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View Full Version : Col du Chaussy and the High Traverse to the Madeleine


velotel
07-01-2016, 02:23 AM
Sunday, 26 June, biggest ride of the year. Short, 53 K, not bad vertical, 6100 ft (always give the vertical in feet, bigger number!). And no rain! Not even drops, just a fierce wind. Almost got to 2000 meters, highest this year. Still way behind last year’s pace but such is life. Last year I’d already done Ventoux, Télégraphe/Galibier, Finestre, plus this loop, Chaussy – High Traverse - Madeleine, which purely by chance was one year and five days earlier, 21 June instead of 26.

Chaussy – High Traverse (that’s what I call the sort of jeep road section) - Madeleine, everything I love about riding a bike, good climb, enough rudeness in the grade department to fry my legs, some sweet speed spinning, a long dirt and rock chemin dancing across high alpine meadows, a plunge off the mountain back to the valley floor. Perfect.

Last year I was pretty much alone on the road to Chaussy. Met a few riders coming over the col in the other direction. That was about it. Then the Tour did the col, first time ever. So much for the road’s anonymity. This time around there were flocks of riders, in both directions! Have to admit that I liked having the col to myself. But on the High Travese, nothing’s changed.

Parked along the river next to the autoroute exit. Off to Pontamafrey and the climb up the Lacets de Montvernier. Just before Pontamafrey rode past a group of cyclists standing around, waiting for someone apparently. One of them said something about me not wearing a helmet and I waved him off like the nuisance he was. A brit. Turned out the mouth was the group’s guide. He and 3 of the fast riders stormed past me going up the stackbacks. Then most of the others slowly passed me either when I was shooting pics or riding and enjoying the view.

A gorgeous, crazy road, more a wandering path up through a rock garden than a road plus the day was gorgeous. I always figure might be the last time I’m ever there so I like to stop, shoot, soak up the air. Pretty cool looking down almost vertically and seeing bits and portions of the road below with riders scattered along, some going down, some coming up, appearing then disappearing under overhanging rock or branches of trees then popping out again in a moment of sunshine.

Delightful climb, maybe 2,5 K and 200 vertical, mostly kind of easy hard but with occasional ramps of pain and flats. A wonder of a road, an old mule path to the village above transformed into a road for cars by 36 italian masons, entirely by hand, couldn’t get machines up there! Started in May 1932, finished in April 1933. A work of art in a vertical garden. One-laner but with wide spots from time to time. There was one car coming up driven by a classic french driver in classic french style. As in driving too fast and honking his horn to let everyone know to clear the way for him, including honking at every cyclist he saw like they were pests blocking his advance. He, a guy naturally, came up behind me in a particularly tight section with his horn blaring. I slipped into the middle of the road and kept going at my pace. So along with his horn I now had the joy of listening to his voice! I ignored him, just kept pedaling. Got to a switchback where the road widened and I majestically glided to the right, instantly followed by the sound of his engine accelerating and more words pouring out his window as he blared by. But at least he neither rammed me with his car nor pulled a gun and shot me as seems to happen with disturbing frequency in a certain other country.

Off the cliff and onto a sloping plateau of fields and up into the village of Montvernier where I pass the brits. Apparently once more waiting for the tail end of their train. Road’s less interesting here but the views are bigger with peaks in the distance popping up. Grades are also sustained steep. Might be a memory slip here but I think I saw two K-posts at 10% and one at 9%, or maybe two at 10 and two at 9. Two of the brits caught up to me and as they creeped by, I asked them if they’d voted in or out. Both said in and were damn glad to be on their bikes in France because nothing but chaos back in the UK. They’d ridden around from Méribel with one guide with another driving a van. Now they’d cross Chaussy, drop down, then up and over the Madeleine and back to Méribel. A big bunch of distance and vertical still to do.

Hit the torture ramps just before the road slices across a cliff. Double digits, but short. Across the cliff face, lot of air to the valley floor. Col du Mollard visible in the distance but the peaks above lost in clouds. Curve to the left and into a long run up through a forest. Super peaceful through here, only sounds birds singing and rivulets of water splashing down the slopes. From time to time cyclists would come down, most looking rather cautious. Always amazed by how slow so many riders are descending.

Up through the village of Montpascal. Nice place, houses in fine shape, most more than likely vacation homes now. Back in the 16th, 17th centuries, even up into the 19th century, there were 300 to 500 people living up here. Access must have been a battle in the winters. Sounds like a party going on at one house. Summer, time for friends and hanging outside eating and drinking, unless you’re riding.

Out of the village and into the final traverses up to the col. Swing through the last switchback where a woman straddling a bike is looking at the view. Says something to me that I don’t quite hear so I swing around to ask what she said, maybe she needed something. Just telling me the col wasn’t far. Something about her looked familiar but I was tired and didn’t pay attention. Onto the col and there the brits are having lunch, along with hikers and drivers and some other cyclists. I stop, settle on a large rock, pull out my sandwich. Notice the woman I saw earlier ride by.

