Posted by: Ian | July 24, 2011

Cycling to Haut Asco

Since the ride I described previously I’ve been doing shorter rides until today. Paula and I have cycled to Calvi and back, which is a scenic 26 mile journey with one useful rise at Lumio. The coastline is spectacular but even early in the day the traffic hurtling along the N197 makes it a route that you wouldn’t want to do all the time. The shorter ride up the hill to the convent near Pigna and back down again is more relaxing and will be a more usual training circuit.

This morning I planned a longer ride. Looking at the map I noticed Haut Asco. Many years ago I passed through there while on the GR20 walking route that bisects Corsica through the high mountains. It seemed like a good target for a hill ride. Originally I intended to cycle there from the villa but when calculating the distance I saw that any reasonable route would be over 100 miles. While I’ve done a few 100 milers and enjoyed them, they do chew up the whole day; moreover,hours of cycling at altitude in the full sun was likely to be just too hard. Accordingly, I picked a place I could drive to with the Astraeus for the start and end. To get there, I drove along the N197 out of Ile-Rousse (away from Calvi) until the turning to the right (also the N197) signposted to Belgodere. From there, I drove past Palasca until I reached the D963 turning to the right. I parked up just there. The road up to that point was one of the best in Corsica and relatively quiet, and it would have made a cycle ride in itself, though a hard one that ascends well over 2,000 feet without relief.

I planned a there-and-back ride, which is at least partially unavoidable since the road  along the valley to Haut Asco (and back) is the only vehicular route that leads there. Rather than prosaically go directly from somewhere around Ponte Lecchia, I chose a prettier and much quieter route. Immediately upon leaving the car I had spectacular views over Palasca and panoramically across the North of the island to the sea.

After 3.5 miles I turned left onto the D547. Fortunately, I didn’t have to rely on the road sign. These are routinely bullet ridden by Corsican nationalists; signs that give both French and Corsican spellings will have the former obliterated, leaving the latter intact. Not trusting either the signage or my memory of the route, I had loaded it into my Garmin 800 and took a paper back-up too.

There followed a descent of six miles through deserted interior countryside before the next turn (at 6.2 miles just up from Piana), right onto the D247 to Castifao and then (after another right turn at 11.7 miles) to Moltifao. These hill towns are wonderful; here’s a view towards one of the ubiquitous religious buildings across the valley with mountains to the rear:

Leaving Moltifao I came close to having an accident when a cunningly road-coloured cat darted out in front of me, just missing my front wheel as I locked the brakes.

The same road led me onto the D47, where I took a right onto the road that leads up to Asco and then Haut Asco. From the junction I had 16 or 17 miles of ascent. The gradient was initially quite gentle but the winds were sometimes fierce and at one point I did question how much I needed to see Haut Asco again. Nonetheless, I kept with it and the last few miles where the gradient steepens were improved by a covering of pine forest that provided fragrance, a degree of relief from the wind, and shade. When the old ski station hotel at Haut Asco finally came I was ready for a rest and had a very pleasant ham and cheese baguette from the snack shop there while sitting on a bench overlooking the GR20.

On the back way down the valley the road was not as suited to fast descending as the beautiful Swiss road I described recently. There are many hairpins and narrow turns hindering forward visibility, the road surface is variable and there are steep drops over the unguarded edge down into the valley. But it was an easy 16 miles back and this time I took an alternative, smaller road towards Moltifao that I’d spotted on the way up. Otherwise I returned by exactly the same route.

On my climb back up into the town centre at Moltifao I was encouraged, in the spirit of the ongoing Tour, with shouts of “Allez, allez” from a few local guys on the street and a girl who leaned out of a shuttered window. An elderly woman who had seen me go by earlier in the morning and who was now sitting with a circle of her friends also called out with some friendly remarks.

At the left turn down to Piana I spotted a pump-operated spring that some passing locals told me issued potable water. By now the sun was overhead and I took the opportunity to ensure that I had two full bidons for the last six mile climb, which I recalled being quite steep in places. I’m glad I did since the ascent was as hard in the heat as I feared. My Garmin recorded temperatures of 90 deg F (32 deg C), which combined with frequent gradients of around 12% made this even harder than the haul up to Haut Asco. Halfway up I stopped in the shade and had the rest of my baguette; I doubt that I could have made it straight up and for the remaining few miles to the junction rejoining the D963 I was often reduced to a crawl. If I did the same ride again I’d probably drive to Piana, though doing more driving would be a compromise.

In the end the route extended to 63 miles and with 5 hours, 18 minutes of cycling time it’s my slowest average speed for a while. This is explained by the total ascent, which was either 8,000 feet, according to the Garmin 800’s own altimeter and as shown in the chart, or 11,000 feet, according to Garmin Connect’s “Elevation Correction” that cross-references the GPS info to stored survey data. I can’t be sure but although maps should be more reliable than bike computers, the 8,000 feet number feels closer to the mark. Usually these two are pretty close and I haven’t previously seen a disparity on anything like this scale.

Here’s the view from the start that I referred to above, which I was also treated to at the end:

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