Ride of the Month: March - Paris-Nice

There's a unique place in the cycling landscape reserved especially for Paris-Nice. As the first major stage race of the season in Europe, it marks the beginning of the year ahead. There's a little something of La Tour in Paris-Nice and the arrival in our home is the climax.

It might only be thirty years old but the last stage around the town, taking in Col d'Eze and breathing in the stunning Cote d'Azur backdrop, has given the race a close to mythical status. But Covid respects nothing. This year Paris-Nice didn't make it to Nice, the last stage was changed and the riders missed out on Eze and a started finish on the Promenade des Anglais.

It seemed remiss to leave it like that. A better idea to ride the missing piece of road, reclaim the col in March even if only for ourselves. With stops here and there in favorite places, corners where the peloton normally sweeps all before it. Perhaps in some kind of sense to mentally restart the season and allow us to look forward with renewed hope.

First things first, long and flat for almost fifteen kilometres before there's even a hint of up. While some places are struggling to shake off winter, here the temperatures are already pleasant. It makes the blue sea on one side seem incongruous when set against the snow still on the peaks of the Mercantour in the distance. They remind us of what's coming and the first climb is the Côte de Levens.

The first 'village perché' of the day is Roquette du Var, five hundred meters up and with a view across the Var valley which never disappoints. Into ten kilometres of fairly easy descent and on to Levens which has its own claim to views fame, across to Mont Ferion and a favorite gravel playground. A hard left and it's time to climb.

Here there is a little cloud cover and a drop in temperature, more favourable for a stretch of five kilometres with a four percent average. Up ahead the ruins of the Chateauneuf Villevieille which with time on your side is worth a short detour. The uneven surface might put you off but as a place to stop and think, even for a moment, it is hard to beat. The present and the past come together, the future as yet unknown. Ignore the cars which bare noisy testament to the choice of destination and gulp in Mont Macarron, another wonderland above Nice and a must do for those who love gravel.

Height equals cool and a wind jacket is only just enough for the descent to Contes at this time of year. Fortunately the climb to Peille averages a 7% gradient, more than enough to floor warmth back into every extremity.

Stop in the village to fill your bottle. Wander the narrow streets if there's no rush, hear the church clock strike on the hour and resist, or not, the temptation to laze away a few minutes in the sun next to the fountain. Then, when ready, back into the descent towards La Turbie, with cliffs rising above and the temptation to stop again for a picture rising with them. Further down is the signpost to Saint Agnes, a reminder that Col de la Madone is only a short stretch away but today it's for another day...

The ridges above Monaco lead us towards Col d'Eze and also back to another world. The warmth returns, the coastline reappears and the gaze is drawn to a stretch of sea that from up here looks good enough to dive into. This is where we planned to watch this year's race, on the col des 4 chemins, with the peloton passing twice and a spectacle guaranteed. So it wasn't to be but next year they'll be back and next year we'll be back to see them.