Nice, really nice

Last week’s club discussion was the recent news that the Tour de France 2013, for its 100th edition, would start in Corsica, an island not so far from us and where most of the club have ridden at one time or another.  A couple of us, me included, are already planning our trips to go and watch the first three stages and the team presentation. It won’t be easy as there’s not a lot of accommodation on the island. We’ll probably have to rent an apartment for a week.

On your marks, get set..................

Talk then turned, not unnaturally, to the later stages one of which we rather assumed would be in Nice. After all, the ferry back from Corsica would most likely lead to an overnight stop in Nice. So it was more than nice to have our suspicions confirmed in Friday’s Nice Matin. Indeed we were going to be rewarded with two stages. A team time trial along the Promenade des Anglais (Nice-Antibes-Nice), 20km on the flat, everyone’s favourite spectacle. According to the newspaper, more than 250 towns had asked to stage this particular event. Then stage 5 will be starting in Cagnes sur Mer, most probably from the Hippodrome. Meaning, of course, that Stage 6 would also be within easy reach. That’s the first 10 days of July 2013 sorted.

In addition, as there isn’t enough accommodation on Corsica, the Tour Village is going to be based in Nice for the first four days of the Tour where there will also be a huge screen to watch all the action. I don’t know how much the Mayor of Nice, Christian Estrosi, has paid for the privilege but I for one can hear the cash tills ringing now.

As I read the newspaper reports, it became apparent that there’d been a presentation to the great and good in the cycling world, by none other than Christian Prudhomme, at the Opera House in Nice. However, no one I knew had been invited. Had it been a spur of the moment thing or planned weeks in advance? It’s not unknown for invitations from the Mayor to arrive just a couple of days before the event.  But I had checked the post box on both Tuesday and Wednesday. There were quotes from a few of the professional riders who live on the Cote d’Azur but I learned on Friday evening, when one of them came to dinner, that he hadn’t been at the presentation nor had the other local riders. The quote had been given over the phone. Indeed, the only riders of any note in attendance had been Brice Feillu (who lives in Frejus) and Charly Berard, Bernard Hinault’s faithful lieutenant. However, looking at the photographs of the event it would appear that it was mostly attended by the press and local dignatories.

In year’s gone by, Nice figured prominently in the Tour. It’s been used on 35 occasions, most notably during the period of 1906 – 1937. But, in 2009, it was just one of the towns the peloton rode through as Stage 2 departed from Monaco en-route to Brignoles. It hasn’t been one of the staging towns since 1981. That year it figured heavily. The morning’s stage finished in a sprint on the Promenade des Anglais, won by Freddy Maertens, ahead of Sean Kelly. The former went on to win the green jersey and subsequently, the World Championship. In the afternoon’s team time trial (Nice-Antibes-Nice), Raleigh led Cyrille Guimard’s Renault Elf team by 43 seconds. However, it was Renault’s Gerrie Knetemann who assumed the leader’s jersey. But he was just keeping it warm for his team leader, Bernard Hinault, who took it five days later and kept it until Paris, his third Tour win. That had been Charly Berard’s first Tour de France.

Lots of firsts

I’m a girl who believes in lots of planning and preparation. If I’m doing a cyclosportif, I like to have cycled the route beforehand. This is so that a) I know I can do it and b) I know when to conserve, or conversely, expend energy en route. It also gives me an opportunity to scout possible locations for a pit-stop as these generally tend to be few and far between. I prefer to wear bib shorts or tights, so there’s no way I can discretely slip out of my kit behind a bush. It’s a full-scale strip job, so you can understand my concerns and preference for a toilet.

I am currently training for the Charly Bérard which largely takes place on the course of my first ever pointage. A year or so ago, one the girls at the club invited me to cycle with her on Sundays, promising that we could go at my pace. She cycles with two of the club’s very spritely octogenarians who are both glowing adverts for the long-term benefits of cycling. I can only hope to emulate them when I’m their age.

When I told my husband I was going to do that Sunday’s pointage he was somewhat dismissive of my ability to get up the climbs. This time however I will have to ascend a tad quicker for fear of falling behind the dreaded “broom wagon” and having my timing device unceremoniously removed.

Most of the club events I take part in are self-timed. You tell the person writing the certificate your time and they put it on your certificate. Whether you finish first or last, your club gets the same number of points. You just have to finish. There are usually two courses on offer: one 50% longer than the other with more points on offer for the longer course. Trophies are awarded to the clubs whose riders garner the most points. There are no individual prizes save those for the youngest and oldest male and female entrants to complete the course.

In preparation, this week I did my first ascent this year of the Col de Vence (963m). This has to be my closest and favourite climb. I did it for the very first time in early April of last year. Buoyed with my feat of climbing Col d’Eze, via the more strenuous Grande Corniche, I decided I was ready to tackle the Col de Vence. I rode the slightly longer but less strenuous route up to Vence via La Gaude before turning onto the Col itself. The first few kilometres are the steepest but it soon levels out and there are simply splendid views down to the coast plus some pretty pricey real-estate to admire as you pedal your way up to the Chateau du Domaine St. Martin and beyond to the open pastures full of sheep.

I took comfort from the road markers telling me how many more kilometres I had to travel and the average gradient (7%). The top is a bit of an anti-climax but I couldn’t resist sending my husband a text to tell him I’d done it.

The Top
The Top

Today I cycled the quicker, slightly steeper route via La Colle sur Loup. Under darkening skies and into a strong headwind, I managed to ascend the hill for the first time without stopping at all: another first. Col de Vence is my favourite col not because of the ascent but because of the descent. You can easily see what little traffic there is coming up the hill so you can throw caution to the wind, keep your hands off the brakes and pretend you’re Samu Sanchez.  With that tailwind, it was my fastest descent ever.