My love affair with riding in the mountains goes back to the summer of 1992. In-between my first and second year at university, along with a couple of club mates I booked on a trip to chase round after that year’s Tour de France. I either paid very little notice to the itinerary or have little recollection of it but what I do remember is that the first couple of days were fraught with problems. Our bus broke down numerous times meaning we never got to where we were meant to be and did no riding what so ever. We saw brief glimpses of the race but it wasn’t until the third day, when our much maligned coach pulled up in Saint-Michel-de-Maurienne, at the base of the Col de Télégraph that we were set free.
I’d ridden plenty of hills, and on holiday in Italy some reasonably long climbs but nothing that could be classed as a mountain, so this was to be a journey into the unknown. There was a mix of eager excitement and also nervous trepidation as we built our bikes up, I knew II was pretty swift on short climbs back home, but how would I fair on a 12km ascent. Setting off I was keen to hit it hard from the base, to see who was the best climber on the bus, (I was a very competitive teenager and this in my mind would be a race to the top). By about half way there were two of us left at the front riding a good tempo round the tangle of hairpin bends through the thick forest, but then the forest broke, there was a gap in the trees and we saw the view. We were stopped in our tracks, we had never seen anything like it, we were up in the clouds looking down on toy towns below, and we had got there under our own steam. In an instant all desire to smash it to the top vanished, all we wanted to do was stare out over the valley. The further we rode the better the view became, and the more frequent our stops became, it was majestic, it felt like we were flying and we loved it. The next day we rode the huge Col du Galibier, which, was took it to the next level and then went on to Alpe d’ Huez to finally see the race come though. The Galibier and The Alpe were both amazing roads and my first sight of Indurain, Chiapucci was such a rush, but nothing would beat that first mountain.
I’ve been back to the mountains many times now over the years and was very fortunate to be given the opportunity to write my book 100 Greatest Climbs of the Tour de France in the summer of 2013 and in five grueling trips tick off all the climbs I’d not previously ridden to bag the 100 needed. Day after day, mountain after mountain I was just living the dream and it cemented the notion in my head that this is what the bicycle was made for. There were of course bad days as well as good days, a mountain can be as brutal as it is rewarding, it can take as much as it gives so must always be treated with respect. Weather can change on a knife edge, you will be battered by the rain and burnt by the sun, you’ll be blown to a standstill by the wind and eaten alive by insects but regardless of this, the challenge to reach each summit and the satisfaction when you have done so makes every climb special. So if you’ve never been to the mountains, if you’ve always watched the big races on TV and dreamed of what it would be like then go, get in the car, take a plane, convince the family it’s the holiday they’ve always dreamt off and taste these famous roads for yourself.
The 100 Greatest climbs of the Tour de France APP.
And to help you plan, four years after the release of the book comes the App of the same name, an indispensable tool if you’re planning a trip to the mountains of France this summer. Complete with all the content from the book and utilising your phone’s GPS you will now be better equipped than ever to track down the famous mountains and ride in the wheel tracks of legends. As with the other Apps from the 100 Climbs brand when synced with Strava the home screen will proudly display your score, how many of the 100 famous passes you have ridden, and of course how many you still need to ride.
Via the interactive map you can locate and be instantly directed to the base of each climb and then be taken to it’s fact file where you will see its vital statistics, comprehensive directions and also links to view the segment on Strava and Veloviewer. You can quickly and simply check your efforts on each one, compare times over the years and see how you compare to the world’s best riders many of which hold the KOM and QOM on these iconic roads. From the home screen you can also scroll through the list of climbs which can be sorted by difficulty, geographically, by ridden, or best of all, by which is nearest to your current location.
So if you’re planning a raid on the mountains this summer then don’t leave home without it and have fun climbing.
Download for Apple.
And for Android.