A multi-col shoot with Wattbike
Hands up if you think this winter has been awful!
I’m generally not one for wishing any part of my life away – it’s short and precious – but this year is different and I’ve just about had my fill of cold, rain and snow and I’d definitely like to see the back of the winter.
Damp, rubbish weather is generally not my favourite for road cycling; yes I ride in all weather but I much prefer to ride my mountain bike when the rain is lashing down. Yet the elements have even conspired to put a stop to that over the last month.
A couple of weeks ago I travelled up to Swinley Forest to race the Women’s Swinduro and it was actually snowed off, the weather was that bad. It was hugely disappointing not to be able to race after having such a blast practicing the nine tracks the day before, however I can’t even imagine what I nightmare it must have been for the organisers – I feel very sorry for them!
Sadly, I was due to fly out to Nice with Wattbike immediately following the race but the snow also put paid to that plan, so I was unable to join them for a day with Lizzie Deignan that would doubtless have been very fun indeed. I was however, very grateful when the snow cleared enough for me to fly to the Cote d’Azur a little later; I wouldn’t be shooting with Lizzie but it was still a fantastic opportunity for a sun starved Brit.
Welcome to paradise
Coming straight from the English winter, the South of France felt like paradise. Nice airport is really close to the city and a short (20 minute) taxi ride took me straight down the Promenade des Anglais, the main drag alongside the lengthy pebbled beach that the city is famous for. Gazing out of the window I genuinely gasped when I first saw the sea to my right, such was the intensity of its colour. Obviously, I knew the area was famous for the rich tones of sea (the clue being in the name) but I wasn’t prepared for quite how amazing it was. Joining the Wattbike crew at our hotel overlooking the sea, I really felt like the luckiest woman alive.
There are several famous routes around Nice and Monaco and our plan was to shoot on as many of them as possible, so the following morning I was up at 05.30am so we could make the most of our day. Photographer Michael Blann was keen for us to ride as much as possible in each location, just transferring between cols by car so that we could cover a big area in just one day. I was really pleased to hear we’d be spending so much time actually cycling.
We set off for the first location one the Col d’Eze at 07.15 and it was immediately obvious why so many professional cyclists call Nice and Monaco home. Lengthy but manageable climbs are easily accessible from both cities, the views are out of this world and the climate is favourable. Before long we spotted Ian Boswell (Katusha Alpecin) and assorted top pro riders and I became ridiculously giddy (and probably quite embarrassing to the others!).
After transferring to the Col de la Madone by car we hopped back on our bikes (sadly not right at the start) then settled in for a decent stint of climbing whilst Michael tailed us in a car. The 13.1km climb, made famous by Lance Armstrong who regularly used it to test his form before the Tour de France, has an average gradient of 7% and is quiet and relatively remote once you get away from the coast. It was easy to settle into a rhythm and enjoy the experience.
For some reason it was impossible to get any lunch afterwards – every village seemed to be closed for the following week and the nearest supermarket turned out to be so far away that we’d waste too much time going there. Fortunately, I had plenty of Tribe bars to keep me going so we decided to continue our shoot on the Col de Brau whilst one of the crew was dispatched for food.
The switchbacks on the Brau are rightly famous and we enjoyed going up, down, up and down again whilst Michael shot a serious of lovely images as the sun faded and began to disappear behind the mountains. As time was pressing on I wasn’t able to ride as much of the col as I’d have liked so it’s now been added to a HUGE list of places I’d like to return to.
Nice – Monaco – Ventimiglia
The following day I was free to do as I pleased and opted to cycle along the coast through Monaco and into Italy, partly as I had a race the next day and thought a day of hitting mountain passes would destroy my legs, but also because the cols are surprisingly cold and I’d lost my gloves.
We’d spent the previous day cycling in tights or leg warmers and either longsleeved jerseys or a combo of gilets, jerseys and arm warmers – Nice still hasn’t fully warmed up in March and the wind can be biting. I’m sure that if you sat in a sheltered spot you’d be relatively toasty but clearly the locals didn’t think so – everyone was dressed in down jackets and the kind of thing us Brits would wear in the middle of winter.
The coastal route didn’t disappoint. Breathtaking in its beauty and easy to follow (apart from Monaco which was a little tricky) the road was relatively quiet, something I am very sure it wouldn’t be in the height of summer. The towns it passes through are just wonderful and I could happily base myself in any of them for a cycling trip – I wonder if that would be more economical than staying in Nice itself?
If you’d like to find out more about my two-day trip to the Cote d’Azur and get an idea of the best cycling routes in Nice and Monaco, check out the video from my trip.