In the Dauphine Alps; you are spoilt for choice when it comes to scenic bike rides. Grande passes such as the: Col de la Madeleine, Col de Glandon and Col de Croix de Fer make for epic days out on the bike. Yet, if you want to relax, enjoy the scenery and have fun on a quieter climb. Then I really recommend: the Laucets and the Coll de Chaussy.
I parked my car in: Pontamfrey-Montpascal; the wonderfully French named village below the climb. Just off the D1006 main road; near Saint Jean de Maurienne, in the L’Arc river valley. It was high noon on a hot summers day; so I went unnoticed as wiser folk took a rest from the heat. Leaving the little village; the road turned right and then straight towards a seemingly unscalable wall.
Yet the more I studied the sheer cliff face above me; the more I began to notice the road. Here and there; parapets and guardrails would jut up into the air; as the sun would reflect off moving car windows. On my phone, the digital map showed a road that wound so tightly; it looked like shoelaces (laucets) on a boot.
I set off once more; full of excitement of what lay ahead of me.
Untying the laces
Cycling up through the first two hairpins; I was slightly confused! The shallow gradient and the lack of views made me think I was on the wrong road. Yet, slowly with each turn; the views opened and the hairpins came quicker and quicker. It was like being on a uphill rollercoaster or a ghost train at the funfair; with the fast straights leading to sudden sharp turns.
I was laughing out loud at this marvel of engineering. Built in 1933 on a old mule track; to allow access to the higher villages and pastures. The 18 hairpins of the Laucets is an amazing road that is definitely worth a detour to experience. With a better access road being built in the 1970’s; the Laucets have become a quiet happy place to be on a bike.
As I climbed higher; a plume of smoke rose up above me. Firstly, I thought there may have been an unfortunate accident. However, rounding yet another hairpin; I encountered two roadworkers setting light to a grass verge. This was not some outlying Parisian protest over the pension age rising to sixty four. No, this was a controlled burn; to prevent the grass catching light under the cruel heat of the midday sun. As I bid them a ‘Bonne Journee’; they told me to keep left away from the fire. Accelerating away into clearer air whilst holding my breath was hard but the natural high of breathing fresh air again was amazing.
Reaching the eighteenth and final hairpin; I looked down below me. I could not quite comprehend what I had just experienced; was it all a dream? Steep in places but fast and flowing all the way up; it was over too soon.
A tightrope to a higher place
Leaving the Laucets behind; I arrived to a wide meadowed plateau. No animals were grazing so the grass had grown long and was abundant with wild flowers in full June bloom. Above the meadows rose the church of Montvernier; a small town through which I soon passed. As I was leaving the meadows; a fire engine (pompiers) screamed passed me with its sirens cutting the peace all around. They controlled fire down on the Laucets must have gotten out of control. Another example of the delicate but hardy life in these mountains of France.
Beyond Montvernier; the mountains of Cret Lognan and Pointe de la Pallaz rose above a far valley. Yet a line on a small rise immediately above the village caught my eye. I could just make out a road clinging to a sheer cliff then disappearing around the corner and into the higher valley. I knew this is where I had to go. So looked forward to the views as I grinded my gears under the heat of the sun.
Arriving to the cliff face; the road first clung to the cliff then cut inside! As I rounded the corner I stopped in amazement once more. The engineers had done an incredible job of blasting a road into a sheer cliff as the L’Arc valley lay far below.
This picturesque spot made realise; that for all of society and it’s material pressures, are connection with nature is what makes us truly happy. The modern manmade road is only sublime because it highlights what has always been: mother nature.
Through high pastures up to the Col du Chaussy
After forcing myself away from the spectacular views from the balcony below; I climbed up into even higher pastures. The fields were steep and uneven here and a farmer struggled to keep his tractor upright as he tried to cut hay for the coming winter. I knew I was drawing nearer to the Col de Chaussy; yet the last few kilometres of the climb seemed the toughest. The road pitched over eight per cent in gradient; the sun beat down and I was running out of water.
Nevertheless, I concentrated on each turn of the pedal and fell into meditative cadence in my mind. I used every corner as a marker to rest and let my heart rate recover. Watching the young lads race by on modern road bikes; I realise I can no longer keep up as I race into my forties. My thoughts of competition are replaced by a respect for making the most of youth and enjoying my ageing efforts as they lessen with each passing year.
Reaching the summit of the Coll du Chaussy; I first saw a drinking water tap (eau potable in French). Drinking the water as I refilled my two bottles; the water was cold and very fresh. It really did taste like mineral water; just as good as Evian or any other brand. Opposite the Col summit sign; there was a small café. As I passed the café, the farmer who had been struggling to stay upright; pulled up in his tractor. Stepping from his cab; he nodded and then mopped his brow. It was lunchtime and this man had really earnt it.
Around and down the mountain
Leaving the Coll du Chaussy; the road soon dropped into the next valley of the Le Merderel river. The road had been resurfaced for the previous years Tour de France; so was silky smooth. After the Laucets and the balcony road across the cliff; I was on a high. Yet here the excitement continued; as the road rolled through green meadows with wild flowers. As Pine trees gave the impressions that I was in a green kaleidoscope. Whilst in the distance views of the Grand Pic de la Lauziere and the Col de la Madeleine valley met the clear blue skies above.
After, a while; I reached the main road coming down off the Col de la Madeleine. From here, it was a matter of taking care on a long descent on a busy road. Reaching the valley floor at the town of Le Chambre; I crossed the L’Arc river and used a quiet lane to return to Pontamfrey.
Along this road, you can see a large artwork on the far side of the valley. It is made from thousands of aluminium pieces in the same shape as the whole. With each piece containing art, messages and poems. For more information; see here: https://solidartmaurienne.wordpress.com/
This ride was only 24 miles in length; climbed 5,472 feet and took this old Englishman just 3 and a half hours to complete. So please come and enjoy this amazing ride yourself. It truly is a route to relax!