There are many reasons why so many pro riders are based on the Côte d’Azur. It’s fabulously beautiful, with a warm climate, but it also offers world-class climbing within a very short distance from the crowded coast and Monaco. The pros can often be found on the famous cols, such as Col de la Madone, Col de Vence, and Col d’Eze.
After meeting up with the riders ahead of the 2018 edition of Milan–San Remo for product feedback and interviews, we follow along in the team car to the finish line in San Remo, and then all the way to their team house along the Moyenne Corniche on the Côte d’Azur.
Sneak Peek, behind the scenes with Team Sky. You can find the rider interviews at the end of the blog post.
The team house is located on one of the main roads that tumble down the slope into the principality of Monaco. The house is near the town of Beausoleil, on the French side of the border. There are predictably jaw-dropping views from the terrace. The many villas, the enormous Odeon skyscraper, and the Mediterranean sea dotted with white boats here and there take away your breath.
The morning temperatures are in the mid-forties (7°C–9°C). The riders are saying it’s unusual for this time of year, “its been a cold and wet winter season” says Salvatore Puccio, “but perfect testing ground for Castelli’s warmer winter gear,” the Italian says with a laugh. Puccio explains that he’d actually never had to wear the Alpha RoS Jacket in Côte d’Azur before, because the temperatures were always warm enough over the winter for a Perfetto Long-Sleeve or Mid-Weight Jersey.
Salvatore Puccio talks Alpha RoS jacket.
While the riders arrive at the team house one by one, we take the opportunity to catch up with one of the most decorated coaches in the sport, and one of the keys to Team Sky’s success, Tim Kerrison. Tim explains today’s program, a six-hour ride above Monaco and Nice, including some of the most famous climbs of the Côte d’Azur, including Col de la Madone.
COL DE LA MADONE
The most famous of all is Col de la Madone, thanks to its status as a test climb for many pros. It’s attractive because it simulates a 30-minute effort right on the doorstep and its south-facing slopes remain warmer in winter.
Despite never being included in the Tour de France, probably because the road is too narrow, the Madone is an integral part of cycling history. It’s known for its toughness if you don’t pay attention to your power meter, its beautiful scenery, its maximum elevation, its steepness, and it’s hairpin bends.
An epic climb, a challenging terrain for many cyclists, but still little traveled. At times, indeed, cars on the Madone can be outnumbered by professional cyclists converging from their homes in Nice and Monte Carlo.
The Madone is right above Menton, it stretches over almost 13km and averages 6.7% but the typical gradient is more like 8% as it goes from sea level to 925 meters.
A sub-50-minutes time is hugely respectable for an amateur. Professional riders are looking for something under 35. The closer they can get to the half-hour mark, the better. Chris Froome himself wrote in his autobiography, The Climb, that he climbed Col de la Madone in 30’09”, six days before the start of the 2013 Tour de France, pumping out a 459-watt average (6.85 watts per kilogram at his Tour weight).
For amateurs the Madone offers an opportunity to measure themselves against the best in the world using Strava to make a comparison. We usually ride “the Madone” loop (with Grande Corniche, Col d’Èze) at least once when visiting Team Sky just to see (and feel) what it’s all about and to enjoy the stunning scenery.
The Strava segment for the climb begins at the widely accepted start point: the Intermarché supermarket to the left (heading uphill). However, Froome describes his start line as the bus stop just past the first bend in the hamlet of Les Castagnins, around 600 meters up the road.
OFF WE GO
The riders click into their pedals when Tim starts the engine of the team car. We quickly jump into the back of the car and start the scooter with our videographer on board. The riders set an easy pace. The first 50 kilometers are a warm-up ahead of Col de la Madone, where the riders will do specific power workouts. Actually, Tim is saying that today’s ride will include three easy climbs before hitting the Madone twice—for an overall elevation gain of more than 3,600 meters over 130 kilometers.
We follow the riders down along Monaco’s high road, the sweeping Moyenne Corniche, and toward the first climb of the day, the serpentine Route de la Turbie. As we round a hairpin, Tim savors the view back over the sea. “Spectacular, isn’t it?” It’s impossible to disagree. What seemed like a tight patchwork of houses, construction sites and traffic down below is from above a greener and more natural landscape.
Arriving in La Turbie, the riders descend toward the village of Èze, cruising through busy traffic and roadwork chicanes before turning right and starting the climb up to Col d’Eze, often used as the final time trial stage of the Paris-Nice.
We catch glimpses of the sea through the trees and enjoy fantastic views on the last 2 kilometers of the climb. We take a quick stop for a nature break at the top of Col d’Eze. From here the riders will go on alone toward Menton and Col de la Madone. Tim drops us off at the team house before rejoining the riders at the bottom of the climb.
After a brief chance to bask in the sun, the riders are back from the ride, and it’s time for everyone to enjoy a fantastic lunch.
At the team house, Team Sky’s chef has prepared a nice lunch with plenty of veggies and protein. The fresh ingredients and attention to detail found in high-end cuisine parallel the marginal gains emphasized by Team Sky.
“The attention to detail and small-percentage changes can ultimately become the difference between success and failure,” says Team Sky chef, Dale Kettle.
Each rider needs an estimated 4,000-6,000 calories a day over the three-week period of a Grand Tour, so we ask Team Sky’s performance nutritionist, James Morton, to put together a sample menu for us reflecting a typical day:
1 to 2 Large Bowls of Porridge with Honey and Mixed Berries & Banana
3 egg Omelette + Smoked Salmon
Breads and Jam
Glass of Smoothie
Glass of Fruit Juice
On the bus to the stage start:
Slice of Banana Bread
During the race:
2 to 3 rice cakes/gels/bars per hour + 500ml carbohydrate drink per hour
Protein Recovery Drink
Large Portion of Rice with Chicken
Fresh Fruit and Yoghurt
1 Large plate of Pasta
Small portion mixed vegetables
1 Large portion of Mushroom Risotto
A portion of berry crumble and custard
After a quick coffee the riders swing around the house and enter the garden where yoga mattresses have been prepared for a fifteen-minutes post-ride stretch program. Stretching after a ride helps maintain the flexibility and restore muscles to their “resting” length, or to develop length in shortened muscles.
The riders don’t hang around long after finish their stretching, retreating to their homes and families a few kilometers down the road. The next morning we catch Chris Froome, Geraint Thomas, Michael Kwiatkowski, and Diego Rosa for an interesting chat. Enjoy the interviews.
Chris Froome: How can you keep ride your bike every day?
Kwiato: What’s in your Race Rain Bag for a race like Milan-SAn Remo?
Chris Froome’s favorite ride at Côte d’Azur.
Diego Rosa’s on how he go into cycling, Grand Tours, training, and more.
Chris Froome: What I like most about my job.
Kwiato: Talking Monuments, Liège-Bastogne-Liège
The following interviews with Geraint Thomas were recorded during one of our may visits at the team house, and only a few weeks after the Welshman sealed his maiden Tour de France victory.
Geraint Thomas: Talking Tour de France, objectives for 2019, and working with Castelli.
Geraint Thomas: Casual Q&As, the future, training, triathlon, favorite climb, and more.
Geraint Thomas: Favorite Castelli product, Superhero outfit, and new product ideas.
Geraint Thomas: Transforming from track to Gran Tour winner.