Ride Report: Col du Grand Colombier

It turns out that getting 6 or fewer hours of sleep for two consecutive weeks does not come without consequence. And so today, a day off, I am regulated from actually riding my bike, to simply writing about it. It’s maddening, sitting inside when the Central European Climate just decided to agree with the calendar and make it summer.  So, outside it’s pushing 30 (a bit too hot, admittedly) and I’m inside recovering from some strange illness which has taken my voice and, apparently, my will to stay awake past 7PM in the evening. On the plus side, you all finally get to hear about the trip up Colombier with three women from CERN Velo Club.


“How, how in holy heck, are we going to get up there?” I remember thinking while riding through the forested part of the Colombier, the Jura’s most infamous mountain for cycling. Every few minutes a gap of sky would emerge between the pines and the Col itself would become visible: with sheer granite walls, it appeared a route more suited for rock climbers than for cyclists.

Suddenly, there was a switchback and the forest stopped and everything opened up into a grassy expanse. For the first time, the road ahead became visible and we knew what we were in for.

Oh. I see. Yes, that is indeed how in holy heck we are going to get up there. We are going to climb.

I traced the road for you

We had been climbing for 12 km already, not counting the (x km) ascent to Col du Richmonde we bagged en route. I’m not going to pretend that some ziggzagging did not take place* on that last bit of road, which makes the rest of the Colombier seem like child’s play. It is this stretch of road that makes the Col infamous: there are four ways up, but all of them end with the killer grade. And on July 10th, the tour de France will ascend it for the first time in history, at a markedly faster pace than my own.

But oh, the view from the top! Not other worldly like summits in the Alps, rather quite the opposite! Colombier is airy but green and the view below is is lush and so wonderfully earthy. From the ridge of the Jura the Rhône valley opens up below in a turquoise flume between legions of verdant hillsides, dotted with toylike villages. And in the distance, the Alps, as always, white and violet. You look out over the whole region and be more present in your own skin solely because you are so aware of the geography and your singular place in it.**

Descending was marvelous: woody, winding, reminding you you’re alive. It was only after passing Sessyel, a town at the base of the mountain, that the heat really set in. As we climbed out of the Rhône valley, with still 85 km left until home, Jenny’s rear innertube exploded. At first we thought it was a heat pop, but then we noticed her tire was shredded. We booted it the best we could, and she rolled back to the train in Sessyel. And then there were two.

Next came 40 or so km, a blur of rolling hills, of vast and breathless farmland, agrarian raptures. We were, however, chased by the knowledge that we were running low on water. It’s funny how the senses heighten for survival: On the backside of a roller, I thought I heard the sound of water flowing. I brushed it off as a hallucination until Sue called out: Did you hear that? We pulled the brakes immediately and backtracked. Water, indeed, gushing out of one of the small roadside fountains, made explicitly for this purpose. We would make it home alive.

It is worth noting, that the climb out of Bellegarde and over the pass into Pays de Gex is not insignificant.

40 km later, I saw the CERN water tower in the distance, and I was not, by any means going to get on any road that led me in the opposite direction. Soon enough I was back at work, and my colleague in the office next door was confused as to why I could barely walk. I sat in the CERN cafeteria for almost an hour before I could muster the courage to ride home.

Voilà: first ride more than a century (170 km) ride with over 2000m of climbing. Here’s to many more!


*For the record, I still believe Galibier is a tougher climb. Not as steep on average, maybe, but longer, higher, and in thinner air. Up next Colombière (the Alpine one) and Col de Cou. Stay tuned, as I continue to avoid the whole Planning For My Future ordeal by climbing as many mountains as I conceivably can during my limited free time in this strange place, which just may as well be called “Heaven for Cyclists.”

**Parts of this description are borrowed from a letter, apologies to the one person reading them twice.

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