Tuesday June 24th rest day:
We awoke to a sky containing a few high clouds, the first break in the constant solid blue skies for a long time.
We were staying at a very nice three star hotel in Barcelonnette. The temperature was close to 90 degrees in the afternoon, and the hotel did not have air conditioning, so even with a comfortable room it was tough to “chill”. And then there was the noise and cigarette smoke coming through the open window…enough of the complaining, it was still a great town. Of course, back home even a Motel 6 has AC. Now I sound like one of those baseball cap wearing American tourists who always seem to be asking “Where is the MacDonald’s?”
To make matters worse, I was sleeping in an upstairs loft. So much for quality sleep. This deep into the trip I could tell that day to day fatigue was taking its toll on me, but I was really powerless to do anything about it.
I could have used one of these:
Some of the Tour de France teams have adopted the use of a surgical cooling helmet, which the riders wear while sleeping. One coach has noted that it’s especially helpful in Europe, where many of the hotels are without air conditioning. It’s a product that’s gone “from the operating room to the Tour de France”.
Tim rode incredibly well during the entire trip. He’s always been a super strong rider but I was amazed at how he seemed to get stronger every day. As opposed to my sleeping difficulties, he and Laura were getting good rest every night in their room, and he claimed to be starting each day feeling “fresh”. Maybe if Tracy were with me I would have slept better, but I think she would have just made me hotter! I’ve always been a temperamental sleeper anyway.
Before you jump to conclusions, I’m not whining! This was the cycling trip of a lifetime, and I loved every minute of it. I could sleep when I got home (and sleep I did).
Wednesday, June 25th
Barcelonnette-Col d’ Allos-Col des Champs-Col de la Cayolle
87.1 miles 11,553’ of climbing
I wasn’t really sure what to expect from the Maritime Alps. More than a few people had told me that this was an incredible area from a cycling perspective. I guess I tended to subconsciously pooh-pooh that, thinking how could the Maritime Alps be anything like the Dolomites, or the Italian and Haute French Alps?
With this prejudicial viewpoint, I certainly did not expect today’s 87 mile loop to be not only the single most enjoyable day of cycling of the entire trip, but to be perhaps the single finest day of my entire cycling life.
Seeking a jump on the afternoon heat, we left Barcelonnette at 6:50am with literally not a car in sight. We were in the more arid Maritime Alps, but there were mountain streams cascading down from every direction.
Tim gave Laura the "day off", so unfortunately I do not have any photos to do this description justice.
A total of eight cars passed us in over four hours of climbing. From a traffic standpoint, it was even better than the remote areas of the Pyrenees.
In many ways, this section of France looked more like Colorado than Colorado. I can see how travelers could easily spend a week in Barcelonnette, alternately cycling and hiking. There is a system of Refuge Huts and seemingly no people to use them.
Out first climb, the Col d’ Allos was fairly long and steep, but it really paled in comparison to the monsters we had been riding up and down this entire trip. Devoid of traffic and almost totally encased in silence, the climb of this col was just amazing.
The second climb of the Col des Champs was a little shorter, but no less attractive.
The final big climb of the day was the Col de la Cayolle at 20.5km in length that gained over 4000’ of altitude. This was a monster climb, especially in the afternoon heat.
On our return to Barcelonnette from the top of the Col de la Cayolle, we descended for mile after mile alongside a powerful river with rapids. This was one of the prettiest rivers I have ever seen.
That evening we returned for another good meal at the Mexican restaurant, and Laura helped me pick out a handmade French apron for Tracy.