Roads to Ride: The Col du Pré

Sunday, 12 November 2017

On of the novelties of the 2018 Tour de France route is the use of back road climbs, smaller roads that have long been skirted by the race. The Col du Pré is one of these, a side road for the majestic Cormet de Roselend but worth the detour because it’s a gem of climb.

The Route: the D218 leaves the town of Beaufort in the Savoie départment of France and goes via the town of Arèches. It is 12.6km long at an average gradient of 7.7%.

The Feel: after leaving Beaufort, a destination for cheese gourmets, readers might doubt this blog. A gem of a climb? “Hype” or “exaggeration” may be the words if readers were polled five kilometres into this climb. The road leaves Beaufort on a wide road and the early hairpins are shared with earth-moving trucks working on chalet constructions up the valley. Press on for the reward, it’s after the village of Arèches that you turn left onto a smaller road and the magic begins although so does steep part too with 10% and more so to enjoy the climb be sure to be in shape or equipped with the right gearing.

You leave the modern buildings behind and start riding past old barns and pastures. From here it’s the stuff of postcards with chalets, cows and a sustained slope. It’s a working climb, there are no cafés, no shops selling stuffed toy marmots, just barns and aluminium milk churns full of milk waiting for collection to deliver to the nearby dairy.

There’s déjà vu as you round a hairpin next to a barn and a chalet and press onto the next hairpin with its barn and chalet and so on – there are 15 hairpins in 7km – only with each bend the view down the valley improves. It’s steep with long sections over 10%, uncommon for the Alps and there are now-familiar signs for cyclists to tell you how far to the top and the gradient to expect for the next kilometre which is helpful given the pitch of the road.

It’s also calm, it’d be rush hour if you encountered more than five vehicles between Arèches and the pass. As you approach the pass you leave the hairpin section behind and enter woodland and some shade. There’s a small building a few hundred metres from the pass but don’t use this as a cue to sprint because the road keeps on climbing after the pass. In time the road levels out and you get views of the Roselend lake and the peaks above it. Continue and you can ride over the hydroelectric dam and then decide whether to turn left and descend back to Beaufort or turn right for the Cormet de Roselend.

The Verdict: a great little climb. It’s rewarding for the scenery, the calm and the sporting challenge given the uncommonly steep slope. The succession of hairpins gives you something to aim for all the time and means your views up and down the valley change. It’s not the hardest, the steepest nor the longest but it is among the most charming of Alpine roads. Now the Tour de France is visiting it’s an excuse to shine a spotlight on this side road. It’s an alternative to the main road over the Cormet de Roselend, itself part of the Route des Grandes Alpes, but complimentary as both are enjoyable ascents. If you had to do one then the Col du Pré ought to win on most counts.

The name: Pré means a field in French, “Field Pass” if you like. Unimaginative maybe but these fields worthy of postcards with their lush grass inhabited by rusty brown Tarine cows with their collars and loud bells.

The History: it’s yet to be climbed in the Tour de France. When the Tour has visited the area it has taken the direct route over the Cormet de Roselend instead but that is rare too, the Cormet only being surfaced in 1970 and climbed for the first time in 1979 and used nine times in total. But in 2015 the Tour de l’Avenir tackled the Pré, went over the Roselend and to the Rosière ski resort which is the same route as the 2018 Tour de France. It’s no coincidence, the Avenir race showcases the best U23 riders but pioneer routes the Tour will take as well.

The Future: it’ll be a scenic addition to the Tour de France and features on Stage 11, just 108km and over 4,000m of vertical gain. After the challenging Montée de Bisanne, itself a smaller back road the race descends the fast Col des Saisies road to Beaufort and it’s straight onto the Pré before they cross the Cormet de Roselend and take the fast descent to Tarentaise valley and the “summit” finish to the La Rosière ski area. At just 108km this should be a very lively stage and the given the steep slopes all day and the intensity the winner will have to be pure climber or more likely a GC contender.

Ride more: basing yourself in the Alps for a week is a great idea but where? This corner of the Alps is not packed with superstar climbs but it is rewarding because you can ride in many directions and find satisfying 100-200km loops to do each day featuring good climbs (Saisies, Aravis, Madeleine, Grand Cucheron etc) without having to repeat the same passes again and again, something that is more likely if you visit the Alps for, say Alpe d’Huez or the Stelvio.

Travel and Access: the autoroute network runs past nearby Albertville, high speed trains run to Chambéry and the nearest international airports are Lyon and Geneva (Switzerland). Beaufort would make a good hub for a week’s riding with several passes from the famous to the fiendish.

