An Uphill Struggle – An introduction to the Club Des Cent Cols
After the recent appeal for content, I thought I'd drop a line about the Club des Cent Cols in the hope it might be of interest to one or two of you that have a liking for pointing the bike up hill.
Firstly, a quick intro because most of you will not know me. My name is Paul Frost and I'm originally from Leicester but for the last 24 years I’ve lived in Market Deeping. I work for Scania in Milton Keynes and so get little opportunity to return to the city except to visit Mum and /or the King Power. I do, however, maintain my LFCC membership and ride around Rutland and eastern Leicestershire in my club kit with pride.
Ten years ago, I read an article about a French cycling club that interested me. The Club des Cent Cols isn’t particularly well known in the UK but has over 7000 members from 22 different countries around the world. Although the basis for membership revolves around “collecting” rides over categorised Cols, it seemed to me to be a good incentive to get out and explore places that otherwise I would have no real reason to visit. So, as I approached the age of 40, I set myself the goal of achieving the required qualifying climbs before 45.
The requirements to join the Club are simple; ride across at least 100 different "Cols" of which 5 or more must be over 2000 metres altitude. Duplicates do not count and each one must be officially recognised by the Club.
The Club produces lists of the officially recognised Cols and sells them for only a few Euro each. The lists are available either through the post as paper catalogues or downloaded immediately as Excel spreadsheets from the website. Either way, they contain names, altitude, coordinates and details of how accessible the Col is. In this way it is easy to see those Cols that are on good quality roads and those that would need either a mountain bike or miracle to reach. Some of the electronic versions come with a kml file attached so that each Col can be easily seen in Google Earth and a route plotted to take in as many as possible in a particular area. Personally I really like this option because when you're going to visit somewhere you can quickly see if there are any new Cols to pick off in the area. I recently rode in the Eroica Dolomiti near Cortina in Italy and managed to pull in three new ones to add to my annual submission that goes in alongside the membership renewal form.
A Col has to be formally recognised and approved for inclusion by a Club committee and is defined as (translated from French) “a topographical feature with a point of passage imposed by relief below a summit”. In other words, generally it will be a depression in the landscape where a path or road passes over a ridge between two higher points. To be recognised it must feature on a map produced by some official body so my efforts to get the Col d’Overton recognised have so far failed!!
There are catalogues for many different countries so there are plenty to go at. The catalogue of French Cols contains over 10,000 and Spain over 15,000, Belgium has less; 8, Luxembourg 2 and Holland 1! There has been a very detailed job done on the UK catalogue which has 460 listed of which 72 are on-road. So, it is possible to amass a decent collection of Cols without even leaving the UK but unfortunately not the required 5 above 2000 meters, for this you need to start planning a holiday.
Although there are many well-known monster passes and Cols such as the Croix de Fer, Galibier, Stelvio and so on, there are thousands of lesser known ones that may have been crossed without even knowing it. The majority of Cols do not have those wonderful signs that always seem to be a magnet for German motorcyclists and their Club stickers but those that do are always nice to stop at for a souvenir photo.
Progressing towards your 100 does not always involve hours of grinding up hill. On a camping trip to southern France I found one recognised col at only 28 metres above sea level and in the hills of the national park behind Sainte-Maxime, it's possible to ride a route taking in a dozen Cols over a fairly easy 100km ride.
And so, as the years passed to my 45th birthday, I picked off Hardknott, Wrynose, Honister, Kirkston, Whinlatter, Winnats and Snake passes amongst other one and twos in the UK and then on annual family holidays camping in France managed to pull in a day or two of riding each year and some great routes around the hills of Provence and the Côte d'Azur that usually resulted in a decent sized bag of new Cols. Add to that one or two excursions to the higher mountains of the Alps and I was making decent progress towards my goal.
As my 44th birthday passed it became clear I was on target but needed two more 2000+ names and 11 others to reach my 100. An enjoyable January evening spent on Google Earth showed that the 11 could be picked off during the annual family holiday that would follow in August that year but I wanted to finish the 100 in style. And so, the final ride of my build up to joining the Club took me over the Col des Fourches (2261m), Col du Raspaillon (2513m), Col de Restefond (2692m, number 99) and finally the Col de la Bonnette, for me number 100 and at 2715 metres one of the highest paved passes in Europe.
On returning home, I filled in the membership form and attached the required list of my achievements and some Euro to cover the joining fee and to buy the jersey that I had coveted for the past five years. And sure enough only a few weeks later a large envelope arrived from France.
Since then, any holiday or trip away always involves a quick look on Google Earth and excited scribbling of route plans to collect a few new names. I've been in the Club for six years now, our son has married and moved out and the family camping holidays to France have stopped after I exhausted the dozens of cols in the 83 region. In recent times my wife and I have spent a week in May each year in Puerto Pollensa and we’re gradually picking off some of the 350 Cols that Mallorca has to offer. There are 8 on the snapshot below. If you’ve been to Mallorca you’ve probably done most of them without knowing it.
My real cycling passion has for many years been my beloved GIOS Torino, but the stories of L’Eroica and other vintage events are probably something for another article one day. The Club des Cent Cols, however, has given me a fabulous reason to explore some warm and weedy back roads in beautiful places that leave a long lasting memory. Like the time I met a family of wild boar head-on after riding for three hours without seeing a soul. I have now amassed 185 different Cols and add about 10 to 15 new ones each year, something I am content with. In the overall scheme of things, my return in comparison with the other 7400 members of the Club is ordinary to say the least and piffling when compared with 71 year-old Michel “Le Top” Verhaeghe with his overall tally of 10,000 (yes, ten thousand) Cols including 2,000 over 2,000 metres! Oh well, onwards and upwards!
Enjoy your riding and best wishes for the coming year
In looking back through some of my club magazines to verify the numbers above, I counted up how many Brits are in the Club and the total is only 20. I also noticed another LFCC member listed, meaning we account for 10% of the overall GB membership of the Club.
Check out the Club at www.centcols.org and feel free to contact me via the Club Facebook Group if you want to chat.