I made 2016 the year of the Col. It didn’t start out as such but the more I rode throughout the spring and summer I thought that there was a chance of riding up to at least TEN cols this year. Due to a foot operation my season is now finished but I have put together a little package of the ten cols I managed to ride this year with a little description of each and some extra useful info if you want to take them on yourself.
In April we went to Milan for a few days and having again considered changing the gearing and braking system to hide the brake cables under the bar tape and make the bike more modern and cable free I strapped the bike to the car and detoured via the DeRosa factory in downtown Milan. After ringing the doorbell outside the empty shop front I was met by a mechanic who, following my intro of ‘Parla Inglesé?, led me into the ‘back room’ which turned out to be the factory where all DeRosa frames are built. I expected the mechanics to stare lovingly at my classic bike and make me, and the bank manager, an offer I couldn’t refuse so I was stunned when he said that for the cost of the repair I might as well buy a new bike and thrust a catalogue of the latest models into my hand!! However ,it was great to see inside the factory and see where all the modern bikes are made.
Whilst in Milan we visited the Bianchi store and checked out some of the bikes as well as the 40Euro coffee cups which we decided, as nice as they were, we could live without….
….and found a cycle event that we’ll have to check out as well as air machines that should be everywhere for cyclists to fill up on when necessary
Col #1: Pas de Morgins 1369m
Monday 16 May 2016, with Alan Potts
My first major outing of the year came in May, when I rode with Alan over to Evian and up to Abondance, Chatel and onto Morgins. I had looked over the route beforehand and thought ‘150km, that’s about 5 hours and a bit’! For some reason I had not factored in the climbing and the wind factor which meant the whole route took us a little short of 8 hours, all in!! I found it tough going, especially on the climb out of Evian and driving into the wind towards Abondance it felt as though I was going backwards at times. The road into Chatel from Abondance seems fairly innocuous too but the constant climb at a low gradient made my very glad to get to the Morgins pass and take a break for a few minutes before the descent to Monthey. I also received a great bit of advice from Alan who said he always focuses on his cadence and never on speed or time and always tries to cycle at the same leg speed regardless of gradient or gear, which I have since started to adopt and it certainly makes a difference in how you approach different terrain.
Col #2: Col des Aravis 1498m, Col #3: Col de la Colombière 1618m, Col #4: Col de Joux Plane, 1691m
Part of L’Etape du Tour, Morzine to Megève. Sunday 10 July 2016, alone….but with about 15,000 others!!
My preparation going into the L’Etape had not been the best, with some bad weather disrupting all the plans I had to put in some long, steep rides. Therefore I did not know what to expect other than that it was going to be damn hard with it being the 20th stage of the official Tour de France 2016. A steady roll out of Morzine at about 8am led us to the Col des Aravis, the first climb of three scheduled. Initially the route had four cols in but the planned third was deemed unsuitable for so many riders to pass over it so it was left to the TDF racers only! The ride to the top of the Col Des Aravis was gentle to begin with, as we rode through the forest and then the road started to switchback gaining height, 6.7km at 7%, although not to the point where it was a real struggle. A quick stop for a photo and I continued onto the Col de la Colombière which really spread the field out with its long winding roads and constant height gain, 11.7km at 5.8%. There is something quite unnerving about looking up and beyond and seeing riders almost a mile in the distance still climbing and looking as though they are hardly moving, knowing that that is where you are heading eventually!! The descent from the top of the Col de la Colombiere was one of the most incredible I have ridden with roads hugging the hillside on one side but open on the other with no barrier protecting you from dropping off the side to the bottom of the valley below. It was not great to see some fellow riders in some distress on the side of the road having taken corners too quickly or mistimed their braking. However there is nothing like a descent on an open, and yet closed, road to get your juices going and this was one of the best ever! After passing through Taninges and bizarrely seeing my wife and daughters by the side of the road, not expecting to see me nor me them, we hit Samoens and turned a sharp corner to start the ascent towards La Joux Plane. Only 11.6km to the top but with a gradient of 8.5% this was going to test me to my maximum.
One of the best things I find about doing these events is the number of people riding who you think look so much fitter and stronger with better bikes than you but who find it just as difficult as you do and suffer just as much!! The sheer volume of riders always gives you someone to try and catch or ride with which actually takes your mind a little off what you are trying to do.
