CLIMBS: NO MAJOR CLIMB
Gravel fun in the Rhone valley
This ride is part of our "Winter riding in the Alps" collection. To learn more about it, read this story on the blog.
Over last winter, I spent many hours scouting gravel roads in the Rhone valley.
It was... fun. I thought I knew my home region inside out, but I was wrong: in fact, I was sticking to a small number of loops with some variations. I am a creature of habits.
However, it all changed with the advent of gravel biking. It was like entering a new dimension: bigger tires take me to roads and paths I would never think of riding with a road bike.
It starts at home, looking at maps. Finding roads I didn't even know existed. Is this section paved or not? Can I connect these two sections I know with what looks to be a singletrack? And what about this bridge?
After plotting a loop, it's time to get out and check it. The fun begins.
Woohoo, it's rideable
Sometimes it doesn’t work. It's a muddy path, it's too steep, It's too rocky. Sometimes there is no path at all. Time to hike! It's not always bad, some hike a bike is OK.
But most of the time it’s eye opening. A light bulb moment. Why have I never been here? This farm lane parallel to the main road is so much more fun. This flowy singletrack through the woods... pure bliss. I never thought I could ride this 4x4 road that I've seen so many times from the highway!
Who knew riding next to a highway could be fun?
The loop featured here takes several of the best gravel in the Chablais region. Starting from Le Bévieux, it first heads towards Antagnes via a short gravel climb in the vineyards. After Ollon, another climb, paved this time, leads to the Sentier de Provence: a singletrack in the woods, flowy with a few steep up and down section. Possibly my favorite section in this loop - perfectly suited to my bike, the Scott Addict Gravel Tuned. Its race oriented geometry and 45mm tubeless tires are in their element there. For a moment, I feel like a skilled off road rider. But no, it's just the bike.
A technical descent back on tarmac and it's time for some sightseeing: the magnificent Château d'Aigle rises in the vineyards at the foot of the mountains. Stop if you want to take a picture: the road around the castle is made of very bumpy cobbles where you want to hold on to your handlebar. There are even a few easy stairs - again, it's perfect gravel biking terrain.
Pretending I have offroad skills
The middle part of the loop is flat. Is it boring? Sure not. I literally scouted every rideable road or path on the valley floor to come up with this portion. Whenever you see a long, straight section of road ahead of you, your GPS unit beeps to take you on a sharp left or right into an unpaved path.
In Noville, it's time to head back up the valley. There are a few long unpaved sections on different terrains, from sandy singletracks to rolling 4x4 roads. You go by the World cycling Centre, where you can stop for coffee or a sandwich. On a wet day, you might be quite muddy by then: avoid the cozy sofas in the lounge area and sit on the plastic chairs in the main section if you want to be friend with the staff.
In Massongex, you can take a shortcut to your starting point. But if you still have something in the tank, the final part of the loop is fun: two flat unpaved sections towards Lavey lead to a steep climb on a singletrack along the Courset river. Don't be ashamed if you have to walk part of it, there are some treacherous roots and rocks. The last few kilometers are fun with 3 more gravel sections before the final climb up to Le Bévieux.
That's it. The loop is 45% unpaved, which is pretty good in a region with a dense road network. Can I do better? Maybe, there's so much more to explore... But that'll be for next winter. Now it's time to go back to the mountains as snow is melting on the roads and trails up high.
However, this is a great loop all year round and there's no doubt I'll ride it on bad weather days.
TIPS TO STAY WARM
We shot this loop on a cold day In January, it must have been just below freezing point when we left. The sun didn't warm us up much later because a cold wind was blowing.
When I ride gravel in such conditions, I opt for the Velocio Overpant that I wear over either the Luxe Bib Tight or the Thermal Bib Shorts.
For the top, the Softshell Jacket forms a windproof layer over the Alpha Long Sleeve. A winning team whenever the weather is freezing cold, wet... or both. And of course, I had the Alpha Gloves to keep my hands toasty.
To keep my feet warm when riding gravel, I use another game changer: insulated mountain bike shoes. It's way more efficient than shoe covers, especially if you have to walk in the mud. The Scott MTB Heater GTX are a great addition to my winter gear.
Overpant, Softshell Jacket and Alpha Gloves: ready for the worst conditions
The other items I wore included: Zero Cycling Cap, Merino Mesh Short Sleeve Baselayer, Winter Collar and Winter Wool Socks.
In the vineyards towards Antagnes
Close call on the Sentier de Provence
Sightseeing in Aigle
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