The Col des Saisies lies to the south-west of Megève and the east of Ugine, in the Beaufortain. It joins La Pierre (Beaufort) in the Doron valley to Flumet, further north in the Arly valley. There is a ski station on the pass.
Climbing the Col des Saisies
There are three possible routes to climb the Col des Saisies, but one of them involves making the longer and more difficult climb to the Signal de Bisanne first. The Tour de France has always crossed the Col des Saisies by the direct route, either from La Pierre to Flumet (seven times) or in the opposite direction (four times).
From La Pierre
The climb from this side is 15 km, rising almost 1000 m at an average of 6.5%. The first section is on a wide, well-surfaced road that winds up above the valley and then enters a forest. There is a short section at 9% but most of the slope is even and progress is steady.
At the half-way point there is a short descent and you arrive in the small village of Praz, where the road turns off for Hauteluce and the Col du Joly (another great climb). Seven kilometres remain before the col des Saisies: the road remains wide and in good condition as it serpents up and round the flanks of the mountain, opening up magnificent views on the Mont Blanc.
The arrival is a bit disappointing, as the road flattens out and enters the unprepossessing ski resort of Les Saisies.
It is irregular, switching back and forth between sections at 8% to 9% and others at 3% to 5%. There is even a kilometre and a half of descent, after the pretty village of Arcanière. It is an attractive climb, alternating between forest and Alpine pastures with great views across the valley.
The arrival at the col is a bit of a let-down: no impressive summit like the Colombière or the Madeleine, just a flattening out as the road goes through the semi-deserted ski resort.
The Col des Saisies in the Tour de France
The Col des Saisies was first crossed during the Tour by the Dutchman Henk Lubberding in 1979. It has never been the final climb on a Tour stage, and therefore with a couple of notable exceptions it has rarely been the theatre for drama.
The year 1995 was one of those: the Swiss rider Alex Zülle decided to attack from the village of Notre Dame de Bellecombe, about halfway up to the col des Saisies. At the start of the day’s stage, from Le Grand Bornand to La Plagne, he was in 9th position at 4’29” from the leader Miguel Indurain. At the summit of the Saisies, he had an advance of 1’15”. Doing most of the work himself, he crossed the Cormet de Roselend with an advance of 5’2” and was therefore virtual yellow jersey. Big Mig had to do something! Team Banesto worked extremely hard to reduce the deficit and get him to the foot of the final climb, from where he set off alone in desperate pursuit, finally reaching the line just 2’ behind Zülle. All the other contestants for the yellow jersey were more than 6’ behind!
Many of us will remember the 17th stage where Floyd Landis attacked early on the col des Saisies and soon distanced Evans, Menchov and Rogers. Vexed by losing the yellow jersey on the previous day’s stage, he rode like a man possessed. He crossed the col with 3’25” in hand and went on to a solo win in Morzine, lacking only 30” to regain the yellow jersey. Unfortunately, he was later to be caught by the anti-doping control and disqualified.
An unusual event took place in 2009: the first person over the col des Saisies was a sprinter, the Norwegian Thor Hushovd! He stayed out in front for 90 km on the 17th stage, from Bourg St Maurice to Le Grand Bornand, in order to ensure he won the points he needed for the green jersey.
Tour de France 2016
The Tour will cross the col des Saisies for the 12th time in 2016, on Friday July 23rd during the 19th stage from Albertville to Saint Gervias. The stage is 146km long, and will make five climbs, passing over the col de Tamié, the col de la Forclaz de Montmin, the col de la Forclaz de Queige, the Signal de Bisanne, the col des Saisies and the final climb up to Saint Gervais.
The Tour will be in our local area for three days in total. Thursday July 22nd will be Stage 18, a 17km hill time-trial from Sallanches to Megève, including the fearsome Côte de Domancy where Bernard Hinault won the World Championshipo in 1980. Saturday July 24th will see another tough mountain stage, from Megève to Morzine. The stage is 146km long, and passes over four major cols, the col des Aravis, the col de la Colombière, the col de la Ramaz and the col de Joux Plane. All these climbs figure regularly or occasionally in the Alpine Cols training weeks.
Come and see the Tour for yourself during our Tour de France week: stay with us at the Beauregard 4* in La Clusaz, ride stages 18, 19 and 20 and watch the riders go by for an unforgettable experience!