Distance: 28.4 miles. Elevation: 4464 ft.
Col du Grand Colombier | La Selle
The Col du Grand Colombier is situated at the south-eastern tip of the Jura mountain range, about twenty miles further south from my previous ride.
I left early (for me) at 10:30 to avoid getting caught under the blazing sun in the hotter part of the day. It was wall-to-wall blue skies. The air was cool but promised to be mid 20’s later. I didn’t take my rain jacket but had arm warmers available. I took 2 bidons but used less than one. I had a banana before leaving, one energy gel about halfway up, and a third of a protein bar near the top because my stomach was feeling empty. No sandwich or cake today!
I rode four flat miles to Culoz, where the climb begins.
The first road out of Culoz climbs at 12% for a couple of hundred yards. That’s just to get you in the zone, I suppose! Then came the first borne kilométrique:
Then it’s 2.5 miles (4km) at an average of 8.5% to get to the tight set of hairpins with the wonderful view over Lac du Bourget. The road was exposed to the sun until that point with views to the south getting better as I ascended. Up to those hairpins I had seen no traffic. Then a woman on an electric bike went past me on one of the very steep switchbacks, shouting words of respect for my going up there under my own steam.
The wonderful view over Lac du Bourget comes a quarter of the way up the climb. I stopped for a while to take it in. A group of four people in a car were looking at the view – one asked me if I would like my photo taken. I said thanks but I’ll get a selfie once I’d reached the top.
Another half a mile later comes the last chance to see that south-facing view of Lac du Bourget, before the road heads northwards towards the top.
The next mile is at 10% before you get to the first rest zone, which is a mile at less than 3%. The road by now has gone into the trees which was good for keeping cool and also good for pressing on without stopping for photos.
The route is joined from the right by a road which is one of the other possible ascents, from Anglefort. The gradient racks up again to 10% for the next two miles. I glanced to my left and just caught sight, through the trees, of Mont Blanc, at last unobscured by clouds. I got a photo.
Just after that, a km marker indicates the next section is 12% avg.
Two cyclists passed me and one mumbled “douze pour cent” as they slogged their way past the sign.
Thankfully the gradient eases back again for an easy section, during which there is even a slight downhill. The road then opens out to pasture, back into the sun. I welcomed the warmth on me as it was quite cool in the shaded bits.
The final two miles to the top average 7.5 % but are very undulating so there are still some steeper bits in there, including the final push to the top at 10.5%. But by then it didn’t matter because I could see my goal, and the views open out spectacularly, with Mont Blanc under a clear blue cloudless sky and Lac du Bourget stretched out to the south.
I stayed up there for half an hour, getting photos, soaking in the view. I got a shot of the col sign. Another cyclist offered to take my photo but I declined.
I had a chat with an English couple who sat in deck-chairs facing the Mont Blanc view. We discussed various geographical things we could see.
An Australian guy offered to take my photo by the statue, and this time I accepted. He asked me to move to one side so the writing could be read. We had a bit of a joke about me not otherwise being able to remember where the shot had been taken.
More wandering around view-gazing, and a few more photos.
Then it was time for the descent. The view that side was astounding, if not in the same league as that looking east from the top.
The descent was uncomfortably steep at first. I could not let go of the brakes but I tried to alternate front and rear braking to try to prevent the brakes overheating. The road down that side was mainly through pasture with some sections of shady forest.
When the gradient eventually eased, approaching Arvière-en-Valromey, it became hugely enjoyable. I could let go of the brakes and enjoy the rush of the rest of the descent down to Talissieu and then three flat miles back to base. The air had warmed up nicely during the ride down from the top.
This route to the Col du Grand Colombier from Culoz is surely the most spectacular option, view-wise. Those amazing tightly-set hairpins a quarter of the way up offer a stunning view over Lac du Bourget. It was difficult getting decent photos of that because of the glare caused by shooting directly into the sun. I was there at around 11:30. Mid to late afternoon would be more suitable. Also, the couple at the top I spoke to said that the view of Mont Blanc is better later in the day. So I’ll bear all that in mind if I ever decide to do this col again (maybe a reverse of today’s ride).
The western ascent, which was today’s descent for me, is much steeper. In fact it has the same altitude gain but is 2km shorter in length. The difference is clearly visible on the profile image below the map at the top of this page.
I’m glad, as I nearly always am, that I did this ride out of season, in late September. There was hardly any traffic. At the start, thirty-five minutes went by with no other person or vehicle to be seen. And the temperature recorded by my Wahoo was around 17°C average. At no time was I too hot, too thirsty, or even too tired.
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