My road trip to France last year had left quite an impression on me and I just had to go back this year.
I decided on two separate locations; firstly, revisiting James and Sam again in Correze Cycling, for a week in Chateauret, near Tulle. Then on to a new company to me, VeloVercor, for a week in Saint Jean en Royans, in the Vercor National Park. In between I have a short stopover in Florac, Parc National des Cévennes.
The journey down was uneventful, apart from the strong winds, and luckily I missed out on the major power cuts the rest of the south was experiencing. As I neared the south coast the wind got stronger and my decision to take the tunnel rather than the ferry brought a smile to my face, as I imagine that the crossings were going to be very rough. It turned out that there was a lot of disruption in the Channel, so worth remembering for the future.
My overnight stop was in a small village south of Rouen, where I had booked a gite for the night, but on arrival it was obvious that the owner did not speak any English, so it was great to be in at the deep end, having to practice my rusty French. We got by fine and seemed get the job done.
It was a very rustic, rural house and the perfect way to start the trip. You had no doubt you were in France. Just up the road from the gite was a stunning lake which was well worth the visit.
The second day was a straight forward run down to Correze, though it rained for a good part of the journey. I was beginning to wonder if the poor weather we had been having in the UK was stretching all the way to my first location, but about an hour from Correze the skies cleared and I saw the sun again. Fingers crossed for the coming weeks.
Correze Cycling location with swiming pool and lake in a small hamlet. Idilic.
Due to “Bexit Fever”, it appears many English tourist have been put off, and it turns out I am the only cyclist at Correze Cycling this week, and the only English-speaking guest. This means James and I get to do a bit of exploring, as he knows I have not come here with any expectations of being “entertained” and knows I am up for anything, as long as I get out on my bike.
Correze day 1 : Gorge loop from La Mons
I woke up to a clear sky and no wind, but the forecast was for possible showers later in the day. That’s a good start.
Sam and James have had two French guests staying that are doing a new classified walk from the source down along the Dordogne, and James has been dropping them at the start of a section each morning, then picking up in an afternoon when they have finished. So today we drove to the next start location and dropped them off at Soursac, then we went on to La Mons, where we would all regroup at the end of the day. This gave James and I a chance to hunt for new routes in that area to the east of the region.
We started by dropping down, across the hydro-electric barrage (dam) and into Chalvignac, where we stopped for a coffee to get us going. Once awake, we took a steady 7km climb up to Mauriac, not steep overall, but it took 25minutes, so we picked up a sandwich in town and to put I our pockets for later, as we were not sure what would be available out on the road.
From Mauriac, we climbed up another 5km then dropped back down into the valley, on quiet, flowing, and well surfaced roads, heading to a small village called Arches. It turned out to have a café after all. We also had a look at the old church with a large hole in the tower that looked like shell damage from WW2, but we could not find any information about it.
After eating our sandwiches at the café, with a cold Coke, we set off downhill from Arches, until we crossed over the river on a stunning suspension bridge and started our next climb back out of the valley, 6km but only 3% average, so a steady ride with beautiful views.
We started looping back, heading in what we thought was the right direction then we stopped in Latronche to get our bearings for the route back to La Mons. A lady in a van pulled up and asked if we were lost, then gave us directions.
It turned out we were the wrong side of the river and need to do another drop into the valley, then back up again. We were sceptical about her suggestion at first, but this turned out to be the best part of the day as the road narrowed to single track with moss in the centre, then it meandered back down to the reservoir under the canopy of trees, the surface deteriorating the further down we went. Awesome.
As we crossed the small bridge at the bottom and returned to the correct side of the river, the road tipped upwards on a gentle 4km climb back to the main road.
As we popped out at the main road, we saw the van parked to the left of us and at the same time we got a phone call from the walkers to say they had just arrived in La Mons. Timed to perfection.
James set up the picnic table and put the gas burner on to make some tea, while I went looking to find the walkers and guide them back to the van.
A great day out and an excellent start to the week.
Total 69km and 1050m of climbing
Correze day 2 : All the tourist honey holes
We left this morning at 10:00 and the temperature was only 16oC, but the forecast was good for later. The route took us out and along the D10, crossing the main D1120 then heading towards Lagarde-Enval. Just before we got to the village, we took a right turn on to the D1. Within the hour we had passed through Le Chastang and started our steep descent in to Aubazine, a beautiful old town and a real tourist favourite, and the perfect spot for the first coffee stop of the day.
