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Steve Wilkison - Col de Vence Loop

Col de Vence Loop

June 20th, 2010

This is a great route, part of which my friend Connie and I rode last year from the opposite direction. Today I was hoping to add on some more mountain villages and was really looking forward to the ride. That all went to hell about one kilometer into the ride.

I left Vence a little after 9:00 am and headed up the Col de Vence. The climb has been featured several times in the famous Paris-Nice cycling race as well as the Nice Ironman race. There appeared to be rain and thunderstorms scattered all around the area and the forecast was not good, but I decided to head out anyway and see what developed. The Col de Vence begins immediately upon leaving Vence, there’s no warm up. It’s about nine or ten kilometers to the summit and this was my first time climbing it. The first kilometer seemed to be about 8 to 9 percent grade and then things eased off a bit. It began to sprinkle about one kilometer into the climb and that soon turned into a steady, light rain. I kept going, passing a few riders on my way up. There were quite a few riders coming down the Col, they had obviously gotten an earlier start than I had. Most of the climb seemed to be about a 7 percent grade. I kept a nice steady pace, not too hard, and reached the summit in about 40 minutes. Towards the end of the climb I could see lightning and hear thunder all down along the coast to my left. The sky was almost black and the lightning was impressive. Luckily, all I had to endure was the steady, light rain, some rather strong winds and rapidly cooling temperatures. By the time I reached the summit I was soaked through and through and it was 45°. Not a great way to begin a fast descent. I had my light jacket with me and a pair of glove liners which I immediately put on. With those temperatures and as wet as I was, they weren’t a lot of help.

Col de Vence

See the view back from where I came at the top of the Col and you'll understand why I chose not to go back that way (click for larger version).

Since things looked so bad behind me I decided to go over the summit and down the other side rather than returning to Vence. The sky looked a little better in that direction. The first village on the north side is Coursegoules, about eight kilometers down from the top. It was tough, it was still raining and I was very wet and very cold. I pulled in Coursegoules, found a little market and bought some orange juice. I noticed a little bar that was open, so I went in there for some warmth and to escape the rain for a little while. My bike odometer said it was 47°. I bought a bottle of Badoit (French fizzy water) and rested up for a spell. I was chilled and shivering a little bit and all my clothes were soaking wet. After about 20 minutes I was feeling a little better and it seemed the rain had subsided so I headed down the road towards Bouyon, about 12 kilometers away.

Once again, it was all downhill from Coursegoules to Bouyon. I would have actually preferred to climb at this point as it would have kept me warmer. Connie and I stopped in Bouyon for lunch last year on a much different day, warm and sunny. I ducked into a small grocery store that was open and was greeted warmly by the man and woman running it. “C’est eté, oui?” I said (“It’s summer, right?”). The man laughed and replied, “Demain, demain.” (“Tomorrow, tomorrow.”) I asked if it had been raining all morning and they said yes. He pointed to the mountains in the distance and said there was lots of fresh snow, unusual for this time of year. This was the point at which I was hoping to head off towards a village named Les Ferres, where I haven’t yet been. But the sky looked quite dark in that direction, whereas here and on towards the route back to Vence things were looking much better. I decided I had better head back in that direction and save Les Ferres for a better day.

Bouyon, France

The view of Bouyon from the road to Le Broc. If you look closely you can see the fresh snow on the mountains in the distance (click for larger version).

Next stop, Le Broc, again, all downhill. The sun actually started to come out, the temperatures were up in the upper 50s and the rain was almost gone. By the time I passed through Le Broc and then Carros Village everything was much better. It’s still mostly downhill from Carros Village to Vence and thing steadily improved for the rest of the ride. By the time I arrived back at my hotel the streets were almost dry, the sun was out and it was in the mid-60s.

Overall, not the best day. The climb up the Col de Vence was nice, but the weather sucked. I really didn’t get to enjoy this ride as I would on a warm and sunny day. My plan is to make the same trip tomorrow. When I get to Bouyon I’ll head up to Les Ferres, then over to Conséqudes, Roquesteron and Gilette before returning to Le Broc, Carros Village and Vence. That will add a bunch of climbing to the route and take me to at least four new villages on my list of those I want to see. Hopefully, the weather will be better.

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