Friday, July 26, 2013

Ride report: Parcours du Gapençais

I've just returned from a three week trip to the south of France. Probably there are going to be more blog posts about my adventures there, including those about seeing the Tour de France live, but for now I'm just posting a little ride report. Our stay in France was decidedly not a bike vacation and so my riding was mostly confined to riding around cities on various ill-fitting bikeshare bikes. The last leg of our trip had us staying in Gap in the French Alps. After suffering from increasingly strong bike withdrawal symptoms, I finally decided to rent a bike from the tourist info and go for at least a short ride. There was one shop in town that rented road and mountain bikes, but you would have had to drive there and the bikes were 40 Euros per day. The tourist info bikes, in contrast, could be picked up right in the town center and were free to use for the whole day. The choice of bikes was limited to some pedelecs, a step-through city bike and a couple Scott fitness bikes. The latter looked least ill-fitting for my 2 meter body and after dropping off a 200 Euro cash deposit and a copy of my passport I was good to go. In addition to bikes, the tourist info also provides a decent map with road ride suggestions on one side and mountain bike trails on the other.

As it was the only one starting directly in Gap, I decided to do the 42km Parcours du Gapençais which would lead me over two major passes, one of them having been ridden by the Tour de France pros just a few days ago.

From downtown Gap the ride starts by following the main road towards the Col de Manse. The road, leading to Grenoble, is fairly busy, but a good shoulder exists and drivers in general are very curteous. Whereras the main road continues north, the bike route turns east towards the Col. It was great fun to do the same route as the pros and seeing all the fan stencils scattered over the road.

After the obligatory pass sign selfie, I continued on an increasingly narrow road back towards the valley. Whereas to the Col de Manse I had gone in the same direction as the Tour during stage 16, the downhill towards the village of La Bâtie-Neuve ran opposite to the route of stage 18. I slightly regretted going downhill on this part, as the road was really beautiful and I wouldn't have minded taking some pictures.

Looking up from the Col de Manse
Looking back towards Gap (better viewed large)
 From La Bâtie-Neuve I continued into a side valley on a busier road, but soon I'd turn right onto another one of those lovely French minor roads which are so well-suited for cycling.

The road marker (there is on at each kilometer, providing you with current altitude, kilometers from start and grade over the next kilometer) promised some heavy climbing, and the road indeed delivered. The gears on my bike were low and so I didn't have too much of a problem getting up to Notre-Dame du Laus, but I was sweating profusely. Strewn along the way were the stations of a via dolorosa, which seemed quite appropriate

Great view back into the valley
Before reaching Notre-Dame du Laus, I passed a little chapel with a ceremony going on.

Notre-Dame du Laus is a Christian sanctuary that was created to honor a supposed apparition of Mary to a local woman in the 17th century. My mum later told me that it's a fairly popular destination for pilgrimages. I used the bathroom at the town entrance to wash off some of the sweat that had kept running into my eyes and making them look pretty scary...
Red face, red eyes
Ill-prepared as I was, I didn't only not have my cycling cap with me, but also no water, so the tap here was very welcome. I walked around the sanctuary for a bit before continuing further on uphill.
Notre-Dame du Laus
Whereas the road to ND du Laus had already been narrow and quiet, this part was even more narrow and more quiet. For the next half hour or so I would maybe pass one or two cars -- and this was for the better, as the road was barely wide enough for the width of a car. The gradient of the road was a little less steep, according to the signs between 4 and 7 percent and the trees along the road offered some relief from the burning sun.
Col du Tourrond
After not too long I reached the highest point of this section, the Col du Tourrond, and made a quick stop for another pass sign selfie.
Perfect roads for cycling
 The way back down to Gap was very pleasant. The narrow and quiet roads continued for a while through the forest, every now and then offering vistas of the underlying valley and the surrounding mountains -- and, as you can see below, of a beautiful poppy field.
After reaching the secluded village of Jarjayes, the road widened just a little, making for some good downhill riding before the quick interlude of going back up to the Col de la Sentinelle. After a final selfie I zoomed down the hill back into Gap and returned my bike at the tourist info.

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