Sunday 31 July 2022

The Tour de France Femmes est arrivee!

The day finally came for the women's Tour de France, known as the Tour de France Femmes with Zwift. 

After years of campaigning Amaury Sports Organisation finally put on a women's stage race around France, that can become the race of reference for pro women. Also, given that it was happening at the time of the men's Tour de France the women's race had a high profile, media coverage, and hopefully a lot of public interest.

I had a media pass to attend stage 1, which started from the Eiffel Tower and consisted of 8 laps around central Paris, going along the same route that the men use during their customary finish in Paris at the end of the Tour de France each year.

The last time the women's pro peloton raced around the streets of Paris was during the first edition of La Course, 10 years ago. This race was the predecessor event to what ASO are now organising for the women's pro peloton. At the time the event took place first thing on the Sunday morning, with not much of an audience. Granted, the event was televised but then at that time of the morning there would have been a limited audience to see Marianne Vos cross the finish line and do her victory salute.

However, this event was a very different matter. This was the culmination of a lot of campaigning, negotiations and behind the scenes preparation. There had been a lot of publicity in the months running up to the event, and it had been the talk of the town among all cycling fans.

So the day had finally come, and this would be the first day of  a week-long Tour de France Femmes. Although described as a tour of France, the stages were going to be largely in the Alsace and Vosges, just in Eastern France.

On this hot sunny day in July I got on my bicycle and made my way from my lodgings in Vincennes to the press centre, just behind the Champs Elysees. It was my first time going to the press centre for the final day of the Tour de France (and the first day of the Tour de France Femmes) and the thing that struck me most was the number of road closures, even for bicycles.

It is understandable to have heavy security at such a grand scale event in central Paris, but recent unfortunate events such as terrorist attacks and the "gilets jaunes" rioters meant that police presence was omnipresent, complete with machine guns and even CRS (like the UK equivalent of the SAS). All this made it difficult, once I arrived at Concorde to get to the area just across the road from me. My trip involved a real tour of Paris. Then as if that wasn't enough there was a lot of haggling with the ASO staff to get through to the Media Centre. A few other journalists with me also encountered the same difficulties - an officious guy refusing pass down the small avenue to reach the media centre and folks angrily remonstrating. All that added about an hour to my journey and by the time I reached the media centre I was ready for a rest. There was no way I was going to venture across to the start line of the women's race at the Eiffel Tower, and preferred to stay where I was and watch them on the Champs Elysees, as well as on the TV in the media centre.

This was definitely a historic moment, with plenty of spectators watching the first stage in the afternoon sunshine in central Paris. There had been so much build-up to this day - with the various column inches having been written about the history of women's Tour de France races in the past, analysis of the route, pundits views on how will win, and that's before counting all the various initiatives by Zwift, Santini and other sponsors.

In the end, for me, when the big day came, the significance of this moment was forgotten - perhaps because of all the logistical hassle, perhaps not - and it was all about reporting on a women's cycle race and then dashing off to the media centre for the post-race press conference.

I know there were probably people who really were smitten by the occasion, and were quite emotional about it. I can't say why I didn't feel that way. I think that for me, the big moment came when there was the announcement of the race last year and the grand reveal of the route in Autumn in Paris. Thereafter, I wanted to just focus on the job in hand and the racing itself. There's a limit to how much you can say about a historical moment, and when it comes to sport, the engagement comes through exciting racing.

It was a fast-paced race with a couple of crashes during the 82km circuit race around the Champs Elysees, Concorde and Rivoli. Different women went off the front for a spot of limelight under the lenses of the world's media, but the main bunch with the protagonists largely stayed together. In the end the result was decided by a showdown between the most experienced racer, Marianne Vos, and her young compatriot Lorena Wiebes. The youthful pre-race favourite, Wiebes crossed the finish line on the most iconic of avenues and ended up on the podium in the yellow jersey. It would have been good to see Marianne Vos up there, but Wiebes was a very worthy winner. Marianne Vos (possibly the greatest racer of all time) did get to wear the Green Jersey at the end of the 8-stage race. Sadly, Lorena Wiebes, who went on to win a second stage, withdrew from the race on Stage 7 as a result of a crash the previous day. 