More roads to ride at inrng.com/roads

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Ecky Thump November 12, 2017 at 4:30 pm

A backwater indeed; looks like Louis Pasteur had never discovered the area either 😉

Watch your tummy Inner Ring.

The Inner Ring November 12, 2017 at 8:13 pm

It’s the local cheese your stomach has to watch out for. Otherwise there’s a fountain just before the start with fresh water for your bottles.

Ecky Thump November 12, 2017 at 8:56 pm

Aye, unpasteurised cheese.
We appreciate your suffering in the name of cycling, and broader, cultural advance but we don’t want you doing a Dumoulin in the process…
All the best, love reading these accounts.

Gavin November 12, 2017 at 5:22 pm

I did this climb along with the Bisanne last summer and it is indeed beautiful. The climb to Roselend after the dam is also gorgeous. This will be a very scenic day on the Tour. I hope it is televised from the start.

Kevin Keegan November 12, 2017 at 7:37 pm

Every TdF stage is broadcast live from the start.

The Inner Ring November 12, 2017 at 8:12 pm

The next thing to hope for is good weather.

PaulG November 13, 2017 at 1:42 pm

….be sure to be in shape or equipped with the right gearing. Or preferably both!

E_Pi November 13, 2017 at 1:58 pm

My budget barely supports biking around my own county right now. Thanks for digging the knife in and twisting it.

Eskerrik Asko November 13, 2017 at 4:25 pm

Your county probably enjoys better winter riding weather than my province or region or whatever administrative district they call it nowadays.
But I find it far more preferable to at least read about roads to ride that are more spectacular than mine and that are possibly accessible to me as well – instead of bathing in my own misery of rain, snow, sleet, ice and, last but least, tire-eating crushed stone (that is spread everywhere to prevent pedestrians from slipping on ice).

PS I have never before seriously considered the possibility of early retirement (if viable), but since becoming an avid road cyclist, the idea has become more and more attractive with each passing year…Spain, Italy or France, that would be the most difficult decision to make!

Andrew November 13, 2017 at 4:47 pm

I second the sentiments expressed. The photos look wonderful especially since in the northeastern part of the US we have now entered the gray and cold part of the year. I just hope that the crowds don’t disturb the tranquility of the area and the humbleness of the cows!

twocents November 13, 2017 at 11:22 pm

I can only add, the older I get the more difficult it is to be able to align “being in shape or equipped with the right gear” Without contemplating a Cancellara ebike is looking like more of an option….

ChuckD November 14, 2017 at 7:05 am

Just want to point out that if you, like me, are too gravity and geographically challenged to visit this place, you can find the entire thing in the Streetview machine and vicariously take in all that’s been noted. And it’s all that, but bring your own cheese.
Thanks Mr. Ring.

Joe K. November 14, 2017 at 8:59 am

That’s some big cows! Look how it dwarfs the man and the bulldozer behind them. Bovine EPO, perhaps?

Betto November 14, 2017 at 11:44 pm

OK, one last time. These are small… but the ones out there are far away. Small… far away…

A different J Evans November 15, 2017 at 8:51 am

I think that will be lost on most Betto; made me smile though 🙂

Len Brennan November 17, 2017 at 10:30 am

Down with this sort of thing.

Nevis the Cat November 15, 2017 at 5:18 pm

Don’t go to Beaufort. It is terrible. It smells of cheese and all the cows are left handed. It rains all the time and all the cols are gravelly and there’s a Wetherspoons at the top of each one.

Any rumours that it is a virtually unspoilt cyclist’s paradise, with no end of little known cols, white roads, empty roads and little refuges selling rictus grin inducing coffee are untrue.

hush now, off you go to Alp D’Huez……

The Inner Ring November 15, 2017 at 8:20 pm

Because this blog is mainly about pro cycling the Col du Pré had been kept “private” for a while, even if tipped on the Roads to Ride post about Roselend but a few more cyclists are welcome.

Nevis the Cat November 15, 2017 at 5:19 pm

p.s. There is a Col du Pre and Cormet de Roseland in one of the Sufferfest vids.

arpettaz November 18, 2017 at 6:36 pm

Try some summer Beaufort (they do label it by the season when the cows were milked). You’ll be tasting the wild flowers.
While in Beaufort, ride up to col de Joly for close-up views of Mt-Blanc. Dead end road – quiet (One can descend to Contamines with a road bike in the cable car; they run it in July and August for the downhill mtbs).
Also, ride beyond Arêches to Cormet d’Arêches. The last 3 km to the col are dirt, very doable on a road bike; same to the other side descending toward Bourg-Saint-Maurice. It’s beautiful and lonesome.

detail: Pré is grassland, so maybe Meadow Pass? Champ is a farmed field. Col des Champs isn’t bad either (near Barcelonnette)

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