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  • Mark Smith

Pleasant Little Deaths Near Paris

Fly in to Paris from any direction and you’d swear the terrain below offers no significant vertical challenges for pedal-powered road grunts. True, it ain’t the Alps, but that “flat” green expanse reserves more than one rude surprise for the unprepared and willfully irreverent. The “Triangle” cyclist stomping ground west of the city (see my previous post) features a number of well-known climbs, such as “les 17 Tournants,” which have gained international notoriety thanks to the Tour de France. But between those climbs and Paris’s western edge lie a number of lesser-known but no less painful ascents that deserve the cycling fool’s attention. For example, consider the Category 4 ramp dubbed “La Muerte” or “Death”—a 1.4km stretch of road that starts in the town of Meudon, on the Left Bank of the Seine, just three kilometers from the “périphérique.” The route features an average grade of 7.8%—respectable but not awe-inspiring. What makes this path troubling is that it rises in near exponential fashion—the first few hundred meters at a grade of 3 or 4% and the last 300 meters at an average of 9.4%, for a total ascent of 112 meters or 367 feet. And when you get to the top, you’re still not there. Instead you have to rumble over some giant Paris-Roubaix cobbles, then climb some more to reach the Meudon Forest where, a few kilometers further, you get to “La Tour Hertzienne” radio tower, the area’s highest spot, at 176 meters or 577 feet. All in all, a worthy feat, and you shouldn’t see anymore than a handful of cars the whole way. It’s all down hill from there, for a minute or so. At the bottom you have to make a decision—Versailles or the Vallée de la Bièvre? Since your focus this trip is the next interesting hill, take the latter route…to Jouy-en-Josas, where you’ll turn right into a 50-meter tunnel and emerge with your toes in the Bièvre River. Go straight across and attack the prettiest climb in the region, which Strava poetically calls the “Loges-en-Josas Ascent.” It’s only 500 meters long but it’s crisp rise, with an average incline of 7.8% and a fine view of the valley at the halfway point. To get home, drop back down into the valley and catch the main road east from the center of Jouy-en-Josas. You can’t miss it: A string of cyclists will be turning into this road, which leads up the notorious “Côte de l’Homme Mort” or “Dead Man’s Hill.” For the name, they must’ve found a dead body in the nearby forest at some point, because it couldn’t have come from the difficulty of the hill itself. At 1.9km in length and an average grade of 4.2%, it’s no killer. However it can certainly dampen your jersey if you get caught in the right (wrong?) group.

The Bièvre River barely merits the name at this point, a mere mile from its source. Fifteen kilometers later it empties into the Seine from an underground pipe beneath the…rue de Bièvre just opposite Notre Dame cathedral. It is interesting to note that bièvre is the old French word for “beaver.” The animal is now known as a castor.

Another of the near-Paris vertical challenges—the calf-crushing côte de Chateaufort, at the summit of which one may reward oneself with a quaff of something cold or hot at the town’s sole café.

Busier than Chateaufort and perhaps more charming still, the nearby town of Gif-sur-Yvette.

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