The other overall winner, Annemiek Van Vleuten did it in combattive style after having had setbacks during the early stages, including racing with an upset stomach and having stop on the roadside for a poo during the hilly stage to Epernay. On the final stage, with a commanding lead over her second-placed rival, Demi Vollering, Van Vleuten encountered mechanical problems and had to change bike twice. Yet she still found it in her to stay head of everyone on the legendary climb up the Superplanche des Belles Filles.

For me, that is sort of thing that excited me about the Tour de France Femmes. Women now have a stage race of reference. Rather than repeating the "wow women have a Tour de France", I want to move things on and say "Wow, wasn't that an exciting race." And I am glad to have been able to say that about this inaugural Tour de France Femmes.

Sunday 10 July 2022

Rides on the Côte d'Azur: Col de Turini (nearly twice!)

Descending Col de Turini towards Bollène-Vésubie

Col de Turini, which starts 20 miles North of Nice is known among some petrol heads as "the drive of your life". With its dozens of switchbacks over roughly 25km (15 miles), rising up through the Alpes-Maritimes, towering 1,604m over the French Riviera it's not surprising that the climb has this label. It is also pretty popular among cyclists too, and has featured in the Tour de France and Paris-Nice cycle races. 

In all the cycling trips I have done to Nice I have never got round to riding up this climb. Sometimes it was due to a lack of time - you really need a full day to do it and enjoy the landscape. Sometimes it was due to a lack of form and fitness. It's one thing to ride up Col d'Èze, which starts in the heart of Nice, or ride up La Grande Corniche towards Monaco and pick up the Col de Madone de la Gorbio. These would be classed as local rides. But Turini, while still in the region, and easily within the capabilities of a professional cycle racer, is a significant effort for we ordinary folks. It can make for a full-on excursion and you definitely need to have the legs to ride uphill for the best part of three hours.

Turini Take One

Route on Strava

So on my trip to Nice in June, when the weather was getting to its hottest, I decided on the Saturday morning that this would be the day to go.

I had hired a BMC road bike with low enough gears from Bike Trip, packed my bag with energy bars, bananas, biscuits and a few sandwiches and shoved in a Camelback for extra hydration. The sustenance was there, as well as the motivation. The legs just needed to follow.

Setting off from my lodgings near the Saint-Roch part of Nice was straightforward, as I headed towards L'Èscarène from where I would hit an appetiser of a climb - the Col de Braus - which was more like a hearty entrée! My ride up this spectacular col is described in a previous post.

Once I had conquered Braus, I took the left-hand turn at the bottom of the descent to immediately start the climb up the mighty Turini. No rest for the wicked. 

Well, I am not that mean, so I did stop for 20 minutes or so in the shade of a large tree to enjoy a banana and a ham sandwich. I would've loved a chocolate bar too, but it wouldn't have survived the blazing heat. 

The long road up

Col de Turini from Sospel

By this time it was after 2pm and the sun was at its hottest. There I stood, in front of the sign which spelled out what lay ahead - Col de Turini, 24km, average gradient 5%. That would mean around 3 hours of climbing way up high. It was a slightly daunting thought; turning in the opposite direction and riding downhill to Sospel seemed much more appealing. But I was here now, and I reminded myself of all those times I had wished I could attempt the climb.

I calculated that the gradient would be no worse, in fact slightly easier than what I had tackled over the 10km climb up the Col de Braus. A marginally easier gradient over more than double the distance. I was sure I could handle that. I had all afternoon to ride, and once up there it would just be a couple of hours' constant descending back to the coast. Simples! Maybe.....

Starting out on the opening kilometres was quite exciting. Initially the route was under tree cover, which was a blessing at this time of day. There were quite a few other cyclists on this stretch of road - some were going up, though most were flying down. We greeted each other with a certain joviality and glee, like we all had a collective appreciation of this stunning part of the world.

