21 Jun 2017

Explore Corsica by le Tour

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 In 2013 the Tour de France opening stages were held in Corsica with the entire circus staying on a ship which met the race at the finish of each stage. Watching on TV back in freezing Sydney in the middle of the night, the stunning Corsican scenery and sunshine provoked the statement “we have to go there some time!” So three years later when we happened to see an ad for Explore Corsica by le Tour it was a fait accompli.

Feeling like pro riders after our week-long training camp in Mallorca, we lined up for our passage to Corsica on a big ferry with nearly 600 French riders and a few other imports. The drool inducing bike bling, and the guys checking in with 4 sets of wheels made us wonder if we were in the right event. We filed in past the front row of bikes – Cadel Evans, Frank Schleck…

After a fairly hectic evening of getting organised and fed we settled down in our bunks as the boat pulled out of Marseille harbour, the gentle motion and hum of the engines soothing us to sleep.

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Day 1 got us into the routine – up a little too early, dodgy breakfast hurriedly downed, queue to fill water bottles, bike gear on, down to the bike park, roll off the boat and head for the start line to wait in the narrow start zone for the depart fictif into the “neutral” zone then into the race proper.

Stage 1
It was a strange day for us, on the first long climb Pete’s hip problems from a frustrating day of travel the previous day put him in a race against elimination and a day in the sweeper van, leaving me alone towards the back of the race without my favourite domestique and only a few stray Frenchies to share a headwind slog. The wild coast with its black sand beaches and steep hillsides disappearing into mist were a fitting scene for a fairly confused ride – no idea of the length or what was to come and not sure whether Pete was struggling behind or back at the boat nursing his hip. We both finished the day and Pete found his legs to fly home over the last 30km. Love that ibuprofen!

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Stage 2
Day 2 had a 50km flat start with bunch riding behaviour and traffic forcing us to keep our focus on the road and away from the coastline. That ended abruptly as we started a 20km climb up to the highest point of the trip at 1208m. There followed quieter inland roads and more amazing scenery, until the pace picked up for the blast home down 20km’s of perfect high speed descent.

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Day 2 Climb: don’t let the smiles fool you

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Stage 3
After the cheery atmosphere of the start and competition to be up near the front on the first two days, it was very quiet on day 3. Everyone seemed to be having their own little struggle and the start announcer couldn’t get much of a cheer out of the crowd. We rolled out into another long climb, this time to nearly 1000m, taking us to a beautiful high plateau of glaciated granite, pine forests and an azure lake created by a large dam whose wall we rode across. Later, another seemingly endless descent through beautiful villages and warm valleys had us madly grinning and giggling. A small climb to the final descent then back to the coast where the boat and finish feed station met us.

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The stage starts were at sea level

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Stage 4
The final day started in another gorgeous coastal town. By now we knew that the best approach to the start was to ride a few streets away to a café in a pleasant square, enjoy a coffee, take a few photos and slowly roll back just before the start was due. We managed to sneak out near the front of the bunch and just hang on to a fast group up the first big climb so we were really moving as it flattened out and one of the timed sections started. All of a sudden we were holding wheels, covering gaps and picking lines on a road as bad as any we ride at home – all at high speed with unfamiliar riders!

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After a solid climb flanking Frank Schleck (we could’a had him) came the day’s advertised highlight, the twisting ride across the Agriate Desert. I don’t know that it would qualify as a desert in Australia, but it was rocky and shrubby with views all the way to the distant coast. After whooping and giggling down another spectacular descent to the coast, we pushed through energy-sapping headwinds to reach the final climb with little left in the legs to deal with the ever-increasing gradient, peaking with some 13% corners near the top

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Finally reaching the “finish”, an obliging Swiss rider took a lovely photo of us before we bombed down yet another awesome descent back to the boat and prepared for an evening of fine local food and endless champagne.
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Things learned and reconfirmed:

Goat’s cheese on pizza is gooood

The price of the bike does not reflect the ability of its owner

At 70kph bugs explode on impact

A cyclist’s life is incomplete without riding in Europe – don’t miss out!

click to see: Explore Corsica highlights video

 

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