Since the previous posting concerned Eddy Merckx, it feels only right, that the story of 160km, Saturday 17th September, should appear here.
The day began pretty badly. An alarm set to UK (not French) time, so we’d lost hour already. Not what you need when you’ve decided to do a bulky ride to Italy..
Once on the bike however, things began to change pretty rapidly. Not more than 8km from the door, a rider coming in the opposite direction, wearing Belgium champions jersey.. yes, Philippe Gilbert getting in some last training before heading to the UCI World Championships in Copenhagen.
Having recovered from that, I continued to ride past Cap Ferrat and on towards Cap d’Ail. Police at every junction, and Tour de France race arrows.. I suspected something else was up! Turns out, ASO were in town for a PRO-AM (read “jolly”) race. As I waited for the ‘race’ to pass, none other than Alexandre Vinokourov rode past. He grumbled a little about his pelvis and rode off.
Gendarmes, a lead car and then a small peloton. Giving shout of encouragement, as riders look bemused to see anyone watching, the shout came back “Nice Rapha!” I hopped back on the bike and followed the course on the climb to St Laurent d’Eze. The shout came from Simon Mottram, CEO of Rapha. I’d ridden past Eddy Merckx and Bernard Hinault to reach him. 6 laps of Cap Ferrat, having started in Monaco, with the race finish at the top of the current climb. Gert Steegmans (QuickStep) was there too, along with other associated guests from Trek, la Vuelta, Mavic.
Leaving the race behind, I needed to continue on the ride to Italy. I’d a vague plan in my head, hoping to link up a few places. Past the border and heading to Latte (having sunk a caffe machiato in Menton) Simon Gerrans rode past too.
I turned left after Ventimiglia, aiming for Dolce Acqua, via a side-valley climb. Sign posted for Caixa, this one is steep, regularly over 10%. With the gradient levelled out and clearly heading for Dolce Acqua, I came across a left turn too good to miss. Not on my poorly-scaled map, but confirmed by the Garmin, this was to take me over the top and down into the adjoining valley – precisely where I wanted to be going!
Road signs are a great anticipator of what lies ahead. Some of my particular favourites were on this left turn. Read between the lines, and these signs tell you the next stretch is going to be TOUGH.
Heading north on the SS20, to avoid the feats of modern engineering (tunnels) the old road still exists and winds around with the river. Traffic free and utterly beautiful, the camera was out, then Screech! cruuunnch! The tarmac road ended abruptly as it intersected back to a gallery. With a camera in one hand, slowing was difficult. Skidding on the gravel I tried to avoid damaging myself, my bike or my camera as I came to a faster-than-planned stop.
The gravel was short-lived so I rode on. Nearing the French border again, I stopped for food before climbing to the Col de Vescavo. It was here I made the best decision of the ride.
Still climbing, the road heading towards Piene Haute. I knew up here was either a dead-end or an “hors-piste” sector. On seeing the signs, I couldn’t resist – Hors Piste it was. Further climbing up to Col de Brouis, I was more expecting to see mountain bikers or motocross. Not for the faint of heart, and likely to void any warranty, this gave some outstanding views, and, unsuprisingly, the KOM on Strava for this sector!
A superb and very quiet (Saturday siesta) descent to Sospel left me with Col de Castillion to climb and descend back to Menton and the coast. A short ride back along the Basse Corniche and I was back in Nice. 161km / 2700m climbing. I did actually want to make the ride harder, by climbing back to Nice via Col de Braus, Col de L’able and L’Orme, but that will wait for another day.