This is the seventh and final article in a series detailing the 684 kilometre Route des Grandes Alpes. A great cyclo-tourist route through the French Alps, over 16 mountain passes, on a road linking Lake Geneva (Lac Léman) to the Mediterranean Sea. The main goal of these articles is to highlight alternate route options and interesting detours.
Part 1 is here: Route des Grandes Alpes – Stage 1
Part 2 is here: Route des Grandes Alpes – Stage 2
Part 3 is here: Route des Grandes Alpes – Stage 3
Part 4 is here: Route des Grandes Alpes – Stage 4
Part 5 is here: Route des Grandes Alpes – Stage 5
Part 6 is here: Route des Grandes Alpes – Stage 6
Stage 7: Saint-Sauveur-sur-Tinée to Nice
One of the reasons I wrote this series was for this stage. Unlike the other 6 stages, I do NOT know this region, and thus will use this post as a plan for some rides (hopefully) this year. I’m grateful to friend Tim, who knows the region very well, and has provided a couple of very interesting sounding alternatives to the main route. Also thanks to friends Torsten and Ben for permission to use their photos – see below.
The Official Route
Official Route (blue track on map):
Distance: 130 Kilometres
Ascent: 3300 metres
Descent: 3900 Metres
Lots of climbing on this last stage with the reward of a nice beer beside the Mediterranean sea. I’ve added profiles for the two big climbs of the day, first Col St. Martin, and then Col de Turini.
Photo below taken by my friend, and unofficial German language tutor, Torsten:
There are three sides to Turini, all apparently worth a look (and unpaved adventures are possible higher). I once sat at the bottom of Col de Turini in the pouring rain on a very cold day. I waited and waited but just couldn’t get the courage to cycle up in the storm and had to head home without a col sign photo. 🙁
After Col de Turini, the descent leads to the village of Sospel – with a nice little fountain/square it’s a perfect place for a lunch break.
The route then climbs the easy side of Col de Castillon. The fun part of this climb is the descent. Well surfaced in a tight rocky valley, it’s a fast ride straight towards the sea.
Finally, note the mapped route, has one final bump after reaching the sea, as it climbs the famous little corniche roads up to Col d’Eze (of Paris Nice fame). I was there years ago, sans vélo. A beautiful place.
Detour 1 – via Gorges du Cians
The two Detours below were both recommended to me by my friend Tim.
(The orange track on the map) – This alternate route begins by climbing Col de Couillole – a climb that has been praised and suggested to me many times. This doubles back on the official route from stage 6. Although, if you arrived in St-Sauveur via Col de Bonette then you skipped this great road.
Tim: “The great thing of taking the Bonette route south was that we got the wonderful bonus of being able to include (climb) col de la Couillole. That in turn allowed us to descend from Beuil through the amazing Gorges du Cians. This is as beautiful as any part of the route des Grandes Alpes and really should be part of the official route.”
Here are a few Gorges du Cians photos taken by my friend Ben.
Next the Orange route, goes up and down a series of smaller, but sometimes very steep climbs:
Tim: “Next the route heads to Entrevaux (an amazing medieval village) and heads up col de Felines. From there, there are a number of great options. Probably the best is up Col du Buis (a brute of 4km at about 13%!), through the incredible Clue de Saint Auban, over Col de Bleine (which has been used recently in Paris-Nice) and down to the coast via col de Vence.”
Sounds great! Thanks.
Detour 2 – via Col de Raphaël
(The pink track on the map) – This is just a scenic variation of the middle of the orange route.
Tim: “It is also beautiful to get to col de Vence from col de St. Raphaël. The Clue du Riolan into Sigale is just as incredible as Saint Auban’s. From there it is a wonderful ride through Roquesteron-Grasse, Bouyon and Coursegoules to Col de Vence and down to the coast for a finishing swim from the Promenade des Anglais.”
See here for some superb St. Raphaël photos from mon ami Bastien (great web site).
For the col hunters in the crowd, note: on the above profile, I have included the final two kilometres to Col Besseuges (marked on the map) – a small detour.
Col de Braus and Col de la Madone
I have ridden once in this area. The purple loop on the map can be done from Nice and includes the superb hairpins of Col de Braus, Col de Chatillon, and inspiring views of the sea from Col de la Madone (that dog Armstrong’s favourite training climb).
It’s an excellent route. Here is a short silly video from 6 years ago, that at least gives one a feel for the landscape. More ride details here.
On the map, I have labeled cols with a star. The red stars are the climbs that interest me the most.
In particular I am intrigued by the three dead end roads up against the Italian border, just after Col St. Martin: Le Boréon (1605 metres), Refuge de la Madone de Fenestre (1933 metres), and Vallon de La Gordolasque (1800 metres). All perhaps have unpaved options higher? Also Col de Tende far to the east is one of my prime unpaved targets for 2016 (hairpins!).
When I get a chance, I’ll add profiles for these ideas. Please feel free to suggest in the comments any other favourite climbs you may have in the region. Thanks.
Road Openings/Closures: We’re lower and further south here. Currently; in February, Turini is open – chains required for cars, but still. Official Col open/closed map here.
A Final Word
I hope this series has been helpful. For me at least, it’s always motivating to spend the colder months staring at maps and brainstorming ride ideas.