How to Conquer Legendary Cycling Cols
If you’re planning to ride the cols of cycling legend, and you don’t live in the French Alps, it is fair to say that you’re in for a whole new cycling experience. Riding kilometre after kilometre at unfamiliar altitudes will test your limits in ways you simply cannot imagine.
The air will be thinner and harder to breathe, temperatures and wind can vary wildly, and your legs will be burning during the ride. With this in mind, let’s look at how you can conquer the mighty cols of cycling legend.
Preparation - Know your Col
It is a good idea to study maps to know what you are taking on. Familiarise yourself with the gradients and when they occur, and how long particular stretches of steep climb will be. Also try and identify sheltered and unsheltered parts of the route. This will minimise surprises when climates change unexpectedly, or high winds hit.
Read online information to get a feel for the route and to see what others experienced. This will help you considerably with preparation.
Food and Drink
Ensure you have plenty of liquids and food to take on a big climb. Bear in mind that although you might only be riding 20 kilometres to the top of a col, riding 20 kilometres of steep gradient is very different from riding roads you know in the UK or Ireland. Prepare similarly for a long spin, and if you can carry extra fluids and food you should.
Use a Tour Operator
Riding with a tour operator helps a lot with preparation and becomes invaluable should you run into issues. A good tour operator knows the tour backwards, and they can help you reach the summit of your chosen col. If you have ridden Marmotte Granfondo or joined us on our Mont Ventoux or Geneva to Nice cycle, you will know exactly what we are talking about.
Having that extra back up brings a lot of peace of mind, and having a constant flow of information and knowing what to expect makes riding to the top of a Télégraphe, Galibier, or Alpe d'Huez a lot easier.
When we operate an alpine tour or one based around legendary cols such as Mont Ventoux or Alpe d’Huez, we carry food and spare parts so we can carry out roadside repairs when needed. It also means you do not have to carry these items. You will be looked after like a pro rider on our tours.
Fitness underpins cycling so concentrate on this aspect. Take advantage of good weather to get out on the bike during the week, and if feasible tailor your diet to promote your fitness. You can get some good tips on cycling nutrition by reading our blogs on the subject. During your rides, ensure you fit in sprinting, accelerations, and pace changes. Although your endurance levels are highly important, you want to build power too and not neglect other aspects of your cycling.
During your training try and work out when you need to refuel with liquids and food. This is different for everyone and important for distance rides whether you’re conquering a col or not.
Don’t neglect off the bike exercise to build your core, and if you feel it would help use other exercises such as swimming and running to build stamina and enhance your core.
Although in the UK and Ireland we don’t have anything that compares to the French Alps, still try and practice on the steepest hills you can find.
Pacing when Riding a Col
Pacing is everything when cycling so try and work out the right pace early on. Again a good cycling tour operator will be able to help you with this, especially one that is highly experienced at running tours that feature cols.
Many pro riders have compact chainsets for col conquering and you may want to consider this as an option. If this is unworkable, the low gears will become your best friend for the really difficult parts of the climb. Use gears to maintain a manageable pace, and adjust as necessary to make the ride as comfortable as possible.
On flatter sections of the climb, use this to recover for the steeper parts still to come.
Although riding a legendary cycling col can seem daunting with the right preparation and a good tour operator, you will have a great cycling adventure and you will take your cycling to the next level.
Want to Conquer Cols and Test your Limits?
We operate several tours that will give you the opportunity to ride the cols of Tour de France legend. Marmotte Granfondo gives you the chance to ride col du Glandon, Télégraphe, Galibier, and Alpe d'Huez in one day, while Geneva to Nice takes you over La Routes des Grandes Alpes. Here you cycle the French Alps, taking on eleven alpine passes. If you have a group looking to take on a challenge, why not ride the 21 hairpin bends of Alpe d’Huez, and ride several other roads used in the Tour de France.
At SportActive, we can help you cycle further and faster, and take on Tour de France cols.