After Aubazine we took the D14 south and within a short space of time you noticed that the stone building all started to have a more reddish hue to their stonework. The soil in the fields also had the same coloured tint to them. It marked the fact that we were moving out of the area known for its volcanic rock and into what looked like an ironstone.
Our next stop was Collonges-la-Rouge, named la-Rouge after the amazing red stone. The town took me completely by surprise, as it looked almost like something you would see in Disneyland, with its circular turrets with pointed roofs. This was a definite honey hole, and I was glad to be on the bike as parking seemed to be a nightmare. To be honest getting in on a bike with all of the pedestrians wasn’t easy, but what did come as a surprise was that you could buy a sandwich and not feel like you had been robbed, plus we managed to find a seat to admire the view, while consuming the sandwich.
A short blast up the D38 brought us to the town of Mayssac, another red town with a lot of character, but slightly run down, and absolutely no tourists. We dived into town and grabbed the last drink of the day before heading on to the next tourist spot. From Mayssac we headed further south, through Braceilles and on to the real treat of the day.
As we road along the D106 we started to climb again, only 2km, but the views were spectacular. I mentioned to James that I wanted to stop for a photo, but he just smiled and said, “I’d wait until you get to the top”.
As I reached the top, I saw what he meant, the view opened up on to a valley with the town of Curemont, a lovely grey stone village with a chateau bang in the centre, again all Disney style pointed roofs. This area of France is so full of surprises.
After a few photos we dropped through and out of Curemont and on to the D15 heading for Marcillac-la-Croze and on towards Le Pescher. Just before Le Pescher we took a right on to the D10, and our first big climb of the day, 7km with ramps between 4% and 9%.
The D10 met the D940 as we start to head north, stopping at Les Quatre Routes to top up our bottles, then back on to the D10 heading back in the direction of Lagarde-Enval, but this time from another direction. The route then retraced this morning’s steps back to base.
Total 103km and 1550m of climbing
Correze day 3 : Solo ride to Argentat
James had a day off today, so I was left to my own devices. I fancied going back to Argentat, a beautiful place that I visited last year, plus I knew there was a great climb in the way back to enjoy. I also knew it would only be about 65km round trip, so I could do a bit extra if I felt like it, once I got back to Chateauret.
The journey out was suggested by James and took me out via La Roche Carillac, to Sainte Matrtin la Méanne, then rapidly down to the Barrage Chastang, the dam across the Dordogne at the bottom of this valley.
From here you know the road must go up and it does for about 5km of up, but it is not too steep and is dealt with reasonably quickly. However, just before you hit the town of Servies le Château, you get a clear view of the château, and it is very impressive.
Once through the town I carry on using the D29 until I hit the main road D980, which will take me in to Argentat for lunch. This starts with a few roller coasters, then tips downhill for about 6km at 5%, which is rapidly despatched. On this route you approach Argentat on the bridge over the Dordogne and the view below is stunning.
I wander around the town briefly looking for somewhere for lunch, but the boulangerie does not appear to sell sandwiches and the café I stopped at last year is shut. Everywhere else is selling big lunches. I decided to head off on the return leg, I have a bar with me, and I am sure I saw a café last year on this route.
When I get to Riviére I find the bar/restaurant I remembered, but it is also closed. Never mind, I head to Saint Bazile de la Roche where I know the climb proper starts and eat my bar there, which should get me home. I continue to climb up to the village of Le Chassang where I pick up the D113, a lovely twisty climb which winds me back to the D10 at the point that I came in this morning. With only 65km in my legs I decide to go back to base, top up my bottle, grab another bar and head to the nearby lake and grab some lunch.
It’s a bit of a loop around near Clergoux and eventually I cross the old railway bridge to the beach area and grab a seat with a view and order some food. Its only 12km back to Chateauret, although it is a bit lumpy, but lunch powers me through.
Total 99km and 1480m of climbing
Correze day 4 : Tulle for lunch then exploring
We had a late start as it was wet overnight and overcast first thing. By 11:00 the skies were starting to break, so we made our escape and headed for Tulle, the nearest big town, to grab lunch. The main aim of the day was to do a bit more exploring, using roads James has not used before, but could use on other trips.
The journey to Tulle is very scenic, taking in some of the route I used last year to return from the town. Today was a public holiday in France, August 15th, Assumption Day, so Tulle was a ghost town, only a few bars and boulangeries open. We managed to grab a sandwich from one boulongerie and took it to a bar to eat, with a coffee.
