Tackling a Montée

It has been a little while since my last post and, quite frankly, I have no excuses. Sometimes it’s tough when riding with others to take the kind of pictures that are ‘bloggable’. Other times, I am simply lazy. But as I arrived back in Annecy last week to see the autumn colours dotted across the hills, I realised that there may be precious few bright days left! More importantly, it was time to look for those long-sleeved jerseys!

And so, for this post, I have decided to do a bit of a round-up about my experience doing hill climb races in the Tarentaise. And also, it gives me a chance to profile three little climbs in the area at once. So this, I guess, is a ‘three-for’ post.

There are numerous hill climb time trials across the Savoie and Haute Savoie in August and September. I think particularly as the cyclosportive season winds down, it is a relatively easy (and cheap) affair for local ski towns and a great way to highlight their summer activities. For climbers they are also short, fun, and relatively cheap (ranging from free to EUR 14) way to keep racing as the hot summer days make long alpine sportives a bit of a drag.

  1.  Les Coches

The first little climb in this series is the 9.2km from Bellentre via Montchavain to Les Coches. Like all hill climbs in this area, it generally ends at a pretty little ski resort somewhere on the Vanoise side of the Tarentaise.

From Bellentre, you head across the river and turn left towards Landry (and toward the Rosuel Valley if you were doing the climb up to the national park) and then a right towards Montchavin Les Coches. I guess it isn’t on anyone’s ‘to do’ list as I couldn’t find a profile for the climb. Based on Strava, however, it is approximately 6.5% average (7% for the first 6km and 6% for the last 3km) the entire way and it is fairly consistent. Nothing much in terms of views but if you were in the area and looking for a quick little training ride, then this is a 30 – 40 minute effort and a nice little 15 – 20 minute cruise down afterward. Good for intervals, low cadence days and other boring training efforts we have to do!

As for the race itself, in case you’re interested. It was a mass start out of Bellentre with a neutralized opening for the first two kms or so until the turnoff where the climb began. There were around 30 of us who turned up for the climb – it was a free event – and lots of familiar local faces. And the odd celebrity – Jeannie Long0 (59-time French National Champion and 13-time World Champion) was there with her husband and the only ones in skinsuits! [note: next year, get skinsuit and scare everyone at uphill time trial events]

Of course I wasn’t expecting too much whenimg_6812 up against the most decorated female cyclist of all time – even if she is 57 years old! – and was fairly content to come in second. Jeannie came down and gave us some encouragement on the final kilometre, defying her reputation of being a bit of a bitch. We followed her down after the race and admired at her ability to fit that enormous trophy into the back pocket of her skinsuit. Definitely something to learn from. BUt you’d also think that someone at her level would be able to keep their equipment in better condition (hello, squeaky brakes!!!).

Still, while I may have been happy with runner up in 2016, next year, Jeannie, I’m coming to get you!!


2. Courchevel

Unlike the Montée Bellentre – Les Coches, Courchevel was a far more sophisticated affair. First of all, it cost EUR 10 to enter (a whopping good deal if you do it on the final Sunday and get a fantastic lunch in the village afterwards). Second, there is prize money at the end of the month. Third, there are four dates spread across July and August for you to have a crack. Fourth and finally, it is a real individual time trial where you start on a ramp with two guys holding the bike and counting you down. It all feels very pro.

But really, it was the prize money that lured the pros. I turned up on the final day – a Sunday morning – for the climb and immediately spied three pros. Fanny Leleu – a French woman who came 6th in the Tour de France Feminin who had already raced this one but was back for another crack at the money. She was already in the lead with a 50′ climb. Then there were two Colombian women racing for an Italian pro team, who turned up with their support van.

I actually found this to be positive – it took all the pressure off and allowed me to treat the ride as TT practice without worrying about the outcome. It was funny watching the lead-up to the race. The start time was self-selective as you chose your dossard number by the time you thought it would take you to reach the top. I figured I would take just over an hour and so opted for the 300 group (the slowest). The fastest (an estimated time of under 50 minutes) was reserved for the 100s and I saw many a bloke rocking a number that defied what I would asses were his physical limits. Still, hubris is well-known principle in cycling.

