L’Oisans, not quite so well known, wild and mysterious
These few words rather humbly describe this part of the French Alps. This area spreads out generously from the village of Gavet at 390 m altitude up to the peak of the Ecrins mountains at 4,102 m altitude and it can be described as a high mountain region. To the West, Oisans is protected from precipitation by the Belledonne and Taillefer ranges. The abundance of glaciers, sources, lakes and waterfalls means that it is rich in water, in all its forms.
A little bit of history
L’Oisans was the land of origin of the Uceni tribe and it gradually forged itself a close-knit identity, accentuated by the tough lives of its inhabitants until the Middle Ages. This area was later developed as a strategic geographical location, with the quickest route from France to Italy leading through Oisans. On your mountain hikes you will, no doubt, come across some vestiges of this ancient Roman road whose trace still remains pretty mysterious, even today.
An area characterised by numerous mountain passes and roads: from the via Romana to the great Alpine passes
Apart from the Lautaret road, there are three valleys leading to three mountain passes through which the ’fortress Oisans’, as it is sometimes called, opens up to the outside world. The Ornon pass, which is the gateway to Provence, forms the link between Oisans and the Valbonnais as well as Matheysine. The valley of ’L’Eau d’Olle’ with its Glandon, Croix-de Fer and Sabot passes opens up to the Savoy and Maurienne regions and the third axis, which is not suitable for motor vehicles, is that of the Prés Nouveaux pass which also leads into Savoy.
The greatest breakthrough in Oisans was marked by the construction of the road, which is now the RN91, in the 19th century. The construction of this road, which was a heroic technical achievement, took no less than 77 years! Despite this heroic project, Villard-Reculas, Villard-Notre Dame and Oulles were still isolated in 1900. Oulles, for instance, only got a road which is suitable for motor vehicles from 1960 onwards.
The history of the ’Little Queen’
It all started in Germany in summer 1817. The ’velociped’ (from « véloce’ (fast) and « pède » (foot)) goes back to a wooden frame forming a link between two wheels which one would ride astride. Then, in 1861, the pedal was invented in Paris, followed by the fabulous ’Grand Bi’ only little later. The front wheel would be the main wheel, or guide wheel, and would measure up to 3m in diameter. Hence, it is easy to understand that the ’Grand Bi’ was soon relegated to the museum for fear of falling from such a height. It was followed by the invention of the bicycle in 1880, which arose from the great invention of the chain transmission.
From 1890, great technical advances led to the further development and improvement of the bicycle. John Dunlop invented the inner tube in 1888, followed by the invention of the derailleur gears in 1911, which were tested during the Tour de France to climb the Alpine passes.
According to Henri Desgrange, the inventor of the Tour, the climbing of the Alpine passes was no longer such a heroic achievement with the use of the derailleur gears. So he banned them from the Tour till 1937!
And finally, in 1970, the Mountain Bike was born in California. This was the beginning of a new sport and new technical inventions, for the enjoyment of all cyclists.