Get to talking to the guide and the riders who were always keeping his pace, ask if they know about the road that traverses the mountains to the Col de la Madeleine. At first the guide looks at me like I’m nuts then he says, oh yea, that one, that’s for mountain bikers, no road riders do it, too rough. I say actually it’s terrific with a road bike, one of the best rides in the region. I notice one of the strong riders looking interested but the guide is insistent, no way is that for road bikes, too many flats to deal with. So much for that.

I look up and see the woman ride by again, heading back in the other direction. I’ve seen that face before, can’t be sure but looked like Jeanie Longo. When I got home, looked up on the net, saw pics of her, yep, that was her. No wonder she looked so fit.

Into the plunge off the col, the road a tight one-laner, pavement buff, lots of major gravity accelerators, swinging turns, a sweet speed run. Just watch out for blind turns that curl in tighter than they seem at first. More riders coming up. Haven’t climbed this side yet. I think it’s hard. I know the first 11 K of this side are hard, like really hard.

Get to my road, the road to Lac du Loup (Wolf Lake), swing right simultaneously throwing the chain to the biggest cog, small ring. I’ll stay there for awhile. A silent climb, tires rolling over asphalt, birds singing, small streams chuckling through the forest, even the wind has disappeared. Another one-laner, a tight one in fact, with the blacktop buff. Pretty crazy to find these little roads in the middle of nowhere going nowhere and not only are they paved, they’re in perfect shape! I’m glad it’s paved because it would be a bear to climb with my gearing.

A thin forest, pockets of deciduous trees around meadows, light pouring in. Trees end, meadows all the way until I’m in the descent off the Col de la Madeleine. Over a small rise and there’s Lac du Loup, more pond than lake in my nomenclature, a hollow filled with water surrounded by fields and a few trees. Always makes me smile when I see it. Past the lake into a series of stackbacks and over into a broad basin then around a low, round ridge and the end of the asphalt. Totally ridiculous views. I’m looking out at St Jean du Maurienne 3000 ft below. Above St Jean and in the distance is Col du Mollard, around 1000 ft lower than where I’m standing. To the right and hidden behind a high ridge is Col de la Croix de Fer. Straight across from me is the valley to Col du Glandon, about 1000 ft higher. With the eyes of an eagle I could probable see cyclists pushing their bikes up the last bit to Glandon. It’s that hard. If it was clear I be looking at the Aiguilles d’Arve standing pround behind Col du Mollard. On the other side of the Aiguilles is the Col du Galibier.

I love views like this. I can see where I am, where I’ve been, where I want to go. Sometimes I feel like I’m looking down at myself standing there in the midst of all these summits and ridges and roads twisting over their slopes and I think I can’t believe how lucky I am to be standing right there, with my bike. Amazing, just friggin amazing. What else can I say.

Back at it, 8 K of chemin to ride with around 1000 ft of at times hard climbing. Lot of rain this spring, could be gravel and sand washed off the slopes onto the road. Instead kicks in with sweet, smooth, fast dirt and I’m jamming on a smallish cog, weaving between tracks. Hit the first ramp, shift down, work the lines. I love riding like this. Adds a technical dimension missing on pavement, shifting weight for traction, pressing the front wheel down for steerage, arms working at times almost as much as the legs, or at least it feels that way. Hit a tricky section, hunker down, drive the bike through, pop out onto smoother going, give myself a quick mental high-five. This is great!

Notice bike tracks in the dirt. Can’t be old, rained too recently. Judging by their lines, someone going the same direction as I am. Maybe I’ll see them. Up through some long S-turns, if I had a bigger cog I’d be on it for sure. Around a shallow bend and there they are up ahead, 4 riders. My vision’s not so good so can’t see what they’re on or even what they are. Into a lazy curve to the left and the start of a hard section. Glance ahead and there they are not far away. A young boy, what, maybe 8, 10 years old, I’m not good at kids’ ages, pushing his mountain bike, his dad, mom, and sister standing up ahead at the end of this hard section, waiting for him. The kid glances back, sees me, eyes go big, he jumps across to the right to give me the line.

I power by and say thanks and bravo kid, or words to that effect in french. Get up to his parents and sister, obviously making some assumptions here but what the heck. Nice looking family. I’m impressed they’re out here riding. It’s not easy, even with mountain bikes I’m sure. I say hi and bravo to the parents for doing this with their kids. Very cool.

Then I’m gone, up into the crux pitches of the road, steep grades, loose rocks, hard turn to the right, then up more loose steepness. I know, I said this already. I’ll say it again, I love riding like this. It’s just so friggin complete. And don’t ask what I mean by that because I haven’t a clue. But that’s what it feels like, complete, the entire body working in harmony with the eyes leading the way through the rocks and sand and dirt. I was feeling pretty beat before hitting the end of the pavement but that tiredness seems to have totally disappeared and I’m just powering up everything, smooth and easy. Gotta love it.

