Article by: Carlotta Cortese
When I decided to ride my bike up the Col de L’Iseran last October, the temperatures weren’t the best. The first cold had hit the north of the Alps, and the little snow that had whitened the peaks at night was late to melt. But I was passing through and I couldn’t waste that chance.
I left under a pale sun, stoically in shorts, with my jersey pockets full of clothing.
The resort of Tignes, which is home to one of the best equipped ski areas in Europe, opened up before me in the most complete desert; once past the lake, peaceful and calm, the resort of Val-d’Isére suddenly appeared in the form of very high tourist buildings, silent and empty; a ghost village crossed by the main road, straight and flat, where the cold was more and more pungent as the air increased.
Looking over the steep meadows beyond the houses, the still ski resorts looked like pieces of iron in ruins, positioned without logic. In just over a month, everything will be snow-white and life will start again here: empty cables will be used to hang seats and cabins, the slopes will take on a shape, the bars will be open and the residences will be full. But not now.
I put on my gloves and continued beyond the village, where the road continued straight through a wide valley, before starting to climb.
The Iseran road, the highest car pass in Europe with its 2770 m, was beautiful and icy, bordered by little snow that gave the landscape a polar aspect.
The climb was pleasant, without wind, and the quiet pace allowed me to warm up without sweating too much. But at the top the temperature was around zero, which thanks to the infamous wind-chill effect and the wet shirt would make the descent a real nightmare.
Eventually it had happened again.
Winter was just around the corner, and as usual I didn’t want to give up. “(“My legs are turning so well. What’s the matter, an extra shirt? At most I’ll wear gloves.”)
Obviously it wasn’t enough, and the descent was torture: almost slower than the ascent to minimize the air, with frozen hands barely holding the handlebars and brakes. But that’s another story, which I may tell someday.
The truth is that when winter arrives you can’t be wrong…even without climbing to 2700 meters.
You can already feel it in the first autumn rides: the morning mist, the low sun, lit fireplaces that carry the smell of wood. Temperatures drop, but we continue to ride our bikes under layers of ever-increasing clothing; perforated jersey, sleeves, waistcoats, up to the big step of the long jersey and that of the heavy pants, which confirms the relentless arrival of the real cold.
That then the cold on the bike is the most deadly: it creeps in everywhere with the air, and even if we mill the legs he sneaks in through hands and arms.
There’s no point in hiding it: cycling is a summer activity, or at least not a winter one.
How good it was with the light, open and fluttering T-shirt in the warm air of July! Of course, to extend the summer season you can always make a detour to the Canary Islands … but then?
In my case the answer was simple; I live in the mountains, and there is a time when putting my bike away, at least for a while, is an obligation. But at the same time it’s also a panacea: a period of separation from the two wheels is necessary to make up for the psycho-motor stress; professionals also do it.
So what do we do in winter?
I don’t know about you, but this winter we would like to go beyond the strip of asphalt and continue to climb; with other means besides the bike but with the same desire for freedom, effort, search for the limit.
We will talk about snow, mountains, sport, and also about cycling of course; with the spirit of always. Discovering something new about places and people we already know, and showing the winter in a finally different light. Waiting to return to cycling in shirts and shorts in the summer, the one preferred by every cyclist, and enjoy the Iseran and all the other steps with the right climate and short sleeves.
Let the journey begins….