ZIPP x PELOTON Chapter 2: The Col du Fût d’Avenas

Words and images by James Startt

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After climbing the mythic Mont Brouilly we’re eager to find another great ride on our Zipp cycling weekend in the French Beaujolais. All activity in this small but dynamic region centers on the village of Beaujeu, the historic capital of Beaujolais, it seems. And it is a pretty good place to start just about any ride. After suiting up in front of the Église Saint-Nicolas, which dates back to the 12th century, we soon roll out of town and instantly find ourselves embedded in the sprawling vineyards that define this corner of the country. Looking for a real-life definition of ubiquitous? Look no further than the vineyards of Beaujolais.

Tamas and Fifounet, our two regional ambassadors for the weekend, roll out of Beaujeu much as they did on the opening ride to Mont Brouilly, but this time, instead of turning toward Régnié-Durette, they continue on to Villié-Morgon, home to another of the region’s 10 prized “crus.”

Locals here still speak of when the Tour de France came to town, or more recently when the Critérium du Dauphiné hosted a time trial start here in 2012, won by a certain Bradley Wiggins only weeks before he raced into the yellow jersey at the Tour de France.

But instead of heading toward Bourg-en-Bresse, as the Dauphiné TT did, our two riders veer left on D18 and start gently climbing toward the Col du Fût d’Avenas. While the climb may be referred to as a “col” it has little in common with the mammoth climbs found in the neighboring Alps, save for its memorable views. And as Tamas and Fifounet climb away from the vineyards that cover the lower reaches of the pass, they gaze eastward toward the Saône River and even farther to the Rhône.

“These views are just hard to surpass,” Fifounet, a popular figure in group rides around the region, says. “It’s pretty astounding really, because the climb itself is not hard really, and then all of a sudden you are on top—and wow!” Tamas, a sous-chef in one of Lyon’s many gastronomic restaurants, adds, “I still can’t get over how close we are to Lyon.”

Arriving near the 743-meter (2,437-foot) summit, a large panoramic map designates the various points of interest visible in the expansive valleys below. And at the very top, the two are happy to stop off at the rustic auberge that sits there. A wonderful old farmhouse untouched by time, it is a familiar stop for the Beaujolais locals. Quietly tucked away in the trees at the summit, the old farm serves a limited clientele each day and provides cyclists with an ideal rest stop before descending back into the valley.

After relaxing and visiting the old farmhouse, Tamas and Fifounet attack the descent directly back to Beaujeu. And as they do, they both discover that it’s a much different beast than the climb. While the climb up the main road from Régnié-Durette is steady and relatively gradual, the descent is anything but that, as the narrow winding road mixes varying road conditions with ever-changing lighting conditions.

“Wow, there is no room to relax on that,” Tamas says after pushing the pace on the few straight stretches, only to quickly hit the brakes into an ensuing section of repeated tight turns. “The turns are hard to judge,” he says. “You rarely know what is around the next bend.” But while the turns were plenty tricky, the athletic 25-year-old handles them with comparative ease, with his Zipp 404s coming in plenty handy, thank you!

“Man that was fun,” Tamas says, once at the bottom. “That was a really technical descent, but I could really dig into it and really enjoy it.”

“That was something,” adds Fifounet. “But nothing you could relax on!”

With the descent finishing nearly in the heart of Beaujeu, the two once again roll by the Saint-Nicolas church before heading to the neighboring village of Saint-Lager, where they can relax after their first day in the region. And then, of course, there’s dinner in a local bistro offering some regional specialties, not to mention some local wine. What better way to prepare for a second day in Beaujolais?

An American in France

What’s it like to be an American cyclist living in France? Watch to get professional road cyclist Joe Dombrowski’s view.