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Rouleur Roadbook – a road cyclist’s guide to Nice

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A guide to riding, relaxing and exploring the city of Nice – hotspot of professional cycling on the French Riviera – by Katusha-Alpecin rider Ian Boswell

Words:
Photographs: Marshall Kappel

Surrounded by fine roads and marinated in cycling culture both traditional and modern, you can understand why dozens of professional riders from all over the world have made the city of Nice their home. 

 

With its Mediterranean climate and lifestyle and warm, bright perch on the foothills of the Southern Alps, Nice is very much a cycling city; from the annual March finale of Paris-Nice on the Promenade des Anglais to the year-round training roads like the infamous Col de la Madone.

 

The Côte d’Azur is an adopted home for Ian Boswell, who migrated from the West Coast of the USA when he joined Team Sky in 2013.

 

The American climber, foodie and occasional bike-packing adventurer has fallen in love with his new home; he gives us his tips for visiting the city and its surroundings in this Roadbook.

 

The Rouleur Roadbook – where local professional riders guide us around their home towns on the perfect cycling visit. 

 

Read: Christian Meier’s guide to Girona

 

Read: Edward Theuns’ guide to Ghent

RIDE

 

When we go riding we mostly go north into the mountains, to places like the Col Saint-Roch, Col de Turini or out to L’Escarène and the Col de Braus.

 

The beauty of living in Nice is that you have this busy metropolis on the sea – you also have Monaco, the pinnacle of posh society – and you go 20km inland and there’s no-one.

 

It’s cool that you have that contrast, you go up these climbs and you find what we in the US would call hill people or something, kinda off the radar but not harmful; they’re just a bit backwards, doing weird stuff, like storing 10 junk cars in their front driveway or something.

The contrast over the border to Italy is instant too. The geography changes; the roads tend to be steeper and shorter. The food is fantastic and the coffee is better and cheaper. The drivers in Italy are a bit more crazy though; every Italian thinks they are a race-car driver, even if they have a Fiat Panda.

 

If we went on a coffee ride we’d almost always go to Italy, to Dolceacqua or Bordighera. If we stay in France we’d go to Saint Jeannet, there’s a really good bakery there. If we’re on a really easy day we’d ride to Emily’s Cookies in Monaco, which is similar to an American café with brownies, cookies, cinnamon rolls and so on.

 

Sometimes Larry Warbasse and I ride to Emily’s. There’s a Starbucks next door. In summer time if we want a big cold Frappuccino or something we’ll go to Starbucks and get our little American coffee fix. As an American, sometimes I just want a big coffee and a straw!

 

Read: Larry Warbasse’s columns on Rouleur.cc

CLIMB

 

The climb of the Madone d’Utelle [pictured above] is one of my favourite climbs, but for some reason I’ve started liking the Col de la Madone a lot more recently. I used to ride it a lot with Richie Porte – he does it almost every day – so I started doing it as a good way to add a climb to every ride.

 

Marshall Kappel’s art prints are available at the Rouleur Emporium

 

I think before I didn’t like it because the team tested on that climb, and I felt like I was being judged or compared. For my efforts I picked the Col de Vence, which is out west and a beautiful climb. It’s almost a mini Mont Ventoux. It’s lot smoother, a nice steady climb, really exposed, without too many trees so especially in the winter it stays warm.

 

If you go west from Nice towards Grasse the climbs are much more gradual, and with the amount of climbs we have, a ride passes so quickly.

RECOVER

 

On a perfect rest day I would go to the local market in the old town for breakfast, grab a coffee and choose from all sorts of pastries and cheeses. I would buy some things to make a picnic and go to the beach for lunch; I’d drink a beer or some rosé, have a baguette with some ham and cheese. And then in the afternoon there are plenty of museums to check out; the old town is pretty cool, there’s good shopping there too.

 

In the evening I’d probably go to Wayne’s Bar, where one of my jerseys is hanging. It’s like the British pub in town – they have the cliché American or English music – but it’s a pretty iconic bar for professional cyclists living there.

I spoke to Brad Wiggins about and that’s where he and Stuart O’Grady and Tyler Farrar went when they were living there. As I get older I go there less and less; it’s a cool place but it’s grimy, with all these backpackers and students in there, it’s hot in the summer and there’s dancing on tables and stuff.

 

I’d then go and get a nice dinner; Oliviera and Chat Noir Chat Blanc are two really good restaurants in the old town.

 

Read: Nice, the best place in the world – Rouleur columnist Larry Warbasse’s ode to his hometown following the 2016 Bastille Day attacks

EAT

 

Generally just going to the market is a daily activity. There’s one down the hill from my house, open til midday, and picking up fresh fruit and vegetables makes it super convenient to eat healthily. I really enjoy cooking and seeing what’s ripe and fresh.

 

The cuisine in Nice is unique. There’s more influence from Corsica or Italy and it’s actually really hard to find a traditional French dish.

 

There are some good specific Nice dishes, like pissaladière which is a focaccia with onions, olives and sardines on top. There’s tourte de blettes, like a tart with swiss chard, apple and pine nuts, and then socca. If I’m walking around the old town I’ll grab a socca – it’s just chickpea flour, water and olive oil and almost like a crêpe, but it’s delicious, super cheap and a unique taste to Nice.

 

A lot of the Nice culture is about the food they’ve developed, with fresh fish and some heavier meats like wild boar. I enjoy the cuisine there, and you can go to Italy so easily.

EXPLORE

 

On Friday there’s a really good market in Italy in Ventemiglia. So sometimes if I have a rest day I’ll drive over there and go to the market and then go up to Dolceacqua for lunch and then head home and walk around the old city.

 

There’s also really good hiking around Nice and that’s one thing I started doing this off season. I’ve ridden up the Madone 100 times but I’d never before been in the town along it: Sainte-Agnès. There are so many hidden gems that we never usually get close to or go and see.

FAMILY

 

In Nice there is something for everyone to go and do. If one of the parents wants to go and ride then the rest of the family can go to the beach and everyone has something they can get involved in. You can do hikes or family things, or just come and do a cycling trip.

 

I heard from a taxi driver that tourism has declined following last year’s attacks but I haven’t noticed much of a difference. There is more security and more police, but for me it hasn’t changed. In this day and age there are risks anywhere. Is walking around Nice on a Friday night any more dangerous than descending the Madone at full speed? You’re more likely to crash than be attacked by a terrorist.

INSIDER KNOWLEDGE

 

Early December is maybe the most popular time for pro riders to be there. Once the season starts everyone’s out quite a bit. There are 40 WorldTour riders in Monaco and maybe another 25 in Nice, and we organise rides with WhatsApp groups and word of mouth.

 

I get myself in trouble trying to get everyone together and then end up managing it all. But it’s nice to have that accessibility. I think in the last two years I’ve never ridden alone. It’s so much easier to motivate yourself when you have someone else to ride with.

 

I used to ride with local group rides in the States, but they were very different, more like the chain gangs in the UK. In Nice that doesn’t happen because it’s too mountainous. If you did a group ride like that it would just shatter after two kilometres, nobody could sit on!

GET THERE

 

Aéroport Nice Côte d’Azur is a 15 minute drive from Nice city centre, with direct flights to European destinations and New York.

 

TGV and inter-city train services to France and Italy call at Nice-Ville station.

Or you could always race from Paris to Nice in March, like Ian

 

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