Thursday, July 31, 2014

Annecy to Chambéry, and Semnoz

On July 16th I rode from Annecy to Chambéry, crossing over the Semnoz along the way.

View Annecy to Chambéry in a larger map

Another great breakfast in Annecy, this time enjoying the eggs I discovered yesterday, too late. I checked out of the hotel, carried my bike from the basement for the last time, and headed toward the climb of the Semnoz, on the southern side of town.

Om D41, the road to Semnoz
I became aware of this climb last year when it was the finish of the next-to-last stage of the Tour de France. Nairo Quintana won the day. That year they started in Annecy but came up the climb from the west, whereas I started from the north. The routes meet up midway up.

Getting passed by a bus, one of many times.
The climb almost immediately enters the woods, where it will stay nearly the whole way up. Since I got a reasonably early start I had the road to myself, but as the morning wore on I started seeing more traffic. Not so much cars, but buses, and lots of them. A little while later I passed a school, which I guess explained that.

The junction of the southern and
western routes up Semnoz.
The climb is moderately steep, and as the day warmed up I was grateful for the nearly-constant shade. Eventually, as I approached the top, the trees dropped away and exposed pastures and ski runs.

Semnoz isn't a pass, it's a mountain top. The road doesn't quite reach the peak, but there's a short hiking trail to the top. I didn't take it.

At the top there are fantastic views of the Alps. Each mountain has its own shape -- some snow covered, some pointed, some flat. This was the first time I was able to recognize its distinctiveness of Mont Blanc. Now that I think about it, this might also have been one of the few times on this trip when the weather was good enough at altitude to get really great views. Semnoz delivered.

Panoramic view from (near) the top of Semnoz.
The descent was remarkably fast, down long straights down into the valley. I picked out some minor roads heading generally south, but I doubt you can go too far wrong in this basin.

Enjoying D61 toward Bellecombe-en-Bauges
Eventually I started the surprisingly long climb out of the valley. It was hot, and I even ran out of water. I had to fill up at one of the ubiquitous village fountains.

After passing the Col du Plainpalais, I descended into Chambery. After the charming Annecy it seemed a little humdrum, until I actually found my hotel in the old town, tourist area, the vieille ville. Another amazing town, with cobbled streets mostly closed off to traffic, and hidden treasures around every corner. Little things like, you know, surprise cathedrals.

Around dinner time there was what seemed like a good-natured protest parading through town. Good natured as it may have been, there were nonetheless police standing around in the intersections. I never did discover what it was about. I violated a rule I had devised on this trip by eating at a restaurant with "pizzeria" in its name. It was friendly and serviceable, ravioli and a jug of wine, but... and I realize this is going to sound snobby, but... powdered Parmesan cheese. I really thought we were beyond that, as a civilization.

Elevation profile
This day's ride was almost 48 miles, with over 5800 feet of climbing. The climb up Semnoz was pretty steep, and indeed the most difficult kilometer of the ride was a 9.3% stretch in the middle. But the climb out of the valley, in the mounting heat, was definitely the most difficult part of the day.

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