Last September, for the 3rd year in a row, over a hundred cyclists from diverse backgrounds gathered around James Olsen to take part in the Torino-Nice Rally.
A recap of what this now classic route is about and interview with the organiser, with a gallery of riders and their set ups.
The route’s 700km is no walk in the park. With 20 000m of climbing and much of that off road, the Torino-Nice will take you over 2000m several times a day!
You’ll be crossing several renowned cols, such as the Col d’Izoard, made famous by the Tour de France, or the Colle Delle Finestre, a gravel section on the Giro.
There are numerous other cols, not so well known perhaps, but just as punchy.
From the first day, the slopes of the Colle del Colombardo risk tempering heightened motivation or hopes even of chasing a KOM. We will barely mention the Col de Peas, to not ruin the surprise for you… (Don’t bother searching, it isn’t even listed in Cyclingcols)
Besides fire hazard, campfires are likely to damage wildlife on the long term.
A few ideas to lessen your impact :
-Whenever possible, use an existing fire ring.
-Off-the-ground fire : isolate your fire from the ground, putting a firebowl over a few stones.
-Only burn dry wood that you gathered on the floor, and not too thick, so that it will burn to ash.
-In order to heat up your dinner, why not just use a stove ?
-Eventually, the obvious solution : do not make a fire !
In these times of technical clothes, rare are the events when one needs a fire to survive.
Of course, a nice campfire feels good, it warms up the body and comforts the mind.
It also has the advantage of leaving a peculiar smell on your sleeping bag !
The climbing is certainly a major feature of the TNR, but that isn’t where the heart of this event lies…
- It isn’t a race (prizes for the those bringing up the rear)***
- The route bounces between 2 countries renowned for their food
- Stunning countryside
- Over a hundred riders all with an identical mindset
So why rush? It is an event to make new friends, to share a meal of gnocchi or real pizza or to camp out together. La dolce vita! (Almost…)
One of the best moments I have experienced on the 3rd TNR: Reaching Rifugio Gardetta at 19.00 h, after a monstrous climb full of double digits percentages, including the hike-your-bike section towards Little Peru. All under the conditions of three hours of pouring rain and some rolling thunder here and there.
But just because of the extremity of it all, the rain and the climb, making silly jokes about it, and most of all because of the breathtaking reward of reaching Little Peru, this was one of those moments that make TNR so special.
Every day was so full of great riding and great people. For example bombing down Colle del Colombardo with James on really fast speed and great corner slipping, riding the Strada Dell Assietta in the sunrise – was f*cking great, the sunset right on top of Col d’Agnel, totally silent, nobody was there, this was such a beautiful moment. Riding the whole via del Sale and to have a beer for breakfast at the Rifugio don Barbera – perfect. To have a great riding partner with Davide Nicolino for two days was nice and a happy meeting. Thanks Davide for all!
James Olsen, rally organizer
How different was this third edition from your expectations?
The larger number of riders wasn’t any kind of problem, as I worried it may become. The rain on the dinner night may have helped keep the numbers lower there, it’s clear much more than 100 is a big crowd for any restaurant.
But once we started riding we all spread out fairly quickly. The Colombardo effect exaggerates the natural differences in pace and approach among a group of riders.
What was your best moment on the ride?
Bivi with Biff on the Izoard. Not for the bromance, although the company was great! It was just one of those good days that finished up with a beautiful clear, cold night and some stargazing that I’ve not done for a very long time.
Looking up into space for a couple of hours, helped along by some good French red, reset something for me and perhaps helped shape my mindset for the rest of the ride in a way that I only started to appreciate or even really notice after the ride was over.
What was your worst moment?
Maybe the weather during the Little Peru section and the following descent to Demonte. Luckily we hadn’t got too cold at the top and we descended in time and gained a few degrees when we really needed it.
It was just on the verge of real discomfort so it wasn’t the worst moment, just potentially the most challenging.
Where was your best bivy spot?
I’ve wanted to bivi out in the Gardetta for a while and this year I made sure my sleeping bag was up to it.
After riding to Cuneo with Biff as he had to go back to Turin via train, I rode back with the aim of re-joining the route further back from where I left it. I got back onto it via the Maira valley and stopped and bivied at the base of the Death Road around 10.30pm. I rode up that the next morning, saw a few riders on their way down, then rode along the Cannoni and carried up the Gardetta hike-a-bike after that.
