Mercier Rides - Southern Alps

Last June, Mercier teams and friends gathered at Serre Chevalier. This valley located in the French Southern Alps is known for its beauty and its sports-related history. Indeed, it links the town of Briançon and the Lautaret pass and has three mythical passes: the Col du Galibier, the Col du Granon and the Col d’Izoard. We met up on Thursday night in a cabin located in the town of Monêtier-les-Bains. The views we have on the Ecrins range, in itself, is an invitation to ride higher, but it will have to wait for the next day. For this first reunion night, we are to be together and most of all to welcome two riders from Quebec, Canada, members of the excellent Cartel store. Everybody was in a great mood and was excited about the idea of the different high-altitude rides ahead of us. Even more so that the weather was set to be perfect. Few bottles were emptied during this festive night, including an excellent Lapierre Morgon in a bottle rather… familial.

Day 1: Galibier and Granon

Of course, everything did not go as planned. We swore that we would be ready to ride at 8AM, but we needed to fix some problems due to the carriage of the bikes. We finally hit the road at 9AM towards the Col du Galibier. We start with the first 10 km on a small plateau until the Col du Lautaret, where we stop for coffee. The policemen we meet there tell us that the pass reopened a few days ago; it means that there will be very few cars passing, which is not the case later in the season. Julien, one of the riders, broke his drive and had to turn back to his great regret. For the rest of the group, it was the discovery of one of the most breathtaking passes in France. As we gained altitude and had 9 km left until the summit, the view of the Serre Chevalier valley on one side and the Meije massif filled our hearts with happiness. At more than 2,000 meters above sea level, there is still a lot of snow on the ground and the groundhogs, who did not see anybody since they woke up from hibernation, were surprised to see us pass by. One kilometer away from the real summit, which road is blocked, when we got to the Galibier mountain hut, we decided to split into two groups. The accompanying cars would go through the tunnel which is open, and the cyclists will try to reach the real summit, praying to be able to pass on the other side of the mountain. The idea was both very simple and enthusiastic because, on the other side of the pass, snow completely covered the road for hundreds of meters. No need to say that more was needed to stop our warriors of the road who would pass the pass on foot, in 30 cm of snow. As for the technical team, in the cars, we can follow the riders’ efforts thanks to a drone, and we also took advantage of having to take some beautiful footage. Teams gathered, and then we went down the slope after the Col du Galibier towards Valloire. We rode very easily without any cars to trouble our journey. However, it is important to wear warm clothes because, high in the mountains and in a slope, the temperature can be quite fresh, even in the middle of the morning when the sun shines bright. When we arrived in Plan Lachat, we turn back to climb the Col du Galibier again. If everyone goes at their own pace, those who lead the way are fighting hard to know who would be first. Mathieu – who oversees the development and the production of Mercier products – puts up a lot of efforts and climb as a dancer, followed by… Nic from the Cartel store, even if he was not accustomed to the high altitude passes of the Alps. You better believe that the indoor training, coached by Bruno Langlois, during the harsh winters in Quebec, works really well! Once at the summit, we go down to the Col du Lautaret and back to the cabin. The slope goes by very quickly and the temperature increasingly rises as we go down in the valley. In a few dozen minutes, we shift from winter to summer.It was time for a well-deserved lunch break. Jeanne Mercier, Émile’s daughter, and her friend Camille took on the great responsibility of preparing meals for the dozen people who were part of the team. After talking with Charlotte, Nicolas, and Stéphane, the photographers and video makers, we took the decision to wait until the very end of the day to ride again. What was our idea? To enjoy the beautiful light of sunset. The Col du Granon will be the theater of the second climbing of the day. It is little known, yet it is a giant with its 16 km uphill with 1,200 meters of ascending elevation. And the most important of all, there is no time to rest. At 7PM, the riders hit the road again, and we were only a few kilometers away from the foot of the pass. For the first half of the climbing, it begins in the forest, then after a turn there is no vegetation. It is now 8PM, the shadows start to appear in the valley, but we are still bathed by sunlight while riding in a rather mineral landscape, with 11% ascending slopes. We went by the stone shelters of the Alpine infantrymen, an elite corps in the French army in which soldiers are trained for missions in the mountains. Finally, we reach the summit. The view is incredible, with the sunset on the massif of Queyras looking south. Back to the cabin, with, of course, the traditional apéritif, followed by a good diner. The team was now complete because Émile Mercier, who had work related matters to attend to, joined us.

Day 2: Clarée Valley and Izoard

New day, new start! On this Saturday morning, we hit the road towards the valley of Clarée located between the valley of Serre Chevalier and the mountains which represents the physical French-Italian border farther east. This luxuriant valley, which is a cul-de-sac, allows us riding along the river and climb up to the Col de l’Échelle. The group forms a peloton, and we are even joined by Marine, who is a lodge keeper during summer and a great bike rider.

It was the opportunity to try out the new outfits for women which were just produced by the Italian factories. Jeanne and Camille join us for lunch with a large picnic. We really needed to regain our strength because if the morning ride was like a bucolic getaway, the climbing of the afternoon was set to be more demanding. Indeed, at the beginning of the afternoon we went towards a pass which name is known to all, the Izoard.

From Briançon, we were set for a 20 km ride with an average of 6% elevation. If this percentage is not a major drawback, the length of the climbing and the absence of any plateau make it a compulsory step for many editions of the Tour de France. Few kilometers away from the summit, the forest disappears to leave the ground for the high-altitude mountains because the pass is 2,360 meters above sea level. Everyone reaches the summit at their own pace. Some riders are tough, some others did not really have the time to train beforehand, and they needed to be brave and go forward, step by step.

The finish of each rider at the summit was celebrated as it deserved to be by all the team, as if it was the finish of a Tour de France stage at the Alpe d’Huez. We quickly went to the Casse Déserte a few kilometers down the pass, toward Queyras, to pay tribute to the memory of two cycling legends, Fausto Coppi and Louison Bobet, as a stele celebrating their achievements has been erected there.

Back to the cabin, apéritif, diner and a good night sleep.

Day 3: Galibier in the early morning

On this Sunday, we have one constraint, which was to be back in Grenoble early in the afternoon to take the train. We chose to get up very early to climb again the Col du Galibier, at 2,642 meters above sea level, and enjoy sunrise. We got up at 5AM and were out at 6AM.Yes, of course, getting up wasn’t easy, but the happiness of riding is enough to make tiredness and this feeling of heavy legs disappear. We are rapidly reaching the summit, riding up and down several times to capture a lot of footage. We saw one groundhog, then two, and three; and finally, an entire group which is now accustomed to our presence and plays in the snows or has a wash. At 9AM, we put the material away and peacefully go back down to the cabin. We enjoy every kilometer of this journey downhill, immersed in these mountains we love so much, before we pack our bags and go back to our family and professional duties.

Thanks to all the people involved who were friendly enough to be there and allow moments like this to happen. This comforts us in the raison d’être of Mercier, the effort, of course, but also sharing, togetherness, happiness and nature which offered us an exceptional landscape for these three days cycling.

Now, there is only next year destination to choose. Some ideas?