Driving on the French A43 Autoroute towards Torino, if you know where to look – and you need to know where to look – you will see the most amazing little road crawling up a cliff. These are the Lacets de Montvernier.
For details of the road above Les Lacets to Col du Chaussy and Col de la Madeleine see here.
They are probably the most talked about addition to the 2015 Tour de France route (stage 18) – they will also appear in the 2015 Critérium du Dauphiné. Finished in 1934 after six years of construction, this astounding feat of engineering linked the little village of Montvernier, high above on a plateau, with civilisation below.
Lacets means hairpins (think shoes laces). There are 17 hairpins (lots of publications say 18, but one is questionable and off in its own #hairpinpolice). The 17 hairpins all come in a stretch of roughly 2.5 kilometres. That’s a hairpin every 150 metres. The road is narrow, the hairpins sharp, and large vehicles are forbidden. It’s a steady incline, roughly 8% average.
If you don’t own a helicopter, it can be difficult to photograph the road. Perhaps it’s one reason they have stayed relatively unknown. But here is the secret for cyclists: Once you finish the last section and pass under the chapel, there is a big farm field on your right. There is a muddy track through the field, follow for a couple of hundred metres, walk into the trees, and there is a cliff lookout with a perfect view. Scares me to death, but I usually battle my phobias for the photo. 🙂
Pretending not to be terrified of falling off cliff:
Perched just above the hairpins is the Chapelle Notre-Dame-de-la-Balme. Hexagonally shaped, it was built in 1863 and renovated in 1981. There is a similar little chapel down below (now next to the autoroute).
Put In Context
Les Lacets de Montvernier are situated in the heart of the Maurienne valley, a true cycling Mecca, home to arguably five of the ten most famous climbs in France — Galibier, Iseran, Madeleine, Glandon, Croix de Fer — and many other huge but lesser known gems.
Zoom the map below, the bright red road under the bright red star is Les Lacets. It is tiny compared to the surrounding climbs. I have highlighted several climbs that will also appear in the 2015 Tour, either the same day as Les Lacets or the following day. I won’t go into any detail in this article, but wanted to give a feel for this superb cycling region.
Pink = Col du Chaussy. Basically Les Lacets are the first 20% if this great climb.
Green = Col du Glandon. One of my favourites (for Podium Café old timers: The Finking Hairpins)
Purple = Col de la Croix de Fer. Huge climb with 5 ways up.
Pale blue = La Toussuire. Will host stage 19 finish. Also was the finish when Landis bonked (day before his miracle).
Blue = Col de la Madeleine. Not in 2015 Tour but a nearby giant.
I’ve starred a bunch of other nearby climbs, Galibier is just down the road (then up of course). Also, note the red “Alert” symbol. Zoom the map. During stage 19, the peloton will descend Col du Mollard. The bottom stretch has something like 40 hairpins in close succession. Partly hidden in forest, it’s a tougher one to photo, but the descent wil be “fun.”
Visiting in 2015?
It’s easy enough to make a good loop that squeezes in a quick visit to Les Lacets de Montvernier. Here are three ideas:
Climb Col du Glandon, descend Col de la Croix de Fer, and visit the Lacets as you ride back to start in valley floor. Or do in reverse.
Start with Les Lacets and continue to Col du Chaussy. The far side of Chaussy has been paved in recent years, so descend it and you have a loop.
Bring thicker tires. Start with Les Lacets, continue to Col du Chaussy, then continue higher on an unpaved, fantastic road past Lac de Loup (Wolf Lake) all the way up to Col de la Madeleine. Descend Madeleine. Bob’s Your Uncle.
Watching on Tour de France Day
I can’t imagine the authorities will allow anything but a handful of fans on this road during Tour day – if any. And unless you are a mountaineer, the safe viewing points are few and far between (there is a via ferrata course that gives a good view). I would avoid Les Lacets like the plague. Watch on TV, or watch from atop Col du Glandon, the previous climb. Glandon will give a great view. The riders will be coming from this direction:
A Final Thought
Les Lacets de Montvernier are fun. But they are just a little frosting on the gigantic cake that is the Maurienne Valley. So visit for the big climbs, but enjoy the brief detour up this unique road.
Hallo Will, i’m Dario an old italian cyclist of 60 y.o. and follow your blog with a lot of interest: my compliments
for sharing with us your fantastic photos,routes descriptions and comments. I really envy your possibility to
run in the most beautiful places of our Alps: IT – FR – CH – is the same…! I invite you to visit next year my region, Friuli, land of Zoncolan, Montasio,Mataiur and many others climbs. Thanks again, follow well biking
and congratulations again from Dario mandi dal Friul
Grazie mille per il suo messagio. Questo anno sto imparando Italiano per godere i miei viaggi al suo paese bella. 🙂
Spero que sia possibile per me di visitare quel regione l’anno prossimo. La salita a Zoncolan è certamente famosa. Non conosco ancora le altre dunque grazie per le idee.
