The final fifty-five miles of my ride to Nice offered a fabulous downhill through one of those canyons, as I followed the Vars River to the Mediterranean. Like most, it came as a complete surprise. And it was only by happenstance that I choose that route. I had been intending on following N85, the Route de Napolean, as it appeared to be a more direct and scenic route and had been clinging to the l'Asse River and its canyon. But when I came to the town of Barrême and the intersection with N202, a sign gave a shortage distance to Nice swinging a little further inland. It didn't have as many larger towns along that route, which was a concern for getting food on Sunday. But I decided to give it a try for something different, as I had biked N85 a few years ago. It was a great choice.
My long descent began after cresting the 3,600 foot Col de Toutes Aures. The first few miles were good and steep, but then the road leveled off for a non-stop gentle descent such as cyclists dream of, leisurely pedaling surrounded by the most sublime of scenery.
By the time I reached Nice the river was as wide as the pair of four-lane highways flanking it, one an autoroute, and the other with a shoulder accommodating cyclists. And I had the choice of a gravel bike path the last few miles down below the highway alongside the river through forested terrain. I didn't even notice it until the following morning after a night of camping on the other side of the highway in a clump of bushes behind a factory.
The road up the Vars is a popular weekend escape for those living in Nice. Small convertible sports cars zipped by, some in packs of similar vintage. An old-time steam locomotive chugged along the railroad tracks on one stretch between tourist towns. Someone was leaning out of every open window holding a camera, many videoing their journey. The small town of Entrevaux was a popular stopping point. A citadel high on a peak above the town was part of a 17th century fortification system built along the borders of France. It is one of twelve French towns part of the Vauban defense that have been designated a World Heritage site.
Other small towns on the route also did their best to make motorists stop and spend money.
I didn't reach Nice until after five p.m. I was initially blocked from riding the bike path along the Mediterranean by a continual procession of runners all wearing numbers.
It seemed as if I had arrived on the day of the Nice marathon. It was strange though that there would still be runners out chugging along at such a goodly pace so late in the day. These were definitely not stragglers trying to make it to the finish line. Since most marathons start early in the day before the day heats up something didn't seem right. Equally mystifying was that there was hardly a woman among the competitors. I wondered if it was possible that the French would stage an all-male event, or actually have two separate marathons. But then I noticed what appeared to be a woman or two. Finally I saw a banner that revealed what it was--the Nice Ironman, one of the few true Ironman competitions with a lengthy swim, a 100-mile bike ride and then a full marathon. These competitors were all finishing up the marathon along the same coastal route that The Tour de France will be using in ten days for its fourth stage time trial. There were yellow banners all along the route promoting The Tour.
Nice abounded with so many Tour posters and billboards and signs it almost seemed as if it were the Grand Départ for The Tour rather than Corsica. But then anyone going to Corsica for The Tour start had to pass through Nice, so in a way it was. As I entered Nice, I was greeted by a triangular sided sign in the middle of the road.
A little further was a giant billboard.
An office building along the Mediterranean joined in the spirit.
The city's rental bikes also advertised The Event on their handlebar baskets.
I plopped down near the finish line of the Ironman and had some dinner. The gravel beaches behind me were packed with sun-bathers. If someone had befriended me, I would have let them guard my bike and taken a dip. I was hoping the tourist office would be open until six, but it had closed at five, so I had to wait until the next morning to confirm the ferry schedule and locate a bicycle shop. I always like to put new tires on my bike for The Tour. I wasn't in desperate need. I had tried to find a 700X28 touring tire in Gap as well as Digne-les-Baines, but hadn't had any luck. I could have settled for a 32 or a lighter tire, but elected to wait until Nice. But even in the large city of Nice, the bike shops were closed on Monday after being open on the weekend. I'll just have to try on my return from Corsica. I'll have an easy go of it as three of the shops are clustered together just above the ferry terminal.