Collecting Cols: Between Turin and Aix-en-Provence
July 2012
In 2012 spring and summer came rather late, so after one or two brave rides, my training stalled. Repeating Paris-Nice was out of the question but I took it as a blessing since I could now think of exploring new routes. It had frankly become somewhat of an obsession to do the same route over and over again to the point that i could have ridden from Paris to Nice without looking at a map. Every little town on the way seemed forever etched into memory. It felt liberating to break with what had become an almost mindless, and burdensome ritual. One thing was clear: it would have to be the Alps. I had only ever once crossed them by bike on a journey from Freiburg near the Black Forest, via Lake Geneva and Chamonix, to Turin in Italy. But I somehow managed, intentionally, to avoid the big mountain passes. In fact, other than the Col de la Forclaz on the way to Chamonix, the route was largely flat. This time, it would have to be about climbs. Specifically, I would pick up the trail in Turin and head East into France via at least three major Cols - and with the Mont Ventoux thrown in for the final feast.
I only landed in Turin in the afternoon, so the first day was spent getting out of Turin to the lake town of Avigliana, at the entrance to the Suza valley. Easy enough. The next day was a shocker. You can see the wall from afar, looming large half-way into the Suza valley, disappearing in the clouds. It marks the border to France and as you approach it, you have plenty of time to start feeling intimidated at the challenge ahead.The climb starts shortly after leaving Suza and stays with you for another 25km. It's never overly steep but never relenting either with an average gradient of around 8%. The views during the climb are modest, and mostly back into the Suza valley. It's only after climbing up a couple of focused hairpins to the artificial lake, that the view widens.
Lac du Mont Cenis
The descent down to Lanslebourg is fast and I reckon I could be at the foot of the Col de Telegraphe in an hour at most. But it's the middle of the afternoon and the valley wind is fierce, severly hampering my progress down towards Modane. By the time I reach Saint-Michel-de-Maurienne, it's already 6pm, and there were still 900m of climbing between me and Valloire where I planned to stay for the night. The Col de Telegraphe turned out to be a fairly steady (and uninspiring) climb. Yet when I crested, I felt more exhausted than ever and gladly realised that the final stretch towards Valloire was all downhill.
Riding up the mighty Col de Galibier
Once in the Provence, a fast 180km stage took me from Guillestre to Vaison-la-Romaine, at the foot of the Mont Ventoux. My first climb up the Giant was actually quite enjoyable - perhaps because temperatures in the early morning hours were just perfect for cycling and my legs were well prepared after three days in the Alps.
View from the slopes of Mont Ventoux
The trip fell into the third week of August and the weather was perfect. Even though it got hotter by the day (shortly after I reached Aix, the thermometer would climb to nearly 40 degrees Celsius), my strength and stamina also increased making even the climb up the Mont Ventoux relatively easy. The most memorable sections were the climb up the Galibier after Valloire, the Gorges de la Meouge after Laragne-Monteglin, those very steep sections of the Mont Ventoux climb (from Malaucene), and the fast finale from the top of the Mont Ventoux down to Aix-en-Provence.
Another view from the slopes of Mont Ventoux
I made two small changes to the equipment: I donned my (non-carbon) triathlon bars to save some weight. I had rarely used them anyway on long trips, except for the odd downhill section. I also decided to dispense with my camelbag and only use bottles - the main advantage being that you always know how much water you've got left (and the refilling isn't quite so unwieldy). One big accolade goes to Deuter's fittingly named Transalpine rucksack which I had purchased specifically for this trip. It's a 38 Litre rucksack that can comfortably carry all you need for a week. As I had done on previous tours I didn't use any tracking gadgets, no GPS, no speedometer, and certainly no power meter! Give it a try - you might like it too.
All in all five days of riding with two rest days and about 10km of vertical climb. Here is the route on