I had some chalet duties to do at mid-day so decided on a quick spin up the Peisey Nancroix valley to keep my legs tuned! It was a steady climb from the chalet, 9% at the bottom but mainly 8%, 26kms there and back and just over 800m of ascent. The road was quiet and the views were pleasant, what’s not to like!
Postscript: I developed this further in my autumn trip into a ‘bike and hike’. Check out Peisey Nancroix bike and hike
( right image: Refuge Rosuel at the top of the Peisy Nancroix valley)
It was a wet start to the day so I decided to start writing up my diary. In retrospect it would have been better to ride as the day dried up and the sun was shining by the afternoon. One very pleasant aspect of temporarily lodging in the Penthouse above the chalet was that I had the use of the lounge, which was a huge room with a vaulted ceiling, and massive windows looking right up the beautiful valley of Peisey Nancroix to the snow-capped Bellecote mountain at it’s head.
Another beautiful sunny day. Set off without a plan in the Bourg direction and decided to explore above the village of les Chapelles.
The Ride. Arrived at the start of the narrow winding road that I noted a couple of days ago and I’m immediately faced with a ridiculously steep hill. I knew from previous experience that fluffing-up the navigation at this point could ruin the day, so I kept a very close eye on my GPS to check that I was on a road that lead somewhere. The road changed to gravel jeep track just outside the village, but was rideable even with 25mm Gatorskins. I climbed steadily up a series of switch-backs and although I was always in the easiest or second easiest gear, the gradient was consistent and I got into a good rhythm. All was well with the world.
The track hit high alpine meadows, dotted with summer huts and pasture and I was particularly taken with one deserted hut with a phenomenal view of the valley. I found myself imagining how it would feel to stay up there for a couple of nights. Me, the bike, a bed, a comfortable seat with a mountain view, a wood burning stove, a water trough and enough food to last for a couple of days. What more could a girl want?
As I continued ever upwards, the mountain was mine. I marked it at the top by having a quick pee! At 2000m I was pretty close to the summit of the ‘dome’ and it started to become clear that my mountain was actually the spur of a long ridge which rose up above the snow-line. At the top of the track there was a rocky section probably unsuitable for a car, and then back to hard-pack jeep track. The first couple of km’s of descent were on really annoying large (3-4 cm) loose pack gravel which had been recently laid down and was not yet hard-packed. Tricky for the bike, although I didn’t dismount. Would not be possible to ride without a bit of Mountain Biking experience (unless you are a natural!). The cobbly track eventually changed to tarmac and I stopped to rest my hands.
The small tarmac road wound down the hill, eventually reaching Valezan on the D86. I was feeling in need of a bit more than a Tesco’s flap jack square and was just thinking of turning for home when I noticed a little restaurant/bar. After an excellent plate of charcuterie and cheese I completed the end of the Versant du Soleil route, through Granier, Aime and home along the river bike path.
The Verdict. I loved this day out, but would probably try to keep high for a bit longer next time I’m out that way. It’s still a worthy ride though.
After nearly a week at my little farmhouse apartment, it was time to move into the chalet, as the ‘Penthouse guests’ had left that morning. I had got quite used to my farmhouse hideaway. With no Wi-Fi, no telly, good food and lots of cycling, my blood pressure was back to normal. Being wedged between a cow milking parlour and a barn did bring the flies, but cosiness, the flock mattress and the linen sheets made up for it (I know flock mattresses aren’t normally known for their comfort, but this was an exception). Oh well, penthouse it was!
Set off in fine weather through Bourg and Seez. 30 kms of 5 & 6% ascent on very wide road with very light traffic. Unlike any col I have previously ridden in its consistent but relatively easy gradient. Kept on the big ring (50/32 or 34) all the way. Arrived at La Rosiere, a small skiing village, looked behind me and realized there was a huge rain cloud sweeping up the valley, so decided to press on.
Passing large banks of snow on the side of the road, I was very glad to see the top, albeit in the distance. I arrived with freezing rain blowing at my backside and made a hasty retreat to the restaurant, where the waitress showed me to a table next to a log burning stove. Nice. I ate a plate of Tartiflette and watched the rain increase in intensity and reluctantly left after the shower had passed, knowing that I was going to suffer. 10 mins later I couldn’t feel my feet or hands and my knees where like ice blocks. As I descended various body parts came back to life.
