It’s hard to nail down. The feeling that comes from repetition of daily routines, but with difference.
I’ve been in Nice three days. I get up at 0615, head to the bathroom in darkness, our apartment shuttered, apply chamois cream and sunscreen, install my heart-rate strap, bibs, jersey. I’ve been hand-washing this kit since the Pyrenees, drying it over but a few hours in the dry heat and sun we’re less familiar with back home. Orange jersey for max visibility, the black one remains in reserve.
My route for this morning is loaded to the Hammerhead Karoo, charged up and clicked into it’s perch on my bars. My watch and phone are charged too; the former will record my ride, the latter will cover photographic and backup navigational duties. In my pockets: a couple YoFiit bars, my credit card, multi-tool and phone. It’s the same every day.
Shoes, helmet and glasses donned, I make a final check for everything I’ll need before heading out the door, which will lock behind me, the only key tucked inside with my sleeping family.
I make sense of the niggling feeling that’s been brewing over the last couple days shortly after encountering a couple ProTour guys out on the road. First, it strikes me that they’re doing almost exactly the same thing I’m doing. Same sort of ride, same sort of effort. They’re stopping at the same public fountains and reveling at the same breathtaking views. They, I, we, are bike riders, cyclists, of the bike.
It also strikes me that I am experiencing cycling ‘like a PRO’ here. This thought has never occurred me in all the years I’ve been riding and racing bikes.
The ‘like a PRO-ness’ I’m tossing around in my head isn’t at all about the racing. Nay, I’m not ashamed to say I have no desire to race up or down these mountains. The ‘like a PRO-ness’ has to do with the way they spend the majority of their days in this region, and why so many of them choose to live and ride here.
See, I don’t think I would want to be a PRO cyclist living in Ottawa. I imagine I’d run out of routes to keep me interested pretty quick; I’d be bored. If I was to be a PRO (don’t take this to mean I think I have what it takes to be world class), I’d want to live somewhere with a lot more riding options and ‘interesting stuff’ to see and experience while riding. Because 30 hours on the bike each week.
Nice is such a place. Sure, I’m not a huge fan of the city itself – with the exception of Old Nice, which is lovely, and might well be wonderful to live in – but my first impression wouldn’t necessarily hold up after spending an extended period there. The weather is fantastic for riding in general, and not exactly ‘bad’ in winter either. Dry heat, shade in the mountains, and the Med to dip into whenever desired.
And this is perhaps a fundamental and necessary condition for the realization of the rhythm I’m feeling. The weather is so consistently good, the riding just sort of falls into place. There’s no: ‘Well, it might be thunderstorm tomorrow, so maybe we should wait and see.’ Instead, I wake up each morning and it’s the same weather outside as the day before: 24 degrees Celsius and sunny. I don’t need a vest, I just need to put on all the same stuff as yesterday and walk out the door.
Lather, rinse, repeat.
But there’s also difference! Imagine the monotony of a daily routine applied to three or four good routes. Have you seen Groundhog Day? That’s just not around Nice, because there are way too many roads to explore to have to ride the same stuff often. Provided you have the time to get out of the city for 120k or more. Which is what PROs do.
I ride inland for two or three hours before stopping at a cafe or bakery in whatever village I’m passing through for breakfast. This is a joyous occasion, and not just because I’ve been riding fasted. Simply, it’s as if every town and village has at least one fantastic bakery. It’s incredible. My favourite stop of all is in Sospel, an ancient village with not one but two great bakeries across from the river that is spanned by a medieval bridge that supports two guard towers; mind-blowing. One day, I sit and enjoy two pieces of pissaladiere, the Nicoise/southern France specialty, along with a pastry and coffee. Then I get back on my bike and ride up a mountain.
“Up a mountain.”
Here’s the thing: fitness is great and necessary for racing bikes, but it’s also pretty friggin great for riding in amazing places, because it allows you to ride wherever your curiosity takes you. I often wonder how long I’ll continue to ‘train’ for racing; how long will I continue to want to race bikes? When I no longer care to, will I lose my motivation to ‘train’? I doubt it, because I’ve learned how wonderful it is to have a big base of fitness to work with while traveling/vacationing with my bike. It means I can ride hours day after day, and I can ride up whatever mountains I encounter without getting into the hurt locker. . . as long as I bring low enough gearing.
And you know what? Riding up mountains at a cyclotourist’s pace is awesome! Well-shy of the red-zone, I take photos, detours, and enjoy the views. The bike I’m on, the T-LAb X3, works flawlessly with my cadence. I set my rhythm and hold it there, sometimes for more than an hour, as I climb. My rhythm on the bike feels good, as if I could keep it up all day. Climbing doesn’t have to be HARD. We just need to have the right gears to get into the rhythm that works for each of us.
Eventually: descending. The interesting thing about riding from Nice is that every ride ends with a descent back to sea level. This makes for a unique feel to the riding, as the front end of rides is comprised of mostly climbing, and the back end drops you back into the city. In some cases, we’re talking about 20km of sustained descent. It’s a nice way to wrap up rides, a gentle transition into the end of the ride and on to the next phase of the day.
The rhythm of daily rides, big ones, falls into place. It just works. There’s no need to plan all sorts of food and water carrying and finding before rolling out; there will always be places to stop for both, and the water will be free once you learn all the fountain locations (Scott Emery tells me the Karoo has this functionality!).
Riding over mountains in this region has a BIG vibe to it, a feeling of really accomplishing something, but at the same time, the experience doesn’t resemble similar big rides back home, which see us far from civilization, let alone the delights of ancient architecture and local food and coffee. This juxtaposition of the BIG, the beautiful and the delightful makes for an activity that is very inviting and easy to repeat to the point of establishing a rhythm.
Ride. Eat food. Drink coffee. Ride. Get home. Get changed, maybe take a shower. Grab some lunch. Head to the beach. Hang out. Have some dinner. Wash clothes. Fill bottles. Create a route/plan for the next day. Plug in devices. Hang out. Sleep.
Wake up and do it all over again.
See you soon, Nice.
The rides I did from Nice
- Nice North – Madone (down) – Menton
- Nice – Col de Braus – Col de Turini
- Nice – Villefranche-sur-mer – Col de la Madone
- Up and down the Var River with Alex
- Nice – Revel de l’Alberta – Col de Braus – Col de Turini
Cafe du Cycliste – fantastic storefront, merchandise, and riding resources
- Oval Revolution: 1000km on Absolute Black’s Oval Chainrings
- Down South: Old Dogs, New Tricks.
- Gearing Up/Down for Vermont Overland
- Talking Gravel with Velo de Route