This weekend we attempted a road bike circuit that has jumped out of the maps at me for ages. It takes in the beauty of the alps through both Switzerland and France and it is the most obvious complete circuit you can do out of Chamonix. Feasible in a ridiculously long day we opted to break it up over night in Chatel making it 95km and 110km the next day with about 3200m of climbing.
The ride starts by heading up the valley to Argentiere, this 400m+ climb up to Col des Montets will be a familiar warm up for all Chamonix locals. At the summit there was a pretty crazy event going on. Not the usual tourist scrum but over to one side two large male Ibexs were having a full on violent springtime rucking contest. The noise made when their horms clash was chilling. It was certainly enough of an excuse to get off the bike and watch for a while.
From the Col des Montets, we drop down to the Swiss border point, which is at a similar height to Chamonix town. It is then the pleasant gentle hairpin turns up to the Col de Forclaz. At 1540m it is higher than the Col des Montets but feels a lot easier as the road climbs fairly gradually.
The fun starts here with the 1000m vertical descent down into Martigny. The steep slopes allow you to reach some scary high speeds, before slowing down when catching up a car or bus at a tight hairpin bend. The air is soon thick with delightful pesticides as you meander between the steep rows of vines that flank the scenic southern slopes above Martigny. The city can be bypassed as we head down valley towards Lac Leman, passing more orchards and a lonely wind turbine. The roads here are considerately marked with cycle lanes, which is fortunate as the Swiss drivers generally seem pretty inconsiderate when passing cyclists.
At the town of Monthey we stopped for a pleasant rest at a cafe in the town square. Little did we know that a mammoth, beast of a climb lay in store. The climb up to Morgins and then Chatel in France had been massively under estimated as, ‘just a pleasant end to the day’. After failing to find a water fountain and about 800m of vertical height we realised this was a challenge, finally we spied a fountain in a garden and filled up our bottles. The water gave us new energy and after 95km into the ride we hit the summit of Pas d’ Morgins and then after a small drop into France we found Chatel. Chatel was an off season ghost town, nothing was open except a takeaway pizza place and one hotel, we used both.
After a good nights sleep we awoke to drizzle and low cloud as well as the prospect of riding 110km in this weather. Fueled by cold pizza we set off for Morzine and then back to Chamonix. The climbing was almost easier in the cooler temperatures and we seemed to quickly arrive at the Col du Corbier, a 500m climb from the valley floor.
We dropped down into St Jean D’Aulps and visited some old friends who we worked for many seasons ago, they are also the owners of Actiontransfers.com a growing airport transfer company. After a cup of tea and a scone we stepped out into the rain and climbed up to Les Gets, nothing was open in the town so we quickly descended towards Cluses for some lunch. Not before another cheeky little col!
Cluses to Chamonix is then a simple 45km ride up a decent sized hill! The road via Passy is always a highlight with great views and little traffic. I also sneakily acquired a few ripe cherries from the many laden branches overhanging the road in this pretty little village.
Not that you probably want to know but, by the time we reached the serious climbing it was getting difficult to sit down, 100km in wet lycra has unfortunate chaffing side effects! I need to toughen up if I will make it too China this summer!
So that is it, a rather pleasant if slightly epicly wet cycle ride from Chamonix that never retraces itself.