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The glorious southern Alps mix classic heavyweight climbs with tiny, undiscovered roads. The Italian side, in particular, will leave a strong impression, and be a trip into the unknown even for experienced Alps veterans. Three days at a lovely hotel near Mont Ventoux provide the event's pivotal stage. Do not be misled by the apparent lack of big climbs: with 10 2,000m-plus cols in stages 7 to 9, the latter part of the trip will send you off on a high.
- Double-occupancy accommodation
- Support from Rapha staff on and off the bike
- Inspiring guides and reliable mechanical support
- Four-vehicle support caravan
- 12 nights’ accommodation
- Ride nutrition, breakfasts, roadside feed stops
- All meals but one lunch on the rest day
Airport transfers, flights, alcohol and limited single-occupancy accommodation are extra.
Cent Cols Challenge has been more than 10 days on the bike, it has been a journey of gradual self belief culminating in the achievement of a lifetime.
The Cent Cols Challenge which you have created will forever represent a pivotal experience that allowed us to experience - in all dimensions – the freedom, adventure and true essence of road cycling. RAPHA as well will forever hold a special place in our hearts as a brand at the core of this experience.
The sheer physical difficulty of the cumulative mileage and ascent we faced each day, combined with the stunning and immense scenery, the personal mental battles to persevere when muscle pain, saddle sores and knee pain all conspired to want to make us stop, and the mutual respect and sense of connection amongst the group of riders and staff all contributed to a very rich and rewarding experience.
Through suffering, fear, and pain we all prevailed in the challenge with a new look at our limits and lives.
Day 1: Carros to Carros
Stats: 198km, 4400m
Key climbs: Rostan, Sausses, St Michel, Mt Vial, Vé Gautier, Baisse de Rourebel, St Raphael, Besseuges, Trebuchet, Buis, Bleine, Sine, Ecre
A loop stage to begin with, which is in no way a compromise for convenience. With so many exceptional climbs in the Maritime Alps behind the Cote d’Azur and Grasse, this stage visits some of the best.
Day 2: Carros to La Palud-s-Verdon
Stats: 188km, 3,850m
Key climbs: Peyron, Vence, Ane, Ferres, Pimpinier, Lattes, Luens, Blache, Ste Barnabé, Croix du Chateauneuf
With its glorious sea views, the Col de Vence opens the stage, followed by another unforgettable loop around the Montagne du Cheiron. From here, we head west towards the Lac de Castillon and a beautiful loop above turquoise lakes, via the Col Ste Barnabé. This brings us to the gates of the Gorges du Verdon for the first of a two-part ride in this formidable landscape.
Day 3: La Palud-sur-Verdon to Sisteron
Stats: 214km, 4,200m
Key climbs: Collet d’Ampon, Vaumale, Illoire, ‘Mur des Abeillies’, Pas de Laval, Pas de la Graille (Lure), St Robert.
Via the unbeatable Corniche Sublime on the Rive Gauche, we explore the best of the Gorges du Verdon before heading east towards Provence, through extensive lavender fields and choppy hills. The stage ends with a superb 30km descent into Sisteron, following the stage’s major climb up the southern slope of the Montagne de la Lure.
Day 4: Sisteron to Malaucene
Stats: 181km, 3,500m
Key climbs: Grele, Hte. Forest, Pierre Vesce, St Jean, Muze, Macuegne, Homme Mort, Aires, Fontaube, Perpencher, Propriac, Veaux, Gainons, Astaud.
A progressively harder stage that makes its way to the northern ascent of the Ventoux along the boundary between the Hautes Alpes de Provence and the Drome region. A fascinating loop north of Sisteron opens the stage before we head west, tackling the tough duo of the Pierre Vesce and St Jean climbs mid-stage. The loop north of Malaucene in the latter part of the stage is full of the unique and powerful charm of this exceptional area. The Ventoux, seen from its threatening northern slopes, glowers over us for almost all of the second half of this stage.
Day 5: Malaucene to Malaucene
Stats: 197km, 6100m
Key climbs: Ventoux (north), Ventoux (east), Chaine, Suzette, Champ Paga, Madeleine, Ventoux (south).
