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09-07-2023 | Frank Jansen

Climbing the mythical Puy de Dôme

The Puy de Dôme rings a bell for every cycling enthusiast. This mythical Tourcol in the Auvergne sets the scene of some of the most epic cycling stories. It was here that Eddy Merckx received the famous blow on the liver from a spectator, which eventually cost him the Tour. And in the Tour of 1964 Jacques Anquetil and Raymond Poulidor fought a fantastic battle here. At least 13 times this mountain was part of the race, the last time was in 1988.

Photo: Adobe Stock

Private ownership

The mountain is private property. Cycling tourists used to be able to cycle up the mountain at set times. In 2010, however, it was decided to put an end to this. Half of the asphalt road was sacrificed to build a small train. In 2012 it became clear that cycling is only allowed during an annual tour, in which only 300 people are allowed to participate.

Coincidentally, I was in this region a while ago. On Monday I took the train up with my family. You may call this a tourist trap, but the view was still great. And right away it started to tickle: here I want to cycle up as well. That's how it works for every cyclist, right? My wife wasn't that enthusiastic, but I held my ground. I wanted climb that mountain at all costs.

Saturday morning at 5:30 the alarm goes off. I sneak out of the tent, put on my flip flops and walk straight to my car. My breakfast is on the passenger seat and my bike and bike clothes are already in the car. I roll off the campsite. Would that barrier go up so early? My whole plan almost falls in the water. The sign says "Ouvert à 7 hr", how stupid that I didn't think of this. But strangely enough the barrier goes up anyway.

I haven't left the camping yet or my on-board computer starts screaming. I only have fuel for 30 km. The nearby Total-pump turns out to be closed. Then I go to the highway. Another 20 km range. I have to take an exit, fortunately. Hey, there's a pump. I only have one card with me so I'm happy if the transaction is successful. I throw in 75 liters of diesel and drive on.

My satnav leads me straight through Clermond Ferrand. A route with about 2,500 traffic lights. Not ideal. At 6:15 I finally park the car at the valley station of the tourist train. The first train will only go at 9:00 so I guess I am well on time. Quickly I get dressed and start my ascent. It is starting to get a bit light. The barrier is no big deal, you crawl right underneath it.

From there it's about 4.5 km cycling to the top. On the profile on Cyclingcols I had already seen that these kilometers are definitely not easy. I can go straight to my lightest gear. Switching gears is not necessary. 

You drive continuously parallel to the track, and just before the top you have to go over it. Suddenly I hear some kind of alarm signal. Are they coming to get me? I suspect it has to do with the railroad crossing; there is a sign saying 'en panne'. Occasionally I look back, but I'm on my own.

Armed military

After half an hour I'm at the restaurant, close to the top. I know you can ride a little bit further to where the radar equipment and dishes are hanging. Part of that is a gravel road, but I take that for granted. I also know that there are patrols here by heavily armed soldiers. I studied them carefully on Monday. Anyway, no guts, no glory, I want to go to the top. If they arrest me, I'll pretend to be an unsuspecting tourist who doesn't speak English or French. A play I've performed successfully on several occasions. When I arrive at the end of the road, I hear a van starting and decide to turn around immediately. So no picture, but the top is reached. 

I descend as fast as I can, pass the barrier and drive all the way down to Clermond Ferrand. I want to do this part of the climb as well, because I want to do the entire climb. I turn around at the foot and calmly climb to my car.

The Puy de Dôme is off the bucket list!

Pictures: Frank Jansen

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