Tuesday, 24 September 2013


Verdun Gorge and time up Alpe d'Huez

Left Bank Verdun Gorge

Verdun Gorge

View of Mt Blanc from Grand Colombier

Mistral blows us south

Time to move on, heading towards the Grand Canyon du Verdon.  Nearest large place is Aix-en-Provence.  We were here about 34years ago and fairly close at Aups a few years ago.  Found a good site, Le Vieux Colombier, about to close this weekend, at Moustiers, a small town perched high among the rock face, which marks the beginning of the Verdon Gorge. It is built around a cleft in the rock face with a chapelle right at the top.
By the end of our first day, we knew the whole of the Gorges very well!  We cycled out clockwise to La Palud, via the Col D'Ayen, and around the Route des Cretes, with vertiginous views into the Gorge, thousands of feet below, to the icy blue river.  The route is a balcony route for 15 miles which offers the closest views of the gorges.  After that we joined the main route and carried on clockwise to Trigance, a medieval town high on the hillside.  Then ascending the Rive Gauche, to the Balcon de Mescla and a coca cola, to the total height of around 1200m, the highest point of the gorges road.  Cars and the occasional coach passing, stopping and re passing us.  Finally descended into Moustiers Sainte Marie, having cycled 74mls and 8400' ascent!  phew!  Lovely day and great cycle ride.
That night we were too tired to cook so ate at the local brasserie having the  plat du jour of cabaillard. We took it hoping it was fish as neither of us knew! Ian suddenly thought it was eel but thankfully it was hake and really good.  We didn't want a repeat off the "tete de beau" incident!
The day after we cycled a circular route to Tourtour, where there was a small market selling beautiful figs, half a dozen in the back pocket for 65 cents! Would cost more than that each at home!.  Then Aups followed by circuit of the Lac de St Croix. Stopped for colas and coffee so not too stressful but still managed another 64 miles!
Rest tomorrow when we set off for Le Bourg d'Oisans. The weather has been fantastic and is forecast to continue until Saturday so risking going into the high mountains, for another last minute gasp, literally!
24 degrees when we arrive in Bourg!

Ventoux 2

Once more up Ventoux!

The day after our ascent from Bedoin a Mistral wind blew.  Strong and cold from the North, but with blue sky and sunshine. Layers on and confined to the lower climbs to Malaucene, Suzette and then on to the Dentelles again, but this time to villages further in the Dentelles, Roque Alfric, Le Barroux with a big chateau, up and down through hidden valleys and vineyards, dripping with dark purple grapes, ready for harvesting.  The wind was debilitating and we returned after 32 miles.
After porridge and banana, the usual breakfast, I set off at 8.30am, 40 minutes ahead of Ian, up the Gorge de la Nesque on a lovely sunny morning.  I could see clouds covering Ventoux and it was still a little windy, but nothing like yesterday.  Early lunch, ham baguette and coffee in Sault, with Ian, who caught me at the head of the gorge.  I'd averaged 13mph and later 9mph, as it became steeper and felt good weaving in and out of the ravine.
Past the honey sellers and the lavender fields on the lower slopes, and then tucked in close to a young Belgian girl, being paced by her father, on her first ascent of Ventoux.  A steady pace all the way up the much kinder ascent, even managing to pass them and two other cyclists, in my big chain ring for the last 3km before Chalet Reynard, where it levels off and contours gently round.  Time for a quick coca cola and then the last 6km again, up to the top.  Past the young Belgian girl again, now on her own, having dropped Dad at the cafe, past the memorial to Tommy Simpson, with only 700m to go.  Strong winds pushing you back, so that I had to get out of the saddle at the last bit!  But then that amazing feeling of having done it again, and didn't feel as tired as the last time.  It is a much less difficult way up.  Congratulated my new Belgian friend as she appeared shortly after, clearly exhilarated at her achievement.  Really cold, but the clouds starting to blow over and the sun break through.  Put on lots of layers and then the fabulous descent into Malaucene.  Fairly straightforward.  Good road surface, and not too steep, with only a few hairpins.  Really fast descent, getting up to 37mph!
Strip off layers down in Malaucene ready for the ascent up to Col de Madeleine, via that beautiful road over to Bedoin.  Fast descent into Bedoin, still feeling strong and enjoying the ride.  Back at the campsite after 64miles, averaging 11.1mph, and 5hrs 50 on the bike.  What a great day!


Landed on a lovely warm, sunny day, but the forecast for tomorrow was rain, drying up by lunchtime.  So we cycled in the afternoon, setting off in the direction of Malaucene, on the beautiful road which climbs over the Col de Madelene, contouring around vineyards and pine forests, with spectacular views as you climb higher.  Over to the Dentelles, down to Beaume de Venise, climbing up to hilltop villages of St Pierre de Vassols and Crillon Le Brave and back to Bedoin.  Nice intro and a route we've done before, but the other way around.  Unsettled weather and cool.

