Choosing routes

Having said goodbye to my Exeter friends, I’m back to solo rides, and perhaps a bit more time for reflection. While I was thinking about where to take Andy, Keith and Anthony, I obviously wanted to show off the great sights (of which you will know there are plenty around here), the different terrains within a day’s ride, and, of course, to make the rides enjoyable, maybe with the odd local restaurant or café to try en route.

Fortunately the four of us are pretty evenly matched, we all enjoy hills, and can support each other with banter if the going gets tough. I suppose that the art of selecting a ride, whether it’s just for oneself, or for a group, is to make the challenge appropriate, but achievable in the time available.

My own ruses round here are:

– Don’t leave the return with the last 20 miles into a block headwind, especially on longer rides, and if the last part of the ride is on the D93

– Read the weather forecasts carefully, and don’t assume that what is forecast for Die will be the same elsewhere. Be ready to head off in a different direction if you see that your preferred ride is going to be into poor weather (pay particular attention if riding on the Vercors plateau or over Col de Menée or Col de Grimone, as they are frequently wetter and colder than Die and further south and west). Meteociel seems to be the best and most detailed websites I’ve tried. But it’s also worth checking live rainfall radar on somewhere like Meteox too. As we all know, weather forecasting is a science of probabilities.

– Look carefully at the direction of your route, the elevation profile and the wind. For instance, yesterday’s anticlockwise ride to Combe Laval and Léoncel would have been half the ride had we had a slog into headwinds for the first 40 miles. As it was, it was a dream.

– If in doubt take an extra layer or two. I suspect we’ve all got it wrong at times, but the consequences of getting it wrong at 4,500ft with two hours of descent to get home are rather more serious than getting caught at Tiverton in a heavy shower.

– Assume your average speed will be at least a couple of mph lower than you are used to, especially if you are trying to make full use of available daylight: the light levels drop rapidly as the sun disappears behind mountains. Don’t be too ambitious, especially if you’re not used to mountains and real heat. Use something like RidewithGPS, if you can, to check mileages and the amount and profile of the climbing.

– Adjust your route or your departure time depending on the weather. Heat can be even more of a problem than cold. This summer has had temperatures up to 40C in the shade (and over 50C in direct sun) and once you’re down to one layer, that’s it. At least if it’s cold you can add layers. So, set off as early as you can if it’s going to be a scorcher, and get home by lunch, or delay if there’s cold and rain passing through. Do wear factor 50 suncream if you’re going to be out for more than an hour: the sun is extremely intense here on a clear day, and you will burn. The danger parts for a cyclist are tops of the knees, the outside of the calves going down to the socks, and the back of the neck.

– Take an old-fashioned map in a plastic bag. You might love your GPS, but if the battery goes flat, or the route you planned has a road closure, a map can be a life-saver. My new favourite for cycling is the IGN Drôme Départementale D26 (see photo): it’s not as pretty a map as the TOP100 of the area (that’s so nice I’ve got a framed one hanging in the kitchen), but as far as ease of reading goes, its omissions (paths etc.) give far greater clarity. If, like me, you love maps, having more than one version of the area won’t be wasted expense.

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