The Cormet de Roselend lies between the Beaufortain and Mont Blanc mountain ranges, and links the towns of Beaufort (famous for its cheese) and Bourg St Maurice, well known to generations of British skiers on the road to Les Arcs, Tignes and Val d’Isère. The word “cormet” means col or pass in the local dialect. The start of the climb is 73 km from La Clusaz, including the Col des Aravis and the Col des Saisies. We propose it as an option, with the possibility of returning by minibus after lunch in Bourg St Maurice for those that don’t feel up to the full circuit.
Climbing the Cormet de Roselend
In terms of difficulty there’s not much to choose between the two sides. Both are typically long Alpine climbs, around 20 km, and the differences in height gain and average grade are small. The principle difference is the 3 km of flattish terrain around Lake Roselend when coming up from Beaufort: this provides a welcome respite after the first two-thirds of the climb. One of the most beautiful man-made lakes in the Alps, it was created between 1955 and 1960.
The climb begins immediately at the exit of the very attractive village of Beaufort, soon after passing in front of the Cooperative Laitière, source of much of the excellent Beaufort cheese.
From this side the summit is 20.3 km away and 1227 m higher up. The average grade is 6% but quite variable. The first part of the climb is fairly gentle as the road follows the narrow valley, but soon kicks up and rises more steeply through a thick forest. The kilometre markers come and go without much change in the gradient until you arrive at the Col de Méraillet, where the road forks left to turn around the lake. 3 km of beautiful scenery later, you are left with another 6 km and 374 m to climb before the summit. The last 3 km are a little easier, on a rather desolate and rocky plateau surrounded by still higher peaks.
From Bourg St Maurice
The climb from Bourg St Maurice is almost equally long at 19.4 km, and rises a total of 1154 m at an average of 5.9%.
It begins immediately at the exit of the town and consists of two distinct parts separated by a kilometre and a half of easy cycling in the middle. The first part heads up the narrow Vallée des Chapieux, alongside the white water of the Torrent des Glaciers. The steepest part of the climb comes in a series of hairpin bends above the tiny hamlet of les Glinettes, before arriving at the Crêt Bettex where the slope eases off. The second part begins with a long straight before the road twists and turns again, offering more and more splendid views. The head of the valley obliges a final effort at 8% before the road eases up again for the final few hundred metres to the Cormet.
The Cormet de Roselend in the Tour de France
The Cormet de Roselend has been crossed ten times during the Tour de France, six times from Beaufort and four times from Bourg St Maurice.
The first person over was the Dutchman Henk Lubberding in 1979. Lucien van Impe went on to win the stage in Les Menuires, while Bernard Hinault kept the yellow jersey.
Nothing much happened on the Cormet de Roselend in 1984 and 1987; it was the first climb of a long day towards the end of the third week of the Tour in both years, so the peloton was tired and nobody felt like attacking.
The Italian Claudio Chiappucci was first over in 1992, but the real action was later in the stage, when he attacked 8 km before the summit of the Iseran, with 125 km left to ride before Sestrières, including the col du Mont Cenis and the climb to Sestrières! To the delight of the tifosi, he held off the returning peloton to win the stage by 1’34”.
In 1995, the Swiss Alex Zülle was first over the Cormet de Roselend and virtual yellow jersey, with more than 5’ advance over Indurain. See the Col des Saisies for the full story.
The Tour was back the following year, on the 7th stage from Chambéry to Les Arcs. It was a very wet, windy day, and the main event on the Cormet de Roselend was Johan Bruyneel’s high-speed ride off a cliff. Bruyneel tells the story in his book “We might as well win”:
“We began shushing down the slope like skiers, leaning our bikes at crazy angles in the corners, skittering across gravel… Pebbles and stones flew up from the road – flung out at 50 mph by our madly spinning tires. This was the sport of cycling at its most dangerous. And best. […]
We were going to make it through this wild turn. […] Gravel.
As I rode onto it, […] I knew I was going off the road. […] Then my front wheel hit a big rock on the shoulder of the road. My bike vaulted forward, the rear wheel snapping up over my head and around, and now with time slowed I could see passing below me the twenty-inch-high stone retaining wall […] Then I flew past that and off the edge of the cliff, and I hung in the air, feeling motionless, weightless, stopped in time, a hundred feet above the trees…”
Remarkably, Bruyneel’s fall was broken by a tree and he was able to climb back up, take a replacement bike and finish the stage.
The other noteworthy event on that day was that Miguel Indurain finally cracked. After dominating the tour for five years, his reign was brought to an end after a week of bad weather. Completely out of energy on the final climb to Les Arcs, he lost 3 minutes to the leaders. Luc Leblanc won the stage, and Evgueni Berzin the yellow jersey that day. He was to keep it for two days before leaving it to the eventual winner, Bjarne Riis.
The last time the Tour visited the Cormet de Roselend was in 2009 – the year that the sprinter Thor Hushovd attacked over all the early climbs in order to defend his green jersey. (For more on this, see the Col des Saisies).