Tuesday, August 09, 2011

Day 8: Vinadio to Barcelonnette


A short ride from Vinadio led us to an intersection. Here, we had a choice between Col de la Maddelena or Col de la Lombarde to get into France. While Col de la Maddelena looked like a main road, I remember Michael Khaw of Agile Compass Tours telling me that Col de la Lombarde was isolated and pretty. Looking at the map, it would drop us off in Isola, which would necessitate a hard ride over to Barcelonette. On an unsupported tour this would be a problem, but since we had a car, we made the snap decision to ride over and use the car to get us over Col de la Bonnette.

The road turned off gently but after just a kilometer turned into a winding road with lots of hairpins climbing steeply along the mountains. The views were as spectacular as promised and the lack of traffic even better. As a bonus, the climb was shaded for the first 700m of climbing, which made it a very cool climb. As soon as we climbed out of the shade it became obvious how much the shade had helped us as it was quite baking in the sun.
From Tour of the Alps 2011

As we got above the tree line what's left of the shade disappeared as the road became a one lane road. The climb wound around scree-covered slopes giving me a feeling of being in the middle of nowhere, despite the occasional car and road-side lakes. The asphalt was hot and radiated heat in pulsing waves making me zip down my jersey.
From Tour of the Alps 2011

At the top where XiaoQin was waiting for us we had lunch and took summit pictures. There were many hiking trails radiating away from the summit. Entering France, we found the road conditions largely unchanged, but the road descended steeply and quickly into Isola 2000, a ski resort that looked abandoned in the summer. Past that I saw a few galleries and then the road descended right along a river before entering the village of Isola.
From Tour of the Alps 2011

It was warm in Isola but there was a group of touring cyclists about to climb Col de la Lambarde anyway. I waited until Phil and XiaoQin showed up, and then we drove together to Col de la Bonette.

The climb from the South of Col de la Bonette had a tailwind assist (and a pretty strong one on the day we were there), but it looked like any cyclists going that direction would need it (we didn't see a single cyclist in this direction): road construction was in full force on the road, and on more than one occasion there would be giant asphalt trucks or steam rollers operating, leaving the road only one car wide.
From Tour of the Alps 2011

Phil managed to get a few good pictures of the Col, but we agreed that we wouldn't have wanted to climb it from this direction.
The descent into the Ubaye valley, however, looked very pretty, and the road was clearly newly repaved. Phil asked if we would do the climb and I said, "Well, we're on vacation, so we do whatever we want!" Hence we got to Barcelonette deciding that we would spend 3 nights there. This would allow us to do Col de la Bonette and Col du Parpaillon, and let XiaoQin get a day off from driving.

Compared to trying to park in town, finding the tourist information center was no problem. They gave us a list of available lodging, and surprisingly enough the first place we found wasn't just available, they were cheap, at 20 euro/person/night, not including breakfast. It was right downtown, the room looked old but the bed checked out free of bed bugs, and we got an entire suite to ourselves, with 2 rooms and a bathroom, and plenty of room to park the bicycles.

After moving everything into our home for the next three days, we tried to find a place to buy French SIM cards, but had no luck whatsoever, the only place in town being closed for an unknown amount of time, and the next place being 60 miles away. We ate ice cream, took showers, and had dinner.

That night was some anniversary of the hotel/bar we stayed at, so things were noisy downstairs, but with the windows closed we found it easy to get to sleep. We were going to do a long climb the next day and planned to start early to beat the heat.

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