Trains, plains, and...gravel bikes. The second edition of the Cuneo-Monaco Classico was made by pioneers for pioneers. Part cyclo-sportive, part audax, part pizza and beer festival, the guys at Chilkoot know how to throw a bike party. And the rules are, there are no rules (if you like it that way). There is a beautifully crafted route map sure, but don't follow if it you want to get to Stars 'N Bars for beer in Monaco as quick as possible.

The Cuneo-Monaco Classico 2016

Ah, Monaco. It's an interesting juxtaposition to have 23 adventuring free-spirits rendez-vous at Saint Devote, the first corner of the Grand Prix circuit. Swap your Jaguar for your Jaegher bike, add luggage and facial hair. This ain't no champagne party. That said, some riders had appropriate eyewear for the 'Principality'.

How do you stress an Italian train conductor? Add 23 bikes to the small train that snakes its way up the Roya valley and through the Tende tunnel to Cuneo. Two and a half hours was plenty of time to geek out on the kaleidoscope of bike flavours brought by the Parisians, the Alsaciens, the Italians and the Azuriens to tackle the 156kms of bitumen and gravel the following day.

The Cuneo-Monaco Classico 2016

We've said it before, pizza is perfect ride food. Fact. Personally, we are flattered that our Italian partners who meet us in Cuneo order the same simple buffalo mozzarella style. Tomato and cheese, why complicate it further? Bierra Moretti completes the scientific preparation for tomorrow's roll-out.

Piazza Tancredo Galimberti, Cuneo, zero seven hundred hours. Possibly the only time you don't risk fatality with Italian drivers doped to the eyeballs on doppios. And a fitting place for individual portraits of each and every pioneer to be taken. Zip up your Jacqueline gilet, say cheese and....ride.

40kms on the plain of the valley and no-one is helping Simon on the front. He's on a fixie riding into a 10kph head-wind. Stupid is as stupid does? Chris, fresh from this year's Transcontinental (there's another juxtaposition) shames everyone else and takes over.

The Cuneo-Monaco Classico 2016
The Cuneo-Monaco Classico 2016

Tende from the Italian side. Normally round here roads on the Italian side of a mountain climb the same elevation in a much shorter distance than their French neighbours. Tende is an exception to the rule. It's a much more open, much better surfaced version to cater for Limone ski resort. When was the last time a descent was harder than the ascent?

And that descent turned our respect for Thierry, also on a pignon fixie, into either uber-respect or mocking humour. Not sure which but as he's traversed both the Alps and the Pyrenees using only his 47/17 gearing, we'll opt for the former. Certainly, watching him try to navigate the gravillons of the first 4kms of the descent controlling his speed through the pedals gave as fine an appreciation for the freewheel and the disc brake as you'll ever have. Chapeau Thierry (and Simon)

Unfortunately brakes did not save Alexandre from 'pioneering' into a car in the Roya valley at 60kmph. Broken bike, broken collarbone. As you can tell from the picture above, his sense of style remained unbroken. Coolest post-car crash cycling profile ever? Courage Alexandre....

The Cuneo-Monaco Classico 2016

The Brouis and Braus col combination was brilliant but bruising. Arriving in Sospel meant only one valley away from beer, yes? Not on this route. The best gravel lay above, on the easily missed left turn opposite the René Vietto memorial at the top of Braus. We meet single-speed Simon in the restaurant at the top. He's having to take a moment. Long live the freewheel and the 10-speed cassette....

The gravel chemin between Braus and Mont Ours is such a delightful experience, legs almost recover and a strange re-grouping of the lead pack occurs on a remote section of tarmac where usually hunters stake out the wild sanglier. It's comforting to hit the second half of the Col de la Madone together. But the fourth and final Col is anything but comfortable as the elevation gain ticks past 3,000m. Motivation comes from knowledge that the next section is a fast 30km descent to cold beer on the other side.

From the first corner, to the last corner.... we freewheel (except Thierry and Simon of course) past La Rascasse, the final turn on the grand prix circuit to find table reserved for us in Stars 'N Bars with a sign-in book to record your time. Arrival 1605 hours, first beer finished 1606 hours. The super-yachts sway behind the group of pioneers, having been used maybe three or four times by their owners this year.

Most of our bikes parked in the bar are ridden every day. One final juxtaposition.