Fatty Goes to France, Part III: Mont-du-Chat

09.20.2011 | 8:59 am

A Note from Fatty: This is part 3 of my retelling of the cycling trip in France we recently finished with Cinghiale Cycling Tours, led by Andy Freaking Hampsten.

From time to time, life presents you with momentous decisions. Should you move to a far-off city, or stay close to home? Should you take an interesting job with an untested company, or keep the job you have? Should you have pizza for dinner, or a burger?

On the third day of riding in France, our group was presented with just such a decision. Not the pizza-or-burger option (alas), but something equally momentous.

We were given the choice of either a beautiful, carefree day of riding around the lake, surveying gorgeous scenery and exquisite villages of breathaking antiquity.

Or, if we preferred, we could ride the Mont-du-Chat (pronounced “shot,” I think). A ride which — as Bruce, one of the guides, put it — is “brutally hard and has no redeeming qualities, other than being known as one of the hardest climbs in France.”

Most of the group chose the beautiful day of riding around the lake.

Guess which option The Hammer and I — along with six others in our group — chose.

Honestly, it wasn’t a hard choice. Part of why I was here was to indulge my Tour de France fantasy; I had been open about that. And that fantasy included, at least a couple times, going as hard as I could up famous climbs.

Preview of the Climb

It’s useful to know what the elevation profile looks like for the Mont-du-Chat climb:


Yeah, and that’s pretty much what it feels like, too. When it starts going up, it’s obvious, immediate, and steep. Like, it averages around 10% for about eight miles.

And it doesn’t really ease up ’til you get to the top.

Here’s another useful thing: a map of our ride for the day:


In particular, this is what the climb looks like:


Quite a few switchbacks there.

Climbing the Mont-du-Chat

Our group had ridden out to the base of the climb together. As we rode this flat, seven mile section, I explained my plan to The Hammer. “I’m going to go at my absolute limit on this climb, OK? I want to see if I can hang with Shawn.”


Yes, Shawn.

Shawn was one of the youngest people in the tour, and a seriously fast guy on the bike, especially when climbing. As in, he took 2nd in the 2011 Mt. Evans Hill climb.

So, as soon as the road turned uphill, he and I took off. Without a doubt, in my head, we were racing.

The problem was, this race was happening in my head exclusively. More to the point, my absolute maximum effort was — more or less — his “brisk tempo” pace.

And so we talked. Or rather, he talked. I gritted my teeth and rode like it mattered. Not for time — I hadn’t even checked my stopwatch at the beginning, and had no way to compare my effort against anyone else’s.

I was just riding at my limit because, once in a while, it’s great to find out what that limit is.

Well, whatever that limit is, it’s well under whatever Shawn’s limit is. My sufferfest did not equal his sufferfest.

Even as I rode — suffering alone, though not riding alone — I noticed a couple of interesting things:

  1. The guide was joking when he said it had “no redeeming qualities.” Maybe he was just trying to scare away all but those of us who really really really wanted to do this ride. But the truth is, it’s a beautiful road, on a beautiful mountain, with a beautiful overlook at the top. I’ll show you all three of those in a minute.
  2. I really like the way famous climbs in France are marked. Every kilometer, there’s a marker giving you all kinds of helpful information: what the grade is for the next kilometer, how far you have to go to the summit, and the current altitude. Here I am at the 2Km marker:

“What?” I hear you say. “You say you were riding at your absolute limit on this climb, but you stopped to take pictures?

Well, no. I didn’t. Shame on you for even thinking this. When I’m in the all-out-riding mode, there is no force in the world that could get me to dismount and take a photo.

So I’ll explain how I got this particular photo in a moment.

We continued up — me at full-tilt, Shawn in his ‘having fun and sorta kinda riding hard’ mode, ’til we got to the top, where we’re greeted by the site of the gorgeous Mt-du-Chat radio tower:


I was so cooked. I stopped, straddling my bike — too tired to swing a leg over and get off for real. Resting my arms on my handlebars. Hanging my head. Willing whatever breakfast was to stay put.

“Hey,” suggested Shawn, brightly, “What if we cruise back down a little, take pictures of the others as they come up, and then finish the ride up with our wives.”

Yes, someone else was suggesting we pull “The Elden Move” . . . to Elden.

So we did. We rode down to the 2Km marker (though I should point out that we intercepted Andy well before then; he was right behind us, in spite of the fact that he was dawdling along and had big panniers full of cookies and bread and cheese and probably a full change of clothing).

And that’s how we got the photo of me at the marker. And one of Shawn, too.


Yeah, clearly we have the same body type.

We then took photos at one of the hairpin turns. Here’s The Hammer as she comes around:



In Praise of Armwarmers and Windbreakers

Once we got the photos, we rode back to the top — that’s why my elevation profile at the beginning of this post has a little divot.

And then we began to get cold at an alarming rate. It was a cloudy day, and windy too, way up there.

So you can bet that I felt pretty proud of myself for, at the beginning of the ride, recommending to The Hammer that we carry armwarmers and windbreakers in our jersey pockets.

