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The (leisurely) race to the sun

The ride

This is one of those rides; it just oozes class and style. Straight out of Nice, down to Monte Carlo and along the Promenade des Anglais, there can be few rides in the world drenched in such culture and history – including cycling history.

As you swing out of a narrow Nice back street you immediately start to climb. A long and openly steep section of road climbs straight up ahead of you, with a crumpling steepness that is kind of soul destroying to start with, and something of a system shocker. If you’re not warmed up it’ll have you grunting and crunching down for your lowest gears. Depending on your fitness levels you’ll be dangling in-between 39 x 19 and 25, though the pro’s use around a 44 x 18 bottom when they time trial up here.

The gradients is pretty constant for the first few kilometres, unfortunately that means steep. After a slight mid climb ease up the climbing starts in earnest again. Now you really know you’ve gone out to play with a serious mountain. The second half is a wild and rugged affair, and a million miles removed from the sun blessed lower slopes. Swirling clouds and a chilling wind often take you panting over the summit.

Over the mist shrouded summit you cruise on towards La Turbie, where even Lance chooses to stop for coffee when he rides the Eze. This is the Grande Corniche, one of three stunning roads, which run between Nice and Monte Carlo. It‘s the high and twisty route, the one with some of the most dramatic vistas in the region. It is also the road that caused Princess Grace of Monaco (Grace Kelly) to crash to her death some years ago. Bellow us lie the Moyen Corniche, a craggy main road that traverses the hillside, and lower still the Basse Corniche, or coastal road.

Next stop Monte Carlo, and a fantastic hair-raising descent leads you directly to the principality. You just have to take coffee in Monte Carlo, and where better that the Café de Paris, right outside the famous casino, and the ultimate place to take café in this playground of the rich.

From here it’s the rolling Basse Corniche right back to Nice. There can be some traffic along this section, but it’s wide and safe, and a truly stunning ride, and a great way to sign off a day in the saddle on the Cote d’Azure.

Paris – Nice

The Paris-Nice is the first really major stage race of the year, and for obvious reasons is known as the ‘race to the sun’. This year’s race runs between March 11th-18th, and following many well publicised punch ups has just managed to remain as part or the Pro Tour, and so will feature most of the top teams.

The Col d’Eze is traditionally a major and deciding factor in the race, and is often run off as a mountain time trial. This year it will again feature as the very last climb in the race, as part of the final road race in to Nice, which finishes on the Promenade des Anglais.

Our route

We started this ride from the Roche Marina Hotel, which is at Vileneuve-Loubet-Plage, half way between Nice and Antibes. From there we headed along the flat, yet busy Promenade des Anglais, which traverses the coast right past Nice. After dropping down to the old port we swung left – following the signs for La Turbie. After a few one-way back street twists the La Turbie sign points off to the right. This is now the Col d’Eze. Follow the climb over the summit, and then continue to La Turbie. Turn right towards Eze village, and then follow the signs for Monaco/Monte Carlo. From Monte Carlo you have a couple of return options. The one we chose was the Basse Corniche, which is the coastal road. Follow the signs for Cap d’Ail, then stay with this road back to Nice and retrace along the Promenade des Anglais. The ride may be just a snatch over 80 kilometres in all, but believe me you will feel it in your legs.

The other local riding

There is absolutely no shortage of classic riding in this region. Whatever you’re after you’ll find it. The coastal and main roads can get busy, often chaotically so during the summer, but just take a left or a right and you leave the traffic behind. Our route can be tailored to your requirements by exploring the other cols and villages that lurk in the mountains who so boldly shroud Nice. The Col de Pielle is a great option – it’s seriously tough, but the scenery in amazing. A little further affield you have the Col de Sospal, another well raced mountain.

Straight out of Nice/Antibes you are backed by villages and towns such as Carros, Grasse and Vence, all of which are surrounded by amazing, but heavy roads. The Col de Vence it’s self is rated as the toughest in the region, mainly due to the fact that to even get to Vence you have to climb for well over half an hour.

For a seriously hilly ride head out to Vence, over the Col, then follow the valley and turn left for Pont de Loupe, and see how your legs are feeling from there. Straight back along the main road through Grasse is the easiest option. If you want more then head cross-country towards Cannes.

For a longer and flatter ride follow the main coastal road through Cannes, then turn right before St Raphael and encircle the Massif d’Esterel to return via the main road to Cannes.

The Nice boys

Nice is something of a hotbed for pro bike riders. The area’s accessibility, climate and superb road network have long been a big draw to cycling’s elite. Most famous of all is Lance Armstrong, who has long since left town. Other pro’s living between Nice and Monte Carlo include Alexandre Vinourikov, Axel Merckx, Nicholas Roche, and a whole load more. The general meeting strip for the local pros is around the airport/south end of the Promenade des Anglais. Hang around there mid morning and you’re quite likely to see a bunch of them heading for the hills. If you’re feeling brave you could always give chase.

Getting there

Getting to Nice is easy and not too damaging to your wallet. The city’s international airport is well served from all over the UK. From the UK the most convenient and inexpensive option is to check out www.easyjet.com. The budget carrier offers daily flights from several regional airports.

A taxi from the airport to either the Roche Hotel or the centre of Nice will cost around 30 Euros. Car hire costs around £150+ per week, and most major operators have desks at the terminal. Regular coaches run all along the coast, as does a train.It is also quite easy to ride straight out of the airport – the hotel/town centre is just a 20-minute pedal away.

UK-based tour operator Saddle Skedaddle offer long weekends in Nice, taking in this route amongst others, as well as other tours in the area. Check out www.skedaddle.co.uk.

Roche Marina Hotel

An interesting place to stay is the Roche Marina Hotel, which is at Vileneuve-Loubet-Plage (between Nice and Antibes). The hotel and its restaurant are right on the beach. Its location is ideal for a cycling trip to the area, and many pro teams stay here during Paris-Nice. And you never know when you might bump in to its owner – Mr Roche himself, Stephen that is. www.sroche.com
/www.rochhotel.com

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