Our route out of Tulle was north on the D1120, then right on to the D53 towards the hilltop village of Bar. When we arrived at Bar, James spotted a small road heading further north and it was just too tempting, so we took it. What a good choice. First it dropped into the valley, then as usual, it pitched up and continued to climb on smooth black-top, through the forest, for at least 10km, taking us up a total of 300m. Its a spectacular climb all the way up, and through Meyrignac l’Eglise, then out to the D26, which takes a turn south in the direction of Correze.
A whopping 4km descent shot us into the town 100m below the summit, covered in no time. Correze was far smaller than I expected, and today, deserted. We stopped in a small courtyard with a grand church and stunning surrounding houses, had a quick chomp on a bar and top up of the water bottle, then we were off again, continuing the descent for another 2km.
As we rounded the corner, we are faced with a long pull up the D26, with a steady incline for 2km, reaching 10 or 11% in places. Once on the level again we press on to Gare to Correze and pass a lake (Étang), Étang de Brach, which looks lovely, with the houses dropping to the water’s edge.
Shortly after the étang we take a right turn, which is the continuation of the D26, past another body of water, Le Salabert, then we join the D61 past yet more water at Les Étang de Taysse. We pop out on the D10 at Les Chemineaux, where the old railway station and carriage are. From here it’s only a few kilometres back to Chateauret, so we wind the pace up a bit as we know that cake and tea are waiting.
Another great day out, and not spoiled by rain. The forecast for tomorrow is a bit more like August and less like April, so I think we are heading for the mountains. Cool!
Total 79km and 870m of climbing
Correze day 5 : A six col day in the Cantel region
We jumped in the car this morning, bikes loaded and headed for the more mountainous region of the Cantel, about two hours east, heading for Muret. We stopped briefly to buy some tubeless tyre sealant, as my rear tyre had picked up a puncture and was not sealing.
We arrived at Muret at about 11:30, got sorted, added the sealant and headed into town for a coffee and sandwich. It is a lovely town, with a large basalt peak towering over it with a large white religious statue on the top. Quite impressive.
As we set off, we knew we needed to be on the D39 somewhere up the mountain and set off in that direction. However, as we rounded a bend in the town, the road went vertical, you knew it had to, but it was still a shock. Within the first kilometre up to the junction with the D39 we had climbed 120m, an average of 12% and there was a small “not so steep” section in that.
Once on the D39 it was a steadily rolling ride, a few climbs and a few descents, but nothing too great, but the views were stunning in all directions, much more open than around the Correze.
We were aiming for a town called Allanche, which would be the start and finish of the loop section of this ride. It was a small town, but very scenic, the church being the focal point. Once topped up with water we immediately started to climb out of town, and this would be the theme for the rest of the day.
As we climbed the trees thinned and the views became even more open, with scenery like the Yorkshire Dales, only at 1000m altitude. A left turn off the main road brought us back on to a smaller road in the direction of Veze and the view back across to the mountains was spectacular, well worth the climb and bagged us our first col of the day, Col de la Croix de Baptiste at 1279m.
Veze was a small isolated village on the top of a peak just over the second col of the day Col de Chanusclade at 1279m, which we passed through then dropped down a very gravelly road back in the forest to a point where we had to make a choice; take a left, a short climb to pick up the route, or continue and add an extra 5km of climb. No choice really, we continued, taking the extra distance and it was worth it for the views. On such a clear day you could see the 360o and take in the variety of landscapes and the third col, Col de la Vazéze at 1295m.
The long climb brought us back out onto moorland views and the sight of the mountains in front of us. We continued over the moor, rising and falling as we went, topping out at the fourth col, Col de Fortunier at 1280m.
We eventual reached the small town of Pradiers where we topped up with water at the Marie. A quick descent now and we would be back in Allanche, which would mark the end of the loop, but not the end of the journey, we still need to get to Muret.
As we came out of Allanche on the D9 we spotted an old railway station, where it appears you can hire a pedal powered device, which runs on the old railway lines. As we left town a couple set off at a rare lick of knots into the distance.
The D9 started to climb almost as soon as we left town and continued for 7km, 150m in height until we reach the fifth col, Col de Montirargues at 1139m, then we started to descend, but took a left turn up the D31 to avoid some of the main road back to Muret. This was a cracking detour, which ended with a right turn at a junction in Fortunies and a stonking 2km descent of up to 6% down to the main road.