Just look how cozy and comfortable we look:


Oh, and we got a photo of us with Andy Hampsten, too, who was looking rather dapper in one of the three changes of clothing he had brought with him that day.


Note to self: hire a better photographer.

While at the top, I asked The Hammer, “So, what did you think of this climb?”

“It was fine,” she said. “About 3/4 as difficult as climbing Mount Nebo, I guess.”

And the truth is, The Hammer is right. The mountains we climb right out our front door here in Utah County are every bit as epic as the hard stuff in France. Perhaps epic-er.

The difference is, though, the riding in Utah isn’t in France.

Do I make myself clear?


We had finished the hard part of the ride, but still had a lot of riding ahead of us. Including a big descent down the other side of Mont-du-Chat.

It was cold at first, but warmed up by the time we were about halfway down.

And that’s when I saw something I’ll never forget.

I was bombing down, trying to keep Andy in sight, and feeling quite proud of the fact that I was succeeding.

Which was when he sat up on this extremely fast, twisty downhill, and rode no-handed. His arms stuck straight out, like he was playing “airplane.”

It was a beautiful, silly, completely insane moment.


We now went on a scenic tour around the lake, exploring the roads that went by beautiful vineyards . . .


. . . and pretty little villages . . .


. . . with narrow alleys:


It was actually in this little village that we hit our maximum climb grade for the whole trip. Andy had asked a local kid where we could find a store to buy some snacks. The kid directed us up a road.

A road which became steep.

Very steep indeed.

As in, my Garmin showed 36% for a second.

Eventually, though, it did wind around through most of the town and lead us to a store. We got there at the exact moment the kid who had been giving us directions arrived, using a much shorter, direct route.

Very funny, kid.

More Lollygagging

We snacked, and then rode a few more miles alongside a beautiful canal / river.


As we rode, I began reading signs out loud, in spite of the fact that I do not know French or even any of its pronunciation rules.

I’m pretty sure I got everything right.

Then we got back to our hotel in time to change and walk over to a park, where our tour guides had set up a beautiful picnic.

We still had some of the afternoon and the whole evening to kill, so The Hammer and I walked into the city. Me reading signs aloud, both of us pointing out similarities and differences between here and where we live.

Mostly, things aren’t too different. I mean, sure, language stuff and the way that automobiles there seem to have a hard-and-fast rule that they must yield to pedestrians.

But by and large, lots of similar stuff. Except one very, very strange store.

See, we wanted to load up on food to take to our hotel room, to sustain us after our seven-course dinner. And then we walked into this:


A grocery store containing nothing but frozen food.

I felt like I was in a Star Trek movie.

Up Next

This was to be our last day staying in Aix-les-Bains (at the Aquakub, in case you’re curious). The next day, we’d be riding 100 miles to the place we’d be staying for the rest of the tour: La Grave. From there, we’d have easy access to the Alpe d’Huez and Col-du-Galibier, rides we’d be doing later that week.

“100 miles. Pish-posh,” The Hammer and I scoffed. “A 100 mile ride is just not that big of a deal.”

We were so wrong.


  1. Comment by GenghisKhan | 09.20.2011 | 9:12 am

    Nice write up and nice pics. Did they have complimentary jackets one could borrow at the frozen food store?

  2. Comment by centurion | 09.20.2011 | 9:26 am

    no pics of Andy riding no handed? Why didn’t you whip the camera out for a few snaps? We all would have loved to see that.

  3. Comment by rich | 09.20.2011 | 9:29 am

    Wow, very cool….cant’ wait to hear about Alp D’Huez

  4. Comment by AngieG | 09.20.2011 | 9:32 am

    Now I have France photo’s to slideshow through when riding my stationary bike this winter. It will be like I was there too. Well except I won’t be in any of them, and I won’t have any memories of the countryside, and, well I’ll make it work. :-)

    Can’t wait to see you and the Hammer in 2 weeks at the Fondo.

  5. Comment by roan | 09.20.2011 | 9:41 am

    “The difference…,riding in Utah isn’t in France.”
    “Do I make myself clear ?” Yes, I’ll skip France and head for Utah. How ’bout I just ride my bike there.

    OH another Yes…go back, I wanta see the Andy the airplane pic, too.
    Beautiful post, though lacking red bluffs.

  6. Comment by Liz | 09.20.2011 | 10:31 am

    Beautiful! Thanks for taking us along for the ride. But the cliffhanger! Will just have to wait for tomorrow.

  7. Comment by davidh-marin,ca | 09.20.2011 | 11:58 am

    Fatty- Paul tried to sell us a 38% grade from his Garmin as well. I think we’ll accept the idea it was a steep street, and leave it at that….or do we need to pull out the Robbie McEwen pic http://www.pezcyclingnews.com/photos/races06/tdf06/tdf06st20-robbie450.jpg

    either that or when you were passing someone on the narrow street:Danny_MacAskill_Waybackhome_101.jpg

  8. Comment by Bill W | 09.20.2011 | 12:00 pm

    Awesome posts. Can’t wait for Alpe d’huez and the Galibier!

