My 2019 Cycling Challenge – Results


Year 15 of this blog. Yikes.

2019 was a tough year, as I’ve been recovering from a crash since early August. BUT that is the last depressing sentence in this post – I am an optimist. I actually did OK versus my 2019 Cycling Challenge.

Earlier, I posted a few of my favourite photos of the year, organised by month – see here.

Here are the results versus my 2019 Cycling Challenge.

Cycle 100 Different Cols

OK, given the shortened year, I needed to count everything possible to “succeed.” But I believe I cycled up a handful more than one hundred different Cols! A few col-hunting multi-col rides helped. And if I cycled both sides of a huge col, I’d count both sides. But that’s forgivable, right? 🙂

An amazing 124 km Vercors Col du Rousset loop included at least eleven cols.

Col du Rousset

Oh, I shamelessly included cross-country skiing up to Col de la Ramaz! (note, this geographic Col de la Ramaz is some distance from the road-sign col).

And I included passing Col de la Platrière on the way to Col d’Izoard. Etc.

On the other hand, I cycled Mont Salève (from home) at least 50 times and counted it once.

Highest new Col? Colletto Vin Vert at 2686 metres. This was a gravel there-back detour on the way to Forte Jafferau.

View from Colletto Vin Vert

What were the most exciting new cols in 2019? I’ll discuss in the next section.

Find 20 “Good” New Climbs/Rides

Again, I just about “succeeded” here. I don’t want this post to be too long, But I’ll quickly list some of my very favourite discoveries.

Colle Del Nivolet unpaved

I climbed Nivolet twice in 2019. Both sides unpaved. Many people have heard of the back way via Pont. This requires 26 kms uphill then putting the bike on the shoulder and hiking. I would climb this back way on day 1, descend the far side. Then, on day 2, the highlight ride of 2019 was taking a virtually unknown option up the famous side. It follows the remains of a 19th century military road. Then, joins an old hunting trail built for a King (Victor-Emmanuel II), before finally joining the last stretch of the most beautiful paved climb in the Alps.

I made a video:

Details here.

Monte Jafferau via Galleria dei Saraceni

Mont Jafferau in Piemonte is one of my favourite giant gravel climbs. This was my third time up, this time via the high, ancient Galleria (tunnel) dei Saraceni, which had just reopened after being deemed unsafe since 2013. The map in the post has all three routes, all astounding unpaved old military roads. So great even if the tunnel is terrifying.

Details here.

Col du Rousset / Vercors Loop

The Vercors is perhaps the most under-rated region of the Alps for cycling. It’s full of great cliff and gorge rides. I’d never ridden the hairpin-filled south side of Rousset before. Amazing.

Ride details here.

Col des Ayes /Col d’Izoard Loop

The Hautes-Alpes department has an official signed route for a loop for Col d’Izoard that requires one to cycle down low between the starts of each side: Guillestre to Briançon. But I wanted to try a loop that included another big climb. Col des Ayes is huge, higher than Izoard (2477m vs 2360m). It’s unpaved, requires a touch of hiking on both sides of the summit, but so beautiful. Fantastic loop.

Details here.

Col Hunting (7!) Above Serre Chevalier

Last summer I cycled Col du Granon from Briançon and visited several unpaved cols above. During that ride, I kept looking at the high mountain ridge across the valley above Serre Chevalier. I thought I could see some unexpected roads among the peaks. I made a note. The result? A super fun, very challenging, unpaved ride to and along the upper ridge of Serre Chavalier Ski Station.

Ride details here.

Fort de la Platte (and above)

Bourg St. Maurice is at the very start of four famous road bike climbs: Col de l’Iseran, Cormet de Roselend, Col du Petit St. Bernard, and Les Arcs 2000. Far lesser known is this great gravel climb. Challenging, unpaved higher up. I counted 35 hairpins … and not a single car.

Fort de la Platte behind me

Details here.

Col de Pennes and Col de la Chaudière

A beautiful loop in the Drôme department including a fantastic gorge, two main climbs/cols, as well as six more smaller cols passed along the way.

Details here.

Three Remote Unpaved Annecy Cols

This ride explores some lesser-known climbs starting from Lake Annecy and heading south. Road bikers don’t leave yet. While this loop requires a mountain bike and some pushing, it begins with a nice 10-kilometre paved climb from the lake that you probably don’t know.

Details here.

Col de la Chauvière – Above Grand Naves

A route planning secret? I scan maps looking for hairpin-filled roads. This ride has 50 or so full 180-degree hairpins going up, roughly half paved, and half gravel.

Ride details.

Two Col Hunting loops above Lac du Bourget

Two brilliant, challenging trail loops in mountains overlooking the largest lake entirely in France.

a. Cols Cessens, Sapenay, Clergeon, and Passage du Gros Foug.

spot the cyclist

Ride details.

b. Montagne de la Biolle Ridge Loop

Ride details.

I better stop here. This is getting long. Sorry!

Another Ride Above 3000 Metres

I failed here. I had planned to climb Theodul Pass beside the Matterhorn (3285 metres) in August. With any luck, I’ll try again in 2020.

See here for 25 of the highest unpaved roads in Europe including several above 3000m.

Forte Jafferau was the high point of 2019 (2805 m)
More Gravel Touring

While I did lots of big gravel rides, I did no touring beyond my two-day Nivolet trip. I have plenty of ideas. I’ll do better in 2020.

An unpaved route to Colle del Nivolet
More Adventures with my Wife

I love my wife (a lot). We had some good cycling trips together in 2019. Plus lots of hiking and local rides.

The highlight was probably a multi-day trip to cycle many of the amazing bike paths along canals through Burgundy and Franche-Comté. We also cycled Col de l’Iseran bike day together. A few photos:

Very proud of Doreen
Other Stuff

Of course, I rode lots of old favourites (Croix de Fer, Croix Fry, Semnoz, Forclaz, La Barillette, Glandon, Aravis, etc.). Locally, I cycled endless paved and unpaved variants of Mont Salève, Mont Sion, and other fun roads. I’ve already posted some of my favourite photos of the year here.

But here’s a short video of a typical local Mont Sion ride from home. Lots of hay surfing, lots of cows, a few cyclists, and no cars.

Spot the Hay Surfer!
Final Thoughts

Year 15 of “My Cycling Challenge” had a disappointing end. But the above shows I was lucky enough to still have a lot of fun. As I’ve mentioned to some Steel Wheeler friends, I don’t think I have a single good friend in Europe that I didn’t somehow meet through cycling and this blog. Thanks! Happy New Year.


Happiest while cycling uphill.


  1. Happy New Year Will, all the best for your complete recovery and new plans for 2020, we all look forward to your new posts and ride adventures, and with a large dose of luck we can secure clearance from our wives to depart smoke-filled Sydney and go ride some of the ‘top 10’ in northern Italy in September!

  2. Not a bad result all things considered. Let’s hope we both stay upright in the next decade and happy climbing in 2020.

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My Cycling Challenge