Thursday, 3 October 2013

Col de la Forclaz: an appreciation

After the Semnoz it was on to the Col de la Forclaz. I was ascending from Talloires which meant riding around Lake Annecy for a bit before staring the climb. The alternative route is straight up from Doussard. This is the harder side: 8.1km at 7.7%, but as there are two big flat sections, when the road goes up it is steep. Unfortunately though the road was closed for resurfacing so I couldnt ride it. What a shame! Next time...

The other way up the Forclaz is not that much easier though: starting above Talloires the road climbs for 8.4kms at 7.1%. If you start in Talloires add another 2km, with an overall average of 6.7%. The hardest section is towards the top where the road really kicks up: the last 3kms average 10.5%.

But once at the top you are rewarded with some spectacular views. This one towards the Pointe de la Beccaz above Montmin. That sign says 13% - nice if you have just ridden up and are about to start the descent...

...but before you do, consider an alternative descent. Whilst admiring the views of Lake Annecy, you could also descend by hang-glider or parascender. Stop off for something to eat in one of the three restaurants at the top of the climb, and then pay 90 euros to jump off the ramp and land somewhere near Doussard...

Compared to the Semnoz, the Forclaz has much to it. It may be shorter, but there's no magic to the Semnoz. Its kind of like a motorway, almost a purpose built climb: functional and rational, but without that extra something. The Forclaz by contrast, has a story of a hermit living on the hill in the 11th Century, classic winding mountain roads, and great views and places to eat at the top. Surprisingly, the Tour de France has only been up here 3 times (all from the other side, I think). Again, the roads were being resurfaced so perhaps in 2015 when the Tour returns to Annecy the route will come up the Forclaz before a rapid descent into Annecy, or even onto the Semnoz. At least starting the Semnoz in Annecy gives the climb a bit of character and an obvious start point, unlike this year's route. Using the Forclaz would be a great tribute to one of the most under-rated climbs in France.

The Semnoz and the cold descent took a bit out of me, so I took the climb pretty easy taking just over 40 minutes. By the time I got to the start of the climb, the temperature had risen from 6°C on top of the Semnoz to a barmy 21°C - not an easy temperature range for my cycling clothes to cope with. So I decided to take off my leg warmers half way up, only for the sun to go in and the temperature start falling again to 12°C by the time I got to the top. At which point it was time for Tartiflette before heading off to the Col de l'Epine...

Wednesday, 2 October 2013

Mont Ventoux and other climbs

Mont Ventoux, a set on Flickr.

The Semnoz

The Col du Semnoz - not one of the Tour's well known climbs. Perhaps thats because its never been raced until this year's Tour de France! There a number of ways up to the Semnoz. The most spectacular, I think, is from the Cret de Chatillion and the Col des Leschaux. Thats the way I descended - its quite a narrow road with some great hairpins. The road has a reputation for having a poor road surface, but when I descended lots of it had been resurfaced. Perhaps the Tour will be using it in future on the way to a stage finish in Annecy?

This year, the Tour ascended the Semnoz from Quintal, but I started in Annecy which joins the Quintal road about halfway up. The climb from Annecy is 16km at 7.1% and is quite similar to the Malaucene side of the Ventoux, albeit 4kms shorter. The 7.1% average makes the climb sound a bit easier than it is. There's a 3km stretch about a third of the way up that is only 3.2% - which after 5kms of 7% felt like it was dead flat! My time for the 16kms was 1hr 11mins.

The climb - like the Ventoux - is in three parts. The first section out of Annecy is stacked full of hairpins. The road winds its way out of Annecy past the hospital and then into the woods. You dont get out of the woods until you hit the 3kms of false flat. Its all pretty sheltered here and very quiet. I didnt see any other cyclists, or that many cars for that matter, on this section. After the false flat then its onto the hardest stretch. From the Quintal junction its 7.5kms at 8.6% - not too dissimilar to the forest section on the Ventoux from Bedoin. The big difference though is the road surface. The road is really quite wide and has an excellent road surface. In addition, all the way up are kilometer signs with gradient information.

One thing to remember though is that this ascent is on the north face, which means its cold. At the top, my Garmin was reading 6 degrees and my feet were freezing. Most of the ascent is in woodland, so it is sheltered from the wind. Its not until you reach the ski station with 1.5kms to go that you come out into the open and hit the wind as you come over the top and round the corner to the summit. There's a restaurant at the top as well as a finish line to show you've got to the top.

There was still a fair amount of Tour de France graffiti on the climb, and I spent a lot of time trying to work out where these mountain bikers jumped over Chris Froome during the Tour de France. Despite looking, I never saw the landing ramp they used.

The view from the top was a bit of a disappointment: there was so much cloud around that you couldnt see anything. I dont even know if you can see Lake Annecy from the summit.

Selfie on the Semnoz: nice if you like clouds.

The descent was pretty cool: fairly fast but technical - descending straight back to Annecy would have been very fast and much easier. If the roads werent so wet and I wasnt so cold it would have been much better. Pretty much though its 24kms downhill to St Jorioz where you can get back on the excellent 'Piste Cyclable' and head back to Annecy, or, as I did, on to the Col de la Forclaz...

Km markers

On many of the Alpine climbs you'll see these kilometre markers, along with the steepness of the road. This one is on the Col de l'epine. They really are great, particularly on the long climbs like the Ventoux and Semnoz. They give you a sense of how hard you should/can be going and how long there's left. The only trouble is when they go missing, or you miss them. On the ascent of the Ventoux to Bedoin I couldnt see many through the forest section. They also seemed to be on the other side of the road so they were easily missed. Curiously there dont seem to many on Alpe d'huez either - there are a couple, but they seem more concerned about numbering the corners. Even then, the signs are placed so high up on the hairpins that they arent that easy to see when riding up - they certainly arent in your eyeline.

Thursday, 26 September 2013

It is done

Ventoux tamed, twice.

More to follow...

At the top

The Summit

The view

The view

Thursday, 15 August 2013

Its been a while, but its ON!

So, the Ventoux is on. And Alpe d'huez. And the Col du Semnoz. And even the Col de la Forclaz.

We leave on the 14th September, flying to Marseille before driving over to Bedoin. Depending on the time and the weather I may ride up the Ventoux in the evening. Otherwise, its going to be a long day on Sunday: Bedoin to Malaucène and back again. I had thought about coming back up from Sault to back it three ascensions, but by all accounts thats a relatively boring route and repeats the top section from Bedoin. Besides, there are more challenges to come...

Because of Easyjet's flight schedule getting back from Marseille was more difficult. If I had thought harder, we should have gone down to the Tourmalet and then flown back from Toulouse. But I didn't. Instead it occurred to me that I could ride up Alpe d'huez and then the Semnoz outside of Annecy. Ive done the Alpe before in an hour (when I was young and carefree), and seen the Semnoz from time spent in Annecy. And the Col de la Forclaz on the other side of the lake is also on the list.

All of these plans are weather dependent - the primary aim is Ventoux and if its stormy then plans might have to change. Ironically the reason I am going in September is because my Directeur Sportif (Dad to me) advised against the heat of July. Fine. Only July in south Wales turned out to be one of the hottest in a long time. It wouldn't have made much difference. And it means I have to train for another 6 weeks as well...

At least the training is going well though. This year I have had the added incentive of using a power meter which measures the power (in watts) generated as I ride. Its a fascinating piece of kit and makes you think not just about your training, but how you actually ride. You can see all the training Ive been doing on Strava

Dont forget to donate either.