Col des Annes

A couple of weeks ago, I found myself waking up at an ungodly hour to go for a ride. Hardly unusual, except in this particular case, I’d vastly overestimated the time I needed to get from Annecy to Thônes and so waking up at 5:15am was probably a little unnecessary. Still, the opportunity to ride with the best local amateur cyclist – and winner of the 2016 Etape du Tour – Tao Quemore, was too good to pass up. And so we met at 7:30am at a bakery outside Thônes to try a little climb he’d never done on a road bike  – and probably one of the toughest locally… Col des Annes.

From Thônes, we took the back roads through the villages to avoid the main drag into St Jean de Sixt, a far more pleasant route than what I would have taken on my own. Then it was back on the main road into Le Grand Bornand, a gorgeous little ski town at the base of several iconic climbs in the Chaîne des Aravis, including Col de la Colombière. Not far away are Col de la Croix Fry, Col des Aravis, and the grueling Col du Plan Bois. As a side note, since I last climbed Plan Bois, they’ve apparently resurfaced the road (one section on the descent was completely washed out) so I
need to get back out there.


The town is also host to a popular local Cyclosportive – La Grand Bo – in late June (and which I covered in an earlier post).

From Le Grand Bornand, we headed off down a little windy country path, with no apparent signs to anything much at all. Not that I should have worried, my accommodating host knew exactly where we were going and was seemingly happy to trundle along at my pace.

Soon enough, we passed through the cow fields and hit the climb. And boy did it jump up. Every time I looked down at my garmin, it said the gradient was 12% . And road surface isn’t always brilliant, which can make it seem all the steeper. After a couple of kilometers, it eases off. Single digits. Of around 8 – 9 % . But luckily the view is distracting as you climb steadily towards the mountains. The uneven surface and drainage canals in the middle of the road ensure you keep paying attention to where you’re going, and not just to the rocky outcrops around you as you near the base of the Pointe Percée – a popular local hike.

Coldesannes_gradientOnce you can see the top, it’s only a kilometer or two to go but again it ramps up to 12, 13, 14% and you’re grateful the entire climb is less than 7 km long because you’re not sure how much more of this you can take. But the view, as Tao had promised, is remarkable. Like much of the high areas in this part of the world, the summer alpages are filled with flowers, the sound of cow bells rings through the hills and the chalet at the summit sells local cheese. It’s the kind of alpine scene that just never gets old.

On the way up, I see a couple of guys coming down. They’re significantly older and also look less fit, some are riding really old bikes and I admit, I say to myself “if they can do this, I can”. For the record, this kind of talk generally doesn’t hold true in the Alps, where old guys (and girls) regularly rip the legs of cocky youngsters.

After admiring the view, and realising that Tao was going to be late for work after crawling up the hill at my pace, we scooted back down. The bumpy, windy, steep descent was almost as difficult as the climb, not to mention avoiding the drains. But we made it, and I was off on my way back to Annecy, bidding farewell to my gracious host.

On the way back, I took the main road down to Thônes (it’s not so bad when you’re a single cyclist, descending) and then turned off at La Balme-de-Thuy to take the back road via Dingy-St-Clair to Annecy-le-Vieux. As I turned back onto a main road after Dingy, I noticed to my right, a steep incline up the Voie Romaine – a fun little route I’d taken during La Grand Bo race. I made a note to come back and try that one again.

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