Sunday, 28 August 2016

La Petite Boucle

Yesterday, we drove from Saint-Savin to Le Mont-Dore, near Clermont Ferrand in the Massif Central. This area is actually one of the coldest in France in the winter. It is a big skiing area in the winter, and people come here for hiking in summer. Le Mont-Dore has an air of slightly faded elegance. The buildings are much older than those in a typical ski resort, and none the worse for that.

The original idea had been for Angela to ride some less challenging climbs here. There are several in the area that have been used on the Tour de France. In the event, we decided that I'd ride, while she did some sightseeing. So with one day of riding left, and four climbs in the locality, a little work with my Garmin led to the birth of La Petite Boucle!

The first part involves riding from Le Mont-Dore a few kilometres to the base of the cable car that leads up the Puy de Sancy. This is the Massif. How hard can that be? Well, it turned out that there was a surprise in store, at the upper end of Le Mont Dore, where the road reared to 11% for a period. Nothing like the Hautacam, but enough for regrets about not riding yesterday, and that pain au chocolat at breakfast!

It soon settled down to 7 and 8% though. The road is wide and well surfaced, and should have been easier than this surely? And then it rained. After a little while it dawned on me that Le Mont-Dore is already at about 1000 metres above sea level. That's almost the height of the summit of Snowdon before you start climbing. That's bound to have some effect.

Cable car to Puy du Sancy
The area around the base of the cable car up to the Puy du Sancy doesn't seem to have any particular name. The best I could find on Google Maps seemed to be Pied du Sancy, so I'll go with that. It probably looks great in winter, but with renovations going on and the weather cloudy with showers, it all seemed a bit grim.

Bike at the Pied du Sancy
The descent back to Le Mont-Dore was fast and flowing. The surface is nearly new. It's not particularly technical, and the sight lines are good, so its easy to let the speed build. The recent rain did reduce my enthusiasm a little though.

Reaching Le Mont-Dore again, it was time to turn right and head up the Col de la Croix St Robert. First, I pulled over to remove my jacket, and then had all sorts of grief trying to clip in again on the short steep lower section of this climb. Once I'd managed that, the rest of the climb was a delight. My legs seemed to be working again, and although not effortless, the typical 7% gradient meant I was spinning, not grinding. The lower reaches are through woodland, with plenty of shade. Above the trees, the route flattens and crosses farmland before reentering woodland again.

Climbing the Col de la Croix St Robert
Climbing the Col de la Croix St Robert
Above this section of trees, the route is in the open until the summit. I say summit, but it's pretty flat at this point, crossing the open moorland below rounded peaks. There is a rather unimpressive metal cross in a field near the summit. I caught a glimpse of it on the way down. I'm guessing that is the cross after which the col is named. But I could be wrong...

The Col de la Croix St Robert
The descent from the Col de la Croix St Robert is also fast and flowing, but more technical than that from the Pied du Sancy. The surface is nearly new. There are a couple of places to stop and admire the view. From here, the first views of Lac Chambon are visible.

First view of Lac Chambon
Just above the town of Chambon sur Lac, which is anything but sur any lac, the road joins the route from the Col de la Croix Morand, of which more later. The descent continues in a gorge, passing through Chambon sur Lac, and on to the town of Lac Chambon, which is definitely by a lake.

Bike at Lac Chambon
I met up with Angela at Lac Chambon, which was fortunate. I'd forgotten the insect repellent before I set off. With the weather improving, and more forest to cross, it seemed like a good idea to use some. It was!
Angela getting arty at Lac Chambon
I retraced my steps through Lac Chambon to Chambon sur Lac, where the climb really starts. Up through the gorge and past the road down from the Col de la Croix St Robert the gradients remain a manageable 7% or so. The road soon emerges from the gorge and onto open farmland around the village of Bressouleille.
Climbing the Col de la Croix Morand
Its possible to see a lot of the route to the top from here. It starts to resemble a real mountain pass in places. The higher up I climbed, the more I was reminded of Snowdonia.

Reminiscent of Snowdonia
Any illusion of a real mountain pass is shattered on arrival at the top. It's a broad flat plane again, with a cafe.
Bike at the Col de la Croix Morand
Once again, the descent from the top was fast and flowing with some technical sections. The surface is not quite as good as on the Col de la Croix St Robert, but still good enough. The lower section gets steeper as the road arrives back in Le Mont-Dore.

After a bit of navigation, I found the road for La Bourboule, and headed down.

Bike in La Bourboule
La Bourboule is the next resort town along the railway line down the valley. It's similar to Le Mont-Dore but without the obvious skiing connection. I soon found the route for the Col de Vendeix, and headed up.

Near the top of the Col de Vendeix
As with all today's climbs, the Vendeix quickly settles to around 7% after an initial steeper section leaving the town. It's wooded all the way up, passing through the village of Vendeix Haut, before joining the D645 to Le Mont-Dore. The junction is supposed to be the summit, but there didn't seem to be any signs. The road to Mont-Dore also continues up for a distance, before finally descending to the town to complete the boucle.

So there we have it. Around 60 kilometres of riding with about 1500 metres of climbing, none of it particularly strenuous. A nice ride around nice roads in a nice part of France.

The route for La Petite Boucle is available on Garmin Connect.

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