Once on the main road we were on to the final climb of the day, 2% to 3.5% all the way, so steady pace to the Col d’Entremont at 1210m, then the road fell away and the speed went up. As we ran through one village there was a device displaying you speed green if you were under, red if you were over the limit. A law abiding 62kph popped up in green, just before the road got steeper still.
Back in town, a cold Coke was the order of the day, and then back to the car and the journey home
Total 78km and 1500m climbing
Correze day 6 : Saying goodbye to the Correze
It’s my last day and I have been left to my own devices, so armed with a small printed map of the area I plan to visit some of the places I have already been to, but approach them from a different angle.
The sky is clear, and it promises to be a warm one, so I start by heading down the D10 until I hit the turn for the D11, then turn south. The road has a downward slant and I get a gallop on, keeping my eyes open for signs to St Bonnett Elvert, a deserted little village with and old “Hotel de Touristes”, which doesn’t look like its seen much in the way of a tourist since the 1930’s.
Back on the road I see a signpost for St Bazile de la Roche, a village I climbed through on my way back from Argentat the other day.
This road is steep descent, green in the middle and sketchy where it is not green. I spend a chunk of time on the brakes down here, too much speed on this surface and its not going to end well. I am always concerned about heat build up on the rims in these conditions, but I was surprised when I felt the wheel rims at the bottom, and they were not as hot as I had expected.
The road brings you out in the village of Riviere and directly opposite the is the D131 up to St Martin le Méane, which is where I head next. This is a steady 5km climb through Freygnac, before flattening out up to the junction with the D18 main road.
I wouldn’t normally take a main road, but it was quiet, and there was no real alternative, if I wanted to get to Marcillac. It did however give me the chance to wind the speed up a bit until I reached the left turn for the Barrage del la Valette, which is the dam across the lake, the Lac de Marcillac, where I am aiming to have lunch. The irony is that I cross the barrage almost at water level, then I had to climb up and over, before I can drop back down and cross the old railway bridge to get lunch.
After lunch the temperature has started to climb and I head up Marcillac, on the D978, then take the D99 along the edge of yet another body of water, Le Doustre. This place is truly blessed with lakes.
This road takes you up through a small village called Champagnac la Noaille after which I plan to cross the D10 and head to Miginiac, but when I reached the D10 junction my way through was blocked. Instead I took the D10 south to Clergoux and continued that road until I reached Le Mortier and back to Chateauret.
Total 64km and 830m of climbing
The afternoon was spent packing the bike away, sorting out laundry and packing bags.
In the evening we went to the local village Espagnac, where each Saturday night in July and August all the locals gather for a simple meal in the square, tonight sausage and chips, and there is a band playing and a van serving wine. Apparently, all of the money raised each week goes to local community groups, each week a different group, so it is well attended, and everyone looked like they were having fun.
Change-over day one to Florac in the Cévennes
It’s Sunday and it’s on to a short two-day stop over in Florac before heading to Velo Vercor.
Well, Monday morning dawned wet and foggy on the tops of the Cévennes, so I took it easy, walked up and down the valley for several hours, then drifted round town trawling for food and images that would remind me of my visit, finally dropping in to a cracking pizzeria in the back streets of town.
If I had thought Monday was bad weather…. hello! It’s Tuesday and its pouring down. The tops of the valley shrouded in cloud with glints of light here and there, so I jumped in the car and took a trip up the D9 south with the camera as that looked the most spectacular. The vista was so large you could see the weather systems rolling across them. Very dramatic.
There only so much driving about in the rain I can stand, so back to town grab some lunch and edit some of this morning’s photos, plus of course, updating this blog. Then at 17:00 the skies clear and Florac transforms.
Change-over day two – Heading to VeloVercors
Steady journey up to Velo Vercor on Wednesday, no option really, twisty roads out of the Cévennes and heavy traffic on the roads after that.
I got to St Jean en Royans by about 13:00, met Teresa and got myself sorted. There are self -cater facilities here, so I thought it was worth a walk down to the Inter Marché to pick up some odds and ends so I could make my evening meals. Not done that for a while and it makes a nice change.
I met some of the guests, all very nice and had a good chat to a chap called Peter and we talked about doing a ride in the morning. VeloVercors have produced a cracking book with all the local rides in great details and they have the GPX files available to load up to the Garmin. Nice touch.
VeloVercors with self catering facilities and (OCD) piles of luggage stacked for six days of cycling.
