Cols Clergeon, Sapenay, Cessens, and Chambotte. Plus a Gorge.

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Across the Rhône river immediately east of Grand Colombier is a great little massif with very few roads, but several cols just under 1000 metres. Super-quiet and scenic: perfect cycling.

Are these Alps or Juras? Tough question! The short answer: Geologically they are Juras, but geographically they are Alps (east of Rhône). Did that help? (map at bottom of post).

This loop visits four cols and includes my first ride through the Gorges du Val de Fier. First, a 3D tour of the route:

I started in Rumilly staying on the quieter west side of the Fier (proud) river for a few easy kilometres to warm up. I then turned into the Gorges du Val de Fier for a fun, narrow, 5 kilometre stretch above the river with mountains squeezing each side.

Exiting the gorge, I crossed D991 trying to follow a small road near the river. This soon turned into a hiking trail (part of St-Jacques-de-Compestelle route), I persevered, but it’s no place for a road bike. If following my route, just immediately get on the D991 and stay there.

The first 30 kilometres were easy, but the balance of the ride would be either up or down. First, I would climb Col de la Chambotte on the way to Col du Sapenay.

I really like this narrow climb as it runs alongside Lac du Bourget with ever improving views of the lake. Not tough or too long, but fun.

For the best rides in the Lac du Bourget region – including a lake loop – see here.

Nearing Col de la Chambotte

After Col de la Chambotte the route continues higher to Col de Cessens (797m; no col sign), then across the top of the mountain to Col du Sapenay (897m). Again, peaceful and scenic.

Nearing Sapenay, Lac du Bourget far below

Next, as the maps shows, comes the hairpin-filled part of the day. First, a fairly steep descent of Sapenay and then the climb up Mont Clergeon to Col du Clergeon (979m).

Both of these narrow, forest roads are short-cuts to nowhere, and there’s not much at the top. So you will see more cyclists than cars, and you won’t see that many cyclists. Excellent.


I love how Savoie and Haute-Savoie have cycling kilometre markers on climbs absolutely everywhere. But occasionally things go wrong. Clergeon is a tough little mountain, but (fortunately!) the next kilometre did not average 16%.

After the summit, it’s a fantastic descent down the far side back to Rumilly. I took no photos here but it’s beautiful countryside with snowy Alps in view far in the distance. Overall, an excellent loop.

Other options

There are several ways one can construct routes up and down this massif. Below are a couple of easier options than today.

First, here’s an old ride that climbs the sides of Col du Clergeon and Col du Sapenay/Cessens that I descended (skips Chambotte and the Gorge).

And here is a loop that climbs the side of Clergeon I descended and then loops back via Col de la Chambotte (skips Sapenay). More details here.

8.6 Very good

Quiet roads, plenty of climbing, 4 cols, and a gorge. Not bad.

  • Difficulty 8.5
  • Quiet / No Traffic 9.5
  • Views 8
  • Fun Factor 8.5
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Happiest while cycling uphill.

2 Comments

  1. Great ride, Will. Any sense of when these cols are clear after the winter? Given your description, I guess they don’t get gritted or ploughed, but they’re not *that* high. Am on the look-out for rides next March already!

    • March is very possible but not guaranteed. Big sign at base of Clergeon saying that road is not “deneigé” (de-snowed/plowed)

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