Diversions: D204 Saulce-sur-Rhône to Grane

​This little diversion is well worth doing, for three reasons. Firstly, it takes you away from the horrid N7. Secondly it’s quite pretty, especially with the famous perched village of Mirmande. Thirdly, you meet some of the steepest little bits of roads in the area.

So, Mirmande. Definitely worth a look. Surrounded by fruit farms, it’s a dense network of picturesque narrow streets, and, apart from a restaurant or two, seems to have quite a few little artisanale shops offering pottery and suchlike. If you’re on your bike and brave, there are several steep cobbled streets. I’ll admit I got off and walked one or two of the steeper bits, though you’ll come to grief walking if it’s wet and you haven’t got recessed cleats.

The abnormally sharp hills to get out of the end of the valley took me by surprise. The only sign I saw said 14%, though one or two short stretches felt more like 20%. Maybe that’s just because I’ve got soft with all those gentle Alpine climbs… they might be long, but rarely do they exceed 10%.

Anyway, definitely a route worth trying, as long as you have gears.

Diversions: D248 le Pouzet to les Tourettes

​This is a curious one, and not very pretty. However it’s well worth doing, not just because it’s the only road crossing of the Rhône between Loriol and Montélimar, but because of the way it does it. I had missed it till now.

A look at the map shows the road crossing ‘half the river’ at le Pouzet, going about 8km south along an elongated island, then hopping across the other ‘half’ near les Tourettes.

In fact, what I didn’t realise is that both bridges are parts of hydroelectric plants, the bigger one being the one at the southern end. I’ve no idea how much of the island’s existence is down to human engineering (the eastern side of the road has a massive bank, clearly man-made, and there are road barriers close the road, in times of flooding, I assume).

It’s not a road I’d want do frequently, but it was quiet, and with a tailwind, pleasant enough. Though you might find it more exciting if you are into hydroelectric plants, I guess. 

Col du Mont Noir (1431m)

I’m hoping that this really is the last col over 1000m on Vercors, within reach of Die, for me to document. It’s both the highest (at 1431m) and, starting at Pont-en-Royans, involves the biggest ascent (1181m).

But I should start by saying that the col itself is probably the most forgettable of the lot. Hidden in a dense wood, there are no views of, or from it. None whatsoever. However, it’s probably worth the effort (see below).

I should advise you to ascend from Pont-en-Royans and descend to Romeyère, for two main reasons. Firstly, the ascent to Presles is absolutely magnificent, and you need time to take in the unfolding drama, including the short bit of balcony, and short tunnels (visible from near the base of the climb). If you descend that bit, most of your concentration will be on keeping your bike on the road. Secondly, from Presles to the col is mostly a Route Forestière, and though unlike some it is tarmacked, it is frequently very gravelly, and would make a horrid descent. It’s fine as an ascent.

So, all that said, you might gather that it is a two-part climb: up to the tunnels, at about 800m, then, after a right turn before Presles, forest roads for about 10km and the other 631m of climbing. Watch out for the left fork shortly after the potable (and beautifully cool) Fountaine de Pétouse. (A picnicking family was cooling its wine in the trough today.)

The descent to Romeyère is unexciting (apart from a sudden splendid view, thanks to removed trees). Well, it would have been less exciting if, at the time of writing, the lower half of the descent hadn’t been liberally littered with potentially bike-eating potholes. Fortunately the quality of the road before that had already led me to plenty of caution!

So, in summary… if, like me, you like riding up hills, carry on up to the col. But if the extra 631m of climbing doesn’t entice you (and the prospect of descending the bottom half of Gorges de la Bourne, if you parked in Pont-en-Royans), then you can turn around at the tunnels. But that col will still be there…

The route: https://ridewithgps.com/routes/16205606

A ride to Presles

It serves me right for mentioning to friend Jérôme that I had ticked off all the Vercors cols now. He asked me if I knew the one near Presles. Map out, and it seems that somehow I’d missed the highest road col on the whole of Vercors: the Col du Mont Noir.

That will get its own post, but as I like to write about cols within a day’s ride of Die, I had the fun of devising the route. So, up to Col de Rousset, straight down to St Agnan, then Les Grands Goulets (the tunnel, not the now-closed balcony road) and Petits Goulets. Then round to Pont-en-Royans to start Les Gorges de la Bourne, but soon heading off left towards Presles.

After the descent to Col de Romeyère, then the return across Vercors, via La Chapelle and Vassieux. I’ve realised that Col de Rousset to Grands Goulets via St Agnan is a blissful descent, but a gruelling ascent that I really dislike (it’s 600m of ascent over about 15 miles). The return via La Chapelle breaks the climbing into three chunks… and gives a chance to visit a favourite café in La Chapelle too.

Oh, and in case you’re interested, the ride was 95 miles, with just over 10,000ft of ascent. And five pieces of rocket-power almond cake were consumed in the process.

The route: https://ridewithgps.com/routes/16205477

Solo again

​It’s been a great week with Paris2Romers Andy, Keith and Neil, plus Sue enjoying cooking, walking, swimming and joining in the virtually non-stop banter.