I decided to take the scenic diversion passed the ‘Route Barre’ sign and duly noted a sink hole big enough to swallow a bike. I also noted Chapelle Saint Michel perched on a little hillock but was too cold to investigate. My first Col of the holiday and a few lessons learnt.
I planned to ride a couple of loops that Ben, a local cyclist, had recommended. The routes incorporated most of the tarmac ‘balcony’ roads in the valley (a balcony road is one that contours along the side of a valley, at a certain height above the valley floor).
The Ride. Set off for Bourg St Maurice and tried to find the ‘white road’ marked on the maps that follows the river Isere around from the Power station to the auberge de jeunesse in Pont de Longefoy, keeping to the south of the river. No luck! Later found out that it is barely rideable by mountain bike, and very difficult to find, so a no-go for roadies. Continued through Seez and found the D84b with no difficulty. A beautiful uphill road through the forest to Villaroger, with glimpses up the valley to Val d’Isere.
I missed the right and then sharp left hand turn in Ste-Foy-Tarentaise partly due to very confusing cycling signposts and partly because my GPS was way too zoomed out. I found myself in the village itself, which was lucky because it was worth exploring. Lots of very narrow passages and streets with enticing views to the mountains.
After filling my water bottle at one of the many troughs I continued on up through the villages of la Masure with the occasional steep uphill trawl, at last swooping down through Montvelazan to BSM for lunch.
I stopped at a restaurant called L’Angival which served an excellent Plat de Jour of pork ribs and mash potato, and then onto the second part of the ride.
The road up to les Chapelles was a steady but hot climb. Managed to re-fill my water bottle in Montgirod. The village of les Chapelles had an interesting church, very narrow old streets and a real feeling that nothing had changed for a long time. An old couple who must have been at least in their 80’s were working their vegetable garden. Didn’t dare take a photo, but wanted to. I was also tempted by a very narrow road leading up the hill, which I noted for later exploration.
The rest of the ride was a breath-taking roller coaster ride along the side of the valley with views across to the snow-capped mountains of Bellecote, Mont Pourri and beyond. I had one of those endorphin fueled moments where my world was 100% complete.
The Verdict. Difficult to improve on. A great ride for roadies who want a day off from riding up cols.
It was a beautiful clear blue sky day, or what Sam the chalet manager called a ‘Bluebird day’. With my bike purring beneath me and my first clear view of the snow-capped mountains, I felt a mixture of excitement tinged with apprehension at not knowing exactly what lay ahead. My mission was to ride a few of the well-known routes in the area before the first cycling guests arrived, so I decided on the closest and shortest ride as a first off.
The Ride. I set off towards Bourg Saint Maurice and took a right hand turn up a small road in Hauteville. This avoided having to go into Bourg, and linked to the main Les Arc road. It cut the corner off, avoiding the less pleasant aspects of the town and got me onto smaller more interesting roads; my kind of route! I continued on up, taking smaller road options to the right hand side of the main road where possible, catching sight of a baby adder basking on the warm tarmac. I soon found myself back on the main road and on pretty easy gradients of ~6%. I descended back down through Vallandry and the attractive valley of Peisey Nancroix.
The ride highlighted the difference between the newer, wider post ski industry road, which had a slightly lower gradient and the older, narrower, multi-switch-back road which was quieter with more interesting distractions to take my mind of the climb.
Verdict: This would make a good evening training ride if you are into that sort of thing, but for me it was spoilt by the ski resorts and the wide access road. Just call me fussy.
Notes for future rides:
1) Could take the old road to the left hand side of the main road as a more interesting option
2) To lengthen the ride and increase the ‘adventure’ aspect could take the road that goes from Villaroger up to Les Arc 2000. Not paved but worth investigating.
3) Missed a couple of interesting roads descending from Nancroix to Landry.
