Biking in France! Yes! 110 km through the French Alps!

Sure, this blog may be mainly about running… but biking is really good cross-training for running. Especially for distance runners, who tend to develop strong hamstrings at the expense of quads (which leads to knee injury) – biking works the quads and keeps your muscles more developed. Biking is also good for runners who are getting over an injury, like I am now, still getting over my Achilles tendinitis. So this way I can still train – maintain or even increase my strength and fitness – but without aggravating the injury.

So, we are in France now! Dave is racing Ironman next week (3.8 km swim, 180 km bike, 42 km run) here in Nice. (You can follow his progress live on Sunday at IronmanLive – he’s number 1989). We’ve arrived a week early and both rented Madrone carbon road bikes for the week. It’s a chance for us to train (and for Dave to get used to the bike, since he is going to race on it) but also to tour around and site-see by bike. We got here on Saturday evening, so Sunday we did a mellow little ride (out for 4 hrs, but only covering about 30 km between stops to poke around, oh yeah and to sip wine at a little glass table on the seaside!). Then on Monday we did a big ride, though – 110 km, scoping out much of Dave’s Ironman course.

Heading out of town, we found the Ironman course markings had already been painted on – made our navigation musch easier!

His race route heads west out of Nice along the waterfront, then turns inland, climbing up into the foothills of the Alps (the “Pré-Alps” they are called here) to a maximum altitude of just over 1000 m, before doing a long crazy descent, eventually rejoining the route it came out on and heading back into Nice along the waterfront.

So we did roughly the same route, but cutting through the centre of the loop, to make a smaller distance of a total of 110 km. We climbed to an altitude of roughly 400 m at the town of Vence – from there Dave’s Ironman continues west to do the big loop, with a big climb at the far end. But we cut the loop at Vence, heading straight north to the Col de Vence (Vence Pass), maximum altitude 963 m, then rejoined the Ironman course – cutting 70 km of the race route off.

What a great day! I was so appreciative to get out there and see where Dave is going to be riding through. But it was also great for him to recon the course, and get an idea of where some of the steep ascents are, and where the hairpin turns are on the descents – and also for him to stop and check out the villages and the views, which he won’t even be noticing as he hoons through with 2,500 other racers at 30-40 km/hr!!

Here are our photo highlights:

Here’s Dave in his super-aerodynamic Louis Garneau racing helmet.

Hot day – and we felt it even more with the south-facing slopes and all of the climbing.

Through many pretty villages: Gattieres, Sainte-Jeannet, Vence, Coursegoulles… and appreciative of the time to stop in them and poke around (Dave will barely get to glimpse them as he races through on Sunday).

Ironman’s “Look I can ride no-hands and take our picture all at the same time!” act…

By the time we hit the town of Vence, we had climbed 386 m over about 35 km. Not bad… but then our next climb was 577 m over just 9 km!! To the Col de Vence (Vence Pass).

The steep geography means that there are many ancient (formerly fortified) villages perched on the hilltops. Really spectacular!

That climb was REALLY hot! Here I am seeking a tiny bit of shade where I can find it, even if it is on the wrong side of the road.

Climbing, climbing, climbing… lots of switchbacks, taking us up above the trees (so now, no shade at all!)

I saved this pic extra-large so you can click on it. See if you can find me!

We made it! Col de Vence, 963 m elevation.

Then starting our long descent down the back side…

…and – holy cow! – there is a 2000′ drop of our right side! Don’t want to tip over that little stone bank there…!

Do. Not. Step. Back.

Then through the quiet village of Coursegoulles…

…where we snacked on apple pie and pear cake, and filled our water bottles in an old fountain.

Then into the steeper part of the descent, lots of switchbacks (which will be crazy when 2500 cyclists are racing them on Sunday! Glad it’s not me!)

The roads are carved right into the cliffs.

Lots of beautiful old stone bridges, too. The vegetation on the right is growing on a bridge that is much older than the one I am standing on.

More fast descents…

Oh, and here’s our castle. Be sure to stop by and visit us if you are out this way.

Aww… almost back to Nice, and I got a flat. (Amazing how Dave can fix it for me, and still take a picture that makes it look like I fixed it myself – what a guy!)

And now back to Nice, cycling “home” along the great seaside bike path on the Promenade des Anglais.

We are having trouble finding good internet connections here, so we will be delayed in putting our posts up. But on Wednesday we cycled to Monaco – yes, Monaco! – so I will put those pix up next time I have some time online. Ciao for now!

  1. Cycling in France: Day-trip from Nice to Gattières and back « Dave and Jackie run

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