You had me at 700km ride over high cols and stradas!!
Since seeing the photos of the 1st Torino-Nice Rally pop up on our social feeds last summer we knew this was the event for us!
A mixed terrain route crossing back and forth over the high alps along the Italian/French border. There’s no entry fee, no timing, no support and no set route!
The geniuses of this event is two fold. First up it’s not a race and it doesn’t even have an official finishing party to aim for. Never has the phrase “it’s the journey, not the destination” been more true! The second is the route. This is split up into 6 stages. Stage one is a straight point-to-point affare and also the longest at 200+km. After that things get interesting and each stage offers riders the possibility of shortcuts, alternates and more or less off road riding. That said the whole thing is just a suggested route and riders are encouraged to get creative depending on available time, bike, weather, experience etc. All of which makes it super unique in the ultra scene!
Don’t be fooled though, it’s not a fucking tour either!
Our stead of choice for this event was All City’s do it all beast the Space Horse Disc. This proved to be an exceptional choice as it not only allowed for all the frames bags and racks you like. It’s springy steel frame and curved forks give you all week comfort. Especially when paired up with Brooks C17 saddle and Surly’s 41mm All Road Knards!
The Knards proved bang up for the job with plenty grip at low pressures on the loose stuff and smooth fast rolling at higher pressures on tarmac. Also can’t complaint at 0 punctures between us!
We were all running 1x setups ranging from 42×11-40 to 38×11-42. However, despite this working fine most of the time a lower gear is definitely on the cards for next year! After all it’s a ride not a walk.
After a tour of all the bike shops in town on the hunt for a replacement mech hanger (note to self, take a spare next time!!) we met up with everyone for pizza’s at the pre ride party. The start the next day was an allycat style dash out of Turin, back past the airport and towards the towering jagged peaks of the alps.
Hampshire couldn’t really prepare us for the multi hour climbs, heat or endless downhills and countless switchbacks, but we enjoyed every moment nonetheless.
The fact this is not a race became apparent on the first, and most brutal, climb of our trip up Col Colombardo. Once we hit the “gravel” aka a 10km rock garden we were off the bike and pushing for large sections. This gave us a chance to catch up with other riders doing the same and a real sense of companionship only born through a testing shared experience started to form.
The views were stunning and set the tone for the rest of the trip
After a sunset downhill back to tarmac, civilisation and possibly too many pizza’s we ended up wild camping with a few of our new friends in a field behind an abandoned house under the glow of an enormous full moon!
There is something immensely satisfying about having everything you need with you on your bike and bikepacking strips this down further to the very bear essentials. Not only does this give you a great sense of freedom and appreciation, it also make getting up all the bloody hills a lot easier as well. We used a range of different frame bags including ones from Wildcat and Miss Grape. The last minute decision to take a couple of buds from Miss Grape was definitely one of my better pre ride decisions. However, the fact we didn’t read the “important info” and “route” emails until we were sat in the airport waiting for our flight didn’t set that particular bar very high to start with!
As the climbs and then the days started to blur we found ourselves crossing the same groups or individuals. Some days we would bump into other riders who had taken different routes and we would share our experiences over a coffee while waiting for the siesta to end and the restaurants to open back up. The quality of the route suggestions really bore out here as we didn’t hear one bad thing about any of the options taken by rides and we loved every bit of our route. This just makes us want to come back more next year to explore more of the other route options.
For this reason it’s hard to pick out a favourite climb, day or event, but that said I will give it a go…
Day 2 had us climbing the Col Finestre from the gravel side. This was in stark contrast to the previous day’s climb and was fully ridable on our gearing. It included a 3km section with 30+ hairpins before the gravel even kicked in! After a short descent off the top we turned on to Strada dell’Assietta. A 34km long dirt road running along an alpine ridgeway almost entirely above 2,000m up and has been heralded as one of the most spectaculars roads in the world!
Emerging from thick fog at the summit of Col Sampeyre only to descend the “Death Road”, an abandoned road down a sheer sided valley, as night fell. This was like a scene from a zombie apocalypse film, where one wrong move would have you off the edge and hurtling to the rocky river below! We had been warned to use our lights in the tunnels as rockfalls were common and as the road was no longer is use no one would clear them…
The penultimate day was short at only 40 odd km. We could have pushed on and made Nice, but why? That would just end the adventure. We opted instead to hang out in the small village of Fontan and stay at the public campsite there. We were not alone in this and by the time the campfire flickered out there were 8 of us sharing our last night on the road.
As if to highlight the fact that once again this was not a race and no one cared when you ran out of mountains the unofficial end point at Cafe du Cycliste was closed when we arrived. A fitting end to a perfect trip!
A huge thanks to James and those involved in putting this event on as well as everyone who took part and those of you we had the pleasure of riding with, sorry can’t remember everyone’s names but you know who you are! You all helped make this event what it was and hopefully we will see you all out on the road again at some point. If you’re ever passing through Portsmouth do drop into the shop for a catch up and a coffee.
If you’ve made it this far you probably now want to get out and ride some gravel or event spend a night or two under the stars. The good news is we do too and we will be putting on some more ‘adventurous’ rides ourselves going forward. Be sure to join the bikeUlike Strava club to be kept up to date with what we have going on.