Vercors day 1 : An introduction to the Vercors region
I hooked up with Peter again this morning and he suggested we do a route up two of the gorges and over a col, which would take in some of the classic Vercors views.
The sky was breaking up and it looked like it would be a warm one, but to start it was about 14oC, still its not raining and blowing a gale like it would be back home right now.
We worked our way out of town and it immediately started a gentle climb up through St Laurent en Royans and on to Sainte Eulaile en Royans, where we made our turn on to the D518. It was here you felt like you were entering the mouth of the Gorge du Goulets, wide and green in the valley floor, but tall sides of bare limestone hundreds of metres high.
We continued to climb through Échevis, and several small tunnels in the rock, each revealing a new vista, until we the 2km tunnel just before Les Barraques en Vercors.
A left turn after the tunnel and we start to climb again, through St Martin en Vercors and on to St Julien en Vercors, where we find our first coffee stop of the day, in a nice roadside café.
Onward and upward as we continue the climb until we reach about 29km, then we drop 200m in the space of 5km, then bounce back up 250m through the top of the Gorge de la Bourne following the road to our lunch stop at Villard de Lans, where we find a nice restaurant in the town square and tuck in to a crepe.
We are now 45km into the ride and are sitting at 950m. We drop out of Villard de Lans, go round the roundabout and up the last big climb of the day.
This climb will take us another 10km up to the Col d’Herbouilly at 1380m, after which we drop down to a viewpoint, with a memorial to the resistance fighters of WW2.
Its payback time now as we drop for 27km on slopes of between 5% and 8%, and the speed hits well over 50kph. About time!
This brings us back to Sainte Eulaile en Royans, and we decide to take a right turn and drop into the town of Pont en Royans to get a cold drink and explore. As we enter the town, we notice someone on a high-wire over the valley and we then discover several more wires all along the river, where it appears people are taking it in turns to tether up and walk across….Insane!
Refreshed, we head of back to St Jean en Royans and back to the digs for the night. A great day out and a fine way to start my week in this area.
Total 91km and 1724m of climbing
Vercors day 2 : Solo ride in the Gorge du Nan
The sun was blazing after breakfast and I need to do a bit of maintenance first. I have been running tubeless tyres on these wheels for about 1500km, but since just before the ride from Muret, I’ve had a couple of holes that in the rear tyre that appear to be too big for the sealant to block, so I am going to need another solution. Being prepared for something like this I had packed my old wheels, so today I am swapping over and will sort the others out when I get home.
My plan for today is to ride down the valley on the D518 and D1532, which seems to be the boundary between the mountains and gorges to the south east, and the flat lands to the north west.
I should have thought about it, but these did turn out to be flat, main roads with medium traffic, nothing too serious. They were littered with orchards along the route and the towns were full of character, so still a pleasure to ride. My destination was Cognin les Gorges, which lies at the entrance to the Gorge du Nan, my only climb of today.
I say only climb of the day, but it is 13km long and takes you from just over 200m to 1267m, so an average 7.5%, with ramps of 13% and 15% thrown in for good measure. Thankfully the views take your mind off the fact that your legs and screaming, “why are we doing this again?”.
The climb starts with a series of steep zig-zag bends, which quickly take you up the side of the gorge, through the trees and looking back you can see the main road that I left ten minutes ago, way down below.
As the road enters the gorge for real you are on a balcony looking down to the river, where you are either riding through archways cut in to the rock, or climbing along underneath the overhangs left when the road was cut out of the rock face. This is such an atmospheric route.
The road then cuts away from the gorge and continues to climb up through forest, which offers some shade and is a bit of a relief as the temperature in the sun is now up in the late 20s. Eventually, I do pop back out in to the sun, on to wide open meadows with a few buildings dotted about, but no sign of life. Back into the trees now for the final push to the top and I reach the junction to see the cyclist I have been pacing all the way to the top, never getting closer, but never getting further ahead, apart from when I stopped for photos.
A right at the junction in the direction of Presles then ultimately Pont en Royans, as the road tips down, not as steep as the ascent, but that’s OK as the road surface is a bit dodgy and the scenery is not where you want to end up.
The drop lasts for about 18km and starts off sensible and flowing, until you hit the edge of the Gorge de la Bourne and a series of tight hairpins drops you rapidly down the last 6km to the D531, just outside Pont en Royans.
