La Fournaise

Have you heard the story of the 15th stage of the 1950 Tour de France? Only 74kms into proceedings at least half the peloton stopped on the coast, got off their bikes and ran into the sea.

That’s what the intense peak of a Riviera summer can do. Hot enough to stop the Grande Boucle. We call it ‘La Fournaise’, which translates to ‘the furnace’.

It sounds oppressive. And it can be. Pick the wrong day and you can be climbing the Col de la Madone with not only the sun scorching your back but also the rocks radiating its heat back into your face. Hot, hot, chaud.

La Fournaise usually arrives in July and stays until the end of August. High summer means the Tour de France, school holiday trips to Corsica, dinners on the beach in Villefranche and rosé apéros with extra ice in.

The cicadas singing in the bushes and the trees serve as a constant reminder that the oven is set to full. That Mediterranean heat is what produces the olives, the citrus fruits and, top of the list in our home nation, the grapes. Sunshine-packed bounties produced by La Fournaise.

Northern European tarmac melts at around 50°C, which can be easily reached by the road soaking up the heat on high summer days of around 30°C. When it happened on London’s famous M25 it predictably caused chaos and led to questions of why the same doesn’t happen in France, Spain and Italy when temperatures regularly exceed those in the UK. Answer ; it’s a question of engineering for the conditions.

And so, like the road engineers, us cyclists find solutions to ride through the heat.

Sunrise and sunset rides to avoid the worst of the heat, with the never-ending reward of seeing the big yellow ball crest or fall on the horizon.

Seeking out the shade in the deep gorges of the Vesubie valley before climbing into the Turini forest, or the Gorges du Loup around the back of the Col de Vence, both of which offer up the third solution…

Fresh mountain rivers. A stop and a swim is, for sure the most immersive solution to beat La Fournaise.

And of course, one of the favourites. Heading high into the mountains, if possible above 2,000m where everything is that little bit fresher. The Trois Cols route provides three different alternatives to get above that magic elevation line.

Last but not least, the final solution is clothing engineered to cope. The Fleurette is labelled with La Fournaise and its lightweight fabric has been evolved through seven Niçois summers to become the go-to hot ride jersey.

Imagine a ride combining all of those solutions. And maybe add in the rosé apéro at the end.