Saturday, August 16, 2008

Day 11, 12- Rest then Barcelonnette to Valberg

We were long overdue for a day off, so day 11 was it. Two of our group members rented a car and 
we cruised the mountains south of Barcelonnette. What a nice break, especially for our rear ends
which were not fairing well this trip. Tomorrow we would ride to Valberg a nice little ski resort on
the outskirts of our home turf in Vence.

Barcelonnette to Valberg-Just when we thought the tough climbing was over Valberg proved us wrong.  We were introduced to the col de la Cayolle.  Though not as steep as Bonnette, it was as long.  This climb was clear;y more scenic than Bonnette and a lot more enjoyable with a better engineered gradient.  We rode up with Les and Sue and Glenn got some great shots of us cresting the summit.  A long decent after the climb to our lunch stop in Guillaumes then a grind with mixed climbing into Valberg.....ahh a cold beer awaited us at the local ski resort tavern!

Day 10- Barcelonette- The great Col de la Bonnette

We had planned a rest day but the weather did not look like it would be good the next day so we made an impromptu decision to ride the “Bonette”.  We charged off at 11:30am with two sandwiches in our bag and four bottles of water.  This would be the toughest climb that we have ever attempted.  It was over 14 miles long and would climb to over 9,000 feet, about 5,000 feet of vertical.  Gulp.  The climb started at the base in Jausiers.  From there it was all up.  The beauty of this climb were the array of landscapes that you experience from beautiful meadows with grazing sheep to rocky granite cliffs, and then barren, above tree line mountain tops.  All in all it took us three hours to climb.  Most of the climb average 6-7% with an occasional 10%+.  What made this climb tough was the length.  Conditions at the top were rapidly changing and a thunderstorm was brewing.  We quickly donned our rain coats and headed down.  It took only 30 minutes to get to the bottom.  What an experience.  This was truly the greatest alpine climb we had ever done.

The beginning of the climb looking back down to Jausiers

About two-thirds the way to the top....

      Where the hell is the top..... 

The top and the oncoming thundershower!

Sunday, July 20, 2008

Day 9- Digne-les-bains to Barcelonnette

We started the day looking very forward to our arrival in Barcelonnette and a few days of rest. Digne les Bains was the last true Provencal city we would be in for days.  We were now entering into mountains with more of an alpine feel.  The mountains are bigger, steeper, more pines, and more rivers.  It was tougher but the temperatures were cooler and there was less humidity making the riding more enjoyable.  While I thought I loved the Provencal terrain and feel, the alpine terrain was more than welcome.  We followed the Bes river up a 3% average grade and a gorgeous canyon to Barles with  the col de Fanger in our sights, and lunch in Seyne on our mind.  Climbing was gentle and actually enjoyable as the scenery got greener and greener and again more alpine like.

The river "Clues de Barles", gorgeous canyon

Market in that cheese

                        Lac de Serre-Poncon

Our lunch stop in Seyne was short but we did manage a nice pizza “vegetrien”.  After lunch we climbed col St. Jean then descended the back side with picturesque views of Lac de Serre-Poncon. We then followed the Ubaye valley to our final destination.  Barcelonnette proved to be a great base camp for the next few days.  We felt like we were in a ski resort, which is what it is in the winter.  The tour will stop at the next town north, Jausiers this year so there was a buzz in the air especially at the local shops.

Day 8- Opierre to Digne les Bains

Today we made our way to Sisteron a mostly downhill run from Opierre.  We rode through an area laden with orchards of apricots, peaches, and nuts.  Once at Sisteron we stopped to visit the famous Citadel on atop the hillside overlooking the city below.  It was built in the 12th century and has a lot of history.  After a delightful lunch of pizza and salad in the old part of town we pressed on.  

                          The Citadel, atop the city of Sisteron

                                 Queen of the Citadel

                              East side of the river in Sisteron

                  Quick snack outside of Sisteron--giant meringue

This was one of the hottest days we had ridden yet and really took us into a remote area.  We rode most of the day on our own.  Tough climbing along a steep mountain side and at one point we ran out of water but were able to refill at a “parc animalier”, a remote mountain zoo.  After reaching our first summit at Authon we descended into the “foret de melan” and climbed to the top of the col de font belle”.  This climb seemed much easier and rewarded us with a beautiful vista and descent to the valley below and village of Thoard.  

One more climb over the pass de Bonnet and our final descent to Digne les Bains.  This was the largest town we had seen in over a week.  It reminded us of Paris with tree lined streets and more hustle and bustle than we were used to.  We made a bee line to the first bar in sight and spotted our tour leaders Glenn and Nancy, a welcome sight.  With a few beers and patis in us we were ready to take on the world!  This ended up being one of our toughest and most lonely days of the trip.

