On top of the Galibier
“It’s not a race” is how I describe the bi-annual Paris-Nice cycling event, having just completed the 16th edition of this, my second Paris-Nice.
Seeing it pass by on the roadside, you might mistake parts of it for a bicycle race, a pro race, even. The trimmings are all there: the publicity caravan, the 14 road sécurité motorcycles, the service motorcycle with the wheel rack on the back, the first aid motorcycle, the film camera motorcycle, the five directors’ cars, the ambulance, the three service vans and the camion “Coca-Cola”. Add to this wagons that handle the riders’ luggage and the mobile canteens.
But a closer inspection of the passing riders will show them not to be young fit professionals, but middle aged (being kind about their ages here) amateurs, enjoying a 10 day trip across France.
So, another commercial holiday company running a supported cycling trip? Well no, Paris – Nice is not that. It is very much an amateur event, if run incredibly professionally.
It is promoted by the Aeroports De Paris (ADP) sports club and organised by a dedicated team of amateurs who give up many hours of their time to make this event happen, headed by the organisation’s president, Andre Leroux, who has been in charge for the last 15 editions (30 years!). I think that, as a rule, once you are part of Paris- Nice you never leave.
A cycling dynasty – son of…
Having returned for a second time, I now realise why the event is only advertised in a limited way. They have no problem filling the 450 places, with so many people returning to the event.
So here are a few facts about this year’s event: 10 stages over 10 days (not quite as it turned out!), 1557 Kms, with 24,000 metres of climbing.
The climbs of note included the Col du Joux Plane, Col du Taillet, Pas De Mongins, Col du Madeleine, Col du Telegraph, Col du Galibier, Col du Vars, Col de l’Izoard, Col de la Bonette and Col de La Lombardie (in both directions).
Not a route to be sniffed at and one that puts most Sportives to shame.
It did not all go quite to plan. We lost a day to snow. Stage six was supposed to be a 200 km, 5000 metre ascent epic across both the St. Bernard passes [Grand and Petit – ed.]. The forecast was for snow, so good sense prevailed and the stage was cancelled. The organisers found 10 coaches out of nowhere at a few hours’ notice and bussed us through the day.
Snow banked high
Participants are mostly French, but other nations included: 8 Russians, 1 Ukrainian, 3 Canadians, 18 Belgians, 3 Australians, 2 English and a Dutchman.
So if it is not a race, what is it? My best description would be a huge club run. The days run like this:
Awake at 5.45, breakfast in your hotel, get ready for the day, leave your luggage in the correct pile (depending on your next hotel), ride to the Depart Officiel (near by), listen to the morning’s briefing.
Start riding at around 0700hrs. The route is always fully marked with arrows and there are always motorcycle marshals around to help at road junctions and significant points. If you are leaving a larger town, (like Dijon) the police are there to escort you out to the quieter roads.
There is a roadside coffee stop, with cakes and chocolate at around about 0930. Lunch is a sit down affair. A canteen will have been set up, or restaurant commandeered and the Ravitaillements team will be working hard to provide three course lunches – with wine! Sometimes there is a quick civic reception, a short speech, a band and a trophy given to the Mayor of the location for welcoming “Paris – Nice” to their town. You then roll out at your own time, careful not to get in front of the motorbikes and ride for the afternoon. Arrive at the finish, ride to your hotel, where you bags will be waiting. Wash up and park the bike. Attend the evening’s “Civic” reception if you want to. Dinner at 1930hrs. Repeat!
Blizzard conditions on the Grand St Bernard
All of the accommodation is booked for you and the meals are provided. Good food too.
What pace do you ride at? Whatever you want. If you want to go fast, you can and there is always someone to give you a race or a hard time if you want one. If you want to ride slowly at the back, no problem. Often riders who are in front will take an impromptu café or beer stop in the afternoon. If you are way out the back or having a bad day, you can hop on the broom wagon. No shame and no issue about continuing the next day. On some of the harder days, riders often set off before the official départ time, to give themselves a head start on what they know will be a tough day. Signage is done the day before, so route finding is easy.
The highlights for me were too many to list, but here are a few: riding out of Orly airport in the middle of rush hour in a 400-up peloton, with a huge escort of airport Gendarmes, sirens blaring, providing a full road closure; rounding a corner on the Col du Taillet and being surprised by a street full of schoolkids, all cheering and clanging cowbells; chatting and sharing a coffee with former climbing star Raymond Martin about his thoughts on the 1970 Milk Race, at the top of the Col du La Bonnette [what about the 1980 Tour de France? – ed.]; stopping the traffic in the middle of Geneva on a Saturday morning as we passed by; being awarded a Polka Dot jersey for catching the organiser’s eye as I blasted up Joux Plane on the big ring.
Oh, and crossing the Galibier before 9am in glorious sunshine and…
More information and photographs can be found at: www.asaeroportsdeparis-cyclisme.com
Martin distributes crotchguard in the UK.