Monday, 25 June 2012

La Berarde

Not the only with a sore ass!
La Berarde Some days you feel great, but not today. Yesterday's efforts really told! Ian remembered a trip he did from La Berarde to La Grave, on a walking trip with Keith and friends about 35years ago, and he was impressed by the remoteness of the place. Steve and Ali, campers opposite us, had just come back from walking there and were thrilled by the fact that La Berarde is right in the thick of the Ecrins mountains. It was an old shepherding village, literally at the end of the road. 20 miles to a beautiful cul-de-sac. You take the road to Briancon, and then come off at Le Clapier, following the road to Venosc and St Christophe. The road climbs steeply 11% over 3kms. As the road hairpins up to St Christophe, you can see the white-water rafters on the churning river Veneon. The Veneon Valley is spectacular, and the road climbs steadily and more easily up to L Berarde. Time for a small beer and take in the snowy mountain scene. The majestic SW slopes of the Ecrins reach 4102m, wonderful and quiet. Because there's no Col as such to conquer, you don't get hoards of motor-cyclists. Because it's a long cul-de-sac, you don't get much traffic. Consequently, it's mainly cyclists, and not many of them, so lovely and quiet. A shorter day, today, only 4hours in the saddle!
St Christophe dOisans
Would definitely repeat this ride!

Col de la Croix de Fer

Climb to Col de la Croix de Fer
Col de la Croix De Fer - the valley of the L'eau d'Olle A stunning if long climb from Bourg, which I really struggled with last year! The route passes through Allemont, through the old village of Articol, and then rises steeply through Le Rivier. Having done all that climbing the road hairpins steeply back down to the stream of the Olle and then steeply up to 12% up to the Grand Maison barrage/reservoir. Fantastic views of the mountain chain of the Belledonne to your left and the Grandes Rousses mountains on the right. Time for a breather and then a glorious climb up the sweeping road to the green pastures, past the Turn-off for the Col du Glandon, and then on to the summit, adorned with the usual cafe and beautiful Croix de Fer. For a change, it was warm and pleasant on the top, and time to take in the views across to the stunning Aiguilles d'Arves, 3206m and 3506m. Really enjoyed the trip up, catching Ian coming off the top. Hot chocolate for energy, followed by a coca cola, and then the lovely descent back to Bourg. Even the hairpins near le Rivier didn't seem so bad! Loving the granny gear! 50 miles and 1550m climbed. A good day in the saddle!
The Cross

Col de Sarenne and chat about San Fran

Col de Sarenne
Bourg d'Oisan and Alpe d'Huez Mixed feelings about being back in Bourg. Busier, and more touristy, but set right in the big mountains of the Haut-Alpes. Didn't get off to a good start with the longed- for campsite being all but closed, although we were offered four spots exposed to the sun, most of the day! Finally opted for one close by called the Rencontre du Soleil. Friendly people and lovely site with pool. The forecast was a bit mixed but very hot and humid at moment. Opted for our first swim,on our day off, and then relaxed on our day off. Early morning was overcast, but small patches of blue sky trying to expand. After a warm-up around the roundabout, off up Alpe d'Huez. We'd both been thinking about this in our sessions at the gym in the winter. It's such an awesome climb, covering 1000m of ascent rapidly. In 15 mins, you're looking down on the town of Boirg, which suddenly seems far below. Steadily climbing, counting off the 21 hairpins, passing through tiny hamlets and the village of Huez, past the turn off for Villard Reculas, which we planned to take later. I was overtaken and then overtook, and was overtaken again by a bad-tempered Scot, who shouted at his wife to get him some water because he was "dying!". Finally reached the top considerably faster than last year on 1 hr 32, Ian just missing out on his target of 1hr, by 3 mins. So naturally we'll have to do it again, me to see if I can break 1.30 hr, and Ian the hour! Joined at the top by a Kiwi cycling group, and the 62 year old got up in an amazing 54mins, the best time of the day, beating young men a third of his age. His comment on arriving at the finish banner was "I bust mi guts getting here!" Never done it before, because been too exhausted, but carried on past the cafes to the official Tour de France finish higher up in the ski village. But there's nothing there apart from chalets and a bus stop, and a small sign saying the finish of the climb for the tour, so the cafes are the chosen destination for most cyclists! On through the village and then out into a wonderful wilderness of snow-capped mountains in the distance, and sweeping hillsides and gorges, on past the Brande d'Oisan, an archeological site, where silver miners in the 12century set up home and worked high up the mountain side. Eventually a "pastoral" ie. rough track leads up to the Col de Sarenne. Total contrast with Alpe d'Huez, remote, silent, desolate. No cars and no motorcyclists. In fact, hardly any cyclists, most, as we have done before, deciding that Alpe d'Huez is their ultimate destination. Chatted to a Brit, now living in San Francisco, funnily on the same day that Andrew, Lizzy and Lily are making their way up to San Fran! He recommended cycling in the Sonoma Valley, and making your base in Santa Rosa, and said that it was a great place for cycling, so should be good. Decided to take the route back through Alpe d'Huez, and Huez village, where we turned right and cycled on the high-level, contouring road we've taken before, to the beautiful, hill-top village of Villard-Reculas, steeply down the hill all the way to the main road about 7miles out of town. Heads down and averaging 18mph, to get back in time for pasta and a beer at the Dutch-owned, good value restaurant in town. Surprised to find it was 2pm. No wonder we were starving. Cycling for 4hours and climbed about 5000 ft, and this was supposed to be an easier day! But feeling good and strong. Mixed feelings about the place have been dispelled. Get off your bike, sit down in a busy bar and the food's there in no time! The up side of being somewhere "touristy" .

