Cycling to the Col Agnel (2744m) - Europes Highest Border Crossing

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Thursday, 27 August 2015

Cycling to the Col Agnel (2744m) - Europes Highest Border Crossing

The Col Agnel (or Colle dell'Agnello from Italy) is Europes highest paved border crossing and one of the highest paved road passes in the entire alpine range. Ascending from the French side the climbing really begins in the village of Ville-Vielle and from here it is a 21 kilometre ascent with an average gradient of 6.5% and more than 1350m of vertical height gain. However, as with most cols we've tried, the average hides a lot of detail, particularly on the Col Agnel where the final 6-7km remain at 8% or more right to the top! The Col Agnel is a hors categorie climb of the Tour de France, featuring in 2000, 2008 and 2011 and also 3 times in the Giro d'Italia. It is a serious cycling challenge!

Setting off into a hot sun from Ville-Vielle, a few of days after our twilight ascent of the Col de Vars and climb to Ski Station Risoul, the initial kilometres went fairly smoothly for us and the beautiful view that opened up behind us over the Queyras was incredible. At around 9km to go the col itself came into sight looking worryingly far off and much higher than we were, but framed by a stunning valley bowl with a picturesque river and wild flowers all around. Then the real thigh burning, lung busting effort began as we had to grind away those painful, relentless kilometres near the top, especially tough for Esther on her heavy, borrowed hybrid.

Arriving at the top to find the border busy with visitors we managed to squeeze in a quick photo in front of the marker before retreating to rest our tired bodies and admire the view, crystal clear back into France but cloudy and mysterious into Italty with a stark cut off right on the border. It was like even the weather knew where the boundary was! But for all the struggle uphill it really was a very beautful climb and well worth our morning's work on the legs.

The Col Agnel, apparently, is one of the cols Hannibal is thought to have used during his famous alpine crossing en route to attack Rome - so perhaps next time we'll have to get our hands on an elephant to try the climb!


The road out of France.....upwards and onwards.


Looking back over the Queyras as the climbing continues....


The col begins to emerge into view...it's still a long way to go (and up)


But the valley is beautiful....


and the rest of the view isn't bad either!


Creeping closer to the col, but the relentless 8% plus is taking it's toll.


The road just keeps going....


Quick breather required.....


The photo might not show it, but to be honest I'm not going quite as fast as Pantani used to. 


Happy (almost at the) summit selfie!


Made it!


Clouds are gathering on the Italian side....


Looking back over what we'd just ascended.....


Taking in the view of the surrounding peaks.


Hmmm, maybe not go to Italy today then. The weather doesn't look too great that way.


But it's still looking good in France.


The descending begins, I'm thinking about lunch now mostly. 


FOOD! Finally, after a great morning and wonderful adventure on the bikes. 

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