Cycling up to Monte de Parpaillon (1860m)

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Wednesday 2 September 2015

Cycling up to Monte de Parpaillon (1860m)

The cycle ride to Monte de Parpaillon, on paper at least, looked like it should be a little less physically demanding than our recent ascents of the Col de Vars, Station Risoul, Col Agnel and especially the Col d'Izoard. Looking on our handy map showing the various climbs and loops in the region the climb from Saint-Andre-d'Embrun to the end of the tarmac road at Monte de Parpaillon (1860m) was 15.9km long and 'only' 5.9% gradient, a little less than the other rides we'd tackled. If we'd had mountain bikes with us we could even have continued another 10km further to the Col de Parpaillon at 2650m with those final 10km at close to 10% the whole way. However, we were more than happy to stick to the tarmac surface as we set out from Guillestre early this morning to cycle along the Durance valley to the start of the climb.

The first 16km of our ride was gently undulating and also part of the Balcons de la Durance loop we'd attempted twice before but had to turn back each time. As we climbed gently to look down on the turqoise river below and as the view opened up looking into the far distance towards Gap along the 22km long Lac Serre-Poncon.

We soon reached Saint-Andre-d'Embrun where we steeled ourselves for the climb ahead, feeling good beneath the blue sky with just a few wispy clouds. The initial few kilometres were a little steeper than the climb average, but at just under 7% we were well used to such steepness after our recent rides and we hoped it would level out a little later...which is exactly what it did.

It seems that when assessing average gradients in the Alps the 'average' for the entire climb is not so much an indication of the expected steepness, but more a reflection of the proportion of the ride that will be spent at 8% compared to almost flat sections - or at least we have found so far. With a few flat and even downhill sections thrown in for good measure much of the climbing was at close to and even above 8% as indicated by the handy waymarkers, with definite pieces of 10%+ as well. It was challenging, but also very beautiful, especially the wonderful views along Lac Serre-Poncon.

As we neared the end of the road and the head of the valley the bare rock walls displayed amazing swirls and patterns of geology, with green fields, trees and waterfalls making an idyllic scene as our legs ground onwards.

And then suddenly it was over, we had run out of tarmac. There was no marker or sign, just a small bridge and a rocky track continuing onwards and upwards and we could go no further. But we felt a great sense of achievement. Turning back downhill the descent was straightforward and by early afternoon our legs had carried us back to Guillestre for a well-earned lunch.

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