Road cycling, riding its way to the top
Road cycling continues to grow in popularity, and this year is no exception.
It goes without saying that Annecy and the surrounding area offer the perfect mix of verdant mountain valleys, snow-capped peaks, and forests for cyclists to enjoy amazing rides with breathtaking views around every turn.
While a sport in the Summer Olympics since the first edition in Athens in 1896, only with the advent of professional races like the Tour de France or Giro d’Italia in the early 1900s did road cycling become a popular sport, especially with the “masses” (the latter term far too often used pejoritavely). The general view more or less stayed with cycling until just over a dozen years ago, when advances leading to the development of highly-specialized, high-performance equipment caught the attention of the next generation.
© Tristan Shu – Annecy Mountains
More than a simple sport, cycling has become environmentally responsible, combining a personal fitness challenge with exploring and reconnecting with nature.
More and more women have caught the cycling bug, explains Flore Gindre, an experienced rider whose passion for road cycling led her to create Matchy –along with her boyfriend Geoffrey Baudouin – an Annecy-based road cycling brand that makes environmentally-responsible clothing using recycled materials.
Their manufacturing sites are in France and Italy. Feel free to pay them a visit at their cycling café-boutique (Matchy Cyclist Clubhouse) in Annecy, to see the full line of cycling clothing as well as to grab a bite to eat before or after a great ride!
To promote cycling and share their passion, they created the Matchy Brigade in 2017, which offers enthusiasts from every walk of life the chance to meet up for guided rides on Wednesday evenings (40km to 50km) and Saturday mornings (70km to 90km), and for free when signing up through their website.
The idea is to organize friendly, leisurely outings to explore new routes and introduce riders to one another. The Matchy Cyclist Clubhouse in Annecy schedules the meet times.
One of the area’s accessible rides that they highly recommend is a fifty kilometer loop around Lake Annecy via Col de Leschaux Pass, La Chapelle-Saint-Maurice, and Saint-Eustache, including an amazing descent with breathtaking views of the lake.
For Olivier Garbial, who rides for Team Sulpice (created by Jean Sulpice, the avid cyclist and Michelin-starred chef at the Auberge du Père Bise restaurant in Talloires), cycling is an extraordinary sport for a whole host of reasons.
Mountain passes, long climbs, and the physical effort offer the right ingredients for a personal fitness challenge and a source of incredible satisfaction. Feeling the wind on your face during a descent or following a specific line through a turn, cycling provides a unique experience that adds a healthy dose of adrenaline to your day along with the simple pleasure of riding. Only cycling offers singular adventures through the great outdoors where you can enjoy, for example, a wide variety of amazing smells all throughout a given ride, including dry grass, hay, flowers, goats grazing in the meadows, and even manure!
When riding with a group, cycling allows you to more easily step out of your comfort zone and embark on new, more daring, and challenging rides. Keeping an eye out for each other and the warm and encouraging atmosphere when riding with friends contributes to strengthening bonds with others, he adds.
© Olivier Garibal
For outings during the summer months, when it is best to avoid riding on the bike path for safety reasons, Olivier shares a few of his favorite rides:
- Col de l’Arpettaz Pass (1581 m), at just over one hundred kilometers long with 1300 meters vertical gain, starts and ends in Veyrier-du-Lac. This little-known ride, even in summer, takes picturesque roads up tight switchbacks and down technical descents. A chalet-hut at the pass makes for a nice place to stop and take a break.
- For a shorter but more intense effort on almost-empty roads, this thirty kilometer ride with several 16%-grade climbs starts in Thônes, and takes you to Les Clefs, Plan Bois, and Manigod before making its way back to the starting point. Ride along alpine pastures, past farms, and through the beautiful countryside landscapes. Although very difficult, the route offers fantastic vistas of Manigod, La Tournette Peak, and the Aravis Mountains. Make sure you take a well-earned break at the Plan Bois Hut.
© Tristan Shu – Annecy Mountains
- The Thônes, Manigod, La Croix Fry loop (40 km) is a more classic but always fun ride. Stop at the Les Sapins restaurant before the descent through La Clusaz and back down to Thônes.
- One final ride, I recommend the climb to Glières Plateau via Saint-Jean-de-Sixt starting in Thônes, by way of Le Petit Bornand, and finishing up one of the steepest backroads in the area to reach the plateau. Ride downhill to Thorens-Glières, and then through Villaz, Dingy-Saint-Clair, and back to Thônes. This more than sixty kilometer ride offers a great change of scenery and several fantastic descents.
Save the Date
The Ultra Race Les Géants is the latest road cycling race in the Alps for those who want to ride along the flanks of some of France’s most spectacular peaks. The first edition will start in Annecy on August 19, 2023.
Flore and Geoffrey from Matchy came up with the crazy idea. The pressure is now on with more than 140 cycling enthusiasts signed up for the race and who plan to push their limits solo or as a two-person team on one of three courses: 300 kilometers in 24 hours, 500 kilometers in 60 hours, or 1000 kilometers in 120 hours. Registration is now open.
- © Tristan Shu – Annecy Mountains
Journalist: Aude Pollet-Thiollier
Translation: Darin Reisman