Cycling the Col de la Colombière from Scionzier (1613 metres)

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Sunday 3 September 2017

Cycling the Col de la Colombière from Scionzier (1613 metres)

So I was about to start writing about our ascent today of the Col de la Colombiere, a 16.3km, 6.8% average gradient Tour de France climb reaching 1613 metres a little way south of Geneva....when it suddenly struck me this was our first 'new' Tour de France climb in almost 2 years! Not since September 2015 have we ridden over a climb like this for the first time since the others we've been doing recently have been revisited ones like the Col d'Aspin and the Col Louren Azet in the Pyrenees. Anyway, a bit of an aside but worth mentioning I thought....back to the climb.

As with pretty much every other Tour de France climb we've ever done, the average gradient should be taken with a pinch of salt (with the possible exception of the Col du Granon which really was 10%+ the whole way) since there is a pretty flat 2km run in before the climbing begins along with another 2km flattish section of 2-3% slap in the middle, making this a real climb of 2 halves.

Starting just outside of Cluses, in the village of Scionzier just off the road between Geneva and Chamonix, the first 'half' of the ascent was fairly even at around 6-8% through forested hillside providing a good bit of shade as well as a wonderfully crisp, cool, mountain air feel to invigorate our legs. After a few chilly days of rain the suns return this morning was very welcome, but not so much while pounding up a hill, so the trees created a really nice balance as well as a lovely soft light scattered by the green leaves. For the most part the road was pretty good as well so the numerous cars and motorbikes heading upwards had plenty of room to pass without feeling like they were trying to share our bike saddles which sometimes feels like the case. I still jump at some of the motorbike engines revving past though, each rider mentally racing the Isle of Man TT I'm sure.

At the halfway point we reached the picturesque Alpine village of Le Reposoir right at the point that the road emerges out of the trees and onto much more open hillside. Snow dusted rocky summits now came into view, although the snow is probably a little early and a result of the recent bad weather. It was stunning, so stunning I even stopped on the way up to take a picture of the village church against the mountain backdrop.

After Le Reposoir the climbing started again with a vengeance. Of the remaining 8km a couple were 6% and 7% but the rest were 8%+, with the final 3km run in to the col at 9%, 10% and 11% respectively. The road was still good and with far fewer trees the views were sweeping in the sunshine. It was fantastic. A really exhilarating feeling to be back on our bikes in the French Alps again with the distant col ticking slowly towards us pedal stroke by sweaty pedal stroke. Arriving at the col we found a busy restaurant doing a good trade, dozens of cars lining the road and filling the small parking area and dozens more cyclists posing for pictures with the Col de la Col0mbiere 1613 metres sign (which of course we did too, or at least would have done if I had been patient enough to wait. Esther did though).

Incidentally, we did the climb separately today, first me going up alone and descending back the same side, and then Esther going up alone with me driving up a while later and then driving down the other side together. The reason for this, on the surface, is that one of us stays back with the pups in case the ride takes longer than expected, but in truth we found it very natural and probably quite an improvement on our old habit of sticking together all the way up and descending together as well. There are at least two reasons for this. Firstly, in the past we usually found that one of us would always feel stronger than the other (Esther dropped me plenty of times) and trying to stick together was just harder work, with the downside that one of us felt bad struggling to 'keep up' while the other was held back. When this happened, usually, we'd just agree to go at our own pace and so drift apart on the road anyway. Secondly, Esther hates going downhill fast, while I love it. Therefore our descents usually used to involve me stopping every few kilometres while she caught up. In contrast, going up one after the other, means we both just go at our own pace and, with me following up in the van, Esther doesn't have to go down either. Win-win. Thanks pups.

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