My 10 Hardest Climbs… 3rd Hardest: Cime de la Bonette
I've only climbed the Cime de la Bonette once - from Saint-Etienne-de-Tinee, back in 2009 - and I'll never forget the experience. Totally underestimating its 6.4% average gradient, its the least prepared I've ever been for a ride up a mountain. While it doesn't appear too formidable on paper, its length, its exposure to the elements, and above all its relentless push towards its wind-exposed summit, makes it a brute of a climb. The following is an extract from my book which describes my less than triumphant experience up the mountain. I can laugh about it now, but it took me a while to cope with the ignominy of having to dismount the bike. I'm sure you'll sense the sour grapes towards the end:
Soon I began the gradual climb up the valley, first past the turn-off to the town of Roquebillière and then onto Saint-Martin-Vésubie. It’s from there that you begin the real task of regaining all that lost altitude by climbing the Col Saint-Martin (1,500 metres) and further on the Cime de la Bonette, a mammoth 2,802 metres, and purportedly the highest bitumen through road in Europe. If it’s not it’s at least the highest mountain pass ever climbed by the Tour de France.
Before reaching the start of the climb up the Cime de la Bonette, you travel through the most impressive of valleys, the Vallée de la Tinée, which has breathtaking views of soaring peaks on either side of the road. I met Roz at the pretty little town of Saint-Étienne-de-Tinée, where she persuaded me into a relaxing lunch of beer and pizza before starting the climb up Bonette.
Too much fine food and alcohol has a way of seducing you into feeling you can conquer just about anything. In reality, it’s great preparation for sleeping rather than doing anything physical, such as riding a bike up almost 26 kilometres of mountain with an above 6% average gradient. By the time I got up from the table, the only thing keeping me awake was my indigestion—I was full of more gas than a helium balloon. I only had to pick up the bike and pedal the first 100 metres up a hill through town to know that I was in for a horrible couple of hours. I’d played my part, and the Cime de la Bonette did the rest. It was a stinker!