One wheel in Italy and one in France

Col dAgnelli
One wheel in Italy and one wheel in France aka the ascent of Col d'Agnell/colle d'Agnello.
12 miles up the Queyras Gorge, before we start! The gorge was steep-sided, a narrow,little road hugging the rock face all the way up the gorge to the old town of Queyras, with its 13th century fort/chateau, perched high on the hill overlooking the old town, with snow-capped mountain views in the far distance. We climbed on and on up to the meadows/prats/prads, covered in wild flowers and buzzing with insects. On and on as the road climbed through the little villages of Pierre Grosse and Fontguillard and views up the mountain road ahead. Italian motorcyclists sped by, and punishing gradients of 9% made the ascent feel tough. On and on and eventually reaching the summit, with the sign that you are no entering Italy. Breathtaking views down into the Italian side tempt you to want to explore further, but it's another 25miles back and no time to hang around. A quick bite of the packed butties and off back down the hill, with snow-capped mountains of the Ecrins mountains in the distance. A couple of beers break up the journey back, but couldn't relax too much as there were motorbikes, Italian speedy drivers and tunnels to contend with! It's been a hot day today, 30 deg, but still cyclists are starting up the mountain early afternoon. We aim to be done and dusted for about 2pm, back before it gets too hot and resting with a couple of beers! Ian had a day off with me today, taking his time! Both of us felt like discharging batteries, and felt that it was time for a day off tomorrow, so no Col d'Izoard. That will have to wait for next year! The campsites OK, but too far to walk into historic Guillestre, where we've visited before. Probably wouldn't come back here again. By contrast, would return to Barcelonette, where there are more unclimbed cols to explore, and easy reach of town, from a very pleasant site. Off to Bourg d'Oisan, for a longer stay in more familiar surroundings. It's been good though, returning to places we've been before, and mixing it with new, unknown locations.

Wednesday, 20 June 2012

Col de Cayolle and Col de Vars

Col de Vars
On our final day in Barcelonette, we cycled up to the Col de Cayolle, altitude 2326 m, 29km from the campsite. A delightful cycle ride along the Gorge du Bachelard, with steep cliffs rising above the road, and the churning river below, into the Parc National de Mercantour, and out into meadows full of wild flowers. You have to keep your glasses on around here, with massive insects flying at you all the time! A lovely ascent to the summit of Cayolle, and then a speedy run off, down a gentle gradient. Just the ticket for recovering legs! Nearly 40 mls in total, but an easy climb. That night we went into town to watch the footie. France had just beaten Ukraine, though you wouldn't have known it. They don't seem to be into football here at all. As England and Sweden began playing, people stood in front of the screen to decide what to order for drinks next, sat down briefly, changed their minds and got up again. They left and then a large group of young French girls, out on the town, sat right under the large screen, totally oblivious to any match being played. In the end we left at half time, just after Sweden equalised, and a few French cheers went up! Woke to find that England had won in the end 3-2, so it might have been a good game! The day after, Ian set off for Guillestre 30 ish miles away to the North, and I cycled over. Going north to Guillestre takes you over the Col de Vars, 2109m. Wouldn't have been such a busy road, had it not been for the Coupe de Grande Route des Alpes, a classic racing car rally, continually coming towards me on route. Some sounded like there was no way were they going to make it all the way to Nice, back-firing, alarmingly, as they spluttered and coughed past. But there were some beautiful classic cars, and I managed to snatch a few snaps.
A few kms before the summit, the road ramps up to 10 and 12% which knocks you a bit flat, so the top is a welcome sight! High mountain peaks soar up, and there is a lovely descent all the way to Guillestre. I met Ian cycling up from the town towards the Col and ate the butties I'd packed for us earlier, and then back to van and a rest! Just been reading up on the cols that Ian has in mind for us while we're here, Col d'Agnello, on the Italian border, and the Col d'Izoard, which Ian has done before. I'm not sure that the old proverb "fore warned is fore armed" works in this case! Probably better not knowing!!!

