Here’s a ride idea that works for anyone: Find a nearby sparsely populated forested region near you that you don’t know. Then map a route that avoids paved roads as much as possible. That was my plan here.
This is a fairly challenging trail ride starting at the historic Pont de la Caille – it involves some pushing and visits 4 cols – including a couple that were probably the nearest cols to my home that I had yet to cycle . Woohoo.
The 4 Cols are all labeled on the map: La Clef des Faux (727m), Col des Menulles (714m), Passage à la Biche (742 metres), and Col de Mallebranche (702 metres).
I started by cycling over Le Pont de la Caille (Quail Bridge). It was built in 1839 to cross a gorge between Annecy and Geneva – it’s now bypassed by a modern autoroute bridge and is car-free. You can move the below photo with your mouse for a 360 degree view:
Immediately after crossing the bridge I jumped onto some trails. Roughly 90% of the ride was on trails or unpaved farm or forestry roads.
Early on I turned up the uninhabited Montmin massif for a great little 4 kms loop (see map). It’s occasionally very difficult. Most of the pushing was here, so you could skip this little loop if it’s not your thing.
The highlight of the ride was climbing through the Montagne de la Mandallaz (roughly kms 17 to 26). I would cross the Passage à la Biche roughly halfway through this forest. Superb trails, and very rideable.
Every now and then on the second half of the ride I would pop out of the forest and have great views of the nearby Alps (Le Parmelan and the mountains around Lake Annecy).
Lake Annecy below
Finally, the ride ended by crossing the Pont de la Caille again.
The 3D video of the route does a good job of showing the forests and little mountains along the route.
I like this loop on a late winter day when it’s been sunny for a while – so the roads are fully ice free. It starts near Annecy following the Annecy bike path along the west side of the lake. Scenic and flat, so a good way to warm up.
A local fisherman was having fun too in the morning haze:
La Tournette (2351 metres) is the peak in the background.
I followed the bike path all the way to Marlens (see bottom of post for a route map). Note, the bike path goes all the way to Albertville – see here.
Yes, a few of these photos are with my drone.
The village of Marlens is beside the bike path and is the beginning of the 7 kilometre climb to Col de l’Epine.
It’s a very quiet road, nice hairpins, and great views of the valley below and surrounding mountains.
Don’t confuse this Col de l’Epine with another Savoyard Col de l’Epine of similar height on the shoulder of Mont du Chat. See the dark blue route here for details.
Exactly at Col de l’Epine is a gravel road that goes a little higher. The views looked great today so I took my road bike for a brief detour. I’ve done a fun unpaved multi-col ride high above here but in warmer weather – see here.
I descended Col de l’Epine through a great gorge passing Col des Esserieux (labeled on map).
From Col des Esserieux – view of La Tournette from the non-lake side
Next, I would climb Col de la Forcaz de Montmin. This is a beast of a climb, even tougher than its profile suggests as there are a couple of flatter parts lowering the average grades. Lots of 12%-14% stretches.
The north side has views of the lake, but personally I prefer this scenic, quieter south side. I saw my 1st Tour de France mountain stage here in …… 2004!
The reward for a tough climb? A brilliant lake view at the Col. There is a restaurant here with a patio overlooking the view – perfect in summer.
View from Col de la Forclaz de Montmin
View descending the north side of Col de la Forclaz:
A hilly but not too difficult little loop in the French Juras. Col de Richemond and Col de Cuvery are in the same massif as the much tougher and more famous Col de la Biche and Col du Grand Colombier. It’s been sunny and warm enough that the roads were clear and a road bike was fine. As usual in the Juras, even these relatively main roads are very quiet.
I usually do this loop in the opposite direction, so for a change I started with Richemond. I climbed the side that Thomas Voeckler descended to win a stage in the 2012 Tour de France. At the summit is a monument to the local French resistance during World War 2.
Descending I could see Le Grand Colombier in the distance.
See here for details of all four sides up the beautiful and very challenging Grand Colombier.
The direction I took meant a long false flat to Col de Cuvery for 17 kilometres or so. I cross country ski here quite often. Lots of groomed trails across the Plateau de Retord at all levels. They also have sled dog races here and a few hungry looking fellas eyed me ravenously.
Part way down Cuvery is a lookout with clear views of the distance Alps:
This was a nice relaxing winter ride. One could easily make far more challenging loops including any combination of Cuvery, Richemond, Col de la Biche, and Grand Colombier (but these last two are both currently closed for winter), or any number of other nearby cols.
See here for my overview map of Jura Mountain climbs.
I appreciate all the support from people last year when I considered ending the website given how the world has moved to social media. But I realised I’d keep writing this blog even with zero readers. Because for me it’s like a personal journal.