The climb itself is not all that spectacular. Although admittedly I spent the vast majority of my time staring at my Garmin as I tried to work out my new power meter readings, Froome style.

The course is 15.5 km with 1,000 m of elevation gain. This amounts to around 7% average throughout the climb. I miscalculated my effort a bit and was following the signs by the side of the road, thinking it was another two or so kilometres to the end when the TT stopped at the Hotel Mercure. Still, the climb itself isn’t bad and you pass through a couple of nice little villages en route – La Praz and then the Courchevel village – which would have coffee shops and whatnot open even in the summer.

I hope to get back out here again in October as I will be staying in the area and I will update this post with some pictures, accordingly.


3. La Rosière

La Rosière is a ski town known to many who tackle the Petit San Bernard climb to Italy from Bourg St Maurice (the other end of the Tarentaise valley from Courchevel). But if you’ve only ever climbed up the main road, then you’re missing out.



This is a pic from the Petit San Bernard main road I took in 2015 (cheating, I know)

The La Rosière Montée tackles the alternative route up to the resort. The road is windy and steep, passing through small villages as you climb out of the valley. From Seez, you begin the climb towards the Col du Petit San Bernard before taking a right towards Montvalezan. The road then winds up at around 8 – 10 %, with some pitches into 11 or 12% at times. Once you pass through Hauteville, you will pop out at the main road, with the final three kilometres an easy 4% or so. If you aren’t racing, this is the time to take in the view to your right as the valley floor seems an impossibly long way down.

The entire montée is 15.5km from Seez and beautiful both ways. If you are coming back down the village route, be careful of the technical corners and it’s also a bit difficult to even see the first sharp left hand turn. Or you can just cruise down the main road again, though it is much, much longer.

The race itself was a fun one. Again, it was the final Friday night of the season and there had been I believe six climbs in total. One of the local fast guys – from the Macot La Plagne club – had been there every week and was rewarded with a bottle of wine for his efforts. He also managed to snag second place, which was an impressive feat given the competition.

img_7082The pool was around 30, with three women. I would estimate about one-third of the racers from Macot La Plagne club as most of the racers are based in the area. Another third was made up of the AG2R development team, at least some of whom had competed in the Tour de l’Avenir earlier that day, and already climbed the 50km up Col de l’Iseran plus the rest of the stage. But nothing is too much for a bunch of 17 – 20 year olds and they were out of the start gate like nothing I’ve ever experienced. And then there were around 10 of us who made up the remainder.

It was a mass start, with about 200 metres neutralized at the beginning to get everyone out of the parking lot and then a blistering start by the young pros. I settled into my pace and was fairly happy with making it up in 59 minutes. It could have been faster but then there’s always next year. And I won a vest. Perhaps my most useful racing prize of the season.

I’ll be sure to come back and post more pictures once I’m in the area again but till then, here’s a slightly dark picture on the way down and a podium shot. A beautiful climb and next time I’ll be sure to keep going and have lunch in Italy on top!



Go on, crumble that cheese

Two cheese posts in a day. I guess it’s feast or famine Chez Frouleur. This little post is about a little cheese tasting I put together for an American friend in town last week. I wanted to showcase local cheeses, and more importantly, to highlight the diversity of Savoyard fromage.

When eating French cheese abroad, we are often limited to the bries and camemberts of the country plus the odd chèvre thrown into a salad. When I first moved to the Haute Savoie and was faced with rows of tommes, I wasn’t quite sure what to make of it. It wasn’t that narrow range of creamy French cheeses I had always found on cheese platters before. But as I have slowly worked my way through them, I’ve been pleasantly surprised by the diversity. And so today, I chose a creamy chèvre (a Coeur de Savoie – or heart of Savoy), a Tomme de Brebis (but different from the tommes discussed in my last post), and something entirely new to me – the Persillé de Tignes, from the Savoie alps.Tommecoeur.jpg

We all know what creamy chèvre tastes like – although when shaped like a heart, it certainly adds to the aesthetic – and I’ll get to the tomme later but the Persillé was something I’d never experienced before. Indeed, it’s apparently quite rare, with very few farmers still making the variety.