The Ventoux day. Three separate ascents of the Giant of Provence are divided up by equally compelling roads. From Bedoin, after the first northern ascent we head across to climb up through the unique Gorges de la Nesque. The beginning of a long haul all the way up to Sault, the lavender capital of Provence. From here we carry on up over the Giant for the second time, via its ‘easier’ side, before then exploring the roads that take us near the ‘Dentelles de Montmirail’. A bumpy section that eventually brings us to Bedoin for our third and final ascent via its ‘classic’ side. Riders completing this stage will become credible members of the Cinglés du Ventoux club, while those not feeling up to all three ascents will be able to take a shortcut. A truly classic day.
Rest Day: Malaucene
Our third night at Domaine des Tilleuls, a wonderful hotel, with a large private park to relax and stretch in. The old part of this little village is particularly interesting.
Day 6: Malaucene to Gap
Stats: 184km, 3300m
Key climbs: Vaillant, Pas du Voltigeur, Veaux, Aires, Aulan, Perty, Pierre Vesce, de le Croix, Chaumlane, Espreaux, Foureyssasse, Villard.
Back round the northern side of Ventoux for the last time, and by another route, we climb through the magical village of Brantes before heading east towards the long steady climb up to the Col de Perty, with its panorama over the high Alps. The second half of this very picturesque stage takes in most of the challenging and beautiful ‘Tour de la Montagne d’Aujour’ loop, followed by the ‘Balcons de Rousine’ with 180-degree views over the Parc des Ecrins to our east. Provence is now a fond memory as the high Alps prepare to welcome us.
Day 7: Gap to Barcelonette
Stats: 205km, 5,050m
Key climbs: Le Collet de Lareton, La Sentinelle, Haut Forest, Garcinets, St Jean, Allos, Champs, Cayolle. (8)
The first of the final four stages, that between them cover almost all of the classic giants of the Southern Alps. After a rolling ride towards and across the Durance valley, followed by more steady climbing that brings us down to the Ubaye valley, we reach the outskirts of Barcelonette and the start of the epic trilogy-loop that makes up just over half of this stage. In stages seven, eight and nine, we climb no less then ten cols well over 2,000m.
Day 8: Barcelonette to Guillestre
Stats: 195km, 5,110m
Key climbs: Bonette, Raspaillon, Lombarde, Larche, Vars.
There may only be four climbs on this stage but each of them are legends unto themselves and put together make up a massive second day with the giants. At 2,800m the Bonette is naturally our highest point of the 10 days and the desolate landscape will underline this. From the Lombarde to the Larche (Colle della Maddalena) we are in Italy for the first time.
Day 9: Guillestre to Cuneo
Stats: 185km, 4,850m
Key climbs: Agnel, Sampeyre, Esischie, Valonetto, dei Morti
Beginning in France, the majority of this stage enjoys the drama of the Italian Piemonte region with some more extraordinary climbs. The Col d’Agnel has featured recently in the Tour and its steep slopes set the tone for this epic penultimate stage. It is lower than the Bonette by a mere 55m. After an adrenalin-rush descent to Sampeyre, the 16km climb to the colle of the same name is our first true Pantani-playground climb. This brute is followed by the epic trilogy of the Esischie-Valonetto-dei Morti which provides the meat for a renowned local annual Fondo. It will be more than enough to finish our day. The 25km descent off the final climb is probably the best descent of the whole event. Finally, our arrival into Cuneo is as grand as it gets, our very classy hotel is on the main plaza. Although here for just one night, we certainly get the best possible taste of Italy. Best breakfast, too, of the whole event.
Day 10: Cuneo to Carros
Stats: 165km, 3,450m
Key climbs: Tende, Brouis, Perus, St Jean, Braus, Colle Donna, Nice, Chateauneuf des Contes, Aspremont.
Heading due south over the dramatic Colle del Tende and back into France, we close this Challenge with some choppy climbs and sweeping descents. Up and over one ridge after another, our efforts are rewarded by stunning views of the area. A deliberately shorter stage, allowing more time for café stops and an earlier finish, but even this stage has some tough ascents to deal with.
We recommend that you visit Phil Deeker’s Cent Cols Challenge website which explains in greater detail what is involved in these trips.
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