CLIMB: BArboleuse (1190M)
How to do a big climb in winter without freezing on the downhill
This ride is part of our "Winter riding in the Alps" collection. To learn more about it, read this story on the blog.
It is tricky to do long and intense climbs on the bike in winter. Why? You sweat. It would not be a major problem at any other time of the year, but it is when you have to go down in the cold. Soaked clothes are the last thing you want to wear - you will instantly freeze in them.
The most obvious way to avoid death by cold is to ride indoors, but I don't enjoy it. Luckily, I live at the top of a 9 km climb. What can be a torture at the end of a long, hot ride in summer becomes my secret weapon in winter. I use it in what I call my "down and up" loop. What is it? Well, just what it says: first I go down, and then I go up. Here's why it works so well.
It all starts from the comfort of my home. There, I dress with multiple layers: baselayer, jersey, jacket. I also wear a winter hat, a buff and thick gloves. This way, I feel warm when I start my ride.
All bundled up to start from our house
The first 3 kilometers of the loop towards Villars are a false flat, where I manage to get even a little warmer. Then, there is a 9km descent with a 800m drop towards Ollon in the Rhone valley. It's fast and I'm down in less than 15 minutes. By that time, my hands, feet and face may be a little cold but I only need a few minutes on the flat to feel fine again.
As I get to Les Dévens, it's time to take off my jacket and my buff. If it's not too cold, I'll also switch to lighter gloves and a normal cap. The climb home starts with a 1.5km section in the vineyards where the gradient stays between 10 and 14%. When I reach Fenalet, believe me: I am warm no matter the air temperature.
Getting warm in the Chablais vineyards
The slope gets more gentle afterwards, somewhere between 7 and 9%. Enough to keep me warm of course, and I'll start sweating at some stage. But what would be the first stage of cryogenization on any other ride is no big deal here: as I reach the top of the climb in Gryon, I just need to keep riding for a few hundred meters on the flat to get home. two minutes later, I am under the shower. Mission accomplished!
Strava tells me that I have done this climb 280 times over the last 13 years. That's a lot, but I still love it. The traffic is light and the views are beautiful. Depending on my fitness level and how hard I want to go, it takes me between 35 and 45 minutes to get home from the valley. I am not going any faster these days and I'll never break the 30' barrier that I barely missed a few years ago. But that's OK: when I climb, I am in my happy bubble, listening to my body and letting my thoughts run free . I'm alive, in the flow.
Of course, I can only do this loop when the road is not icy and mostly dry. As it is mostly south facing, it happens often enough during winter.
Last few meters before the top in Barboleuse
TIPS TO STAY WARM
The Velocio range offers several options when riding this loop in winter. It was cold when we shot the photos on this page: about 3°C at the top when we left, 1°C when we came back at sunset.
I chose to wear the Alpha Merino Air Jacket over the Merino Mesh Sleeveless Baselayer, a combo which kept me warm even after I started to sweat. The Polartec Alpha fabric used for insulation works great and it allows for freedom of movement, a big improvement over the heavy, bulky clothes we used to wear to go out in winter.
The Alpha Merino Air Jacket: light and warm
It was warmer than I expected in the valley, probably 6°C which felt balmy thanks to the sun. I could have used the Thermal Jersey instead but I would have sweated anyway, and I find that the Alpha Merino Air Jacket does a better job at keeping me warm when wet than a more classic jersey.
The other items I wore included: the Ultralight Rain Jacket as an extra layer for the descent, Alpha Gloves, Zero Cycling Cap, Thermal Bib Tight, Winter Wool Socks and Zero+ Booties.
One more coffee before heading out
OK, time to go now
Descending with a view
Taking off a layer before the climb
Will I make it home before sunset?
The climb is the bottom part of the Col de la Croix
Staying on the sunny side
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