Day Three: Col Agnel ~ 30 Miles
Today was a short day, with a very short warm-up, then the 20.5km Hors Category climb. However, we were a tad off in our timing, and should have started about an hour earlier, or ridden faster, or not ridden at all (just kidding). Yesterday’s brilliance had been replaced by morning puffy clouds. I brought my Camelbak, which included my rain pants (for wind protection) and wind jacket, because mountain tops are always windy. The clouds thickened as we moved out. This is the third highest paved mountain pass in Europe. My rule for mountain riding is to always have your rain gear. My rain jacket had not made it into the Camelbak. Serious oops!
Marty had said the climbs were 6% on average, with some at 9%. Truthfully, my gps is not all that accurate on altitudes, but I saw a lot of 9%, 11%, and a 14% (this, where most folks say it is 10%). I really didn’t have much energy today, no pop in the legs. Then it started to rain.
Drizzle at first, then slightly harder. About 5km from the top, the cold wind came up and the temperature dropped. Officially, they say 9 degrees centigrade. I found a spot to get my rain pants on, and Jill lent me her rain jacket. At 3km from the top, the caravan caught us. Once the caravan comes, no one is allowed on the road. We were stuck, cold and wet as swag came slinging our way. Jill caught my eye, and when there was a break in the caravan and the gendarme turned his head, we started walking briskly up the road and didn’t turn around to see what the reaction was.
Marty had secured some seating area in a lodge 2km from the top. Once Jill, Roger, and I turned one switchback, we got on the bikes and rode the next couple hundred yards to where the gendarme was about to get unhappy with us, but it was at the entrance to the lodge, so we were getting off anyhow. Marty rushed us up to place the bikes next to the rail (one floor up) and we pushed in the door and sat down on a bench. This lodge had room for maybe fifty and probably there were over a hundred cold, shivering cycling fans ordering hot food and drinks as fast as the servers could take the orders. The really great part is they had a big screen TV, so it was pretty much a party.
My shivering abated after about a half an hour, but I really never got warm. Even when the pros finally came by, about ten of us stayed inside and watched the TV. Once the broom wagon passed, we would be allowed to get on our bikes and descend back the way we came. Unfortunately, that is also the time the freezing rain got harder (I think I am using this term incorrectly, maybe what we had was sleet. In any case, you get the picture). We delayed our departure.
I told Jill I only had about five minutes of non-cycling energy to fight the cold, so once we left the lodge, I wanted to be on the bike as soon as possible. Marty was anxious to find Gotti and Jason, who had managed to become separated from us. So, Marty and I would ride at his speed, and Jill, Roger and John would come somewhat slower. We waited until we saw a patch of blue sky coming at us, and then moved out.
Within minutes of starting the descent, solid precipitation hit us, but only flecks. The road was wet but not slick. Marty kept checking behind, but as I kept up, he let it out some more. I didn’t think I could go so fast on a wet road. Thankfully, this col had very few switchbacks. We ran into traffic jams of folks going both up and down the mountain, and the road through the small hamlets only had the width of one car. What a mess. Thankfully, bikes could squeeze between the cars and the buildings, and bikes were faster.
About halfway down we came to a restaurant and spotted Jason and Gotti. What a fine place to get hot chocolate. Marty ordered then turned around to see a tour guide he knew, and their entourage. Time passed as they discussed today’s ride. Eventually, our whole group was together and had finally warmed up. With the temperature about 15 degrees warmer and the no rain, we cycled the final miles back down to the van.
Byran says if you have an adventure and don’t die, it was a good one. This fell into that category. Interestingly, I thoroughly enjoyed passing the cars. Of course, I only followed Marty, and everybody in the cars were cycling fans so the usual angst didn’t materialize. What a cool experience.