High Energy: Matt Carroll climbs the Col de la Colombière ahead of the world's top riders

"Are you sure you want to do this? It's very steep," says Yoris, my new cycling buddy. When you're facing the prospect of pedalling more than 16km uphill, these are not the kind of words you want to hear. Especially from a man like Yoris.

Decked out in black-and-white Lycra, his freshly shaven legs looked as though they'd been carved out of solid rock. This was clearly a man who does a lot of cycling, and if he says that something is steep then it's time to start worrying.

I was in the French Alps on a mission to conquer the Col de la Colombière – one of the most notorious climbs undertaken on this year's Tour de France. Last Wednesday, it saw the world's top riders snaking their way up through its impossibly tight hairpin bends before racing over the top to the finish of stage 17. But a couple of weeks ago, it was just me and Yoris – and even he was disappearing into the distance.

It wasn't always like this. Having grown up road-racing for my local cycling club in Gloucestershire, there was a time when I'd have been able to stay with the pace. Unfortunately, my weekly mileage has dwindled over the years, and although I still call myself a cyclist, these days it's more a state of mind than a state of affairs. Nevertheless, riding one of the Alpine climbs had always been an ambition. The way my fitness was heading, it was a case of now or never.

Plus, on the Colombière there was less chance of other riders being around to snigger at my huffing and puffing. Although thousands of cyclists head to the Alps every year on a pedal-powered rite of passage, the majority make their way to the likes of Alpe d'Huez, south of here – hallowed in cycling history as a legendary leg-burner and the first showcase mountain stage of Le Tour. But despite the reputation of the Alpe d'Huez for being tough, it's 3kms shorter than the Colombière – and not a lot steeper. Master this, and I'd have earned the right to hold my head up high.

Located in the Massif des Aravis region, south west of Mont Blanc, the Colombière has a vertical rise of more than a kilometre from start to finish, winding its way up through impossibly green pastures. Lest I got too comfortable looking at the scenery, though, Yoris warned me that the steepest section came right at the end. I couldn't wait.

I'd based myself in the town of Saint Jean de Sixt – the smallest of four picturesque villages that make up the Aravis Massif region. All of them lie within an hour of Geneva, and each is surrounded by cycling routes – making this area ideal for a weekend in the great French outdoors.

You can pick road routes to match pretty much any ability level here. Just head to the local tourist office, grab one of the detailed itineraries and off you go. There are plenty of places to hire bikes, and it's also possible to book yourself your own Yoris for the day who will show you the hidden treasures and give you tips on your riding.

The region is a hotspot for mountain bikers, too, with more than 30 designated off-road routes – many of them aimed at casual cyclists. The best thing about these trails is that there are no lung-busting climbs in order to access them; simply load your bike into the ski lift and head straight to the top.

There was to be no such luxury for me. Ahead lay 80kms of winding Alpine roads, much of it uphill, and as we made our way out of Saint Jean and down towards Les Contamines, I was already wondering what I'd let myself in for.

Mercifully the first 40km were all downhill, which gave me a chance to soak up the scenery. Every few minutes, we passed through yet another beautiful village, all shuttered windows, Juliet balconies and hanging baskets of bright red flowers. With Yoris keeping a lid on the pace, I was able to conserve my energy for the grand finale, which came around all too soon.

Cruising into the town of Cluses, we swung right and began our ascent – the sound of clicking gears signifying the start of the climb. "Only another 16km to the top; you're doing well," said Yoris, trying to gee me up.

It certainly didn't feel like it. A few kilometres in, and my lungs already felt as if they were about to burst through my chest wall. There is a knack to cycling up mountains, however; it's all about sitting back, spinning a low gear and relaxing into it.

Rather than worry about the umpteen uphill kilometres I had left, I decided to admire the view instead. The first third of the climb took us up through wonderful shaded woods, before opening out into high mountain pastures – so green they looked as if they'd been coloured in with felt-tip pen.

After passing through the town of Le Reposoir, things got decidedly steeper, and it was here that my legs turned to jelly. Having come this far, however, I wasn't about to give up – especially as there was a welcoming committee waiting for me, in the form of Yoris's team-mates from Le Grand Bornand cycling club.

With spectators involved, stopping was no longer an option – and around the next corner I finally saw the top. I felt as if I'd won my own private stage of Le Tour.

From there, it was pretty much downhill all the way, as we dropped into Le Grand Bornand and back to the comfort zone of Saint Jean de Sixt.

Maybe I was tired and emotional, but the place looked ridiculously beautiful – a cluster of Alpine chalets sprinkled around the hillsides. And just when it couldn't possibly get any more romantic, the whole lot turned pink as the sun slipped behind the surrounding peaks.

