Cycling to Ski Station Risoul (1850m) - Early Morning Ride - Queyras Regional Park

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Friday 10 July 2015

Cycling to Ski Station Risoul (1850m) - Early Morning Ride - Queyras Regional Park

It's hard to believe that it's been more than 3 months since we last tackled a high mountain road on our bikes in the High Pyrenees in March. Since arriving on the outskirts of the French Alps a few weeks ago we had been content to relax and look up at the peaks in awe just enjoying the scenery, but today we set off on our bikes once more heading towards a distant ski station many hundreds of metres above us. It's difficult to describe the emotion and wonder we both felt at the spectacle of nature on display as we ascended from our campsite to the Ski Station at Risoul, with high mountains and rolling hills spread out all around us and distant glaciers of the Ecrins blinking in the morning sun. It was almost as though we had forgotten the sheer joy of ascending a steep road powered completely by our own legs and feeling the wind on our face. It was a great feeling.

The Ski Station Risoul lies at 1850m altitude, 895m higher than our base at Camping Saint James-les-Pins and a total of 14km away, making for an average gradient of 6.3% (if you set off from Guilleste you start a little higher and the average is 6.1%). The climb is also relatively consistent, with almost all of the sections lying between 6 - 8% over good road surfaces.

We began our ascent shortly after 8am to avoid the heat of the day, easing in with a short section from the camping to the foot of the climb proper which then kicked up sharply immediately. We were soon passing names painted on the ground, evidence of the fact that last year the Tour de France ascended this same road on the 19th July on the way to a summit finish. Settling into our climbing rhythm we were both soon grinding away in our easiest gear. One big change from our climbs last year is that we are riding our road bikes, however, they are not currently well set up for climbing forcing us into quite low pedalling cadences as we started ticking off the kilometres.

Pretty soon, after just a couple of hundred metres of ascent, we began to be treated to a brilliant view of the Ecrins National Park that would stay with us for much of the climb. Looking along the Durance Valley we could see high rocky peaks rising up into permanent snowfields. It was a majestic and a very moving experience, just feeling staggered at the awesome beauty of nature all around us.

Onwards and upwards we continued along roads lined with pine and a sweet scent in the air, pausing a couple of times by the roadside to drink and rest as it was our first serious ride in many months and we were mindful of how unwell Esther has been recently. Skirting around hairpins revealing amazing outlooks, our destination began to emerge into sight and we made the final push to the finish.

Riding into Ski Station Risoul was a happy moment, not just because the ride had been so beautiful, but also because we had missed this feeling so much. We found a shaded spot with a wonderful vista to sit and relax and appreciate the satisfaction of having climbed to this stunning place. Although this ascent wasn't the highest or the longest climb we have ever tackled and we had taken it steady, given how unwell Esther was and how low her energy levels have been, it was a fantastic achievement.

It feels good to be back in the mountains.

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