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The first edition of the Mercan’Tour Granfondo Bonette took place in 2016. With a distance of 192km and 4600m of climbing over 3 HC climbs, one of which is the highest road pass in Europe the Col de la Bonette (2802m), this sportive is rapidly getting a name for itself as one of the toughest “must do” sportives around the world.
The parcours is the same each year, but the organisers change the direction periodically.
The anti-clockwise loop starts in Valberg with a fast descent to Beuil, and then a very short climb up the back of the Col de la Couillole before the descent down to Saint Sauveur sur Tinée. Then it’s a long drag north up the valley to Saint Etienne de Tinée, the place most people consider to be the start of the climb of the Col de la Bonette. The views from the top are not surprisingly far-reaching and magnificent.
The descent continues north to Jausiers, then a left turn to Barcelonnette and the start of the climb of the Col de la Cayolle. This is another long climb, initially at a very manageable gradient up through the beautiful gorge of the Bachelard river, then opening up and kicking up on the way to the top. A descent all the way to Guillaumes, where there is the option to call it a day and take a bus transfer back up to Valberg, otherwise it’s the final climb of the day back to the start.
The clockwise loop normally starts with the descent from Valberg neutralised, with the riders regrouping in the valley, and the race starting for real in Guillaumes. The race climbs the valley and the first col of the day, the Col de Cayolle (a 15km climb at 7.1% from Entraunes). There is a beautiful descent to Barcelonnette, open views to begin with, narrowing as the road finishes its descent through a stunning gorge. The route climbs steadily East to Jausiers, from where the climb proper to the Cime de la Bonette starts: 24km averaging 6.7% to the rarefied atmosphere at 2802m. A 50km descent follows, just a couple of lumps and bumps before the final climb of the day from St Sauveur sur Tinée, the Col de la Couillole (17km at 7.3%). This is one of the most picturesque climbs in the Mercantour, and from the top, the road then undulates before the final kick up to the finish at Valberg.
Whichever direction is taken, this is an amazing ride. If you have enjoyed La Marmotte, then you are sure to enjoy the Mercan’Tour Bonette, but with hundreds rather than thousands of riders, the atmosphere is a lot less stressful, and a lot more relaxed and friendly.
Combined with some days riding on the Côte d’Azur, this makes for an amazing trip.