Cyclists weren't the only road users making the most of these famous hairpins. There were various groups of motorcyclists, plus countless cars, often classic cars - convertible old sports cars, minis. There were old Ford Escorts, Ford Capris, BMWs, Porches, vintage Renaults, Mercedes, and other makes. Some cars had race numbers on them. I don't know if this was an organised event taking place, or if it was just proper bucket list stuff. I must admit I too, dream of having the chance to drive a car or ride a motorbike on this road too.

But today, I contented myself with going up at a leisurely pace - the only pace I had in me - and stopping to take photos. Such scenery was well worth a few photos. Within a few switchbacks I had already climbed almost 500m and looking back on the road that I had travelled up made me marvel at the sight of the tarmac snaking up and twisting around through the vegetation and between the hills.

As I stopped to look back, a guy with a Dutch accent rode by and greeted me. "It's amazing isn't it?" I agreed with him. I'm glad he still had the energy to appreciate the landscape, given that he was pouring with sweat and his fair complexion made him a strong candidate for a sunburn or even sunstroke somewhere along the climb.

Soon after this little interaction I began to feel the effects of the heat, as well as a little fatigue. The road surface at the section was slightly rough and made turning the pedals feel like hard work. I stopped again further along the road for more snacks and energy drink. 

Viaduct at Notre Dame de Menour

Knowing that I still had 16km (10 miles) to go made things feel a little demoralising. So my mission was to focus on the beautiful landscape and how dramatic the mountains looked in the distance. Over the next 7km (4 miles) my target was a chapel on a hill. It seemed a random place for a monument to be situated, but it looked like a place that could form a haven and a place for respite, at the half-way mark.

On reaching the chapel, known as Notre Dame de Menour, the building wasn't as pretty as it looked from afar, which was a little disappointing. What I did like though was the nearby viaduct, which gave way to another spot to have a rest, and also see other cyclists. A couple of bikepacking Italian cyclists stopped and asked me if I could film them riding under the viaduct, and then we got chatting. They were on their way to Nice after having set off from Turin a few days earlier. I guess they were doing a variant on the Route des Grandes Alpes. They were planning on getting to Nice, though would be sstaying in Menton that evening. When I suggested that they were near enough to Nice to go directly there that same day they laughed and said "We want to enjoy our ride, and not suffer!" I guess they had a point. Maybe I should have taken a leaf out of their book. After all, I was due to return to Nice that evening. Time was marching on, and I was still only half-way to the summit of Col de Turini! Maybe it was better to just enjoy the sights along the way rather than wreaking myself in a race against the clock to get to the top. 

It was coming up to 4pm and I still had around 10km (6 miles to get to the summit). I passed through a little village called Moulinet and considered stopping there for a drink. It was one of those places that is very small but yet it was still possible to get lost because the main centre consisted of various little alleyways and steps. A friendly villager pointed me in the direction of the shop when I asked. It was less a shop and more a bar with other odds and sods for sale. I had half hoped I could maybe get a Coca Cola to give me a bit of pep to complete the final part of the climb, but I didn't want to feel lured into hanging out in a bar making polite conversation with the locals when time was not on my side. In the end I gave up on that idea of a Coke and put my head down, rejoined the road and pressed on as far as I could. I reassured myself that my own provisions and a bit of adrenaline would give me the wings I needed. 


Thinking of an Uber under a threatening sky

Unfortunately, the sun had decided to go in - at least on this section of the climb. The village looked a bit grim and in fact the sky began to display a matching shade. It looked like a storm was coming in, which began to make me feel apprehensive about continuing to gain altitude. At this point I was over 3km (2 miles) north of Moulinet and it looked like I wouldn't see any more sign of life until the summit. 

That would put me on the back foot if I were caught in a thundery shower. I'm not sure I would have the phone coverage to call an Uber, or if anyone would want to come all the way out here. Suddenly all the classic cars and motorbikers, even cyclists had vanished. Did they all know something I didn't know? This was all looking rather ominous and I decided that given that we were approaching late afternoon, it wasn't the time to be taking risks up in the mountains. An Uber would've been ideal

So with that, I decided to turn back and take the quickest route back to Sospel. An Uber would've been great, but I was happy to get on a train back to Nice. This was my second big climb of the day (after Col de Braus) and my old legs were feeling the kilometres. 


