Sunday, June 19, 2011

A French Cyclosportif: Five Cols in One Day

I am wiped out. Today, I rode 145km in a cyclosportif (an organized, mass-participation cycling event) in Morzine, France. It wasn't the distance that was so tough; it was the climbing (total ascending for the day: 3,636 meters). We crossed Col de Joux Verte, Col du Corbier, Col du Grand Taillet, Col de Jambaz, and Col de Joux Plane.

To summarize the first 122km: ~300 people started the course at 8am. Luckily, the rain stopped just 5 minutes earlier (it rained non-stop since I arrived in Morzine on Friday arvo). The event organizers were kind enough to give us an easy 100 meter flat section after the start line, before immediately heading up onto Col de Joux Verte. Joux Verte was a nice climb, despite the wet roads and mist. The temperature at the summit was 1C/34F. The next few hours are a blur. I met an Aussie, 8-10 Brits, and countless Belgians and Dutch. I remember going up, then down, then up, then down, etc, etc, etc...

Then we got to the final Col. Col de Joux Plane is famous for cracking Lance Armstrong in the 2000 TDF. He bonked and Jan Ullrich rode away and gained 2 minutes. I studied the climb profile last night, and I wasn't too concerned about it. Its 12km in total with a 10% average gradient in the final 5 kilometers. It didn't appear too out of the ordinary.

I don't know why Joux Plane put me in so much misery today. But, I had plenty of time to think about it while my legs were turning to jelly, so lets see what we have: 1) I had a slight head cold for the last 2 days, 2) this morning's cold weather could've sapped more energy than I realized, 3) I already cycled 420km in the last 7 days, or 4) we had already climbed 2600 meters by the time we reached the foot of Joux Plane. I would say its all of the above.

In any case, Joux Plane is the toughest mountain I have climbed. The last 5km are relentless. At a 7% gradient, you can still sit comfortably in the saddle. But with Joux Plane's 10%, the upper body has to move forward over the handlebars. I found myself hunched forward. My neck, shoulders, and back were all very tight for well over 40 minutes.

From the summit, its a fast and dangerous 10km descent back down to Morzine. I was more than relieved to see the finish line. I have completed rides of far greater distances, and a handful or rides with close to 3000 meters of climbing. But Col de Joux Plane took it out of me today. 

Click here for my Garmin ride data (course map, course profile, climb splits, etc.). 


  1. Sounds brutal and epic! And fun. Maybe a rest or easy day is in order now?

    For comparison sake I rode a relatively flat 573 km in the last 8 days with 2 races.

  2. Hey Duncan it's the Aussie here! Glad to hear I wasn't the only one that felt smashed. Actually we almost got smashed literally on the way home - some kids bombed us with a rock from an overpass and it hit the windscreen right in front of my face. Luckily we were going slow at the time and the rock bounced off but it totalled the windscreen spraying us with glass. And I though the wet descent down Col de Joux Verte was the most dangerous thing I would do that day!

  3. DavidL: wow, that really sux! Sorry to hear that. I am riding the cyclosportif at Vaujany/Alpe D'Huez on Sunday. Let me know if you'll be there too. Duncan.

  4. Just saw your comment now - as you are probably enjoying the pain of the Alpe D’huez ascent! Originally we were planning to be there (Bourg d’Oisans) this weekend but everyone (except me) got sick with the flu after we returned from Morzine, so we figured it wasn’t worth going. Josh managed to venture out for a short ride today so we are thinking of going to Valloire on Monday or Tuesday and staying for 3 days or so. Are you doing La Marmotte? I would love to do that but I missed the entry, and I don’t think I’m fit enough anyway.

    I checked out some of your videos - they are very good. Did you get any good footage from the Morzine ride? My highlight of that ride was the decent off Col de Jambaz where the road was finally dry and it wasn’t so steep you could almost forget the brake - unlike Col de Joux Plane!

    Anyway, if you get this in the next day or so shoot me an email at, and if it works out we could catch up for a ride this week.

  5. Hi Duncan, looking forward to your video from Vaujany! Posted a link to your blog from mine for people to find it when you get it uploaded.

    Writing the blog is more tiring than the bike! Hope you recovered well from the race.