CCC Corsica 2014 Recon Diary Part 1 (stages 1-5)

11/11. stage 1 : Bastia to Corte. a long-ish but rolling stage with many steady climbs and a couple of serious ones. Not a bad start at all : 208 km & 4200m of undulating up . only a couple of stretches of double-figure-gradient % . three kms of straight road all day . a never-ending twisty chain of tiny roads that will spin their Corsican spell on you within hours . three shops, a few more cafés. No towns : villages with half an eyelid open . the Maquis Corse . road signs shredded by hunters bullets . ten times more cows, pigs, goats, sheep, horses than cars . twisted trunks of granddad chestnut trees . a red night sky against the outline of snow-topped sumits. snow fell just last night. villages that cling to the crest of an impossibly steep ridge with only just enough room for one street with one line of houses . I can hear the questions now : what on earth do people DO here ?! why (and how) did anyone ever build a village HERE ?! Leave your rational ‘modern’ mind behind : just soak it all in and wonder at the beauty and the mystery of it all ! A proper CCC day as an opener, without the vicious drama of the high mountains.

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12/11 Stage 2 : Corte to Corte via Verghio & Vizzavona : 188km 4380m of up.

A stage in three parts, each satisfyingly different. Three main climbing sections with consistently steady gradients of 4-8%. It is the length of them rather than the steepness that is the challenge here. All the descents are thankfully graced with perfect tarmac. A Corsican miracle!

The climb to the Vergio is 40km in all, with the first 12km of Classic Corsican Rock. (2-3%). Gorge orgy. The rest is 4-7%. Pretty views I imagine, but I climbed it today in rain cloud so saw nought. 4C at the top with snow on the verge (ok, not much, but still…)

The D4 section to the Bocca di Cruzzini and then on to Tartavellu is up & down on on a single track road that is as dramatic as you need things to get. Glorious sun for this section, before I hit more rain cloud on the final section.

Then comes the slog up to the Vizzavona. Another 6-8% but unrelenting. Thank goodness they kept the old road when they put in a dual carriageway to get up this one on its west side. Wonderful forest. Only 30 km to home, but one more climb gets in the way very rudely to spoil a long run down. The one that tops the stage well over 4000m of up. The tipping of the balance! 10 km of superb descent finishes business.

Having driven stage 1 (I rode stages 1,3,5 &nd 7 in june this summer) it was good to be on a bike. Shame the bike was not so good. Hire bike with tyres that I should have seen were worn more than is safe. Sure enough I had to replace both after the rear blew nastily on a descent. Shredded rubber, but no bodily harm luckily. A standard chainset isn’t helping things either. Good training I guess, not for my cadence though!
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13/11 : Stage 3 : Corte to Propriano. 190kms; 3900m of up.

A stage of glorious descents & almost-perfect tarmac.

The short northerly loop round Corte to collect two cols in the early morning sun – no better way to start a day, even if in the car. Snow-topped mountains around us, looking majestic.

Next : some sharpish climbs, on roads frequented seemingly more by animals than by cars, took us eventually to the top of the Col d’Erbajo 60km into the stage. The first of the ace descents comes here. Safe, smooth, views for occasional glances off-road, and of course just the one flock of sheep all over the road!

The next climb, Col de Sorba, 1311m high, is perhaps going to be my favourite of the islands’ many gifts to the cyclist, but let’s see…. Deep black tarmac, a dramatic view of the climb ahead, classic hairpins, only a little double-figure %, and a wooded top that will be useful in summer. This climb may be music to one’s ears, but I recall that when I rode this last June I was a symphony in sweat(major) ! The descent is nirvana # 2, with more deep-black tarmac only running out just before the bottom.

The col de Verde that follows is a far more rustic and gentle case of gradient-attack, due to the lazy, winding road that takes 15kms to get to the top. But this makes for a real fun descent in the same vein, apart from families of pigs all over the roads, still gorging themselves on ripe chestnuts.

The Vaccia climb is a smooth one too, with wide open views, more perfect tarmac and another fast, open descent.

