Monaco to London – Bespoke Cycle Tours – Ride Report
Early in 2015 we were contacted by Churchill Capital, a Monaco based Investment Management business looking for assistance with the organisation of a charity cycle ride that they were planning to complete. The brief was simple – get us from Monaco on the Cote d’Azur, via the spine of France, to London, in 11 days, with minimal climbing, hotels to look forward to and flawless support.
Being exactly the sort of enterprise our Bespoke cycle tours service was designed to accommodate, we set about building the perfect itinerary, allowing the two core riders (Sam and Dan) to complete the route in its entirety (accompanied by Sam’s father Tony as a passenger in the support van), while enabling others to join for particular stages.
Fast forward many months and Rob and Riley found themselves arriving into Monaco on the eve of the challenge getting underway to one of the biggest thunderstorms the area had ever witnessed. Flooded roads, endless lightning and torrential rain don’t mix well with 1500km of riding, so it was with some trepidation that Sam, Dan, Rob, Riley and Tony went to bed, fingers crossed for better conditions in the morning.
The below is an account of this epic journey combining the diary kept by Tony from the van, with Rob’s own on the bike observations.
Stage 1 – Monaco to La Tuilere – 132km – 2300m
Luckily the opening day of this incredible 1500km, 11 stage adventure dawned bright and cloudless. With Co-Founder of Churchill Capital Patrick joining for stage 1, the four riders Rob, Dan, Sam and Patrick (Rob LDT Performance Director and veteran of Race Across America and several other multi-day rides would be riding the entire route with Sam and Dan in the role of super domestique), rolled out of Monaco along the Cote d’Azur with Nice in our sights. The pace was good, the weather superb and we even managed to tackle the much feared mountains surrounding Nice and blocking our forward progress with minimal drama (once we had established with Sam that we weren’t heading up the Col de Vence…)… The on road banter was great and the kilometres ticked by surprisingly quickly with Dan and Patrick pushing each other hard on the afternoon’s climbs. The stage ended with a fantastic descent from the Col des Leques along the Route Napoleon to our overnight stop in La Tuilere where we dined on a stunning pork and plum dish accompanied by a sensational ratatouille and potato gratin.
Blue skies in Monaco after fierce disastrous storms last riders, Dan, Sam and Robert, with Patrick along for the day, look smart in logo-festooned, contour-hugging lycra. Prince Albert did not show up for the send off. Lots of debate about emissions but not diesel ones. Heavy traffic along the front in Nice but it all changed when we headed north into the in St Vallier, carbs intake is now the informed choice. The climbs into the Castellane Hills are a challenge with photos at every Col but the scenery is breathtaking and thoughts are already on the row of pints on the bar at our destination in Senez. Riley and Tony had a good first day in the support van, regular stops, not a single whinge from the “athletes” and plenty of Aussie banter.
Stage 2 – La Tuilere to Bedoin – 150km – 1600m
Well what a way to start the day. With Patrick departing for a nerve wracking drive back to Monaco at the hands of his company’s driver the enigmatic Bruno, the four riders became three, but we barely noticed as the morning’s slow loss of altitude along the valley resulted in one of those moments where everything clicks. Stunning views, sunshine, an easy 38km average speed and next to no traffic. The bulk of the day saw us winding our way up and down three main climbs, peaking just under 1000m on the Col des Notre Dames des Abeilles within sight of the iconic Mont-Ventoux (the climb of which we would be avoiding). Commenting on the properties we passed helped us pass the time with some incredible piles left decaying in the isolated countryside. Everyone uses a different technique to get through rough patches. In Sam’s case this involved a terrifying combination of screaming and swearing as he channeled his former semi-professional rugby playing days to great effect to get to the top of this final climb. The bone shaking descent down to Bedoin did little to buoy spirits, but the full round of beers at the hotel bar certainly did. I’ll remember tonight as being the first of many “how long will it take Dan to finish his recovery shake” moments – great sport seeing him balance the positives of carb replenishment against the stomach curdling reality of chocolate mint milkshake mixing with beer…
We say goodbye to Patrick, although he seems happier at the prospect of 8 more days cycling than being driven back to Monaco by Bruno. More hills today, but more down than up. The scenery is still wonderful and weather still OK. Sam is a candidate for an anger management course, but he claims that swearing at a strip of tarmac pointed uphill is not culpable. Dan is still waiting for his insides to realise what his outsides are trying to cope with, whilst Rob carries on serenely managing his colleagues like a mother hen. A few minor whinges today but nothing to justify naming names. A challenge to the route chosen by the van leading could get close to a yellow card if repeated. Tony has kept up his carbs intake despite not having a bike to ride. Riley’s patience in the van is still holding. Weather forecast not too good for tomorrow so we might have to keep the van windows closed.
Stage 3 – Bedoin to Valence – 132km – 1300m
As a cycle tour guide you spend an awful lot of time in the same places doing the same rides and climbs. This is a fantastic privilege (even from the drivers seat of a van), but it often means you miss some of the most incredible roads simply because of the draw of the nearby better known options that have brought you to the location. In this case, the looming spectre of Mont-Ventoux trumps everything, so despite having spent numerous days on and in the shadow of this monster I have never had the chance to climb the shoulder of the mountain marked by the Col de la Madeleine. My comment on the Strava file says probably sums it up here – easily one of the most enjoyable rides I have ever had, with all three of us being blown away by the incredible morning views and the endless stretches of lavender fields! With Ventoux disappearing behind us, the day settled down with a preview of what we had to come for the next few days as we entered the Rhone valley. Panic set in towards the day’s end as a thunderstorm appeared on the horizon but luck was on our side and we skirted it to stay dry much to our collective relief.
Met a chap who had cycled John-O-Groats/Lands End with his wife on a tandem and we managed to resist the many obvious cheeky questions. We leave the shadow of Mt Ventoux, grateful for not having to climb it and we head north. The forecast is rain later so the riders are keen to make early distance. The terrain is still mountainous with some long steep climbs that sap the legs. The scenery continues to compensate. We finished early in Valence and the roads showed that rain had been and gone and luck had steered it clear of us. The Atrium Hotel was excellent and we must assume that they intend it to have an atrium one day.
Part two of this post will be along shortly – hope you enjoyed this opening taster!