As I retraced my wheeltracks back through Moulinet I made a quick stop to consult that map and see if there was a quicker way than just going down the Col de Turini. While sitting on a wall in the village centre car park, a local man stopped. "Can I help you, Sir?" he said. I told him I was fine and was just deciding on my route. On hearing my reply not only did he recognise my accent as that of an anglophone, he also realised I wasn't a man. To which point he was quite apologetic. "Oh I'm sorry, it's not that you look like a guy or anything .....I just saw you there in your cycling kit alone and imagined that you were a don't often see women out cycling.....well not French women.....are you American?" I felt a bit sorry for the guy who was trying to find the right words without potentially causing offence.

I just smiled and told him not to worry. We then struck up a conversation about the local area and he spoke proudly about how great it is for cycling, and how impressed that a young woman from London was out riding up the hills. Well, he didn't kinow that I'm not that young and I didn't want to admit that I had given up my ride up the Col de Turini. I was happy to leave it at that! I asked him if he cycles in the local area, to which he replied, "Oh no, I'm too old to be doing that. I prefer to contemplate the landscape from my car!" [Plus ça change!]

Not finding any quicker alternatives, I zoomed back down to Sospel the way I came up. Although the day was now looking a little grey on this road, once in Sospel the sun reappeared. I must say Sospel is a pretty little town. Its cobbled streets lined with rustic buildings with salmon-coloured façades looked even more attractive in the evening sunshine, and many folks were doing their early evening passegiata along the River Bevera. Nearby, was a political rally going on, ahead of the legislative elections. It all seemed very cordial, though it's worth noting that this area and swathes of the Alpes-Maritimes region (though not Nice) is Marine Le Pen country...

Thank God for SNCF! A train pulled into the station 15 minutes after I arrived and I was effortlessly enjoying the lovely landscape until my stop at Nice-Saint Roch station, 10 minutes from my apartment. It had been long, pleasant day, but I felt that I had unfinished business vis à vis Col de Turini. 

Turini Take Two!

Col de Turini from Luceram

Route on Strava

My original plan had been to ride up Col de Braus and Col de Turini on the Saturday and then do a less epic, more local, but nevertheless beautiful ride around the Gorges du Loup. However, given my failure to reach the summit of the mighty Turini the previous day, I didn't feel right going anywhere else but up to that same peak, and properly getting to photograph myself at the signboard, even getting the T-shirt. 

So once again I left my abode and hit the familiar road to L'Èscarène. Once there, instead of taking the right-hand turn to the Col de Braus, my route took me up the left fork, tracing the 27km directly to the Col de Turini. This route initially led me to another pretty hill-top town, Luceram. While there I came across a few hikers and some runners. This seemed quite a sporty place. One couple who were finishing their run chatted to me and were quite impressed that I was riding all the way to the summit. "We usually go just as far as Peira Cava. But you're really tough going to Turini," they said. I was either tough, or just living in ignorant bliss! 

On the approach to lovely Luceram

Pushing on to Peira Cava

Hearing the locals saying this made me wonder if there was something I should be wary of. In any case I continued up the road through the lush vegetation. It was quite impressive to see how much altitude I gained over a short distance, as Luceram became a small sight in the distance within a short time. Also the landscape changed as I neared the treeline, which gradually gave way to mountains - proper Alpine giants. It was hard to imagine that these peaks were barely 25km (15 miles) from the sea.

This route seemed even more desolate than the way up from Sospel. There were no motorbikes or classic cars. I only saw a handful of cyclists coming down or going up.  Who knows, there were probably more marmots than people around here - all concealed in the undergrowth. 

It was a warm day, though not obscenely hot. I was also glad to be doing this in the morning, rather than worrying about having to battle the afternoon heat, or beat my self-imposed teatime deadline. I must say, as a general rule I try to end my big rides by 6pm. To me, there's something demoralising about still riding your bike when most people are enjoying an early evening snack or aperitif and you're still pedalling away, miles from home after having left the house first thing in the morning. On these trips I do like to have time in the day to do relaxing off-the-bike activities and take in other sights and sounds of a place I visit. 

