Col des Aravis descent. Better than it looks.

A change is as good as a rest. Apparently. Road biking is definitely a change from mountain bikes, but I’m not sure it’s a rest.

A game of word association is unlikely to link Chamonix and road biking. Or me and road biking for that matter, but I tried a 29er once (twice now I think about it) and it didn’t seem that bad so might as well give this road biking lark a go. That and I had friends in town who wanted to go road biking.

When mtbers go road biking.....

Hence a quick bit of internet research later a very much not lycra clad crew of riders and borrowed bikes rolled out of Chamonix from a relaxed 10am start. Progress was initially slow as said combination of riders and borrowed bikes resulted in frequent stops to raise saddles, angle saddles, re-align saddles.

It's aa smiles as we cruise through Les Houches. The saddle hasn't attacked yet.

By Vaudagne we’d all began to bond with our bikes and, having negotiated the roadworks…road bike tyres not being as forgiving as mtb tyres when faced with potholes… started making progress past Servoz and along the back roads towards Sallanches.

With the cliffs of the Fiz range towering above us on the right and the Arve valley spread out below us on the left there was plenty to distract, but those slick tyres descend at a fair lick and the handling isn’t quite what I’m used to, so generally best just to ignore the sights. Easier to ignore was the Chaine des Aravis in front of us, which we were planning on riding behind.

Vaudagne. I think Heidi trains cow herding here

Past Sallanches and still we were able to crack on at a fair lick. So far so easy this road bike game. A convenient back road takes you parallel with the autoroute along the Arve valley, but far enough away not to be disturbed by the sound of the road. Even when the back road ended, the 10km along past Magland to Cluses passed quickly, probably because we were heading for the first food break of the day.

From our brief research into the world of road biking we’d learnt that cafe stops are key, we were more than happy to comply with this rule. Espresso and panini prepped us for the main event of the day, the climb to the Col de la Colombière .

Coffee. Apparently caffeine is a drug, so another road rule ticked.

Another part of our research had revealed David Millar’s words on the Col de la Colombière from his 2010 Tour du France. “From the lowest slopes of the Colombière, I was adrift, unable to stop my rapid slide out of the back of the bunch…..There were just under 180 km remaining in the stage and four mountains to climb. I was unequivocally, irredeemably, fuc..” well, you get the idea.

The climb starts pleasantly enough. You cruise out of Cluses and past the first marker post, declaring 17km to go to the col, and currently you’re climbing a 2% gradient. As each marker post past, kilometre after kilometre, that gradient would rise and rise. Still for now, in the first 10km as the road winds through the trees, the climb is deceptively easy. But then, as you leave the trees into the full glare of the sun, and the gradient passes 8%, David Millar’s words start to ring in your ears.

With 3km to go, the col is in clear sight, and is getting closer with every turn of the pedals. Unfortunately, it doesn’t get any lower. Instead the road just seems to rear up steeper and steeper in front of you. As if that wasn’t demoralising enough, by now my backside was beginning to really feel the difference between my 160mm travel, fat tyred, fat saddled mtb and the skinny tyred, razor saddled rocket I’d borrowed. Sure it was fast, but did it have to be so painful to achieve it?

Some random cyclist heading for the Col de la Colombiere. Who obviously I chased down and beat to the col.

The col eventually fell below the wheels, with the view of the Borand valley opening in front and, perhaps more relevantly, the cafe appearing to our right, a healthy number of patrons already installed and recovering from their efforts.

We were half way round, and no matter what we did, it was downhill for a while again. Somewhere between the Col and the next village of Grand Borand we were skipping along at about 50mph, making up time from our slightly slower ascent. The descents always pass quicker than the climbs though and soon enough we were dropping down the gears and climbing towards La Clusaz.

Trying to apply mtb technique to a road bike. Tricky to get your hips out to the side with a high saddle likes.

There’s an open boulangerie in La Clusaz which we rode past as there was nowhere to sit. surely there’d be an open cafe further into town. After much searching we discovered there wasn’t, but the next climb, the Col des Aravis, was only 400m. We’d last until the cafe at the top.

Col des Aravis. Malcolm starting to feel more at home as the weather takes a turn for the Scottish.

After the length and gradient of the Colombiere the Col des Aravis is a walk in the park, barely breaching 8% and soon we were at the top looking through the options for food. Unfortunately these options mostly seemed to be closed until 1830 and with the way the clouds were gathering we were keen to be somewhere else by that time. Anyway, it’s downhill from the col, we could stop for food in Giettaz.

Whit a downhill it was too. Descending on a road bike isn’t the same as the frenetic melee of mountain biking, but has it’s own rewards. Less action movie, more like the opening scenes of the Italian Job, working a classic car through the corners. Drop gear, drop gear, brake, turn into the apex, straighten up, pedal, up a gear, up a gear, coast and repeat. The descent from the Col des Aravais wound beautifully down the hill into the very quiet village of Giettaz and its open boulangerie.

Somewhere near Sallanches. Totally out of place in the photo order, but it breaks the words up nicely, and none of you are paying any attention anyway.

The open boulangerie which had run out of sandwiches, and pretty much everything else. Onwards to Flumet.

Flumet also turned a blank. On to Praz sur Arly.

There was no repeating of our La Clusaz error, at the first open boulangerie we stopped and bought the last 3 items in the cabinet. Ham and cheese croissants. The owner even got some deck chairs out for us to sit in whilst we savoured our savory snacks.

Suitably refreshed we got back in the saddle for the last push. They might be uncomfortable, but road bikes cover the ground a lot faster than a mountain bike, in no time at all we’d given up on more food in Megeve and were starting the long descent down to Le Fayet. A descent that was spurred on by the view of Sallanches slowly getting enveloped by a rain storm slowly rolling up the valley.

The Arve valley getting eaten by the rain beast.

From the Le Fayet train station it’s just 500 meters of climbing back up to Chamonix, but then, there’s several station bars keen to serve you a cold pint of lager, and that rain storm was getting a lot closer, and it was starting to get a bit dark. To cut a long list of excuses short….we caught the train home.

One hour climbing in the rain or a pint. What would you choose?