There’s an observatory on one of the hills above my apartment, so I decided that I’d ride up there today. Now that I’ve got net access in the apartment, I looked up Google Maps and noticed that the road I’d be taking continued on up to Col d’Eze where I’d ridden yesterday, so I decided I might as well head up there again. I wanted to go a bit further than Eze, without heading down to the coast, and I thought Mont Agel looked like a suitable destination. At 1200m above sea-level it would provide a good climbing opportunity. However, when I zoomed in to Street View I noticed the coverage stopped halfway up the climb. A sign at the side of the road pointed out that the top is a military installation and therefore access is ‘interdit’. That was the end of that plan! (isn’t Street View wonderful :-)
A 6am alarm this morning, a spot of breakfast and I was out on the road by seven. I saw a few other cyclist heading in different directions, but apart from that there was almost zero traffic. Perfect cycling conditions. After a few flat kilometres I reached the turn off which would take me up to the Observatory and the climbing started. My Garmin was registering a consistent gradient of between 7 and 9%, so I settled into a rhythm and trundled along, enjoying the view into the hills behind Nice as I got higher and higher. The maps indicated a side road which would take me right up to the Observatory itself, but when I got there access was barred by a closed gate and a sign indicating what time the tour was.
Just cycled up here…
Back on the road I continued towards Col d’Eze, joining up with yesterday’s route after about a kilometre. The breeze coming off the sea was pushing clouds up the hill in front of me and as I got higher I ended up cycling through the clouds for a while. It was pretty handy for keeping me cool, and I could still see blue skies every now and then, so I knew that I’d be in sunshine again when I reached the top.
Clouds being pushed uphill by the sea breeze
Once at Col d’Eze, I’d took a planned detour up to the Parc Forestier to add a bit of extra climbing and to make up for the fact that I couldn’t go up Mont Agel. The road was a bit longer than expected, but once at the top I was back in sunshine and could look into the hills behind Nice and see the clouds rolling in from the mountains.
The hills behind Nice
Clouds rolling in over the mountains
Rather than going back the way I came, the map had shown another route which would take me back to the main road, so I headed off down there. There was a sign which seemed to indicate that bikes were forbidden, but the relevant barrier was open and I saw a ranger shortly afterwards who said ‘bonjour’ so there didn’t seem to be a problem. A later sign said access was forbidden, except for bikes so it was all a bit confusing.
Shortly afterward the road surface disappeared, to be replaced with something resembling a fire trail in the Blue Mountains - lots of loose stones. Since I had come a fair way downhill, I was reluctant to turn around and head back up, so I continued on, imagining myself on the Strade Bianche, the unpaved roads used this year in the Giro’s 8th stage (won by Cadel), though thankfully without the rain & mud. My reverie was quickly interrupted by the hiss of a puncture, my first in 5,000km of riding. After a relatively straightforward tube change I was thinking to myself “I’m in the middle of nowhere here, with another 2-3km of this crappy surface, and I’ve only one more CO2 cartridge. I hope I don’t puncture again!” I took off gingerly and tried both to avoid the worst of the stones and to minimise the weight on the tyres, until the surface improved after nearly a kilometre. Now things weren’t too bad. The track would have been perfect for a bike: narrow, dropping downhill with plenty of switchbacks, were it not for a surface which was still composed of loose gravel and water bars every 50m to prevent erosion.
My version of the Strade Bianche (the non-stony version)
After another kilometre of this I was back on the main road for a couple of kilometres before taking a right and enjoying a long downhill ride into the valley behind the hills I’d just climbed up. I had two cars in front of me to show me the way and carving through the sweeping bends was great fun. Back on the valley floor it was a pretty cruisey ride, following the river back to Nice. Home by 10am, a quick shower and then off down to the patisserie for some real French chocolate croissants. Happy days!