Day Three: Corps – Digne-les-Bains

Just before we went to sleep last night Judith said ‘I hope those church bells don’t go on all night’. ‘Of course they won’t,’ said I, with confidence. Wrong – they never missed an hour and in such a sleepy place one has to ask, for the well-being of the village at large, ‘Why’? However, not too bad a night’s sleep, the room really was very comfortable & we slept quite well.

Today’s route, we’re told, goes South on the historic Route Napoleon and over cols made famous on the Tour de France. Now that’s just the sort of news you need to get the nerves jangling and the fear levels rising, but like many such days, it started out in quite spectacular fashion with an immediate and wonderful descent. Some in the team were recording speeds of over 72km p.h. My Garmin quit after day one, but on that day my maximum was a very careful 61km p.h. although faster speed was to come, later in the trip.

What followed was a steady climb to Col de Manse at 1640 mts which I understand was to be the highest point on our trip. While I was hardly flying, I felt much stronger than the previous 2 days although still way off my normal self. What was such an inspiration and so uplifting, especially on the hills, was the great music that riders like Steve and Scott were playing on their phones, over boom box speakers. The quality of the music and the sound was wonderful and being someone who has enjoyed spinning classes for years, I can’t help but get caught up in the beat of a good track. On the downside, when the music maker is stronger than you, you find the evocative beat disappearing slowly up the mountain side and you’re left with the silence and your own inadequate devices to take your mind off the painful legs and lungs. I have to say that Steve was particularly good in staying with me and even altering the tempo of his music to fit my cadence. The 2 of us rocked up to the summit at Col de Manse like a couple of pros and I’m sure Judith and the DA Guys must have thought we were on something. Oh the power of a good music!

Just after the summit, we all assembled at a historic Napoleonic refuge where we had coffee, took photos and despite the 90 mile day ahead, we’re generally all in good spirits. By this point in the day we were also acutely aware that we were approaching the Med, both from the 28c heat, the countryside and the smells. Lots of people were soaking their headgear in water before putting them back on and liberally applying high factor sun cream. Everywhere we looked we were rewarded with fields of corn, often inter spaced with poppies, lavender & lupines and in the background, dramatic mountains, many of the higher ones capped with snow.

After lunch, I was actually feeling quite strong and was in a small peloton when we dropped into the amazing town of Sisteron, a picture postcard place if ever there was one. It has an amazing castle, which lords it over the town, perched on a high rocky outcrop. It has a Lake and beautiful old Mediterranean homes perched precariously on the edge of a cliff. The stuff of dreams, but when you’re riding strong (ish) and on a roll, thoughts of playing tourist and a coffee were swept aside. Mistake of course as the long day took its toll!

However, push on we did and headed for Digne via quiet back roads and forests, often flanked on both sides by sheer cliffs. The long day was beginning to take its toll by now and I was also experiencing quite nasty pains in my left knee, something I have never had before and which was quite worrying. As usual, our accommodation was way the other side of town, so it seemed a lifetime before we reached our spa hotel in this historic spa town. However, take the ‘spa’ bit loosely here, as the hotel pool was empty, they ran out of beer after about 6 orders and even drained the fountain pool at the front of the hotel (but not before many had used that as a cool down!). However, the relief of shedding the bikes at a fraction under 90 miles was immense and we were later bussed into town where we had a lovely meal, al fresco style, in the town square and where spirits, as always, were sky high despite aching muscles and tired legs.

Stats of the day:
90.09 miles

1906mts of climbing