The riders in the Tour de France have climbed the mighty Col de la Colombiere 23 times. And now, with the help of Mike Booth (the British king of the French Alps) I have climbed it once. I’m not sure if I have the legs for 22 more ascents. Even with Mike’s help.
I’m now in Cluses, a small town surrounded by mountains, as is pretty much every town around here.
Two days ago, I climbed the mighty (I’m calling all the cols “mighty”) Col de la Pierre Carree. It’s one of the longest, at 21 kilometers, which is about 13 miles.
You go through a couple ski towns, under a few ski lifts, around a dozen or so “S” curves, through an avalanche shelter and then, finally, the summit. With an amazing view that makes it all worth it …
Yesterday, I met up with Mike at 10 a.m. outside my hotel to climb the iconic (and mighty) Colombiere. Mike is partially responsible for me being here, as his great videos helped inspire me to ride in this region. But the thing is, Mike makes climbing look so easy. In his videos, and while we rode, he was able to chat away even when it’s an 8-percent or 9-percent gradient. I could barely mumble.
Mike and his wife, Judith, moved to the area in 2007 and ran a ski chalet (basically a bed-and-breakfast) for several years. They recently sold it, and now Mike is determined to spread the word about cycling in this region. He leads tours around Mont Blanc and from Geneva to Nice (which sounds like an amazing ride) and also organizes rides up the mighty Mont Ventoux. “I’m pushing myself as a regional expert for cycling … and I’m trying to help people discover the region,” he told me. “When journalists come to town, I want to be their first point of contact.”
I’m a journalist, sort of, so, Mike, your plan is working. Here’s the link to his website.
Mike did a little racing in his youth, then, he says, he discovered beer and women. He was in the banking business, and put on a lot of kilograms (that’s British for pounds – the weight unit, not the monetary unit). “I was 97 kilograms (213 pounds) when we moved here,” he said, adding he’s now down to about 74 (163).
The mighty Colombiere was the first col he climbed back in 2007. “I was hopelessly unfit and completely in the wrong gear,” he recalled. “I suffered.”
While I’m not exactly glad Mike suffered, it did make me feel a little better about the suffering I was in the midst of enduring. Maybe everyone suffers up here! Especially the last four kilometers which averaged about a 10-percent gradient. The final K was an 11-percenter. But, I made it and snapped the obligatory selfie.
Today: Another mighty col. I’m just not sure which one yet. SO MANY TO CHOOSE FROM.