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This ride is much tougher than is suggested by its 45 kms and 1430 metres of ascent. Mostly slippery, steep, mostly rideable, fun trails.

See here for very good road bike route that includes the first 3 cols of this rideCessens, Sapenay, Clergeon, and a nice gorge.

I started in Rumilly, at the start of the 15 km paved east side climb to Col du Clergeon. I soon left the route, taking a small road that soon became a gravel farm road. The first few unpaved kilometres were a touch “unused,” but hang in there as the route becomes much more civilised.

A touch overgrown

The entire route would be a combination of rough trails/roads and riding through mountain farm fields:

At Col de Cessens, I briefly took a paved road until Col du Sapenay as I knew the views were great (and I needed to speed up a little) – but there are trail options.

Below is the view I knew. Lac du Bourget is the largest lake completely in France (here’s an old post detailing a bunch of great road bike climbs in the region including Mont du Chat and Le Grand Colombier).

spot the cyclist

Here’s a scrollable 3D photo from the same location:

Here’s the 3D photo without the fancy software:

The ride includes Montagne de Cessens, Mont Clergeon and Montagne du Gros Foug. I’m unclear whether this is the Juras or the Alps. Geographically, it’s south/east of the Rhône River
= Alps. But Geologically I believe it’s Jura. I’ve used the Jura category on this blog. It certainly “feels” Jura.

I would find Hay Surfing Nirvana:

Just past Col du Sapenay I jumped back onto trails climbing along the top of Mont Clergeon to the Col. More fields:

From Col du Clergeon I would begin a search for a col that I’d never visited: Passage du Gros Foug – yes, it’s spelled correctly.

There was some descending then a steep, slippery, but rideable couple of kilometres to a great lookout just above the col/passage.

“road” to Passage du Gros Foug

Near Passage du Gros Foug

A 3D scrollable photo (note Le Grand Colombier directly across the river):

Le Grand Colombier..

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This ride explores some lesser known climbs starting from Lake Annecy and heading south. Road bikers don’t leave yet. While this loop requires a mountain bike and some pushing, it begins with a nice 10 kilometre paved climb that you probably don’t know.

I started beside the lake immediately jumping on the wonderful bike path that heads all the way to Albertville.

As the map below shows, I followed the bike path for approximately 10 kilometres. Just before it passes through the old train tunnel I quit the path and took a little road right/west that immediately heads into the mountains just south of Le Semnoz.

Nice View

It’s twelve kilometres uphill to Col de la Frasse (1379 metres). The first ten are well paved passing through small villages with mountains on each side. It’s a quiet, scenic road.

The paved road ends two kilometres from the col. It gets challenging here. I managed to pedal the first kilometre on a steep, gravel, farm road.

Then it becomes a rough hiking trail through woods and I had to push often, as well as avoid several fallen trees blocking the trail. But no worries, a little hiking never hurt anyone. It opens up at Col de la Frasse. The lake is just visible in this photo:

Col de la Frasse

The next three kilometres are steep and often unrideable as I descended the col. But I eventually reached civilisation and a farm road.

This far side of Frasse is also sparsely populated mountain country. My next goal was to visit two gravel cols for the first time.

Just below Col de la Frasse, a tricky but scenic descent

NOTE: If you ride this route, I made a small mistake at kilometre 25 taking a mainly unrideable hiking trail for a couple of kilometres. I would descend to the same point later in the ride on a decent road. Basically at km 25 on the map below take the left road not the right trail.

If you take the correct route everything is rideable and fun.

Photo below is at Col de Bornette. Lake Annecy in view at top left. Above Bornette I would next traverse to Golet de Doucy (1329 metres).

1304 metres

From Golet de Doucy (Golet is an old word for col most commonly used in the Jura Mountains) there is a grassy but easily rideable descent for a couple of kilometres.

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Just west of Geneva are the highest peaks in the Jura mountains. On the shoulder of these peaks are a couple of cols reachable by bike on wonderful gravel forestry roads.

See here for the highest paved climbs in the Jura mountains.

