Col de Planlara (1037m) and Col de Chamauche (1037m)

This pair of cols was a completely unexpected delight. The first unexpectedly was the absolutely glorious February day that accompanied the ride. The second unexpectedly was the pair of cols at over 1000m. I had just planned the route to take in an alternative way from Chalancon to St Nazaire, having done the Col des Roustans route both ways. In fact, from the IGN Top100 map, it suggests no cols over 1000m via the Chamauche road, so to find not one but two, with a superb view down from the road between them, and the view of Les Trois Becs, was a real thrill. (Cyclists are easily thrilled with such things.)

Today I rode it from Chalancon to St Nazaire, but it’s a very gravelly, sketchy descent to St Nazaire, so I think it might be even more enjoyable the other way round, especially with the surprise of Chalancon before the final descent to La Motte. They are reasonably challenging ascents of about 500m from either end.

Incidentally, you’ll probably want to take a map with you to find the road: it gives no clues from either end about how to find the cols, or that they even exist. From the Chalancon end, look for the sign to Chamauche, and from the St Nazaire end look for the D271 on your left – you could easily miss it!

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A February miscellany

Few words this time, mostly pictures, as a way of celebrating the glorious weather and views at the end of my week here. Yes, it has been quite cool, the mornings particularly so, of course, but no complaints from a cyclist who has become accustomed to wind, rain and general lack of sun back in the UK, and precious few miles on the bike.

The photos were taken on a couple of rides: to Valdrôme via the cols of Prémol, Fays and Rossas, and to the Col de Menée, there and back. I’d not normally have dreamt I could have got up to 1400m in February, but the roads were completely clear of ice and snow. You’ll see from the photos how green the valleys are.

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A February Col de Rousset

I really didn’t think that Col de Rousset would feature in this week’s itinerary – it’s definitely not been warm here so far this week, and given that Col de Rousset is one of the two ski resorts in south Vercors, an ascent to the 1254m col hadn’t even entered my thoughts before this afternoon.

However, the col is the only southern access to the plateau, and combined with the fact that many locals use the road (including school buses) to access the resorts, that means that the road is regularly cleared and salted. Add in today’s drying breeze and sunshine on the south-facing mountain, and it seemed very likely that an ascent to the col could be made safely.

Indeed, the road was almost entirely dry, and apart from two or three largish rocks which I kicked off the road (doing my bit to save the oil sumps on cars!), it was a glorious ascent and descent, with the reward of a different variety of breathtaking views from the col. (It doesn’t matter what time of year, it’s always breathtaking in some way.)

Some notes on safety and comfort: I’d not normally recommend a winter ascent by bike unless you are pretty sure of the road conditions, and stay prepared to turn back. Watch out for rockfalls: mostly for debris on the road, but also listen out and watch for live falls: be prepared to stop in the distance you can see, and don’t go hurtling round blind bends. Lastly… I had four layers on for the descent, including a windproof top layer, and a skull-cap under my helmet, and it was still jolly cold. Don’t say you haven’t been warned!

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February cycling

It’s February half term, so here I am again. Unexpectedly I’m here solo, as sadly my brother wasn’t well enough to make the journey, so for the first time I’ve got a February week here and a bike to keep me out of mischief.

The weather clearly plays a factor – while club mates are heading south to places like Majorca, I’ve headed towards the ski resorts of the Alps. But Die’s microclimate has come into play. For instance, yesterday had 29 weather alerts for France – wind in the west and snow in the High Alps – we had a pleasant calm day here, with nice sunshine in the late afternoon.

That said, it’s not warm: the thermals are definitely on, and I’ll not be venturing up any big cols. But I’ve already been out for 45- and 25-mile rides to Mirabel and Recoubeau, and had a pleasant walk to Grand Justin. The forecast remains cool but dry, so I hope to make more amends for my lack of proper cycling in Devon so far this year.

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