The last few years have seen increasing popularity of unsupported ultra cycling or bikepacking races like the Transcontinental or Japanese Odyssey. The concept is that competitors can choose their own route as long as they hit certain checkpoints. The Transcontinental has grown from a small event with only 30 competitors, to 350 riders taking part this year, racing 4,000km across Europe in just seven to ten days.
If the idea appeals to you but you’re a bit nervous of tackling several thousand kilometres in a limited timeframe, not to mention competing against some of the best ultra cycling stars around, like Emily Chappell, there is another option.
This week sees the second edition of the Torino–Nice Rally, a more modest 700km adventure over the high cols and stradas of the France – Italy border. Billed as a bikepacking, touring or randonneur event, the organizers describe it as “not a race, just a challenge to finish and a question of what to ride and where to focus your efforts.” It’s expected that it will take between four and seven days depending how many km each rider wishes to cover each day. “Ride as fast or as slow as you like or whenever you like, it's your call.”
Those taking part will set out from the main square in Turin on the morning of the 5th September.
As well as 485km of tarmac roads it includes about 240km of gravel tracks along the French/Italian border at an altitude of 2,000m or more, that will reward the riders with two Grand Tour Cols and spectacular views from the Qeyras and Mercantour national parks. Meanwhile, the Ligurian, Cottian and Maritime Alps offer some serious challenges for the ambitious bikepacker.
The mix of terrain makes this a different proposition to other self supported rides – it’s suitable for a light mountain bike, all terrain tourer or a fat-tyred randonneur. It includes stradas with loose rocks and stones which will push popular gravel bikes to the limit. You may even have to carry your bike over some sections that link paths. This route is all about the climbs and their descents, on tracks as well as tarmac roads.
“Just fit some fat, fast tyres and enjoy a ride that's about the journey rather than the genre.”
The idea for the rally was born when James Olsen and friends set off in 2015 to explore parts of the Alps they’d previously skirted around. The ride is an example of how much great riding can be found in this part of Europe but is often missed so that you can bag famous cols or ride the best-rated uplift spots. The route was created by linking extended dirt tracks and high cols to valleys and towns for re-supply points.
James explains, “One reason for the ride was to test our bikes on mixed terrain, to learn more about bikes that worked well both on road and along rougher tracks. We expected to find some sections that were uncomfortably rough on our chosen bikes (a Surly Troll on 1.75" Marathon Mondial tyres and a one-off drop bar bike with 650B x 45c tyres) - we did - and the current rally route now keeps those to a minimum, but doesn't avoid them altogether.
“During the ride we carried our bikes for a while a couple of times, stumbled upon some really scenic places via diversions or side-routes and received welcome hospitality when we didn't expect it. The options kept us involved in the route, the mix of road and dirt tracks suiting a wide range of bikes and letting us appreciate the surroundings almost every pedal-stroke of the way. We thought it would make a good group ride for another year and out of that idea came the 1st Torino-Nice Rally in 2016. Like a classic car rally it should be a reliability test, an adventure with friends and a memorable experience.
The organisers have listed their aims as follows:
- Obey rule #1 That is:
1. Don’t be a dick
- Leave no trace of your campsites, drop no litter
- Stay on-trail: no riding around puddles / causing extra wear
- Give way to other trail users
- Be nice to any businesses that you visit along the way
- Don’t break the law
- To ride in a self-supported style in the tradition of other long-distance bikepacking and randonee rides.
- Not to get hung up on purity of style, unwritten rules of racing or any other stuff like that. If offered a 3-course meal while sharing a 3l bottle of red you'd take it, right? We did. If you're ridng for a time it's different. Usual rules apply there.
- In that respect, riding with others is encouraged for all but the keenest time-triallers of the route.
- To sleep outdoors wherever possible. It's a beautiful area, even more so during the hours of dawn and dusk. There are also B+Bs and Gites d'Etape along the route as well as 'found shelter' opportunities if you look around.
- To enjoy a well-earned steak+frites on the Cote d'Azur, go to the beach, have a swim then get traditionally and economically smashed on not a lot of beer/wine.
- To freely ignore all but rule #1 and do what you like, just enjoy it.
Sounds like a blast! For more information and how to follow the riders’ progress go their website.