Favorite bike ride: Col du Granier

Like a sailor, I have a bike in every port.
Neither of them has been treated the way they deserve in the past year. The home bike, a purple Specialized Dolce bought in New York in 2005, is stuck on a stationary machine, amputated of its front wheel. I use it several times a week, but it last rode on a road in summer 2008. The bike I keep at my parents’ home in the French Alps — a 2006 navy blue Specialized Ruby, the better of the two — was left hanging on the garage’s rack for two years until the beginning of September, when I finally got the chance to take it to climb mountains.

(Leaving home to climb the Col du Granier, its summit in the clouds.)

One of them is Mont Granier. Every day from the age of 3 to 17, I woke up to the sight of the Granier’s 800-meter (2,625-feet) cliff. Every summer, my family would kick-start the hiking season by climbing up its 1,933-meter summit. Its pass, the “col du Granier,” sits underneath the cliff at an altitude of 1,134 meters. According to its Wikipedia entry, the col du Granier featured in 16 Tours de France from 1947 to 1998. From the house, it’s a 13-km (8.1-mile) ride, including a 10-km climb. The road has a slope of 18% at its steepest: for every 100 meters you ride, you gain 18 meters in elevation.
I was about 17 or 18 the first time I tried to bike up the col du Granier, without any preparation. I had to get off my bike and walk in the steepest portions. I turned around before reaching the top. The second time, I went all the way to the col, but I still walked in the hardest parts. By the third or fourth time, I finished without getting off the bike.

(Training hard for the Granier on the purple bike.)

Le Granier is my favorite bike ride. It’s grueling and the view is rewarding, just the way I like. Since I left home years ago, riding and/or hiking it is a tradition when I come back on vacation.
This year, I didn’t know whether I could reach the top. My only training was on the stationary bike. I had no kilometers in the legs, as a French cycling expression goes. My parents, with thousands of kilometers in their legs, accompanied me. My mother estimated she’d been up le col du Granier about 20 times this season.

(The family is ready to take on the Col du Granier, once again.)

The steepest portion is at the beginning, as if to discourage the faint-hearted. It lasts a few kilometers with no opportunity to take a breath or relax the muscles. Then comes the first of two easier parts, before the slope gets steep again for another few kilometers. Near the top, it gets hard again.
I made up for the two years of confinement by taking my beloved blue bike four times to the Granier in a week.
I had been thinking about that ride for months, especially after getting sick in June. While exercising on the purple bike at home, I would try to recall the road’s turns and twists, and imagine I was riding there. On my first ride, I got reacquainted with my old friend — memories of hardship, of feeling strong, of heat or cold weather, and music I was listening to on my iPod during past rides. I stayed in my father’s wheel and I was just happy to make it to the top — in 1 hour and 6 minutes.

(Mother and Daughter conquered the col du Granier.)

The second time was mine. Reassured by the first ride, I felt like flying and passed my father, who was having a down day.
On the third ride, I made the mistake of starting with the wrong gear. By the time I realized it, after the steepest portion, I had already spent more energy than I intended. Near the top, I let my father go; he was feeling strong, I could tell, and I didn’t want to exhaust myself trying to stay in his wheel. It was so hard that I thought I had a flat (I didn’t but my legs were fried: I suspect I paid for the wine I had drunk at lunch few hours earlier).

(Papa et moi. At the top of our game.)

The final ride was a solo: my goodbye to the Granier circa 2009. It was the easiest of all.
Now the blue bike is back in the garage. Until next year and next Granier.

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