Cycling-wise we’ve covered 310 miles, and probably more than replaced the calories burned with Sue’s Splendid Suppers, and the odd slice of flan and ice cream. I know that Neil’s been rather impressed by the scenery, and I don’t think he’ll ever believe me again when I describe a ride or diversion as ‘average’. On their last day we had both a walk into town, and a gentle ascent of Col de Pennes via Recoubeau, with the seemingly never-ending descent via Aucelon.

Anyway, off they went before sunrise today, heading for Calais, and I headed off to market, then Crest, for a leg-stretching 50-mile ride. I’ve still got ten days here, and a few more miles to cycle.

On foot: Col de Rousset goat track

​Just occasionally I’ll forgo two wheels in favour of two feet, but generally only if it will get me somewhere that two wheels can’t go.

If you’ve come to this area and been to Col de Rousset, you might have spotted the construction across the western cliff face: this is a 19th-century goat track, now much used by walkers to access the upper grasslands of Vercors. It looks a bit scary from a distance, but is actually an easy and safe way up.

And from parking your car near the Die end of the tunnel, a simple there-and-back walk will give you an outstanding experience. After emerging from the trees, at the end of the track to the signpost, turn left up the hill, following the well-trodden track for about 20 minutes to reach a cairn. The views will tell you you’ve arrived.

To the east and north east, the cliffs that look over the Col de Rousset road, and beyond, Le Grand Veymont, and just the top of Mont Aiguille. To the south east and south, the Drôme valley and, in the distance, Mont Ventoux.

But pick your day carefully – a calm summer’s day with good visibility will have you staring at the views for ages. Walking time is about two hours with no rush. 

Diversions: Tunnel du Pionnier

​I’m not sure how I’ve missed this route for so long. I’ve been to St Jean-en-Royans several times, and despite my regular poring over maps I’d never seen the option to get back up to the Vercors plateau via the Tunnel du Pionnier. At last I’ve ridden it, and I can report that it is a most spectacular route.

From St Jean, taking the road up the hill towards Combe Laval, the D131 is signposted to Lente and Font d’Urle, and a left turn at Col de la Croix after 10km takes you onto the D331.

The two roads and cols have completely different characters: the D131 meanders upwards towards a very visible col ahead; the D331 takes a hairpin route up the side of the valley and then dives through the short but splendid Tunnel du Pionnier, which pierces the seemingly impregnable rock face which has dominated the ascent.

But be prepared for a long haul: the 30km from St Jean to Font d’Urle is 1200m of ascent, and is likely to take you  a couple of arduous hours or more. On the plus side, you’ll see very few other bikes or cars, even at the height of the holiday season, as it seems that not many other people know about this hidden gem either.

Combe Laval and Tunnel du Pionnier

Paris2Romers Andy and Keith thought that newbie Neil should experience the astonishing Combe Laval. I still remember Andy’s near-delirious laughter last year when he saw it for the first time. Whether seeing it for the first time, or for the umpteenth, it can’t fail to amaze. And today the weather helped even more. And for Neil, that would be the second of two new experiences, the first being his first ascent of Col de Rousset.

So we went the normal route to Combe Laval: Col de Rousset, Vassieux, Col de Carri, Col de la Machine. Neil, let’s say, was left almost speechless with delight by the time we reached St Jean-en-Royans.

The return was new to me, and though making a really testing 85 miles overall (with 2750m of ascent), completed possibly the most stunning route I’ve yet done. Instead of the hack back via Léoncel to Blacons and the D93, we headed up the D131 and D331 to the Tunnel du Pionnier, to take us back into the heart of the Vercors plateau, via an 1200m ascent to Font d’Urle, and thus a return to Die via the col de Rousset.

I’ll do a separate post about the D131/D331 route soon.

Today’s route: https://ridewithgps.com/routes/16085271

Diversions: the D252

​An unplanned little discovery for me today: the D252, through Le Percy and Monestier-le-Percy between Clelles and Croix de la Croix Haute.

Today’s ride was supposed to go to Mens for lunch, but seeing its name erased on the road signs, and big yellow ‘déviation’ signs near Clelles scuppered that idea. Unfortunately, the arterial E715/D1075 is not a great road for cyclists, being busy and fast, so a bit of creativity led us to search out a side road. And the D252 was a little gem, with views towards higher Alps (the Tête de l’Obiou ridge is around the 2500m range). And with no major dips or climbs, it cut out a few kilometres of main road slog, and allowed us to carry on our chatting.

Apologies for the singular photo (for now), but I was a bit slow realising what a worthwhile diversion this was.

Paris2Rome in Die 2016

​If you’ve been concerned about lack of blog, it’s because I’ve been joined by the 2016 installment of the Paris2Rome2013 team, and we’ve carried on where we left off, with excellent chatter, food and laughter. This time, as well as Keith, Andy and Sue, we’ve been joined by Neil, the last of the team to make it down.

After their 20-hour drive down, and some good sleeping, we’ve so far had rides to Beaufort-sur-Gervanne, and cols de Menée and Grimone, and Neil is already waxing lyrical. And he’s still got a few surprises to come. We haven’t yet been up col de Rousset to see any of the Vercors highlights… and it looks like the weather is going to help us rectify that.