Mercier Rides - French Northern Alps

We all have our reasons for cycling. At Mercier, it's all about the pleasure of getting together in incredible places with friends, discovering new landscapes, exploring new routes, crossing mountain passes and... sharing good food. So when we organize our annual get-together in Annecy, capital of the French Alps and brand headquarters, we know: it's going to be great.

Day 1

The adventure begins on the shores of the lake, in Sevrier, opposite the iconic Tournette, which rises to 2300 m above sea level. We turn our backs on the lake, as we take the Col des Leschaux road, well known to all local cyclists. There are two possible routes: the D912, which winds through the forest for 12 km and offers a steady 3-4% average gradient. The more brutal D108 route from Saint-Jorioz offers superb views of the lake in exchange for a 7-8% average gradient. We obviously choose the second option. After an initial coffee break at La Chapelle-Saint-Maurice, whose fountain is said to offer very pure water, much to the delight of our water bottles, we set off downhill at more than 40 kph.

Arriving at Pont de Lescheraines, we headed back up towards La Motte-en-Bauges towards Bellecombe-en-Bauges, where we shared lunch at the restaurant “La Halte des Bauges”, run by Nadine, who is as efficient behind the bar as she is behind the stove. 

After a hearty meal, we hit the road again in the early afternoon. We climb a false flat to the Col de Leschaux, then speed down the twelve-kilometer descent to Sevrier.
Since we're by the lake, we might as well make the most of it: as soon as the bikes are put down, several members of the group take the opportunity to jump straight into the lake, just as the rain is about to start.  

At the end of the afternoon, after a short break, the bravest members of the group set off again in the direction of the Semnoz. The Semnoz is a bit like the local Mont Ventoux: the 360° view from the summit has to be earned. In fact, you have to climb the 12 km and 400 D+ to Leschaux, before attacking the beast: 14 km at 6% average for 800 ascent. And like its famous Provencal cousin, there's a special feature: there are no flats.

From the very first ramps, the group quickly explodes and everyone tries to tame the beast. Different techniques are deployed. The strongest, Bertrand and Mario, are neck and neck, followed by Théo. Martin, an experienced graphic designer who works on Mercier, gives up trying to keep up with the pace and climbs alone, a confrontation with the mountain.  

Slowly, the cyclists rise above the Bauges plateau, and finally liberation arrives: as they round a bend in the road, they leave the forest and enter a cirque, the last kilometer of which leads - at last - to the summit. Clouds may obscure the view of Mont Blanc, but the calm and absence of traffic give this suspended moment a feeling of weightlessness, of being alone in the world.

The grey of the clouds competes with that of the mountain, which has kindly accepted us. We put on our jackets and carefully make our way down the wet road to our base camp.
Aperitif, dinner, bedtime.
Day 2
Explore the Aravis. This emblematic range of French freeride skiing has a few well-kept secrets, including the Col de l'Arpettaz. Access is fairly straightforward, as an old railroad line has been converted into a cycle path.

From Sevrier, we covered the 30 kilometers of flat road to Ugine. This was a much-needed warm-up, as we turned left and attacked “straight up the slope”: 1160 m of ascent at an average gradient of 7%. To give us courage, there are our friends, of course, but also the bright sunshine that accompanies us at the end of May.  

Most of the road is through forest, again with very few cars, then the last few kilometers offer sublime views over the valley as we climb. On our left, Mont Charvin overlooks the road leading to the Arpettaz refuge.

Pause café. Franckguide74, who has kindly agreed to spend a day with us, takes the opportunity to share a few anecdotes from his life as a mountain guide.

The Alps are all about climbs and... descents! We set off again towards the Gorges de l'Arly: ten kilometers of fast, winding descent brought us back to the valley, 1000 meters below. The bravest lead the way at 60-70 km/h, with the rest of the group following. We regroup before heading back to Annecy, but if we're going to be here, we might as well be generous.  

After only a few kilometers of flat terrain, we arrive in Marlens. We turn left to climb to the Col de l'Épine, where we've planned a well-deserved picnic.

Fountain break, cans. Charlotte, a talented photographer, and Stéphane, an equally gifted videographer, are determined to shoot in the rain. So we plunge into the thunderstorms we can see in the distance.  

We left the Tounette mountain on our left and headed for Thônes, then Alex, and finally Veyrier-du-Lac. Despite our best efforts, the rain dodges our beetles. The sky is black and threatening but, to Charlotte and Stéphane's despair, not a drop. And yet we see it falling a few kilometers away from us, but it's impossible to catch it.

We head south around the lake and make our way serenely back to Sevrier - the rain doesn't want us there.  

Diving into the lake, aperitif, sunset, meal. 

Day 3

It's Sunday, and Sunday is market day. We head for Annecy, a medieval village also nicknamed “the Venice of the Alps” because of its many canals. We take a few minutes to visit the old town before heading north around the lake towards the Col de la Forclaz. A famous pass, as it offers a breathtaking view of the lake.  

The road is much busier than the routes taken in previous days: cars, tourists, motorcycles... they're all there. We climb at our own pace before reaching the summit.

You'll be familiar with the program: coffee break. And already it's time to head off for a last lunch and meal, and to part, conscious of having lived a few days outside of time.

Days that count and that, even when the years have passed, will leave a mark on each and every one of us.
Thank you Myriam and Mario, who came from Quebec when we knew so little, for their kindness and generosity. Smiles we won't forget.
Thanks to:
Marc, living happily in Annecy.
Maurane and Johann, making the most of the Alps.
Bertrand, Martin, Théo: we had our fair share of Parisians.
Franck, a high-flying mountain guide whose knowledge of the local massifs is matched only by his legendary playlist.
Fanny, Jeanne and Camille, for their invaluable help and the delicious meals.
Charlotte and Stéphane for putting this adventure into pictures.

Djouls, Charlie, apéro team. Ha, and also technical support. Gilles and Camile, who lent us their house. Émile, thank you for making these moments of sharing possible.

Vive le vélo.

Photos: Charlotte Lindet