Friday, 15 June 2012

La Bonette - highest pass in Europe ( ish)

Proof!!
On to Barcelonette in the Ubaye valley of Haute Provence, twinned with a town in Mexico! Barcelonette was given its name by a Spanish Count of Provence, who named it after his home town. It has strong connections with Mexico, because many emigrated there between 1840 and 1955. The proven├žal flag shares the same colours as Spain, a various graffiti swear liberation for the children of Provence. The river Durance runs through the Ubaye valley, famous for white-water rafting, when the river is full, which is now! You begin to see mountains rising up towards the border with Italy, and Cuneo. It's beginning to feel warmer as we pitch the van on the campsite, Camping du Plan, which we've visited before, when Ian was doing his Nice-Geneva trip. Nice grassy pitch, with a short walk into town. The town is OK, with a square newly renovated, a lovely old church, and the usual shops. So we pitched up and enjoyed the remaining hours of our first day off! The following day was still and sunny, as we set off for Jausiers, thirty minutes cycle up the valley. We remembered pitching the tent here with Colin and Morty, way back when. We'd just driven over the Col de Bonette, in Colin's Hillman Hunter, at about 11pm. The highest road in Europe! We were fearless then, or just plain bonkers! Pitching the tent by the side of the road at midnight, and wondering why we were so cold, when we woke up, having spent the night at 1200m! As we cycled through, we tried to identify where we'd pitched all those years ago, but without success!
At the summit!
Anyway Ian pushed on ahead to finish his unfinished business, not having been able to go over the Col de Bonette on his trip, because of fresh snow on the top and bad weather generally. So today he was going to fill in the gap! I just wanted to do the best climb I could, bearing in mind this is one of the highest passes in Europe, having been surpassed now by a road in the Sierra Nevada, Spain. But either way it's a challenge. I kept company with a pleasant, young Irishman, who was on his way from Geneva to Nice, and chatting to him helped the kilometres and the climbing go by. I was climbing well, and feeling quite strong. The gradient is a very pleasant 6.7% average, over a long 28 km reaching 2715 metres. Zigzaging up the mountain-side gives a constantly- changing perspective on the mountains and valleys, and it's really quite pleasant, when you get in a rhythm and plug your way up on a "granny gear" . The final few kms are a delight, sweeping along the side of the mountain and even managing to get into second gear on the gentle climb. To the top of the pass, where the road descends to Isola and the Tinnee valley and eventually on to Nice. Cyclists and motor-cyclists taking photos of each other, complaining that they weren't able to climb the final kilometre to the summit, the cime, because of new snow, but I was just thrilled to be there in a reasonable time, feeling strong and not stressed, and most importantly not frozen! This time carried three extra tops, food and drink, to cover all possible hazards!
Desolate but beautiful
Ian passed me on the way near the top, having got there in 1hr46 mins, about 50 mins ahead of me. Well done, and really chuffed for both of us!

Mont Ventoux 3!