Day 7- Vaison la Romaine to Opierre

Now that we had conquered Mt. Ventoux we figured the rest would be “downhill”…NOT!  Today’s ride would take us over three tough cols in sweltering heat.  We took on our first “eboulment”; a fairly major rock slide that required some sweat and strength to get over.  After a well deserved picnic lunch at the top of col de Soubeyrand we pressed on to our final destination in les Begues, outside of Opierre.  We were really in a remote area with virtually no cars.  Our hotel was a true country inn.  Basically there was our group, another group of cyclists from Holland and three guys on BMW motorcycles.  They served a very hearty meal of salad, pasta, pork roast, cheese, and dessert.  We got our first thunder shower but we were safely snuggled in our rooms.  All in all a nice quiet spot and one of our better nights rest.

Day 6- Vaison la Romaine to Gigondas, Vacqueyras

Today was a scheduled rest day but we were anxious to ride through the great wine towns of Gigondas and Vacqueyras.  Les and Sue were happy to join us.  The ride from Vaison was a beautiful descent through the vineyards.  This again reminded us of the Napa Valley but dotted with more wineries than we could stop at.  

The first stop was Seguret, a quaint village perched on the hillside above the vineyards below.  There was a small wine store that offered “deguestion” or tastings.  We had several reds, predominately Grenache and Mouvedre and some excellent Roses as well.  Les bought a bottle of the rose and we rode on to Gigondas. 

On the way out of the winery Maria noticed a beautiful water color of the area with Mt. Venotoux in it.  The sales person gave us the name of the artist and said his studio was just up the road in Suzette.  So after a fabulous lunch, we made haste to Suzette.  The bun busting climb resulted in one was our best experiences of the trip.  The artist and his wife, also and artist, invited us in their house to show us their work.  I think she was actually the more accomplished and had an upcoming exhibition in Paris of her modern “orchestral” sketches.  His work was beautiful and he actually told us the picture in the winery was his favorite.  We told him we would like to purchase it so he drove back to Baumes de Venise and brought it back to us.  Les and Sue also purchased a picture as well.  This spontaneous episode was what we had hoped to experience; small French village, great food, fantastic new friends and art that captured the essence of the region.  We could not have asked for more.  

Monday, July 14, 2008

Day 5- The climb- Mt. Ventoux: Sault to Vaison la Romaine

Today was the big day; the assault of Mt. Ventoux.  After a tough prior day we decided to attack Ventoux from the east and forego scenic gorge de la nesque and the brutal 10% climb from Bedoin to the actual base of Ventoux at Chalet Reyard where the east road meets.  

Our climb was beautiful.   The 5-6% grade was very manageable and the cool temperature and picturesque pines took our minds off of the hard part of the climb to come.  At Chalet Reynard we actually felt refreshed and ready to take on what many call the toughest climb in France.  We had virtually perfect conditions; crystal clear with an interesting warm “mistral” wind reminicent of our Santa Ana's in southern California that would blow into our faces while climbing NE but give us a slight push on the long switchbacks headed NW.  No doubt about it, a tough, steep, desolate climb.  The only scenery were the other cyclists around you, and there weren't too many.  About 75% up we stopped at the Tommy Simpson memorial.  This was the British cyclist that died while climbing the mountain in the 80’s.  

We finally made it to the summit; about 6K of real steepness 9-11% range.  The descent to Malaucene was the best of our trip with a top speed of 50 mph.  The road surface was near perfect and plenty of room to maneuver.  We had fabulous celebratory lunch in Malaucene then pushed on about 6 miles to our hotel in old part of town of Vaison La Romaine where we would spend the next two nights.  The hotel was literally an old castle that had been updated slightly with great views of the main city and the rolling Provencal mountains behind it.

Sunday, July 13, 2008

Day 4- La Fuste to Sault

Seldom are there days on this trip that are uneventful, but this was one.  Hot, hot and more hot as we made our way to launching pad to Mt. Ventoux.  We took no pictures this day.  The hotel was perched on the top of a hill looking out to the ominous white Mt. Ventoux in the distance. 

Many of us had to share a room here.  Fortunately we were bunked up with Les and Sue.  The pull out chair “sleepers” weren’t the best but after this day we really didn’t care.  Dinner was excellent but we cooked from heat of the sunset.  Most of our thoughts were focused on the next day’s ride up Mt. Ventoux.

Day 3- Moissac Bellevue to La Fuste (Manosque)

We started last with the other tandem couple which as great to ride with them again.  This was the day we were to see plenty of lavender fields which we did but not fully I bloom yet but there were poppies everywhere.  The French version is much more red than ours in California.

For once, we had less climbing.  This was a fairly “non eventful” day, but we did have a great lunch in Riez; beautiful salads, "exotique", nicose, and a deep fried stuffed pastry sheel with pommes and chevre. 

The last descent was not steep but 35-40 mph for almost five miles; a tandem team delight!  La Fuste reminded me a lot of the Napa Valley; dry, hot, gently rolling hills with small mountains around and lots of vineyards.  The hotel was quite nice, with a small “castle” like feel and beautiful marble floors that were so cool you wanted to sleep on them with the hot weather that we had experienced.  This was appeared to be a gourmet food resort with a magnificent kitchen.  The meal was quite heavy; scrambled egg appetizer with truffles and a lamb osso buco all served on a lovely patio.

Day Two- Castellane to Moissac Bellevue

This was a day that I was really looking forward to since it traversed the famous canyon du Verdon, France’s version of our Grand Canyon.  Getting there was feat in itself.  Our new motto,   “ a climbing we will go…” 

Once you hit the quaint hillside village of Trigance (above), we climbed to the top of the mountain and descended down to Balcons de las Mescula for an awesone view of the canyon.  This was a tourist stop complete with giant tour buses and the triket store.  

We loaded up on water, had some food, and started climbing the south canyon loop.  Views were spectaclular but a tough climb, with narrow roads and a fair amount of traffic.  Once we reached the summit we made a bee-line for our lunch stop in Auguines.  

This was a great spot and our first pizza of the trip.  We also come to learn a new French food term and Provencal favorite; "assiette" provencal, “provence plate” with whatever is local.  In this case assiette povire, salad of local roasted peppers.  Yum!  More climbing heading south through Aups, then a nice descent to Moissac Bellevue.  This hotel was sweet.  We had a beautiful dinner of fish, foie grais, chilled celery soup, and great local white wine with grapes I have never heard of.  It was a special celebration for our tandem friends Les and Sue, their 20th anniversary.

Official Day One- Vence to Castellane

Today was the official first day of the tour.  Our route would re-trace rides we had done the previous two days from Vence east following the river up “gorges du Loup” to the first of many hiillside villages, Gourdon.  From here the climbing started through rocky, fairly desolate canyons to a plateau area that felt like a moonscape with small scrub brush trees.  

Still heading east after a roadside catered picnic we decided to join the only other tandem couple on a special route that they had ridden before and would avoid some steep climbing and reward us with a beautiful winding descent down to lac Chaudanne just outside of Castelle.  It was worth every ounce of climbing.  

Castallane proved to be an great town nestled in the middle of a river.  The dinner was spectacular, five course including the local “pistou” soup of fresh beans, vegetables, and a pesto mixture that was out of this world. 

Vence Pre Rides

Since we arrived two days early we had the opportunity to get in two days of "warm up" riding. Getting warm was not a problem as the temperatures were in the high 80's to low 90's.  Our first pre-ride took us up the Gorges du Loup with close up views of the cascade (waterfall)  de courmes.

This was a beautiful ride with a steady climb of about 5% but nicely shaded.  We lunched at Greolieres and pushed
 on to the col de Vence, a relatively easy climb with one of the best descents of the trip.  A very nice day ride.
Day two of the pre-rides took us up the same gorge but we climbed further to the very old village of Gourdon.  This had to be the quintessential hillside Provencal village.  It had views all the way to the Mediterranean.  

We had our first of many salad nicose lunches!

Friday, June 20, 2008

We landed- Nice, (Vence), France

After 12 hours of flying we made it to France. Connecting through London was tight and we sprinted for 2 miles to get to our gate only to find that they closed the flight. With a little work we finally got on the flight.

Our first night is here in Vence just 15 minutes from Nice. The town reminds us a lot of Laguna Beach with a more dramatic mountain backdrop. It took 3 hours to assemble the new beast. Today we will give it a test.

First meal in Vence was great....

Saturday, June 07, 2008

New Bike....12 days to departure

We made the commitment and bought a "coupled" tandem for our upcoming trip. The new custom Erickson is awesone. We've only ridden it 100 miles but they proved that Glenn knows his stuff when it comes to tandem buliding. The ride is incredibly smooth and extremely efficent! Here's the bike and a shot overlooking Dana Pt. harbor mid way through a 70 mile 4400 ft. day.