So the prospect of finishing my bike ride before teatime made me feel comfortable about the challenge. 

Mercantour moutains seen from Peira Cava

After countless twists and turns on a gentle gradient I reached Peira Cava. This place seemed like the place to be. There were various outdoor activity centres and log cabin chalets, with nearby woodland and walking trails. This was the place to get the dramatic vistas of the Mercantour mountains, with the sea further into the distance. I can understand why the couple I'd met earlier on would see it sufficient to come as far as here and then turn back.

Turini, at last!

Being a newbie to this part of the Alpes-Maritimes my curiosity made me carry on up to see what I could see over the mountain. The Col de Turini towers at 1,604m above sea level. However this ride topped out before the col, at around 1,615m. So from Peira Cava the ride sloped slightly downhill, as it twisted further north. 

Finally arrived at the summit

On reaching Col de Turini, I was rewarded with a somewhat less spectacular view of a car park, a cafe, a souvenir shop and a meeting point for cyclists, hikers, motorbikes, and a few motorists. What was lost in dramatic views was compensated for in lots of chit-chat among the various parties about how the route was on their way up. There are three ways up - my successful route up from Luceram, my abandoned route up from Sospel, and the route I'd be coming down, via Bollène-Vésubie. This was the way the Tour de France came up on stage 2 of the 2020 edition. 

Again, I received applause from different people who saw I'd come up by pedal power. One guy did ask if I was sure I didn't have an engine tucked away somewhere on my bike! Then there were various photo opportunities next to the different summit signboards and the chance for a snack. The motorbikers tucked into burger and chips, while I just had a small sandwich and an energy bar to give me a zip to get home. I always find it interesting that the motorbikers would require more sustenance than I for this sort of excursion. It's one of life's great mysteries. 

It would be about 60km (38 miles) before I reached Nice. Really? I was quite surprised to realise how many miles I had left. I was hoping the signboard was wrong. But, on enquiring to one of the motorbikers it was confirmed that the signboard was totally accurate. The good news was that the ride would be practically all downhill. 

View of La Bollène-Vésubie when descending Col de Turini

Heading down to Bollène-Vésubie was a fast, steep descent which required concentration. It wasn't as technical as a Lake District descent, but the beautiful scenery was a distraction on the way down so I took extra care. This village and the nearby Saint Martin de Vésubie looked wonderful from my viewpoint on the switchbacks up above. 

The gorgeous route home

Finally my route took me into the Vésubie valley, where I headed along a never-ending road that was constantly on a descending false flat. After Lantosque came the Gorges de la Vésubie, which was an amazing sight along this main road. 

The irregular erosion in the rock gave a really dramatic effect, especially in the afternoon sunshine. It was one of those roads that is so pleasant you don't want it to end. I thought I was getting a bout of Stendhal Syndrome looking at these wonderful features. The gorge was a work of art! There was the option to climb up a side road to reach the parallel Gorge de la Tinée which would get me back to Nice. But I stuck with what I had, especially as the riding was effortless. You can get too much gorgeous stuff in a day!

The main road back to the coast via the Gorges de la Vésubie

Finally, it all came to an abrupt end when I reached a T-junction and took a left-hand turn to go through a less scenic area that had road works and a deviation that took a round-the-houses hilly route to reach a spot that was right opposite my original  start point at the T-junction - some things never change!

Soon afterwards I was in "home" territory as my route was basically a very long straight segregated cycle path along the River Var down to Saint Laurent du Var. It was a lovely smooth, wide path, alongside the main road, with distance markers from Saint Laurent, and at the half-way point a water fountain, which was getting a lot of use on this warm day.

In the distance were local hills in the Nice area, as well as the regular passing of aeroplanes, indicating the proximity of the airport - a place where I would be in approximately 24 hours' time. It was hard to imagine myself back in London the following day.

For the time being I just wanted to keep the smile on my face and enjoy the moment. It had been a fun-packed day, going up into the higher reaches of the Alpes-Maritimes with its spectacular mountain-top views, then plunging through the most amazing gorges.

