Col du Chaussy

The steep mountain walls around St Jean Maurienne contain so many mountain passes, made famous through bicycle races, that during a week vacation you never get to anything else, except the things "you just have to do". You know ... Col de MadeleineCol de Croix de Fere, Glandon. Galibier is not so far away either. That the top of this pass sees comparatively few cyclists, is not only a shame, but also proof that the world needs longer vacations. Col de Chaussy is one of the roads you do not have to do. But once you've ridden it, you might want to do it again. The reason is, that there is little traffic, on a fairly wide, safe road, great scenery and a good workout.

For me another reason to do it again is, that I missed the most famous part the first time, an optional short section of 18 serpentines over 4km of very narrow road on the lower southern approach. You could also look at this section as part of a lower shoulder summit. The other side is the route I took and included in the profile below.

1.(520m,00.0km)START-END SOUTH: D906, east of river l'Arc and St Jean de Maurienne
2.(770m,03.7km)le Chatel
5.(1532m,16.0km)TOP: Col du Chaussy
6.(520m,30.8km)START-END NORTH: la Chambre


From East.
Cycling along the Arve river, west of St Jean, I see the sheer limestone cliffs that reach above the road, in waves and crests of stone turned sidewards. Imagining a road that would climb these rocky waves, my interest in this ride grows. There are two ways to climb that first limestone step on pavement. Profiled is the first chance to get off the main road from St Jean. It is signed "Col de Chaussy".  A few short switchbacks negotiate between thick walled houses under overhanging roofs. The road climbs a gap, with the village Le Chatel on the right and a old medieval looking tower (Tour Berold de Saxe) on a knoll over the valley of the Arve. This tower will come useful in visualizing progress in the climbing progress.

In Montvernier this road meets the other option to climb this first step, a road containing 18 serpentines in 4kms. The Montvernier Serpentine Road leaves D1006 at an easily missed turnoff in Pontamafray. This is the more famous lower approach, even if it has fewer far views of the peaks in the Belledonne Range. I missed it this time around.

Continuing the description on the Hermillon approach option. There are are several more groups of large roofs reflecting in the sun, that testify to human existence on a steep slope. The road descends to the last of these humanoid habitats between fountains and thick walls (Montvernier), and then enters the meditational section of the ride, a climb through green trees. At one point the meditation is interrupted and the road goes through an alcove hewn out of the natural stone walls, with a sheer endless seeming dropoff on the other side. It reminds me a little bit of the shelf roads above Bourg d'Oisans, which are just one mountain range away.

One more village speaks in ringing bells, with the ornamented church tower above the small cluster of houses. The arching sign "Mairie" is prominently displayed above the biggest house in town. This village, Montpascal, becomes foreground to the distant high mountain scenery, and now the road (which is quite a bit narrower here) just needs four or five more switchbacks to where the trees are getting scarce, but the views better, and the summit is reached. On top is a picnic table next to a chapel, and also a number of tables in front of a closed restaurant.

From West. (described downwards) The bike rolls ever so slightly on a straight road towards a nice, far view of the mountains behind the Col de Madaleine area. Then it descends into the trees. But now it rolls much faster. The road quickly reaches the turnoff to a narrow path in Bonvillard. From here you can climb higher to an unpaved summit above Col de Madaleine, going over Village de Loop - Longchamp s(u). But the profile takes the direct way down and continues over switchbacks back to La Chambre in the valley of the Arve.

A Dayride with this point as intermediate summit is on page: Village de Loop - Longchamp s(u)


Historical Notes:

Medival Times:
The "Tour Berold de Saxe" is located before you reach Montvernier on the on the Hermillon approach option, described above. This small landmark tower dates back to at least 887AD. That is the date, it is mentioned the first time in writing. But the Romans probably did not construct it. It was renovated by a certain "Berold of Saxony" in the 11th century, and lay abandoned by the 17th century. That was along time ago, but it still managed to be of some importance for much longer, 700 years. During WW2 the tower was occupied by Germans.

Roads: The Montvernier Serpentine Road is the much older option to reach Montvernier on pavement. It took six years for the 4kms to come into existence, between 1928 and 1934. The other option, from Hermillon was not paved until 2012, largely in response to cyclists, who now have a great option to string several passes and summits together in a day loop.

Cycling - Tour de France: In 2015 a climb to this pass was included for the first time in the Tour de France. Getting a peloton up the Montvernier Serpentines is nearly impossible to visualize. The route went up the Hermillon option, starting in St Jean de Maurienne, ending at La Toussiere: unbelievable 4500 meters of climbing on a "almost-loop" with a one way climb at the end, instead of connecting back to the starting point. The other passes on this day ride were Col de Croix de Fere, here only a shoulder point on the way to Col du Glandon, the Col du Mollard and a one way climb to La Toussiere.