Whenever we go to a new place we’ve taken the habit of checking out any potential Rapha rides around the area. That’s what we did in Nice as well and ran into an intriguing ride: http://www.rapha.cc/the-southern-alps-and-riviera
We decided that this would be our main ride on this trip as it seemed like the most challenging one due to the total distance and climb meters.
The ride starts with what we had already become very used to in Nice. A transit north from Nice along D2204. Not the nicest riding but not too bad either. After La Trinite the traffic quiets down and you can start focusing on the task of the day.
After about 12 km of riding at we arrived at La Pointe. This is where the Col de Braus climb officially begins. And this is where my friend Ville said “This is where it starts” and I remember thinking to myself “This isn’t it yet.” I had a very good recollection of the route and gradient and I knew the real work wouldn’t start until 7km later at L’Escarene where there is a short flatland segment after which the climbing resumes in a much more brutal fashion. “And this is where it really starts.”, I said.
The views after L’Escarene turn magnificient. You ride along a quiet road which climbs up on the side of a narrow valley that goes into the Maritime Alps. You can tell that you are beginning to approach some real mountains.
The final part of Col de Braus hairpins is steep. Downright devastating with regular crankset and 11-23 cassette (I was once again happy for switching to a 12-27 cassette before the trip).
We took a short breather on the top of Col de Braus before starting our descent towards Sospel. Where we had our planned coffee and crepes break. The descent is a huge amount of fun. A serpentine road zig zagging on both sides of the valley riddled with hairpin turns.
Sospel is a nice little town at the foothills of the Maritime Alps. It is also a base for excellent mountain biking. You can reach Sospel by train from the coast as well as we learned when we ran into some cyclists who were about to start their ride from there. We were feeling good but we also knew that what we had ridden so far was just a warm up for what was to come.
Col de Turini from Sospel is 24 km of climbing. Not brutally steep but continuous climbing, without breaks, for 24km. Enough to drive a man insane. This climb is also famous for being a stage in the Monte Carlo rally. And ofcourse it’s a common pastime to take a sports car and race it up. This worried us a bit but fortunately there was only one car that passed us on the way up.
I started suffering from slight cramps in my hamstrings after about 8km of climbing and after a short contemplation decided it would be best to chill out for a while instead of my typical reaction which would be to ignore the cramps and push more. Somehow the remaining 16km felt quite overwhelming at the time.
There is very little to say about the climb itself. The views are amazing and they really helped me to keep the spirits up during the last 7km. Ville spotted a deer and what was apparrently an eagle soaring next to him near the top. I didn’t think for a second to stop for pictures. I focused purely on the asphalt in front of me and pedaling. For two hours.
At the top there’s a restaurant (Hütte) with tributes to rally drivers (quite a few pictures of famous Finns on the walls). We were pretty much destroyed when we got there. Had a coke and a coffee and just wanted to get back down. It had started to drizzle a bit during the last kilometers and the air was quite cool (around 10C from the 20+C down in the valley). This was actually quite nice for the climb.
Unfortunately, when we got back on our bikes to begin the descent it started to rain, heavily. It was misty, raining, cold, slippery and eerily quiet. We were thinking to ourselves that if you slip and fall here no one will find you.
After descenting for couple of hundred vertical meters on D2566 towards L’Escarene with very little braking power on carbon wheels we were hugely relieved that the rain ended and sun broke through the clouds which allowed us to view down the valley. Definitely competing for the most beautiful descent I’ve ever ridden. The road is a very old mountain road with a cobblestone railing and very tight hairpins. The road itself has some cracks but in general it’s in very good condition and there was absolutely no traffic.
All in all the descent from Turini to Nice is almost 50km and I could definitely feel it in my arms and my shoulders. The last flatland sections near Nice were quite painful as my shoulder blades were cramping and legs were completely empty from the climbs. But the feeling when we arrived at our favourite winebar for some red wine and charcuterie was just unbelievable.
This was definitely one of the most rewarding and amazing rides I’ve done but I would have to think about it if I was asked to do it again. It’s not that it’s not spectacular but the Col de Turini climb was just painstakingly long.