Magazine article Geographical

High Energy: Matt Carroll Heads into the French Alps to Climb the Col De la Colombiere Ahead of the World's Top Riders, Drawing on a Glorious Past Road-Racing for His Gloucestershire Club

Magazine article Geographical

High Energy: Matt Carroll Heads into the French Alps to Climb the Col De la Colombiere Ahead of the World's Top Riders, Drawing on a Glorious Past Road-Racing for His Gloucestershire Club

Article excerpt

"Are you sure you want to do this? It's very steep," says Yoris, my new cycling buddy. When you're facing the prospect of pedalling more than 16km uphill, these are not the kind of words you want to hear. Especially from a man like Yoris.

Decked out in black-and-white Lycra, his freshly shaven legs looked as though they'd been carved out of solid rock. This was clearly a man who does a lot of cycling; and if he says that something is steep then it's time to start worrying,

I was in the French Alps on a mission to conquer the Col de la Colombiere--one of the most notorious climbs undertaken on this year's Tour de France. Last Wednesday, it saw the world's top riders snaking their way up through its impossibly tight hairpin bends before racing over the top to the finish of stage 17. But a couple of weeks ago, it was just me and Yoris--and even he was disappearing into the distance.

It wasn't always like this. Having grown up road-racing for my local cycling club in Gloucestershire, there was a time when I'd have been able to stay with the pace. Unfortunately, my weekly mileage has dwindled over the years, and although I still call myself a cyclist, these days it's more a state of mind than a state of affairs. Nevertheless, riding one of the Alpine climbs had always been an ambition. The way my fitness was heading, it was a case of now or never.

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Plus, on the Colombiere there was less chance of other riders being around to snigger at my huffing and puffing. Although thousands of cyclists head to the Alps every year on a pedal-powered rite of passage, the majority make their way to the likes of Alpe d'Huez, south of here--hallowed in cycling history as a legendary leg-burner and the first showcase mountain stage of Le Tour. But despite the reputation of the Alpe d'Huez for being tough, it's 3kms shorter than the Colombiere--and not a lot steeper. Master this, and I'd have earned the right to hold my head up high.

Located in the Massif des Aravis region, south west of Mont Blanc, the Colombiere has a vertical rise of more than a kilometre from start to finish, winding its way up through impossibly green pastures. Lest I got too comfortable looking at the scenery, though, Yoris warned me that the steepest section came right at the end. I couldn't wait.

I'd based myself in the town of Saint Jean de Sixt--the smallest of four picturesque villages that make up the Aravis Massif region. All of them lie within an hour of Geneva, and each is surrounded by cycling routes--making this area ideal for a weekend in the great French outdoors.

You can pick road routes to match pretty much any ability level here. Just head to the local tourist office, grab one of the detailed itineraries and off you go. There are plenty of places to hire bikes, and it's also possible to book yourself your own Yoris for the day who will show you the hidden treasures and give you tips on your riding.

The region is a hotspot for mountain bikers, too, with more than 30 designated off-road routes--many of them aimed at casual cyclists. The best thing about these trails is that there are no lung-busting climbs in order to access them; simply load your bike into the ski lift and head straight to the top. …

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