Wow, that was an amazing ride, tough, but rewarding. I scoot around Pont; the climbers are still there doing the high wire walking from the edge of the road to the top of the church tower. It’s now just a 10km ride back to base for some lunch, a bit of shopping and soaking up the sun. After all……I am on holiday.
Total 71km and 1336m of climbing
Vercors day 3 : A trip into another world, the Gorges de Ombléze.
This morning it’s already warm when I get up and is promising to be in the 30’s. I have looked at some of the routes in the area and Peter as invited me to join him again, this time on an “out and back” route to the Gorges de Ombléze, an 80km ride which does look special.
We start by climbing south out of St Jean en Royans and straight in to a 23km climb that averages just over 3%, with ramps in places, but views everywhere, taking you up through steep sided rock then on through cool forests, which are very welcome as the temperature rises. The first village we reach is Léoncel, very pretty and full of cyclist, one club after another turning up to fill their bottles. If this route is good enough for the locals, it’s alright by me.
Having topped up with water we head on up the climb until we summit the col at 978m, then start to drop down in the direction of Plan de Baix, where we notice some kind of feed station, which accounts for the number of cyclist, which is now getting high. It is obviously a sportive or charity ride, whatever the dfference is.
After Plan de Baix we take a left turn heading into the Gorges de Ombéze, the road running under a stunning rock face, slowly descending for 10km, then up for a further 4km until you reach the end of the road in Ombléze.
Inside the gorge is truly magical, with deep water pools, dark wooded sections that obviously never see direct sunlight, then there is the amazing damp, green water falls at the side of the road. It is just like the set of some fantasy film.
We stop for a break in the Moulin de Pipe restaurent, where we are made to feel very unwelcome, so don’t stay for long. The return journey holds no surprises, but it has definitely risen in temperature since we set off this morning.
The drag up to Plan de Baix and then on to the Col de Bacchus, and there is not a glass in sight. The climb gives us the chance to soak up some of the sights we had missed this morning ride, while taking our mind off the melting roads. Once over the summit it becomes a quick descent with a lot of pedalling, but the kilometres disappear very quickly.
Just time for a coke in the town centre, then back to base.
Total 83km and 1440m of climbing
Vercors day 4 : Cols and Gorges
It’s the weekend and changeover day here at VeloVercors, Peter, who I have had a couple of rides with, is heading north to meet up with his family, then Mary and Phil, who I met in Ronda, Spain last year have turned for a week.
Over breakfast I talk with Mary and Phil and they have invited me to join them on a trip up the Gorge de Bourne, which I have been told is very beautiful, then loop around finishing with the Combe Laval back into town.
We start by heading out through town and out towards St Laurent en Royans, then Pont en Royans, where they are still walking the high wires over the river.
Once through Pont, we head out down the gorge road, the D531, towards Villard de Lans, then taking a tight hairpin right on to the D103, at which point we have already climbed 460m since we set off. Now the road is not as busy, and we start to enjoy the ride more as we climb further until we reach St Julien en Vercors, where Peter and I had coffee the other day. Today, however is Sunday and they were set up for lunch and fully booked. We then dropped down further to St Martin en Vercors, where we found a great outdoor café, just in front of a church. In the church a there was a brass band practicing, and their first tune….”The girl from Ipanema”, not what I would have expected, but felt appropriate sat here soaking up the sun.
A stunning, rolling 10km along the journey and we hit St Agnan en Vercors, an ideal spot to take a break and have a French lunch of Ravioli, a bit heavy mid ride, but very nice.
Just what you need after lunch is a 400m climb up through Chapelle en Vercors as we aim for the Col de Carri at 1215m. I managed to get my lunch up and over the col at which point we drop through to the next col, the Col de Machine at 1011m, which marks the top of the Combe Laval, a place I had heard so much about.
You are compelled to stop here and peer into the valley 800m below and stare into the expanse of the valley which is flanked by limestone walls. Mind blowing and breathtaking in its beauty and scale.
The Combe Laval is about 2km long and you ride the balcony looking out into the valley, then pass through tunnels and archways in the rock, under the overhangs, offering outstanding views. Once out of the Combe Laval the road just tips away at 8% and Phil and I just can’t resist. We manage to knock off the 8km in nine minutes, then have to work hard to remove the stupid grins off our face.
As you descend you start to feel the temperature in the valley rising. There are still a lot of cyclists going up the climb, but as we pass a stretch of exposed white rock and the heat reflected is like an open fire; I do not envy those on the way up. It took us just seconds to pass the rock at 60kph, it would take them minutes at 6kph.
