As Cyclists, we use a range of superlatives to try and capture our experiences: “Epic”; “ Stunning”; “ Gnarly”; “Hardcore” etc., but 50 km into our 1000 km cycling trip around the island of Corsica and I was already stretching my limited vocabulary for more imaginative and expansive descriptors. Try as I might, I simply could not express in a single word the cycling perfection that I found there.
Diversity is perhaps underappreciated in cycling. The idiom “you can never have too much of a good thing” actually doesn’t apply to us. What we need – what we crave – is adventure, and adventure is characterized by an unknown and ever-changing quality.
Cycling in Corsica is an adventure.
At seemingly every turn, you are met with an unexpectedly beautiful vista, a surprisingly steep climb or possibly even a wild boar. Random intersections become “choose your own adventure” games where mundane choices like straight ahead or make a right become “well if we go North we continue on the coastal road and pass the UNESCO World Heritage Site rock formations called Calanques de Piana” or “We can head straight east into the mountains and follow the Rapha Cent Cols route to ensure we get our 2,000 meters climbing for the day.” It’s really hard to go wrong.
Tour de Corse: In Stages
Our first day followed in the wheel tracks of the 2013 TdF stage from Ajaccio to Calvi, 175 km of undulating coastal road with very little automotive traffic. It was easy to see why the TdF organizers picked the road; it showcases the best of Corsica with aqua blue Mediterranean views to the west and stunning rock formations and mountain-scapes to the east. Our second and third days involved exploring the mountainous interior of the Island with a seemingly endless array of good climbing options including my personal favorite, Les Gorges de la Restonica – a 40km climb through some of the most unique topography on the island.
We finished off the tour with a couple of hilly stages traversing from East to West coast then back up to Ajaccio where we started – picking up a couple of unexpected climbs and discovering new routes along the way.
Once back in Ajaccio, we jumped on the ferry and in four short hours found ourselves in another cycling paradise, Nice, France. Nearly as soon as we landed, we were back on the bikes with one objective in mind – Col de la Madone. If you don’t know this Col, Google it. After having climbed it twice now, it is easy to see why it is the training mountain of choice for Chris Froome and Richie Porte. The climb starts at sea level in the Cote d’Azur town of Menton switch-backing up for 14.3 kms at a consistently steep gradient before leveling out at nearly 1000 meters in altitude. We were satisfied with our pace – under an hour even after a wrong turn – but left dreaming about the possibilities for next season … if we could just lose a little weight and train a bit harder …
My friend (let’s call him Sam) and I have been working on the ideal cycling trip model for some time now. In our model we try to maximize time spent climbing and exploring diverse landscapes while at the same time minimizing costs and hassle (or what the Kiwi’s call “Faff”). What we did in Corsica (the same we did in the Pyrenees last year) was to pack light (bibs, jerseys and a set of civilian clothes) and have one rider (Sam) ride with a touring bike and two panniers on the back while the other rider (me) is free to cruise around, worry free, on his carbon fiber road bike.
Unfair you say? Well, you should see this pack mule ride!
The obvious benefit of riding with your belongings is that you can freely choose where you want to go on a whim. Sometimes you stumble upon routes, climbs, scenery that you want to explore and that no website or tour operator has mentioned before – exploring this “ terra incognita” is where the magic is and writing your own course as you go can be a thrilling enterprise. To be fair, considering that tourism season was still in full bloom as far as we could tell, we had to call ahead and book rooms in a few locations for fear of being forced to sleep out in the street. But booking rooms the night before still leaves you with the flexibility to go out and discover the place – and sometimes “discovery” happens off the bike, in shady, pirate-themed hotels near the water at around 3 AM … but I digress.
Dates: 06-14 September
06 September: (Transavia) Amsterdam to Ajaccio, Corsica
14 September: (Transavia) Nice, France to Amsterdam
13 September: (Corsica Ferries) Ajaccio to Nice
Average Temperature: 27 Degrees
Bikes, 3 sets of cycling clothes, tubes, bars, sunscreen, good friend(s), strong legs, sense of humor, willingness to suffer and … Vaseline, lots and lots of Vaseline (saddle sores are included in this trip at no extra cost).
Route: (You can follow Johnny Mingbo on Strava if you want the exact routes)
Day 1: Ajaccio to Calvi
172km, 2,223 meters climbed
Day 2: Calvi to Venaco
136km, 2,402 meters climbed
Day 3: Venaco to Venaco (Les Gorges de la Restonica day)
147km, 2,401 meters climbed
Day 4: Venaco to Solenzara
151km, 2,883 meters climbed
Day 5: Solenzara to Propriano
123km, 2,000 meters climbed
Day 6: Propriano to Ajaccio
85km, 1,200 meters climbed
Day 7: Col de Madone Test (Nice-Menton-Nice)
70km, 1,535 meters climbed
Day 8: Maritime Alps Day (Nice-Col de Turini-Nice)
134km, 2,716 meters climbed