A day high up in the mountains!22 Jun. 2018
A day high up in the mountains!
Discovering the Aosta trail
Through various mountain biking friends, we kept on hearing stories about the quality and number of excellent trails in and around the Aosta Valley. We sent BBB team rider James Shirley a few WhatsApp messages and quickly made our way to the area.
Now you should know that the Aosta Valley is a gigantic valley in the far northwest of Italy. In addition to the large main valley, there are several side valleys, so the words needle and haystack soon come to mind when you’re talking about finding good trails there. However, through our contacts we quickly managed to connect with Matteo of Pleinair MTB, a collective of mountain bike guides who mainly work in and around the Aosta Valley.
After having listened to our wishes (big mountains, a good trail, doesn’t matter if we have to put in several hours of work), he suggests that we cross the Col d’Invergneux and descend the trail at the back of that mountain. It doesn’t mean anything to us, but we’ve worked with bike guides long enough to know that if they suggest something like this, it will probably be pretty good. Let’s go for it!
He also says that the best thing to do is go up the mountain with a shuttle that will drop you off at 2400 metres. However, we take a look at our rental car and decide it will be good enough to get us there. Admittedly, when we take on the first few super steep and very tight hairpin bends we realise that we may have been a little too enthusiastic. We bravely forge on, though, and in the end we manage to get our somewhat uninspiring family car high up into the mountains. Our tip? Just book Matteo to drive you up the mountain when you’re there.
Then the real work begins. We calmly cycle the gravel roads on our way to the Col. It’s quite doable, just lock your rear suspension and keep on pedalling. Our heavy breathing is proof that the oxygen levels are beginning to drop, though. After having climbed a few hundred metres at altitude, we take a turn that leads onto a narrow track which traverses a steep slope to the Col d’Invergneux. On some parts of that small track you can stay on your bike, but the closer we get to the Col the more walking we have to do. The last stretch leaves us with no option: we have to lift our bikes onto our shoulders and carry them up. I’m happy with the profiled soles on the bottom of my cycling shoes.
Once we reach the Col, the view makes all of our efforts definitely worth it! It’s more than spectacular! At the village cafe in Lillaz, we have ordered a few delicious sandwiches, which we now munch on while looking out over the snow-capped mountains. Along the entire trail, there are no places to stock up, so you’ll have to bring along all the food and drink that you think you may need. This Col is already around three thousand metres high, but those mountains must be much higher still. You’ll quickly notice that you’re high up by the low temperatures and the soft but fresh breeze that is blowing past. We’re ready for action, though, so we put our jackets into our backpacks and drop down. The trail we have to follow is very clearly visible in the landscape. There’s no doubt about the line that we have to choose.
The trail sweeps through the landscape like a meandering river. The radiuses of the curves are perfect, our thick Enduro tyres scratch the rough terrain in search of grip. A bit further on, the narrow valley that we are descending into becomes more and more varied in shape.
The curves no longer only go from left to right, they also go up and down. Slowly but surely, riding the trail is becoming a wild rodeo. You could basically ride the trail calmly and flowy, but when you’re trying to stay on the wheel of an Enduro World Series pro, you’ll sometimes encounter very challenging sections. Challenging to me, that is. James is riding with a playful lightness that makes you jealous.
Due to the enormous run-up before we finally reached the top of the Col, we’re now riding towards the golden afternoon light. The setting sun is shining in our faces in this valley. We make a few stops to take a nice picture. And just when my bottle is empty, we pass a few simple farmers’ huts, out of one of which steps a local farmer.
He points to a source where we can drink ice-cold water that comes directly from the mountain and refill our bottles for the final stretch. He also tells us, with a lot of gesturing, that he has twenty cows grazing here. He begins his daily walk down to the village where he lives.
Fifteen minutes later, we meet up with him again at an extremely technical section of the trail. He is waiting calmly to see how we think we’re going to conquer it. And James doesn’t disappoint: with plenty of force, he rides down the narrow technical path where big pieces of rock are strewn around. The farmer purses his lips and raises his eyebrows in admiration. I try to do the same, but put on my brakes when I’m halfway through the section. It’s too steep and difficult. The farmer seems to look at me full of understanding.
That difficult section makes all of the thrilling sections to come look much better, though. If we (almost) managed to ride that one, then I definitely must be able to do this one, I hear myself thinking all the time. And it turns out to be true! We’re flying down, happily tearing through the landscape. The kilometres tick away fast under our tyres and soon the roof tops of the Champlong houses come into view. Not before we’ve been treated to a few amazingly flowy banked curves to top off this beautiful ride, though.
We cycle along the road back to the village where we started our trip that morning. At James’ bus, I volunteer to ride the e-bike to the mountain top to pick up our shuttle car. You won’t hear me complain, though, this trail was more than worth it!