The road to La Joux Plane rises and rises with some sharp turns and long switchbacks and its important to keep a rhythm and try to maintain a steady pace. Eventually, after keeping a very close eye on the Garmin’s distance calculator, the banners of L’Etape came into view and we rounded the lake at the top of the Joux Plane. For the first time ever whilst cycling I had cramp in both calves and could just about get off the bike before taking a well deserved break….and a photo! 110km in and 12km to go…
The short 10km descent into Morzine flew by, after negotiating a cheeky little 1km climb to Col du Ranfolly at 1656m, and within 15 minutes I was at the finish area with my medal around my neck. A great experience and I will definitely consider doing this again, wherever l’Etape might land next time.
We stayed at Hotel Chamois D’Or in Cordon which was a 20 minute cycle ride from Megève. The service and detail in the hotel were immaculate, as was the food. A beautiful setting and thoroughly recommended
Col #5: Col de la Forclaz 1527m & Col #6: Col de la Guelaz, 1985m
Part of Stage 17 of the Tour de France 2016. Tuesday 19 July 2016, with Jean-Pierre Mlodynia Zink and friend
Three of us decided to take on the 22nd stage of the Tour de France, the day before the pro’s came through, to see what the route was like but also to take in some of the atmosphere with the caravan and all the spectators mostly already in place. And also to say that we cycled a stage of the TdF!! Setting off from just past Bex on the way to Martigny, we climbed the Col de la Forclaz at our own speed, being passed all the time by the big TdF and RTS TV lorries. As we got nearer to the top we passed motorhomes that people had parked up ready to support their favourite riders tomorrow. It soon dawned on us that some people must follow the Tour this way every year, setting up camp the day before the tour passes through then driving to the next venue as soon as the riders have passed. A quick stop at the Forclaz and we descended towards Trient and despite one of us missing the turn off towards Finhaut we regrouped and then steadied ourselves for the ascent towards Emosson.
This was possibly the hardest climb I have ever done due to the constant gradient and there never being a time when you could freewheel or relax for a moment. However it is possibly also the most rewarding due to the constant encouragement we got from the spectators on the side of the road and knowing that the pro’s were going to struggle up this same road tomorrow. And the views….wow!! We were not able to get all the way to the end of the road due to the lorries taking over the car park so we left our bikes and walked the rest for some well deserved lunch. The view from the restaurant and the sight of another smaller road leading up to another little dam further on after the larger one (which you can make out on the left of the photo below) means we might be back one day to conquer that….
The lunch of champions….croute au fromage avec jambon et oeuf !!! Can’t be beaten
Tour de France, Col des Mosses. Wednesday 20 July 2016
After cycling part of the route of the 17th stage of the Tour de France yesterday, we couldn’t let the event pass without going to check it out somewhere. We decided to go to Col des Mosses as it was the end of one of the King of the Mountain stages and one of the most spectacular in terms of scenery.
Sanibel Island, Florida. Saturday 6 August 2016
No sign of any cols, let alone hills, here but it was good to get out on hire bikes to see Sanibel Island in Florida and check out the nature wildlife reserve, set up by J.N. ‘Ding’ Darling under the Roosevelt Presidency, one of the largest of its kind in the USA.
We stayed at the Seaside Inn on Sanibel Island for 2 nights. The rooms were very clean and comfortable as was the pool area and a path led directly onto the beach which is renowned for its shells. We rented bikes for the whole day for no charge.
Col #7: Col de la Croix, 1778m
Saturday 13 August 2016, with Steve Windsor
Steve came to stay with us in August for a few days on his way back home from Italy and the plan was to go and do three days of cycling using our apartment as the base. However a combination of knee pain, a couple of weeks of holiday without cycling and Steve not being used to riding hills, only the flatlands of Essex, meant we did a couple of short rides before tackling a ‘Col’ that Steve was desperate to do. We abandoned our plans to ride the Tour of Mont Blanc, which can wait until next year, and set off instead on a Saturday morning for the Col de la Croix, above Villars. This route took us through Montreux to Aigle along the N9 and then up a long climb to Sepéy and then the mountain town of Les Diablerets. After the atypical cyclist’s rest stop of coffee and cake we headed up the back road from Les Diablerets to the Col de la Croix, a reasonably quiet road except for some classic convertibles, and then descended down into Villars for lunch at the Cookie Café. The view at the top of the Col de la Croix is stunning and its no surprise it is a popular spot with hikers and motorcyclists as well. The descent from Villars to Ollon is one of my favourites with its long switchbacks so you are able to see any traffic coming towards you well in advance. What’s not a favourite is the long drag from Ollon to home, through Villeneuve, which always seems as though you are battling against the wind irrespective of the weather or time of day.
