Sunday 22nd May – Ride Day 9:
Today’s penultimate stage of the ten day St Malo to Nice challenge saw us take on 104 miles and >7,000ft of ascent in, again, blisteringly high and unseasonable temperatures which must have hit mid 30’s for most of the last week.
Nokey, Byrney & Aspey opted for a 6am start to minimise the afternoon heat damage (it just continues to build until about 6pm 🔥🙈), whilst Farney, Clarky, Rob & Blighthy went for 7.30 after breakfast. Johnny took the first stage in the van to avoid the shear, if spectacular, drops off the Gorge du Nesque (after the guys had successfully extracated the van from Pierre’s patio where it had been professionally parked on a sixpence).
The route today was all within the Provence-Alpes-Cote d’Azur region but between the Departements of Vaucluse Bedoin) and Alpes-de Haute-Provence (Les Salles-Sue-Verdon).
The route offered us yet more spectacularly changing scenery:
– starting up the Gorge du Nesque for the first 20 miles up to Sault (the identical route Farney, Clarky & Blighthy took yesterday … but we’ll worth a second look !).
– We then experienced some rolling countryside (along expansive fields which was unexpected given the terrain we’d just cycled up) before a fabulous coffee and quiche/pain-au-chocholate/ cake stop in Banon where ‘group 2’ met with two bike packing cyclists heading on the same route from South to North).
– As with previous stages, it was very much a ‘day of two halves’ as the heat sapped our energy throughout the afternoon, requiring more frequent stops (the first stop of the day had been over 40 miles in) to rehydrate, get nibbles off the van and generally just get 5 mins out of the saddle !
Lunch (pasta and burgers) was enjoyed by both groups at the same restaurant in Oraison. The coffee & Orangina stop in Riez seemed to come quickly afterwards, but was nevertheless very welcome after a 5 mile section of near continuous, though relatively shallow, ascent if only for some respite from the heat & pedals.
After another long and low gradient uphill drag (with some welcome visual distractions of more arid landscape, pastel Provençal villages with their typical blue shutters and dry river beds) we had a long descent to the relatively busy and touristy lake of ‘Lac de Sainte Marie’ at the foot of the Gorge du Verdon (which we will climb up tomorrow). A bunch of cyclists in this heat seemed somewhat out of place amongst the campers, swimmers and canoeists on a more traditional ’holiday’ 🤔
We then ascended a short distance to our accommodation which once again is a massive variation from previous nights … very comfortable self catering ‘chalet style’ rooms in a complex with a very helpful proprietor who offered us an early breakfast and an additional room to minimise the number of double beds !
Unfortunately there was no time to swim in the lake but dinner was a super al fresco pizza just 50m away from our rooms 😅
Other highlights from the day included:
– Byrney had a puncture (not exactly a highlight)
– The front group kindly assisted a French cyclist struggling to sort a puncture
– The van went up Mt Ventoux first thing to give Miles, Jonathan & Johnny a look.
– Johnny’s knee pain was much improved on the bike today 😊
A relatively early night tonight before a tough 60 miles of climbing, though undoubtably spectacular scenery in and around the gorge, and then (🎉🎉🎉) a 30 mile downhill and coastal haunt into Nice (and a few well earned beers 🍺🍺🍺) 🤞