Post script: I hugely improved on this ride on my Autumn trip, by including point 2 and 3 above. Check out Ghostly Ski Resorts & Off Road Bliss
Decided to explore the river cycle path from Bourg to Aime, and to see if I could find the VTT (mountain bike route) route west of Aime which may be rideable on a road bike, and would take out the need to ride on the dreaded N90. I spotted the track on a map-board at the side of the cycle path, but didn’t remember it accurately enough, so ended up farting around the back roads of Aime to no avail. I returned to the map-board and realised my mistake, but couldn’t be bothered to go back and continue the recce.
Later I met Sam the chalet manager (not to be confused with Sam the chalet owner) and moved into the Penthouse above the chalet for 1 night. Found it a bit spooky all on my own!
Notes to self:
I aimed to recce a loop ride through the village of Notre Dame du Pre that avoided the N90 tunnel.
The Ride. I set out from the chalet towards Aime and took a left hand turn to Longefoy, just after the village of Macot-la-Plagne. Encountering problems with a slipping gear, I turned my bike upside down to investigate, and all my dried apricots, chocolate buttons and Tesco’s flapjack squares fell into the road. Ignoring the 5 second rule, I spent the next 10 mins picking bits if twig and leaf off them and returning them to my top tube bag. It seemed like an inauspicious start.
I headed gently upwards for around 8 kms to a beautiful section of road above the tree line from Longefoy to the village of Notre Dame du Pre. With the sound of cow bells and masses of wild flowers in the alpine meadows, I suddenly found myself having a ‘Sound of Music’ moment and realised how lucky I was not to be sitting at a desk somewhere. Both villages were very picturesque and I noted that Notre Dame du Pre had a restaurant/bar for future rides. The climb topped out at 1300 ms at the Col de Tra; not one of the famous Tour de France ascents, so in a slightly subversive way, I liked it all the more!
The descent was a steep set of ‘short limbed’ switch-backs on poorly maintained tarmac. It was hard on the hands but better going down than up.
At the valley floor, I attempted to find a way back avoiding the N90 tunnel and having checked it out on google earth, I thought I could see an alternative, but all my attempts to find a rideable road along the valley failed and I found myself at the blocked off entrance to the old tunnel. I conceded defeat for today and lifted my bike over the barrier on to the N90 and into the tunnel on a well-marked bike lane. The sight of the bike lane allayed my fears a little but a couple of hundred metres in to the tunnel and the noise from cars approaching from both directions was completely dis-orientating. It wasn’t dangerous, just extremely unpleasant, and luckily fairly short-lived at 650ms. After another fruitless attempt to access the old road at the tunnel exit, I finally managed to escape on the first available right-hand turn in Centrion (about 2 km). Having ignored the no right turn sign, I found myself almost immediately on a quiet two-way road.
I realized keeping off the dreaded N90 involved a certain amount of climbing up the side of the valley, and that eliminating it entirely would involve climbing another 450ms (vertically!). In the end I decided on a compromise and found an extremely narrow (and extremely quiet) tarmac road through Villette and back to Aime which included another 2km of fairly innocuous N90. I had a quick coffee stop at Rive Gauche, a restaurant/bar at the start of the Isere river cycle path, and mused on my somewhat failed first attempt at keeping off the main roads and finding some interesting non-tarmac sections.
The Verdict: Too much main road.
Notes for future rides:
Postscript: Not possible to avoid the N90 via Moutier (as no.1 suggests). Most likley N90 avoidence plan is to keep entirely to the south side of the valley on gravel tracks. This is not yet reccied.
Pumped my tyres up and went for a spin to make sure everything worked. Met Sam the chalet owner for lunch and chatted about what was required of me for the next week or so. It seemed straight forward enough and was definitely on the ‘approximate’ side, which suited me fine.
Woke in rather unfamiliar surroundings to a very grey and rainy day. Put my bike together. Alex (the driver and handy man for the chalet) took me to Bourg Saint Maurice to show me around. Bought enough food for 5 days and a track pump, cos I was going nowhere without either. No heating in my ‘farm apartment’ so was glad I had bought lots of warm clothes and ended up burying myself under a pile of blankets on the settee, like a little old lady (with my heart rate monitor an’ all!)