After all that, I needed to recharge my calories. There are only 1,000 or so inhabitants here, so what passes for nightlife mostly consists of sitting around a huge table in a restaurant or chalet, eating as much Reblochon cheese as you can consume. The Aravis Massif is renowned for it, and everywhere you go it makes an appearance. Later that evening, at the Hotel de La Croix Fry in nearby Manigod, I was presented with a parcel of the stuff wrapped in flaky pastry, which signalled the start of an epic, six-course eating session. Now that's my kind of challenge ...

For guided cycling trips with Yoris round the Aravis Massif region, call 0033 6701 196 54 or visit jcsportconcept.com. The Hotel Beau Site (0033 4500 22404; hotelbeausite.biz) in Saint Jean de Sixt has half-board double rooms available from €108. For more information on Le Massif des Aravis, see aravis.com; for more information on Saint Jean de Sixt, visit saintjeandesixt.com

The Independent travel offers: Discover a world of inspiring destinations

News
people
Arts and Entertainment
Game Of Thrones
Uh-oh, winter is coming. Ouch, my eyes! Ygritte’s a goner. Lysa’s a goner. Tywin’s a goner. Look, a dragon
tvSpoiler warning: The British actor says viewers have 'not seen the last' of his character
Arts and Entertainment
'New Tricks' star Dennis Waterman is departing from the show after he completes filming on two more episodes
tvOnly remaining original cast-member to leave long-running series
Sport
Esteban Cambiasso makes it 3-3
premier league
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Sport
The Etihad Stadium, home of Manchester City
premier leaguePlus updates from Everton vs Palace
News
people'I hated him during those times'
News
Britain's shadow chancellor Ed Balls (L) challenges reporter Rob Merrick for the ball during the Labour Party versus the media soccer match,
peopleReporter left bleeding after tackle from shadow Chancellor in annual political football match
News
i100
News
Dame Vivienne Westwood has been raging pretty much all of her life
peopleFirst memoir extracts show she 'felt pressured' into going out with the Sex Pistols manager
Arts and Entertainment
Lauryn Hill performing at the O2 Brixton Academy last night
musicSinger was more than 90 minutes late
Travel
ebookHow to enjoy the perfect short break in 20 great cities
Sport
Lewis Hamilton in action during the Singapore Grand Prix
Formula OneNico Rosberg retires after 14 laps
News
i100
News
Rumer was diagnosed with bipolarity, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder and post-traumatic stress disorder: 'I was convinced it was a misdiagnosis'
peopleHer debut album caused her post-traumatic stress - how will she cope as she releases her third record?
Arts and Entertainment
tvReview: 'Time Heist' sees a darker side to Peter Capaldi's Doctor
News
peopleActress tells men: 'It's your issue too'
Independent Travel Videos
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Amsterdam
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Giverny
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in St John's
Independent Travel Videos
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Travel

    IT Administrator - Graduate

    £18000 Per Annum: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: ***EXCELLENT OPPORTUNITY FO...

    USA/Florida Travel Consultants £30-50k OTE Essex

    Basic of £18,000 + commission, realistic OTE of £30-£50k : Ocean Holidays: Le...

    Marketing Executive / Member Services Exec

    £20 - 26k + Benefits: Guru Careers: A Marketing Executive / Member Services Ex...

    Sales Account Manager

    £15,000 - £25,000: Recruitment Genius: A fantastic opportunity has arisen for ...

    Day In a Page

    Scottish referendum: The Yes vote was the love that dared speak its name, but it was not to be

    Despite the result, this is the end of the status quo

    Boyd Tonkin on the fall-out from the Scottish referendum
    Manolo Blahnik: The high priest of heels talks flats, Englishness, and why he loves Mary Beard

    Manolo Blahnik: Flats, Englishness, and Mary Beard

    The shoe designer who has been dubbed 'the patron saint of the stiletto'
    The Beatles biographer reveals exclusive original manuscripts of some of the best pop songs ever written

    Scrambled eggs and LSD

    Behind The Beatles' lyrics - thanks to Hunter Davis's original manuscript copies
    'Normcore' fashion: Blending in is the new standing out in latest catwalk non-trend

    'Normcore': Blending in is the new standing out

    Just when fashion was in grave danger of running out of trends, it only went and invented the non-trend. Rebecca Gonsalves investigates
    Dance’s new leading ladies fight back: How female vocalists are now writing their own hits

    New leading ladies of dance fight back

    How female vocalists are now writing their own hits
    Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

    A shot in the dark

    Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
    His life, the universe and everything

    His life, the universe and everything

    New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
    Save us from small screen superheroes

    Save us from small screen superheroes

    Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
    Reach for the skies

    Reach for the skies

    From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
    These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

    12 best hotel spas in the UK

    Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments
    These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

    Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

    Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
    Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

    Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

    Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
    How to make a Lego masterpiece

    How to make a Lego masterpiece

    Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
    Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

    Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

    Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
    Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

    Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

    His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam