Cime de la Bonette
According to Simon Warren’s book, the Cime de la Bonette is the only climb he calls epic.
When someone describes a climb in such a way, it fills me with an expectation which often can end up as a disappointment.
(One man’s EPIC is another man’s duh, perhaps).
But this is a 23Km climb up to 2,802metres to a landscape where few plants grow and rated as 10/10 on the Richter scale.
With my friend Rob, who I had just met up with at the campsite, we set off for Jausiers.
As I wanted to ride it as a solo effort, we parted company at the start and agreed to meet at the top.
It was a steady 6% which normally would have been a pleasant start, but for some reason it seemed like I was riding through treacle.
I couldn’t decide if I hadn’t recovered from previous rides, or it was just thinking that this was going to be tough.
On the other hand, I had a few beers last night ????
There was no point in trying to force the pace as there was another 20Km to go.
Occasionally the gradient lifted to 9% or dropped to 4%.
It seemed to make no difference as I tried to maintain the same load on the legs.
Like the Col d’Agnel, there was a circular wind in the valley.
One minute it would reward you and the next it would punish you, all in the matter of a few metres.
A buzz in the air
With a few hairpins ridden, I entered the Land of the Flies.
The delicate art of riding with one hand up an 8% gradient while fruitlessly attempting to swat flies must have been an entertaining sight.
There were 100’s of the little blighters but I never connected with one of them despite my efforts.
This was one of the few occasions when a car or campervan passed by and disturbed the air.
With every turn, there was a view.
The vast landscape was full of mountain peaks, and they were all competing for attention.
With 11Km left to climb, the gradient increased and now took on a steady 8-9% with a few 10% bumps just for fun.
As earlier, the gradient increases made little difference as I managed to keep the load steady and my cadence around 70.
My discipline even amazed me as I kept it constant.
As I competed for lines around the hairpins against the motorbike cavalcades, the landscaped opened even more.
“From another planet”, is how I have read the landscape of the Cime de la Bonette described, and I can only agree.
Ahead of me I could see the zig-zagging lines of traffic as they crawled up the mountain, it looked daunting.
Nah, needs a bit more on top
Then I saw the Cime at the top, “£$%&*&! hell”.
The Cime de la Bonette was a purposely constructed addition so it could claim to be the highest road in France. It looked formidable.
As I approached, the road narrowed to become a one-way system.
The riders in front of me seemed to become stationery as they crawled their way up.
Just before the Cime, the gradient relented and allowed me to push hard for a burst of momentum, after which I quickly dropped back down to maintain the cadence.
As the gradient reared up to 14% for the summit, it was now time to visit the granny gear.
In the last section I passed many riders desperately weaving across the road as they stood on their pedals knowing that no lower gear was coming to the rescue.
In the past I must admit to have taken some satisfaction about passing riders who struggle with flat road gearing on mountains but this time I took no delight at all.
Most had come as prepared as they believed they needed to be but this was another level and I can only applaude their grit and determination.
“No car park? then just leave it here
Besides the trauma endured on the last stretch, many cars parked alongside the road added to the challenges.
The occupants, blissfully unaware of heavy breathing cyclists fighting for air, stepped out of their vehicles to take up 80% of the road.
If I had enough breath, I certainly would have let them know how pleased I was to see them.
The top at last and WOW!
My next fight was to get through the crowds for a photo.
Of course, the car passengers and motorcyclists needed a memento of their strenuous efforts to reach the summit and so I had to join a queue.
1,000,000€ is yours
The Brompton as usual caught the eye of some others and in particular one curious rider.
He asked me, “Is it electric?”, to which I replied, “No.”
He then asked, “How long does the battery last?”
“It’s not electric and I will give you a 1,000,000 euros if you can find the motor”.
Unconvinced, he inspected the Brompton forensically before reluctantly acknowledging that there wasn’t one.
It was my photo time, but another electric question interrupted even that.
My friend Rob arrived, and we duly gasped in amazement at the landscape below is but as the wind chilled it was time to race down.
A few kms down the climb was a café and the ideal spot to take stock of this momentous climb.
Sitting outside on old wooden benches out of the wind with a coffee and cake was a glorious moment, but it had to end and off we went.
A further few km down and Rob let out a yell.
He had left his phone at the café, or at least he thought he had.
I tried to call his phone but of course, no phone signal.
Rob raced back up the climb as I slowly crawled up just in case it had fallen out of his pocket.
Thankfully, the café owner had noticed the left phone and put it behind the counter, so the potential disaster was now a laughing matter.
If you have a bucket list of climbs and the Cime de la Bonette is not on it, then put it there.
It’s one climb I am going to ride again because it is truly EPIC.