Col des Champs
Daniel Friebe writes of Cayolle-Allos-Champs in the second of his fabulous cycling duology, Mountain Higher:
“There are not many places in Europe where the cyclist with a head for heights can spend an entire day on a bike, cover barely a metre of flat terrain and conquer three or more giant passes en route to exactly where they started.” p. 186.
Ride clockwise from Barcelonnette first over Col Cayolle, then Allos and finally Champs before connecting the dots back again in Barcelonnette - PJAMM’s Cayolle-Allos-Champs page.
Col des Champs while not being any slouch is ranked the lowest by difficulty of the Trois Col route. The climb from Colmars (pop. 384, 2008) is the shorter (11.4 km v. 15.9 km from St-Martin-d’Entraunes) but steeper (7.3% v. 6.2%) of the routes to the Col. Col des Champs if the middle of the cols when taking the traditional clockwise Trois Cols route from Barcelonnette.
Col des Champs from Colmars is filled with many rollers followed by very steep pitches while the route from St-Martin-d’Entraunes is much smoother and more gradual with only 4 mild descents along the way.
Tour de France:
As of 2018, Col des Champs has been included once in the TdF, but that one time was enough for a lifetime. It was on the last few hundred meters of Col des Champs that Eddy Merckx with a 58 second lead over overtook Bernard Thevenet only to collapse later in the stage and ultimately lose the tour to Thevenet.
“In the 1975 Tour, Thévenet attacked Eddy Merckx on the col d'Izoard on 14 July, France's national day. Merckx, who was suffering back pain from a punch by a spectator, fought back but lost the lead and never regained it. Pierre Chany wrote:
Those who were there will be slow to forget Bernard Thévenet's six successive attacks in the never-ending climb of the col des Champs, Eddy Merckx's immediate and superb response, the alarming chase by the Frenchman after a puncture delayed him on the descent of the col, the Belgian's attack on the way to the summit of the Allos, his breath-taking plunge towards the Pra-Loup valley, his sudden weakening four kilometres from the top and, to finish, Thévenet's furious push. The end of the race was frenetic. Has Eddy Merckx's long reign in the Tour de France come to an end on the Pra-Loup. Some think so; others believe that it will happen tomorrow.
A British writer, Graeme Fife, wrote:
Thévenet caught Merckx, by now almost delirious, 3km from the finish and rode by. The pictures show Merckx's face torn with anguish, eyes hollow, body slumped, arms locked shut on the bars, shoulders a clenched ridge of exertion and distress. Thévenet, mouth gaping to gulp more oxygen, looks pretty well at the limit, too, but his effort is gaining; he's out of the saddle, eyes fixed on the road. He said he could see that one side of the road had turned to liquid tar in the baking heat and Merckx was tyre-deep in it.
Beside the road, a woman in a bikini waved a sign that said: "Merckx is beaten. The Bastille has fallen." Thévenet - who had taken the climb on the larger chainring - went on to win the Tour, which that year finished on the Champs-Élysées for the first time. Merckx finished second, three minutes behind.” Wikipedia - Col des Champs