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Digging deep to ride up the majestic Mont Faron

March 26th, 2018

Quote from Sean Yates

” I had the yellow jersey by some two minutes going into the 88 edition of Paris-Nice stage and managed to hang onto it by one second by the end. The start was steep, the road is narrow and rough, the run in was dangerous, position was key. So no time to settle in, by the second hairpin there were always guys everywhere. The climb settled down in the second half but by that time the race had already been won and lost.”

Extract from Stubble & Steel by our visiting author,  Tony Blake


Today Toulon sprawls across the bay from the smaller tourist harbours to the industrial shipyards and the quiet cove beaches. The town spreads to the foothills of the mountain and comes to an abrupt halt before the ‘Area of Natural Protection’. The town is densely built, and any gap in the buildings is bridged by the white limestone backdrop of the majestic Mont Faron.

This outcrop acts as a natural boundary overlooking Toulon, rising up to a calcareous summit peak at 580 metres above sea level.

Mont Faron is part of a chain of mountains protecting Toulon from the cold Mistral north-west wind which sweeps through Provence. It’s magnificent profile can be seen at the summit of Mont Ventoux several hundred miles north, the mistral blowing the mountain top barren two hundred days of the year. This range of mountains by the coast create the localised microclimate.
There are three ways up to the summit of Mont Faron, a footpath, the road and Téléphérique (cable car).  The road gave me a choice of two right hand turns. Rue Valès or the Chemin du Fort Rouge.

Rue Valès starts to rise dramatically close to the cable car station and touches 15% several times before the actual mountain road begins. This was a slight relief, dropping to 12%.

The Chemin du Fort Rouge road had similar gradients but was shorter. The start of the climb is well signed from either route.
There were wider hairpins, presumably to let larger vehicles through, but ideal as a staging point to launch an attack by riding through the apex as I stood on the pedals.  The gradient was constant, but enough to bite and the asphalt road was a little rough and cracked in places. Recent rains had washed stones and shingle into the middle of the path.
The climb is quite repetitive with long zig-zag sections broken by hairpins with short retaining walls. The edges of the straights were often marked by these discarded rocks and shingle unless the edge was particular precarious and a short wooden barrier would offer a little security for cars that were desperate to overtake.
The climb afforded little shade. The soil erosion from the steep slopes was most likely the cause for the stunted Bonzai pines which allowed views of the port from the very start making a beautiful distraction from the gradient and the effort. Every hairpin offered a new view across the bay. The light of the autumnal sun reflected up from the sea only to strike the white limestone walls of the Mont Faron and send those rays straight back out to sea. The clarity of the light was intense even with eye protection.

Overhead the Téléphérique cables hummed to signal to look up as the cable carts passed over the route heading to the summit.

 The cars run for much of the year but if the winds picked up tourists could be stuck at the top looking for an alternative ride down. The fact they were running today was a good indicator that the Mistral winds were being tamed by the mountain.
Finally the pine trees began to thin and I hoped this was a clue to indicate I must be getting nearer the top. However, the higher I climbed the more exposed I was to the winds. And then the most definitive visual cue –  I caught a glimpse of mountains inland- and from that point the final bend soon arrived and I could see the cable car station that marked the top. With a final look out across the bay of Toulon I was able to take in the full panorama as the road turned away from the sea into a forest area just above upper the Téléphérique cart landing station.

The official top of the climb complete…and as with the end of all good adventures my next thoughts turned to ice cool beverages.