad and subsequently died from emergency surgery. It has been a pretty traumatic time as anyone who has been through this will know, my Mum was in bits in a foreign country and it fell to me to deal with all the repatriation proceedures and legalities. Anyhoo when I got back I managed to still go on the Wales trip with Rich, Mike et al from the Kent TRF and it was a welcome distraction and some awesome riding

It was whilst in E T James topping up with fuel that we all got chatting to some local boyos and I wandered over to compliment one of them on his bike and my personal favourite - a 350 Saxony Six Days. I gave him my number and asked him whenever he sold it to give me first dibs. A few days later on the day of the funeral I picked up a message on my phone from Ian, the owner of the 350 that he was in fact ready to sell now! I was actually a bit disappointed as I hadn't planned on changing bike till probably sometime next year and so it was pretty much out of the question. My lovely wife though said that with everything that had happened I should just buy it and see it as a sign that it was the right thing to do.  So a few days later I found myself back in Wales and handing over the reddies for this lovely bike!

By now I had rebooked my trip to the Alps and decided to take both my S1000RR and the new KTM in the back of the van so that I could have the best of both worlds. My wife came along with her pedal cycle (she does triathlons and other nonsensical stuff!) so that she could ride some of the classic Tour de France routes - Alpes d'Huez, Col du Galibier etc...

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A ten hour drive to Briancon in France near the border with Italy went by easily and uneventfully and I'd even got one of the telepeage electronic tags so that we could whizz through any of the tolls. We'd rented a lovely house overlooking the town with all mod cons and a huuuge garage to park the bikes in. The weather was looking great to start with but more changeable as the week went on so I decided to use the S1000 for the first few days;

I'm definitely a better road rider and a small bike with soft tyres and 200bhp is a lot of fun as most of the Alpine passes become a road racing playground. At this time of year more often than not you rarely see anyone else on the roads, just you, the right bike for the job and your own personal racetrack

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After a few days of playing on the roads and with the weather still looking pretty reasonable it was time to unleash the KTM.  There are plenty of trails and link roads around the various ski resorts but having done my research and purposely rented our house near the border there were some more distinguishable targets calling me over to Italy.

So with the 350 in the back of the van and a brief 30 minute drive away I find myself in Bardonnechia, a town at the base of the Colle Del Sommeiller where the Stella Alpina Rally is held once a year. The window to get to the plateau at the summit is very small, waiting for the snow to thaw enough but before the new seasons snow arrives. The temperature in the valley at the bottom was around 16 degrees but I knew it would be much colder the higher I went so I dressed accordingly and set off for the 26 kilometres ahead.  

Rough tarmac gives way to a smooth offroad track after the small village of Rochemolles and continues upwards, past the dam and it's lake. Continuing on the track gets rougher with large stones, big enough to deflect your wheel and tug your bars if you don't pay attention. Numerous hairpins serve to increase the altitude as the kilometres add up and as the track gets rougher you start to feel the effects on your breathing, nothing alarming but definitely noticeable. Into the low clouds and visibilty is drastically reduced and my gogs steam up. I have to take them off and with eyes smarting against the cold carefully pick my way up the track on the side of the mountain.  At around 2800 metres I appear above the low clouds and begin the last part of the ascent which is narrower and rougher. I'm in luck though, the snow has thawed and the way is clear to the plateau at the top some 3000 metres above sea level. Made it !!

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I take in the staggering view from the top, eat an energy bar, have a drink and play around on the KTM riding in the little lake at the top. There are a few little man-made piles of rocks overlooking the Colle so I choose an out of the way place with a nice view, make my own pile and have a few words with my Dad.

Heading back down I stupidly lose my concentration on one of the more slippery hairpins and lose the front, tipping off the side but getting my foot stuck under the bike at an odd angle. Eventually freeing my foot I find the radiator has taken an impact from a pointy shaped rock despite the rad guard. Its a bit banana'd but seems to be holding water so I get back on. It now takes what seems an age to get her fired up again  and I must confess to feeling a teensy bit alone during all this excitement !!

As I make my way back down and through now thinning clouds the track becomes less rocky and I begin to open the bike up and start giving it the berries! A little jump here and there and revelling in the punchy delivery and quick turning compared to my old faithful 400. Soon enough I am at the bottom and back at the van, about 4 hours have passed

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The next day I'm back on the S1000 for a play south of Briancon over the Col D'Izoard and onto Vars and Jausiers. I take offence at 4 other sportsbikes being on my mountain so catch and pass them just for fun. One day I'll grow up - hopefully not for a while though ;)

Now its Saturday and as the overnight rains have left the roads soaked I decide to pop back over to Italy and ride the Strada Dell'Assietta, an old military road high up in the mountains.  The sun is out over this side and so it seems that I have made a wise choice. With the bike soon unloaded I'm off up through the clouds and on a route I've downloaded onto my SatMap from the Wikiloc website. Its about a 45 km round trip of mostly smooth roads and spectacular views. The bike feels awesome dancing around on the trails and every bend brings yet another stunning vista. Its sensory overload and becomes so easy to take for granted.