  9. Comment by Dave T | 09.20.2011 | 12:23 pm

    Great post. An all frozen food store in France? That sounds like it should be illegal.

  10. Comment by Ally | 09.20.2011 | 12:27 pm

    Quick question – what kind of sunglasses is The Hammer wearing in the second to last pic? They look perfect. Thanks!

    Those are Oakley Commits, white frame with G30 Black Iridium lenses. Got ‘em for The Hammer for her b-day. She loves them. – FC

  11. Comment by davidh-marin,ca | 09.20.2011 | 12:30 pm

    So Fatty- Just watched the video about the Hotel http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WhaR1s8J6Kw

    Will we get a post strictly on food and accommodations? Did you have the massage, did you do the aqua spin class, how ‘bot the chocolate?

    AngieG- I think we need to have a get together at the Gran Fondo. Fatty can bring his ’slides’ , and we can have a ‘movie night’ before the ride. Is there a REI in Santa Rosa?

  12. Comment by Big E | 09.20.2011 | 1:04 pm

    Thanks Elden. I have been a long time reader of your blog (2006 I believe. While you were still in Seattle.) And I’ve watched your blog grow into the super power house that it is. And while I’m so proud and impressed by all that you do for charity. It’s really nice to read about your cycling adventures again. Things like this and Leadville really expose how much fun and love you have with cycling. Thanks for sharing.

  13. Comment by davidh-marin,ca | 09.20.2011 | 1:46 pm

    Will we get a guest blog post from Dr. Laura. Saw her +3 data from the ride and was very impressed. Also noted she hit a heart rate of 225bpm on your 100 mile day!!!! What did you do to her?? And how ’bout you, will we see some updating to WBR and +3? Time to regain your lofty standing on the +3 network.

  14. Comment by aussie kev | 09.20.2011 | 2:13 pm

    this race was happening in my head exclusively


  15. Comment by LauraS | 09.20.2011 | 4:02 pm

    davidh – that’s some crazy heartrate data! Strava says my max was 183, which makes sense since my max is around 196. Must be some kind of Garmin glitch.

    re: guest blogging, I think the blog is pretty full right now with Elden’s reports and Levi’s evil doings. My riding what pretty much me saying ooh, pretty! and hyperventilating a lot (oh, the altitude!)

  16. Comment by davidh-marin,ca | 09.20.2011 | 4:28 pm

    @LauraS- you can’t fool us. While you may not have raced Elden on the Mont du Chat (or gone back down to do it again) I’m convinced you represented Team Fatty with Flying Colors! How ’bout a compare and contrast. What’s the Marshall Wall like now that you’ve summitted Alp D’Huez. A ‘roller’?

  17. Comment by Donmar | 09.20.2011 | 5:20 pm


    How about some info on your gearing for the ride (ie, compact vs triple, 12-27, etc). I would be interesting to note what type of gearing it takes you to get up these climbs. Thanks for the great posts.


  18. Comment by LauraS | 09.20.2011 | 5:38 pm

    davidh – Alpe d’huez is actually not that bad really. What killed me was the Col du Glandon – over 12 miles averaging 8% and never going below 6% as far as I could tell. I think Elden will be mentioning that one! That would be like climbing BoFax from HWY 1 up to Ridgecrest – 3 times without stopping. Um, ouch. Also, wow!

  19. Comment by bart | 09.21.2011 | 4:00 am

    great post !
    especially the funny kid.
    like to know what gears your superlegs ride.

  20. Comment by a chris | 09.21.2011 | 4:04 am

    Riding down a mountain no-handed is probably wiser than riding down one-handed, videoing your riding companion and the switchback-y scenery. The grip on the camera tends to be for the right hand and on North American bikes (not UK ones for some loopy reason) the front brake is on the left…

  21. Comment by Jenn | 09.21.2011 | 4:07 am

    Great ride report, Fatty! Though…I have to admit I’m mildly horrified that French food seems to have been lost on you. I just…I just cannot get my head around that. Anyway, I look forward to the next post. (Did you at least have a good brownie or two? There’s crack in French brownies, I’m pretty sure.)

  22. Comment by Tumbleweed Dan | 09.21.2011 | 5:42 am

    Thanks for sharing your trip, the scenery looks terrific you all must be having a great time. I look forward to seeing more.



  23. Pingback by Fat Cyclist » Blog Archive » Fatty Goes to France, Part VI: Alpe d’Huez | 09.28.2011 | 10:22 am

    [...] attacking the Mont-du-Chat climb without The Hammer, and then riding the Col-du-Glandon with her, I had pretty much decided [...]

  24. Comment by JeffD | 09.30.2011 | 3:31 pm

    Nice, nice, very nice. I was on that Mont du Chat climb back in 2004, but going down. Oh that was fast and fun… and IN LA FRANCE! Stayed down the road from Aix-les-Bains in Chambery, and then up the road from La Grave in Villar d’Arene.

    Thanks for all the great pix. I need to get back there!


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