Starting from Thoiry, the route takes a trail and quiet roads to the lookout point at Tiocan (860 metres). There is parking and a restaurant at this hiking trail-head. I’d turn left here and never see another car. It’s a long enjoyable traverse west in the mountain forest. Often not too steep, but usually heading higher.

After 18 kilometres – see map/profile below – I turned off the principle road onto a much rougher, much steeper track leading to Chalet du Gralet. It’s rideable but often +20%. Eventually it reaches the top crest of the mountains as it nears the Chalet at 1460m. Just beyond is an official col: Passage du Gralet (1410m)

Steep and rough, but quiet and fun

Nice views from the summit of the mountain valley below:

Here’s a 360 degree scrollable photo looking towards the highest peak in the Juras taken near Chalet du Gralet. There’s sometimes a great view of Mont Blanc to the south from here …. but it was too hazy today. The Chalet is in view below.

Here’s the 360 photo without the software adjustment:

The road ends at the Chalet, although there are plenty of hiking trails. But it would be hard work and involve pushing to keep going along the crest.

See here for a mountain bike ride that reached 1688 metres at Colomby de Gex a few kilometres to the north beside and only 30 metres lower than the highest point in the entire Juras.

So from Chalet de Gralet I double-backed down the hyper steep kilometres and took another road up to Col du Sac (1360m) and the Chalet du Sac (1380m). This photo is from the Col showing the road to the Chalet.

Here’s a scrollable 360 degree photo with the same view:

It’s possible to go “over-the-top” here and descend to Col de Menthières and make a larger loop. For example

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Can you see the tiny cyclist?

The Alpine borders between Italy and France are lined with forts and high altitude military roads – most dating from the end of the 19th century or World War 1. Forte Jafferau (2805 metres) is the highest Fort in Italy and the second highest in Europe. It was built between 1896 and 1898. It was bombarded and largely destroyed as part of the peace treaty ending World War 2.

The highest Fort in the Alps is atop Mont Chaberton (3131 metres) – cycling details here.

This is my third time cycling Monte Jafferau. This time via the old Galleria (tunnel) dei Saraceni, which had just reopened after being deemed unsafe since 2013. The map below has all three routes, all astounding unpaved old military roads. So great even if the tunnel is terrifying.

Details of the blue route here, details of the hairpin-filled red route here. This post details the pink route.

The pink route is called La Strada Militare 79 (or Strada Militare Fenil-Pramand-Föens-Jafferau). I started from Salbertrand riding 2 kilometres on the SS24. There is a tiny left turn to Fenil and the climb begins. It soon passes the 19th century Forte Fenil. This is the start of the old military road. It’s paved for one more kilometre until Montcellier. Then 20+ kilometres rough gravel to Monte Jafferau. I’d recommend a mountain bike versus a gravel bike as this is often very bumpy, rocky gravel. Wider tires and suspension were welcome, especially for the long descent.

The climb is beautiful from the outset, quickly rising above the main valley below. It’s often very steep, and I spent much of the climb looking for a good line through the rocky gravel.

At 2088 metres I reached Colletto Pramand. Note, on the map below all the cols are marked and there is a gradient profile of the route. I was getting close to the tunnel.

The Tourist office assured me the tunnel was open, but lots of “closed” signs along the route remain.

The tunnel was built at roughly km 13 to 14 of the road in the 1920s due to the endless avalanches making the road impassable. The middle stretch of the old road has completely disappeared. The tunnel is directly under these hollowed out cliffs at roughly 2200 metres.

You can see the old road leading into avalanche debris just above the smaller tunnel entrance.

There is a tiny tunnel and then the real fun begins. The tunnel is u-shaped and just under a kilometre. It is narrow, pitch dark, and very wet. One needs a light. It is uphill too but not crazy steep. Note, it looks like a straight line on my map as my GPS lost signal in the tunnel. I was quite terrified the entire time, especially when – mid tunnel – it became very noisy due to a waterfall somewhere. But I survived!

Flooded

Below is a 360 degree photo of the tunnel. You can move/zoom the photo with a mouse/finger.

Two kilometres above the tunnel the route meets the other two routes and some fabulous hairpins up to Col Basset (2610m) begin.

