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near Eygliers, Provence-Alpes-Côte d'Azur (France)
I was out running recently and bumped into some local French mountain bikers, who invited me along with them for their next ride. I had been finding it difficult to hook up with locals here due to the lack of a mountain bike club and as luck would have it these guys were heading out for a ride on Saturday afternoon followed by a meeting to chat about forming a club.
I held my own on all the downhill sections, but on the uphill I got totally wasted by these guys. We meet up at a small hamlet just outside Eygliers and headed up small paths and forestry track towards the hamlet of Le Coin before heading over to hit the bottom section of Bois Durat, a great singletrack descent with flowing switchbacks that I had already ridden a few times before.
From here there was a nice traverse on fast singletrack along the edge of an irrigation canal a couple of steep climbs and some more contouring on a path recently improved specifically for mountain biking. At the end of this section were the switchbacks from hell - 100m of climbing over 200m of distance, on the limit of ridability due to the steepness and the loose surface.
From here we explored a possible new route to contour roughly over to the top of the Genevrier Thurifere (see note at end) descent. There was a bit of bike carrying needed but with some work it will make a good route. The GT Descent is awesome with some slickrock type sections, loose gravelly surface and technical rocky sections. It shouldn’t be ridden in July and August though because of the frequentation of walkers on the path. Starting from near the back of the group because of my poor performance on the previous climb I managed to work my up to nearly the front on the descent.
From here followed a long 8km climb gaining us just over 400m in height. The climb was partly on tarmac, partly on forest track. Once again I slowly drifted to the back of the group, then away from the back of the group, then struggled to keep them in sight – and was thoroughly happy to finally get to the top of this climb.
The next descent – called conduit forcee - was outstanding. Starting off with some fast loose singletrack it soon became more and more exposed until a section where you are traversing above a huge drop into the depths of the Guil gorge on a thin sliver of singletrack cutting across the loose scree slopes. It was all rideable but you had to have your nerves in control. The path then dropped again through some steep switchbacks cut into the rock before a small five meter long section that although it looks possible to ride we ported due the severity of the drop below, then some more steep switchbacks that were just rideable with your weight thrown as far back as your arms would let you, before popping out at the large steel pipe that brings the water to the power station below, from which the descent gets its name.
From here there just remained a short singletrack contour and a klick of road to complete the circuit.
Note: The Genevrier Thurifere (see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Juniperus_thurifera ) are a juniper tree that is usually found in the Mediterranean regions of Spain, Morocco and Algeria. There is a small implantation of them found here on the slopes above St Crepin, the oldest of which are around 1600 to 1800 years old. Their growth here is attributed to the microclimate that makes St Crepin the place in the French alps with the lowest annual rainfall. They came into danger of being wiped out because their wood is very good for making carved objects but are now protected. In the summer this path can be quite busy with walkers and it is not advised to descend it on a bike.
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