The French department of Cantal is a green, fertile land filled with huge, healthy livestock. It is also a land of big hills and deep valleys and car-free roads, which makes it ideal for the ambitious cyclist. But, of course, there’s a catch. Cantal also has some seriously crap weather sometimes. But that comes later; as all good training camps begin and end, ours had a beer degustation, hand-made by Erik, who is standing behind the counter, telling us stories of barley and hops. I have approximately 10 ‘head’ jokes that I am too much of a gentleman to reproduce here.
I think this is the next morning. While Le Sud basked in the mid-twenties…we didn’t. There was all sorts of deliberation over what to wear, but most of us went with ‘everything you have’, and were happy for it.
Did I mention that it was raining, too? The cows weren’t fussed; others on this road were.
But our first loop was short and most were smiling by the end of it.
I don’t have any pictures from Day Two because my fingers were too cold to take them out of their gloves. We, laughingly, had hopes of climbing a big col today, but after our warm-up climb (to 1200 m) and descent into the spa town of Le Mont-Dore, all bets were off.
We stopped at a cafe (an unusual step for us already) and proceeded to down chocolat chauds and grande café crèmes like they were going out of style. One of us sat shaking in his chair with his hands shoved up deep into his armpits, while another was pretty sure he had frostbite. Four out of five went across the street to Intersport to buy warmer gloves and fleece jackets. It was slowly dawning on me why the livestock outnumbered the humans up here.
So our planned route ended up being an out-and-back, with the sky lifting a little for us on the return. We also had more beer back at the ranch, plus a hearty meal waiting for us in the village, to motivate us. This is John’s truffade, one of four courses on the pretty-substantial €19 menu. Cantal scores high marks for cheap, hearty grub.
And atmospheric lake chateaux.
Yep, that’s right. On our last day we woke up to some serious sunshine. But it wasn’t time to shed layers yet.
A Ruf view climbing into Cornillou.
Our first stop, after one of the most enjoyable river rides I’ve had in some time – Condat.
From Condat the route hit a ‘wall’ of around 4 km, with long stretches of 10%+. Erik won the race by tricking us into pacing ourselves for a longer climb, or at least that’s my story. This is looking back towards Puy Mary, I think.
And forward to the Massif du Sancy (I could very well have these two mixed up).
The 30 km back from our viewpoint just got better and better, reminding me again how much can change in a day, both physically and mentally.
Short sleeves. Inconceivable only 24 hours before.
And a final shot of our HQ for the long weekend. Thanks again Erik and Anne for your eternal generosity (note the hopeful tone in that adjective!) and thanks Cantal for serving us up a dessert of sunny riding after those 1st two courses of Rule 5.