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It was a road closed, bike-only day for Col du Glandon and Col de la Croix de Fer. Fantastic. But the best part of this route is above these famous roads.

I cheated by starting half way up Glandon, just before the road closure as I wanted to save my legs for the higher challenge. I love Glandon, especially the final three kilometres. The hairpins and views are special.

I would then go over the top and cycle the final three kilometres to Col de la Croix de Fer (2064m) . I’ve written many times about this road.

See here for details of six ways to Col de la Croix de Fer including via Col du Glandon. But the rest of this post will focus on the unpaved ride above.

Exactly at the summit, behind the Croix de Fer col sign is an ignored gravel road. It splits in two directions. I would climb to the right and return via the left – the most rideable direction. After a kilometre the gravel turns up. the next 3.5 kilometres average +13% and can be slippery (and snow covered). It’s hard work, but rideable.

In the photo below you can see the horizontal paved Croix de Fer road in the distance and the tight hairpins in the forefront that I was climbing.

Oh!, I see a potential climb on far side. (Col de Bellard).

The direction I was continuing:

Higher up I would run into some snow on some of the hairpins, but it was easy enough to hike through (Croix de Fer road now FAR in distance).

At 2525 metres I finally reached Col des Tufs (aka Col du Vallon). From the col it’s a small descent to the first of two beautiful lakes: Lac Bramant (2448m) and Lac Blanc (2473m).

It’s possible to cycle around these lakes on trails, so I did!

Lac Bramant is also called Le Grand Lac

Lac Blanc

At the far end of Lac Blanc is Col Sud des Lacs (2476m) — see the profile on the map below for all the col locations. Beyond Lac Blanc there are a couple of smaller lakes and the trail heads higher toward the Glacier de Saint Sorlin.

Glacier de St. Sorlin in distance (above my shoulder)

There was too much snow to continue but I have previously mountain-biked to the base of the glacier. Details here, old photo below.

Glacier de Saint-Sorlin

Instead, I turned around and rode the other side of Lac Bramant including riding across a small dam:

Below is a 360 degree view of these lakes. You can move the photo with your mouse (if you scroll for the down view you might spot me!).

I wanted to return to Croix de Fer via a different route so I cycled up to Col Nord des Lac (2533m) and headed down a blue ski piste. Initially, it was far too steep and slippery for me to ride, but more skillful mountain bikers could do it. Regardless, I don’t mind hiking, and it is not dangerous. Looking back up the ski slope:

Eventually I reached good quality gravel ski-lift service roads that I was able to follow all the way back down to Col de la Croix de Fer:

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“Ride the Alps” is a series of non-competitive bike days in Switzerland sponsored by Switzerland Tourism and a sporting goods company. Yesterday I attended the “Ride the Alps Vaudoises” day (Vaud is a canton is the western, French-speaking part of Switzerland). See here for more of their upcoming events.

The route was a short but scenic 47 kilometre loop reeking of Alain’s local knowledge: tiny paved roads, three cols, avoiding traffic, and beautiful Swiss views. I had never ridden the featured climb: Col de la Pierre de Möelle (1657m), so I was excited to visit.

Given the current heat-wave, I decided an early 7:30am start would make sense. I had the great fortune to bump into an old friend, Alain Rumpf, who had designed the route. In fact we would ride most of it together. Unexpected fun.

A Swiss With A Pulse is Alain’s cycling focused web site.

Alain as we cycle above the beautiful dam/lac de l’Hongrin.

See here for a brilliant loop from Aigle that climbs to and rides alongside Lac de l’Hongrin.

Lots of cattle grids, but fun, tiny Swiss roads

.

Alain is a very, very strong cyclist but he cheerful rode my pace (he would ride a second lap later on). Of course, we chatted the entire time. Brainstorming ride ideas, sharing favourite routes, planning future adventures, etc.

And of course, stopping to take the occasional photo:

As we approached the finish, I saw a field full of hay bales. I yelled at Alain to stop. He knows my twitter account and how I enjoy #haysurfing.

