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#aeightbikeco riders have found themselves day dreaming about new #aeightescape ideas and reminiscing about past adventures – This time Bryony tells us about a cracking Gravel ride, last Summer in the French Alps. Here’s her take on the Col de Sollières…

Dad was mincing down the dirt path with one foot out. The pass where Hannibal crossed from Italy into France on his elephants was on the horizon, and the sky was bright blue.

“Just ride it!” I yelled helpfully. He wobbled even more.

We’d just met my mum and sister for lunch at the top of the 2639-metre Col de Sollières, a gravel pass near the French-Italian border. We were starting the homeward leg of our first-ever Alpine gravel adventure.

We’d started bright and early from the village of Termignon in the Maurienne Valley. It was quite a cold morning, but luckily the weather looked like it would get very hot later, even at 2650m. My dad had uploaded the 30 mile route to his Garmin, and we started up the long gravel route that twisted through the trees to almost 1000m. So far on our holiday in the Alps, we had done one ride on very steep hairpins over the border in Italy, but on smooth roads, so the rocks on the mountain path were very different, but still a welcome change from the potholes of Tunbridge Wells! We were slightly disoriented for the first kilometre or so, since my Dad’s Garmin was telling us to make a U-turn at every hairpin, but we soon got used to ignoring it and concentrated on the steep trail and amazing views.

We’d fitted 40mm Schwalbe G-One tyres to our cyclocross bikes, hoping to get the best of road and off-road on this holiday, and we’d really recommend them. Some of the tracks had rocks that we’d have preferred to have ridden over on mountain bikes, the smooth roads would have suited a road bike but the G-One does everything well and then excels in the gravel and fireroad.

After climbing steadily through the trees for 6 miles, and keeping going by saying “I’ll just get to the next hairpin”, we stopped for a snack on the side of the path, which was underneath a ski lift being used by mountain bikers. We had seen some DH riders flying down the trail we were climbing – we watched on intrigued by the speed whilst they looked back, probably a bit confused as to why we were going up this steep path on what looked like two road bikes!

After the chocolate, we came out of the trees at around 2200m, where the views really opened up and we could see across the whole valley. Earlier in the week our friend had told us about views of the snowcapped mountains and the shiny rock where the glacier had recently retreated and now we could see for ourselves how stunning the area is.

After some slightly more gradual hairpins, we went round a corner into a large semi-circle type trail, on the edge of the Col. This was much narrower and more rocky than the route before, and I definitely had to walk some of it, but by the end I’d built up my confidence enough that if I went back again I reckon I would be able to ride most of it (without thinking of what would happen if I fell)! This path went slowly on for two miles, until we reached the actual Col de Sollières. To be honest, it was a bit disappointing since I had forgotten that a Col was a gap between two summits, rather than a peak, but it was nice to meet up with our friends and my mum, who had walked up to the Col via a different route.

We put an extra layer back on, since the wind was cold when not riding. After the obligatory touristy photos next to the sign, we got ready for the long descent which we’d been looking forward too after 11 miles of climbing. We quickly realised that the long awaited, “relaxing downhill” was going to be anything but! On the uphill, being on lighter CX bikes was definitely an advantage, but on the rocky and bumpy trail going down to the Lac, it was a pretty intense and rough ride! The trail was basically a goat track, with paths meeting and then diverging, so you had to quickly pick a line and then jump across to the other side as a big rock appeared before darting back to avoid a dropoff. There was a lot of foot out “moments” and a serious amount of “committing to the rut”!

Despite the bone-shattering bumps, this was actually brilliant fun, and we soon found ourselves on an amazingly smooth road, although, pretty much anything would have seemed smooth after that descent! To add another Col to our list, we decided to ride two miles off our route, to the Petit-Col du Mont Cenis – we cycled on the road past the beautiful shores of the blue Lac du Mont Cenis, and then up to the main Col.

The Garmin then told us to join another gravel route, to descend back down to Termignon, where we started our route. The entrance, however, looked like it was someone’s garden, complete with a chicken coop. It turned out to be the right way, so we climbed up again over more steep and rocky paths (with some more stops for snacks of course), before joining the hairpins back through the trees that we started on – descending down at about four times the speed that we had climbed at the start of our ride.

This was an absolutely brilliant day, but quite tiring, so it was nice to be back in the village and eating crepes with hot chocolate staring up at the mountains we’d spent the day exploring. After uploading this ride to Strava I found out that I had a QOM on the first hairpins up to the tree line, and although this was probably more due to lack of women on the section than a fast time, I was still pretty happy with that! The Maurienne Valley was a great base for cycling, hiking and via-ferrata. We stayed in the pretty village of Bonneval sur Arc, right at the end of the valley, at the foot of the climb to Col d’Iseran.

For anyone wanting to plan a similar trip, the blog is easily the best guide I’ve found to cycling road and gravel in the Alps. Our ride was a variant of one of theirs. I’ve definitely got the taste now for more adventure, but where next? #aeightbikeco #aeighttech #aeightescape

Photos by Bryony and Sean Fishpool.  BRYONYFISHPOOL Three years ago, Bryony entered her first cyclocross race at Herne Hill and  instantly clicked with racing, soon moving onto other races (and clipless pedals, after falling off a lot!). During her second season of racing she raced her first national cyclocross champs and tried four of our club’s Time-trials, enjoying the local courses and the atmosphere. Last year Bryony raced some XC MTB races, and we’ll be helping her develop her across all disciplines. Bryony says, “in the future, I would like to improve my cyclocross skills especially now I’ll be racing as a Junior – I’d also like to compete in more TT races, XC and maybe even try road racing after building my fitness a bit more”. #sdwrocks

GOT WHAT IT TAKES TO RACE WITH US? We’re always looking for other riders to be on our collective. The #aeightbikeco is about doing things a little differently. We’re looking to kit our riders out with steel race frames made in Sussex. Whether that’s for ‘cross, road, crit, TT or mountain bike we’re offering the chance to have a custom steel bike made for you to race on – not just put together, but fully bespoke.

The best part is that we’re not asking you to leave your team or club – that includes racing in your club/team kit. We’ve got certain brands that we’d like to work with and that we’re adding to, but we’re open to suggestions and maybe you’ve got a sponsor or support that you could bring to the table?

We have some strict qualifying criteria but don’t be put off by this – if you’re interested in being part of the #aeightbikeco then please get in touch by emailing your racing CV to BLOG.ÆIGHTBLOG FACEBOOK.ÆIGHTBIKECO INSTAGRAM.ÆIGHTRACER

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