The High Altitude Week with Col Conquerors is the closest you'll ever be to feeling like a pro. Forget the Etape! Forget the Marmotte! Get yourself ready for five days of Alpine climbs, excellent food, and great company.

Col Conquerors is a cycling holiday company that promises to get you high on some of the most famous climbs in cycling. If you know Le Tour, then you'll recognise all the places I'm about to mention as we clocked in over 450km and 12,000 metres of climbing. But first of all, let's give you an overview of what the week looked like for me, "the cheater" (I skipped one climb and a few km on Day 4!).

In a week you'll cover more than you ever thought possible, especially when you consider that most of us - living in a very flat country - will never really be able to properly train for such a challenge. I flew out from the UK on a Sunday, and on Monday, the first climbing day, fear and hope for survival was all I could think of! But as the week went by, I got to know Rob (the leader of the rides and owner of Col Conquerors) and my confidence quickly picked up; hope transformed into certainty, whilst the fear faded away to be replacec by joy and harmony.

Day 2. View from Rob's terrace.
Day 2. View from Rob's terrace.

The Col Conquerors experience

The Col Conquerors (CC) adventure starts with a flight from London to Geneva. Rob came to collect us and our bike boxes with the CC van. After a drive of almost three hours we arrived at what would be our home for the next week: Rob's chalet at Valmeinier, a resort in the Rhône-Alpes just 5km away from the Col du Telegraphe.

For anyone travelling with Col Conquerors, Rob's chalet will quickly become your oasis for blissful recovery after each day's demanding ride. Rob's wife together with Becky, a wonderful young and talented chief, would welcome us with the most delicious and great quality food.

Breakfast included coffee (of course!), porridge, cereals, jam and toasts, eggs, juice, fruits - all coming in incredibly generous portions. After-ride coffee and cake was always waiting for us on the terrace, while each evening we sat down to a truly special three course dinner. The food was freshly bought at the local market and well balanced to help us sustain the pace of our daily efforts. Rob and team obviously know about nutrition, and this was a huge help to be able to cope with the week!

Day 1: 111km, 2300m ascent. Main climb: Col du Glandon

The first day of holiday can't be anything else but exciting, can it? New place, excellent temperatures (always between high 20 and low 30 degrees in the valley), new friends, new cycling routes... in the Alps!!

Rob would brief us ahead of every ride. The evening before, at dinner, he would describe the rides to us, whilst during the day he would always stop in strategic locations (usually where we would also be able to re-fuel the bidons with fresh potable water from fountains) to give us the details of the upcoming segments and climbs.

After lunch on top of the Col du Glandon. Not bad for day 1.
After lunch on top of the Col du Glandon. Not bad for day 1.

That first day Rob started us off easy, but finished hardcore! We descended the Telegraphe for 10km and rode another 15km flat in the valley. Excellent warm-up! Then, there it was, the first HC climb of the CC adventure: 20km up Col du Glandon at 7% average.

The Glandon never gets easier. Not for me, and not for the rest of my seven companions in the group this week! At about half way through the climb for a very short time gets "flatter", and you can re-fuel your bottles with cold water (thank youuu!!). Rob never fails to remind us how important hydration is, and I just couldn't agree more! The heat that we are so unused to over here really does impact your performance. Nevertheless, I keep pushing on my rear 32 cassette (another immense thank you: I could spin quite nicely up the easier gradients) and gradually work my way towards the finish.

The last 8km of the ascent averages 9%. The more you go up, the harder the Col du Glandon gets. The last 2.5km are up to 10-11%: at this stage, it can still take a good 15-20 minutes to complete this last segment.

After a souvenir picture at the top of the Glandon we all sit together to have lunch in a local hut. "Pasta and une noisette (espresso with milk)" would be the few words that I asked the waitress at lunch times!

From there, Rob explained, we would climb 3km of the Croix de Fer, and finally hit our first official descent. My descending skills still need quite a bit of work, in particular exiting the bends with some speed - but you'll have plenty of opportunities to improve during the week, and Rob is on hand to offer very good advice too.

Anyhow, we headed down 13km along the Croix de Fer and when the road split down the valley, we took the right fork to get another climb in for the day: a somehow excruciatingly difficult and hot 6km ascent of the Col du Mollard. It was "only" 6%, but for some reason (can I blame lunch?) my legs were not ready for a second long climb on Day 1.