He laughed, stopped, and was a VERY good sport and agreed to make his hay surfing debut. Wooohoooo!

Bravo Alain, expert form.

An enjoyable little loop on super quiet Swiss roads with the unexpected bonus of Alain’s company. Excellent.

Note: As the map profile below shows, we also traversed Col des Mosses (1445m) and climbed past La Forclaz (1261m; a geographic col according to the experts at Club des Cent Cols).

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Col de l’Iseran is the highest paved col in Europe (2764 metres). It’s a beautiful road, but similar to many famous passes along the Route des Grandes Alpes it can suffer from loud summer traffic: motorcyclists love this road. But once a year, the road is closed to motorised traffic. It is tough to explain how quiet and relaxing these car-free days are.

See here for almost 100 car-free bike days in 2019.

Doreen waving

This is our 4th time attending a Col de l’Iseran bike day. It’s just too great an opportunity to pass up. The closures included all the best parts of both sides: The 16 kms above Val d’Isère (north side), and the 13 kms above Bonneval-sur-Arc (south side). Two years ago Doreen had rented an e-bike, but this year she was determined to reach the summit with her much-loved heavy city bike. Allez!

The North Side

We started in Val d’Isère. After a couple of kilometres the route crosses the Pont St. Charles and things get fun. The road just goes higher and higher looking down on the route below. And some truly great hairpins.

Doreen was VERY excited to get a snow wall photo:

Perhaps a kilometre before the summit is Lac de l’Ouillette

The South Side

With the road closed for five hours I had enough time to descend the far side too. Woohoo! I descended about 11 kilometres down to the first great hairpin above Bonneval-sur-Arc:

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This is exciting: a beautiful new high Alps paved road (and the top 6 kilometres are closed to motor vehicles).

The Trois-Vallées Ski Domaine claims to be the largest in the world. Each of the three valleys features a famous ski station: Courchevel, Méribel, and Val Thorens. They are separated by high mountains covered in ski slopes. The paving of the road to Col de la Loze is a first step to linking all three valleys with a high paved road just for cyclists.

Previously, one could road bike above Courchevel until the airport at roughly 2000 metres. The climb to Col de la Loze at 2304 metres includes six newly paved kilometres above the airport. Méribel is directly down the far side of the Col.

I’ve seen a few people complaining about paving a quiet gravel road. But let me tell you there are endless other superb gravel roads in the Trois-Vallées. For example: Here is a 7 col ride above Méribel on the far side. Here is a very high 3 col ride high above Courchevel to the east. Here is a ride to 3000 metres (!) high above Val Thorens. etc.

It’s a big climb. Below, in the profile, I’ve used the stats from the “official” start at the D91A turn off to Courchevel (845 metres). But I started in Brides-les-Bains and it’s 4 uphill kilometres to the start intersection – see map at bottom.

Mont Ventoux21.4 kms1,640 metres ascent
Col du Tourmalet19 kms1,404 metres ascent
Col de la Loze22.5 kms1458 metres ascent
Alpe d'Huez13.2 kms1,071 metres ascent

The majority of the climb until the airport is a wide modern ski station road. It’s fine, but beware there is some traffic as there are lots of villages here. The higher you get, the quieter the climb.

At roughly 1300 metres at La Praz is the Ski-Jump from the 1992 Albertville Olympics:

Plenty of great mountain views.

But it’s the last 5.8 kilometres where this new climb gets exciting. It used to be a gravel ski-lift service road. Now it’s paved and bike-only:

While the first 17 kilometres are generally a steady climb, these last 6 kilometres are all over the place. Ramps to 16%, a downhill section, etc. But …. it’s stunning and car-free.

The tourist board is doing a lot of promotion for Col de la Loze. It will appear in Tour de l’Avenir in August. There are also some time trial days open to everyone (May 12, June 30, July 28). See here for details. I guarantee you that it will be in the Tour de France very soon.

Almost at summit:

The far side is gravel and the plan is to pave it. It was marked as closed but I had my gravel bike and began the descent. They are in fact well along in preparing the road to be paved and I was passed by a guy steam-rolling the gravel:

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