Distance: 34.2 miles. Elevation: 4997 ft.
Col de Valberg | Col du Quartier | Col de Sainte-Anne
The route for today’s ride was a slightly modified version of one that I had planned back in August 2019, before I had ever been to the Parc national du Mercantour. Little did I know back then what wonders awaited me.
That original route started from Puget Théniers, going anti-clockwise up the Gorges du Cians to Beuil, then west to Valberg, descending to Guillaumes and then descending along the Gorges de Daluis and back via Entrevaux.
Back in September 2019 I attempted the route above but was scuppered by the closure of the Gorges du Cians road. See here for that aborted ride and photos of the gorge.
On another ride in February 2020 I did ride up most of the Gorges du Cians.
And yet another ride in October 2021 featured the southern half of the Gorges du Cians during my descent from the Col de la Sinne.
But I still had a hankering to do the whole loop. So starting from here in Guillaumes I planned to do the original route in reverse (clockwise) but taking a hilly ‘shortcut’ at Puget Théniers via Saint-Léger which would involve a section of gravel down to Gorges de Daluis. See here for a previous ride via Saint-Léger.
I set off at 11:10 and recorded reports into my phone as usual:
13:04 This report coming from just beyond Valberg. I’m sitting in a skateboard park and the sun has finally come fully out. When I came out this morning I was disappointed to see high clouds and a hazy sun but in a way it was ideal because it enabled me to climb all the way up to Valberg without being blasted in the sunshine. On the way up I saw a couple riding a recumbent tandem. The front rider was recumbent and the rear one in the normal upright position. They must have had really low gearing because they were pedalling away like fury and going almost nowhere. In fact I think they were finding it difficult to balance because they were going so slow. Their balance wasn’t helped when they nearly jumped out of their skins when I said ‘Bonjour!‘ as I rode up unseen alongside them, despite the fact their bike had rear-view mirrors. I apologised ‘pardon‘ and wished them ‘bon courage‘ as I rode off ahead. Judging by their solitary ‘merci‘, I expect that they weren’t French.
I did the ride without much stopping. I stopped at that bridge again to have an energy gel and dry some of my sweat (TMI) and take a picture of a lizard.
Blue sky has been coming over from the the west I think and chasing all the cloudy side of the sky away. I’ve stopped at Valberg to do this report. I’m watching a bunch of older guys (not older than me, just older than the norm!) skateboarding on the ramps, while I’m eating half of my CST sandwich. I’ve put my arm warmers on because I think the next 15 to 20 miles is a descent. In fact I’m just about to ride the small section of this route that I’ve never actually been on before, the road from here to Beuil and the north end of the Gorges du Cians.
15:24 Well I didn’t expect my second report to also be coming from Valberg, just a few hundred metres up from that skatepark I stopped at before.
After my last report, the road descended more steeply than I was expecting and went through the village of Les Launes, then approached a lovely town called Beuil.
By that time the sun was shining strongly. Then came the bad news, when I saw the sign saying that the Cians gorge was closed 7 km down the road.
I couldn’t believe it. It was like déjà vu of my previous (anti-clockwise) attempt at this route, when it was also closed for maintenance. I guess that’s the risk of coming here out of season. Eight days ago I would have been OK to ride it.
Still, I thought I’d go down it anyway to see what it was like and also on the off chance I may be able to get through the obstruction. The road dropped, via four switchbacks, down to the level of the river Cians.
Eventually the road entered the gorge with its red rocks.
The only traffic on the road was a dumper lorry driving a load of red rocks up the gorge and then coming back past me empty. So I essentially had the road to myself, which was good. Eventually I saw another pair of gates indicating the road was closed but I just went through them and carried on.
I came to one of the ‘Clues’, this one unnamed, but it was the old road now bypassed by the Tunnel des Traverses. Needless to say I took that old road in preference to the tunnel.
Then it was back onto the main road for a few hundred metres and then another tunnel, le tunnel des Éguilles, bypassing its associated old road.
The tunnel des Éguilles was as far as I had come ‘up’ the gorge in 2020.
Back onto the road, after the tunnel, I came round a bend and saw the workforce, just this side of le Tunnel de La Grande Clue
I spoke to the guy there to see if it was closed beyond where he was working. He said the road was completely impossible to pass further along. We spoke in French. Helpfully, he said I could take a detour either via Guillaumes (from where I’d started) or Col de la Couillole (which would have involved a long ride via the Vallée de la Tinée). I bade him farewell as I turned around and started my ride back up to Valberg.
I’d known that if I couldn’t get through the road block, I’d have all that climbing to do again to get back to Valberg but I would have had to have to do more climbing later on this ride anyway, so that didn’t really make any difference.
I’d had my rain jacket and snood on for the descent along the gorge. After turning back at the road block I started ascending, still with my rain jacket on, but it was too warm so I took it off and stuck it in my back pocket and rolled my arm warmers down to my wrists. But as on previous rides it’s just a few degrees cooler than it could comfortably be.
Since then the sun has gone hazy again with some high white clouds nearly all over the sky. So I’ve made it back up here to Valberg where I’ll have the remainder of my sandwich and then I’ve got that spectacular descent back to Guillaumes, so at least I can enjoy that. It’s a shame I’ve missed out on the rest of the Gorges du Cians and Puget Théniers and Gorge de Daluis, etc.
Back in 2020, I’d cycled northwards up the gorge and had made it past La Grande Clue. Today I had ridden the remaining section south from Beuil. So at least I’ve now seen the whole gorge, but it would be nice to do it all in one go for a change!
I haven’t had much luck when it comes to the Gorges du Cians. Of course I should really have verified the route was open by first checking out inforoute06.fr
Maybe next time. And there will definitely be a next time!
GalleryClick to enlarge / see slideshow