The forecast was better for Monday.  I set off at 8.30am, 40mins ahead of Ian, which is roughly the difference expected to the top of Ventoux!  The other big difference between Ian and I is unfortunately for him, he has a clear, good memory of how hard these climbs are, whereas I blot out most of it, apart from the feeling of euphoria at the top!  Consequently, it began to come back to me, as I began the interminable climb up through the pines, with a gradient of around 9 and 10% over 10 miles.  Thank God for Chalet Reynard, a couple of minutes to stretch and then the tough last few miles over the "desert" landscape to the top.  The wind was building, occasionally helping, at other times making it tougher.  Ian overtook me with 3k to go, damn him, and I thought I'd done well.  Turns out he was having another good day!
The top is always a wonderful but cold place to be.  2hrs 36mins, eat a snickers bar, and put leggings, cold weather gloves, merino top, winter jacket, and cagoule on, before the descent back to Chalet Reynard and a cup of hot coffee.  Ian had time for a second!  Then off down towards Sault, on a superbly tarmacced road, switching back through pine forests, and eventually on through lavender fields, now empty but still fragrant.  My 6th time up the Geant de Provence.  Always takes me by surprise at how hard it is, but memorable.
Sandwich at our favourite bar in Sault, in a little square, tucked away.  In June it's very busy, but now the neighbouring restaurant is closed, and quite quiet.  Such a short season for these places.  On through lavender fields and climbing up to the head of the Gorge de la Nesque, and then the magnificent 7 or 8 mile descent through the gorge.  Hardly needing to use the brakes, and cycling at an average speed of 18 mph, we contoured around high up the side of the gorge, twisting and turning, with dramatic drops down into the valley.  The best piece of downhill cycling ever.  The weather was unsettled, but it didn't take the shine off.  The kind of cycle you relive in the cold winter months in Derbyshire!
Climb out of the gorge to Ville sur Auzon, on to Flassan and then Bedoin.  56mls, average speed 12.9mph, which shows how fast the return is bearing in mind the first half was ascending Ventoux, averaging 5mph.
Met up with Ian, from Sunderland, here on his own for two weeks on the BikeBus.  Same age as Ian and a keen cyclist, so lots of stories to share over a steak hache and frites!

Sunday, 22 September 2013

September ....Skipton v France

September 11 for about 3 weeks

After putting up two lots of Australian rellies and going down to London to Laura and Emma's wedding, we were off again.  Although very short notice compared to most weddings, where the preparations drag on interminably, with only two months to organise, it was the best wedding ever.  Just close family, with night do for friends, everything went off perfectly, and Laura looked more beautiful than we've ever seen.  Didn't know she had it in her!  They looked so happy together, and grandma had a lovely time, spoilt rotten, with lots of champagne!
Now off to North Yorkshire area, or Cornwall, in theory.  But the weather turned autumnal in a weekend, so off to Provence!  Overnighted in Guignicourt, just north of Reims. Expensive campsite but good, with little choice in area.  With a couple of decent days forecast north of Provence, we opted for Culoz, just south of Annecy and lake Geneva and stayed on a municipal site for two nights.  The site is at the foot of the Grand Colombier climb, made famous by the 2012 Tour de France, where Tommy Voekler won the stage.  As the helicopter filmed from overhead, you got the most amazing shots of Wiggins and Froome zigzagging their way on the crest of the hill, looking down over Lake Bourget.
We climbed the first day and found it a lot like the Alpe d'Huez climb but further.  Quite tough, but the views were stunning.  Through the trees on the ascent, you caught glimpses of Mont Blanc, rising above the clouds. We then continued onto the Col de Richemond in the footsteps of letour.
The second Saturday in the month between June and September, the local tourist board and the Confrerie des Cyclistes de Grand Colombier host a closed road event with refreshments at the summit, so we decided to tag along for a second ascent.  About 10 miles and 4000 feet of climbing, with 3kms where the gradient is over 10%.  Event started at 7am, and we were cycling by 8.30.  Very little traffic on the road anyway, but none that day.  Great welcome at the summit and spectacular mountain views.  Our hosts even opened a box of red wine, and it was still only 10.30 am!
Really enjoyable day, but not much to see in Culoz.  One bar but that's about it.  Great campsite and very reasonable.  Glad we decided to call in for a couple of nights, rather than legging it down to Provence.  Finished cycling by 12 noon and set straight off for Bedoin, Provence.