Bespoke Travel: Cote d'Azur

We recently had our second Bespoke Travel trip. And didn't we have fun!

Unfortunately skiing accidents took out two members of the party before they could even come; so there were only six riders for the two guides to look after. And look after us they did; everyone returned safe, tanned and with some serious work in their legs.

Nice by name, epic by nature

I always thought that Pros lived in Monaco for tax reasons. That may help, but the main reason is the truly epic riding that is on your doorstep.

Whilst not as big as the true monsters of the Alps proper, there are literally dozens of 1000m+ climbs, and because you start near sea-level the vertical gain is considerable.

This area has vast wealth - when we were cycling we could see Roman Abromovich's yacht (all 150m of it) moored at sea, dwarfing all around it.

This the harbour, where the small boats are kept. The big boys all have their boats out at sea...

At lunch one day we saw a four people run up an €1800 lunch tab, aided by fact that the chef was instructed to cook a huge steak for the guest's young puppy…

Our hotel was the lovely Eze Hermitage, which was a great base and provided suitable glamour. It also had bonus points for being at 500m, which meant you had a last climb of the day to get there - the beer tasted even sweeter...

Our hotel for the trip, the Eze Hermitage. This isn't even a promotional shot...

Day 1; 51km - 1047m up Col de St Pancrace from the Nice

The guests arrived at noon on Day 1 and after a quick bite to eat we went for a shakedown ride of 50km. The previous day I had ridden the area and it was actually quite cold, especially when the wind picked up. Fortunately the weather improved as soon as the guests landed, and we had clear skies for 3 days.

At the end of the ride Jon and I nipped down to Nice for a cheeky cocktail by the sea. Bliss.

Riding should always be rewarding...

Day 2

This was the first proper day, and it was a cracker.

2300m of climbing was squeezed into a mere 90km. The first climb of the day was described as 'undulating' by Chris the guide - this became an in-joke for the rest of the trip, especially as sections of it were north of 12%!

On the way back we did the Madone from the easy side. As we were getting our picture taken, Chris Froome and Richie Porte ascended from the difficult side (which we were to do on Sunday). It was all very surreal. Fortunately his descending skills are not a patch on ours (!) and we managed to grab him for a quick picture. A very cool end to a mega day. Notice he is in full winter kit: I guess ascending an HC climb does not get much of a sweat up when you are the greatest Tour rider of your generation...

Can you spot the Pro?

Day 3; 140km and 2300m climbing

This was my favourite day. The weather was just perfect again and we were getting into the swing of the camp: Ride, eat, drink, sleep and repeat...

We started with a 30km flat ride through Nice, passing the biggest collection of private jets I have ever seen - there must have been more than 100 of them.

The big climb of the day was Col du Vence, which is 9.7km long at 6.7%

This is a climb Pros use early in the season as it's south facing so gets the sun, meaning the descent is safe from ice. It also means when the weather improves it gets very hot. I certainly felt it - it was very hot for 11am! The scenery to the west of Nice is very different to the east. Much more barren and exposed, but fantastic views.

Ceci n'est pas Box Hill...

An even better climb was the 'climb with no name', simply a 6km ascent at 5% gradient. Everyone loved this one. It had a great road surface and you could power through it if you felt so inclined. We had lunch at the top, life was good.

Obligatory Parlee portrait.

We then did this fantastic 40km descent down through a gorge. Smashing down doing 50kmh average is something I will treasure for a long time.
'Big Adam' was designed for this, being 6'5" and an ex rower, he has a massive engine. There was always a fight to get his wheel. If you could do it you would half your workload.

After a reverse pootle through Nice we had the last climb of the day to our hotel, the Col d'Eze. This is the clinb they do in Paris-Nice. It's a lovely climb, at 10km long with an average of 5%, but most of this gain is at the bottom. The last 2km are very gentle and you are in the big ring trying to get as quick a time as you can.

Day 4 55km 1400m Ascent

Our last day, and we were all knackered. Hard riding, too much to drink the night before and not enough sleep was beginning to catch up with us all.

Unfortunately today was not to be a recovery pootle, but instead we were to tackle the iconic Madone (made famous by Lance Armstrong using it as his pre-Tour testing climb). Unlike the preceding three days the weather was not so kind - plenty of wind and some dark clouds greeted us.

I was dreading the Madone; I had heard it was difficult as the gradient constantly changed, and I simply did not feel up for it at all. However, two double espressos at the base of the climb and my mood had improved no end…

There are a number of different starting points for the Madone, so it's very hard to compare times with Pros as they guard their times and wattage closely. Its length varies from 9 to 14km depending on where you start, with an average of 7% and some cheeky 12% ramps.

The climb itself is fantastic. There is something truly magical about knowing these are the roads that the cycling gods have ridden for decades.

I rode the climb with our guide Adam, and it was great to share the workload with him (especially as the top sections are exposed). We were certainly shifting. He'd smashed this climb as a recce in 42 mins, and today, on shot legs, we did 36 mins. I am now fascinated by the Madone. I want to come back with fresh legs, and having ridden it I know where you can dig deeper and where you can recover...

Once we regrouped at the top we flew back home as a huge train of riders. Everyone buried themselves on the long drag home. We all wanted to leave it all out on the road.

I absolutely adored the area. I'd thought it was going to be the playground of billionaires. The reality is once you cycle 10km away from Nice you are in a cycling mecca: Great roads, plenty of sun, and climbs galore. I would buy a house here in a heart-beat!

Bespoke Cote d'Azur anyone?