Thursday, June 27, 2013


Despite the miles and miles of great cycling Corsica has to offer along its spectacular coastline and through its rugged mountains on roads with minimal traffic, I was the lone touring cyclist rolling a bike aboard the ferry out of Nice to this 150-mile long Mediterranean island.  Nor did there appear to be any other early-arriving Tour de France followers or officials, even though it was just five days until the start of The Race.

There were no camping vans with course markers or other Tour symbols on their dashboards nor were there any cars plastered with team or sponsor decals, as I had hoped to see.  A few vehicles had bikes hanging on racks, about as many people who had brought along their dogs, who didn't have to remain confined to their vehicles below deck but could join their owners on their ferry proper.  

After I secured my bike in a row with a dozen or so motorcycles making the six-hour voyage, I climbed up three flights of stairs to the deck with seating for the passengers who didn't pay for a cabin, and went in search of a seat beside an electrical outlet.  It took a while to find one in the cafeteria dining area.  It wasn't clear if one needed to be a diner to sit there, though food wasn't available just yet.  The tables quickly filled, but few people actually went for food once the cafeteria opened shortly after departure.

After we were half an hour out to sea, I began to feel the sway of the ferry and felt the need to lay down. It was only a mild case of motion sickness compared to what I experienced driving with Yvon, but I was most definitely uncomfortable.  My iPad was a couple hours away from being fully recharged, but I had to give up on it.  I found a place to stretch out, joining quite a few others.  My legs welcomed the lay-down.  They outrank the iPad in importance, so I didn't feel as upset as I might.  A racing axiom states, "Never stand when you can sit, and never sit when you can lay down." Since I could lay down it was almost the responsible thing to do.  I could actually feel my legs regenerating.

I had been riding extra hard the past two weeks topping off my training since Andrew's departure.  I was tired enough to nap for a couple of hours.  When I awoke, I looked back through the rear deck to see if the sea had calmed at all, but the ferry was still rocking enough for the sea to disappear for a couple of seconds leaving only sky to be seen.  I took a little stroll anyway to stretch my legs.  I spotted an outlet I hadn't seen before in an out-of-the-way corner where I could also lay down, just what I needed.  And there I spent the last two hours before our arrival on Corsica, nearly fully recharging the iPad and my legs as well.

The rough seas delayed our arrival by half an hour, leaving me less than an hour of light to get out of Calvi and find a place to camp.  Calvi will be the Ville Arrivé for the third and final stage on Corsica.  It's modest City Hall had Tour banners mounted on its front.

Just a mile beyond Calvi's airport, less than ten miles out of town, I was out into the countryside and found a perfect meadow to pitch my tent. I was awoken in the morning by bells around the necks of a herd of goats.

I began the day with the first of four climbs of 1,400 feet or more.  

The next two were along the coast on the route that the peloton will be following on its way to Calvi from Ajaccio. The coastal scenery was as dazzling as any in the world--Big Sur, Italy's Amalfi Drive, the fjords of Norway, Iceland.  The road clung high to cliff sides with only a rare beach in an isolated bay.

One of the climbs was through a World Heritage pine forest.  It was thronged with tourists.  The traffic was reduced to a gridlock when giant tour buses coming from opposite directions couldn't get by each other.

The motorcyclists and I were the only ones who could get through.

On a couple of occasions tourists along the road of the summit stretch gave me a round of applause.  It gave me practice for nodding my head and raising a hand off the handlebar and responding with a "merci," as I'll have to do on occasion during The Tour climbs that will be packed with fans.

In keeping with the primal scenery, some stretches of the road used natural rock for road barriers.

Along this one hundred mile stretch the peloton will ride,  so far only one business had decorated itself with a Tour theme.  This is The Tour's first visit to Corsica.  It's residents aren't aware of the tradition of mounting bikes and banners and creating bike sculptures along the route.

The road signs gave both the French and Corsican spelling of the towns, with the French on top.  When I biked Corsica five years ago many of the French names had been painted over.  There was not a single instance of that this year.  A few signs had bullet holes as one sees in the Western US, though never elsewhere in Europe.  There were also shot gun shell casings here and there along the road.  

The Corsicans do have a strong self-identity. Their national emblem of a Moor's head wearing a white bandana dating to the 1700s is a frequent site.

A local alcohol uses a variation of it as its emblem.

It also adorns the départemental license plate in the upper right hand corner.

The only overt evidence of separatist sentiments I've noticed is one motorist who had pasted the emblem over the "F" on the license plate.  

Ajaccio is a much larger city than Calvi.  It is the birthplace of Napoleon.  His name is everywhere--on the airport, on the Main Street through the city, a plaza, a museum, businesses.  The peloton will pass through the city on stage two and continue nine miles out of town to a land's end cape for its finish line.  Then it will start stage three at a park in the city along the Mediterranean.  Banners were everywhere promoting The Tour and also bright yellow "no parking, tow zone" signs along the Tour route.  The main boulevard through the city, Cours Napoleon, featured quite well done paintings by local artists celebrating The Tour, one with Napoleon on a bike.  If I were the acquisitions director of a Bike Art Museum there were a few I'd gladly add to our collections.

From Ajaccio it was another one hundred miles to Porto Vecchio, further south and then east across the island, where The Tour will make its Grand Départ on Saturday.  It took me over the highest pass yet, the Col Saint-Georges, a ten-mile climb from the coast to nearly 2,500 feet.  Though the sun beat down hard, a refreshing coastal breeze kept me from over heating.  I also had the benefit of a few springs along the way to cool down, including one just short of the summit.


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