St Antonin is at the centre of some of the best gravel riding you’ll find anywhere. It stretches in both directions along the Aveyron gorge, through the endless oak forests to the south and the vast limestone plateau to the north. We have centuries-old packhorse trails, charming footpaths and little-used farm tracks amid ever-changing scenery with views to die for. There are technical challenges on some of the climbs and descents, but we don’t send you anywhere which isn’t rideable on a gravel bike.
With all of this on our doorstep, it wasn’t long before we started thinking about a challenge ride, linking together all the best bits into a 100 mile (160km) epic. It’s a tough ride, but well within reach of anyone with a reasonable level of fitness, experience of gravel riding and who knows that being tired isn’t fatal! In fact, there’s so much great gravel riding here, even this route misses out some of my favourites. I figured out a route which covers them all, but it was 250km long!
The ride is a figure 8, so that at half distance you’ll be back at our HQ for a feed, a change of clothes and a trip to the workshop if your bike’s struggling. It also means that you can always do a shorter 50 mile/80km challenge if that’s more your thing.
A Remote Ride through Hidden Valleys
The first loop heads north from St Antonin into the Causse de Quercy, a high limestone plateau which is one of the most sparsely populated parts of Europe. Much of the land isn’t suitable for agriculture, so Causse is a throwback to the France of centuries past. The ancient packhorse trails remain as they were centuries ago; very few have been converted into roads. That means that you’ll be riding for very long stretches without even crossing a surfaced road, never mind riding on one. There’s a powerful sense of remoteness on this loop as you ride through hidden valleys and ancient forests, where you’re unlikely to meet anyone at all. It all adds to feeling like you’re on a really big day out! The trails are quite a mixture. Around 25% is on singletrack, around half on ancient cart tracks, while the rest is well-surfaced farm roads. There are very occasional, very short unrideable stretches, but nothing where you’ll have to carry your bike. There’s a cafe at the halfway point, but mostly you’re out in the wilds!
Hills and History
The second loop heads into the hills to the south. The terrain is more dramatic, but the price you pay for the drama is more climbing. After a warm-up in the valley you’ll head up a 400m climb, but it’s neither steep nor technically challenging. You’ll pass a prehistoric burial chamber and an outpost of the Knights Templar on the way. Then it’s into the Gresigne Forest, one of the biggest in France which is crisscrossed by endless gravel roads and fun singletrack. There’s a cafe stop in a stunning medieval hilltop village followed by a dramatic ride up the Aveyron gorge. The finalé is a climb up the gorge wall up to an amazing trail which hugs the clifftops and gives views to die for. It finishes with a grin-inducing singletrack plunge back into St Antonin.
The route is 160km (100 miles) long with around 2500m of climbing. It’s 90% off road on a mixture of singletrack, medieval packhorse trails, cart tracks, farm roads and forestry roads. A tiny amount of the route is unrideable, around 500m in total, but that depends on your technical skills and how tired you are! The route is unsigned, so if you’re not on a guided ride, it’ll be up to you to follow the route on a GPS. Navigation isn’t difficult, especially if you’re used to using a GPS. There are some rocky sections, so 40mm+ tubeless tyres are ideal, and some big climbs which I think work best with a 32 chainring up front and an 11 – 42 cassette.
If you want to ride this route, you’ll need to book a cycling holiday with us. Let us know and we’ll base your programme around this big day!