At the top of the Mollard, as a reminder of our day's achievements, we found a much-needed water fountain. Some of us threw our heads down in the stream of cold water, while the rest took in views that brought back many memories from the Tour de France: the whole area is adorned with yellow and polka dot bikes along the roadside.

Col du Mollard.
Col du Mollard.

Day 2 - 80km 2400m. Main climb: Col du Galibier

Day 2 was surely my favourite climb of the week. The Galibier is awesome, and we tackled it both ways. In the morning we set off from the cottage up the last 3km of the Col du Telegraphe, and then down towards Valloire. From there we would start one of the best ascents I have ever experienced: 18km at 7% (the maximum gradient is 12%) following in the footsteps of the incredible Marco Pantani.

The climb starts at Valloire, the first few kms are deceivingly steep and we are given the wise advise to take it easy. The road then flattens out (a little) through an incredible landscape: a river down the valley on your right, trekking trails wherever your eyes meet the green mountains, and up above the towering grey rocks of the peaks.

Before the hairpins start, you are given a glimpse of what your next hours will look like: on the mountain in the distance you can easily spot small lines of fast motorbikers and slower cyclists all enjoying their Galibier climbs. Along the way, a few local photographers will capture your climbing moment, and you'll be later be able to buy their fab pics online - just to prove to your family and friends that you've really done it!

Day 2. Summit of the Col du Galibier.
Day 2. Summit of the Col du Galibier.

The hardest part for me was just before hitting the Fromagerie in the second half of the climb, so I took the excuse to stop for a selfie at the Pantani memorial. The second challenge is for sure the very last km of the climb. At the top of the Col, the hairpins become shorter and much steeper. When you see the tunnel: it is not the end. You don't head for the tunnel, but take a left and pedal through the remains of the winter snow on the lunar landscape at 2,600m high.

After putting on the wind gilet (not in Pantani style: I put it on right and took my time at top!) we started the 8km descent on the other side of the Galibier where lunch was waiting for us. After a good pasta carbonara and a coffee, we went back to complete the whole experience in the reverse order: up the 8km of the Galibier, to the top (bikes are not allowed in the tunnel), and down a fantastic 18km descent to Valloire: so much fun!

Day 3 - 70km 2200m. Climbs: Col d'Izoard (both ways)

Brutal! There's no other way to describe it. Today was really hot. We drove to Briancon, which in itself was quite a shock. The town is incredibly busy and it's quite different from the very quiet and tranquil roads that I got so quickly used to.

We park the van in a really quiet area just above the main touristic area to avoid traffic. Rob exactly knows where the Strava segment (for stats lovers) of the Izoard starts, so we descend a couple of km down towards town before kicking off the 19km climb.

The day is hot, and the Col is infested with butterflies and flies. It's so unreal, but you see cyclists riding up the mountain with clouds of flies around the helmets: so odd!

Day 3. Making new friends on the Col d'Izoard.
Day 3. Making new friends on the Col d'Izoard.

The climb from Briancon can be split into two sections (or so I did in my head). The first part is relatively flat until Cervieres (now, in this report when I say flat, I mean "Alps flat", which is an average gradient lower than 5%). My friend and I attacked at the beginning, which I think is a good strategy - for a friendly challenge - as the others were then not able to catch us up as the climb became more demanding.

The second part of the climb ranges from 8% to smaller segments of 12%, but it was the heat that made it for me today - I just suffered like hell!

No rest for the weak though! Once at the top you have three choices:

● Don't do anything, and enjoy your time at the hut before descending

● Go down the other side of the Col for 7km and climb the hairpins up (wise)

● Go all the way down the other side and then climb another 16km up (not-so-wise)

Now, thinking I had a rest day ahead of me, I accepted the challenge of doing the whole 16km from the other side: oh dear me! Going down from the Col I started doubting the long route was a wise choice. When I started climbing back from the south side my mind could only think about how boring the long straight line ahead of me was. The first 9km are not pleasant for the mind: long stretches of climb ranging between 5-9% going through a few small villages.

The fun bit starts at the 7km mark where the hairpins begin (hence wise choice). I think that it's easier for the mind as your eyes can only see as far as the next hairpin, and so your mind is less likely to drift away in silly thoughts. You just focus on the climb and each corner is a new segment: it really helps to break down the ascent.

