My Cycling Challenge Roundup: The Top Ten Routes of 2012


After an injury plagued 2011, I finally got back on the bike in a big way in late May this year. I sort of over-compensated for the lousy year, and climbed a lot. 🙂

My 2012 Challenge: No cyclosportives, no goals beyond my usual 100 different Cols target, but determined to enjoy myself and do long rides. I suddenly found myself lighter and fitter than I’d ever been. Moving from a lousy to a mediocre climber!

It has been a fabulous 6 months – so good to be on a bike for the sheer pleasure of pedaling. I think I climbed 190 or so different cols, and enjoyed them all.

Here are my ten favourite rides of the year:

#10 Col du Parpaillon

I’d dreamed of doing this climb for a long time. The route du Parpaillon was built between 1891 and 1911 by the French military to link the Ubaye and Embrun valleys. At the end of the 19th century it was the highest road in France – just higher than Galibier. It’s a huge, quiet climb – the top half is not paved and quite rough – completely deserted but hard work.

Full details here.

#9 Port de Boucharo, Cirque de Troumouse, Lac des Gloriettes

Too many cyclotourists descend Col d’Aubisque and head straight up Tourmalet. But they are riding past some of the best cycling in France. I had previously thought that Col du Tourmalet (2115 metres) was the highest paved mountain pass in the French Pyrenées, but in fact it is Port de Boucharo (2270 metres). The top half of Boucharo is a hairpin-heaven, the road ends at the summit –but one can stick their toe into Spain.

Descending back there is a stunning side road up to Cirque de Troumouse (2100 metres) – and yet another small side road to the alpine dam at Lac des Gloriettes. So huge a ride I split it into two blog posts: here and here.

#8 Rescued on Col du Sanetsch

Strangely, this is my only Swiss climb in the top 10 this year, although I had some great rides to Lac de l’Hongrin, Grand Saint Bernard, La Croix du Coeur, Sustenpass, and Grosse Scheidegg to name a few.

26 kilometres and 1750 metres of ascent. Sanetsch is one of the biggest, most beautiful climbs that you may not have heard of. Stats aren’t much different than Stelvio. Most Octobers in the Alps there is a small window to do big climbs WITH snow around before they close for 7 months.

The road was cleared and fine for road bike, although officially closed. Paradise. Full details here including a nearly nasty equipment failure.

Col du Sanetsch is in the back middle of photo:

#7 Cols Champs, Cayolle, and Allos

The quintessential south Alps loop. Three beautiful, long, not-crazy-hard Cols – all above 2000 metres. Approximately 120 kms and 3500 metres of climbing. Almost entirely on quiet roads. Wow!

Full details here.

#6 Cime de la Bonette, Col de la Moutier, Faux Col de Restefond

Another gigantic South Alps loop. Cime de la Bonette is the highest paved road in France at 2802 metres (it falsely signs it as highest in Europe).

I’d climbed it before, but this time I wanted to find the “secret” loop back up the other side via the remote and deserted road to Col de la Moutière, and an unpaved ancient road up to the Faux Col de Restefond. Too much fun.

Full details here.

#5 Cols du Mont Cenis & Petit Mont Cenis

Being lighter, and stronger than usual, 2012 was a great year for cycling up and down both sides of big passes. It was hard to leave both sides of Izoard,and Iseran off this top 10 list. But it was an especially magical day cycling the French side of Cenis and then descending deep into Italy and climbing the huge Italian side back (it will be in the 2013 Giro).

And the detour to Col du Petit Mont Cenis was like finding a hidden gem.

Full details here.

#4 Lac de Cap de Long

Top-to-bottom, the best road-bike climb that I have done in the French Pyrenées.

I am a big fan of cycling up to huge and high alpine dams/lakes – see here for a bunch of “dam” great rides – so I was excited to explore the road up to the Pyrenéen barrage at Lac de Cap de Long — and the Route des Lacs.

Full details here.

Mont Ventoux – All Three Sides

Woooohoooo. I’d had been feeling relatively fit, so I decided to try something a little crazy as the season wound down. I am a little surprised but really pleased that I managed this.

Full details here.

#2 Pic du Midi de Bigorre

I’d dreamed of doing this forever. Climb Col du Tourmalet, the most famous pass in the Pyrenées and then go much higher on an old, closed-to-cars, unpaved route to the towering Pic du Midi de Bigorre (2877 metres).

Full details here. Warning: Some bike carrying required up high.

#1 Col du Galibier for the Sunrise

I had been thinking about this project ever since Philippe, Xavier, and I watched the sunrise up Mont Ventoux.

I must admit I was initially quite scared alone in the dark as I left the last town. But as I got higher, and higher, I felt a feeling of pure joy. This was too much fun. And cycling up the other side from Lauteret later – in the morning sun – was not bad either.

My favourite part of my short amateur video of the climb here is how happy I clearly am.

Full details here.

In Summary

It was difficult to pick a top ten list and I excluded some truly memorable big climbs — but it feels pretty satisfying to look at the above.

Now I just need to convince some people to join me on a 2013 “sunrise” climb so I don’t get too frightened of the dark 🙂


Happiest while cycling uphill.


  1. I adore you for the possibilities you have and what you make out of it living in the French Alps. I went there 2012 for one week of beautiful rides and whenever I can manage I will accompany you for a ride before dawn. Just let everyone know early enough. Maybe you can start your personal cyclosportive event 😉
    Regards from Germany

  2. I’m in for the sunrise climb. Where and when? 😉 But some of these tunnels look scarier than any ride in the dark could ever be.

    Can’t wait to read about your adventures in 2013. Happy New Year, Will!

  3. Pingback: 2012 Favourite Photos : Cycling Challenge

  4. Pingback: My 2013 Cycling Challenge : Cycling Challenge

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My Cycling Challenge