It was great to meet a few riders (inc you Cyril!) at the refuge. That was a fairly tiring day so I got a fairly good night’s sleep up there. The pre-dawn light behind the Rocca de la Meja was an inspiring sight to wake up to.
I messed up my camera settings and didn’t get many good shots unfortunately, but the experience was the real reason for it. And I learned a bit more about manual camera settings!
Any advice for a future first-timer?
Beyond low gears, taking essential kit only and bigger tyres, the usual good tips?
Perhaps, don’t judge the route on the GPS file or distance.
Don’t think that looking at data and elevation profiles will make much (or any) difference on the day.
It may reassure you but it may also create plans or schedules that won’t last long once you start riding.
Awareness of how the route compares to your previous experience is a good thing though, of course. To me, the beauty of this kind of travel comes when learning to let go and to adapt, to take it as it comes and to know where and when to use your ability. The ebb and flow of effort against the environment perhaps.
To do that you need to be fairly honest with yourself on what your ability is – that’s a skill in itself, particularly to do it consistently day by day, it’s something most of us misjudge at times.
This image sums up the Torino Nice Rally for me. It feels like it captures the scenery, the terrain, the gruelling effort and the camaraderie of the event.
The rider in the foreground is Rob. We were riding in a group of four and we met him late evening on day 2 as we left the pizza restaurant in Bussoleno. He led us up the foothills of the Finestre to a good bivy spot he knew of from two years previously.
He was a larger than life character that we rode with on and off for the next few days. We joked with him that he hadn’t washed his face since the start of that ride because he had that gnarly sun burnt face of a life enjoyed outdoors.
This image captures him putting in the effort crossing the Strada Dell’ Assietta. I love the look on his face… What a great event.
Frequently asked questions
What level of rider do I need to be?
Honestly -and it is a very personal opinion- anyone who is motivated and well equipped to ride in any mountain weather can finish the TNR. Some will cover the distance quickly, some will be pushing their bike more often than others, but no part of the route is insurmountable.
What type of bike should I use?
It’s a hugely varied route for which there is no singular answer.
Some ride gravel bikes, others full suspension, a hardtail, ‘old school’ 26ers and even single speed! There are flat bars, flared bars, classic drop bars, touring setups…..
As with any ride, the best bike is the one you have.
How much water and food should I carry?
TNR riders often joke that they just end up carrying full bottles from one water point to another! Water points are plentiful and 2 bottles on the bike are easily sufficient.
As for food, always carry some ‘just in case’ sustenance, but mostly, take advantage of all the alpine specialities that are on offer along the route!
How long does it take?
However long you have planned for the ride, you should take longer! The more hurried will be done in around 3 and half days, whereas those with adventure in mind will take up to 10 days.
- Distance: 700km/435miles
- Total ascent: 20 000m
- Tarmac: 485km/300miles
- Off-road: 240km/150miles
- Highest point: 2750m
- Lowest point: 0m
And even lower if you take a dive in the sea in Nice!
There is no entry fee
The current trend we are seeing is high entry fees for a GPXroute.
The TNR is straight forward: no gadgets, no tracker, no souvenirs of a musette or number plate. Everyone is responsible for themselves, it is really just a big ride with mates!
There’s nothing to win
If you are the 1st to complete its 700km, then great riding. If you are the last rider back then you’re no doubt sampled all the cafes and eateries on route, capturing the real spirit of the TNR!
All the money raised from the sale of the TNR patches go to Smart Shelter, a charity who work towards constructing earthquake proof buildings and schools in Nepal, India and Indonesia.
One of the shared values of the TNR and Evanoui is respecting the environment. Leave no trace and leave areas as we found them, even cleaner when possible.
It isn’t a mandatory requirement, but it’s about sharing nature with those who pass through after us.
James Olsen, the TNR’s creator, willingly shares the GPX track, even if you can’t take part at the official start date. He’ll even pass on his personal advice at the same time, but he might understate the demands of the occasional portage sections!
It isn’t a race
Fellow riders aren’t other competitors, but potential travel compagnons. I have ridden all 3 editions and each time have come away with new friends.
Tough and impressive climbs, long and technical descents, rough gravel sections, unpredictable weather, mental management, or even the ride from Nice to Torino two days before the event.
Many have been the aspects that I’ve had to work and prepare throughout this year.
I could say that I expected that, but what I didn’t expect was the human warmth, the smiles, and the complicity with the whole family of participants.
For me it has been, without any doubt, the biggest surprise of the Torino-Nice Rally. People are the most beautiful reward that I’ve brought home.