After one month under strict coronavirus lockdown measures in France where he couldn’t ride more than 1km from his house, our man in France Chris Selden knew exactly where he would go when restrictions eased this past weekend, the Col de la Rouquette.
Cabin fever over
One month without riding more than 1km from your house is a tough thing to do – even for an ex bike rider who doesn’t ride much anymore. The fact that legally you can’t just grab a bike and go out for a spin whilst living in cycling paradise wasn’t easy to live through and it was made doubly so by the absolute perfect autumn days that we experienced in the south of France during the lockdown. Twice I couldn’t handle not being outside so I went through the paperwork of getting my exemption certificate for exercise and grabbed my MTB and went around and around my village, on the footpaths, gravel roads, stairs, bridges or anything I could find for the maximum permitted time of one hour just to get out of the house and ride – even if it was within the confines of just a 1km radius of my house.
Get the bike and escape
This past weekend the restrictions changed to a 20km radius and a 3 hour maximum exercise time and ever since the President announced the changes on the Tuesday night I’d been planning my possible rides. Having about 20 climbs falling into my 20km radius and a myriad of amazing rides – what would I choose for my first ride back? In the end the choice was obvious, the Col de la Rouquette.
Where is the climb?
The Col de la Rouquette is in the South of France in the department of the Hérault about 10km away from the large town of Clermont l’Hérault and just 20km west of my village of Saint André de Sangonis.
What are the stats on this climb? How many different directions can you attack it from?
Well the stats aren’t that impressive to be honest with the climb from my favorite side leaving the village of Cabrieres being just 3.7km long at a 4% average gradient and going to a 270m altitude. There are also two more sides that you can attack it from – Neffies (3km @ 4%) or Vailhan (6km @ 3%).
Why do you like this climb so much?
That’s the million dollar question really and I’m not really sure of the answer! I’m lucky enough to live in an area that has a huge range of climbs from Category 4 ‘bumps’ like this one to Category 1 very difficult challenges and most of the time I like them all. There’s something about climbing that just appeals to me – even when I’m not in form. It’s the challenge of cyclist vs gravity, the sense of accomplishment when you’ve made it to the top – the fun of the descents or just pushing myself to the max. I could of chosen any of the more than 30 categorized climbs in a 30km radius of my place but for some reason I keep coming back to the Col de la Rouquette. I don’t think I’ve ever not enjoyed a ride when I’ve been up there.
It has a smooth road, a fun descent, little traffic, a gradient that is easy enough to go easy up if you like or difficult enough if you want to really push it hard with a few mates.
What’s the best part and/or the hardest part of the climb?
The best part for me is the first mile or so. There’s a couple of switchbacks that get you in the mood straightaway and the smooth road, nice scenery and fairly gentle gradient make climbing seem pretty easy.
I normally hit this first part pretty hard with my club mates before cracking completely at the top which is actually pretty difficult as there is no real ‘summit’. When the climbing is finished there is no sign announcing the top like on most climbs in France, instead there is just a 1.5km plateau before the descent of the other side starts.
The plateau at the top….
…. and the so called ‘summit’. No sign, just a view over the valley and vineyards.
What else is there to do and see around the climb?
With the climb being just 20km from my house I normally use the Col de la Rouquette not as a destination for me but more of a great way of starting a ride and exploring other places. I have a house in the village of Saint André de Sangonis and everytime I send people out to the Rouquette I normally tell them to stop in to Villeneuvette on the way. It’s a very small ancient village that was once where all the porcelain products for the royal family were made and it’s a nice, picturesque start to the ride.
The approach to the ancient walled village of Villeneuvette
Inside the walls at the village fountain
After that there are so many places to explore I couldn’t list them all here but highlights near the Rouquette would have to be the Lac du Salagou, the amazing rock formations at Moureze and any number of ancient villages, churches, chateaux and more in the region.
Chris enjoying the road to the Rouquette three years ago on the coldest February day in history of the region
Are there any other climbs that you almost chose as your favorite?
Yes! I’ve been living in Europe for many years now and have been lucky enough to ride and/or race up pretty much all the famous climbs so I certainly know them well. I have a particular fondness for the French Alps – although the last couple of articles (here and here) for Pez where I’ve written about them I’ve been sick each time. Maybe they don’t love me as much as I love them……
Difficult to choose a favorite in the Alps though but if I did it wouldn’t be any of the famous ones like Alpe du Huez or Mont Ventoux – I prefer the lesser known climbs on tiny backroads where you can suffer in absolute silence with zero traffic. It’s for that reason that I almost chose the Montée des Lavagnes for this article which is another climb in my backyard in the Hérault again that is a lot more difficult than its 6.2km @ 6% suggest. I normally climb that one as part of a 70km circuit that I try to do as often as possible because I just love the circuit that includes seemingly abandoned roads where it is very rare to see even one car. Scenery, challenging terrain and all to yourself. Perfect.
Any last words about the climb?
Sure. Even after answering these questions I still can’t put an exact reason on why I like it so much! The side from Cabrieres is certainly the most scenic and defintely my favorite side but I’ve probably had better performances up the much less scenic side from Neffies. The village of Neffies is a pretty little village but the climb from that side lacks the switchbacks and scenery that you get from the 2 other sides. It’s also one of those climbs that starts earlier than the ‘real’ start of the climb with a long false flat section that really takes it out of you if you’re starting to get tired.
Chris on the wheel of his teammate Benoit hammering up the Neffies side of the Rouquette a few years ago
If you’re ever in the area definitely come and ride the Rouquette and the surrounding region – you won’t regret it. Everybody always talks about the Alps and the Pyrenees but for me it’s the unknown regions like the Hérault, the Jura or the Massif Central where the real gems of France are.
Halfway up the Cabrieres side there is this natural spring with beautiful drinking water. Perfect for those hot summer days but not really necessary on this cold but sunny ride.
Got a favorite climb of your own that you’d like to share? If so, send a ‘My Favorite Climb’ submission direct to firstname.lastname@example.org and you and your climb could be featured here on the pages of PEZ.