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Menton, France

From Vence to Sainte-Agnes and Back

May 26th, 2014

84 miles, 5 hours 40 minutes ride time.

View this ride on MapMyRide. Note that it probably isn’t 100% accurate, especially going through Monte Carlo. See more on Monte Carlo below.

I didn’t think I was going to get to ride today. Occasionally, especially after it’s gotten really wet, the hub in my back wheel starts acting up. It makes a horrible screeching sound whenever you are going fast (usually downhill) and not pedaling.  During the La Vencoise race on Saturday the problem appeared and got progressively worse as the day unfolded. There is a nice little bike shop here in Vence, Tendance Cycles, and they actually fixed this same problem for me last year when I was here. It’s not a big deal, the hub just needs to be lubricated. It’s a little complicated getting the hub apart, so I have always let a “professional” do that for me when I needed it. The shop opened at 8:30AM and I took my wheel by immediately. They said they would try to have it ready later today, but that it would probably be tomorrow. No problem. However, they called around 11:00AM and said it was ready! I was very excited and very appreciative. I immediately walked over to the shop, picked up the wheel, put it back on my bike and got ready for a ride.

I honestly had no real plans about where I was going to go. I needed to ride down to Nice to time the trip. I’ve got a meeting there on Wednesday morning and needed to see exactly how long it takes me to get there. So, I headed out for Nice and figured I’d decide where else to go once I got there. The sun was shining, it was about 70° and there was a very light wind. Perfect riding conditions on the Côte d’Azur. It took me about 45 minutes to get to the Hotel Negresco, pretty much the heart of Nice. I’ve always wanted to stay at the Negresco, but it’s pretty damn expensive. Someday I’ll just spend the money and do it! It’s one of the most famous hotels along the Côte d’Azur with a long and wonderful history. (See photo below.)

From the Negresco I considered a few options:

1. Ride along the “basse cornice” to the Italian border and back. There are three roads that run from Nice to Italy: the “basse cornice” (the low road that runs right along the coast), the “moyenne corniche” (the middle road that runs along the mountainside) and the “grande corniche” (the high road that runs up along the top of the mountain). The ride along the coast from Nice to Italy is beautiful, but very busy.

2. Ride from Nice up to La Turbie (via the grande corniche), then on to Peille and Peillon, two wonderful little “perched villages” in the mountains that I have visited many, many times. Then back to Nice and Vence.

3. Ride from Nice up to La Turbie (via the grande corniche), then on up over the Col de la Madone, on to Sainte-Agnes (another cool “perched village” above Menton), down into Menton and then back along the basse corniche to Nice and Vence.

I decided on either option two or three. They both take the same route until you are a few miles past La Turbie. I figured I’d make my final decision then, depending upon how I felt, how the weather looked and what time it was.

From Nice you cycle over to the port, then take Boulevard Lech Walesa and Boulevard de Riquier into town until you reach M2564, the base of the Col d’Eze. It’s about 10KM to the top, but to be honest, it’s not a very hard climb. The first few kilometers are the steepest, but it levels off a bit in several places after that. The climb is always part of the final stage of the famous Paris-Nice cycling race. I’ve come down the Col on this side before, but never gone up it, so I was excited to be climbing it from this side for the first time. (See photo below.) It’s a very nice climb, with a wonderful view of Nice from the “backside.” (See photo below.) Once you get to the top you also have really great views of the sea and the coast.

This road is the grande corniche and it runs up high along the mountainside into La Turbie. I stopped for a few minutes in La Turbie to eat a Cliff Bar and fill up my water bottles. From La Turbie there is a road that leads further up into the mountains to Peille, D53. About one or two kilometers before you get to Peille you can turn to climb the Col de la Madone and head over to Saint-Agnes. At the very last minute I decided to head up the Col instead of going on into Peille. The Col de La Madone is a famous little climb among cyclists, many of whom train on it, taking the approach out of Menton. Lance Armstrong still holds the record for the ascent (I think). I was going up the side opposite from which most folks climb, the western side from La Turbie. It’s a nice road and again, not too hard. I stopped for a brief moment at the top to take a picture of my bike next to the summit marker (see below) then it was all downhill for about 6 kilometers into Saint-Agnes. I’ve been to Saint-Agnes a number of times, on my own and also once with my friend Les and once with my friend LaRae. It’s a typical little perched village, very beautiful, though it does get a fair amount of tourists coming up from Menton. See the photo below for a nice view of the village coming down off the Col de la Madonne, just before you arrive. There’s a very steep little road up to the village, but it doesn’t last too long. I stopped again for a Cliff Bar and some more water. I also found a charming little dog sunning himself in a small square. He was kind enough to let me take some pictures of him, see below. Beautiful view of Menton and the sea from the village. At this point I was about three hours into the ride.

Now it was all downhill to Menton. Menton is the last French city before you reach the Italian border. It’s a really beautiful town, one I could easily live in. Nowhere near as big and busy as Nice, much more manageable. It’s known for growing lemons and limes because of the great year round climate. Once you hit the city it is only a few kilometers to the Italian border, so I headed east and snapped a few photos, one of the border crossing sign and another of the city marker for Menton, see below.

As I mentioned, the coast road from Menton to Nice is absolutely beautiful, once of the most scenic stretches of coastal road you will ever find. I have something of a love/hate relationship with it when it comes to cycling. On the one had it is devastatingly magnificent and I never get tired of the sites along the way. On the other hand there is no denying it is a dangerous road to cycle on. Lots and lots of traffic. Narrow, twisting roads. Cars and people crossing from every direction, not really paying attention to you. You have to be very, very aware, keep very alert at all times and be prepared for lots of surprises. Early Sunday morning is a great time to ride this route because there isn’t much traffic. I was hitting it about 4:00 on a Monday afternoon, which, as you might guess, is probably one of the absolutely worse times to ride it.

I headed west through Menton, around the Roquebrune-Cap-Martin and into Monte Carlo. Monte Carlo has always been a very exasperating place to ride through. I just can never figure out the streets. Too many one way streets for me to figure out the best way to get through the place and still stay on the basse corniche. Coming from the west to the east I think I’ve got it figured out, but coming from the east to the west I always, always get mixed up and lost. Today I hooked up with two other cyclists who looked like they knew what they were doing and I just followed them. The traffic was horrendous. We were weaving in and out of cars that were backed up for blocks. Eventually we were through and still on the basse corniche! They stopped for something, but I kept going.

On to the Cap d’Ail, Eze-sur-Mer, Beaulieu-sur-Mer where I made a quick stop for an Orangina and some flan (great fuel!). Then Villefranche-sur-Mer and Nice. Traffic was bad the entire way. Once in Nice I was able to ride along the Promenade des Anglais which was much better. As I approached Cagnes-sur-Mer I noticed dark clouds building in the mountains up towards Vence and feared I might get rained on again. I was tired at this point, I’d been riding for over five hours, but I turned on the energy hoping I could get home before I got wet. Luckily, the storms seemed to be a few miles further into the mountains and I made it home nice and dry.

A great ride! Long (5:40/135km) but beautiful and inspiring. I never get tired of riding in this part of the country. A six hour ride goes by amazingly fast and there is so much to see.

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