Distance: 51.6 miles. Elevation: 5346 ft
This first report coming from Tournefort, about 18 miles into the ride I think. The first 12 miles of the ride was along the main road that follows the river Var.
It’s a beautiful cloudless day. Riding along that road, it’s easy to make good progress; sometimes there are cycle lanes marked in the road but other times you’re quite close to a low wall on the right, with a sheer drop to the railway tracks below, with traffic passing quite close, so it’s a bit tense at times. Needless to say I was very happy to turn onto the lightweight bridge at the 12-mile mark that put me on small back roads with hardly any traffic at all and very peaceful.
When I came out this morning it was very difficult to know what to wear. The sun was out but the temperature was decidedly fresh. So I chose a long sleeved roubaix top. At first I was going to wear a long sleeve base layer as well but I thought I’d better not, in case it’s too hot, so I put a short sleeve base layer on and took my arm warmers in case I needed them. So on the stretch down the main road, I was just about the right temperature. Now I’ve turned into the hills I am literally dripping with sweat under all my clothes.
I have taken my gloves off just to cool down slightly but it’s almost impossible to judge what to wear when there’s so much difference between the hot sun and the cold air in the shade. I’m sitting here at the edge of a boules rink, or whatever they are called.
The slightly worrying thing is that I’ve only just, I believe, reached the top of the first little blip on the elevation profile for this ride, and yet it’s been quite an effort, so the big climb of the day could be quite a slog. That’s coming up in about 8 miles time I think. I’ve just had a banana and I hope that it’s now a descent down to the main road.
When I first came out I decided to use my gravel bike and instead of taking the (Ultegra) pedals off the Colnago, I put the 105 pedals on, but I’m finding them very difficult to clip in and out of, so they probably need adjusting but I can’t be bothered to do it now. Also as soon as I got on the GT grade saddle I realised it’s just not as comfortable as the one on the Colnago.
Just sitting here, the church bell just chimed two o’clock, so I’m on time as usual!
This report coming from about halfway up the climb at 29.3 miles. After the last report, the road did descend all the way down to the main road that follows La Tinée valley.
That main road travelled along a lovely gorge, climbing slightly, with the river, until I reached my turn off, which turned back and down and over a small bridge across the gorge, and then straight into the climb.
As I’m climbing I’m noticing places on the hills opposite that previously had looked ridiculously high above me now starting to come down level with me, and then dropping below me as I continue to gain altitude on them.
This road I’m on is very quiet.
Every now and again there is a glimpse of La Tinée valley. Judging from the shape of the hills ahead I feel like I’m approaching the top of something, but there are still four and a half miles of climbing to go. I’m not feeling too bad at the moment. I’ve had two energy gels so far and will have another one before the top. I’m probably just going to sit here for a while and have my sandwich.
There was a lot of embedded maths, as usual, on this ride. The main points were the 12-mile turn off, and the climb from the 25-mile mark for 9 miles until 34 miles, after which it is all downhill. So at the moment this stop is at 29.2 miles, slightly ahead of the 29.5 mark which would have been halfway up the climb. My energy gels I’ve rationed into one every three miles of the climb, so I’m due to have my last one at 31 miles, with three miles climbing left.
This last report from back at base. After the last report, the climb inevitably started taking its toll on me. The sun was baking down, the pedals grinding away. It gets so frustrating looking at the elapsed miles on the Garmin. Sometimes I deliberately tried to not look at it, hoping that when I next did, the mileage would have gone up considerably – it never did – always frustratingly there were miles to go to the top. I had my last energy gel on schedule with about a third of the climb left. As I’m cycling along I find myself thinking “Never again”, “don’t underestimate these climbs”, “the next ride will be a flat one”, etc, etc.
Eventually I rode into Ilonse (ILONSE), a small village up in the hills, which still manages to have its own tennis court! A group of people in hi-viz jackets were milling about the place. I think they were walkers, having finished a group walk. I said bonjour as I rode through them. They shouted words of encouragement “Allez! Allez!”, etc. Just as I was leaving the village I noticed a water fountain, so I asked someone if it was drinking water. It was. So I filled my bidon. This was a geat help for the rest of the ride.
The road out of Ilonse looked more like a track at first, but it did improve after that. A few hundred metres later, I rode past a group of women, also in hi-viz, and also seemingly walkers. Usual “Bonjour”s. One of them asked if my bike was electric, looking suspiciously at my bike – “non, pas électrique” I said. That seemed to elicit praise from them as I rode away. So electric bikes have now reached the public consciousness, but still viewed somewhat as cheating, it seems.
At that point there were 2 miles to go, mostly at 8%, easing off near the col. I kept looking up to see the road climbing inexorably ahead of me.
Those 2 miles took 26 minutes! At the time, it felt like hours! I stopped for a few breathers I think. (It reminded me slightly of the slow climb to Col de Tende.)
And then I saw a signpost and knew that just around the bend was the col. There were a few parked cars, some walkers and information boards around. I had made it!
I got the obligatory col sign photo, then put on my arm warmers (under my long-sleeved jacket), snood, skull-cap, rain jacket and my gloves (which had been stuffed in my back pocket). There was not a breath of wind at the col.
And so began the descent.
What an incredible road the next seven miles are, down to the also remarkable Gorges du Cians.
The first thing of note is that this side of the col is steeper. In fact it averages around 8%, but with sections up to 11%. And because nearly all of it is on the edge of a drop into the darkness, it seems more precarious. Many hillside roads have an open view opposite. This road is on one side of a deep narrow ravine, with astounding diagonal rock strata, adding, no doubt, to the vertiginous feeling I had. Also it was late in the day. In blazing sunlight it may have seemed less foreboding, but the lower part of the gorge was mainly in shadow.
At one point I stopped to get a photo. There was silence, as usual. Then a crack echoed off the rocks and a man’s voice in the distance “oh la la” (I think I remember that correctly!) Someone was playing boules and had just had a direct hit! Yes, deep in the middle of the back of beyond were French men playing boules! That was approaching Pierlas.
Eventually the road wound its way down to the D28 road through le Gorges du Cians. Sanity was resumed, with a fast, wide, safe road with sweeping bends and hardly any traffic.
Light was fading (but still OK to see through sunglasses) and I had my front and rear lights flashing. The five miles along that amazing road was at over 20mph. Suddenly, as can happen, I had found a new lease of energy. And what’s more, the fact that I was no longer on the edge of a sheer drop helped with the rush. The road swerves its way between the massive, imposing rock faces that rise up vertically 1000ft from the gorge floor. I was reminded of what I had said about the Verdon Gorge, and that was that you can’t cycle in it, only around it. The true gorge experience requires you to be right down at river level.
At the end of the gorge road, where Le Cians flows into Le Var, I turned right onto the D6202, the main road that follows le Var, and rode the remaining five miles back to Puget Théniers. I had fairly good pace on this gradually-uphill stretch, but began flagging slightly at the end. Got back at 18:45.
Another astounding piece of France – Is there no end to its treasures..
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