Before we had departed for our Alps challenge there had been various discussions on how to fill our final day in Nice. It was the only day with no official schedule or destination other than making sure we were at the airport to catch the plane home in the evening!
Maybe we would do a big ride into Italy to tackle the famous ‘Poggio’ climb, the main battle ground for the Milan San Remo Classic, or maybe we would head into the hills for one final time and take on the Col D’Eze, which has been used for the final, and often decisive, time trial stage of the Paris – Nice stage race.
However, after a tough week consisting of many tough climbs, long days in the saddle and the occasional leg stretching chain gang, such ambitious plans, both involving long days in the saddle, were rapidly shelved in favour of a nice easy day with the nearby principality of Monaco our destination.
Our decision to have an easy day also took into account the likelihood that we would have hangovers after a boozy night out in Nice. Our evening in Nice had started with some fairly brisk drinking and included the potentially catastrophic decision to switch to cocktails but, fortunately, our pace eased, the task of finding bars open became more difficult and this meant that the night had not ended as messily as it might have done!
As I arrived for breakfast on our final morning I was surprised to see all my team mates already in the dining room and looking surprisingly alert, albeit not all tucking into hearty breakfasts as they had been doing all week! Evidently, our chocolate coated, sugar waffle supper at 4 am had been a good idea!
We hit the road at just after 10am, the plan being to ride to Monaco, have some lunch, do a lap of the F1 GP circuit and then head back to Nice and with French Riviera Veterans Si and Me on navigation duties, what could possibly go wrong?
Shortly into our ride Craig’s hangover subsided and he suddenly became hungry so we dropped into the lovely town of Villefranche-sur-Mer for sustenance. With some 5 miles on the clock, we decided that we had travelled far enough for a well earned break! Unfortunately, the lovely harbour side café we found wasn’t serving food so a coffee would have to do until we reached Monaco, which wasn’t too far away or at least shouldn’t have been if there had been competent navigators!
Having consulted a map on his phone, Si suggested that we take a path alongside the coast that would lead us to a nice scenic road and take us all the way to Monaco. I feared that this prediction may not materialise as soon as we had to lift our bikes over a gate to get onto the path!
The path led us to a small seaside resort and, in an attempt to follow the path, we stuck to the coast.This meant we had to duck beneath some traffic control barriers and follow a road that resembled a car park. There was a good reason for this resemblance, it was a car park, and we promptly reached a dead end at the sea.
The alternative to continuing straight on into the sea was to retrace our steps to Villefranche and work our way back up to the main road or, as John M and Kris decided to do, climb some steps up from the coast, which appeared to lead to a road, possibly the right road!
Whereas Kris and John M decided to take the steps, the rest of the gang, obviously still having complete confidence in me and Si’s hitherto flawless navigational skills, decided to retrace our steps and find the road without using pedestrian alternatives!
Fortunately, we managed to find our way onto the correct road and got to Monaco without any further drama.
After a spot of lunch, and reuniting with Kris and John M, we decided to do a lap of the F1 circuit. This would obviously be easy as the starting grid and line were still clearly identifiable on the road and the red and white edgings would enable us to follow the route.
The circuit starts with a sharp climb, clearly no problem for the F1 cars but a good pull for a cyclist, and then disappears into the famous tunnel beneath the hotel. This, you would think, sounds easy to find but with the removable street furniture in place and confusing junctions (confusing for us anyway) we soon lost the circuit! However, we did find the café de paris and casino area and posed for the obligatory photos surrounded by automotive exotica.
Upon leaving the casino, we managed to find the circuit again and followed it as it dropped and twisted steeply down to the coast, quickly reaching the finishing straight. I reckon it only took us a couple of minutes of riding to complete a lap! Now, maybe we were on good form after our holiday and this was why we had completed our lap at F1 car pace but I suspect the reality was that, once again, my navigational skills had come up short and we had, in fact, missed a significant section of the circuit!
In an attempt to make up for the disappointment of being unable to navigate correctly around the F1 circuit, I convinced the lads that a short trip to the Palace would be well worthwhile as there were excellent views of Monaco and Monte Carlo from there. This would also redeem their faith in me as a navigator and French Riviera Tourist Guide!
The Palace was situated just above the F1 finishing area, we just had to follow a short, uphill road to get there, easy! Unfortunately, my usual navigational expertise failed me again! Rather than cruise straight into the Palace and Old Town Square, we ended up on a dead end road that led into a Bus station, no problem though, I thought we’d just turn round and find the correct road. However, the lads had other ideas, having seen a sign pointing the way to the palace and old town, we decided to follow this to save on any further debacles. This despite that fact that the sign looked remarkably like a pedestrian sign and pointed us into a bus station.
Again, my instincts had proved more reliable than my navigational skills and our decision to follow the sign, rather than find an alternative route, meant that we first had to use an escalator, which took us from the bus station to a small shopping centre.
From there we climbed many steps, which eventually took us to the old town. I could see tourists looking down upon us, from the top of the stairwell we were climbing, bemused at the sight of a group of cyclists, carrying their cycles up towards them. They were taking photos and I thought I could hear one of them muttering under their breath ‘Ah, this must be a club run being led by Stephen Feeney!’
We did, eventually, get to the Palace and Old Town, only to be greeted by a bunch of whistle happy (and gun equipped) guards who were adamant that we would not ride our bikes in the vicinity of the Palace. So, again, we took to foot to continue our journey to the Palace walls where we were rewarded to some splendid views
The journey back to nice was, surprisingly, straight forward and uneventful. This meant that we were able to enjoy one last coffee and cake stop in Nice before we had to make our final journey on French roads; the journey to the airport.
With me off navigational duties, the airport journey was uneventful and we arrived with plenty of time, and at the correct terminal, to catch the correct flight home.
Our journey from Geneva to Nice had been a fantastic experience with great rides, great company and all for a great cause. I’m sure I speak for all the team when I say it was a pleasure to be part of it all and a massive well done and thank you to the organising team (you know who you are)!