The Ardeche is an area in France where stringing together three or more Cols in one single ride does not leave you buggered for days. We decided to visit the area because of the promise of almost car-free riding. Not that sharing the roads is an issue in France but a few days without motorbikes swooshing pass sounded appealing.
Well, that the region is well known for good wine might have also had something to do with our stop-over. It was kinda on our way from the Alps to Mont Ventoux and we had a couple of days up our sleeves before meeting Gary, a friend from our Brisbane cycling club, in Orange.
We picked St Felicien as our base town simply because it is the town that hosts the L’Ardechoise cyclosportif and I saw hundreds of colourful purple and yellow L’Ardechoise jerseys during L’Etape. A town and area with such a rich cycling tradition surely must have some good cycling routes.
During our 100km ride we meandered in wide circles around St Felicien and sampled the region. Roads are tiny, tinier and tiniest. Church towers poke out of valleys or tower on top of lush green hills, some of them dating as far back as the 4th century.
A local cyclist passed us on one of the descends that ended in a dead end. He had dismounted at the little square in front of the church and looked at us curiously. We started chatting. He had been to St Felicien to run errands… on his old beautiful steel racer. The village? Yes, there are three people and a lot of cats living here in winter, he answered our curious question. He invited us in for a drink but we kindly refused. Our ride had just started and we were keen to keep going, only later regretting having refused such a kind offer and an opportunity to learn more about life in the Ardeche (and maybe make friends).
But this journey is full of opportunities, some grabbed and some missed.
There were lanes lined with apricot trees and we sampled the local produce. We listened to a choir singing in front of a church in one of the villages. We briefly sat down for a bite to eat in a patisserie and then continued to climb so many Cols that I don’t remember their names. We descended through a forest tunnel and only turned the wheels for (motor)home because it was 4pm and it was the last day of the Tour de France. We didn’t want to miss watching the final sprint to the line on the Champs d’Elysees.
If we saw 30 cars on our 100km ride, then we did well. There were probably fewer than that.
The cyclosportif offers a wide range of distances and various levels of difficulty, and the longest and toughest includes as many as 16 Cols. Alberto and I both agreed that it would be a very nice cyclosportif to enter and marked next June in our calendars. (Wishful thinking!)
And have you counted the number of Cols we packed into our ride? By the way, they may or may not be in the order we rode them. I would have to dig out the detailed route instructions we got from the local information centre. Most of the Cols are not in our normal road map, just like some of the lanes are not much wider than a bike path and also don’t show in any of our maps. They are rarely sign-posted and if they do have a road sign then it is often a wooden sign with hand-written village names. They are easy to miss but the best finds…