lundi 4 septembre 2017

Torino Nice Rally 2017

For the second time, in the beginning of September, I went to Torino for the Torino-Nice rally. This rally, launched last year, mixes roads and non-asphalted tracks, in a very loose way as opportunities are left to choose between hard or easy options in many points of the route.Living in Nice I’m familiar with most of these roads, even more since I had ridden the rally in 2016, so while keeping the general direction, I changed a lot of the original route.

The first notable climb of the Rally was like last year Colle del Colombardo, a big and steep pass unasphalted in its higher part. This year I chose instead the parallel and lower Colle Del Lys, that I never rode before, which also links Val di Viu in the north to Val di Susa in the south. I crossed Val di Susa towards Colle Braida, passing along the Avigliano lakes, then below the monumental Sacra di San Michele during the climb. From ColleBraida, a small forest track heads to the north before going down to Val di Susa. In Bussoleno I took the train for a few kilometers, as a ride on the highways of Val di Susa didn’t attract me too much.

I renounced to Colle delle Finestre as I already climbed it twice, so I left the train in Oulx and headed towards Col de Montgenevre on the highway. Afterwards, I regretted not to have climbed to Colle Basset through Sauze d’Oulx, then gone down to Sestriere and Cesena, as it would have been a nicer alternative, although quite harder and longer. In Cesena also, I could have saved me a stretch of highway going through the town center, but anyway, after a few bends, the old Montgenevreroad, very well surfaced and without cars, allows to reach the pass in a very pleasant way.

In Montgenevre, I added an extra of my own, by climbing the col des Gondrans. The climb on the Montgenevre side is on a dirt track mainly used to reach the skiing installations of the ski resort, while the descent is on a tiny, once asphalted but now much degraded, road of military origin. In fact, there are a lot of military remnants at the top and the pass itself is between two mountains, Mont Janus and Sommet des Anges, both topped by ancient forts. They can be both reached by bike, but the beginning of the track to Mont Janus, the highest and most interesting one, looked quite difficult, as for the steepness and the surface. It was the end of the afternoon, I felt too tired to appreciate a hard climb now, so I left the visit to another time.

Instead, I went down on the other side,which reaches the Izoard road a little below Cervières. As I said, it was about 8 pm, I had left Torino at 4 am, so I felt a little bit tired, and I stopped at the first guest house I found, Gîte de Terre Rouge. There I had a nice discussion with the tenant. He showed me a picture of him on a bike, with a pair of shorts he
told me was given by Jacques Anquetil himself! We talked also about my ride, and he showed me two alternate ways to go down from Izoard: one by col des Tronchets that is reached with a track that leaves Izoard road just after Casse Déserte, and another one that starts in La Chalp, going by lac de Roue and the village of Souliers. According to him, the col des Tronchets option presented some parts harder to cycle, so I chose the second one, and I didn’t regret it. It broke nicely the cold descent from the Izoard, and it made me discover the very steep and narrow road down from Souliers to Château-Queyras, that deserves well to be done uphill one day.

After that came classic climbs of the Agnel and Sampeyre passes. Just a few days before, the climb from the village of Sampeyre to the pass had been forbidden by Sampeyre mayor to all bikes and motorcycles, and signs had been put across the way. Well, like in col de Larche, it was some kind of virtual interdiction, I came across the barriers and reached the pass without any problem.

The asphalted road that links Val Varaita and Val Maira crosses at Sampeyre pass an old military track. I had ridden the eastern part last year, so I went westwards this time. The track follows the ridge for a few kilometers, always on the Val Maira side, and terminates in Colle della Bicocca. From the pass, you have nice views to Agnel Pass and Pontechianale below, and also to the valley of Bellino, another branch of Val Varaita that leaves Agnel road a little below Pontechianale.

After colle della Bicocca one has to turn back as only foot paths continue after the pass. A very rough track, halfway from Sampeyre pass,goes down to the village of Elva. Then came one of the highlights of the trip. Although the pictures I could have seen from Elva road looked spectacular, I never had the opportunity to ride it
before. The door to the so nicknamed Strada dell’Orrido (road of the horror) is a little tunnel, and a Madonna statue with a marble plate aside bearing the names of the people that found death on the road. Then during 4 km the road goes down, hanging on the cliff, halfway between the bottom of the valley and the mountains above. All along the way the road crosses protections from avalanches, tunnels directly dug into the rock, with a rusty railing on the valley side, all of this giving the impression of having been built in a very artisanal way. Needless to say that despite what I have seen of this road before on the web, I was totally stunned from what came in front of my own eyes!

After a cold night in the Marmora camping (I wouldn’t recommend it unless maybe in full summer, as being close to the river, it was very cold and humid in the beginning of September) I started the climb to Esischie pass. Like for other places crossed by the official route of the rally, I didn’t go to Altopiano della Gardetta having been there last year. But I highly recommend visiting this place, which is certainly one of the most beautiful in the Alps. You need a MTB to go through the entire track, but you can have a nice preview by taking the 100 m diversion to colle Valcavera, 2 km below Fauneria pass, on the Demonte side.

All along the climb, I saw a lot of marmots that kept me company with their whistles. After
Esischie pass, a small climb leads to colle dei Morti (Fauniera) that is followed by a long descent to Demonte. In Demonte the route continues to the steep but short climb to Madonna del Coletto. Down in Valdieri and Val Gesso, the route proposed between Roaschia, in a lateral valley of Val Gesso, and Vernante a non-asphalted pass called Colle delle Goderie. I already climbed it last year, and I remembered having much difficulty. As I had started it in the beginning of the night, I wanted to see if it would appear easier in a normal part of the day. Well, in fact it is really difficult, and much higher than the 1230 m announced at the summit.

When I reached Vernante the rain began to fall heavily while I was climbing towards Limone. The rain was so strong in Limone that I stopped for a while, but the thunderstorm decided to stay over Limone, so after having stayed one hour under a shelter, I decided to stop for the night.

The morning after, sun was back and I started my ride with a climb to col de Tende. With my early stop the day before, I was too short in time to cycle the very hard tracks that go east after the pass. Instead I went towards baisse de Peyrefique. I already rode this track and knew it was much easier, and still in very mountainous and beautiful landscape. After baisse de Peyrefique, an intersection allows to go down to Casterino or to Baisse d’Ourne then Tende. I went to baisse d’Ourne that I reached after a short and gentle climb. 

After the pass the track is very rough, and I think hardly rideable uphill but I was going down. After a long, shaky and cautious descent, the track turned into a very narrow, roughly asphalted road down to Tende. When I reached the bottom of the valley, I continued on a small road that led me to the Roya main road at the pont des 14 Arches, and then down to Breil-sur-Roya station.

Like last year, I finished my trip with the train. After four days on the road I was happy to come back home quickly, although I think the roads and tracks around Nice are among the best parts in the world to ride a bike.

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