If you've not heard of Chamonix, you've been living under a rock. Road biking in Chamonix? That's not such common knowledge. But, it's a real gem. Situated on the border between France and Switzerland, the (not so quaint) town is better known for death-defying Skiing, which means it's less known to roadies.
Where is it?
90 minutes from Geneva, 60 minutes from Annecy and 30 minutes from an excellent Italian Pizza, Chamonix is accessible by highway or train. Very easy to get to, and lots of connections via bus and train.
What's the riding like?
Steep. The town itself is situated in a valley, which means there aren't a huge number of options, but when you know where to go: that doesn't matter. You've essentially got two directions, towards Switzerland (east) or towards Passy (west).
East > Switzerland
The ride out towards Switzerland is on a main road, which does see a lot of traffic in the peak summer months, but it's still totally rideable. You'll start in town and gradually climb your way towards Argentiere before a 10-15 minute col to get you going, Col de Montets. Once you're at the top, it's all downhill towards the Swiss border. From there, you've got basically
one option... Climb. Climb. Climb. Once you're over the border, you cycle a couple KMs and hook a left, before heading up. The climb featured on the 17th stage of the 2016 Tour de France, and you'll still see road markings. It's a 10,4KM/8.4% (!) climb which will do its very best to destroy your legs. Make it to the top and you're treated with some of the best views in the entire valley, and in season - an expensive but equally welcoming restaurant. If you've still got the legs, you can take your bike down and ride across the Dam, and take on another little pedal which will take you up to the second Dam. That's where the cover photo is from. Not bad, in all fairness.
West > Passy
Switching to the other direction, you'll be riding through Les Houches and down towards Servoz. This is where you're going to take a back road, down Route de Vaudagne. A great descent (and even better climb) which will take you down in to Servoz. Once you're in Seroz, it's time to follow the main road (the Rollercoaster as the locals call it) and decide what's next. You can either ride down to Passy, and then you've got St Gervais and Megeve around the corner. Or, the other option is to head up to Plateau d'assy. Another brutal climb, usually just under an hour. The views at the top are world class (shock), and there is a good rest stop. Coffee isn't great, but hey, can't have everything.
Keen? Here's some details.
- Although it's a mountain town, it's quite low so you can ride from March-November without many issues
- There is a huge amount of short term accommodation available
- If you've got time, a trip to Italy is worth it. Some excellent roads around the corner, La Thuile is a good place to look at.