Now I was on my way to doing my off-the-bike activity, a dip in the sea at Cagnes-sur-Mer. My legs still felt good and I was very happy to have managed to (at last) ride up the Col de Turini. Great to have ticked it off my list of iconic cols to do, and especially in these lovely conditions. This was definitely not a day to complain about!

Relaxing before taking a swim at Cagnes-sur-Mer

Related posts

Rides on the Côte d'Azur: Col de Braus

Quick spin by Lake Geneva on a hire bike

Cycle route: Eastern suburbs of Paris

Gorgeous Gorges du Verdon

Thursday 7 July 2022

Rides on the Cote d'Azur: Col de Braus

Route on Strava

When I visited Nice earlier this year I made a deal with myself to ride the col de Turini, one of the most famous climbs in the Alpes-Maritimes region. On many previous occasions I had visited the Côte d'Azur I was supposed to ride up this giant of the Mercantour National Park, but a lack of time and/or fitness prevented me from tackling the ~25km climb that literally takes you into the clouds. 

So on this occasion in mid-June, with my legs primed with a few thousand miles of climbing I felt ready to give it a go.

Very helpfully, a bike hire shop in the centre of Nice, Bike Trip, had decent road bikes available, so I bagged one for the long weekend. After settling into my lodgings I hit the road, starting with a warm-up loop over the col d'Eze, dropping down to Menton and scooting across the border to Ventimiglia, then returning to Nice along the coast. 

Le Calendre

Being on the coast it would have been rude not to stop off for at a beach. So I broke up my ride with a stopover at the secluded Le Calandre beach, in Ventimiglia - a highly recommended place for a swim and drink.  

The next morning, I set off from central Nice, breezed through places like Saint-Roch, La Trinité and Drap in the suburbs and followed the route to L'Escarène. 

While the Côte d'Azur is associated with beautiful crystal blue sea, as its name suggests, don't forget about the abundance of gorges in this part of the world. 

These natural features cut into the rocks beside the local rivers are as spectacular as they are ubiquitous. 

Near L'Escarène was a gorge along the River Paillon, which wound in and out of the rock as the road twisted and turned. Considering it was the height of summer there was hardly any traffic. Perhaps unsurprisingly, folks had opted for the coastal areas where they could cool off in the sea given the oppressive heat. However, up here in the hills was really the place to be in my opinion. In fact, the many rocks and archways to ride through gave an automatic cooling effect. It was bliss to have these roads practically to myself. 

Gorge de Paillon

After around four miles my route took me to the hilltop village of L'Escarène. Although there weren't many motorists, there were still a fair few club cyclists. Many of them seemed local, but a few were not. One guy, an Italian, actually stopped and asked me in Italian directions to the col de Braus. I replied in Italian and pointed him in the right direction - as if I were a local, and speaking in Italian was the most natural thing that two random strangers would do on a road in France!

Later, while riding through L'Escarène, a woman overtook me and waved as she passed. She was in CAMS-Basso kit. I hadn't seen any of their riders back home at all this year. So the South of France is where I needed to be to find the UK-based team!

After a brief toilet stop and refilling of water at the fountain in the centre of the village, the business end of my ride began. By that, I didn't mean Turini, but the appetiser - col de Braus.


Col de Braus has different memories for me. The first time I cycled up it, was towards the end of a longish day after I had spent time in the col de Vence area. 

At L'Escarène I stopped at a local shop to buy a few snacks, and chatted to the folks inside who gave the usual "I'm so impressed you're riding out here on your own". One woman was very fearful for me and said, "Are you really sure you want to go up the col de Braus? It's a very tough climb." Being young and cocky I replied, "Of course - I've got the right gearing and the legs - I'll be fine" Famous last words. 

This road that wiggled around interminably with 8-10% ramps was not the ideal climb to be doing at 6 o'clock on a Saturday early evening. After around three miles I stopped to look back down and see how far I'd come. That was one of the most impressive views I'd ever seen of a road. The wiggles were distinctly of Sa Calobra proportions [for those familiar with roads in Mallorca] and then some. Feeling impressed, but tired, I decided that it would be prudent to return to Nice via the way I had come up as the sun was still out, and I didn't feel confident in taking the descent potentially in the shade and arriving in Sospel, miles out from my base in Nice. Needless to say, the descent was a beautiful merry-go-round all the way back to sea level.

