September 13, 2014

Cime de la Bonette

After a 10K ride from St. Pons (just outside Barcelonnette, where I am staying) to Jausiers, yesterday's activity announced itself:


Col de la Bonette, and then Cime de la Bonette, the pass and then the summit of Bonette. The claim to be the highest road in Europe is refuted by several other high roads, but its claim to be the highest paved road in France holds. The road makes a short steep loop, above the col, up to the cime. That loop was built to go nowhere, its purpose is to be the highest road.

The ascent begins gently enough, leaving the valley of the Ubaye behind. I set my normal easy pace, and began the climb into the sky.


The total climb was 23 K, 14.25 miles the col, and 1589 meters, 5213 feet into the air.



There were more than a few switchbacks on the way up. If you are wondering how this compares to Ventoux, Climb by Bike includes Bonette as the 108th hardest climb in France, Ventoux from Malaucene as the 115th. Those kinds of numbers sound so specific and official, but it strikes me that there are so many variables involved, they can only be gross generalizations. They are pretty similar, this is longer, and with one remarkable exception, less steep.


Something about halfway up, the road leaves the forest behind and enters a world of rock as it snakes around, switchbacking back and forth, always climbing.




With 8 K remaining, I stopped to photograph a large flock of sheep. While there, Bert stopped to say hello on his way down. He is visiting from the Utrecht region of Holland, and is a very strong cyclist. An understatement. We had ridden to the start together, but from there each rode our own rides. I knew we would cross paths somewhere when he descended.

This next photo is quite zoomed in, to include the big orange truck. Here and there throughout the length of the climb the road is under repair. Only once on the descent was traffic stopped to allow paving to continue, and that was the only actual work that I saw, as the crews moved from place to place. But in many places the road surface was torn up and gravelly, in preparation for paving. Not too bad climbing. No fun descending.


The actual pass, on the road to Nice. It was great to make it here! I am sure there must have once been a col sign, because the road and col was built and used long before the cime. But I didn't see one. This is not the route I will take tomorrow, I'll use Col de Cayolle to leave the valley.


From there, it was less than .5K to the high point. The road got steeper, barely rideable for me, much much steeper than the 12% grades I've ridden. Then it steepened again. I stopped, as did some other riders, and feared it was too steep to get back on the bike. Somehow I did and continued another 150 or 200 feet. Stopped again, and ... decided to walk the remaining meters. So did some others. Maybe I could have gotten on, ridden a short distance, stopped, etc. But that just seemed stupid. At the top, there was discussion about just how steep that short section was. 18 - 20% was the concensus. I really don't know though. I have since found some sites, including the comments on Climb by Bike, that use numbers between 17.3 and 20%. Whatever it was, it was s.t.e.e.p.


Views from the top. It was thrilling to be able to spend some time there, chatting a bit with other riders.





I took the descent slowly: it was steep, sometimes exposed, with tight hairpins. And then there was that gravel and chewed up road surface. Didn't often stop for photos, but here's one.


I enjoyed dinner in Barcelonnette with four other guests staying here, and returned too late to write. Today will be a rest day for my legs, which right now are not happy climbing a flight of steps, much less venturing up another col tomorrow.

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14 comments:

  1. Suze, so happy to see a picture of you, now I have a better idea of what you look like! Love the moonscape-like col scenery.

    Sarah



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    1. Excellent, now we'll recognize each other when we neet up!

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  2. Wonderful, and congratulations on a huge climb. You don't sound it but you must be stoked! Rob and I time-trialed up that sucker last year. It was the worst 1.5 hours I ever spent on the bike; quickly followed by the biggest smile I have ever had. Well done, Suze!

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    1. Thanks Gerry, and yes, it was a great climb!! I wrote this the next day, and perhaps some of the excitement was not as immediate as when one first finishes something. It is funny how quickly realities change, even from the top of the mountain to dinner in Barcelonnete. The ride up was actually much more fun, more rewarding, than the ride down. Today I'm off to Col de la Cayolle in an hour or so.

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  3. You will remember showing me the map of your projected time in Barcelonette. Now, it is history. Or at least stowed away in the telling of the feat file. And only 142 kms to Nice? You'll be there weeks before schedule! Meanwhile, take rest, take up new acquaintances, savor the food and know that you've done much.

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    1. I do remember that, and I thought of you when I was in Jausiers especially. Remember, you found Jausiers on the map, I thought the climb left from Barcelonnette?

      Nice tomorrow! Wow, that was wild to write, I started to say in 2 days:-)

      Thanks for your note!

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  4. Stunning climb, stunning scenery, stunning photographs. I am stunned. As I could never pedal up such a vertigo inducing road, it was a treat to have you doing it for me. I hope that the rest of your trip is not an anticlimax.

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    1. Hi Tom, Thank you for staying along on this trip, even wth these crazy climbs. And yes, some of it was indeed vertigo inducing. So let me say, the pleasure was all mine!

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  5. Hi Friend. Love the photo of you at the top. What a wonderful accomplishment. I am so happy for you. Enjoy Nice it is going to be a wonderful visit for you. Don't forget to take pictures. So far, all of the photos have been wonderful. Stay safe and have lots of fun.

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    1. And hello my friend Marguerite,

      Glad you like it, helmet hair, burnt lips and all!! I will be in Nice tomorrow and am much looking forward to it. The Mediterranean, sun, seafood...did I say, the Mediterranean? Miss you!

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    1. Thnks! Though it was abolutely the necessary thing to do, you can imagine I wasn't happy bout walking the last little bit.

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  7. What fun that was to read. Congratulations on a big and very beautiful climb. Wow.

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    1. Thanks Karen, it was definitely big.... and definitely beautiful! I think you have some similar high climbs not to far from your home riding area. Not me! Which made it extra enjoyable.

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