France: South Style
Arrive in Nice. Flight + 2 hour-ish car ride (which may have included a terrifying segment of reversing on a freeway due to missing an exit…). We arrived and were eager to jump out of the van and stretch our bodies out. Honestly I did not have much expectations about this portion of the trip. We didn’t plan much for it in advance. It just worked out that our good friend would be nearby with some extra room and we had a few extra days in our schedule before the scheduled cycling portion of our vacation were to begin in Briancon France. So we jumped on a plane from London to Nice and now were in Sainte Maxime for a few days. I’ll let the photos speak for themselves… bc WOW. I mean breathtakingly stunning. The blue sky, glassy water, desert mixed with tropic vibe; it was cool. Something wonderful happened that first evening in the South of France; our bikes came out to play. It was an obvious priority to get them built up asap and seeing my lovely BMC come to life in this location made me super excited. There was no time to ride that evening, instead, we hopped a ferry across the bay into Saint Tropez for shop strolling, yacht gawking, and dinner.
The next morning we did a kitchen raid and gathered up enough random items to call breakfast before kitting up and getting out the door. A trip to the grocery would be a definite priority later in the day. Going to the store at home is easy… but taking time away from riding, beaching, sunning, shopping, eating, drinking, adventuring and wanderlusting while in a beautiful luxury locale is not something one is eager to do. Sigh. But it must be done! Nutrition and being well fed would be key to surviving the cycling portion of the trip. My body quickly was forced to get with it as we hit a ~15 minute climb with intensity roughly 18 miles into the first ride. I hadn’t been on the bike since racing in Chattanooga 9 days prior. Good thing you never forget how to ride a bike! I did forget how to ride it well… ha. My legs and lungs were burning as the men set a tough pace up the Col du Canadel. I really felt like I was working hard but in reality the effort was almost 2 minutes slower than the top female. Ugh. We paused at the top for a bite of our packed baguettes (it is France after all…) and took in the gorgeous view before continuing on. Riding through the dry, hot air felt completely invigorating. It was a varied ride; hard sections, easy coasting, stopping for baguettes + cappuccinos, grabbing wine grapes from the vine, checking out beaches and taking photos. 56 miles may not seem like much, but it did include over 3,000 ft of elevation gain! Sadly there were no QOMs ( I know!! WTF ), a handful of seconds was all I had achieved. Eh well. I was riding to get back into it and enjoy it, not riding for segments. It’s just fun to see how you rank in new areas. It was great to be back on the bike and back to having my body move. For us full time athletic types, its difficult to rest. While the riding was spectacular, I was about to learn that in this area, recovery is taken very seriously. This first ride was followed by a quick recovery snack, shower and jet ski… because why not rest your legs while keeping the adrenaline high? This was followed by a stop at the grocery to load up on some healthy food. Like in England, there are many little pots of yogurts, rice puddings, and cremes. I selected some rice pudding pots for pre-ride fuel. If you think the US has too many yogurt selections, ha, just go to France. Its overwhelming. As you’d expect there was a plethora of meats and cheeses to pick from as baguette fillings are very important. We loaded up on sandwich ingredients and made some selections from the fresh produce area: figs, grapes, greens, etc. What is surprising is the amount of shelf stable milk. There are very few options for buying cold milk, but an entire aisle for dairy based, shelf stable milk. The milks are also different in terms of fat percentage so just pick one and don’t worry too much about if its skim or full fat. The French groceries have a surprising amount of canned and jarred items. You can even get canned cassoulet. The rest of day one was spent making food and relaxing by the pool and getting excited for the next morning’s ride.
“Lets ride bikes!!!” was the morning’s vibe. Waking up in a dream location with a stunning view can make you feel a bit superhuman and amped up. Kits on, rice pudding consumed and the three of us were off. My legs were tight; yesterday’s effort had set into my vacation legs already. We started the ride off roughly the same way as there are limited roads to cycle on; water on one side and lots of unpaved roads on the other. We hit Col du Canadel again. This time I was keeping up with the men who were doing a better job at steadily pacing the climb. There is a tough mental aspect to keeping up with the boys. Girls ya feel me? These guys are both very fast, strong cyclists and there I am riding with them. When I start to feel the hurt, I have mental moments of ‘oh I can’t keep up with them, its okay if I drop off’… Like just because they are men, its expected that I should not keep up… I mean that I think this, not that they do. On the way up Col du Canadel, I was having this moment. Why keep up? They SHOULD ride this harder than me… etc.. as the two men started to pull away. The Luke slapped me out of my little pity party. Not literally, come on. But he yelled out for me to ALLEZ ALLEZ ALLEZ as I started to slip back and told me to keep going, we were almost there! Okay okay, I can keep going… I wished I would have sprinted the final 500m. I could have. I could have tried harder. Why am I going on and on about this effort? Because after the ride I would see that I was 3 seconds off taking the QOM. 3 freaken seconds! I know, its whatever, but still… I’m a little annoyed and also impressed that I improved from 14:44 to 12:53 on day two. 51 miles, 3000 ft, a baguette and a cappuccino later, it was time for the Saint Tropez recovery treatment. This is a recovery program specific to South France and sadly cannot be duplicated in Columbus Ohio. It involves champagne rose under umbrellas in the sand and dancing the lactic acid out of your legs at a beachside bar. I know, rough life. I enjoyed every sunny second.
The third ride was supposed to be a calm, coastal ride (although I was later told I made that all up in my head…), but that went out the window when a local cyclist passed us. Men do not like being passed on the bike so it was ON. We shot off and caught his wheel and had some fun for a few miles before passing him and letting him draft us for a bit. Our little group hit a stop light at which point the local guy shot off the center lane, weaving in and out of cars and through the red light. No thanks. This is the Saint Tropez way, but not for us. We settled happily into our own ride again. It ended up being a 41 mile ride with 2500ft of climbing. We rode through San Tropez streets and enjoyed a cappuccino in the ‘city’ before rolling out for some hills including a 2.4 mile climb at 6% (QOM!) that was loads of fun. The way back includes a short bit of bike path which was crowded with bikes, runners and beach goers. It was difficult to pay attention with the coast view to my right; crystal blue water, colorful buildings, topless women. But enough of that; one can only take so much luxury (not sure that’s true, but I’ll keep telling myself that). It was time to load up the van and make the 4 hour drive north to Briancon where the REAL riding would begin.