New Year in Diois

Well, it’s one year since I shook hands on this (still) dream house, and of course for this visit, it’s my first New Year actually staying in the house. And whilst England has been battered by storms, we’ve had a week including plenty of sun. The relief for me has been that the house has been amply warm with just my trusty Jotul 602 woodburner and some oil-filled electric radiators for warmth, despite some chilly nights.
So, more importantly, to the weather and cycling. The data on average temperatures for the region suggest that I should expect conditions not wildly different from what we get in England. For whilst I am just 2km (as the crow flies) from the ski resort of Col de Rousset, Die is about 1000m (3300ft) lower, and historically has little snow, and gets average minimum/maximum temperatures of about 0C/8C at this time of year.
Road-wise, only major roads are salted, so with night-time temperatures at 500m being below freezing, any thoughts of conquering cols are out – even cars need to be cautious, and when your life depends on about 3 sq cm of contact between the road and slick rubber tyres, discretion is certainly called for. On the plus side there is hardly any traffic around – even if the French don’t really do much for New Year, other than close everything early on New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day (don’t expect to be able to buy any food or go to a café or restaurant after midday on either day), they really don’t do much of anything else either. Things only really start moving again from 2 January.

As regards the weather, a little research shows a really distinct difference between Valence and Montélimar, both on the Rhône, Valence about 20 miles further north than Die, and Montélimar 30 miles south. The difference in the average amount and number of days of rain is notable:

Valence:

Jan Feb Mar Apr May Jun Jul Aug Sep Oct Nov Dec
mm 57 58 75 75 86 56 36 50 66 119 54 71
Days 16 14 16 16 14 17 23 21 21 18 18 17

Montélimar:

Jan Feb Mar Apr May Jun Jul Aug Sep Oct Nov Dec
mm 60 60 80 80 80 50 40 50 70 140 60 80
Days 8 7 7 9 7 6 3 4 6 9 9 9
My guess would be that Die is closer to Montélimar weather than Valence. For both, October is by far the wettest month in terms of rainfall, but Valence spreads all its rain over roughly twice as many days. But when it rains in Die, it really rains. If you can understand French, there’s a good article here that details the decreasing rainfall from north to south round the Vercors plateau.

This week I’ve been accompanied by George Humby of Exeter University Cycling Club for the cycling and Clare Greenall for reading, and surreptitious tending of the Jotul. George likes climbing hills (well, he is 15kg lighter than me, so that’s my excuse for letting him win any KOMs), but with freezing nights, and mostly unsalted roads, morning rides and anything on side roads need to be avoided. At least we have the superb D93 (the main road to Gap and then Italy) stretching in both directions for about 30 miles. And with the dry climate here, and the lack of salting, certain roads can be ridden. So we have done four rides in the week: to Luc-en-Diois and Châtillon-en-Diois; to Crest, with a loop at the end; in the opposite direction to the Col de Cabre; and the old favourite up the Quint valley and back over the Col de Marignac.
 
I’ll have to admit to stopping about 5km short of the Col de Cabre. We’d already ridden past quite a lot of ice, mostly by the side of the road. But at that altitude (950m, about 200m below the Col) I decided that I’d find it increasingly hard to turn round getting so near the summit, so George carried on to satisfy his col-lust, and I turned round and gingerly descended. Both of us were fine, but I’m very much looking forward to revisiting the col in warmer weather: we both agreed that the descent will be fantastic. Here’s the route I’ll be doing to Col de Cabre. In any case the road to Valdrôme was closed this time, and any side roads, especially those in the shade were likely to be skating rinks rather than roads.
Other highlights of the week have been walking round Font d’Urle in the snow; visiting the harrowing museum at Vassieux-en-Vercors, which charts the terrible, futile slaughter of the Vercors resistance, young men, and the razing of entire Vercors villages in July 1944; and, of course, seeing again the beauty of the area, wearing its winter clothes, and in winter weather, both gentle and stormy. Nothing is dull round here.
Les Liotards on the first morning
Clare being very British
Looking down on the Quint Valley from Font d’Urle
Font d’Urle
Beaurières, at the foot of the climb to the Col de Cabre
From the Route de Romeyer, the road home.

And three photos from George of the Col de Cabre. Excuse the bar tape, but George is a mathematician rather than an aesthete. At least he didn’t give up 5km short of the col.

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