Col de la Chaudière 1047m

Here’s a col I know reasonably well, having ridden it several times, and from both sides. It’s the road from Saillans south to Bourdeaux (check the spelling – it’s not the wine spelling!), and passes below the unmissable and distinctive ‘Les Trois Becs’ mountains, which rise to 1500m, and can be seen from virtually every direction round here.

The col, at 1047m, isn’t a giant, and is about halfway between Saillans and Bourdeaux. I’ll admit that I much prefer to ride it from Saillans for two reasons: the southern approach is pretty unrelenting once it ramps up, and the descent to Saillans is a rather twitchy one for me, with poor sight-lines, not the greatest surface, and is slightly too narrow and steep to make me feel I can let go. I find as I get older that my risk assessments get more conservative, and this is one instance where caution kicks in.

And today I was doubly glad I went the way I did: they had resurfaced many bits of the descent to Saillans, and often on the corners, with lots of loose unswept ‘gravillons’ lying in wait to catch out the unwary. In fairness they had warning signs up at each loose bit, but it would still have been hairy.

Anyway, a proper, brief description. On paper, this isn’t a hard col – but it’s tricky enough to catch out the unwary, especially those who go off too hard at the start. There are enough stretches just a couple of percent steeper than on your average Alpine ascent to make it hard work, especially when the rocks on your right are glowing from the heat of the sun. And there is a cheeky little stretch about 5km from the top, just when you think that the hardest part is behind you. At that point one of the impressive trois becs will rear up straight ahead of you (if it’s not hiding in the clouds, as they often do).

The summit itself is notable for the view across to the high Alps – though I don’t think you can see Mont Blanc from the col, you can certainly see the ragged unglaciated peaks on a clear day.

The descent starts with what can be a very fast ‘straight’ after the initial bends, which then goes into a series of hairpins to get down the side of the hill. Once down there you’ve got a fun gentle descent all the way to Bourdeaux, and you can keep up a good speed all the way if you put in some work.

Once in Bourdeaux you have plenty of choices: west to Crest, south to Dieulefit, or east to Bouvières, all good roads.

Incidentally, this is one of the few cols round here not to put the distance to the col on the helpful km marker posts. You can pass the time doing some mental arithmetic: from the Saillans side you need to take off 12 from the distance to Bourdeaux to know how far you are from the col.

Another pile of photos, and apologies, another one of me, taken by an Austrian who, with his partner, was hoping to ride all the way home, fully laden. Rather them than me. But I pointed them in the right direction for Grenoble, their next main target, over the Col de Menée. There’s one I’ll be hoping to do in the next few weeks.

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