Rest day!

Oh yes! Big breakfast as usual. Shower, relaxing on the terrace, having a good lunch up at the ski resort of Valmeinier. You've got the gist! My two pieces of advice for the rest day are:

● Bring your bikini! Up in the resort there are a couple of swimming pools and I spent my rest day being jealous of people having a great time splashing in the water during a very sunny day.

● Book your bike fit with Rob in advance. Rob can also do bike fitting at a much more reasonable price than our London standards. His bike fit has been highly recommended by some of the guys in my club. So if you let him know in advance, he can book you in during the rest day.

The Col du Chaussy.
The Col du Chaussy.

Day 4: 125km, 3000m ascent. Main climb: Col de la Madeleine

After the rest day my legs just refused to collaborate. Day 4 was hard, very very hard. The longest and what felt like the hottest of the week. The group climbed four (4!!) mountains: Lacets, Chaussy, Madeleine, Lacets again, Telegraphe. I instead, stomped my feet down like a baby and refused to climb up the Telegraphe at the end: I wanted to make sure I'd have some energy for Day 5. So Karen came to rescue me and three others at the bottom of the Col. She drove us back to the cottage where we waited for our four heroes to complete the last epic climb of the day.

Anyhow, to start with we rode down the now familiar Telegraphe and the 11km along the valley. About 30km into the ride there we go, the famous Lacets de Montvernier: a great small segment of 4km at 8% that looks spectacular! This is only the start of a long day of climbing so please do take your time, next one up is the rest of the mountain! From here to the top of the Madeleine it's a 40km ride up and down two mountains.

Day 4 is the Lacets de Montvernier.
Day 4 is the Lacets de Montvernier.

My only advice for Les Lacets would be: if you want to attack the Strava segment do NOT stop at the water fountain: go a few metres up to the end of the road and come back. I missed the little trick and it costed me a very crap time on the Strava segment (if you like stats, you'll appreciate this!).

From here you have a 10km climb at an average of 8% to get to the top of Col du Chaussy before hitting a fantastic (but narrow and at points technical = dangerous ... I think) descent towards the Madeleine.

Summit of the Madeleine on Day 4.
Summit of the Madeleine on Day 4.

Coming from Chaussy you don't do the full length of the Madeleine, or Maddy, but "just" its last 15km. I'm not quite sure what to think of this climb: some people in the group loved it and found it easier than the other days... I thought it was just long loooooong: come on legs!

The final few metres are really good because the road goes strangely flat at the top, which makes for a very nice sprint to the iconic monument.

All smiles after a pizza powered ascent of the Col de la Madeleine.
All smiles after a pizza powered ascent of the Col de la Madeleine.

Day 5: 55km, 1600m ascent. Main climb: Alpe d'Huez

Well. Haven't you all been waiting for this stage? A mountain time trial! The legendary Alpe d'Huez.

The funny thing is that Rob reminded us to keep an eye on our Garmin today, his words went something like this: "When you have been climbing for about 36mins, just check where you are. At this time, Pantani was at the top of d'Huez." Uh, challenge!

No kidding! The 12km mountain TT is my second favourite climb of the week, after Galibier. It's smooth, beautiful and you'll feel like a pro when overtaking slower riders up the climb. I made sure to push at the bottom of the Alpe as we were advised that, yes it's the hardest/steepest part, but if you go soft here you'll never be able to make up for the lost time. And so I did!

Awesome riding partners for the week!
Awesome riding partners for the week!

At the end I posted a time of 1h08m for the 12km at 9%. I think it's pretty good for a first-timer. The good thing for your mind is that there are so many more cyclists on this road that that there's always a wheel to chase down and sit behind. Then, of course, once you are behind them you overtake and carry on to find your next victim, ahah!

Sadly enough d'Huez marked the end of my amazing cycling trip! I've got an excuse ready to go back to see Rob and the CC team next year as I still have to do the full Col du Telegraphe, so do join me and the CC team for a fantastic cycling week at High Altitude.

Col Conquerors are active from March through to October every year. Their season starts and closes on Gran Canaria, whilst the core of their cycling itineraries is along the iconic and legendary climbs of the Tour de France. CC also organises another popular event: a ride from Galibier to Ventoux. So do visit the CC site and sign up for your chance to feel like a pro and enjoy the high life...

For more information and to book, visit