A few kilometres west from the foot of Alpe d'Huez along a wide flat road is the turning to the Col de la Croix de Fer.
The southwestern ascent of the Col de la Croix de Fer is a sleeping giant of a climb. It doesn't have much in the way of sexy hairpins, grumbling rockfaces or jaw-dropping canyons, but it doesn't disappoint.
There has been a route up over this mountain pass since time began. Much of the road remains the same compared to the old days. The only difference now is two reservoirs, one at the top and another at the bottom. They regulate the colossal snowmelt coming off the mountain tops every spring.
The total distance is 32km. With an average gradient of only 4.1%, but the figures are deceptive. Within the climb are sections of 11%, and towards the top, the air is noticeably thin. But you won't mind because by then, you will be riding up across the roof of the world.
Far away from the madding crowd, the Col de la Croix de Fer gives you the sun on your back and wind in your hair. A sense of liberation that comes with being out in an environment so immense you pale into total insignificance. Where your wants and dislikes are just not considered, where you are just a dot. It's an immersive experiment, to say the least. Such places can set you free.
Nearing the top, the Col de la Croix de Fer gives you a 360-degree view of one of the finest alpine landscapes anywhere. It's a place of purity and beauty. By now, any intrepid bike rider will have momentarily forgotten just about everything that happened before this day, this hour, this minute. They are in living in the moment for the moment, with all of its effort and pain. The thinning atmosphere deprives the lungs of the oxygen required to drive the burning muscles. Fatigue has set in big time, but there's simply nowhere else in the world they would rather be right now.
With the possible exception of the cafe at the top.
© davidt 2023