04 Lyon into the Cevennes – on climbing and descending… (157km, 1885m)

You are now at post Nr. 04 out of 10 for this tour.
If you want to read the post of that trip in order, voilà:
00a Freiburg – Barcelona preparation
00b Freiburg – Barcelona READY to go
01 Freiburg – Lake Neuchâtel (206km, 1200m)
02 Lake Neuchâtel – Geneva (119km, 968m)
03 Geneva – Lyon (167km, 1585m)
04 Lyon into the Cevennes – on climbing and descending… (157km, 1885m)
05 Lac St. Martial – Tarn (187km, 2900m) Prototype of THE cycle touring day
06 Tarn – Carcassonne (203km, 2683m) – A long day in 3 dimensions
07 Carcassonne – Casteil (148km, 2635m) Arrival at the ‘base camp’
08 Walking over the Pyrenees and cycling down into Spain (110km, 2671m) – reality checks
09 Hot as hell. Tortellà, Costa Brava, Canet de Mar (145km, 1468m)
10 La Final: last 48km to Barcelona & recap. What a tour…

or: On Climbing & descending – the beauty of investment and return with compound interest…

What a day… things are getting real. I started in Lyon and from there entered the Cevennes. It’s amazing what (other) beautiful landscapes we have in the heart of Europe. To get this across I’ll include the few pictures and clips I took that day. And besides that I have a short text about roadbike climbing and financial investment… äh.. yes.

[pardon the inconsistent use of tense] On my third day to Lyon I already felt the training effect. The two rest days there apparently didn’t do harm. My legs are fine and as usual after a couple of kilometers they’re back in their flow. The route started several kilometers southwards along the river Rhone, and just before Saint-Pierre-de-Boeuf right (west) into the Cevennes. This is where the first smooth, longstretched climb started. At some point down into the valley towards Annonay and again a loooong valley climb through e.g. Saint-Julien-Vocance. Some more of that and at some point in the evening I arrived at my destination; the Lac de Saint-Martial, which I had picked mainly because it was at just the right distance from Lyon (not too much less than 1/3 towards Carcassone, which I wanted to reach within 3 cycling days), and because it looked pretty cute in the satellite/Streetview pictures. As you will see below, reality did not disappoint me!

Climbing & descending – the beauty of investment and return with compound interest.

As mentioned above, there were multiple long stretches of climbs today that added up to 1880m altitude gain (on 157km). Quite something when you include luggage in the equation and the fact that I have hardly and longterm mountain experience. Luckily though, most of those climbs were stretched out enough to have gradients between 4 and 6% with some outliers up to at least 10% (estimated). I remained mostly in the saddle. In fact I realized again how inefficient standing up is on climbs – but sometimes necessary and good just to change the position, stretch a bit and shift the load onto other muscle groups – just for a few dozen meters, and then back into the regular position, slowly but consistently winding my way up.

A skill I gained now and value a lot is pacing: I follow the basic principle as I do on flat stretches: choose a gear light enough to have just a little perceived resistance at a healthy cadence (I counted once: 90rpm feels good to me). I am not shy with the small chainring (34T currently). On a climb I will go slow. I never checked my power output, but I guess it is rather low. But I know that by cycling on low pressure I will endure for quite a while; and greatly: it does not feel much heavier over the course of a climb (or day, in case of flat stages): at my healthy power/cadence the end feels almost just as exhausting as at the beginning and I can go on for quite a while.

While climbing I try to not think too much about the climbing. For one thing, climbing makes for a very different placement in the surrounding: because of the low pace and because often the mountain shields from headwind, there is no wind noise in the ear which lets you hear all of the wonderful sounds of your immediate environment: grasshoppers, bees, wind moving leafs, sometimes other animals being busy in the bushes (with ‘other’ I do not mean ‘other than me’ but ‘other than the bees’. Just to clarify. But sure, in the end I’m also just an animal pacing that world).

Then, the lack of moving air also makes scents much stronger: usually the smell of pine trees, other wood, camomile, and other things that smelled incredibly familiar but I couldn’t identify. In any case: like a high class and and ‘all natural’ (whatever that’s supposed to mean) soap bar box. Just more subtle.

And another effect from the slower speeds: I see more; obvious. I can stick for much longer to little details that are very close by: the pattern of the year rings in that log, two butterflies mating on the pavement, the old lady on her bench on her front porch, the multiple times rolled over ferret-kind-of creature whose tragedy is approaching me with every creaky crunchy turn of my tires and crank… beautiful!

When those things do not keep me busy enough, I prefer to deviate my thoughts into anything from e.g. tonal excercises, doing accents, contemplating past events or human relationships or silly mind games. One of the latter that was circulating around my mind is about climbing. I think an analogy of financial investment very much matches my psychology on climbs:

Winding my way uphill is an investment; I give away and invest current ressources – namely calories and more importantly the (primarily clearly) negative experience of work and exhaustion – and receive a return in the future – a downhill ride that is a fun experience, cooling, physically relaxing, usually had a great view and also moves me forward on the map very quickly. The thing is: that investment is very solid: I know that I started on several hundred meters above NN in Freiburg, and I will end on 0 NN in Barcelona. The return is guaranteed; like with a current German government bond. So you’d expect there to be no interest on it (since there’s no risk involved (no: Barcelona will not rise from the sea anytime soon)) – but there is: a future descent has a much higher value to me than a current descent. That is because a future descent includes the descent itself, and the hindsight memory of it, but also the joyful anticipation of it! On another level there is even some sort of cumulative interest involved: because I have the feeling that my joy on a downhill ride increases exponentially with it’s length and the length is proportional to the amount of uphill riding which naturally in turn is proportional to the time spent. So: the longer I climb, the exponentially higher the return. What a deal! Take my money!!

So, ja, I admit it might sound a bit far-fetched but I think that’s about the mechanism at play. Bottomline:

  • I like climbs because they pay off very profitably
  • Climbing makes you make up weird analogies

But here’s the practical application: The day was in fact concluded by a very solid climb that climaxed in a really steep section on the very last few hundred meters. Strangely, my destination, the lake Lac de Saint-Martial was situated right on top of that last climb, which means that one edge of the lake (my arrival edge) was immediately bordering a steep valley front; almost surprising that the wall of the sea bed is apparently stable enough to hold the lake. As you can imagine, this situation made for a great arrival: instantaneously from ‘torture’ to paradise – impossible withought the climbing. Just look at this video that I took right at my arrival:



​Just a few meters before the campsite.​​


I knew of course it would be pretty. But I didn’t expect this… even parts that I in my planning expected to be rather dull, necessary sections to bridge the highlights turned out to be really pretty. But as we all know: pictures say more than 1000 words (I realized now that I don’t have too many pictures/clips available; sorrrry. Many though in the next post):

Cola break in Maclas:

Lunch break:

More (and more valuable) photos will be in the next post!

STRAVA: click

Author: Malte Cyclingtourist

Hi, I'm Malte, cyclo-hedonist, endurance traveller, occasional bikepacking-racer (mostly road) – www.cyclingtourist.com – Strava: Malte Cyclingtourist – Instagram: @maltecyclingtourist

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