Climbing the Colombier – Part 2

This is the 2nd part of Roy Everitt’s guest posts about cycling up the Grand Colombier in France, on a laden touring bike. If you missed it, Part 1 is here.

Day 2 – To Lyon

I slept okay but awoke early again, and went for a stroll to find a patisserie for breakfast pastries and a baguette.

I had another nap before I checked out with most of the day to fill before my train to Lyon at 5.30 that afternoon. I would need to dismantle and bag my bike but I didn’t want to carry it around all day, so I took an early and relaxed lunch, checked my train time and generally occupied myself until mid-afternoon, when the time came to pack up. Rennes station is impressive from the outside, and it’s on three levels. The main departures board is on the middle level, while the platforms are down below and the departures hall is on the top floor. It doesn’t sound very sensible, especially if you’re carrying a heavy bike in a bag, but there are lifts and escalators.

Bikes and trains

With my train not yet showing on the departures board, I found a convenient pillar on the platform level to leave my bike and bags against and bought some food for the train and a coffee from a machine. Now I did have a platform number, and it was a fair walk. Through the barrier and up the long ramp, I then had to carry my bike and bags to the far end of the train, to voiture number 7. Luckily, a very kind young lady took pity on me and offered to carry my other bags (one pannier, helmet and food) so I could use both hands for the bike. Even more luckily, her seat was in the same coach.

I was still hot and bothered by the time I took my seat, and my bagged bike was too big for the luggage rack, so it was propped in front and somewhat in the way. No one complained, though, even the two ticket inspectors who visited after an hour or so of our journey. There was nothing to do but relax, plug in my phone and follow the cricket score and note the rising temperatures outside as we made our way towards France’s second city.

Bike rebuild

The TGV direct service to Lyon actually goes via the southwest Paris suburbs, close to Orly airport, which was vaguely alarming, but then we headed south, at up to 280 kph, to Lyon Part Dieu, arriving on time, at 9.30pm. I didn’t have to carry my bike too far, to a convenient lift, and then to the station exit, where I rebuilt it.    

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JR arrived just before I finished the rebuild, having missed me inside the station, and we were soon pedalling through the cycling-friendly streets to our hotel.

After a shower, we convened to discuss the plans for tomorrow’s long ride to our B&B in Bassy. We’ll be taking the least hilly route possible, of around 130 km. That’s not normally an issue but JR has been unwell this week and isn’t fully recovered. He thinks he’ll be okay, but we will take it gently, which is fine by me. It is also going to be very hot again tomorrow, so we’ll have an early breakfast and try to get away before the heat really builds.

Lyon to Bassy

In the end, we left at about 10am, stopped for provisions (mostly bread, cheese and fruit), and left the city around thirty minutes later. Our average speed for the first part of the ride was below 10mph, which wasn’t surprising. It would pick up once we on the more open roads, but it was already hot and had become very windy as we headed southeastwards away from Lyon. It was mainly a cross wind, and was especially strong as we passed the end of Lyon Airport’s runway. There would be some very short take-offs and landings today.

For long stretches, the ride was fairly flat, if a bit bitty at times, so the heat was manageable, if desiccating, but whenever we did have to make more effort, once as we passed a quarry and later as we ascended into a gorge, we immediately became more aware of the extreme heat. My body temperature increased perceptibly within seconds, although my legs still felt strong. We drank as much as we could. Passing a patisserie quite early in the ride, we grabbed the chance to top up our bellies and food supplies and had an extra drink. 

Rural cycle lanes

Most of the roads, apart from the minor ones, had a cycle path alongside, usually of a decent standard, so we didn’t mix with the traffic much, and at times the well-signposted cycle routes took us away from the road altogether.

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We were on one such route when we stopped for early lunch at the ‘little city of character’ of Crémieur. The path takes cyclists away from the city itself, but we did see a chateau that houses a geology museum and a separate castle on an adjacent hilltop. I have to admit my focus was mainly on the food and drink. We had probably covered just under a third of our distance for the day, but then we usually have more than one lunch, so we would be stopping again.

Approaching the mountains

Our next stop, in fact, was just before halfway, at Morestel, where we bought a cold coke each and had our water bottles refilled, with a bonus of a little ice. Soon after, at around 65km, we had our first clear view of the mountains.

As we crossed the Rhone for the first time we had a decision to make, between a mainly flat road that ran around the high ground we were approaching, or a shortcut that climbed into a gorge and then descended again to rejoin the original route. Trying to interpret the map contours, it didn’t look like too much of an ascent, so we opted for the gorge. The contours are at 50-metre intervals, though, so it turned out to be quite a significant little climb, somewhere around 150 metres, or so. It was the sort of gradient that’s rideable in the right gear and at a steady cadence and we were rewarded with an interesting bit of industrial archaeology at the top, where water has clearly been extracted for some time from the small river that runs through the gorge. Needless to say, though, we were very warm by the time we stopped to admire the archaeology and take a few pictures.

Via Rhona

The gorge soon opened into a wider valley, mainly flat for a time, where we noticed, and stopped to photograph, the distinctive limestone cliffs, before we descended onto the original route. Soon, we picked up the Via Rhona (which we probably could have followed all the way from Lyon and which actually goes as far as Lake Geneva). This took us beside the Rhone, northwards and towards the main purpose of our trip, The Grand Colombier. We could see its mass apparently growing as we headed towards it. The river isn’t always visible from the mainly excellent cycle path but it’s easy to follow and by this time on a long, hot ride, making things easier was a good choice. There are a couple of climbs onto bridges and barrages as we crossed the river a few times. I hadn’t realised how much the Rhone has been tamed and utilised, mainly for power generation, but there are also campsites and popular picnic and tourist stops, too, which the cycle path occasionally took us through. At one, (Port de Virignin), mainly dedicated to boat owners and glampers, we were very pleased to be able to buy ice creams and refill our water bottles. 

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Always another hill

Now, on the cycle route, and a few minor roads, we headed due north, to the town of Seyssel and the nearby village of Bassy, where we would be based for the next four days. Seyssel looked promising, as a place to find all we would need in terms of provisions (and I noticed at least one pizza restaurant). A steep little climb took us up to a wide main road for a time, and finally, our digs in Bassy were, inevitably, up a steep hill. Long rides nearly always seem to end with a steep climb. I had enough in my legs to make it, which was reassuring. It was now early evening, but the temperature was still around 30C, so that extra water we had taken on had definitely made a difference.

But, after a welcome shower, we were ready for a beer or two and a good meal. Despite the shortcut, we had covered 129 km in the day, so we were very happy that our hosts had booked a table for us at a restaurant just a short walk away.

Be sure to also read Part 3 (and in case you haven’t already, Part 1 is here).

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