In the tracks of the Tour de France: Why Vercors’ balcony roads make a stunning cycling destination

The vertiginous street I’m on twists and turns with an enormous limestone cliff on one facet and a sheer gorge drop on the opposite.

Biking information, Philippe Join-Lambert, from La Glisse – Velectrip says the balcony roads in France’s pre-alp area of Vercors are thought of amongst probably the most harmful on the earth.

Earlier, alongside a bit of the Tour de France route that handed by means of the area, Philippe defined that these hair-raising lanes had been lower into the edges of those sheer rock partitions utilizing dynamite.

The journey takes in Saint-Nizier-du-Moucherotte, the primary commune within the Vercors perched a whole bunch of meters above Grenoble, the place the Northern and Southern Alps meet.

Beginning right here enabled us to overlook out on the grueling Tour de France climb from town to the japanese fringe of the Vercors Massif that straddles the départements of Isère and Drôme.

Those that make the 1,000-metre climb up one of many winding roads are rewarded by deep gorges, limestone cliffs, undulating hills, and large wooded expanses; a serene various to the hovering, gnarly panorama of the Alps and perfect for a lot of completely different outside adventures, from alpine and cross nation snowboarding, climbing, canyoning and wildlife watching.

Within the nineteenth century there have been no satisfactory roads for horse-drawn automobiles, so the 5,000 residents of Vercors, feeling more and more remoted from the remainder of the world, determined to construct roads to attach Vercors with the South.

With out fashionable know-how to chop into the cliffs, the roads had been constructed by a courageous soul hanging down the facet of the mountain on a rope ladder and throwing dynamite into the rock, swinging out of the way in which simply in time to keep away from being blown up.

Creating this balcony roads “was the primary act of tourism right here” says Philipe “and why it’s such a surprising location for biking.”

Earlier than this 12 months the ascent of Saint-Nizier-de-Moucherotte (14.6 km at 6.8%) had been climbed 4 instances on the Tour de France between 1950 and 1989 and our last vacation spot, Villard-de-Lans has hosted the Tour 12 instances: six because the beginning city and 6 because the end.

We cease simply earlier than Saint-Nizier-du-Moucherotte, the city can be the 143th km for Tour de France riders, and pay a go to the cemetery the place 98 troopers and French Resistance fighters lie below advantageous gravel.

The memorial is positioned on the very web site of the Battle of Vercors, which befell between June 13 and 15, 1944, probably the most well-known stand of the Maquis du Vercors, the agricultural group of the French Resistance who made the massif their stronghold throughout WWII.

The unadorned cemetery is one in every of a number of poignant memorials to those underground fighters and a spot of pilgrimage for a lot of.

Phillipe explains that by the Nineteen Forties there have been only some roads climbing up from Grenoble to entry the massif. Often known as ‘the fortress’ due to its dense alpine forests and rugged plateau, it made a pure refuge for the Maquis.

As an alternative of following the precise route of the Tour de France riders we continued our cycle alongside an previous railway line that used to come back from downtown Grenoble as much as Villard de Lans.

We move the Trois Pucelles, three rocky summits that overlook the cemetery. In accordance with legend they had been three princesses, who had been reworked into stone by Charlemagne.

Simply previous the Trois Pucelles we spot a steep grassy slope that was as soon as the positioning of ski leaping occasions through the 1968 Grenoble Olympic Video games.

Then, just like the Tour, we descend for about 18km from the highest of the plateau right into a panorama that opened up into alpine pastures, crisscrossed with gravel paths. It’s driving these paths that’s changing into more and more in style amongst locals right here, says Philippe, who covers no less than 200km per week on his ‘gravel bike’ – a cross between street and mountain bike.

Gravel biking, I uncover, is a throwback to when riders within the US weren’t allowed on principal roads and had no cycle paths, however a number of agricultural trails. In order that they took abnormal street bikes and put bigger tyres on them, creating one thing like an 80s mountain bikes with no suspension.

We proceed on, previous cows, sheep, and other people on curler skis, coaching for winter nordic snowboarding occasions, anticipation constructing for the class 3 Tour climb (with a gradient of 6.8%) to Villard de Lans at 1023m. I’ve actually not carried out a lot biking recently- how will I cope?

By the point we set off from the vacationer workplace at Saint-Nizier-de-Moucherotte, the Tour riders would have already carried out 150km.

As I attain the two.2km ascent, Cote 2000 (referring to the ski carry on the mountain prime quite than my summit at 1152m) I drop to my lowest gear and start to grind it out at a snail’s tempo. I thought of standing up and pushing onerous on the pedals, however who is aware of how lengthy this climb goes to go on for?

After 13 minutes I joyfully attain the Balcon de Villard the place I can reward myself with images below the Tour de France Billboard. I’ve lined 27km at the moment, versus the 164 of the tour riders, however nonetheless deserve a Blue du Vercors-Sassenage Tartiflette.

I’m certain that’s what stage winner, 24-year-old German Lennard Kämna – who lined it in 4 hours 12 would have carried out!

For extra info: Isere Tourism – Vercors Tourism


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