Friday, September 09, 2016

The Great and First Torino-Nice Rally Day 4 - Briancon to Sampeyre via Col d'Izoard and Col d'Agnel 57 miles, 2764m ascent

Briancon starts with a bit of a faff.  I stop into the bike shop to replace the tube I gave to Stu after he gave me 10 Euros to cover it.  I buy a chain link for my 10 speed since I realise I'm probably not carrying one.  Eventually I have to conceede that the day must begin and we set off past the restaurant we ate in last night up hill.  It's a little depressing being passed by a standard man in standard clothes riding a standard bike on his way to his standard job but I'm on holiday and he's not.

Big farmsteads and the inevitable ahead.
Looking back to JJ who were catching us up after being separated in Briancon.

Feeling smug at the top of the Isoard
We're alone for a while and stop again for more coffee and decent cake just before Cervieres - shared between us at 6 Euro's but it is a massive slice.  The hotel has the look of a project, bought, owned and operated by a woman my age.  Enough work has been done on it to keep it clean and reasonable but she has the look of someone who has spent just as much time enjoying herself in the mountains as actually working on the project.
The Issoard / Izoard.  Hard to spell.  More difficult to photograph

We bump into JJ just as we hit the remote mountain passes of the ski hill. Beyond are more switchbacks but it's relaxed with cows wafting their tails in the breeze.  JJ and Lawrence are surprised to see us, thinking that we'd passed through Briancon but we tell them that we stayed at the campsite with the dutch and so we are all, effectively, still together.

We all stop together at the before-the-summit Refugio at lunchtime and demolish sizeable plate-fulls of food.  We consider ourselves lucky in terms of pricing for refugios as the owner is quoting a passer-by 67 Euro's per person for the night's accommodation and food.

Ville Vielle
We descend a paltry 1000m to Chateau Ville Vielle to pick up campsite information for the evening then progress to Molines-en Queyeras where we turn onto the Agnello and onto a really steep road section.  We were heading back towards the Italian border.

I thought a lot about Tanya Quinn - a Canadian friend who is undertaking her second round of cancer treatment.  I thought about how she'd love it here and what we're doing and how, when everything hurts and you think you can't go on, you just do because you have to and that's the best thing to do.  Thankfully the gradient eased and we set about a long gradual valley climb towards the inevitable switchbacks to cross the pass near the saddle of the mountain ridge.

Just as we approached Fontgallarde 2/3 of the way up the valley, we felt a few drops of rain and the summit started to look a little ominous with clouds loitering on the edge of the cliffs.  It was going to go one of two ways - stay where it was or come pouring over the edge and piss down on us.  The dutch stopped to be on the safe side and checked into a B&B.  The boys continued with us Brits and I eyed the cloud with concern until convinced that it wasn't moving - either up or down.

Marmots and cowlicks

I rode intermittently with TSK and Lawrence and JJ dropped back a little when they decided to take a walk on the switchbacks.  It wasn't necessarily steep but sometimes walking became essential to give the legs something different to do from time to time.
Lawrence and TSK ride into the distance
To pass the time, Lawrence and I are talking about the stuff we've done this year - my ironman events and Lawrence's 24 hour race and Gran Fondo rides.

We are finally in to the grip of the mountain weather.  Thankfully it never *actually* rains on us but the wind gets up on the switchbacks.  This is OK because every "out" that has a head wind has a yang "back" with a tail wind.  The not-quite-sunset down the valley is impeccable and needs photos before the final push to the tops.  We shout abuse down the hill at JJ who are pushing again.

Enjoying the view
Spoiling the view

TSK and I choose a small layby carpark in which to add layers - my leggings and coat and TSK gives me a buff because I'm not sure where mine is.  Lawrence shelters behind a "Fox Racing" emblazoned campervan in the hope of being offered some shelter by a mountain bike team but there is no love and instead, nervous people stare out of the plastic windows at him.

Leaving behind the Agnello and the cloudbase

He waits for the others and TSK and I set off in search of a mythical campsite with a swimming pool, promised to us by a lady in the tourist info office in Chateau Ville Vielle.
Border crossings a little less official at altitude and away from the officialdom of Mountain Ski Resorts (with no-one living there).
After a good 20 minutes of descending I see a village and excitedly exclaim, "the campsite is this side of town!" until TSK points out that it is the wrong village.  The descent, like them all, goes on for over an hour before we hit valley bottom again and just cruise along the gradually descending roads.  Lawrence has given up waiting for JJ outside a camper van in the cold wind and catches us up as we descend back into warm, still valley air.

After what seems like an eternity of warm valley highway and glorious river beds, lakes and ancient townships, we finally roll into the more modern Sampeyre ski town and start hunting the luxury campsite with a pool.  The local map and our combined Garmins and phones are futile in this search and instead we check into the less exclusive looking caravan park on the other side of the river from the high street.  At least it's on the route for tomorrow morning.

Some pidgin English and a spattering of French see two tents, three people checked into one pitch (to save on the price) and we all grab what we can of a shower and clothes wash before setting off into a mostly-closed ski town to seek out the only serving restaurant - a small pizzeria.  Low key (skanky cyclists welcome) and serving excellent pizza and a much-deserved beer.  Thank god because all of the shops are shut too.

I am particularly fond of camping next to running water as it tends to drown out all other sounds.  Not quite the motorbike who makes several passes of Sampeyre but eventually the river lulls us all to sleep and I realise I'm starting to settle into this cycle of bike, camp, eat, sleep quite comfortably.

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