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 to reach 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 and 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 soft 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 calm, rush hour is 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, steepest nor 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 pioneers 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