On another occasion when riding up to the col de Braus, I misread the IGN (French Ordnance Survey) map, thinking I could get there on a road directly from Gorbio and Saint Agnès. It is true that there is a road - just an unsurfaced one, known as Col des Banquettes. I hadn't factored in riding on gravelly roads, particularly as I was on a road bike. Thinking that this gravel would just be a momentary thing, I ploughed on up the road slowly, hoping that on turning the next hairpin tarmac would return. It didn't. 

So my ride became a long slog to the summit of Col de Braus, where finally my bike rolled over the welcome tarmac surface. It had only taken two hours to find it. Thank God I didn't get any punctures.  

Fast forward more than 10 years, where hopefully, today's ride would be just a straightforward formality before arriving at the main event - the Col de Turini.

Maybe because I am almost 20 years older than the time when I did my maiden visit to Col de Braus, I found this climb slightly more challenging than anticipated. Since the last time I rode along these roads I noted that the local authority had made efforts to make the area more tourist-friendly, so there were signs giving information about the area, as well as more important for me, information every km about the gradient, and the distance from the summit.

The long desolate road up in the midday sun

Although the average gradient is advertised at 6%, this can give you a false sense of security. The initial section was quite shallow, with sections of around 3 or 4%. But this would be immediately followed by sections of 8%, 10, even 12%. It's quite an irregular climb, which made it hard work. 

The saving grace was that a few (though not many) sections were under tree cover, so I was protected from the worst of the midday sun in the 30 degC heat. 

I saw many riders coming down the hill, and they gave me a wave though gave a knowing look that I was not from those parts, since no local in their right mind would go up this climb at this time of the day. Mad dog and Englishmen......!

I didn't care. I was looking forward to getting my share of these hills - even in this heat. It was too beautiful to miss out. I was overawed by this landscape that I had not seen for many years. As well as the rocky landscape there were hillside vineyards in the distance, and down below I even spotted some walkers who had stopped to bathe in the waterfall and pool. 

Every few hairpins I would stop and marvel at the convoluted roads that wound their way along the 10km, average slope of 6% and dozens of hairpins. It was definitely a day to take your time, make the most of the sights, and take lots of photos. 

View of the Redebraus Waterfall down below

On reaching the summit I was welcomed with the sight of a restaurant with a terrace. Maybe I should have stopped for a meal but I didn't. I did take more photos though. Some al fresco diners at the restaurant offered to take a photo of me. "Would you like me to take your picture, Monsieur?" The woman asked. I obliged, and as soon as I spoke the woman realised her error in getting my gender wrong, and apologised profusely. I didn't mind. It's something that often happens when out riding on my own. She said she was mighty impressed - that I had come all the way from London where there aren't roads like this, that I was riding on a blazing hot day, and that I was a woman riding alone. 

These are things that I don't really think about, but I guess it's not surprising that people assume I am a man. I rarely see foreign women riding alone when I'm abroad either, and get surprised when I see them!

Onwards, and I was faced with a 10km descent towards Sospel. Just as there were various steep ramps on the way up to the summit, I dealt with the equivalent on the way down. So the various tight steep bends required caution and concentration as I took quick glimpses of the surrounding landscape. This other side of the mountain was less leafy than on my upward route, and had areas that were quite deserted. It wasn't the place to get into difficulty as there really wasn't a soul around - not even a cyclist or a car driving up or down. Near the bottom, around the village of Saint Philippe, there were a few signs of life and more houses came into view. This road had also now become the Col Saint-Jean, which threw me down to an abrupt stop at a T-junction onto the main road to Sospel. Rather than turn right into this Alpine town I chose to continue with my plan to ride up Col de Turini, so took the left-hand turn ready to face 24km up to the next summit at 1607m. One thing about this ride is you very quickly learn to like hairpins. You need to, for there would be a lot more to come!

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