By the time to leave my barn, my clothes are still wet or humid. The weather outside is cold, and the first kilometers are not pleasant at all. I find refuge in the shops of Massiac to complete the drying and have different breakfasts. Around 11, I feel ready and decide to go for my main course: uphill for the next 50 kilometers. The sun is finally out and it makes a huge difference.
I meet on the way the man who showed me the electricity and water the day before. The road moves gently on the plateau that I just reached. Mostly inhabited by cattle. And angry dogs in the farms bordering the road.
It goes fine until I see a “Pass Pas de Peyrol: closed” sign on the way. It would mean I have to take the big-trucks-road to Aurillac and miss the views on the volcanos, i.e. my reason to climb until here.
It’s already November – closer to December than to the 1st – and cold, but I don’t see why another pass at 1300 m is open and this one at 1589 m is not. After all, I have already pushed my bike in the snow in the col du Jaman in Switzerland, so let’s make the mistake twice and go forward.
The “pass: closed” sign comes another 2 times but the valley is beautiful, and the sun is about to set behind the pass. I see clearly the sharp outline of the mountains. It’s a stratovolcano, so the landscape looks like something exploded here.
I maintain a good 10 km/h in the steepest parts and I have the tip of my ears like a hot coal. But as soon as I enter the shades, I really feel how cold it is. Not for long, as the pass of the Pas de Peyrol is here, at 1589 meters. The reason why it was closed is because of road works on a tiny segment. I’m glad I made it and can enjoy the scenery. It’s a double celebration, of the highest pass so far and of the 1000th kilometer reached during the ascent.
I can put on my jacket and gloves and enjoy the descent. Not too fast and carefully, as it already happened today that I slightly slipped on an ice spot, on a sad and sneaky part of the road that didn’t enjoy the sun for most of the day. It’s already a bit dark but the scenery is really worth the ascent (this is the highest pass of the Massif Central). I stop in some parts of the way to avoid missing one turn because of gazing to the horizon …
If I think I gain 1°C per 100m of elevation lost (i.e. 2 km of road on this southern face of the pass), my fingers will unfreeze soon and I’ll sleep better. I reach the first post-pass town, Mandailles-Saint-Julien, in the first darkness of the evening. Strangely enough for those mountain villages where everything is shut down for the month, there is still one shop (almost) open and I can get pieces of local cheese, that make friends with my saucisson auvergnat to prepare a good dinner for me. It’s 2°C outside but I’m getting used to this temperature range. If only I could save the freshness for later when I need it …
A warm night later, and I’m up again for what should be my last day in the paradise of passes. To get out of here, I can either go down the valley until Aurillac, either change valley to take a road going straight south, to Laguiole, my goal of the day. As I choose the later, I have to exit the valley the hard way: a pass at 1309 m (+350 meters) when I’m just out of bed.
I get down on the other side, to Saint-Jacques-des-Blats, in the valley of the Cère. This pass was also featured in the Tour de France, in 2011. I have a bit of a descent but must climb again, to the last one. But this time, my thighs take fire already in the beginning. It burns when I push on them, they’re really fed up (me too) with this land that doesn’t know flat roads.
This pass is along the via romana, and the name come from the tax travelers had to pay to continue their journey.
I am then finally out of the Massif Central, and can enjoy the flat road of the Aveyron until Laguiole.
The landscape is actually not flat at all. It’s quite a disillusion. I am now on a plateau between 800 m and 1200 m, and it never goes straight, or flat. I am always in between 2 climbs. Actually, I am making today the biggest total climb with 1710 meters, this is greater than the pass yesterday and that any day in the Swiss Alps, even without a major pass.
The road never stop rolling on the hills and I see the night coming soon. The pressure to get to Laguiole, town of knifes and cheese (good combination) gives me the extra energy that I don’t have and I make it to the town a few minutes after sunset. I find Fabien’s house and get warmly welcome by his parents. The Massif Central was great, but I can only think now of easier roads and warmer temperatures.