“Its a mans thing” is my wife’s usual response when confronted with ideas like climbing 14000m on a bike through various Alpine mountain passes. When I was climbing up my first col in boiling hot sunshine, I became very quickly aware that this exercise in futility was definitely not a “man thing” because I was being passed with ease by any number of women on bikes.
So I had proven definitively that climbing a 2800m mountain on a bike in 30C sunshine wasn’t just a “man thing” and whilst sweating my way up the pass I desperately tried to figure out what it was that made mankind take on these kind of challenges. I can tell you that when the heart is pounding, the legs are aching and there isn’t seemingly enough oxygen on the entire planet to fill my lungs, there is very little else to keep the mind active.
I would like to say the views are spectacular but when you know if you look up from the road and enjoy your surroundings your concentration will be gone and you will be lost. There is about a square foot of the road just in front of the front tyre that takes every bit of concentration. However, glory be, when you turn that final hairpin and realise you are within striking distance of the summit there is a sense of elation and satisfaction that totally overcomes the overwhelming fatigue felt only a matter of seconds before.
At the summit you can actually enjoy the outstanding views and take a breather, however you are then faced with the tortuous effort of the descent. The experienced road cyclists hurtle down the mountains overtaking irate motorcyclists and vehicles. Me, well it was a more sedate passage with a lot of use of the brakes, but all the time the words of the experience cyclists were ringing in my ears not to use the brakes because the wheel hubs heat up and the tyres explode!! Rather stuck between a rock and a hard place on that one. The choice of hurtling off a cliff edge at 80mph or my wheel exploding due to excessive brake heat was not a particularly attractive decision to face. I favoured the application of brakes and although my wheel rims probably did heat up to explosive temperatures I am still here today to write this blog.
So what did the Geneva Nice cycle involve. There are many well ridden routes and our route included climbing 12 major cols in 5 days. We did take a rest day in Valloire, but on the basis that “real men” don’t do resting, we headed over to the Alpe D’Huez that day and climbed it. I have to say that there was a certain fascination with climbing the very roads that are soaked in cycling folklore with the many Tour de France triumphs and failures that have taken place on those very slopes.
Overall there was about 14000m of climbing and 600kms of distance, (excluding Alpe D’Huez). I cycled 3 of the 12 cols, (Alpe d’Huez is apparently not classified as a col), and supported the team on the other days. Beleive me one col a day was about right for me. I could have possibly done 2, but 3 would have required an intensive 6 month training camp.
It is a very different form of cycling with long gradients, sometimes over 20km where establishing a rhythm between your breathing and cycling cadence is most important. It has to be said though, that the sharp short climbs you experience in the Yorkshire Dales and Devon are just as tough in their own way because it is impossible to establish any kind of rhythm and no sooner have you settled than you are at the top.
The outstanding memory of the trip was the vast number of cyclists on the road on every col. It was great to see so many cyclists out “enjoying” the experience. I did wonder if we built a 2500m hill in the middle of England would cyclists from all over the world come to it to cycle up it?? The negative on the trip were the large number of cars, motorhomes and motorbikes also on the road. In my youth I always remember the French roads being quiet with only occasional traffic. This sadly has changed for the worse.
So what next?? Well at Cycle Tours UK we are thinking about setting up some “Col Training Camps”, ie you take a long weekend, fly out to Geneva, stay in a lovely villa and do chosen cols each day, with the comfort of knowing that at the end of the day a lovely swimming pool, good food and a cold beer await. Does that sound appealing? This would give us mere mortals a chance to take on the challenge of col climbing and perhaps prepare for a more rigorous ride like the Geneva Nice tour.
Get in touch if this or any other tour sounds like something you might like to take on.