Wednesday, August 29, 2012


Well, this is the last post about our trip to France and it ends with a doozy!  The Col du Glandon, 1,611 meters of climbing, 24 km long, with the last 3 km the equivalent of riding up a wall - good thing there was wind up there too to make it a bit more challenging!

This just may have been the best way to end our trip.  I was feeling good and strong and had some "carrots" along the way.  There was a group of 8 guys who started the climb the same time I did and I chatted to one of them for several minutes, it was great to have a local to answer the questions I had.  There had been quite a bit of animal poop, so I was wondering what kind of wildlife lived in these mountains.  Apparently there were no bears, but lots of fox; though I didn't see any wildlife on our rides.

Four of the group passed me close to the bottom, but I started to catch each one who would tow me up to about 4 bike lengths to his friend, I would take my turn at the front, and proceed to drop each one; was a pretty good confidence builder.  Heading in to Saint-Colomban-des-Villards, roughly the half way mark, I had passed 3 of the 4 riders who had passed me, drafter a mountain biker who was trucking, and been passed by a blue jersey guy with massive legs.  

Going through the town it is a little downhill and I ramped it up, passing the blue jersey guy, but then the pitch picked up again and although it wasn't that steep I felt like I hit a wall.  I have decided that I prefer when climbs are steady ups; it's tough to adjust to big differences in grade.  Needless to say, the blue jersey passed me again and I stayed on his wheel as long as I could until my legs said no more.

The next sections had some switch backs and you could see the riders in front of you, so I became motivated once again to push myself and catch them, and I was feeling really strong - until I hit the 3 km to go point.  It is at this moment where the incline turns red, the road becomes vertical, and there was wind, strong wind.

The nice thing about switch backs though is that you may have the head wind for a bit, but then you turn and have the tail wind, but the top of the Glandon was still tough and the last kilometre felt like it took forever.  But I made it, as you can see in the picture.

After cresting the Glandon it is only 3 more kilometres to the Col de la Croix de Fer where there was a restaurant and Darin was waiting for me.  It feels flat between these 2 summits, but I had nothing left in my legs to push it the extra 3 km and hobbled in.  There happened to be a mountain bike race taking place, so as we ate lunch we watched the mountain bikers push there limits at the top of the mountain.

We stopped for some pictures on the way down and then the fun began.

The descents from these big climbs were a lot of fun, though the cars got in the way as they were slower on the turns and didn't always stay in their lanes.  I would love to come back and descend with closed roads so I could take the fastest way down the mountain.

Here is a video of part of the descent:

What a great trip!  Can't wait to come back next year.  We have a place booked for July 7-14, 2013.  If you're interested in joining us e-mail me at

Tuesday, August 14, 2012


Darin was starting to go through big Col withdrawal and presented the idea of going to do the Col de la Madeleine, a 19 km, 1,522 meter, Hors Category climb averaging 8%; not a walk in the park, but not horrifically hard either.  This climb was part of the Tour de France this year, stage 11, a 148 km day that had riders go up the Madeleine and then up the Col de Glandon (which Darin and I did the next day) in 4 hours, 43 minutes, a little faster then us.

It was just over an hour drive to get to La Chambre from Duingt with a stop in Albertville for coffee.  The flags were still flying from when the Tour went through and you could see where the pros had gone, it was pretty neat with the little yellow, green, white and polka dot jerseys hanging above the traffic.

I really enjoyed this climb.  The town of La Chambre was quaint and looked to thrive on tourism brought in by the Tour and cyclists, and we were by no means the only cyclists riding this day.   This whole area is surrounded by mountains, everywhere you look you see peaks, and then there are the ones hiding behind the visible ones.  It is a trick to figure out which one is the one we are climbing, even as you get in to the final kilometres.  What I liked about the Madeleine is that you go through the forested bottom but can see the quick gains in altitude that you accomplish through the trees, there are a few little towns that you go through and can use the public fountain to fill up water bottles, there is a ski village with 6 km to go that provides scenery to look at and then the last 6 km are clear and feel a bit epic.  

I have rarely listened to music while riding over here, but with 3 km to go I plugged in to the soundtrack from Chasing Legends and could picture the pro cyclists and legends who have ridden this climb before me and started to pick up the pace.  With the official top in site and a restaurant and gift shop at the top where Darin hung out while he waited for me, I was motivated to finish strong

Next up, Col de Glandon, a real killer!

Wednesday, August 8, 2012


Semnoz was our next big goal.  It is rated as an HC climb, which I found out after having climbed it, and is 18 km long, which was long enough for me!  We started once again on the bike path before heading up the hill.  I love that you see everything on this bike path; huge picnic baskets on front racks, beach gear on the bike, dogs being towed in trailers more often the kids, roller bladders, scooters, everything except pedestrians.  In Canada, people don’t even look right or left before crossing a bike path, they just cross and I have come very close to hitting several of them.  Here, pedestrians look right and left in fear, very apprehensive to step on to the asphalt and cross over to the beach or snack bar.  Kids of all ages stay back, and even more impressively, when on a bike they stay to the right and ride in a straight line.  At home I’m nervous to pass kids on bikes as they are unpredictable and have had several close calls, and one crash.  Here, I pass them with no hesitation.  Brilliant.

Back to the climb, here is a video preview.  

I’ve learnt that the views at the bottom of the climbs are beautiful, half way up you start to get some glimpses as to how high you have climbed thinking “wow, I’ve come up a long way pretty quickly.  Can’t believe how small Annecy looks from up here already!”  Three-quarters of the way up your spending less time looking around and more time focused on the pavement ahead, doing the math in your head about the distance that is left and how long it will take you; if another cyclist passes you may or may not try to stay with them, and depending on how steep it is not even care.  I have come up with a good scoring system though.  I get one point for every cyclists that I pass and take away 1 point for every cyclist that passes me.  So far I am doing pretty well by passing almost twice as many riders as those who are passing me, even scored double digits on Alpe d’Huez!

