Col des Champs

If starting in Barcelonnette, this is the middle pass in the classic Allos - Champs - Cayolle loop, in either direction. Here the ride has a more isolated feel to it than on the other two passes.


01.(00.0km,1086m) START-END WEST ALT: jct D52 - D908, northwest of Thorame Haute
02.(12.0km,1264m) START-END WEST: profile turns right after Colmars
03.(23.1km,2100m) aproximate high point before pass
04.(23.4km,2087m) TOP: Col des Champs
05.(23.7km,2100m) aproximate high point after pass
06.(32.2km,1540m) turnoff to Pra Pelet on left
07.(39.6km,1041m) START-END EAST: profile turns right onto D2202 in St Martin d'Entraunes
08.(43.8km,942m) Villeneuve d'Entraunes
09.(51.0km,787m) Guillaumes
10.(70.5km,528m) START-END EAST ALT: jct:  D902 - N202, west of Entrevaux

Approaches

From East. After descending Col de Cayolle, most first time cyclists look anxiousely for a small turnoff to the right, just after the village of St Martin d'Entraunes. The profile starts lower in the Vars valley to maximize the elevation approach. I did not ride this lower part.

Surprise the easy small, easy to miss turnoff leads to a wide, well surfaced road. It climbs in regular ramps connected by switchbacks through the trees. It's a peaceful contrast after the exciting descend that came before on the Col de Cayolle. During my ride I now saw quite a few cyclists, coming the other way already, making a traversal of the loop counterclockwise. Views between the trees consisited of "airplane views" of the clustered houses of St Martin below, and a large anthill like mountain across the valley. The easily recognizable building on the very top gradually became visible at eye level, confirming the suspicion that I had gaining quite a bit of altitude.

After passing a picturesque group of houses on the hill (either the village of Sussis or Le Mounard), the road reaches a gentle ridge, and practically runs into a chapel, also on the ridge. Could this be the pass ? Far from it, this road has a much loftier goal. And the views get much better also. The mountains to the south-west of the road soon eclipse the valley.

Col des Champs
The western descent of Col de Champs contains this ragged group of tree,
before the road enters the forest

The pass itself is a grassy saddle, hence the name "The Pass of Fields". It contrasts with the dramatic, adjacent group of sky piercing peaks of the Sommet de la Frema (2747m). Remaining distance and elevation signs give the cyclist excact information how much work he has left to do. The general large scale of the surrounding landscape made it difficult to estimate how much effort was left to reach the summit. When the sign said 5km remaining, it was hard to believe. I thought I was practically on the pass already. The road reaches a slightly higher altitude before and after the pass. The official highest altitude of the road is 2087m, that of the pass 2045m. The pass is signed - no buildings otherwise.

From West. The road surface becomes much worse at this point, and I was actually wondering if the fact that I had my mountain bike with fat tires was advantageous. The first few curves past the top are especially interesting. The new viewshed comes into sight, and the road is held in place by a much more temporary looking construction, that what I had come to expect from the civil engineering marvels of alpine passes. The road is held in place by temporary looking embankments, and a mountain creek crosses the road in a constructed drainage crease. It contained still a consisiderable flow of water during the beginning of June.

Col des Champs
Sommet de la Frema, about 3 to 5 km before arriving at summit of Col des Champs

After the descend enters the forest the views disappear and the road remains rough. I met one automobile on the entire descend. He appeared very disgruntled. The village of Colmars has an old castle and a medieval appearance. I am sure it would be worth a longer look around. But now well into the Cayolle - Champs - Allos loop, the length of this ride was becoming more apparent, and it was time to continue riding hard. If coming from the other direction this turnoff up the western side of Col des Champs is easily missed. The elevation profile continues lower all the way to the valley route followed by N202.

Col des Champs Col des Champs, Colmars
Col des Champs Col des Champs
Col des Champs Col des Champs

 

History

Cycling - Tour de France: These days it may be hard to believe that once upon a time the Tour de France crossed a road like this, or more specifically a road surface like on the western approach. In 1975 the day's route started in Nice and ended in the ski resort Praloup near Barcelonette. The route also crossed Col d'Allos. Belgian Eddy Merckx took the lead at the top, but lost it by the end of the Tour.

A Dayride over this pass as intermediate summit is on the Col de Cayolle page.

The last pass ride with different start and end points on this Extended Tour is: Col de Larche