Cycling Training in Nice, Getting There

Posted on April 3rd, 2010 by Tim Bell in Cycling Training in Nice, The Road to Tourmalet

When a member of my 5-a-side team suggested a few of us head down for some serious cycling in southern France, I didn’t need a second invitation. The initial idea was to tackle Mont Ventoux, but given that we would be going in March we worried about the weather.

Mont Ventoux summit

The lonely summit of Mont Ventoux

“The Giant of Provence” is difficult enough at the best of times; with a blizzard in the face it might do for Sir Ranulph Fiennes. So we decided to head for the more temperate climes of Nice and its environs. Given that Lance Armstrong is known to train there around this time of year, I figured it would be good enough for us.

Travelling from London, we took the Eurostar to Lille Europe. This seems a grand title for a train station in Lille but at least it does serve as a European travel hub. On our side of the tunnel, claiming Ashford as “International” somehow makes it sound all the more parochial. Anyway, one thing worth knowing is that the regular Eurostar luggage racks are not big enough for most bike bags or boxes, which brings me to a key piece of pre-travel admin; preparing the bike for travel. The best piece of general packing advice I ever received was “just pick the right bag and fill it”, which pretty much applies with your bike. I looked at everything from the solid bike boxes to soft bike bags, and eventually settled on something in between, the Dakine Bike Bag 2009. The 2010 model was strongly recommended, so I bought the 2009 version, around £100 cheaper, thinking it must be good too. It is a superbly strong and, considering it’s size, very maneuverable bag but the 2009 model is a few kg heavier than the 2010 which will make it difficult to get under most flight weight restrictions.

Dakine Bike Bag 2009

Dakine Bike Bag 2009

But who needs planes when you have trains? Even though my bike would not be subjected to extreme stress-testing by airline baggage handlers, I still wanted it to be nice and protected in transit, knowing that other heavy bags might be placed on top of it. This meant dismantling my precious Focus Cayo, a little intimidating for the novice cyclist, but a good crash course on the parts of a bike. There are hundreds of videos on the internet showing you how to do this, but in the end I took the following steps to get the bike ready:

1) Remove the saddle and seat post, taking care to mark the post at the correct height.

2) Remove the pedals, which required a proper pedal wrench and the knowledge that both pedals unscrew in the same direction; towards the back of the bike (otherwise one pedal might fall off when you ride). I then put the pedals back on the cranks, facing each other. This prevents them moving around too much and I protected the frame where the pedals would make contact with it.

3) Remove the front wheel. This needed its own wheel bag which went inside the Dakine to keep the wheel and frame protected.

4) Protect the front forks. I got a plastic spacer from a local bike shop to wedge into the front forks, preventing them from being squashed together by some Vuitton valise crammed with dusty volumes of Baudelaire and Balzac.

5) Remove the rear wheel and put inside its bike bag. It is worth looking up a video online about removing and replacing the rear wheel. It seems too obvious a thing to ask someone about, but is quite tricky unless you know how. Key tip; make sure the bike is in its lowest gear when changing the rear wheel. Once the wheel was out I needed to protect the rear triangle but didn’t have anything handy to put in the rear dropouts and ended up wedging some books in there. I have since acquired an old hub from the local bike shop which should do the job better (and lighter) next time.

6) Remove the rear derailleur, protect and attach to bike. This perhaps seemed excessive, especially when I was still trying to reassemble my bike while the others in our group were taking a Friday night ride along the Promenade des Anglais, but it could easily get bent out of shape so I was happy to learn how to replace it.

7) Remove the handlebars, place everything in the bag and pack it all tight with bubblewrap and cycling clothes.

So I was ready for the train, but the bag was too big. We quickly found the Eurostar train manager who took us down to carriage 9 for the big luggage locker. They tend to book everyone into carriage 18 and backfill standard class from there, so I think I’ll go for something like carriage 10 next time – nice and empty, next to my secure bike.

We picked up the TGV in Lille which was more spacious and had better luggage racks than the Eurostar. The upper deck is more comfortable for space and luggage, and coach 15 will get you next to the buffet car – crucial strategy on a journey that takes 7hrs+.

Mont Ventoux pictured from the TGV

Ventoux in the distance

Despite the duration, the freedom of movement prevents your legs from seizing up, and it is nice to regard the steepening countryside that you will soon be tackling; seeing Mont Ventoux while we pulled into Avignon set the hairs on end.

The train goes a long way round, waiting in Marseille before chugging along the coast into Nice – but what a coast. We even got to see Stephen Roche’s Marina hotel after Cannes, although the one person who was looking forward to this after reading about it in his latest edition of Cycling Weekly was indisposed at the time.

We finally arrived in Nice and went out to hail a people carrier, but the taxi drivers took one look at my Dakine and collectively sucked in a stream of warm air through their teeth – a hint of trepidation I had previously believed exclusive to the plumbers of Balham. Thankfully one of them directed us towards the tram which would take us to Place Garibaldi, a few minutes away from our hotel, the All Seasons Vieux Port. Undoubtedly a pale imitation of the chain this hotel transparently tries to evoke, it was equally obviously ideal for our purposes. Central, relaxed about bikes and offering a fine breakfast, we were nearly ready to ride.

John by boats in Nice

John by some boats

All we needed was a fine Nicoise dinner which we got at a restaurant called ‘Safari’ on the Cours Salaya; I can recommend the Gnocchi au Gorgonzola and the Sole Meurniere. This place was suggested by our local guide Claire Scrutton (La Fuga, who I will ride the Etape with later this year, put me in touch with her, and she can be reached at clairescrutton@hotmail.com) who did a fantastic job recommending restaurants, and cycling routes.  She joined us on our ride the next day, when we took on the Col de la Madone. After that it was a post-prandial stroll along the front, some checking out of the bling boats in the harbour, and back to the hotel for our all-important pre-ride sleep.

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One Comment on “Cycling Training in Nice, Getting There”

  1. Centurion | Tour Climbs

    […] get to write about riding 100 miles for the first time, and this is it. There were four veterans of Nice and a couple of new faces meeting up in Hackney for the Essex run on Sunday morning, and shortly […]

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