The Grand Loop
When I was last in the Maritime Alps, roughly ten years ago, I did a ride that has remained on my list of all-time greats. That loop, starting and finishing in Barcelonette, was included in the tour I’m doing now. Indeed, it was one of the features that attracted me to this tour.
In broad strokes, the ride heads south from Barcelonette. A few kilometers out of town you turn right and begin climbing the Col d’Allos. It’s a 19km Category 1 climb and reaches 2247 meters. You descend until you reach the left turn that begins the climb up the 12km ascent of the Col de Champs. It tops out at 2045 meters. Then you descend to the left turn that leads to the climb up the Col de la Cayolle. The ascent of the Cayolle is 20km and reaches a height of 2326 meters; as such it is an hors categorie climb. From there you drop back to Barcelonette. Easy peasy, provided you think of 75 miles and 10,500 feet of elevation gain as easy.
I know the jump between feet and meters can be a bit confusing; sorry for that. I’m pulling data from multiple sources and there’s a bit of a culture clash, and, frankly, it’s all I can do to get this post done tonight.
Unlike the climbs we did in the northern Alps, the gradient was more consistent with each of these climbs. My legs say it was generally between five and seven percent, though there were exceptions.
The descents off of each of these climbs were to adult fun what Disney Land was to childhood fun. To do three descents of such variety, beauty and fun on a single day hardly seems possible. I commented to another rider when we stopped for a photo that I was having a “pinch me” moment. I just needed to make sure I really was there, really was having that much fun. Honestly, though, my dreams are never this good.
Were someone to compile a bucket list of great rides, this is a sleeper that should make everyone’s list. The climbs aren’t super-famous, but they each share a rich history and should rightfully be given their due respect. I’ll do another post that comments on some of the history of the climbs I’ve done on this trip. On two occasions today I actually stopped on descents for photos just because I couldn’t believe how beautiful the scenery was and the fact that the roads winding through these landscapes had an elegant line, sweeping and looping like a Bach melody.
Even if I lived here this isn’t a loop I could do weekly. It’s extraordinarily difficult, but the reward that comes from looking out at the Alps from those passes, threading those descents and rolling back to the hotel gives a satisfaction that most races I competed in could never match. Years from now when I’m too old to ride, today is a day I’ll recall and that will suffice for what I can no longer achieve.