Caro­line Bar­rett

Ed­i­to­rial as­sis­tant

RiDE (UK) - - Welcome - Words Si­mon Weir

You can’t beat a good sum­mer bike trip. My last one was to the Nür­bur­gring, which was great but busy. Si­mon says the roads in France’s Cévennes are “like your own pri­vate Nür­bur­gring”. That sounds like my kind of desti­na­tion — tell me more!

EVERY TIME I see it, it takes my breath away. This time though, I tried to let it sneak up on me, rid­ing through the town and con­sciously try­ing to avoid scan­ning the hori­zon as I headed down the D41. Of course, it was fruit­less: as the road hugged the course of the river round a lazy curve be­tween scrubby hills, there it was - the Millau Viaduct. It soared like some el­e­gant alien arte­fact, seem­ingly too mas­sive to have been made by mor­tal hands.

Cross­ing the river and climb­ing up to the vis­i­tors’ cen­tre, the gi­ant piers within a high­side of the road, the bridge as­sumed both a more ap­proach­able and more in­tim­i­dat­ing scale. Clearly it could only be

man-made... but the enor­mity still blew my mind, as it had the first time I saw it. This re­turn trip was prep for RIDE’S 2017

Guide to France (when the pic­tures you see were taken). I wasn’t strictly meant to be in Millau: we’d al­ready covered that, I’d been be­fore, etc. I was here to check out the roads of the nearby Cévennes re­gion, but by pump­ing up the daily mileages, I fig­ured I could fit the bridge into the sched­ule — as­sum­ing it would be the high­light of the trip. It was the big­gest sight... but the rid­ing turned out to be the star of the show.

I’d taken two days to reach the com­pact city of Alès, stay­ing in the cen­tre. Nice place but I wasn’t there for a city break. It was the third day of the trip that was meant to strad­dle the line be­tween the se­ri­ous busi­ness of check­ing routes and hav­ing a great ride and call­ing it ‘re­search’.

It took me longer to break free of the city than ex­pected so, for the Guide, I based the routes around the vil­lage of An­duze, as that’s where I picked up the first great road of the day: the D907. A few quiet, sweep­ing miles were just enough to get me warmed up and then I was peel­ing off to the right to­wards Flo­rac for the main event.

This was a road that had been rec­om­mended to me by a reader at the Lon­don Mo­tor­cy­cle Show: the Cor­niche des Cévennes. It climbed steadily from the banks of the River Gar­don de St Jean, switch­ing its num­ber from D260 to D9

along the way at the Col de St Pierre.

By the time it was the D9, the road was a ridge­way, twist­ing and turn­ing along the top line of the hills like an ag­i­tated python. I was work­ing hard to main­tain a de­cent speed — torn be­tween the nec­es­sary con­cen­tra­tion and the de­sire to ad­mire the gi­gan­tic vis­tas that kept ap­pear­ing be­tween the trees to my right.

Af­ter 15 or so traf­fic-free miles (that felt like 40) I rolled off and rolled steadily through the vil­lage of Le Pom­pi­dou. A few more hair­pins on the far side, then the road was romp­ing off across a high plateau — long straights coin­cid­ing with a cou­ple of cars for ef­fort-free over­takes.

The road dropped down to Flo­rac where to­day’s route would join one of the roads I’d taken on the ride to Alès, the N106. I de­toured into the vil­lage cen­tre -nice cafés but I bought a bot­tle of wa­ter, downed half of it and car­ried on. I was only on the N106 for three miles any­way, be­fore drop­ping down to run be­side the River Tarn.

Now I was on an old favourite road, the D907. The fur­ther it went, the more spec­tac­u­lar it be­came as the hills rose ever higher on ei­ther side. It’s the Tarn gorges that have drawn rid­ers here for years — the net­work of rivers feed­ing the Tarn cut­ting dra­matic paths through the hills, with chal­leng­ing roads thread­ing their way along them. The D907 has it all — every kind of cor­ner, rocky tun­nels, huge views and just enough straights to make leapfrog­ging the oc­ca­sional car or cy­clist a part

de gâteau. Even leav­ing the con­fines of the gorge for the faster, flow­ing D809 was no par­tic­u­lar strain — es­pe­cially as it led to Millau and to lunch.

From the mid­dle of Millau to the base of the viaduct is barely 15 minute’s ride. I’d never been round the vis­i­tor’s cen­tre be­fore and I can’t say I’d bother again. Mind you, I was aware that time was tick­ing on and I was only at the mid-point of the day’s route...

I pressed on back, by­pass­ing Millau and re­join­ing the D907 — but in less than a dozen miles I was turn­ing right on the D996 and head­ing down the La Jonte gorge on an­other im­mac­u­late road in a land­scape hewn for giants. I re­mem­ber think­ing days don’t get much bet­ter than this... at which point this day got a whole lot bet­ter.

In the vil­lage of Meyrueis I picked up the

D986. I didn’t know it, but this was about to be­come one of my favourite roads. It’s as if a com­mit­tee of bik­ing road engi­neers had got to­gether to pace the per­fect piece of tar­mac. There are tight cor­ners and se­quences of bends rush­ing through woods that of­fer some wel­come shade fol­lowed by laid-back stretches of longer straights and end­less sweep­ers cut­ting across farm­land to pro­vide a breather. Then more tight sec­tions, be­fore an­other few miles of easy stuff, all build­ing up to the fi­nal hec­tic few miles like your own pri­vate Nür­bur­gring to the top of Col de la Ser­reyrède.

At least, that’s what I thought it was build­ing up to when I stopped for a breather — and a drink — at the round­about a few miles fur­ther on. I knew I was near the Mount Agouial Ob­ser­va­tory and, hav­ing checked the map, knew there was a run of hair­pins ahead. I as­sumed they’d be an anti-cli­max af­ter all the flow­ing rid­ing I’d just en­joyed. I couldn’t have been more wrong.

As the D986 be­gan to scroll down the moun­tain I re­alised this, not the bridge, was the high­light of the day. This was no ul­tra-tight, first-gearand-hold-your-breath tip­toe de­scent through a se­ries of fid­dly switch­backs. This was what the en­tire day had been build­ing up to.

The tra­verses be­tween hair­pins were long and loaded with qual­ity cor­ners of their own. Each hair­pin was broad and flow­ing enough to pro­vide punc­tu­a­tion to the ride, not stop it in its tracks. This was ev­ery­thing that’s great about rid­ing a bike, com­pressed into ten per­fect miles. It was so good I did some­thing I’m nor­mally too jaded to do: I turned around and rode it again. Twice, in fact...

It wasn’t the end of the good rid­ing, but the fi­nal run down to Ganges paled in com­par­i­son. I fi­nally started see­ing a few cars on the D999 and D982 that re­turned me to Alès, but by that point I was largely sit­ting up, slack-jawed and mind blown. I’ve been back twice since then and, just like the bridge, that ride has taken my breath away every sin­gle time.

Pic­tures Mark Man­ning

Pass­ing the un­der­ground wa­ter­fall at Abime de Bram­abiau

Head­ing down the D986 from Mount Agouial

Col de Porte in the heart of the Cévennes

The Millau Viaduct is a breath­tak­ing sight and a wor­thy desti­na­tion

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