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From Inside Peloton: Alpes Maritimes

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With professional cycling teams fielding rosters of more than 20 riders, particularly among the ProTour ranks, teammates can go months without seeing each other at the races. The international flavor of our sport means riders from the same team can live throughout Europe during the season and in even farther flung locales in the off-season. As fans, we catch glimpses of our favorite riders during the season, but rarely do we get much insight into how and where they train.

Text & map: Chris Henry
Image: Yuzuru Sunada

An international outfit such as Garmin-Cervélo hosts a diverse roster of riders from multiple continents, each tackling the kilometers on his home turf during the off-season. For American Peter Stetina, it’s the professional’s “staple route” in Girona, Spain. Dutchman Martijn Maaskant trains back and forth across the Dutch-Belgian border, while Christophe Le Mevel of France tackles the hills of the Alpes Maritimes near the Mediterranean coast outside of Nice. These are the professionals on their home roads, putting miles in their legs. In the next few issues, peloton will highlight these rides and riders.

Christophe Le Mevel
PLACE: Saint-Laurent-du-Var, France
TIME: 4 hours 3 minutes
DISTANCE: 74 miles
DETAILS: 18.3mph average / 60mph maximum
CLIMBING: 6,213 feet altitude gain
BEATS: 138bpm heart rate average / 187bpm heart rate maximum

Frenchman Christophe Le Mevel moved to Saint-Laurent-du-Var, just west of Nice, two years ago to take advantage of the temperate climate and extensive training opportunities in the Alpes Maritimes. What better place to live and train than the Côte d’Azur, and what better inspiration to train than the annual finish of the Paris-Nice stage race just a few kilometers from your front door?

Like Girona, if somewhat more dispersed, the Côte d’Azur as a region is an equally popular home base for the professional peloton. Le Mevel does plenty of training on his own, but he also enjoys the camaraderie of friends, including Maxime Monfort, Geoffroy Le Quattre, Amaël Moinard, and Tristan Valentin—to name a few.

When Le Mevel begins his training, he sets out for a four-hour test that will tackle two notable climbs and log 74 miles in the hills above the Mediterranean Sea. His journey begins northward along the Route de la Baronne (Route D2209), which hugs the hillside above the busier D6202 that follows the Var River. It’s a long, steady rise to Carros, where turning left onto Route de la Manda (D2210) can only mean one thing: the road will rise.

Le Mevel’s destination is the Col de Vence, his go-to climb out of Saint-Laurent-du-Var, situated one hour into the workout. The Frenchman enjoys easing into his ride, giving himself 45 minutes to an hour as the roads gently tilt upward through the Var river valley. An initial ramp with a 4% grade takes him west of the Var and into the foothills where the road flattens once more to give the legs their final gentle spin.

“It’s very famous in Nice and it’s near my apartment, so it’s a perfect time to test my fitness,” he says of his local leg-tester. “I like it a lot; it’s my little Mont Ventoux.”

The Col de Vence is a steady effort, but Le Mevel notes that the first kilometer and the final four kilometers of the climb are the most demanding. He’ll reach the summit in just under half an hour, keeping his heart rate between 175 and 185 beats per minute, for an average speed of 12.5mph while climbing.

Le Mevel likes to take in the view after putting his legs through their paces. “We can look out and see the whole area between Nice and Cannes from the top of the climb. It’s very beautiful.”

Fashioning a counter-clockwise loop from the town of Vence, Le Mevel follows the Route des Termes past Coursegoules and through Saint-Pons before a steady descent to Pont du Loup. A modest climb back to Tourrettes-sur-Loup and Vence completes the circle. Unlike his teammate Stetina, Le Mevel does let his dreams of race glory infuse his local ride.

“I would love to finish Paris-Nice on top some day!” he says with obvious enthusiasm. “In 2010 Paris-Nice passed through my roads, but I crashed two kilometers before we got here.”

Still a relative newcomer to the area, Le Mevel has no problem keeping his training interesting, and it’s clear that the novelty of his “little Mont Ventoux” has not worn off. In fact, he tackles the climb twice on his usual circuit, maintaining the same pace on his second time up the mountain. Only his maximum speed drops by 2mph to the top of the Col de Vence after having logged three hours in the saddle. As he dances on the pedals, visions of the Paris-Nice leader’s jersey replay in his head.

From Issue 05.