The Col de Ste Eustache is still a desolate place after the massive fires of 2009 ravaged these hills. Green is still trying to fight through the charcoal black landscape, as the craggy backdrop of pink-ish rock skylines add even more drama to the whole picture. The descent was all gravel last June, but is now wide, deepest-black tarmac….until it suddenly stops after 6km and becomes a bumpy almost-single track road that seems to be struggling to fight off the invasion of shrubby trees either side. But bulldozers were there, so we presumed they have plans to prolong our fun for next year. Is Corsica hoping to get the Tour back soon, with new climbs? Seeing the money they are putting into some of these roads, it looks very likely!

One more (easy) climb after this and then a final flying descent to our hotel by the sea where the air was a very welcoming 20°C. Shame they forecast more strong winds & rain for the next few days….

A totally different stage to the first two, this one will seem easier, but the climbs will feel long again. As Claire said, the rocks in Corsica seem to speak to us….and this is after only three days under this islands spell!
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14/11
Stage 4 : Propriano to Propriano, via Porto Vecchio. 198km, 4300m of up.

A Corsican coast-to-coast stage which I felt works just perfectly. Up and over the southern spine of the island.

The morning ride over to Porto Vecchio is almost exclusively through evergreen Mediterranean oak forest. A fine road surface, tailored for traffic, but apparently kept a secret : hardly a car all morning, and no animals either, which made a nice change! Some more long, steady climbs that seem to go on just too long for comfort, finishing with the Col de Baccinu. The long descent brings the bay of Porto Vecchio into view : this ‘pedalling descent’ is a treat.

Shame that P.V. is not one of Corsica’s prettiest places and the sea front is a busy functional place, because I had been hoping (rather naively, I suppose) that we would lunch on the beach… (oh yes, I forgot – this is NOT a holiday!)

The climb that follows lunch (in a very well-chosen lay-by out of town !!!) is the toughest of the stage, taking us up towards the very sweet village of Zonza. One of those climbs that you can feel will be long but can never see the top until you are actually there. But the rock-fest at the top is quite unique. The way back is totally different from the way over. Evergreen oak is replaced by Corsican pine with giant boulders perched on each other clumsily.

Exciting descent from Zonza before a couple of cheeky climbs that look much easier than they are. Then, after another fairly fast descent we come to the final climb to the Col de Siu. Tough, and it was covered in rain cloud by the time I got there, but it felt like the views had to ok! Then comes the best descent of the stage, leading right to our hotel.

Just over 4000m of climbing again, so not an easy one, but I really loved this stage. I was also blessed with sun almost all day, but now the weather really does look like breaking as most of France gets snow & cold & other winter delights.
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15/11
Stage 5 : Propriano to Porticcio, via Zonza. 174km, 3,600m of up.

This felt like the easiest stage so far, as the stats show. Starting by the sea could mean some sharp climbing to start the day. It does. But on a late May morning this will be bliss, with views back down to the sea. A pleasant ridge section follows on twisty wooded lanes until a plunge down to the valley from which we start the longest uphill section of the stage, topping at the impressive Col de Bavella. The views over to its’ ‘Needle’ rocks are worth the effort. The descent back down is why we love cycling!

From Zonza, we tip downhill for a while more before the next haul which eventually takes us over the Col de Vaccia from its southern side. The open landscape and smooth new tarmac of this climb finds its total opposite on the following section of single track road that is possibly the most spine-chilling of the whole event. The surface is fine, the sense of fun immense, but care will be obligatory!

A shaded lunch spot by a village fountain follows all this excitement, before one of the roughest bits of road that, mid-section, mysteriously has four kms of pristine new tarmac that start & finish in the middle of nowhere…!

More charming villages; another exciting corniche road with views down towards Ajaccio; a short climb; a long descent, with one last tiny, tiny climb before we hit the coast & find our beach resort. Three nights at a resort with its private beach within eyesight of the breakfast area; as-much-as-you-can-eat buffets for all the meals – it has to be the perfect re-fuelling place for crazed cyclists on their rest day!

arbutus fruits are DELICIOUS ! (see photo). bright red when ripe and totally succulent & stuffed with hill-climbing vitamins.