Ciao Will, mi fa piacere che stai imparando l’italiano e quindi ti dico di NON MOLLARE MAI…
fra ciclisti – fanatici della montagna – ci capiamo sempre… Auguri ancora dal Bel Friuli Dario
First of all I must say that the place is really amazing to travel with cycle. I definitely want to climbs there and enjoy the brief detour up this unique road.
Hi Will Our last trip to the Alpes and the climbs were in most part made after reading your blog and I must say we had a great time. We would never had ridden Granon or Agnel if we had not seen your great blog.
This year we are back and will be in Grenoble for TdF Stages 18-20. We were thinking Col de la Morte for 18, Glandon, Croix de Fer for 19 (coming up from La Chambe) and of course Heuz for 20.
What do you think. Any comments gratefully accepted. Cheers Derek
That all makes perfect sense. For stage 19, a great viewing point is on the hill a few metres above the last hairpin before Glandon. You can see all the hairpins below, beautiful spot. And yes, stay away from Les Lacets that day. I doubt they’ll let people on them, and it is near impossible to view them except from a few cliff look-outs. Madness.
Enjoy (I may possibly be on Glandon that day too).
Hi, there. “Enormous” photos. Did they build it by starting at the top and working their way down, or vv? Thanks! Don
Pingback: Col de la Madeleine via Les Lacets de Montvernier and Col du Chaussy
Been a long time since you wrote this, but I’m hoping you could still help out: what’s the condition of the road up to Lac de Loup? Do you need a trail bike, or could it be ridden on a cross bike or even something like a Roubaix with 28mm or bigger tires?
Thanks so much
the road is OK up to Lac de Loup. But the stretch beyond that links to Col de la Madeleine gets very rough. I know people that have taken a road bike. But it’s really too rough for one,.
Awesome, thanks! Starting to plan my 40th birthday trip (still have a few years though – I’m just excited!) and don’t really want to do one of those big group tours. I regularly ride my “endurance” road bike w/28s on gravel & dirt forestry roads, but I didn’t want to plan to ride up there only to be confronted w baby heads the whole way.
Really appreciate it – thanks again.
Pingback: August in the Alps | Rudolph the Talbot
just looking at this area for end of may with a view to do as many climbs as poss in 10 days
are there any towns or villages you can recommend to stay as a base for these climbs and alpe d’huez
also do you have any info on climbs close to lourdes, i am staying at a place called argeles gazost in early may
Argelès-Gazost is the perfect base for the Pyrénées. From that valley are the starts of many of the best climbs in the region. You would want to the obvious famous stuff climb 1) Col d’Aubisque (better via Col des Bordères or Spandelles than directly via Soulor but all good). 2) Hautacam. Further down the valley 3) Col du Tourmalet and Luz Ardiden. But don’t forget the truly magnificent but lesser 5) known Cirque de Troumouse and 6) Port de Boucharo (although I think bikes are now blocked at Col des Tentes.
Separately, I don’t really have a recommended town but realise that Les Lacets de Montvernier and all the famous Maurienne valley climbs (Galibier, Madeleine, Croix de Fer, Iseran, etc.) Are on the other side of a mountain from Alpe d’Huez. Possible better to spend a few days in the Maurienne and then a few days near base of Alpe d’Huez. I have posts detailing the best climbs in both areas with maps. See here: https://www.cycling-challenge.com/the-best-cycling-climbs-from-bourg-doisans/ and here: https://www.cycling-challenge.com/la-maurienne-valley-7-of-the-best-climbs-in-france/
thanks for that quick reply, really looking forward to the Pyrenees as never ridden in that area.
will defiantly look to do a few days around alpe d’huez and then move north to maurienne valley
Will be interested to see how it compares to climbs around bormio and Corvara which i have manged
to do quite a few times and booked to go back in june / july
some many climbs and not enough time? cheers mark
I wanted to “like” this post, because I like it. But only see the comment button. C’est la vie.
Of course I’ve seen Les Lacets in the Tour, but didn’t have any information on it/them. So thanks. A bit more on the construction would be of interest as the other poster wrote, but that’s not the focus. I’m from the town where THAT guy is from (L. Pharmstrong) — Austin, Texas.
I used to be able to do more hills when I had a lighter bike with more gears and better conditioning, but never the big ones. I imagine you have to be at pretty top form to do most of the big ‘uns. So kudos to you and the other riders who are lucky enough to get to or be in France and then do those cols! Perhaps someday, or in another life and body…