Nice. March 2019.
Our man Dan, one of the Bowman ambassadors, recently managed to bag a few days away from busy family life to spin the pedals in the south of France. Not such a bad way to perfect the set up of a newly built Palace:R.
When the Whatsapp group ‘Milan San-Remo 22-25 March’ popped up on my phone, I knew our plans were finally becoming a reality. The trip had been on the cards for a while, but only when the Whatsapp group is formed do you really start planning anything, right? This is basically how my life works now.
The plan? 4 friends (2 Cote d’Azur virgins) would spend as much time as possible riding around Nice and surrounding areas, catching the first Monument of the pro-cycling season and also get my first proper outing on the Palace:R, which I had built up just a week before this trip. If you’re going to test a bike out and see what it excels at, where better than the Cote d’Azur?!
I’d wanted to ride in this region for an eternity, and experience some of the climbs that so often have me drooling when I see them all over social media and in the cycling press.
We landed in Nice on Friday lunchtime and quickly got ourselves checked into our accommodation in Old Town. Nice was experiencing higher-than-average temperatures for March, so it was bright blue skies and warm temps all throughout the weekend, which, being extremely solar-powered meant that I really did recharge my batteries here. That Friday afternoon was about flushing the early morning flight out of our legs and making sure our bikes were working smoothly, which was essential for me because on the climb out of Nice that afternoon I discovered that the air travel had caused a bent front mech, kinked rear mech cable, and realised through my own fault that I had failed to put any carbon paste on my seat post. I also picked up a slashed front tyre on our loop out to Monaco too, so I was grateful that we had decided to keep the afternoon ride down to 50km.
Monaco was not what I expected. I found the place choked me – literally. The vehicle emissions were hanging in the warm Friday afternoon air, stinging my eyes and burning my lungs. It was around 5pm when we got into the mental environment of Monaco, not the best time of day for air quality greatness! We did a quick tourist loop into the Place du Casino and once we had got our sprint out over the Grand Prix starting grid, we decided to head back. We were all pretty excited to be out riding, so the pace was lively and we pushed on a bit to get back into Nice for a cold one and a slice of Pizza.
Milan San Remo (Via Col d’Eze and Col de la Madone)
Having no experience of riding in this area, I was super twitchy on Saturday. Twitchy with excitement. New roads on a new bike – PERFECT! I was up early (standard Dad mode) and had gone into Nice to buy a new tyre, before bringing back croissants for Gary and Samm.
After a morning dose at Café du Cycliste to meet Tom, we set off to get stuck into Col d’Eze, which starts in the City. I had no problem using the geometry of the Palace:R to sit into my climbing rhythm, and with the new addition of smaller cranks too, I was in my element very quickly, spinning away with a ridiculous grin on my face. The Palace:R was super comfortable on this steady gradient and stayed rock solid with some of my out-of-the-saddle transitions. Sadly, the 9.5km at 5.2%avg was over too quickly and at the summit, we re-grouped and had our chat ‘shut-down’ by the pace of Joe Dombrowski. The EF rider was descending the Eze on our way up and managed to get to the bottom of the climb and back up within minutes of our summit. I felt…..er, slow.
Once off the Eze, we meandered inland towards La Turbie and began the non-traditional ascent of Col de la Madone, which apparently is favoured by many local riders, one of whom is Kenny Ellisonde, the Team Sky rider who flew by us on the way up, only to snap his chain and face an almighty descent back down into Nice. No team car Kenny?
Climbing the Madone was beautiful from this side, but I had no ‘other side’ knowledge to compare it to. The road up was dead, and the surrounding landscape felt quite parched and desert-like. This climb was a lot of fun, switching between 4% to 8% along its 11.8km length. The Madone from this side has a really nice profile in that it steepens out at the top, following a few switchbacks which the Palace:R lapped up. At the top, Samm reminded me that I should take note of the descent down into Menton so that I could get a feel for what the ‘actual’ Col de la Madone climb would be like. I didn’t really notice anything on the way down as I was locked into a super-fast descent, (my first on the Palace:R and my first on rim-brakes for almost 6 months) which had me really testing how low and hard I could ride into the turns. Having ridden the Pilgrims Disc almost daily for over a year, I had to really work on my braking during this rapid descent. The bike was pinned into everything I asked of it, but on this occasion, it was my wheelset hang-ups (and my rusty skills!!) that ruined some of my flow.
The Milan-San Remo race itself was over in a flash, but we expected this. The Italian supporters were amazing, with a huge passion for the sport, which was so audible as the riders descended off the Poggio and into the finish. It was hard not to get caught up in the frenzy, and I managed to position myself perfectly for when the perfect line-up of current and previous World Champions opened up their sprint with 250m to go, but they couldn’t bring back the mighty Alaphillipe.
Col de Nice, Col de Braus, Col de Castillion, Col de la Madone.
I seem to respond well to back-to-back days in the saddle, especially if I’m eating and hydrating well, which I was, so I felt primed for a long day in the saddle. This was the day I would tick-off two of my bucket-list climbs. The Col de Braus was the major highlight for me and the warming effort on the Col de Nice set things up nicely. Braus provides 11.5km of beautiful climbing, with steep drop-offs and multiple (I think it was double-digits) switchbacks to stall your pace and force you to push harder on the pedals – exactly my kind of climb. I couldn’t help myself on this one and I just wound up the pace to leave the guys behind with their steady tempo to really see how hard I could go. I totally fluked my pacing strategy and had enough power in the legs to maintain a strong pace on the upper ramps of 15% . Naturally, I got to the top and hid my very heavy breathing (and fighting the tunnel vision) whilst people clapped and cheered at summit café. I don’t use Strava personally (haters gonna hate), but I couldn’t help having a peek at that particular climb later on. I was 7 minutes off that blasted Joe Dombrowski KOM….. that is an eternity!!!!
The Col de la Madone from Menton was the other highlight. Whilst bigger in status, I found this to be easier than the Braus. Maybe it was because it was after lunch, or maybe it was because we never actually planned to take this route back into Nice, so the unexpected offer of the climb was an absolute treat. Sadly, one of the guys in our group was really unhappy to be taking this option and was ‘cooked’ from the day’s riding already. It’s always hard to know how to motivate someone locked in this mindset. Do you leave them alone to fight their climbing demons, or ride alongside them to offer distraction? I did both, dropping behind when the fight took hold, and then joining alongside when things looked a little easier. You can tell when someone is labouring a climb, and when they are going well, and I really enjoy supporting/pacing people up climbs – when it is needed. The thing was, Gary didn’t need any help at all. Not really. He got himself through it and he totally inspired me. On the lower slopes, of the Madone, Gary used the F-word a lot. Gary doesn’t often use the F-word……
Here was a guy who had already taken on a couple of days climbing already, and was now rounding off his day with the Madone. Whilst the scenery was amazing, it was watching Gary overcome this climb and see his sense of achievement at the top that was way more rewarding than ‘Lance’s favourite climb’.
As with all the best breaks, it was over way too quickly. I definitely want to go back so that I can ride the Col de Turini loop, which would includes the Col de Braus climb. A long weekend (Friday to Monday) is perfect. This loop gives hairpin after hairpin, over long gradients. Perfect!
And yes, the ‘Whatssapp’ group is all set for the unfinished business.
If this has tickled your fancy and want to find out a little bit more about the bike Dan rode on the Coted'Azur, then there's more info over on the Palace:R page.
GREEN ON GREEN PALACES LIKE DAN'S ARE CURRENTLY £100 OFF ON ALL IN STOCK SIZES.