Alpine Adventures – Tour de Barcelonnette – September 2019

Bal Blanche Loop – Day Four

After yesterday’s almost constant rain, we woke to clear blue skies overhead, so today’s plan was to tackle the mighty Col de la Bonette. However, after heavy snow yesterday, the roadside col information signs said that the col was closed. We found this out about 2 miles into the planned route. We’re in Barcelonnette for another couple of days, so hopefully we’ll still have a chance to explore both sides of the Bonette.

I suggested that we cycle down to towards the Lac de Serre-Poncon again (we rode around it yesterday) & explore some of the lesser known climbs of the Val Blanche (a popular skiing area). We retraced our tyre tracks across town, before gently descending the Ubaye valley towards the lake for the next 15 miles. We passed our parking spot from yesterday’s ride & for the next 7 miles took the same route. The views were totally different under blue skies, as we could see the huge mountains beyond the lake.

We then took a left turn onto a small side road, the D7. It was little more than a single track lane, just the sort of road we were hoping to find ourselves on! We were immediately onto the first climb of the day, a 5 mile ascent up to Col des Fillys, which at times had small ramps with gradients of 12 to 15%. The road twisted its way through a forest, which limited the views slightly, but every now & again we caught a brief glimpse of the lake way below.

On the way up, we also bagged an unexpected bonus col, the Col de Charamel, which didn’t show up on the route plan – there was a Col sign, so it counts in the Col climbing stakes!

At the summit of Col des Fillys, the views opened out in front of us, as we caught our first look at the UNESCO Geoparc de Haute-Provence. As we crossed into the Val Blanche, we passed through a couple of tiny hamlets as we plummeted towards the valley floor below.

As we passed the medium sized village of Selonnet, we spotted a café/restaurant, where we stopped briefly for our first ice cream of the trip & a coffee. Almost as soon as we set off, the road took us past a field full of hay bales, so I had to pull in & attempt some hay bale surfing – after 3 full days of riding, I’ve lost some flexibility & my technique clearly needs some work!

We continued along quiet back lanes for another couple of miles, before joining the wider (but equally quiet) D900 towards Dignes. This marked the start of our next climb, which was probably our easiest of the day, as the gradient was only 3 or 4% for the 3 miles up to to Col de Maure – we both felt that it didn’t really qualify as a Col, but we were happy to bag it. We were still surrounded by huge mountains, quite a few of which had coatings of snow showing on their summits.

We stayed on the D900 for another 6 miles as it descended down the opposite side of Col de Maure. We then took a single track road (which had the best tarmac of the trip so far) as it continued the drop to the valley floor. At the 47 mile point we turned onto an even smaller track, which marked the start of our 4th climb of the day – the 5 mile climb of the Col du Fanget through a beautiful forest.

The first mile averaged 9%, which included a short stretch where the road crossed a river below. I was a bit concerned about what this unknown climb may throw at us, but after the initial slap to the face, the gradient dropped to a much friendlier 4 & 5%. As we made our way round a blind bend, we could hear an almighty screeching noise in front of us – we’d stumbled across a crew of workmen using an enormous caterpillar digger to dig a trench & lay cable. We had to get off our bikes & walk through the long grass to get past them. This was also where the gradient increased to an average of 9% for the final mile & a half, with stretches hitting 15%.

The huge views from the summit of Col du Fanget made the effort all worthwhile – big panoramic views to the mountain ranges in the far distance. The 4 mile descent was on a badly rutted & potholed surface, but we didn’t see a single vehicle on the way down, so could use the full width of the road to try & find some decent tarmac.

We were now back in the large village of Seyne, where we’d hoped to grab some lunch, however, everywhere was shut as it had just past 2pm. We only had one more climb to go, so after eating a banana & downing a gel, we were on our way again. The Col de St Jean showed on the map as being just before the ski resort of St Jean-Monclar, however, there wasn’t a sign, so we simply rode on & continued on our way.

As we passed through St Jean, we took a sharp right onto a much wider road which would drop us down to the main lake road. From here we just had to follow our path back to Barcelonnette, via a late lunch stop at Le Lauzet-Ubaye – although the chef had closed the kitchen, the owner very kindly made us a ham & cheese bagette each.

The road back up the Ubaye valley to Barcelonnette wasn’t something we were looking forward to, as it seemed like we flew down the hill in the morning. However, fate was on our side & we had a tailwind the entire way home! Just as we were riding into Barcelonnette at the end of the ride we passed a local airfield & I stopped for a quick photo op outside.

We had the sun on our backs, had ridden the most amazing day on quiet country lanes & now it felt like someone was pushing us up the hill – this was one of those days where everything fell our way. All that remained was to enjoy a celebratory beer in Bar Tandem & then top up the energy reserves, before a stroll home under the moon! What a great day out!

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