It’s important to preserve good traditions, and one of Kolbotn Cycling Club’s traditions is to go on a cycling holiday every other year. There have been trips to the Dolomites, the Alps and the Pyrenees, and great cycling experiences have always been at the centre of each trip. This time, the super fit cyclists from Kolbotn visited the Côte d’Azur and Provence.
The tour begins in Nice, by the sunny Mediterranean Sea. The Côte d’Azur, (or the Riviera), is a desirable holiday destination that offers top-class cycling experiences.
After conquering the delights of the local cycling routes, we head west, via Gorges du Verdon, through small idyllic villages, vineyards and the lush hills of Provence, where our final goal is Mont Ventoux. This iconic mountain, a famous part of the Tour de France, is on many cyclists’ ‘to do’ list, mainly because of the mountain’s cycling history and it’s majestic setting.
Arriving in Nice, we were met by clear blue sky and sunshine. We were staying on the outskirts of Saint-Paul-de-Vence, which is a small hillside village with a fantastic panoramic view over the French Riviera. It is a short trip to Col de Vence, which is best known from the Ironman Nice competition and the Paris-Nice cyclosportive.
The area we’re going to be cycling in is at the heart of Alpes-Maritimes, and has all the typical characteristics of the landscape between the Alps and the Mediterranean Sea. The scenery here is varied and spectacular, with everything from ski centres to beautiful beaches.
For us cyclists the area is perfect with lots of quiet roads, a pleasant climate, and the chance to stop for coffee in any of the numerous mountainside villages.
We cycle from the hotel and almost immediately into Col de Vence, where we’re cycling for 10km, up to 962 metres above sea level. On the way to the top, we have a fantastic view over the Mediterranean, and although we are keen to get up quickly, we have to let ourselves stop and enjoy the view. Once over the summit, we reach the town of Coursegoules and eventually, Gréolières where we stop to have a coffee in the sun.
On the way back, we enjoy a fun downhill trip through the valleys. There are lots of natural hidden treasures here, one of which is the Saut du Loup waterfalls near Gourdon. The first day has given us a warm up and a taste of things to come during the rest of the week.
In 2020, the Tour de France had its Grand Départ from Nice. The first two stages started in Nice and went to Col d’Eze and Col de Turini. Col d’Èze is a regular feature of the Tour de France and the Paris-Nice race.
Col de Madone is possibly the most well-known hill in the Côte d’Azur, although it is rarely or never included in cyclosportives. Cycling fraud Lance Armstrong tested out his strength here on endless training routes. The ‘Madone’ has become one of the strongest brand names in cycling after Trek launched their top superbike model with that name in 2003.
For us, the trip begins along the Promenade des Anglais on the way into the centre of Nice. We have an early coffee stop at the Cafe du Cycliste shop down by the sea before continuing on the Grande Corniche high road, where the climb to Col d’Èze starts almost immediately. The view is also fantastic here, with a very short distance from the mountain to the sea.
We gradually come down to the coast again and to the picturesque town of Menton, on the Italian border. This is where the climb up the Col de Madone begins. It isn’t that hot in September, but it’s a great time to come. It’s off season, which means less tourists and less traffic.
After passing lots of beautiful villages such as Eze and Sainte-Agnes, we treat ourselves to a longer lunch stop in Peille. Suitably filled up with ‘pancake pizza’ (Pizza Crepe) we continue over the lesser known Cols such as Col de Châteauneuf and Aspremont, which the first stage of the Tour de France went over three times in 2020. A long and interesting day in the saddle is rewarded with a cold beer at the hotel.
The Gods were not with us on Day 3. The rain bucketed down all day long. While some of us took the opportunity to have a rest day, others decided to take a shorter trip than planned. We wanted to visit Monaco and took the Basse Corniche out of Nice down along the coast past the glamorous beaches and hotels.
Even in the rain, this was a fantastic trip. The Basse Corniche is one of the three most heavily trafficated roads east out of Nice. It’s also quite chaotic to cycle in the Principality of Monaco, with so many roads and tunnels in the world’s second smallest country by area. It was still cool to cycle through the tunnel where the Formula 1 street circuit runs, and then swing by the fashionable Monte-Carlo Casino. Many cycling pros live in Monaco and it makes a perfect starting point for tax-free and often sunny cycling trips in the area.
This was a day many of us had been looking forward to, and for good reason. This trip has some of the best cycling the area has to offer, and when you wake up to blue skies and sunshine, you know it’s going to be a good day.
The main goal for the day is Col de Turini with a 24km continuous climb up to 1,250 metres. Both Col de Braus and Col de Turini have featured in the Tour de France, but they are probably best known from Rally Monte Carlo, (particularly Col de Turini). Top Gear included this hill in their Top Ten greatest driving roads.