3 times to the top!
Mont Ventoux 3! Well, you just have to, don't you? If there's three ways up and you've done two, you've just got to do the third and final way up. Fortunately, although a long day, it's the easiest way up the mountain. Unfortunately not a great day for the weather. So far we've been lucky, with rain, wind and stormy weather during the night and late afternoon, but today started of dry but cold, with a keen wind. 15 miles from the campsite to Sault, through the little village of Flassan, and a pleasant climb over the Col de Notre Dame des Abeilles, and then on to Sault. Past the lavender fields, and time for a coffee before the start of the climb. It's a lovely climb up to Chalet Reynard, 7km from the summit,but the weather was looking grim and it was getting colder. On up the grey final ascent, which still hurts, no matter how many times you practise! A cold mist was engulfing the summit, and it was starting to rain. The photographers weren't plying their trade, they'd given up and gone home. There's no cafe on the top, but a shop selling souvenirs. So I could buy a plastic cup with my name on it, but nothing to put in it! Absolutely freezing, but thrilled to have finished the climb, and being photographed by a coach load of Japanese tourists!
Gorges des Nesques
I had to stop twice on the way back down to Chalet Reynard, to get feeling back into my fingers for braking! Finally at the cafe, it took me a good ten minutes before I could stop myself shaking and order a coffee and a crepe, which arrived in seconds, as the bar man explained he was experienced in speedy service to distressed cyclists. It was a good half an hour and another sugary crepe, before I could face venturing outside again. Some Dutch guys followed me of the summit, and I was staggered to see them order a celebratory drink of cold beer! A cold descent all the way directly to Bedoin, with weather deteriorating. I was surprised to see cyclists still starting the climb, but don't think many people got to summit later that day, as the rain came down, again. The following day was brighter but very windy. We felt fortunate that the weather had not really interfered with our plans, although the experience could have been warmer! Really chuffed that we'd managed to do all three ascents in four days!

Second Ascent and Nesques

Ventoux Vines
Bedoin, Mont Ventoux, Sault, Gorge de la Nesque and return Maybe a bit ambitious but a second attempt on Ventoux but this time from Bedoin. Up at 7am and off to the market in the village of Bedoin. A huge market right through the main street and off up side streets as well. Bought a massive string of garlic and a few pun nets of fruit- it"s the season for cherries and strawberries. Great market full of colour and enticing smells. But a quick tour around and back to the van, change and off cycling by 8.30am. A lovely morning after the wet afternoon yesterday. We set off together, even though I'd tried to persuade Ian to hang back for at least half an hour, but he couldn't wait to get going as well, and was soon off in the distance on the gradual climb up the first few kilometres. After a lovely start, we were soon climbing 9 and 10%, which never let up for the next 9miles. But I got into a good rhythm, and was making good progress up to the Chalet Reynard, where you get a little pause before the final climb up the limestone "desert", past the monument to Tom Simpson, and the Belgian monument. The last few miles seem to take forever, and are usually into the wind. Past the photographers, hoping you'll buy their snaps of you. You always feel amazing at the top, and freezing cold on the way down, smiling at the other sufferers toiling their way up the last ascent. A quick coffee at the Chalet Reynard and then a fast but rough descent all the way to Sault, with a brief pause to take a photo of the fields of lavender, which Sault is famous for. A sandwich and coke in a cafe in the square at Sault and chance to catch our breath. Tried a sirop de lavande cordial, which Ian thought was just sugar and water, but there was a strong taste and smell of essence of lavander too, with a welcome injection of sugar. Chance also for Ian to warm up. He'd taken 1hr 45 to the top of Ventoux, me 2hrs 32, so there was a bit of waiting around for him, which he part- filled with almost a second attempt to encourage me, but not quite to the top!
Gorse bushes in Ventoux
The downhill cycle through the Gorge de la Nesque must be the most thrilling ride. A gradual descent for about 12 miles at about 17 to 20 mph all the way, with the most amazing vertiginous drops off to our left. Hardly any traffic, because most are put off by the steep drop, and the low tunnels you have to go through, but what a fabulous ride! It makes all that slogging around in the cold at home, and the gym sessions all worth while! The remainder of the return through Flassan, land of cherry growing, is a gentle climb and then fast descent into Bedoin and home! 56miles and a blooming lot of climbing!!! Decided to eat in the restaurant on the campsite tonight, after the football match with France, currently 1-1. Campsite restaurant is very impressive for a campsite, with modern furniture and lighting, not the usual tatty, dirty stuff you often get on camp sites. Kate texted to say exams have gone well, so hopefully she can get her life back for a little while!

