Raid Alpine – Day 5

Jausiers to Puget Thenier.

Today’s ride of 135km took us over what is often regarded as the highest paved road in Europe at 2855m and then onto a completely different environment with a Mediterranean feel.

The highest paved road thing is actually incorrect. There are more road passes whose altitudes are higher in Europe.

The road to the Bonette links the Ubaye and Tinée valleys and allows the direct connection between Barcelonnette and Nice. It was originally a mule path, a strategic route operated and maintained by the army as evidenced by the constructions along the road (camp des Fourches, Fort de Restefond). The Spanish troops took it during the War of the Austrian Succession (1740-1748). The path was widened and transformed into a road in 1832. The final road was completed in 1960.

I left the Hotel in Jausiers at 08:00 to begin the 24km climb to Col de La Bonette. Once more it was a perfect day with a clear blue sky.

The start of the 24km climb up Col de La Bonette

The start of the 24km climb up Col de La Bonette

It was another long climb up an Alpine Col. From the north, the climb starts at Jausiers and is 24.1 km (15.0 mi) long. Over this distance, the climb is 1,589 m (5,213 ft) (an average gradient of 6.6%), with the steepest sections at 9%. For me this was going to be almost 3 hours of ascent with the kilometre signs marking my steady but determined progress. I had to do it as I’d bought the Col de La Bonette jersey in Jausiers already!

The kilometre signs marked my steady and determined progress

The kilometre signs marked my steady and determined progress.

The scenery was varied and the landscape became more barren as height was gained. There were marmots whistling my arrival as I made progress up the hill.

I love being in the mountains.

I love being in the mountains.

It was a great climb and eventually the Col de La Bonette came into view.

Cime de La Bonette eventually comes into view.

Cime de La Bonette eventually comes into view.

The top is marked by a standing stone.

Summit of Cime de La Bonette.

Summit of Cime de La Bonette.

It was cold and windy at 2802m so I put on some warm gear ready for the equally long descent.

Ready for the descent to St Etienne de Tinee.

Ready for the descent to St Etienne de Tinee.

The switchbacks and hairpins are just what you expect from an Alpine descent. They go on a bit, but there is plenty to distract and the whole experience was an absolute delight: magnificent landscapes, green pastures, marmots on the road, streams and waterfalls. Napoleonic ruins follow each other in high mountain scenery.

Eventually I reached St Etienne de Tinee and after a short climb out of the town there was a more gentle descent down the Tinee valley to St Saveur sur Tinee where there is a sharp left turn for the tight winding climb up to the Col de la Couillole, which is a road link open for about 7 months of the year connecting the canyons of Cian in the west to Tinee.

The turn for the ascent of Col de La Couillole

The turn for the ascent of Col de La Couillole

This is a 16km climb which gains 1174m at an average grade of 7.3%. This climb was very different to the morning’s ride and was a tight winding climb straight up the side of the mountain.

The village of Roubion is built into the side of the mountain. The village dates back to 1067 and now has about 125 inhabitants who depend upon tourism for their living.

Roubion high up on the Col de La Couillole in the Alpes Maritime.

Roubion high up on the Col de La Couillole in the Alpes Maritime.

Once over the Col the scenery takes a marked change and becomes much more Mediterranean. There is plenty of evidence of skiing infrastructure here and the resort of Valberg-Beuil offers 90km of Alpine runs which are generally open from December to April. The area is in the Mercantour National Park.

Col de La Couillole

Col de La Couillole.

A quick stop for afternoon tea at Beuil which is at the top end of the Gorges du Cian. I will never forget the ride down this spectacular canyon of stunning red rock.

Gorges du Cian.

Gorges du Cian.

The deep gorge carved through the mountains by the River Cians is made all the more spectacular by the deep red of the exposed rock. The river descends 1,600 m (5,250 ft) in just 25 km (15 miles) between the villages of Beuil and Touet-sur-Var. There were several tunnels and spectacular waterfalls.

Gorges du Cian

Gorges du Cian

After 15km of this stunning scenery we emerged at the D6202 and all that remained was to jump on the back of the ‘Lester-Express’ to the Hotel at Puget Theniers.

The 'Lester Express'

The ‘Lester Express’

The Route

The route

The elevation profile

The elevation profile

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