As in recent years, I expect that 75% of my rides will continue to be on gravel/unpaved roads. I just enjoy the solitude. I’ll also continue to ride a lot more locally than I used to. I am lucky to have so many interesting options from home, including numerous routes up my home mountain Mont Salève.
A nice local sunset this week
See here for how I did versus my 2018 Cycling Challenge.
This year’s challenge will be similar to last year’s – a good thing I believe. Anyway, without further ado.
My 2019 Cycling Challenge:
Cycle 100 Different Cols
This helps remind me to visit old “friends” that I’ve cycled many times – while continuing the never-ending search for fun new climbs.
I’ll ride my favourite hairpin on the way to Col de la Croix Fry – like ever year
Find 20 “Good” New Climbs
This gets harder and harder every year, but the Alps are a big place, and I have lots of ideas – both paved and unpaved. I enjoy few things as much as cycling a worthwhile big climb for the first time.
Col de la Met (2735m) was a brilliant new ride in 2018. I think I can get high directly behind me on far side of lake in 2019.
Another Ride Above 3000 Metres
I’ve managed to cycle above 3000 metres seven times and each was a truly memorable experience. I have a few ideas for 2019 like the Theodul Pass beside the Matterhorn (3285 metres). But I need to stare at some maps and make a plan. Again suggestions welcome.
See here for 25 of the highest unpaved roads in Europe including several above 3000m.
Reaching 3000 metres often involves snow – road to Col de Rosael
More Gravel Touring
I have very little experience with here-to-there touring but twice in 2018 I filled a back-pack and headed our for a few days. Both were all time highlights of my alps cycling life.
I have a few ideas, and hope to do a few trips, perhaps one or two for longer than last year. I’m certain this will include some adventures in Piemonte along the Italian/French border, perhaps something in Switzerland, and as usual, I’ll stare at a bunch of maps all over the Alps (and Juras/Massif Central/Vosges). We’ll see.
2018 Tour du Mont Blanc with Alfie
Another Big Climb to See the Sunrise
In 2017, Steel Wheeler buddy Tim and I cycled up Grand Colombier in the dark to reach the summit for a glorious sunrise. It was one of the highlights of the year. In 2018, we cycled to Cime de la Bonette for a chilly but beautiful sunrise. In previous years I’ve visited Ventoux, and Galibier to see the day begin. It’s now a tradition.
We’re busy brainstorming possible summits with commanding south/east views. Suggestions welcome.
Grand Colombier with Tim
More Adventures with my Wife
It’s good to be in love with your wife.
I don’t often blog about Doreen, so here are some of my favourite cycling photos with her from 2018.
2018 was another fun year for getting high on unpaved Alpine roads.
Here are my 10 favourite rides. Each includes a link to a detailed blog post including a map.
See here for an overview map of big Alps mountain bike / gravel climbs from all years.
#1 Passo dello Stelvio Stelvio Unpaved
This was an easy top choice. Forty kilometres from Bormio to the Cima Garibaldi just above Passo dello Stelvio via four mountain passes (one even higher than Stelvio). The last 26 kilometres completely unpaved. One of the most fun rides I’ve ever done. And the descent of Stelvio wasn’t bad either.
Spot the cyclist
If you are a road biker visiting Bormio to ride Stelvio and Gavia, you must visit one of the many bike stores in town and rent a mountain bike and do this ride. Like my “roadie” friend Barry did for this ride. Trust me. Ride details here.
Single Track. Umbrail below. Stelvio in distance.
#2 Col du Galibier via the Old “Road”
Woohoo, this great route has three distinct sections, all of which require thicker tires:
Briancon to near Col du Lautaret on quiet trails/roads
The old road on the south side up to Galibier
A secret valley descent of the north side of Galibier
The highlight was the ascent of Col du Galibier on the remains of the original south side road. First built in the 1880’s, this was the only way up the south side until 1938. As best I can tell it was abandoned/closed in 1947. This means that between 1911 and 1938 the Tour de France would have climbed or descended this road over twenty times. Ride details here.
Galibier old “road”
Unpaved option well below Col du Lautaret (in distant view)
#3 Grand Col Ferret
This was the “easiest” day of my three day Tour du Mont Blanc by mountain bike adventure with my pal Alfie. But it might have been my favourite. Our main goal was climbing Grand Col Ferret (2537 metres) high on the Italian/Swiss border. Glacier heaven! Ride details here.
Just above Grand Col Ferret
#4 Col de la Met
I’ve done several high climbs to perched old forts around lac du Mont Cenis. But, at 2735 metres, the super high road to Col de la Met is a ski station service road. The summit has towering views above the beautiful lake.