Post ride drinks at Le Rouvenaz Terrace, Montreux
Col #8: Sonchaux, 1262m
Sunday 21 August, with JP Mlodynia Zink & Tom Chatfield
Not strictly a Col per se but a rough, tough old climb nonetheless, following the road from the back of Villeneuve towards the Col de Chaude, through the forest and turning off towards the Auberge de Sonchaux. Before the Auberge the road climbs almost vertically and the turns are so tight you gain almost 5metres in height with each one.
Tour of Lausanne, Sunday 28 August with JP Mlodynia Zink and Rob Brooks
A nice and easy ride out with the La Tour Cycle Club (LTCC) from La Tour de Peilz to Lausanne to Oron la Ville to Chatel St Denis and back to La Tour again, stopping off to check out some classic cars in Blonay. Nice place for lunch in Lutry is La Terrasse. Great salads and plats du jours…
Col #9: Col du Mittelberg, 1633m
Part of the Gruyere Cycling Tour
Sunday 4 September 2016 with JP Mlodynia Zink and 600 others
JP and I signed up for the 116km Gruyere Cycling Tour which would start in Charmey and take in the Col des Mosses, Col du Pillon and then the Col du Mittelberg before returning to Charmey. Due to JP’s concerns over whether his Bianchi would last the distance, we decided to follow the shorter route of 76km from Charmey to Montbovon, Chateaux d’Oex and finally the Col du Mittelberg. The first 50 or so kilometres we were able to tag along with a group and make great progress, taking our turn at the front before settling in and being swept along by the peloton. Once we had started to ascend out of Gstaad towards Saanenmoser the road got steeper and after turning off towards Underbort, the road meandered through the trees and a river before starting the climb towards Mittelberg. Rather like the climb to Emosson, the road never let up and around every corner was another gradient to deal with. The section between Pringy and Mittelberg was timed and I came in 62nd of all participants in the 76km run, in a time of 2.09.38.
Col #10: Col des Mosses, 1445m
Sunday 25 September 2016, alone
For what was going to be my last big ride of the year (due to my upcoming operation) I decided to head to Col des Mosses as, although I had been to watch the Tour de France there in July, I had never actually ridden it and I wanted to see if the continuation of the route to Lac d’Hongrin and down to Yvorne was possible. The road from Sepéy towards Les Diablerets was known but the turn off towards Les Mosses was pretty steep and continuous, only settling down a couple of kilometres before the Col itself. The weather was stunning and after lunching on the plat du jour in the Relais Alpin restaurant we made our way to Lac d’Hogrin to see if the route was rideable.
As it turned out you can access Lac d’Hongrin by bike but cannot follow it all the way around so need to stay on the higher road once you have turned off the road from Les Mosses at La Lecherette. This higher road will eventually bring you to Corbeyrier, from where you descend through a narrow tunnel and very steep roads with short, sharp turns to Yvorne. This descent would not be for the faint hearted and the ascent would challenge the very best cyclists in the World.
I thought a trip to Lugano at the end of September for Jeune Federal weekend might give me the chance to check out some more cycles routes in Italy but in the end I did not take my bike due to the weather forecast and a possible lack of time to get out and ride, both of which turned out to be true. However, whilst drinking an Aperol on the balcony of our apartment I started thinking about potential rides for next year, starting with a tour of the Italian Lakes (Lugano, Maggiore & Como) in Spring 2017. Cycling around the lakes with a few hills like these thrown in for fun could be a great trip!! If you are interested in joining, drop me a line….
The view from Monte San Salvatore down to Lugano, hidden on the left
As my season is now over following my operation I have plenty of time to start planning my trips for 2017. First priority is getting my entry in for the Maratona dles Dolomites in July 2017. Hopefully this will be third time lucky…..
Enjoy the rest of 2016.