Cycling the Misty Col de la Lombarde from Isola (2350m)

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Tuesday 26 September 2017

Cycling the Misty Col de la Lombarde from Isola (2350m)

Another day, another cycle, another national border in the mountains. Following our trip to the Col de Montgenevre and the Col d'Agnel, this was our third cycle to the fringe of Italy in around a fortnight, just enough time for another brief glance and a hasty retreat downhill back into France. At 6.9% average gradient over 20.5km, the Col de la Lombarde was never going to be an easy climb but, in hindsight, we were surprised at just how hard it felt on the day.

Rising from the tiny village of Isola, just 15km down the valley from St-Etienne-du-Tinee from where we had ascended to the Cime de la Bonette, the Col de la Lombarde rises a leg shaking 1477m, with a maximum gradient of 9.3% on the road. Typically, on most of the climbs we've done in the Alps, maximum gradients tend to appear near the top of climbs but not so with the Lombarde where the real hard stuff hits you straight from the get go.

Perhaps it is cycling fatigue setting in, but truth be told neither of us was in a great mood for this particular climb. A chilly breeze and overcast sky wasn't helping, but there was also something about being smacked in the thighs with a relentless opening 7 or 8 km of steep gradients which included a couple of dark tunnels where speeding cars buzzed too close that wasn't helping the mood improve. Even the subsequent flatter sections didn't help as the extra speed noticeably increased the windchill.

Also, we had probably been a little spoiled with the scenic spectacle that was the Cime de la Bonette being both of our previous two climbs. Not that the Lombarde was especially unattractive. The opening few kilometres wind up a narrow gorge that gradually opens out into a sharp valley and then (higher still) an expansive valley bowl that houses the ski resort of Isola 2000. The gorge part at least was pretty and probably, if the sun had been shining to bring out the autumn colours, it would have been even more so. However, the sun wasn't shining and when, by the time we reached the ski resort with 5km still to go I couldn't help but feel a little disappointed to see so much ski paraphernalia littering the slopes. I've said it before but ski resorts do not look good without snow, they look more like high tech construction sites.

That said, the final 3 or 4 kilometres to the col was lovely. Open scrub land with purple heather and I even caught a glimpse of a fox hunting for small rodents. Looking back the ski related gubbins even faded away, until after 2 hours of pedalling the border was reached.

As you can probably tell I'm beginning to sound a little too grumpy about pedalling. It was, and always is, a privilege to be able to ride a bike in this amazing part of the planet but after three weeks on the go I think I need a day off the bike now.

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