It is so hot down in the valley, so I am pleased it’s only a 5-minute saunter back to Velo Vercor for the evening.
Total 82km and 1425m of climbing
Vercors day 5 : Back through the Gorge de Nan, from the south east side
The route we took today was over the Gorge du Nan, but this time approaching it through Pont de Royans, turning left through the car park in Choranche. It’s a steady 200m climb from St Jean to Choranche, but once you take the turn, the climb proper begins.
From this side of the climb it is 17km to the top averaging 6%, with a few peaks. Using the road from Choranche it is about 4km before we join the road that I came down on day two, when I did the gorge from the north east. I now know the road and know that shortly we will hit the big switchbacks up to the balcony cut into the rocks, overlooking the valley.
The three of us have a steady climb through the balcony, then on to the forested section which offers shelter from the direct sun, as it was now approaching 30oC.
It’s good to do a ride like this in both directions as we found with the Ombléze the other day. It presents a different view, and you are doing each bit at a different speed allowing you time to soak it up, stop and take photos. When you are riding down these descents you are normally fully concentrated on the road to take in the scenery.
We crest at the junction and start the drop, which is only 14km and has long stretches of 9% to 10%, which I remember only too well from climbing it the other day. As a descent though, it is quick in places, but tight, with blind bends and poor surface, so you need to ensure that the speed is controlled until it get to the steeper and more open section towards the bottom.
There is one hairpin that you take about 2km from the end where you get a view of Cognin at the base and you think you have a long way to go, then three minutes later you are ejected from the forest on to the valley floor and in to Cognin with a stupid grin on your face.
We are beginning to flag a bit now as its after 12:00, so we cut across the D1532, over the river Isére to the town of Saint Marcellin in search of food. There we find a bar and get a drink. The bar owner points us in the doirection of a boulangerie where we buy some food and sit in the shadow of the bandstand in the town square consuming it.
The 30km back from the Gorge du Nan to St Jean never fluctuates by more than 40m, so this section from Saint Marcellin feels flat and reasonably quick back to St Jean en Royans.
Total 81km and 1460m of climbing
Vercors day 6 : A trip north into the flat lands
It’s my final day and I have no idea where the time has gone, or I wouldn’t have if I hadn’t documented it here.
We have decided to do a short loop in the north, away from the gorges and heading towards St Antoine l’Abbay.
The route out is the same way as yesterday’s return journey from Saint Marcellin, but a few kilometres out we take a left turn and head for the town of St Nazaire en Royans. The route feels downhill nearly all the way until we cross the river Isére, going under the spectacular viaduct which seems to have been dropped on the houses and shops, looking very much out of place.
Once under the viaduct we climb for 0.5km then turn into a car park and pick up a cycle path. The path takes us away from the traffic and out into rural lanes as we continue to roll downwards slightly for a further 10km until we cross the Isére again.
This area is a continuation of the farming landscape I rode through on my way to Cognin last week, full of orchards, which I have now found out are walnut trees. The fields are full of maize, and sunflowers that all had their heads hanging this morning, as the sun was hidden by a light, high cloud, blocking the heat and dropping the temperature in to the low 20’s.
From here we take the road through St Lattier past a huge old building with a forest of high bamboo in the garden and start to gentle climb up to Montagne a rise of 340m over 11km. Once over the crest we drop into St Antoine l’Abbaye, looking down on the abbey with its beautifully coloured roof tiles, that looks so out of place in this valley.
We went into the abbey courtyard and got a coffee, and watched the world go by, an ideal way to spend the last day of this trip.
It has been good to have some great company on both these trips, it’s always better to share these experiences.
Once we leave St Antoine l’Abbaye we drop back downhill to St Hilaire du Rosier on our way back to St Nazaire en Royans. This is done through small quiet country lanes until we pop out of a junction near the car park where we picked up the cycle path this morning. We now make our way back to base where we can make some lunch, and I can start packing the car ready for tomorrows haul back north.
Total 60km and 667m of climbing
It did turn out to be a long haul the following day as I pushed all the way home, 1200 km in total over 13 hours.
Total riding for the trip was 990km with a total climbing of 23770m
A few links:
Sorted the tubeless leaking issue with Orange sealant. Whipped the tyre off, cleaned all the old sealant off, refit the tyre and it has held pressure for a days now. Great stuff.