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 at least five possible routes to climb the Col des Saisies. Until 2016, the Tour de France had 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). In 2016 (and again in 2018) the Tour took the more difficult route via Bisanne.
During a typical Alpine Cols week, we climb the Col des Saisies at least once, sometimes twice and from different directions.
From La Pierre (just after Villard-sur-Doron on the D925)
The climb from this side is 15 km by the main road, 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 skirt 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.
There’s an alternative route from Flumet via Crest-Voland, which allows you to make a nice loop. The first part to Notre-Dame-de-Bellecombe is the same, but here you turn right, descend for 1 kilometre and then climb again quite steeply to the village of Crest-Voland, where you should turn left. The road rejoins the main one a couple of kilometres before the summit.
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 one third of the way up to the col des Saisies from Flumet. 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 Indurain 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 in 2006 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.
The Tour crossed the col des Saisies for the 12th time on July 23, 2016 during the 19th stage from Albertville to Saint Gervias. The stage was 146km long, and went over the col de Tamié, the col de la Forclaz de Montmin, the col de la Forclaz de Queige, the Signal de Bisanne and the col des Saisies before the final climb up to Saint Gervais.
Three steep climbs in a row, the two cols de la Forclaz but especially the climb to Bisanne created big gaps in the peloton. Tom Dumoulin fell in the descent from Queige and fractured his wrist, while several other top riders fell during other descents as the rain began to fall (Rolland, Porte, Mollema, Froome). Bardet seized his opportunity in the slippery descent to Domancy and went on to win the stage and second place in the Tour.
Tour de France 2018
The Tour won’t actually cross the col des Saisies again in 2018, but it comes very close. Starting in Albertville, the riders will climb to Bisanne before redescending on the road from just below the col des Saisies to Beaufort. From here they will climb the col du Pré (for the first time ever on the Tour) before going on to the Cormet de Roselend and the summit finish in La Rosière.
The col de Pré is a beautiful climb that we use occasionally during our training camps. It is sometimes included in the Time Megève sportive.