With 3 km to go I’m not even looking around anymore, I’m just trying to finish and on the Semnoz I reached a parking lot thinking “the top has to be close, doesn’t it?!”  But the house above looked to be eons away and unreachable, but I plugged on and before I knew it found Darin waiting for me, of course, and was able to admire the stunning views from the top.  Best climb by far if the reward of a vista is the marker by which to be judged, don’t you think?

Friday, August 3, 2012


Darin was still feeling the effects of his epic week in the mega-mountains, so I rode on my own today, exploring the bike paths.  Went around the lake and up the Col de Bluffy, a 2.5 km climb that isn’t all that steep.  This picture was the view I had for most of the ride leading up to Bluffy.

I had seen on Strava that there was 1 female who had a result and if I could hold over 12 km/hr I could gain the title.  So I pushed it and came out on top with an average of 13.8 km/hr and the Queen of the Mountain Title … which lasted only a few hours.  Shortly after I returned to the hotel and uploaded my data, my new nemesis uploaded her data from a few days earlier.  I’m not used to being anywhere near the top of a leader board on a climb – though I did win a bronze medal at the Alberta Provincial Hill Climbing Championships one year (results of lots of training); but it was nice to have the title for a bit.  What hurt through is that she was 6 seconds faster.  6 SECONDS!   What hurts even more is that she is from Toronto. 

So I came all the way to France to make a mark on a climb only to be beat by another Torontonian.  Am seriously thinking of going back to sprinting, forgetting all this hill climbing business.  If only you didn’t have to ride up the hills to come down them!


We’re currently staying in a small town 10 km outside of Annecy, on Lac Annecy, called Duingt (Doo-en if you are French, Done-gu-nit if you are Darin).  The lake, though glacially fed, is warm and very clean.  Apparently it was too clean at one point and all the fish were dying because they had nothing to eat.

Our hotel is right on the lake and has a beautiful view of the mountains on the other side, as you can see:

There is also a great soaker tube that works well for the recovery of sore muscles

And for doing laundry.  Gotta love the jets!

Our first ride here we went up the Col de Forclaz.  It is an 8 km climb and claims to average around 8%, but with most of the steep pitches being 11-16% they get their average due to the “breaks” of 3% through the towns – so don’t believe the numbers!  

It is a beautiful climb, but there is lots of car traffic as we found out at the top that it is a great place for launching paragliders and parapenters (para-sailing).   There are several companies that offer tandem flights and their vans “fly” up and down the mountain delivering pilots back to the top.

The views of the lake are spectacular though.


I couldn’t resist signing up for a flight and the next day drove back to the top, a much more terrifying feat then climbing on the bike, and launched off the mountain and in to the air with my trusted pilot Christian.   What an amazing experience.  He gave me a quick instruction, “stay vertical” and before I knew it my feet were off the ground and we were looking for thermals to gain more height.  The views were incredible and we were above the birds!  I had asked before we started if we could do turns and tricks; only to be told “not right away, you’ll be sick”.  Fair enough, makes sense.  Before we landed though I was able to take the controls and do some turns, then Christian entertained me with fast turns and some woops leaving my stomach well above my head.  So much fun!

Thursday, August 2, 2012


Darin has been in France since July 19th riding with "the boys" on all the major climbs in the Alpes.  I happened to see them in a restaurant having lunch in Le Bourg-d'Oisans at the base of Alpe d'Huez, after a week of climbing epic climbs such as La Galibier, Col de la Croix de Fer, Glandon, Colombiere, and they all looked done, toasted, exhausted, and perfectly content.  They had spent a week riding some of the biggest rideable mountains on the planet, all 20 km or longer and on average 6% incline or greater, and will be going home stronger, more skilled from the technical descents, and thinking of the hills in Ontario as little bumps.

I spent a good chunk of money at the local bike shop on new jerseys and clothing before a pretty Cat 2 climb with Darin back to their hotel where I enjoyed dinner with the guys and enjoyed hearing about their stories from the past week.

The next day I planned to do Alpe d'Huez and after a massive downpour during the night the roads were wet, the air was humid, but the temperature was a comfortable 25 versus the 30+ the guys have been suffering through.  There was a lot of debate in our house about what gearing to use for this trip and in the end Darin decided on a compact with a 12x28 cassette which has perfect for their long and epic rides.  I decided on a standard crank and a 13x29 cassette as the only reason I go up is to come down as fast as I can.  Last year I had used the compact and was running out of gears on the descents, so knowing that I wouldn't be doing the hard climbs day after day like the guys had, I chose to stick with my standard crank.  The following graph shows the inclines for the ascent.

Having not ridden much in the past 3 weeks due to work commitments, I just settled in and rode, enjoying the climb and reading all the messages left from Tour de France fans on the road.  I can only imagine what this mountain would look like full of a million or more spectators.  The view on the mountain is very different then what you see on TV.  The 21 switchbacks are only seen when looking down, and when you're going up you only see what is in front of you and the other cyclists you are trying to catch.  It is a great climb, one that can be done as hard or as easy as you like and I had enough gears.  Thanks to Grant for keeping me company and to Darin who drove support, took pictures, and cheered.

From Alpe d'Huez Darin and I made our way to Annecy by car where we'll be spending the next week.  On the way we drove down the Galibier, a ride the guys had gone up.  It was beautiful, long, and chilly.  We stopped at the top to take the picture below and I can't wait to come back and do this climb on a bike - with a compact.