Day 6 - Barcelonnette to St Dalmas, 123 km (76 mi)
Cols passed: Col de Cayolle (2326 m), Col de la Couillole (1678 m)
Despite the brooding skies we left Barcelonnette cheered by dry shorts, confidence that we were within touching distance of our goal and enjoying the atmospheric effect of the wispy mist, high clouds and soft sunlight.
Our hopes for the newly adapted route were met and surpassed as we wound our way up a stunning gorge towards Col de Cayolle.
Despite a brief hailstorm as we approached the col we stayed dry and enjoyed a pit-stop and blankets amongst the snow pack on the col before negotiating over 1500 m of patchy wet descent to Guillames at 793 m. The high Alps now behind us we climbed back up through the ski resort of Valberg and on to the Col de la Couillole up at 1678 m and rolled back down to 500 m where we expected to spend the night. Our ever-supportive support team had other ideas however and let us know by way of text message that they had found a fantastic campsite but that it was up "a bit of a hill". One and a half hours later and 800 m higher we did indeed find a fantastic campsite and promises of another route alteration that would allow us to continue up to a col and to rejoin our route without detour.
Day 7 - St Damas to Nice, 74 km (46 mi)
Cols passed: Col St Martin (1500 m)
Despite being rather hillier than we had anticipated this was an easy day by any measure and a very pleasant roll into Nice with coffee stops aplenty and brilliant sunshine all the way to the famously blue Cote d'Azur which more than earned its name today.
Tim's family and friends greeted us on the sea front and a toe dip in the Mediterranean sufficed in lieu of a full swim on account of the head height waves and very strong winds. Being swept out to sea seemed an ignominious ending to a trip that had seen us descend many thousands of meters of Alpine mountain roads on less than an inch of rubber with little more than a layer of lycra between us and the (generally immaculately maintained) tarmac.
Tim's dad Peter in celebratory mood
We set out to do 700 miles of cycling in 7 days and to take in 7 of the high cols of the Alps in the process. Those with a keen eye for the maths will have noticed that I fell two miles short. In my defense I forgot to restart my computer a couple of times and Tim, who matched me mile for mile recorded 702 miles. Despite the closed cols we amassed several big climbs and the seven that I will claim for the purposes of this challenge are as follows (in order of appearance):
1. Col de la Croix de Fer (2067 m) via Col de Glandon (1924 m)
2. Col de Sarenne (1989 m) via Alpe d'Huez (1850 m)
3. Col du Lauteret (2058 m)
4. Col d'Izoard (2360 m)
5. Col du Vars (2108 m)
6. Col de Cayolle (2326 m)
7. Col de la Couillole (1678 m)
(8. Col St Martin (1500 m))
I am in the process of working out the total ascent but in the meantime here are the other stats:
Total distance: 1124 km, 698 mi
Hours in the saddle: 59 hrs 50 mins
Calories burnt up while in the saddle (according to bike computer heart rate monitor): 17,522
Yes, I would go back and indeed I would love to ride the high cols that we missed out on. We worked really hard for the first 4 days and this bought us enough time to pace ourselves through the rest of the Alps. We could have done more but we were lucky to have generally benevolent weather and not a single injury or health problem. Mechanical issues were also kept to the everyday so we can claim no delays. Given other commitments we both did a good job of training and found our endurance meant that we got stronger as the week went on. We had good luck and decent preparation as well as a huge amount of help from our dedicated support team. Thank you Peter and Clare!