Early-Season Training: Cycling on the Cote d’Azur

Seafront Nice France

Recently, I traveled to France for a training week of cycling on Cote d’Azur. For cyclists like me who aren’t racers, but who want to ride strong and improve their technical skills,  a concentrated, early-season effort on challenging terrain can be a great jump-start to the coming season.

Guided spring trips in the U.S. and abroad, mostly organized by cycling touring companies, former pro riders and professional coaches, are available to fit a range of skill levels and budgets. Areas with sunny climates and varied terrain, where professional cyclists do their early season training, like Majorca, Spain, and Nice, France, are particularly popular choices.

velojoy Nice France
Top photo: The view from our base in Nice, France. Above: The Alps rise above the Mediterranean behind me. (Portrait: Adam Johnson)

Think of this kind of a trip as something between an overseas cycling vacation and bicycling boot camp. The idea is to log big miles in the saddle and climb and descend lots of hills. Depending on the level of coaching offered, you can also get help with specifics  – like improving skills and building confidence on technical descents.

In addition, you enjoy camaraderie with great people who are as passionate, and possibly as nerdy, about cycling as you are, eat heaps of hearty and (mostly) healthy food to fuel the rides, and soak up magnificent scenery along the way.

For this trip, we were six men, three of them brothers, and one woman — that’s me — from the U.S. and Great Britain. Our base for six days was a small hotel at the edge of the Mediterranean Sea in Nice. The itinerary, routes and logistics were organized by GPM10 Alp-Based Training, which furnishes the guides, as well as a support vehicle for roadside assistance. (I traveled last year to Majorca for early-season training with GPM10, who offer both scheduled and custom trips, and I’m a big fan.)

Old Town Nice France
The Old Town behind the Promenade des Anglais, which fronts the sea in Nice.
Seafood, Nice, France
Mediterranean ‘fruits of the sea’ displayed at the market square.

On hearing that I’d be traveling to Nice, my wonderful friends shared all their French Riviera favorites. Don’t miss the Marc Chagall Museum! Stop in at the Picasso Museum at Antibes! Hang out at the pool of the Grand Hotel du Cap Ferrat! I did ride past those places, but take note: long days in the saddle leave little time for tourism.

For more photographs from my trip, view the Bicycling Magazine Instagram feed, where I guest-posted from Nice and Paris!

Upon arrival late on Saturday morning, our guides unpacked and set up everybody’s bikes, and after a brief rest, we changed into mid-weight kits (it was still chilly there) and rolled onto the streets. Getting the cranks turning after so many hours folded into an airline seat is the best way to re-energize — there, on smooth ribbons of road bordered  by the sea on one side and voluptuous palm trees and stucco of weathered coral and gold on the other, all set against hills and distant high peaks.

Ascent to Village of Eze
Pausing at roadside (from left) Ben, Adam and GPM10 guide, Anton.

To ease us into the week, which would include days of 75- to 95-km rides, accompanied by magnificent climbs, our first outing was an out-and-back along the coastal road toward Monaco, past the Port of Nice and St. Jean-Cap-Ferrat, and then north to the medieval village of Èze, known for its panoramic views of the Mediterranean.  Its narrow, cobbled streets wind among small restaurants, shops and galleries and then culminate at the butter-colored Chapelle de la Sainte Croix, which dates to 1306.

Eze Cathedrall
The iconic Chapelle de la Sainte Croix crowns the village of Èze.
Path through village of Eze
Slippery in cleats! Ben wends his way through the narrow streets of the village.

A pause at an outdoor terrace for a Café Noisette fueled the ride back to Nice, where there was still time before meeting for a communal dinner at the hotel to wander the narrow streets of the Old Town beyond the expanse of the Promenade des Anglais that fronts the sea. More to come this week from my travels in France!

Lemon Tree
The lemon tree outside my hotel room door.

Photos: velojoy

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