Persillé de Tignes is named for the area of the Haute Tarentaise where it is produced [aside: Tignes is also a popular ski resort near the Col de l’Iseran and in the same general geographic region] , a region marked by steep valleys and alpine pastures that are covered in snow for several months of the year. This particular Persillé is made from 80% cow’s milk and 20% goat’s milk, and according to the woman in the shop is also a mixture of morning and night milkings but this can’t be verified. The term ‘persillé’ refers to the marbling effect you get from the mixture – it is often used to describe blue cheese – which has a curdled texture that is somehow both smooth and crumbly at the same time.

At first, I wasn’t sure what to make of it the cheese and almost dismissed it’s slightly dry taste. But after a second bite, and a third, I realised that the delicate flavour lingered on my tongue just as the cheese wanted to cling to the roof of my mouth. I gave up on the bread and tried eating it plain. It was delicious. img_7111But then on a whim, I crumbled it on top of a salad (I rarely eat salad so this was an unusual occurrence on many levels) and it took it to a new level. The avocado and dressing brought out the saltiness in the cheese, while the sweetness of the fresh figs balanced the flavour.

As I mentioned in my last post, taking fine, rare French cheese and putting it on a salad might have me swiftly booted from France but I stand by my actions. This cheese is divine on its own but why not also crumble a little on some lightly seasoned garden tomatoes with quality olive oil? In fact, it was so good, I made a bit of a Persillé Bruschetta the next day and it was unbelievable.

The cheese itself apparently changes as it ages, becoming less creamy and more musty with age. I will report back if I find some. Regardless, this little-known lactic gem is a worthy addition to any cheese platter and one to impress your snobbier friends (the rarity alone will win you kudos).


How do you milk a sheep?

While this was supposed to be a blog about cycling and cheese, my laziness has resulted in a lot of photos of cheese without a lot of writing. And of course one tends to forget the subtleties of each individual cheese a few days after eating and so any post-hoc blogging would probably be limited to “this cheese was great”. A description my sister would turn her nose up at.

As a result, I will start again with the most recent cheeses and will simply have to repurchase all other cheeses in order to post. A tough job but someone has to do it.

I am starting with the sheep’s milk cheese mostly because ittommedebrebis.jpg is what I purchased at the market today. I’m not sure why I went with the Tomme de Brebis today. I’ve had it once before and found it to be pretty unexciting. But last week’s Tomette de Brebis (confusing, I know), was just so deliciously, subtly sheepy without wandering into the pecorino range of bitterness, that I was tempted to give the regular tomme another chance.

I am sorry to say that it is just as I remembered. A little bland. But for those who are less enamoured of sheep’s milk – or a little scared of the flavour – it’s a great place to start. The texture is smooth, unlike the cow’s or goat’s milk tommes, and it has a rather delicate flavour. Like other tommes, feel free to skip the preservative white rind. In its favour, I will say it went pretty well with the white nectarines I also picked up at the market this morning.

However, it does not – in my opinion – match the far more exciting Tomette de Brebis. The tomette, sold as a long block rather than the round tomme, is also towards the more delicate end of the flavour spectrum when it comes to French cheese. But it has more of a characteristically sheepy taste, a slightly less smooth texture, and just enough bitterness to make it exciting. I added to to some avocado on toast on a whim (and a million Frenchmen gasp) and it was delicious. It also complimented some lightly salted and peppered tomatoes.

Sometimes it feels sacrilegious to take the cheese away from its pure setting but while I would agree melting it or adding it to a pizza, say, would be a waste, enjoying a hard cheese with fresh fruit is delicious. Try it.

I have sadly not taken a picture of my Tomette de Brebis on avocado toast but I will be sure to rectify the situation (and update this post, accordingly) after the Friday market.

The moral of this cheese-tasting/post was really just to look at two seemingly similar cheeses and note that one is not always like the other. Also, I’ve always wondered, how do you milk a sheep? I’ve never even been close enough to a sheep to see a teet! I’m sure I could google the answer but I’m not sure I’d like what else I find…

Until the next cheese post – enjoy!!