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Monts et Rivieres

Turn left out of the drive and start climbing. Ten kilometres of up. Not steep but constant. Compared to home these hills are mountains, up through the trees to the grass plateau, real mountains jagged against the skyline ahead forty miles distant. The sticky hum of tyres on sun molten tarmac. A snack on a rock overlooking the gorge anticipating the next ascent. Slide back down into forest, sweeping curves and tight switchbacks, dropping out of the sunlight, into the depths, down to the river. Height lost quickly with more ease than it was gained. Across the bridge and straight into the climbing again, steeper than last time, more height in less distance, a squiggle of a road carved into the rock. Dappled sunlight, dazzleship patterns. Tunnels of dark green lead to a portal back into the scorching light. Lizards skitter across the tarmac, crickets’ chirps fill the air, butterflies float by. Stop for a cemetery tap, the Garmin is reading 34 degrees in the sunlight. On the ridge I turn right onto the D3, the road I’ve ridden most around here, a lovely climb, a better descent. Eighteen kilometres of mostly downhill. Big ring, little sprocket, hands in the crooks of the drops, long straights and soft corners, pedal all the way… woah, tightening! Forgot about this one corner, shift the weight back, lean, relax shoulders, lean more, breath… slowly… back on it, hop the speed bumps in Glanes, head down through the walnut orchards and vinyards, back to the river’s edge. Sit up, spin home.

Turn right at the bottom of the road today towards the hills to the west. Not the volcanic rock of the Massif Central and the River Cère of yesterday but the limestone Causse and the Dordogne. Out past the castle the short climb up to the plateau, once on top the road rises gently some more. The highest point marked by the monument to where the American Air Force dropped ammunition to the French Resistance. You find a lot of crosses at junctions of roads in these parts, memorials to where the Nazis executed members of the Resistance. Dry stone walls slowly crumbling under moss and lichen. Butterflies float between constellations of wild flowers, white, yellow, lilac. Fast swooping roads to the sacred city built under the cliffs. Layers of vermillion hills and purple shadows. Two cold cans of iced tea in the shade of a tree, the digital display outside the pharmacy in that last village said 39 degrees. Descend into the rocks, the road cut into the hillsides down to where the river Dordogne has carved it’s way through the soft rock over millenia. Across the river climb some more before losing all that height in a handful of minutes. Glimpses of the view snatched between the trees flashing by. Riding under cliffs, in the shadows, back across the river, back up the other side, then down under more cliffs, so tall it feels as though they are toppling down on you. Out on to the flood plains, back into the sunlight, long long straight roads. Eighty kilometres done and ten to go, a drag of a climb, I feel my shoulders tense, my arms stiffen, oh crap here goes… the hammer donks me on the head, that’s you done matey… no, but, but i just need to get to that castle over there, it’s not far… nope you’re done. Ten to eight and a pharmacy sign shows 35 degrees still. A swig of warm water. Yuk. Just 8km to go. Tap to a lower gear.

A large shadow drifts across my path I look up and a huge bird of prey is gliding just ahead of me out across the field tucked in the nook of the hairpin. Doesn’t have the silhouette of a buzzard and definitely not the tail of a kite and too big for either, maybe an eagle? I cross the Jordanne river and turn up the valley, the start of the climb, the first part is easy, the proper climbing doesn’t start until I get to the campsite at Mandailles-Saint-Julien and the first Col marker appears. Eleven kilometres to the summit, average gradient of 5.4 for this first kilometre. It’s been a while since I’ve ridden here but from memory it doesn’t get steeper until the middle section and the last kilometre is pretty much flat across the shoulder of the mountains. Cowbells clang in the valley below. Flowers crowd the verges, foxgloves, giant daisies, buttercups, cow parsley, purple and blue ones I don’t recognise. The yellow of gorse flowers is smeared up the mountainside. The bank above the road is full of exposed roots of silver birch trees. Clouds gather over the mountain but still my jersey is unzipped as I climb in and out of the saddle to maintain as even a cadence as possible. A coffee at the cafe at Col de Pas de Peyrol overlooking the view to the north. I need to ride the roads that way sometime. Pull my jacket on for the steep descent. Through a fug of burning clutch and onto the stretch with bends you can see all the way through so the fast line can be taken safely. A short sharp incline to Col de Neronne. The long curving road around the valley side is ten kilometres of soft pedalling at speed into the village of Salers. A quick spin around the narrow cobbled streets looking for some food but nothing doing except the restaurant at the fancy hotel. Rummage in pocket and find the last of the cereal bars. Hairpins out of the village into a quiet valley, a chapel carved into a rock rising from the valley floor. Follow the river and the climbing starts again through woodland. Small farms and tiny hamlets. Hairpins and steepening gradient, a sign for a col I didn’t spot of the map, damn that means I’m probably going to lose height again and I thought I only had about 200 metres left to climb. Drop gently into another shallow valley, hairpin and climb again. Col de Legal. Speedy descent down to a familiar crossroads, been here already today, and a couple of time before. Pull into the cafe for a coffee and Orangina before the final fifteen kilometres back to Aurillac.

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