We discovered the magical corners we were led to in the second edition of this adventure, alongside our collaborators Haimar López and Antton Miettinen, who took on the Alpine giants, testing out our gravel bike Terra.
The Torino-Nice Rally is neither a cyclotourism event nor a competition: this event proposes an unhurried trip, almost for beginners, of nearly 700 kilometers through the grandly spectacular Italian and French Alps. It’s a trip on which you set the times and the stages – based on a track that the organization reveals only a few weeks prior to the start – where you only know the beginning: a centric square in Turin, and the arrival point: the Café du Cycliste in Nice, the café-shop that organizes the event.
It’s a tough challenge with multiple mountain passes above 2700 meters (among them, mythical peaks of the Tour and Giro, such as Izoard and Colle dell’Agnello), and extraordinary Alpine valleys that could easily be in the Andes. As a matter of fact, the Maira Valley is known as Little Peru because of its similarity to the mountain ranges in that country. This event even challenges you to follow historic routes, such as the Via del Sale, used by Turin canners to import salt from the Mediterranean.
The perfect adventure to put your gravel bike to the test
Our collaborators Haimar López and Antton Miettinen took on these epic landscapes, completing the route in 5 stages on their Orbea Terra bikes. Bear in mind that almost half the route was on demanding gravel and rock trails, so they had no doubt that our gravel model was the best option to tackle the challenges that lay ahead.
For Haimar, the great advantage of the Terra is its “versatility, its capacity to adapt to all kinds of terrain comfortably and reliably“.”I’m sure that you’d descend better on an MTB, but you also go down quite well on the Terra. I’m sure that you’d travel better over flat land on a road bike. That's true, but you also go fast on this one; on the flat stretches, we reached speeds of 35-40 km/h, in other words, this bike moves.”
“On the asphalt, you notice its higher and more comfortable geometry, but it’s on the dirt where its full potential comes out to shine,” Haimar summarizes.
One of the appeals of this trip was precisely “going to places you can’t reach on a road bike,” something that’s possible with the Terra. We’re talking about attacking with assurance such legendary passes as Colle dell'Agnello (2,748 m), the highest pass on this route, or Col d'Izoard (2,361 m), while fearlessly taking on cols like Colle delle Finestre (2,178 m) and its infamous rocky final stretch, not apt for just any bicycle..
It is precisely the aura of this place and the spectacular sunset from its peak that astounded them on the first day, until nightfall caught up with them. “After riding and climbing several passes at nearly 30ºC, completely roasting, we lingered at the peak to watch the sunset… and the temperature dropped to 4 degrees! There you see us rummaging like crazy for our warm clothing, leg warmers, gloves, etc., because we wound up half frozen (laughter).We had to do the descent (around 20 km) in the dark, and we saw a couple of deer by the road, illuminated by our headlights,” he remembers.
This example reminds us of the importance on this type of trips of planning each day out well: throughout the8 or 9 hours you spend on the bike each day, circumstances, the terrain and the weather can change a lot…
“On the last day we got caught in a storm, with rain and cold. That day there was even flooding at the Nice airport and they had to close it. We rode down from around 2400 meters to Nice, at sea level, in an incredible downpour. It took us an hour and a half’ on the descent, which was like 25 km, over rocky, dirt and gravel trails, etc. The MTB folks are probably used to this, but for us, accustomed to roads, it seemed tremendous. I was thinking, ‘But how far down do I have to go, to -2000 or what?’That was torture, I had never suffered so much on a bicycle before,” remembers Haimar.
Via del Sale: the salty ‘vein’ of Turin
One of the most spectacular stretches of the Turin-Nice Rally is its pass along the old Via del Sale, an incredible rocky trail at an altitude of more than 2,300 meters that meanders for 30 kilometers in the impressive Alpine masses, practically carved into the rock itself and suspended over steep cliffs.
This ledge, used for centuries by traders, shepherds, pilgrims and mule drivers to transport the much-valued salt to the heart of Turin, is now terrain dedicated to MTB, hikers and the occasional motorbike or quad. Motor vehicle traffic is very limited (in fact the width of the trail prevents two from passing at the same time), and in some areas the path is not easy to travel…Much less on a bicycle!
But the views and the sensation of crossing a part of history make it well worth the extra sweat in the (duly padded) culotte as you fight against the “rocks the size of fists” that pave the path in some sections: “In this area we had an average speed of 11 km/h, when we normally ride at least 30-32.But with these boulders, it was impossible to go any faster,” he remembers laughing. But it was worth the effort.
“It is difficult to describe if you haven't seen it with your own eyes. The sheer size of the mountains surprises you. You might be used to the Pyrenees, the immensity of passes like Tourmalet, which is maybe the most representative of France, but there you’re surrounded by a hundred Tourmalets”.
Your personality is reflected on the bicycle
And so, sharing kilometers, landscapes, difficult moments when their legs wouldn’t go any further and camaraderie, Haimar and Antton completed the stages and reached the finish line, in Nice.
“This trip allowed me to reach places I never thought I’d go. At one point, it seemed like I was lost in pure nature, the wilderness, totally isolated from civilization, in a place that, in the end, wasn't so far away. I wouldn't like to see it turn into Paseo de la Concha (he laughs), but sometimes it seems a shame that there are not more people who appreciate and enjoy these landscapes. Now, with the topic of e-bikes, they are places that are more accessible than ever.”
It’s a trip where you learn how to get to know yourself and others: “I always say that the bike reflects what you’re like on a daily basis. If you’re bold as brass and do your own thing, you’ll probably behave the same way on a bike. If you’re generous and a team player, on the bike you’ll also be that way.”
And that’s when a trip like this becomes an unforgettable experience.