The Dentelles

Crillon le Brave
A mixed forecast today of pleasant in the morning, deteriorating as the day went on, to rain pm. So off for a cycle am. Ian had done this route into the Dentelles area, last year, and was really impressed. We cycled over to Crillon Le Brave, which we can see glinting in the distance, from the campsite bar, at night. A lovely little village, on the top of a hill, with great views over the surrounding vineyards, edged with pineapple-scented broom. From there on to Caromb and Beaumes de Venise, another delightful vine-growing area, famous for Muscat sweet wine and hefty Gigondas and Vacqueyras Cotes de Rhone appellation controllee wines. As we worked our way up to the Col de Suzette, we could see the impressive Dentelles, rows of limestone pinnacles which run across the Massif Montmirail. As we pulled up at the col, the views were wonderful. Down along the rocky-edged road and up to the Col de la Chaine, and then the beautiful long descent into Malaucene, over the Col de Madeleine. Up and down back to Bedoin, by now busy with people enjoying their Sunday lunches! Just 30miles, but quite a bit of up and down. A superb cycle ride through vineyards and dramatic rocky scenery, that I'd definitely do again.
Dentelles in distance

France June 2012

Gorges des Nesques
June 2012 Visit to France May weather was superb, apart from a wash-out in Scotland and premature return. 27deg one weekend, and then 9deg the following weekend, for the Jubilee celebrations. What a shame! The poor queen looked frozen, as she watched the endless parade of boats on the Thames, standing up for four hours. We watched from the warmth of our own sofas, and even we were bored at times, and went to make frequent cuppas. But grandma had a nice week with us, culminating in the girls coming over to stay for the long weekend, a cold BBQ indoors. We didn't see much of Kate, who was revising solidly all weekend, ready for exams. After a soggy cold week, we were ready for France. Wild forecast, with a an unseasonal deep low pressure, so we were glad we'd booked the tunnel crossing for a change. Fantastically well-organised crossing. Arrived early and just got on the next available train. Stayed overnight on a car park/Aire in Calais, and off very early, driving all day in the rain to just north of Lyon, overnighting on an Aire there. There is nothing glamorous about the journey down. It's just about driving all day, and trying to stay awake! The weather didn't help, and, having been shut up in the van, in the pouring rain in Scotland, and then so far on this trip, I was ready to sell the van!!! Finally arrived in Bedoin, Provence, after two days of driving. The poor weather was extending right through France, with the only corner with a chance of good weather being this area. We came here for the first time in September last year. We've always avoided it in the summer, because it gets too hot for us, but June and September temperatures are perfect, mid 20s After a late lunch, time to get on the bikes. We decided to cycle on to Malaucene, and then see how we felt, but with lots to fit in, I think we both intended to do our first big climb of the year. We've both been practising on the hills at home, culminating in the sportive of the Tour of the Peak, both having our best rides in the best weather, hot and sunny. But we both found this "easier", or so they say, ascent up Mt Ventoux hard, and probably not the best preparation, having been cooped up in the van for two days.
Lavender Fields
 After a delightful ride over to Malaucene, over the Col de Madeleine, we started the climb. It starts off quite gently at about 5 to 7%, but there's a tough section in the middle of 10%,11.5%, 12%, 11% over 5kms, which really drags you down. Later it eases off, before the final 4km climb over the limestone "lunar" surface to the weather station at the top. It had been quite warm early in the ascent, but the last section was cold and windy. Shooting off the top and down towards the Chalet Reynard, was bitterly cold. A quick coffee at the cafe to warm up, and then it was fast downhill, averaging 30mph, all the way through the pine woods, for about 13 miles back to Bedoin. Through the shady, narrow streets, lined with cafes and restaurants, filled with Dutch people, some in fancy dress, ready for the Euro match tonight. Our campsite is about 85% Dutch, most of whom are cyclists. The second language on signs around the campsite is Dutch, there being not much call for English! Well, there are three ways up Mt Ventoux, from Malaucene, Bedoin and Sault. All hard, all about 13miles of constant climbing, and we've done all of them now, but it takes you by surprise when you do that first proper climb. You get a disconcerting burning feeling in your back, a numbness in your toes, a pain in your neck, and the sinking feeling that you've bitten off more than you can chew! But then one of your fellow sufferers, cycling past off the saddle, looks across at you a mumbles "tenez courage", and you feel inspired to go on. It's not as beautiful as the alpine passes, but Le Mont Ventoux, le geant de Provence, is an epic climb, and you get a deep sense of achievement on reaching the top!