If you still think you need to pay over the top prices for sportives, like the Etape du Tour, to ride a challenging mountain route, then think again…
Paul Burgoine writes … “For a fraction of the price you could visit the South of France and an unbelievably beautiful region that boasts a perfect mix of Alpine fresh air and Pyrenean climbs.
I was invited along to ride the ‘7 Coles en Cévennes’ by my friend John who lives in Caux, a neighbouring village to our place in Pouzolles with both villages about 25k from Béziers. John is training for a 2800k Randonnée across France, so he felt he needed to test himself by completing the 135k mountain ride; it would be a good test for him to judge his fitness.
Climbing and descending mountains is not really my thing, I’m more a Potters Bar Classics man, but given the lack of hype and scaremongering like there is attached to a lot of other sportives, I was not duly worried; besides how hard could it be – it was only a day out on the bike?
It was an early start to try and get in as much riding as possible before the heat of the afternoon and the possible windy conditions kicked in. John picked me up at 5am to set off for the start at Ganges. We filled out our Brevet forms and got on the road at 7am. There was still a bit of a chill in the air, that warranted a light jacket and arm warmers.
We ran along the valley into a very strange warm headwind that only lasted a few minutes (spooky) as John and I stayed together for the first few climbs. I followed him down the descents that were narrow and twisty, just the sort of decent I hate as my weight carries me into the bends too fast so I spend a lot of time braking into the bends (hard work).
On the third climb, I left John and was now enjoying powering up the gradual climbs feeling good apart from a nagging neck pain that is accentuated by long descents. I waited at the top of the climbs for John (not to long I must add).
The countryside was amazing, very green and plush with the smell of spring flowers filling the air and the intoxicating aroma of the pine trees that also provided cooling shade from the now increasing hot sun. I was flying up the climbs passing many a Frenchman – “Bonjour” “Salute” – practicing to myself on the way up the climb to Mandagout (South London French Accent) where the food stop waited for me.
I latched onto the back of some club riders from Montpellier Bike34.com again. I was climbing well, then….. it all went terribly wrong the smooth gradient changed and it must have been 7/8 % so myself and some other heavier riders were dropped off the back immediately. I was still just about able to sit in the saddle but the ride rapidly got increasingly difficult.
By the time I made it to Mandagout, I was very happy to see a well stocked feed stop with cheese and meat baguettes, apricots, chocolates and cakes etc and a great choice of drinks including wine. Only in France! Why on earth would wine be a good idea half way up a mountain?
After a nice rest and then a quick coffee, it was off to tackle the big climb of the day. What I didn’t realise at the time was the next 10k was going to be a very beautiful but hellish ride. The road surface was in a terrible state broken up from all the tree roots, it was impossible to get any sort of rhythm going and the gradient was very inconsistent but… there was worse to come.The road marker said 8k and the gradient didn’t seem to drop below 9% or 10%. I was in a bit of trouble and being passed by riders at least a bag of plaster lighter than me.
It wasn’t long before I was sweating all over including arms and legs (not a good sign) and weaving from side to side. The Col de Lussette has long straight sections, very depressing to be able to see so far ahead. I must admit it was a total relief reaching the summit at 1351m. This climb was every bit as hard for me as the Tourmalet or alike. The decent though was like dropping from the sky; long straights, super fast and with small rises at the end to slow you down.
Immediately it felt like being in the Alps as opposed to the Pyrenees – air so fresh and clean you could taste the difference as the topography changed to lush green pastures and log cabins, the climb up to the Col de Minier was a joy smooth wide roads Hooray…. I was flying again.
Once over the top, the decent into La Vigan was, by a long way, the most amazing decent I have ever been down. Long sweeping bends, I was throwing my bike around like Valentino Rossi, this was 20k of sheer joy even my aching neck could not mask the most thrilling of rides. Once at Vigan, there was another well replenished food stop before the final climb to Montdardier. “Its only 6k “ John said. It started off pretty steady then ramped up to about 7/8% and it was exposed.
I was now frying in the 29 degrees. I waited for John at the top who had done remarkably well given his age. All that was left was a quick ride down to Ganges passing people bathing in the Herault River, I just wanted to jump in at that point.
At the finish, in the Super U car park, John was greeted by the organisers and presented with a cup for being the oldest person to complete the course. A very nice touch and a wonderful way to finish off the day. We both received medals and more food and drink and all this for £6 less if you take a licence. Come and do it next year, you don’t get closed roads but you don’t need them as there are very few cars, and over 3000m of climbing.
I would like to thank John ‘Mon Ami’ for taking me along and for the volunteers of Cyclo Club Gangeois for putting on such a fantastic event.
Please have a look at Johns massive charity ride http://www.justgiving.com/John-Holmes5