Distance: 53.9 miles. Elevation: 5,503 ft.
Col de Mévouillon | Col de la Chapelle | Col de Perty | Col Saint-Jean | Col de la Pigière
This ride in the Parc naturel régional des Baronnies provençales features two main passes, the Col de Perty and the Col Saint-Jean.
Report from shelter near end of ride Well I wasn’t going to do any notes during this ride but I’ve stopped at Eygalayes, just outside Séderon, because I can see it’s absolutely lashing down in the distance. The hills are grey and barely visible through the rain. I’ve found a shelter with a water trough in it.
(Below are notes made at that point, sitting in the shelter, embellished afterwards with photos, etc as usual.)
I started the ride earlier than usual, at just before 11am. There were big cumulonimbus clouds bubbling up ominously over the hills, but I thought I’d take a chance. It wasn’t very warm today; I even wore a skull cap. I started the ride with just my arm warmers on (yeah, alright – obviously I had the rest of my kit on as well). A couple of hundred metres up the road I stopped to put my rain jacket on, but unzipped. Then shortly after that I stopped again and zipped it up. And it stayed that way for the rest of the day.
I had eight miles to get to the loop part of my ride. Up and over the, by now familiar, Col de la Pigière, and down to just about a mile beyond Séderon, where I started a 3½ mile gentle climb to Col de Mevouillon.
Just after setting off again from Col de Mevouillon, I first heard (as opposed to saw) fine rain hitting my raincoat. The road was dry and the sun was still shining on my back. Those conditions persisted as the road swept around Combe Issart. Although by then the sun had disappeared.
By the time I approached Saint-Auban-sur-l’Ouvèze, the rain had stopped.
This village marked the NW tip of today’s route as the road turned and headed eastwards, with any wind now predominantly behind me. With skies darkening all around I tried not to look up, hoping it would go away!
The next five miles were gently uphill, the beginnings of the climb to Col de Perty. There were darkening skies to my right and rumblings of thunder. Still I managed to stay dry until Montauban-sur-l’Ouvèze.
About half a mile out of Montauban-sur-l’Ouvèze, it started raining. I considered going back to the village for some shelter but decided to push on. It got heavier, and then hail started bouncing off me and the road. I stopped and found a tree to stand under. The trees are not in full leaf yet but I managed to stand under the twisted trunk of the tree and stay reasonably dry.
After about 10 minutes it eased up, so I set off again.
Less than a mile up the road it started heavy again so I found another tree. The thunder storm was rumbling, but about a mile from where I was. Once again it eased off, and when I saw only a few spots in the puddles I set off again. The very fine rain gradually eased to nothing. The sky looked a lighter shade of grey ahead, towards the col, so I hoped for the best.
Because of the constant threat of rain during this ride, I was pushing harder than I normally would. It stayed dry throughout the 6½ mile climb to the col, at an easy average of 5.5%. Despite having ridden through some light rain earlier I was still completely dry at this point.
The climb to Col de Perty has really long straights between switchbacks as the road sweeps its way like a pendulum slowly up the hill. In fact it takes five miles of ‘lacets’ to go one mile as the crow flies.
When I reached the top I saw a Harley Electra Glide parked there, with its owner stood nearby, taking in the view. We had a chat about the weather, looking in different directions and commenting. I said I was worried that the sky was black in the direction I was going. He said “that weather will stay over there”. I wasn’t sure that was a good thing because I didn’t know where “there” was. To put a positive spin on the situation he commented that we had the advantage of having the col to ourselves. He said he’d been there in the summer when it’s really busy with traffic and tourists. Certainly, during the past hour, I had seen only a couple of vehicles and one sorry-looking cyclist descending with just short sleeves heading straight towards the rain I had avoided behind me.
I had a chocolate croissant.
The five mile descent to Laborel would have been spectacular on a warmer day. At an average of 23 mph, I was very cold in the cool damp air. Luckily there was no rain. I was dreading approaching the weather I could see ahead of me.
The fifteen minute descent from Col de Perty to the village of Laborel led immediately into the climb to Col Saint-Jean.
Fine rain started just after the col ‘DÉPART’ sign pictured above, but didn’t come to anything. I did the three-mile, 7% climb pretty quickly, without stopping for photos. At this point I was wondering how much longer my luck could hold out.
At the col the sign was missing
Needless to say I didn’t hang about there. I think I had a fig roll.
Ten minutes later I had descended three and a half miles. There was absolutely no traffic around. Every time I stopped, the air was heavy and still; there’s no wind today and all I could hear was a cuckoo. Nearly every time I stopped there was a cuckoo. There must be a lot of cuckoos around here, unless it’s the same one following me around!
That descent from Col Saint-Jean would be excellent on a nicer day – great road surface, beautiful sweeping bends and amazing views.
Rain started before the end of the descent and was getting heavier by the time I came into the village of Eygalayes, where I was pleased to see a shelter, which I’m now sitting under.
Typically it has stopped raining since I’ve been sitting here, but looking at the sky in the direction I’m headed I can barely see the hills; it’s just completely grey with rain. My idea was to sit here and wait for it to pass, but it doesn’t look like it’s going anywhere, so I may just have to bite the bullet and move on. Oh, and it has started raining again..
Luckily, when I was getting rained on, my shorts and even my feet have stayed dry which is the main thing even though my hands are freezing cold; my knees didn’t get too cold either which is another good thing.
I just checked the weather radar on my phone. Given the massive extent of the storm, I consider myself extremely fortunate to have got this far relatively unscathed.
That was the end of the commentary up until that point. After that, my luck ran out. Or you could say I made the wrong decision.
From the relative comfort of that shelter, under the impression that the rain was in for the rest of the day, I bit the bullet. Out into the downpour I went. I actually had further to go than I’d realised. Within one mile I was as wet as I could possibly get. It took me 57 minutes to do the 13 miles. I was happier (if that word is even useable here) on the uphill sections because I could put effort in to keep warm. Once I’d reached the Col de Pigière, I had four miles of descent left, which took 12 minutes. It doesn’t sound like long but I was so uncomfortably cold. It felt like my core temperature was low. I tried to pedal but it was downhill so there was no effort to help warm me up. I could barely change gear because my hands were numb.
It was actually worse than the descent from Col d’Iseran last year – that one had frazzled my nerves but at least I’d got back reasonably warm that time! I’ve been wet on my bike before. I’ve been soaked to the skin before, but this was the worst. When I got back I could not operate the catch to take my helmet off. I tried both hands – my fingers were just not working. I was breathing deeply and couldn’t stop. I couldn’t take my socks off. Needless to say every garment I was wearing was wringing wet. I got out of them as quickly as my fumbling would allow, dried myself and put loads of warm clothes on and had a warm drink. Gradually I stopped breathing deeply, and gradually warmed up. I never want to go through that again.
Inevitably, it actually stopped raining not much more than an hour after my return. So if I’d stayed in that shelter for 2 hours, I could have made it back OK, and if I’d known at the time what lie ahead, I’d have chosen that option!
I’ve certainly tested the waterproof-ness of my Wahoo GPS, and of my bag that holds my camera and keys. They both performed flawlessly. As for my rain jacket, I became quite annoyed wondering why an expensive jacket would just let water straight through. But I’ve been on their website and I guess I need to re-proof it. It’s certainly seen some conditions over the years. So I’ll do that when I get back to the UK.
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