On September 14th, a group of cyclists gathered around a table for dinner in Puy-Saint-Vincent, a small mountain village in the French Alps. Among them were an Italian, a Spaniard, a handful of Dutch, a British couple, a French couple, and a Costa Rican. They were meeting for the first time and were strangers to one another. However, they shared a common passion: mountains, food, people, and bikes – and that’s what brought them together for the inaugural Le Pilgrimage, a brevet-style gravel event…
These people were on the brink of the inaugural edition of Le Pilgrimage, a 4-day gravel journey through the French Alps. The event consisted of three challenging self-supported gravel rides, each returning to Chalet AlpeLune, which served as a basecamp where riders could relax, eat, drink, and share their tales from the trails. What unfolded was a journey along breathtaking yet demanding mountain sceneries, a test of endurance, pushing mental and physical boundaries, and the forging of friendships along the way.
The first day led the riders via the slopes of the Ecrins Massif towards the abandoned Fort Janus at 2,500 meter near Briançon, offering spectacular 360o views over the French border area with Italy. The climb included paved sections, but the final kilometers were as steep as they were rugged. Eventually, all riders reached the checkpoint and received their first stamp on their brevet card.
During Stage 2 the weather changed dramatically. Instead of sunny skies, the riders encountered overcast heavens with plenty of rain and wind. They traversed single trails, ascended the Lautaret, and tackled the challenging old gravel road to the Galibier summit, where they were met with gale-force winds and even more rain.
Despite the adverse conditions, most riders persevered after warming up and were rewarded with a beautiful but demanding hike-a-bike session along the three high Alpine lakes of the Vallée de la Clarée. They finally descended and earned their second stamp at checkpoint 2: Refuge des Drayères, where hearty food and a roaring, warm fire awaited.
The queen stage took the challenge to a new level. Instead of a single day, the riders embarked on a 2-day journey towards the infamous Tunnel du Parpaillon. They had to carry their own sleeping gear or arrange their own accommodation. Some bivouacked in an unlocked sauna, while others found shelter and food in a mountain gîte. This stage covered a total of 224 kilometers, with riders having to climb nearly 6500 meters in total.
Despite unfavorable weather conditions, all those who conquered the south side of the Col du Parpaillon were captivated by its raw beauty and eerie tunnel vision. After collecting the final stamp and warming up by the fire with some tea, the riders made their way one last time to Chalet Alpelune in Puy-Saint-Vincent for the finishers’ party.
One by one, the riders arrived at the finish line, cheered on by their fellow finishers. Later that evening, they gathered around the table for the last time. While they had initially sat somewhat uncomfortably next to each other during the dinner on the first night, they now eagerly shared tables as friends they had known for a long time. Through the adventures they had shared on the road, new friendships and connections were formed and will be etched in their memories before they go home.
The Pilgrimage, organized by Simon Rosmolen, Cyril Chermin, and Aaron Griffiths, is new in its sort. Combining challenging trails and self-supported routes, it possesses the qualities of an ultrarace. However, with daily finishes at the comfortable basecamp offering good food and cyclist-focused breakfasts, it incorporates the characteristics of a social event.
With cyclists from 7 different countries and the support of French cycling brand Café du Cyclist, along with Komoot and Opinel, as well as strong local partners like the cyclist’s hotel Saint Roch and the tourism office Pays des Ecrins, the first edition can be considered a success, and plans are currently underway for next year.
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