From Annecy, you can easily ride the Col de la Colombière, Col de la Croix Fry, Col de Mont-Revard, Montée Semnoz, Col des Saisies, Col de la Forclaz—and the list goes on, depending on how long you care to ride. Riding these monsters yields an appreciation for what the racers are doing that you can’t otherwise get.
Case in point, the winner of L’Étape du Tour, a citizen race that takes in a single stage of the Tour each year (Stage 20 in 2013), was well slower than even the sprinters on this mountainous stage. Meanwhile, the majority of riders were hours off the time, and the slowest racers finished some seven hours behind the winning time of 3:39:04.
On our last day in Annecy, a trio from our group did a ride called the Tournette, which took in the Col de l’Épine and Col de la Croix Fry, the last two (of five) climbs covered by the race on Stage 19. These were big, muscular ascents that went on and on into Sound of Music high pastures, and I was grateful for the Tarmac SL4 that Specialized had lent me. (Aside: Leave the heavy touring bike at home and bring something light and high-performance.)
Atop the Croix Fry, one guy from our group rolled up looking broken and dejected, flopped down on the ground on his back, and announced, “If I had to ride shi* like this every day for three weeks, I’d definitely want some dope.” We amateurs cannot grasp the difficulty of what the pros take on in a race like the Tour, but following in their wheels gives some small idea.