7 majors

In the middle of a very unusual summer, my two companions, Adrienne and Geraldine, and I decided to take on the challenge of the 7 Majors of bikepacking as the highlight of a season which never really started. The route is a 345 km loop with 10,000 metres of elevation change through the Southern Alps in both France and Italy. The 7 Cols are Izoard, Agnel, Sampeyre, Fauniera, Lombarde, Bonette and Vars and we are hoping to complete the tour in 3 days, taking plenty of photos along the way. Feeling invirgorated, Adrienne and I are very determined, especially with Geraldine as our guide.

We set out to the Izoard early on Saturday morning and we are the only ones on the road. At the top, we treat ourselves to a luxurious 2-hour refreshment break while we are waiting for Geraldine. Once we are reunited, we head for the top of the Col d’Agnel and cross over the border into Italy late in the afternoon. Our plan was to head down to the small town of Sampeyre to find something to eat and a camping spot. Unfortunately, we had no idea about public holidays in Italy and we quickly realise that August 15th is national holiday and every restaurant has been reserved for weeks. Therefore, our options are limited so we settle for sandwiches and fries from a roadside café. As the whole country celebrates, we fall asleep in front of a barn in the Col de Sampeyre, with the muffled sounds of the orchestra at the village dance below.

On the agenda for day 2, we have the majority of the Col de Sampeyre and the Col de la Fauniera. Both of these Italians Cols are not main routes and the road itself, in bad condition in places, climbs into a forest of wild flowers. La Fauniera is a treacherous rollarcoater disguised as a beautiful col with aggressive gradients. I am surprised to find that each col is very different from the next, one leading us through rolling pastures, the next through sharp rocks.

That evening, we were forced to stop in Delmonte so we could sleep under an awning to shelter from the rain. Therefore, on the last day we had 3 cols and 155 kms to cover. We set our alarms for 3.30am. The climb up the Col de la Lombarde in total silence is magical, as is watching the sunrise over the mountains. We return into France and head for the top of La Bonette, the highest road in Europe at 2802m.

Adrienne and I decide, without consulting each other, that in order to successfully climb up the 26.7km Col, we would break every 5km at the percentage sign. Motorcycles and cars, who go up much too fast, are insulted by taking on us marmots, and the time passes much faster. The descent is once again breathtakingly beautiful to Jausiers, the last town and for some food.

We were warned that even though the Col de Vars was the shortest climb, it is the most difficult. It doesn’t look that bad to us until the last few kilometres which are on a 9% gradient. Triumphantly, we finish climbing in the dark accompanied by nothing but the barking of the herding dogs echoing in the distance.

We take one last photo in total darkness. Then we wrap up as warm as we can with everything we have in our saddlebags and start the last descent to Gillestre only guided by our lights. Mission accomplished.

Further Riding

Download the GPX file from Strava here.