Cycling Le Maido, Reunion Island - #20 Top World Bike Climb
Ride 28 km to 2,170 m gaining 2,253 m at 7.8% average grade.
The summit of Maido offers one of the greatest views of the Cirque de Mafate (a caldera on Reunion Island, Department of France).
BIG member Ard Oostra, Switzerland, visited Reunion Island and climbed Le Maido on November 20, 2018 and has kindly shared his experience with us.
Its 3 am in the morning and pitch dark when I leave the hotel set on the coast of the Indian Ocean at St. Gilles les Bains and drive my rental car with my bike as valuable cargo to the summit of Le Maido.
Early start up the mountain by car, before sunrise (5:28 a.m. this day)
Two reasons, to start from the summit that day, 1) the star filled sky and sunrise at this high altitude are said to be really amazing and memorable, 2) because of the yellow vests protest movement in this November 2018 the roads are often blocked, mostly during the day, by sometimes confrontational protestors(one headline read “France has deployed soldiers to Reunion in a bid to stem violence on the Indian Ocean island after protests over fuel prices descended into riots and looting.”).
Driving the 30 km drive up this early in the day, I encounter little traffic. Only the many curves in the roads, some steep ramps and smoking rubble and debris on the road at places where roadblocks had been set up previously, make me realize that I’m indeed on the mountainous, volcanic, almost exploding (from the societal point of view) island of La Réunion.
I arrived at the nearly empty parking lot near the summit around 4 a.m. I inhale the fresh mountain air at about 6 Celsius, quite a change from the subtropical nights at sea level. I notice some camping cars and see some other cars in which obviously others have spent the night. The little torchlight on my phone helps to find my way up to the viewpoint at the edge of the crater. From the dark I suddenly hear a “bonjour”. A French couple is already waiting silently for the first sounds of birds to come, before sunrise starts. We’ve a chat and I take some photos of the magnificent night sky.
Sunrise at the top of Le Maido
It's quite cold and I go back to the car for early breakfast and to prepare for the bike descent and then climb up the 16th most difficult bike climb in the world. At first sight of dawn I walk back to the ridge and with a slowly increasing number of tourists and hikers we experience the sunrise above the central and eastern mountain peaks (including Piton des Neiges, 3050 m) and gradually envelopes in light and a little warmth!.
Holiday is over and it is time to work, well, maybe not so much on the descent which is exhilarating 28 kilometers at 7.8% average grade (steepest km is 11.3%). Of course the main problem with descending first is that you can never really enjoy yourself because with every kilometer quickly covered, you are subliminal appreciating that is 1 kilometer to painfully and slowly ascend later!
I begin the descent around 7 am and in less than an hour am at the outskirts of the city of Saint Paul. Saint Paul is at the far westerly edge and is the second largest city on Reunion Island with a population of 104,646. As I descend, I stop frequently to photograph the multiple landscape changes as I drop from 2200m to 15m. The temperature warms as I descend and while starting with some heavy winter gear am down to my sleeveless jersey by the time I reach Saint Paul.
Start - Saint Paul
When I start for the climb back up around 9 am, temperatures have risen to some 25 C and the sun is full in the eastern sky. It’s typical for the mountain climate in the northwestern part of the island to have periods of stable high pressure resulting in 24 hour cloudless skies.
While I was blessed with crystal clear skies for most of my ascent, the clouds did push in and blanket the sky at the very end of the ride - welcome shade by that time!
The suburban landscape at the lower altitudes quickly turns to agricultural fields – sugar cane seems to be the crop of choice.
About ⅓ of the way up the volcano
In some of the villages, such as Le Guillaume, customary morning life seems about to surrender to aggressive protests. Fortunately, a friendly cyclist is given safe passage and even some encouragement from who seemed to appreciate that I meant no harm, other to myself by climbing this torturous volcano on a bike! During my 18 days on the island, the roads became less and less traveled by motorists because of the acute fuel crisis that was the focus of the protests. Later in my stay, things were really heating up with the protests such that curfews were being imposed and there was some danger in riding around indiscriminately on the bike. This situation did limit my Reunion Island bicycle adventure trip a bit.
Once arrived at forest level (national park) near Domaine La Petite France at 1200m altitude I feel relieved to have a good last stretch of quiet road in calm nature ahead.
At his altitude the sun hides behind the clouds and mist is building up. Above 1800m at places the view ahead is not more than 20 meters. It’s my intention to climb up in one go, in which I succeed. The legs however are more than happy when the summit is reached. Despite the mist and absence of panoramic views from late morning onwards, the car park is full now. It is easy to find some hikers that are willing to snap my photo with the sign of “Maido 2170m”. Mission accomplished!
In the end, by making some detours and choosing some alternative roads on the drive down the volcano, I make it back to the hotel in the late afternoon. With the sunset above the sea, another memorable cycling day on La Réunion has passed which i will never forget..
Ard Oostra (BIG 108) at the top
Thanks for the photos Ard!
Top of Reunion Island.
Ard’s BIG 1000 Superlist Challenge Card sneaks into the photo!
Steepest kilometer begins at km 19.4 (11.3%)