“Is this fun?”
I asked myself this all-important question as I cycled up the Montee de Semnoz (also called the Cret de Chatillon) and came upon the sign (above) indicated the next kilometer was yet another 10-percent grade. 10 percent is steep! Think of it this way: Each percent, after about six, is like strapping another brick to your back. And not one of those Styrofoam bricks.
Let’s take a step back … to the bottom of the Montee de Semnoz. This is one of the iconic climbs around Annecy. In fact, there’s a group of maniacs, Les Barjots (Crazies) du Semnoz, who really are quite crazy and enjoy climbing this col three times in a day, from each of the different starting points at the base. I was excited to give this a try (on a later day, after I was in better shape), until I was about halfway up the Semnoz and realized just how crazy these crazy cyclist really are. How crazy? About as crazy as the maniacs of the Club des Cingles (Madmen) du Mont Ventoux, in which you climb this monster of a mountain in Provence three times in a day from each of the three base towns. I did it … back in 2010. Age and injuries have caught up to me since then. I’m not sure I’m still crazy after all these years.
So, here’s the climb I did today up the Semnoz on the D41. From Lake Annecy, you have to find the D41. To do so, you leave the bike path, find the D1508 and make a right turn onto the D41. And immediately you go up. It’s not marked with a sign, but I think the first kilometer (before the start of the official climb) is a 10-percenter. Make a left onto the D41 at the traffic circle and follow the signs, which are placed at every kilometer and tell you in advance how much suffering you’ll do in the next kilometer. That’s very nice of them!
According to MyCOLS, this climb is 17.1 kilometers with an average grade of 7.2 percent and a maximum grade of 9 percent. Well, that’s not right. There are several sections that are 10 percent, according to the signage – and my legs. It’s considered Hors Categorie (HC), which means it’s so long and steep it’s beyond categorization. The rode up this mountain in the 2013 Tour de France (a little bit faster than me).
The first fourth of the climb is brutal, all 8s, 9s and 10s. Then the next quarter is actually quite easy, all 4s and 5s. This gave me some false hope that this wouldn’t be too crazy of a climb and that the worst (and steepest) part was below me. And then came the second half, which is all 8s, 9s and 10s. One after another after another, and then three more. And another. This is where I started asking myself “Is this actually fun?”
“Wait until you get to the top to answer that,” I answered myself.
“If we make it,” was the reply.
Four or five cyclists passed me on their way up (I could hear their heavy breathing as they approached from behind and then passed me, grunting out a “bonjour”). Another dozen or more flew by on the downhill. For some reason, my rental bike didn’t come with a computer. I don’t have WiFi access once I leave my hotel, so I had no idea how fast I was going. Actually I have a pretty good idea: Slow! Like four miles an hour. It was probably better I didn’t have a computer. For me, the key to climbing is patience. If I’m patient and don’t try to go too fast, and just relax and accept the fact that I’m gonna be going really slow for a long, long time, I’m usually OK. Unfortunately, I’m very impatient and think I’m much younger and faster than I actually am. Several times I red lined and had to slow way down, get my breadth and heart rate back under control, and remind myself to take it slow. Really slow.
Finally – one kilometer to go!
And then, I was at the top. Or so I thought. There’s a restaurant and several parked cars. This has to be the summit, right? But wait, no summit sign – and there’s always a summit sign at the summit. Damn! I have to keep going. Another couple hundred yards and there it was – the summit sign.
“And … yes, this was fun, especially now that I’m at the top,” I told myself. “But I don’t think three times in a day will be fun at all.”
“Oh come on,” I answered. “You gotta try it.”
FYI: The way down was a lot colder (carry a jacket with you), faster and easier than the way up. After a few kilometers I had to stop and let these guys cross the road …