The Ride Of A Thousand Cols

Rapha Travel

Between May and October 2017 Phil Deeker, founder of the Cent Cols Challenge (CCC), will ride 1,000 mountain passes - or cols - in 100 days of riding.

The British endurance rider has devised a route from Bastia in France to Bilbao in Spain through Europe’s great mountain ranges. He will ride along beautiful and remote roads of the Appennini, Dolomites, Vosges, Black Forest, Jura, Alps, Cévennes, Massif Central, Pyrenees and Northern Spain.

The route will comprise the 10 Rapha Travel Cent Cols Challenges taking place in 2017. It will be the final year that Phil will ride every stage of the CCC, something he has done for the past nine years. In between each of the 10 trips, he will take only three or four days to recover.

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“I’m turning 60 next year and wanted to go on a very long bike ride in the mountains to mark the end of the ‘first chapter’ of the CCC story,” says Phil, who will be raising money for the British charity Access Sport during his “ride of a thousand cols”. The Briton has been inspiring amateur riders from around the world since he became hooked on cycling some twenty years ago. In 2007 he set himself the challenge of riding 300 cols in France in the space of 30 days. He did it in 28, raising £10,000 for the charity. The CCC concept was born a matter of days later as Phil realised the power of discovering one’s inner strength when battling the mountains, particularly when fuelled by a romantic appreciation of the surroundings.

Since then, the CCC has been a not-so-secret holy grail for riders looking for a test that would push them to new limits. The trips average 200km with 4,500m of climbing per day, and the 10 days (and 100 cols) are split by only one rest day. Phil’s routes are based on an intricate knowledge of lesser-ridden mountain roads, with the occasional iconic Grand Tour climb included too.

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How do participants get through such a vertiginous challenge? “The group camaraderie that grows is equal in proportion to the suffering endured. The vertical ascent and distance per day ensures that neither body nor mind can find energy for anything but the task at hand: arrive at the next feed stop and find the next hotel,” says Phil, who organises and leads all of the rides as well as riding them.

“Despite this survival instinct behaviour, along the way riders learn to savour the present moment, both painful and beautiful. There are moments when they feel themselves dragged down to their inner demon pits but there are others when they feel uplifted to what some call ‘spiritual realms’. The gradient of the tarmac and the beauty of the mountains are both their tools and their masters. It is up to them to learn how to use and how to obey both.”

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Phil might have mastered this technique to deal with the endless ups and downs of a Cent Cols Challenge but his ambitious plans for 2017 will nevertheless provide a worthy test, even for him. Bonne route.