Posted by: Ian | July 25, 2013

Rapha Highs

Last week I did the Rapha Rising challenge on Strava, celebrating the 100th edition of the Tour de France. To quote from Strava:

In the week which starts on Bastille Day (14th-21st July), Rapha is challenging participating riders to climb the combined height, from sea level, of the Peyresourde, Ventoux and Col de Sarenne, all of which feature in this year’s race.

In the eight day window of the challenge I could do a long ride in Somerset on the first Sunday; whatever I could manage after work in the evenings in central London in the week; and a ride with Joerg in the Swiss Alps on the final day.

Being doubtful about what I might manage in London, I chose to put in some decent miles over Exmoor on my first day and devised a route of 115 miles that took in both the Porlock toll road and the climb from Lynmouth to Simonsbath, twice, for a total ascent of about 11.5k feet. It was a beautiful ride but the heat, which reached into the nineties (34 deg C), nearly killed me!

In London I managed to get in more ascent miles than I expected through the simple and pleasant expedient of riding up to Whitestone Pond and back down again numerous times and by various routes. Even on the fixie it’s quite easy and, although it only earns about half the ascent per mile cycled that I was scoring on Exmoor, it made a useful dent in the total.

The highlight was our ride in the Alps. Joerg led three other guys and myself up and down the Pragel pass then across to and up and down the Klausen pass. I loved the Pragel. It’s about seven miles of fairly steep climbing on a very quiet, shaded road. If it were near me I’d do it all the time. I found the Klausen much harder. After an 11 mile gently uphill ride to get to it, there’s a 14 mile ascent. It’s not steep but it goes on and on and lacks the shade of the Pragel; again, I found the heat debilitating. There was also much more traffic: cars and swarms of alpine motorcyclists. More than anything, not having a good sense of how far up the climb I was proved psychologically difficult; I would have loved the kilometre progress markers I saw recently on the Col d’Izoard.

But forget all of that: it was stunningly beautiful. I didn’t stop to take any snaps on the way up and those I managed on the way down (where the views are a little less breath-taking) do no justice at all to the grandeur of it.



Joerg had told me that recently he’s been getting faster on the climbs and slower on the descents. This was borne out by the fact that he left me going up and I could keep with him on the way down. He’s a more skilled descender than I am and described the drop down from the Klausen pass as “boringly straight”. This is a matter of perspective. To me, it seemed to snake all over the place, with a roadway often cut into rock faces and becoming only one car wide. To one side of the carriageway at these points, which ran on for extensive sections of the road, were precipitous drops whose height was such that I couldn’t stop to take photographs for fear of getting vertigo. A fence formed of a thin horizontal pole provided the token protection against the open drop.

Naturally, many of the cars driving down showed a degree of circumspection. Joerg overtook them all, and, to avoid having to ponder the drop too much and thus risk vertigo, so did I. It was exhilarating.

Our total ascent for the day was just under 9k feet. In the end I’d exceeded the necessary amount of ascent to complete the challenge by 10% and done 8,000 metres in eight days, thus averaging 1000 metres per day. Given that England’s highest mountain, Scafell Pike, stands at less than 1,000 metres above sea level, I felt that this wasn’t too shabby.

Rapha Rising Where

Now I’m looking forward to getting the cloth roundel that Rapha have offered to cyclists who complete the challenge. (For anyone else in the same situation, I’m told that Strava will be sending out an email soon.) It’s the kind of thing that makes me warm to Rapha.

Rapha Rising




  1. I think I said “relatively straight”, which it is compared to the descent from the Pragel: a very nice mix of tight turns and straighter runs. I just miss the challenge of going around tight turns on the Klausen’s western decent.

    It was a glorious day and my bicolor upper arms attest to the power of the sun … and the lack of it for most of the year so far here in Switzerland.

  2. I completed this challenge too. However it was made more attainable by actually being in the Alps that week. Not necessarily any easier tho! I did it last year too and the cloth patch they sent is a nice memento – my wife stitched it onto my bike bag!

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