One of my favorite things about riding bikes is the glory of going downhill after a long, rewarding climb. Whether I’m on singletrack winding up through Park City to the top of Puke Hill for an amazing descent down Pinecone and Spiro, or hammering up the Little Cottonwood Canyon road to pass cars on the way down, I live for the bonus you cash in after a nice hard climb. Regardless of your preferred riding surface, if you ride for climbs and descents, you should road bike in the Alps. You’ll achieve euphoria on the challenging climbs and the twisty descents, with the added bonus of Alpine culture and its love for cycling.
As the road sinuously climbs under a green canopy, you gaze at panoramic vistas across the valley and glimpses of the cliff-strewn peaks above you. Soon after leaving the timber, you’re surrounded by lush meadows scattered with bell ringing dairy cows with jagged peaks and golden eagles looming above. The grade reaches out in front of you and after a few final switchbacks you’ll gain the ridge. Upon reaching the Col, a sign informs you of your location and altitude as you soak in the scenery and allow your heart to slow.
Your thoughts turn to the long drop into the massive hanging valley that lies ahead. You’ll have to break hard into the first corner because off the top the pitch will be steep. You know you will need to let your brakes cool as you roll through turn after turn. You’ll speed through a small village perched high in the mountains and before long you’ll be back in the forest wondering what lies around the next hairpin. The long descent with its perfect speed and endless series of connected corners will put a smile on your face.
But first, you must refuel! You’re in luck, there’s a small refuge at the Col. Order a coffee and since you can’t decide on a ham sandwich or a blueberry tart, order both. Relaxing on the patio, the conversation is multi-lingual with everyone humorously talking about the challenging climb. A perfectly prepared café allongé is placed on the table in front of you along with half a baguette stuffed with slices of prosciutto, Beaufort cheese, lettuce and tomatoes coupled with the most beautiful little tart shell filled with wild blueberries. You take in your current surroundings, finish your meal, and prepare to jump back in the saddle.
For two and half weeks this fall, this was how Sarah and I spent our days. We ticked off a bucket list of climbs in the French Alps including: Col de la Colombière, Col de la Madeleine, Alpe d’Huez, Col du Gallibier via the Col du Télégraph, and the Col d’Iseran. We drank amazing coffee, enjoyed great French wines, and ate countless fresh pastries, bread, charcuterie and cheese. We got by with limited knowledge of the French language, but we tried. The locals who were so proud of the beautiful mountains and sport that helped shape a worldwide culture welcomed us just the same.