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An amazing route and the only funny to report is when I decided to take a pi$$ and having seen no-one at all for 2 hours a f*cking Jeep comes round the corner as I am watering the mountain flowers - typical !!

On my final day I choose to go offroad again - that will make it 3 days of each, road and offroad. A fair split I think!

This time I've decided that I want to make it to Fort Jafferau, the highest Battery in Italy, built in the late 19th century and now mostly derelict.  Reports from other fora suggest that the usual route from the East is blocked at the Saracen's Tunnel due to a partial roof collapse which is a shame as I fancied riding through that as it's a kilometre long tunnel 2000 metres up the side of a mountain !  Some Germans I got talking to a few days earlier told me the west route was still accessible though, although there was scant info on the internet as to the exact route to take. Ever the explorer I decide to give it a go and drove the van back through Bardonnechia and up to the end of the tarmac road just after the little village of Gleise.

Heading to the right of the Hotel at the top seems to be the only route and then purely choosing my direction by anything that goes in an upwardly direction I eventually find myself climbing along a rock strewn track below some ski lifts. Its large loose stones and quite a reasonable degree of climb, not as steep as Motel Hill in Wales but constant and relentless with not many opportunites to stop and get your breathe for fear of losing momentum. The air thins quickly as you climb too, again not uncomfortably so but definitely noticeable.

Eventually I find myself at the top some 2800 metres up and riding along the top of what remains of Fort Jafferau, looking down at the canon mounts and their degrees of fire marked on the stone floor. The view again is indescribably stunning with a full 360 of the surrounding mountains, the speck of a distant Bardonnechia town and the Forts Barracks some 2-300 metres in the valley below.

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I decide to continue on to find the Saracen's tunnel but the gpx I have loaded into the SatMap doesn't go that way so I have to take some educated guesses and eventually find myself at the tunnel with warning signs in Italian that I thankfully and ignorantly can't read! It seems that the barriers blocking access have been pulled aside and after fixing an extra light to my helmet I plough on into the cold and black tunnel. It heads down and has a few bends so that you really cant see light at the end of the tunnel. With water dripping constantly there is evidence of some roof collapse about midway, there's a large puddle of water too and the bottom feels quite slippery but I continue on hoping my exhaust frequency isn't the one that will bring the whole lot crashing down on me! Eventually I find the welcome pinprick of daylight and before long I am out the other side.  I decide to carry on to see if I can find Forte Pramand which is the one Fort in reasonable shape and before long I find myself on a steep rocky tree-lined pathway leading up to it. It's definitely more recognisable as a fort than Jafferau and I have a little scout around before leaving.

As I pass back into a clearing there are some very official looking types dressed in green standing outside a 4x4. I continue past with a cheery 'Salve!' whilst they wave and yell after me. I'm not about to stop though to be told not to use the tunnel as my van is parked waaaay the other side so I continue on knowing that I'll definitely outpace them on the KTM. I switch the head torch back on and back into the tunnel stopping only at an abandoned building a few km's the other side with a epic view to take a few photos.

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Back then to Forte Foens for another nosey amongst some ruins and back down to the van to de-kit and load up one last time.


And so ended my Alpes 2013 trip, I'm already planning 2014 !!


Thanks for reading!

Graham

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Last edited by broady on Thu Oct 10, 2013 5:32 pm, edited 2 times in total.

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 Post subject: Re: French & Italian Alps Report - October 2013
PostPosted: Thu Oct 10, 2013 5:10 pm 
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Joined: Wed Jul 29, 2009 6:34 pm
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Really enjoyed reading that 8-)

ta for posting

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 Post subject: Re: French & Italian Alps Report - October 2013
PostPosted: Thu Oct 10, 2013 8:30 pm 
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More pictures!


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 Post subject: Re: French & Italian Alps Report - October 2013
PostPosted: Thu Oct 10, 2013 8:54 pm 
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Great stuff, I was there in July for the Stella on the GSA and recognise most of the views in your pics, especially that one on the Col du Galibier

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 Post subject: Re: French & Italian Alps Report - October 2013
PostPosted: Sun Oct 13, 2013 12:31 pm 
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Excellent write up. We're heading over for the Stella next year, so this is really useful, thankyou.

ps Any tips on avoiding the 10 hour drive down? We're doing the full trip from the Midlands on a variety of trail bikes, and could do with some interesting riding en route.


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 Post subject: Re: French & Italian Alps Report - October 2013
PostPosted: Sun Oct 13, 2013 4:34 pm 
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Cracking photos!

I too am doing The Stella Alpina Rally next year and traveling from the Midlands. What a coincidence!


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 Post subject: Re: French & Italian Alps Report - October 2013
PostPosted: Tue Oct 15, 2013 7:18 pm 
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Thanks for taking the time to post considering your circumstances, you've got some great bikes as well. Jafffreau looks a little more quiet than when we were up there in July :D

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