Friday 5 October 2012

The Chateau-d’Oex Loop Ride

 August 30, 2012

Having enjoyed the Gruyère Cycling Tour so much, I determined to ride the additional part of the longer course I had not ridden on Sunday.  I had been happy to ride 88 km and 1200 m vertical for one day’s effort but saw that using my rental car I could ride a loop that would cover the section of the 125 km course I had not seen.

Departing at 9:30 on a cool sunny Wednesday, I drove through Broc and passed Gruyères, its impressive castle looming overhead, and quickly covered the 28 kms to Chateau-d’Oex but since there was no obvious parking spot on the main road I continued a bit further to Les Granges.  There was a nice little parking lot “for customers only” but since the restaurant across the street was now out of business I did not think there would be any issues with using the space.  I unpacked the bike, got changed and at 10:14 began to ride east towards Saanen.

When I saw a sign for the Swiss National Cycling Route 5/9 (a combination of two routes), I decided to follow this rather than taking the main road I had ridden on during the Gruyère Cycling Tour in the opposite direction.  These cycling routes tend to go along quiet secondary roads, often used by farmers, and although not always very flat they are usually quite scenic.  Turning off the main road, I discovered that the first section of the bike route was pretty terrible, consisting of broken concrete on a steep downhill grade.  It led me through a narrow tunnel with a curve in it and somewhat more traffic than I had expected.  But soon enough I was riding in the open, on a beautifully-paved path that meandered through the countryside and soon brought me to Rougemont, with its impressive backdrop of exposed stone mountains.

The bike route took me through the little town and then parallel to the main road until I reached Saanen, which had been the point furthest away from Bulle during the Gruyère Cycling Tour.  I followed the red route markers south now and in 3 kms arrived in the famous alpine resort of Gstaad.  I was impressed by the newish high-rise building with the old-style towers attached to it that dominates the view and I took a quick look down the main pedestrian street but Gstaad was not all that impressive, looking much like any other the other Swiss villages I had passed through.  There was a big sign for the Menuhin music festival and on the outskirts of the village I saw a huge event tent but besides a few fancy shops and some nice chalets nothing much out of the ordinary.

The bike route continued south along the Saane River, gently climbing.  At Gsteig I came across a sign for the Col du Pillon, my next challenge, and it noted that the road would climb 360 m over the next 6.5 kms, which did not sound that difficult.  The road climbed gradually but then after Reusch it descended, meaning I would have to make up the lost altitude, so my work was cut out for me.  I passed a cable car station, which looked quite forlorn in summer, and after a moment I was passed by a classic Mercedes-Benz Gullwing sports car from the 1950s.  The driver was satisfied with reaching the summit of the Col du Pillon since the car passed me in the other direction a few minutes later.

With a final push I was up to the flat summit, which again had numerous restaurants.  I had to ride to the far side to find the col sign and a nice motorcyclist came over and took a photo for me.  Having reached 1546 m ASL it was time to head further west and a rather terrifying descent followed as the road dropped at around 11% on the way to Les Diablerets, losing 400 m in only 4 kms.  For the first time during the day I saw some other cyclists as they came up towards the summit, looking tired.

The last time I was in Les Diablerets was in 1974.  I was doing a cycling tour of Western Europe with my friend Karl directly after graduating from high school.  We had ridden to Friedrichshafen and left our bikes there for a detour to Switzerland by train.  At our hotel in Geneva the owner suggested that if we wanted to see the Alps we should go to Les Diablerets and we enjoyed our short stay there, and the narrow-gauge railway ride that brought us up from Aigle.

After 38 years Les Diablerets did not look all that different except that it was much larger than I recalled.  All the buildings are in the classic Alpine chalet style so things look fairly ageless.  I just hope that 38 years from now I look so prosperous myself!

Continuing on the main road towards Aigle for 10 kms I passed over a very long and extremely high bridge before turning right on Route 11 and beginning to climb again.  Although it was not marked at the intersection where I turned, I was now on the road taking me to the Col des Mosses.  There was no traffic at all and I climbed steadily, with a beautiful view over the valley to the right and forest to the left.  There was a spray-painted message on the road which would have been encouragement for Jean-Paul on Sunday’s Gruyère Cycling Tour but otherwise it was just me.

I pulled off the road at La Camballaz, where a little wooden bus shelter also offered a place to refill my water bottles.  A couple got out of a car and walked across the street.  They called their cows home, saying “Hop, hop!” much as Jean-Paul’s supporters had written.  Two cyclists came downhill at a good rate of speed, which meant that I still had some climbing to do.

The road began to level off and sooner than I expected I had reached the village of Col des Mosses but I actually had to ride through it to reach the summit.  No motorcyclists around so there is just a photo of the trusty Tarmac and the col sign (1445 m ALS) to prove we were there and then downhill we went.  The first next 3-4 kms were exactly my kind of descent, gentle with open curves and I proceeded to La Lecherette at quite high speed.  The next 6 kms was much steeper and full of very tight hairpins taking me through the Valley of l’Etivaz and then through a deep cut into the rock at the Pissot Canyon before the final steep descent that brought me back to Chateau-d-Oex.  

Getting back to the main road required another little climb, bringing me through a roundabout where there was a sign commemorating the world’s first non-stop around-the-world balloon flight which was actually launched in Chateau-d’Oex and then I headed back towards the car in Les Granges, noticing that the main road required yet more ascending.

The car was where I had left it and as I prepared to pack up another cyclist rode by towards Chateau-d’Oex and gave me a friendly wave.  It had been a wonderful sunny day on the road and I had covered almost 66 kms and climbed 1127 m in all with two nice climbs and more amazing Swiss scenery.   

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