The market at Die

This is a post with nothing to do about cycling. Well, other than the fact that I’ll have burnt about 6000 calories yesterday on my six-col ride (should I count ‘colories’?) and I need to eat plenty of food, and Die market is a good place to start.

The market takes place twice a week, on Wednesdays and Saturdays, all year round. I suppose that I’d categorise the stalls into three types: those selling overpriced tat to visitors; those selling speciality foods; those selling staple foodstuffs.

Through the winter months there are fewer tat-sellers, though there are still a few doing the rounds of all the outdoor markets in the area. But the heart of the market comprises the food sellers, ranging from speciality meats (including pork and beef produced on the Vercors plateau, trout from local rivers and duck from local farms) to the several stalls of fruit and veg. The Drôme Valley is quite a centre for organic (‘biologique’ or ‘bio’)  food production, and though the produce does usually come at some premium, it’s certainly not a niche market: you will have plenty of choice.

At this time of year, you might get confused and think that you are in Holland: the population of Die increases three- or four-fold, and the vast majority of these tourists are Dutch. They seem to come en masse for the five weeks of their school summer holidays, but, though their custom must be central to the economy of Die, there is something nice once the market returns to the locals (and people like me, whose holidays finish right at the end of August). The market remains outdoors for the whole of the year – it can be quite entertaining watching the stallholders’ resilience in the midst of a winter storm.

If you go often you are bound to find your favourite stalls, whether that’s because of price, quality of product, or friendliness of the sellers. I certainly try to get down there at least once a week, if for no other reason that the seasonal food is plentiful and therefore cheap. And, in comparison with supermarkets, the fruit is often ripe enough to eat on the day, which means it needs to be sold.

My pleasures at this time of year: local peaches, nectarines, apricots, tomatoes and melons. If they don’t have a many calories in as some foods, it just means that I have to eat even more of them. In fact, it would be rude not to anyway.

For the record, today’s food purchases: peaches (white/yellow), nectarines, grapes, onions, garlic, apricots, melon, potatoes, tomatoes, lettuce, chicken breast, and cheese. All local produce. And it all fitted in my rucksack for the ride home.

Col de la Bataille (1313m)

I had an abortive trip to document this col last year: after a long slog into a headwind up to Leoncel, on reaching the tunnel I saw the clouds and rain rushing in from the valley to the north, and I beat a hasty retreat. Indeed, my first time over this col, in 2012, was done in cloud and rain,  while Die remained bathed in sunshine. In other words, pick your day carefully: you will want to see the views. Really.

This time I ascended from the eastern side: Col de Rousset, Col de St Alexis, and Col de la Chau. Col de la Bataille is one of the several 1000m+ cols that sit on top of the Vercors plateau, so must be approached via other cols.

The approach from the east is ‘undulating’: after the 1254m of Col de Rousset, the elevation varies continuously from around 1000m to 1400m, diving around the spurs of the main valleys.

As you might see from the photos, Col de la Bataille Is one of those which the road crosses laterally, not up one valley and over into the next (Col de la Chau is another example). As you travel across the saddle between the two stunning valleys you are treated to breathtaking panoramas on either side of the road… as long as you pick your day well.

The Roanne Valley – ‘une route remarquable’.

Now I’m home alone, and with a bike with a newly-serviced bottom bracket (the SuperSix’s BB30 has not been the most reliable), it was definitely time for a decent solo ride. With a gentle northerly breeze forecast, I decided to go right up the Roanne Valley, and to loop round clockwise to Saoû. It was supposed to be something like a 60-miler, but as so often, I underestimated and it was 80 miles. I should have checked my routes first. A good job I didn’t have a ferry to catch.

It was only once I got to St Nazaire-le-Désert that I realised that I have never cycled all the way up this ‘route remarkable’. And that’s not just a bit of tourist office spin, it really is remarkable, whether it’s the amazing and crazy geology (see previous post), the road itself, or the general scenery all around you.

The photos start with my first sight of the looming Trois Becs overlooking the next valley, and finish with a view as I came back over the Roanne just before it discharges into the Drôme.

Coincidentally, this was more or less the ride I suggested to my recently departed visitors, though I had given them the route in the other direction. On reflection, I think that this is probably the better way round, especially if there’s a northerly breeze to push you up the valley.

One last note: if you’re wondering why I’ve featured the two blue bridges in St Nazaire, it’s because one of them is a brand new replacement, and the other has had fresh lick of paint to fit in with the newcomer.

Back to solo rides

Today was the day to say “Au revoir” to my Exeter Wheelers friends who have been staying here for the week: though I’ve had just three full riding days with them (because of my delayed arrival), I think that Andy, Shane, James and Tom have had a good taste of the riding down here. They have done routes to all points of the compass, have gone over about a dozen cols over 800m, and done around 22,000ft of climbing.

We mixed and matched somewhat, as the heat has been a significant factor: yesterday it went up to 53C in direct sun, and 38C in the shade, and 700m ascents in such temperatures aren’t to everyone’s taste. Quite often when I have groups of riders with me, they end up finding different solutions for getting the most out of their stay: some focus on getting miles and metres in, and others prefer to take a bit more time for the sights and flavours. Chacun à son goût, as the cliché has it. Anyway, I think that each of them now knows why I keep on coming back.

Just a few of photos for this one; at Col de Rousset, on my first ride here with them (on the lovely little loop to La Chapelle-en-Vercors), an evening visitor to the house, and just as the Exeter péloton prepared to brave the holiday traffic back to Calais in James’ spacious car.

And a footnote on that subject: it pays to time your travel down here in the summer holidays. Let’s just say that their journey down here in James’ car was a bit of an epic; I hope that the return is a little quicker.

Col de Carri – 1215m

I’m back in Die, though with bad planning on my part (work in Truro) I arrived the day after the Tour de France passed through town. In my absence I’m glad to say that four Exeter Wheelers (James, Tom, Andy and Shane) did get down here before me, and had the pleasure of watching the intermediate sprint in Die, and the whole festival spirit of the event.

They had also done a couple of my suggested rides on their first couple of days, but I lined up three good ones to take them on: up Col de Rousset and a loop to La-Chapelle-en-Vercors; the round trip to Mens via the Col de Menée and back via the Col de Grimone and the Gorges des Gâts; and today a 95-miler to Combe Laval via Vassieux and back via Col de Bacchus.

It was only once we were riding up it that I realised that we were ascending the 1215m Col de Carri (which I hadn’t ridden since June 2012), and that I ought to document it.

So, a brief description: the way Tom, James and I rode it was from the eastern side,  with just a 300m ascent from the road between Vassieux and La-Chapelle (of course we had already had to get up Col de Rousset to get to that road). Once over the col there is an undulating descent to the junction with the road between Lente and Col de la Machine and Combe Laval. If you approached Col de Carri from St-Jean-en-Royans you would make a near continual ascent of about 950m. It’s an extremely quiet road, and it has a few lovely views, especially on the eastern side of the col.