Cycling Training in Nice, Col de Vence

Posted on April 5th, 2010 by Tim Bell in Cycling Training in Nice, The Road to Tourmalet

Sunday morning, the sun is shining and five newly-hardened cyclists roll out of their Nice neutral zone. I had a good route plugged into the Garmin Edge 705 but as soon as we took the cycle path westwards and parallel with the Promenade des Anglais, instead of the road itself, the computer just kept telling me we needed to return to where we left the road and start again. A quick garage stop and we had a paper map to work from, while the Garmin spent the next 9km “calculating route” and missing out that part of our ride. This was an early reminder that computers are no match for a someone who knows their way around, and we were missing Claire (clairescrutton@hotmail.com), who guided us on day 1, already. We planned to have the now traditional early-ride noisette in a small town called Gatieres before the start of the Col de Vence. After passing the airport we faced the only tricky part in following our route, a bit of a concrete jungle, but eventually found our way into the village of Saint-Laurent-du-Var, from which we headed north on a small road running just west of and parallel to the D6202 bis.

Just before we turned off towards Gatieres we were treated to a pairs time trial event. This was the first time I’d heard solid wheels swooshing past, a superb sound. After watching the drama for a while we picked up the wheel of one of the weaker-looking pairs and were tempted to go past them, but thought better of it before turning up a small road on the left. Both roads available at this point were signed for Gatieres, thankfully we chose the better one. I’m not sure how I know this, but the one we took was an unexpected 4-5km climb with nice winding stretches passing over a river and with a consistently decent gradient, probably in the region of 6-7 percent. I attacked with around 1km to go, only to find Andy on my wheel and making a push for the top. He claimed a hollow victory by being first to a nondescript supermarket on a flat stretch after the unofficial finishing line. Despicable. We found a picture-perfect cafe for noisettes and pre-climb contemplation, then headed out for Vence via Saint-Jennet. This nice stretch of false flat was busy with cyclists, equipped with a handy water refilling spot and showed off fantastic views down the river valley to the coast.

Climbing the Col de Vence

We knew the Col de Vence was 9km long at an average gradient of roughly 7 percent, and the road pitched up sharply as soon as we left Vence ville on the D2. Considering we were only a little further inland than day one on the Madone, it felt like we were in a different world altogether; much more isolated and with wilder terrain. Boar country. I started the Col with a kick but was soon aware of a presence on my wheel. Dan was feeling good and giving me some company on the climb, which felt like a proper cycling hill with signs every km telling us how far to the summit and the average gradient for the next km.

Our Group at the Col de Vence summit

The summit of Col de Vence

I think there was an 8 percent and a 6 percent low down, then most of the rest were 7s. After a tough previous day in the saddle, I was happy to follow a wheel for a while and as we approached the summit my legs were feeling the strain when Dan burst for the line. A fair victory, even if I was hoping he would feel like Pantani ahead of Armstrong on the Ventoux

Andy and Emma at the Finish line of Col de Vence

Andy and Emma at the Finish line of Col de Vence

After the summit we had a short descent before a false flat on the way to lunch at Coursegoules, with an unexpected 2km kicker to get into the village; steeper than most of the Vence itself. Unfortunately Emma missed the turning so Andy – true gent – turned back to find her and they eventually joined our crepe-fest with another 10km or so logged on their bike computers. We ate in a fantastic little restaurant, high up above everything (or so it felt), and I enjoyed a Raclette Galette (savoury crepe) before a crepe (sweet crepe, Caramel au Beurre Sel I think) – dessert was possibly a mistake but one I will enjoy making again.

At this point we had the choice of returning to Nice via Bouyon, or continuing our ride along the D2 which looked on the map like a long, slow ascent taking in some more of the stunning inland scenery. It was certainly stunning, but before long we found ourselves descending along a beautiful but depressing road. Every metre downhill wanted climbing on the way back, and there were over 7,000 of them. On reaching our rendezvous at Greolieres, Andy came up with the offbeat logic that if we continued and it was just climbing, this would be fine because we could then come back downhill. The only thing we would not abide was more descending.

Dan at Greolieres

Dan at Greolieres

So we pushed along a road which looked on the map like a gradual climb but was in fact another rival to the Vence. Again Dan was feeling good and we reached a lay-by with a stunning view before deciding this should be the furthermost point of our ride. There had been no special goal in riding those last six or seven km uphill, it was just a beautiful road with some views of a castle perched high in the air to keep us company. It was amazing to think how quickly our horizons had shifted, when 6 days before this we had been doing 1km climbs around Highgate Hill and thinking they were pretty tough.

