After spending our first day in the world-renowned vineyards of the French Beaujolais, we decide to go in search of another face of the region. “You should check out the Col de Crie,” one local tells us. “You get some great views and you finish in this beautiful forest. It’s pretty unique.”
Words and images by James Startt
Needless to say, we need little prompting and on this Sunday morning we roll out from Beaujeu, which had turned into our “kilometer zero” for the weekend getaway. The September sun is still warm, but the early-morning temperatures are already nodding to autumn. Fifounet and Tamas, our Zipp ambassadors for the weekend, cruise easily out of town past Les Dépôts on the D 43, chatting on the valley roads and warming up before the real climbing begins.
Suddenly, the road makes a sweeping 90-degree turn and starts climbing. An ensuing left turn takes us above tree line for the first time. As we continue climbing, the scenery calls to mind the lushness of the Appalachians as we move in and out of the trees. No, we’re not on the Blue Ridge Parkway, but the views are just as satisfying.
“Man, the diversity of this region is something I didn’t expect,” says Tamas, who moved to the nearby city of Lyon three years ago to study cooking. “I mean, I know the wine well but we are suddenly very far from the vineyards now.”
Arriving at the Haut-Beaujolais tourism office that sits atop the Col de Crie, we decide to stop for an early lunch, as eateries in such remote corners of France tend to close early on Sunday. Inside, they offer an array of regional specialties and the day’s lunch platter is an instant hit. After all, it seems only fitting to taste a selection of mild goat cheeses and cold cuts as we discover the region. And as we relax on one of the picnic tables on the edge of the woods, it’s clear that we’re not the only ones with such Sunday lunch plans, as groups of friends and families spread out in the park area.
After a relaxed lunch, it’s time to tackle the final slopes toward Mont Saint-Rigaud. Known only to locals, the remote Mont Saint-Rigaud is by far the most challenging part of the ride. From the Col de Crie, a narrow road penetrates the dense forest with extended pitches hovering around 10 percent. Conversation quickly comes to a halt as Tamas and Fifounet concentrate on the climbing.
As we soon learn, this corner of Beaujolais is logging country, and the dense forest stands in impressive contrast to the vineyards in the valleys below. Taking a break as we come to a corner of freshly cut timber, Fifounet and Tamas look out on this surprising landscape. “This is quite some climb,” says Fifounet, a popular cycling personality in the area—not to mention the best beard in Beaujolais on this weekend! “It’s a pure climb. And this forest is simply magical! I never expected to be in a place like this when I signed up for a weekend in Beaujolais.”
After making their way to the summit, they attack the descent. And like so many of the descents in this region it’s plenty technical. Mirroring the steep narrow roads that we’ve climbed, the descent back into the valley is not for the faint of heart. But Fifounet and Tamas have little problem, attacking it with their Zipp 404 and 303 wheels. “I just love the 404s on the descent,” Tamas says later. “They literally claw into the turns. They are stiff yet stable, so you can really attack descents with confidence.”
And the descent continues once we’re back in the valley as the D337 widens and its sweeping turns allow our ambassadors to hit 60 kilometers an hour. “Wow, what a great loop,” Fifounet says. “It’s not that long but it’s so varied. There is something for everybody there. Gorgeous, it was just gorgeous!”