The area is close to the Italian border and has experienced its share of war and conflict, which explains the Italian-sounding name, Turini. You can reach the top on three different sides, and the road we have opted for is most people’s favourite. Col de Braus is known for its hairpin curves built in the form of serpentines’ wings.
We start our day by taking the middle road out of Nice, the Moyenne Corniche. This road gives us a comfortable ascent and has a beautiful view over the town of Eze, running past Monaco and up to the charming town of Peille.
After a downhill towards L’Escarène, we start climbing Col de Braus from the southwest, the most classic direction, which gives us 10km with a 6% average gradient.
After a beautiful descent, we reach the town of Sospel where we eat lunch. It’s good to have some fuel in us for our trip to Col de Turini.
It’s always difficult to pick out and compare high points on a trip like this, but Col de Turini is definitely high on the list. You have to experience this hill! In particular, the hairpin section with the serpentine road towards Lucéram is absolutely fantastic.
After a day with a lot of uphills, we’re relieved that it’s almost 60km downhill/flat back to the hotel.
After an early breakfast, we check out of the hotel and pack up the support vehicle because we’re changing location, cycling west from Nice towards Provence and Mont Ventoux. It’ll be a long day in the saddle, which will take us through extremely varied scenery and some of France’s most beautiful national parks.
We start the day in the toughest possible way by climbing up into Alpes-Maritimes, this time to Col de l’Ecre via Guordon.
We say a final goodbye to the view over the Mediterranean Sea and the pace is set by Kjell Magnus – who pulls the Kolbotn group gradually closer to the day’s destination: the town of Mazan. Fortunately, this time we have a support vehicle and it’s nice to be able to have a coke and baguette break in the sun on the way. Expa Travel’s Anna Lena and Nicolas sort everything out and help us in the best possible way.
We are now in the heart of Verdon national park with rough cliffs, spectacular valleys and turquoise lakes. Stunningly beautiful!
Gorges du Verdon is known for being one of the greatest canyons France has to offer and is often referred to as the Grand Canyon of Europe. The area around the Gorges du Verdon is an activity paradise, with activities such as climbing, canyoning, rafting and paragliding. There are also lots of lovely walking paths and cycle tracks.
Over millions of years, the turquoise river has forged a deep gulley between the rugged chalk cliffs that loom several hundred metres over the valley. The most photographed part of the gulley is where the river runs out into the man-made lake, Lac de-Sainte-Croix. We stop here to fill up our water bottles and have something to eat.
We have to keep going and after passing through the Gorges du Verdon where the roads cling to the mountainside, we see a change in the terrain and our natural surroundings as we move into the Luberon area. The Natural Regional Park of Luberon is a fertile farming area and the regional park’s beautiful villages are well-known far beyond France’s borders. Some prominent villages are e.g. Gordes, Roussillon, Bonnieux, Menèrbes and Lourmarin. This is what most people associate with Provence; red poppy fields, purple lavender fields, green grapevines and blue sky. We will stay here, and when, after a long day, we approach Mazan, we can see Mont Ventoux waiting for us in the distance…
We have a quick warm up of 10km before we reach Bedoin where the climb up to Mont Ventoux begins. Mont Ventoux is an HC status mountain and gives us 21.4km with a 7.6% average gradient.
We start off cycling in open fields with a slightly easier ascent percentage, where we see the top in the distance. After a while it gets steeper with more forests and vegetation, where the ascent percentage reaches its maximum at 12% and has long sections at 9%.
With 6km left to the top, it starts to opens up more and you come to Chalet Raynard. The best view is from here and up on a clear day like this. The amount of chalky rock makes the whole place look like a moon landscape.
We pass Tom Simpson’s memorial when we have 1km to go.
Mont Ventoux has been a part of the Tour de France 16 times since 1951. It has been the backdrop for many dramatic events in the Tour de France. The English cyclist Tom Simpson died here in 1967 after a lethal combination of exhaustion, heat stroke, amphetamines, and alcohol. In 2016, the stage to Mont Ventoux was shortened by 6km the day before the race, following a weather warning of extreme wind at the top. It then ended at Chalet Reynard (at 1,435 metres) and we all remember the pictures of Chris Froom running up the hill after a collision with a motorbike that had driven into the crowds there.
It’s time to head for home after a week that’s gone very quickly.
Today’s route shows Provence at its best and most classic. The Tour de France has been to the Luberon area and Aix-en-Provence many times. Aix-en-Provence, founded in the year 123BC, is also the host of the Ironman triathlon, with a 70.3 taking place in September. The small quiet roads and surrounding countryside and the great atmosphere give us a lovely, memorable end to our trip.
A very happy bunch boards the plane, and on the flight home we have our traditional discussion about where our trip will be in 2021.
You can see a film from the trip here: