On the back of a splendid weeks skiing in the Chamonix area in March, Gerard and I said farewell to our respective better halves and set off south in my VW Caddy van laden with left over food and beer, skis and snowboards, various luggage and of course our bikes.
Travelling through France on their motorway system may be expensive but I think its worth every sous. Speeding along with just one stop at a local truck stop for lunch we found our quaint little medieval house looking out over the river and castle of Sisteron by 2:30. A quick tour by our AirBnB host and we were ready to roll by 3:30. Having examined the local area I noticed the obvious route right outside our door.
The Col Fontbelle. So off we went on a bright but cool March afternoon only to see our first marker advising we had 24km of climbing ahead of us. This was supposed to be a quick evening ride but what the heck so we carried on. 24km later we finally reached the top in a pine wood after an especially steep last few km. As we were still in March we had lost the sun and the temperature was dropping quickly along with the light. Quick snap of the sign and off we went back down. I’m pretty much in awe at the mountains and they can turn from scenic friendly places to cold and dangerous very quickly. Not only did we narrowly avoid a mauling from a farm dog that set off to intercept us we were now freezing cold. Then as we rounded a corner, about 10km from home, we were hit with the full force of the mistral blowing 60kph into our faces. Even downhill it felt like hitting a wall. The switchbacks from then on turned you into and with this gale until the final turn home when it finally halted us in our tracks! What a fantastic start to our trip. I was buzzing.
After our red wine and pizza recovery evening we set off on our first proper 135km planned route. Heading north west from Sisteron we cycled up the Gorges de la Meouge enjoying almost exclusive use of the road and therefore amazing scenery. Next was our first Col. The Col St Jean. This was a fabulous climb with average of about 8%. Dropping down the other side we were thinking lunch. That’s when it dawned on us that all the villages we passed through were pretty much deserted without even a village shop. Fortunately we spotted two cyclists outside what appeared to be an unused barn in the hamlet of Laborel. Scooting over we saw they had jam tarts and coffee. What a god send it was as the old lady appeared to deliver us exactly the same fare.
From Laborel you are straight on to the Col de Perty. Another beautiful (and deserted) piece of road. From the top the view ahead was for miles. As was the descent which transpired to be twice the distance of the climb and we dropped to Saint Auban fully aware of what goes down...
Heading to Sederon (our next food stop consisting of a family bag of bbq crisps) we headed over the Col de Mevoullon and the Col de la Pigiere before turning for home into the growing breeze. This is where Gerard came to the fore. A much stronger rider than me he drove the pace down the 30km gentle descent into the wind at 38kph. One last climb back to our hill top town of Sisteron and we were home and hosed. And very hungry. And thirsty.
Tired from the previous days exertions we decided upon a gentle recovery day staying local. Somehow this ended up being another 100km day over another three Cols. This is mainly due to me not interpreting the local roads correctly and deciding to jump on the Route Col Fontbelle without checking where this route went prior to the Col. Anyway, no-one was complaining. The weather was sunny and the wind had dropped and we out playing on our bikes in a place we knew we could get hot food and cold beer.
Our last day we had agreed should involve a drive to get us over the Bedoin to see if we could make a run at Mont Ventoux. We were 50/50 as we were still in March and were unsure if it was even passable. The old bloke living next door to us in Sisteron reckoned it would be fine. So off we went. Fuelled by a late breakfast of omelette and chips we set off towards Chalet-Reynard. Up through that forest! What a climb. It keeps you constantly on the edge of discomfort. My 34/28 had my in and out the saddle every few minutes while Gerard slowly but inexorably disappeared into the trees shouting when you see the cabins you'll be at Chalet-Reynard. Finally said cabins came into view as did Gerard bearing good news. The barrier was down but we could pass and get to the top. So ducking the barrier we set off for the summit on the most amazingly clear, bright day. We had really lucked out. Usual photos at the top and we headed over to the northern side only to discover why the barriers were down. Around the first corner the road was head height in snow!
Back the way we came then and off we headed to Sault and then down the stunning Gorges de la Nesque. What an experience. I must return one day and ride back up it. Back to Bedoin and the Caddy was to be our last stretch on the bikes this trip and we determined to leave nothing in the tank. Not that there was much to be had. Quick refreshment and home to pack for our 17hr drive back to Yorkshire.