Day 19: Gap to Grenoble, France
Napoleon - I've been riding Route Napoleon since Castellane
Napoleon, on his reconquest of France, led his army up through Castellane, Gap and Grenoble. Having just ridden that small part of his route, I'm impressed with their ability to climb!
I left Gap late in the morning, 11 AM, because I waited till an internet cafe opened so that I could get some, not very good, internet access. I figured I only had 100 km to ride, so it would be a short day. By 3 PM in the afternoon, I had covered about 25 miles! Now, I did spend an hour having lunch at a small rural restaurant, so I had only been riding for three hours, but my average speed was just over 8 mph. I had climbed almost as much in those 25 miles as I had all day the day before, much of that climbing was on 12% grades, and I was riding into a headwind blowing at 10 to 20 mph. I should have been unhappy, but I was having a ball!
A typical section climbing out of Gap
And this is not a short climb
An hour later...
When I left Gap, I knew I would have several hundred meter climb. It turned out to be over 500 m with grades up to 15% and lots of sustained 12% grade. It was a much harder climb than anything else I've done on this tour, and the grades were pretty near the limit of my ability. Thank goodness for my 17 inch gear. I can climb at 3 to 3.5 mph with a 60 to 70 cadence, and I did a lot of that today! I climbed a mile, much of it at 12 %, and almost all of it in just 40 miles. Thats more than twice as steep and twice as much climbing per mile, as the Blue Ridge Parkway.
Looking west from the top of Col Baynard
When I got the top I found yesterday's headwind was back, and even stronger. Riding down the other side - which included several km of 12% grade, my maximum speed was 40 mph and I didn't need to do much braking. With out the wind, I should have easily exceeded 50 mph.
Starting down from Col Baynard
A Mountain Farm
A mountain Village
The riding, although quite hard because of the wind, the steep slopes, and the long climbs, was really enjoyable. The views were, well, Alpine , and so was the riding.
After an hour and a half, mostly spent climbing Col Baynard, I was ready for lunch. Riding was slow, and it took till 1 PM to find a place to eat. It was a small, mom and pop (literally), rural restaurant and it was busy with a mix of locals and tourists. I got to practice my "this is a French lunch" mental attitude as pop served and mom cooked. It was good, and only took an hour which, by French standards, is a very fast lunch.
The view from the restaurant, Le Bon Vin (and it was)
12% for 2.5 km
Looking back, the road before this climb is down by the river
After lunch came another big climb and then a long section that was, by alpine standards, flat. That means about as much climbing as an average section of the Blue Ridge Parkway! Somewhere in there, at the top of a hill, I stopped for snack, so I'd been riding for about two hours after lunch when the road plunged steeply down into a deep valley. Wow, was that a great, brake squealing, descent. And of course, a matching climb back out. I got applauded on that climb by a tour director on a tour bus that was coming down as I was grinding up the 12% grade. The tour leaders sit across from the drivers on those fancy buses, so we had a good view of each other. I waved and she applauded. I don't know what she said to the tourists, but I guess I became part of the local color. I saw no other loaded bikes today and no other bicyclists on the really alpine part of this ride.
Riding into the wind
Looking ahead before the deepvalley
Down into the valley
And climbing out
The riding, although quite hard because of the wind, the steep slopes, and the long climbs, was really enjoyable. The views were, well, Alpine , and so was the riding. When I got to La Mure, it was after 5 PM, and I still had 40 km to go. I considered stopping - especially after the long climb up the main street of that mountain town, but decided to ride on in hopes of meeting some friends that were in Grenoble and leaving shortly.
Flat at last!
12% grade down for 6 km! That is a 2400 foot hill
Blurred from 40 mph on a bumpy road!
Fortunately, riding was much easier after La Mure. I stopped at an Intermache and got supper stuff, then stopped by a long, pretty, lake to eat a light supper and rode on to Laffrey where N 85 goes down a BIG hill. Signs warn of the hill 10 km beforehand and trucks and buses are not allowed to go down it. It is an honest 12% grade, sustained for six km!
It is also narrow in places, bumpy in places, and has a lot of traffic. I 'cruised' down it a 40 mph, only occasionally getting airborn from the bumps. It was an exciting, and dangerous, ride. When I got to the bottom - at the beautiful city of Vizelle - I found one rear pannier had come partially loose, and I was holding my 1 liter coke bottle that had come out of its bottle cage, in place with my leg. I'm glad I managed not to lose anything on that descent!
It was 17, almost flat, km from Vizelle into Grenoble. I stopped at about 10 km to phone my friends' hotel, and we meet about an hour later to walk around town, visit, and have supper. A nice end to a great day of riding.