And with that, I’m up, the hard stuff done. Now it’s over and up the rolling ridge and into the ski domain and a long, mostly fast run to the far side of a huge basin where the road starts angling down fast. Then I hit it, the final obstacle, this damned steep sob of a hill to hump over, in my lowest gear no less. Thankfully it’s short because not only is it steep, there’s lots of gravel lying around from all the rains and my legs are toast!

Over the top and down the final section to join the road to Madeleine. The road’s rockier than anywhere so far through here and I slow way down. Which means constant braking because the grade’s steep and the acceleration instant. Past a large shed and the road turns into smooth dirt and I let the bike roll, right down to the road to Madeleine.

I’d promised my wife I wouldn’t be too late so with only a glance for traffic and a wee bit of envy to go right and up to the col, I swing left and start the wild plunge back to the valley floor. I’d forgotten how fast this road is. I mean I’m friggin flying. I hear motorcycles behind me and they hang there for awhile waiting for a straight stretch to get by. Which two of them do with loud blatts. Then a third barely gets by before a car goes by heading up. Into some snake turns and I’m right on their tails. Into the ski area base station and some car pulls out and forces the motorcycles to brake hard while I swing left and pass the lot of them and dive into a hard turn to the right then a swinger to the left then a straight where the motorcycles go ripping by me.

Ski station left behind, no traffic, new pavement with bright white lines, and I’m zinging down, leaning way over through the turns, accelerating out the exits. Just a beautiful rhythm coming together. Cyclists coming up, ones and twos, looking tired. One of them sits up and smiles and gives me a big wave. I recognize him. He was one of the strong riders, the one who looked interested in what I was saying about the road across the slopes to the Madeleine. I can imagine them going, well damn, he wasn’t kidding about that road! And here he is deep into the descent already.

What a plunge that was. Fastest run I’ve ever made off the Madeleine. I swear these graphene Vittoria Corsa tires are insanely fast and smooth. They just keep blowing me away everywhere I take them. Now if they’ll just produce some even fatter versions of them! These 28’s are excellent but 35’s or so would be really nice on the High Traverse. Great ride, one of the best in the area in my opinion. But like Max told me in a mail when I told him about it and the brits, not everybody is as crazy about riding road bikes on these dirt roads as my son and I, and him. The brits would have hated it. I’m not so sure on that. Maybe some, but I think some others would have had their minds blown. Happens to me every single time I ride the High Traverse. It’s that gorgeous.

cadence90
07-01-2016, 02:36 AM
Wonderful, as always. Thanks.
Including a Jeannie Longo encounter, wow!

velotel, I see that you live in the French Alps, so these beautiful rides are all fairly close to hand, right? Do you go to the Italian Alps/Dolomites also?

I had a good friend, a professor of architectural history/theory at the University of Grenoble, who lived in a very small village in a valley out of Grenoble. Every time I visited him, I thought that place was pure paradise. You are so fortunate to be there, and so kind to provide us with at least these virtual rides with you.

maxn
07-01-2016, 06:56 AM
You didn't tell me you saw Jeannie Longo! I'm glad (for the other guy) that you didn't get into a helmet related brawl.

Those torture ramps were the first "ouch" moment of the Etape last year. Picture 12k people on that road :eek:

kramnnim
07-01-2016, 07:15 AM
Reading this made me late for work. :o

Wonderful, as always.

choke
07-01-2016, 05:05 PM
Thanks for taking me along....it allows me to escape my nowhere near as exciting roads for a bit.

You may have to contend with more cyclists now that the TdF went through there but I imagine that you are still blessed with little traffic on those roads.

Gern
07-01-2016, 07:41 PM
As always, thanks for taking the time to share your experiences with the rest of us. It is always inspirational and aspirational for me.

velotel
07-02-2016, 01:24 AM
Do you go to the Italian Alps/Dolomites also?

I had a good friend, a professor of architectural history/theory at the University of Grenoble, who lived in a very small village in a valley out of Grenoble. Every time I visited him, I thought that place was pure paradise. You are so fortunate to be there, and so kind to provide us with at least these virtual rides with you.
Not yet, keep wanting to but have to plan a trip for that and always obstacles in the way, like a garden demanding attention, house maintenance for the coming winter, etc. But, I think this year, or that's my objective. Otherwise all my rides are within easy driving distance of my house.

You didn't tell me you saw Jeannie Longo! I'm glad (for the other guy) that you didn't get into a helmet related brawl.

Those torture ramps were the first "ouch" moment of the Etape last year. Picture 12k people on that road :eek:
Slipped my mind since I didn't talk with her. Kind of bummed my brain wasn't working and kept me from recognising her

Reading this made me late for work. :o

Wonderful, as always.
Glad I could help

Thanks for taking me along....it allows me to escape my nowhere near as exciting roads for a bit.

You may have to contend with more cyclists now that the TdF went through there but I imagine that you are still blessed with little traffic on those roads.
Let's see, might have crossed a dozen cars in all, that's from the time I started up the lacets to the bottom of the plunge off the Madeleine. Maybe fifteen, not counting parked cars and motorcycles.

As always, thanks for taking the time to share your experiences with the rest of us. It is always inspirational and aspirational for me.
Thanks for the kind words