"Le Badgelor" having a rest

Was that last climb too much for "Le Badgelor"?

We had seen that this road beyond Greolieres had vertiginous drops and gaps in the low wall, all of which qualified it as the most challenging descent we had faced so far – especially given how fatigued we were. So it came as a surprise when John saw fit to share his back catalogue of decapitation anecdotes while we prepared ourselves for the drop. I think I counted four headless stories in a row, with a couple of vanilla death tales just to add flavour. Thankfully we all made it down OK and could start on the last real climb of our trip, which we had never really intended to take on. John, Andy and I set the pace before Andy and I took it to the finish. I had half forgotten there was another nasty climb into Coursegoules, but found a cheeky sprint from somewhere and managed to take the last climb of the day. It cost me every last ounce of energy and my knee is still complaining as I write this, over a week on. But it was of course worth it; I’ll take any excuse to break out the Deep Heat and massage oil. After that we had unarguably the peak experience of our weekend. I’ve been wondering to myself why I found this trip more enjoyable than any snowboarding I’ve done so far. The quantity and colour of the scenery may be one thing, but the feeling that you’ve earned your fun is certainly another…

Me and John at Coursegoules

They said I'd look stupid in these orange shades. Hah!

We were a little worried about losing the light before we got back to Nice, but needn’t have been. The next 20km were pure descent, with one short climb that went unnoticed. I saw a sign for Saint-Laurent-du-Var, 25km to go and thought it would take a while, but it felt like seconds. We saw the river bed snake down to the coast below us, and knew we were home and hosed. This was where a bullet cam attached to my helmet would have come into its own, swooping down and round hairpin after hairpin, wheels glowing orange as we re-entered the atmosphere. Apart from being held up by an elderly driver, we had an near-perfect run down to the coast and back along the cycle path to our hotel. Somehow our battle-hardened group of riders and the denizens of the pleasure plage mixed like Jeremy Clarkson and a bunch of tree-huggers. Andy failed to grasp the concept of a leisure beach and ploughed on at his usual relentless pace, scattering roller-bladers, children and miniature animals in his wake. I wasn’t going to miss out on any of the fun as we headed for home, sipping imaginary Champagne on our version of the Champs Elysee.

Another well-earned meal at L’Escalinada staved off the narcolepsy for a couple of hours, then next morning it was back on the tram to the TGV. Hearts sank as a group of around 30 school kids / carnie rugrats got onto the train and swarmed around our seats. The same hearts leaped when it looked like they had picked the wrong carriage and streamed through to the next one. Joy unbound when the train pulled out of Nice, leaving 30 or so rugrats on the platform having picked the wrong train altogether; what better sign could we have had before our smooth journey home?


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8 Comments on “Cycling Training in Nice, Col de Vence”

  1. Dan

    Hey – nice write up. But i hope that reference to Pantani and Armstrong on the Vence “Ventoux” is only about my hairstyle 🙂

  2. Tim Bell

    I wouldn’t dare; people in glass houses and all…

  3. My Springston

    It is simple to see that you are passionate about your writing. Great job!

  4. Building a Fixed Gear

    Great post! I really love your nice blog! I also commented at your other post that I thought was awesome.

  5. Naufragio by Yusa. Music & Lyrics by Pavel Urquiza :The Longtail Music Catalog

    […] Cycling Training in Nice, Col de Vence | Tour Climbs […]

  6. Bonny Viegas

    This is a beautiful site. Thank you.

  7. King of the Downs 2010 | Tour Climbs

    […] more climbing, and I hadn’t gone so far the time I climbed the most (that was when we did the Col de Vence). A big step up without any further knee complaints, and perhaps no surprise I utterly bonked […]

  8. matt walters

    stumbled on your write up whilst surfing around for Col de Vence on google. We run small touring/training holidays from Biot each March, April and sept and have been up the Col on a stonkingly hot day before but always turned around at the top as we would bike down and on to a climb called Tanneron near to Le Muy. Greolieres was always a ride too far whenever we were out or going away from it. Gordon is a lovely little climb and another way of going onto Greolieres…can’t wait. We are down there again from end of Sept!!!

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