Zagan the motorhome is perched on top of the Grand Colombier (N45.90318, E5.76282) along with about 80 other motorhomes. The tour isn’t due until Sunday, but to get a good spot you have to get here early and we have a good spot. We’re looking out over Mont Blanc, Annecy, Lac du Bourget and Aix-les-Bains – a vista you should have to pay a fortune for.
We spent a couple of days to get here from the lavender fields of Provence, stopping off to fill up with LPG and food so we fully stocked. As the mountains started to rise around us, we stopped off at a small aire near Chichilianne (N44.82278, E5.54725).
A group of children were having cross-country ski/skate lessons in the car park, flinging them selves around small cones with sticks flailing in all directions; when you see folks out doing it they make it look so easy, clearly it isn’t. Jay headed off for a walk, and got so taken in by the views he lost track of time. Returning a few hours later he found me trying to get the spare phone working so I could check he was OK.
We spent the rest of the day, watching the wildlife in the field next to us and keeping cool. Thankfully the sun set early behind the mountains, so we had a quiet and cool night.
Back on the road it felt as if the someone had turned up the colour on the world, trees and fields were the most vivid green I have ever seen. We nipped into a service point just north of Grenoble and it took a while to work out how to fill up with water. It was the first time we’d seen a connection like this, but it turned out to be fairly straight-forward if a little awkward (hint – use a two-headed HoseLock connection, but pull forward the metal sleeve to get the water going!).
As we reached Chambéry, signs of the Tour started to appear at the roadside. Yellow displays in shop windows, paper t-shirts hanging outside schools, and bikes lining the road.
Looking at the map we needed to go through Tunnel du Chat (the cat tunnel). The warning signs about its size lined the road as we approached – maximum width 2.35m. Last time we drove this way we were very concerned if we would fit, but we were relaxed this time as we knew we would. A couple of miles from the tunnel entrance small signs would appear by the side of the road – Tunnel Fermé. Fermé? Hang on, that’s closed – oh well if it is we’ll just have to follow the diversion. At the entrance the barriers told us it was shut most of this year, and the diversion? Why that was over the steep and twisty road the tunnel had been built to by-pass, the Col du Chat, and of course we weren’t the only ones on it.
Jay has always said his worst nightmare would be to meet a coach or lorry on a narrow mountain road, after several hours of driving his nightmare came true – and the road in question had a rock face on one side and a wall with a sheer drop on the other.
I thought we might be stuck there as the traffic built up behind both us and the bus, so I jumped out and directed Jay. After much shuffling backwards by us, and none by the stern-faced coach driver (who probably does this every day), we inched our way past each other with about two centimetres to spare. That nightmare confronted, we ploughed on to see what else the mountains would throw at us.
We commenced our climb of the Grand Colombier and immediately had newfound respect for the riders in the tour. They would be going down the route we took up, but I wouldn’t want to go either way on a bike on that road. At one point we were driving towards a wall of rock, only for the road to do the most unusual twisting turns like a corkscrew through the rock face.
About a mile from the top we spotted our first motorhome, tucked away on a bend. Then a few more lining the side of the road. Reaching the top there were about 40 taking up most of the flattish parking area at the top of the pass, several of them almost floating in the air on a series of chocks, bricks and hydraulic legs to try to get flat. We squeezed into a space sideways on and dug out the front two wheels to get flat (thanks for the idea Phil Russ!), Zagan’s front bumper just missing the gravel.
So here we are, in place ready for about 30 seconds of action on Sunday. It may seem a little crazy, but the place already has a buzz of excitement about it. A steady stream of motorhomes growls past, each looking for the best spot left. Cyclists whirl by, sweating and relieved to reach the top, or zipping up their tops for the descent. There’s another ‘pack’ (if that is the collective term) of motorhomes a bit further down the side the riders will come up, but we decided to stop here so we can look out over these views for the next few days. Time to get the chairs out and relax in the sun.
Bonus Pic – If you love your cycling, in France they shut off the mountains from time to time, so you can go up and down without having to worry about lumbering motorhomes appearing around the bends: