CCC Corsica : is it tough enough? An Interview with Phil Deeker

Q : Why Corsica ?
A : I discovered this island 30 years ago, well before I got into cycling. The rich road network and sensational views had stayed with me ever since. I wanted to offer an event a little earlier in the year, before the High Mountains opened their doors to us. It had to be an event that , compared to the Dolomites for example, required a little less training, which can be a problem for those of us coming out of a long, cold spring. This is not to say that Corsica is easy riding, as I explain below, but riders will definitely be able to choose how fast, or slow, to ride the climbs in accordance with their fitness.
Riding Corsica is not about ticking off boxes on a bucket list, an undeniable part of other CCC’s. Its’ ‘raison d’etre’ was easy to find however : the scenic mix of mountain, sea and forest and the silent, sinuous roads that take us up and down from one village to another combine to cast a subtle spell of awe on riders. The climbs all deserve respect, are generous with their rewards (the descents!) and are numerous enough to make ten days of tough, exhilarating riding.
Q : How much do the stages vary ?
A : Since the overall geographical area is smaller than other regions in which I have designed ten-stage events , I have been careful to make sure that each stage has its own specific profile and is built around one or more particular features. CCC riders have to put in an exceptional effort day after day. The promise of another unique day on the bike has to be delivered to sustain the level of motivation required. This island is sufficiently diverse in landscape and road climbs for this to have been achieved.
Q : How difficult is this compared to other CCC’s?
A : The average daily climbing dips under 4000 metres, (3,800m average per day) which is less than any other CCC, but there is nothing easy about any of these stages. Roads in Corsica take longer to get to the top: like the people, they are in no rush! There is just as much upward-tilting road, it just tilts at a less acute angle and tops at a lower altitude! The result will be fewer ‘popped’ knees but more aching backs. There is very little flat road in Corsica. At the bottom of every descent awaits the next climb with no introductory formalities. Having now ridden eightof the ten stages (and driven the other two) I can vouch for a sufficient challenge in store!
Q : What are the roads like?
A : For every kilometer of tarmac that does definitely need a new skin, I came across twice as much of the new, deep-black smooth stuff. Overall the road surface is in fact probably better than in the Pyrenees. Of course there are some random sections of rough stuff, but for roads that seem to get used more by four-legged beings than by four-wheeled ones, they are pretty good! Money for major road improvement seems to be coming from somewhere….
Q : And the climbs?
A : Many of the climbs are long, ( 12 to 20 kms being quite common), but they are steady. An overall average of 5% is quite common. Naturally I have managed to find some steep ones, but in general the climbs give riders a choice of the pace at which to ride. The summits are often hidden since the climbs are rarely high enough to peek above the tree-line, but magnificent views, often towards the sea, are a regular reward for the climber.
Q : The hardest climbs?
A : Three climbs come to mind, and illustrate the variety of climbing that this island offers.
The 14km climb up to the 1700m-high “ski-station” (as the road signs announce , although all we found was a hut!) of the Val d’Eze had to be included even though not a Col. It is the highest road-point on the island. After a steep opening section through chestnut trees it eases off a little, allowing riders to admire the 50km vistas down to the sea and over the hills all around. The second half of the climb is above the tree line and dramatically creates a sense of coming to the heart of the island.
From the tiny port of Porto up to the Col de Vergio the road climbs for 36kms, with a total elevation gain of 1500m. Stage 8 opens with this pearl. Through gorges, along corniche roads and then into the beautiful forest of Larician pine at the top, this is an epic climb by any standards.
Finally, the Bocca di a Battaglia is a 9km battle up barren, open hillside that looks from high down towards Calvi and the western coast. It averages out at 8% but much of it is double-figure gradient. I loved it. A true gem that really spices up stage 9.
Q : What should the weather be like for the event?
A : May and early June are probably the best time to cycle in Corsica : the wild flowers are everywhere, the vegetation is still vibrantly green, the scent of the ‘maquis’ at its best and the sun is strong enough to warm without scalding. We can expect between 20 and 30°C.
Q : Has the visit of the Tour de France appeared to have an impact on the island?
A : As mentioned above, there is a surprisingly high quantity of new tarmac around, as well as many work-in-progress sections. As if the tourist board has woken up to the fact that Corsica, having successfully hosted the Criterium Internationale and now Le Tour, should open its arms wide to the massive amateur market. Hotels I spoke with all confirmed a very noticeable increase in the number of cycling groups over the last couple of years, and are predictably taking even more bookings since the Tour turned the worlds’ attention to this tiny island.
Q : What do you expect riders to remember most about the ride?
A : Pigs, rocks, forests, cool mountain spring water, sea views, fresh ‘bruccio’ (sheep’s milk cheese),villages balancing on improbably narrow ridges, burnt-out cars, the descents, the 12 km of flat road on stage 4 (there’s no more for ten days!), the incessant twisting of the roads as they snake their way up to…..somewhere! oh, and our hotels by the sea, (our rest-day hotel is actually ON the beach!!)
Q : Do you have a favourite stage and if so, which one?
A : either stage 4 or stage 6.
Stage 4 takes us from the west to the east coast and back again. (For the first time on a CCC there are four ‘loop’ stages, which will noticeably take some of the off-bike stress out of the event.) Each way is a totally different route and so contrasting in its’ climbs and vegetation that it gives a very complete picture of this island. It includes some especially intriguing rock scenery.
Stage 6 includes the Val d’Eze climb and the Col de Scalella. As does stage 4, this stage starts and finishes at the sea yet incudes some of the best mountain scenery there is. It has a very strong mix of climbing; many different sections and a particularly enjoyable final run back down to the bay of Porticcio.
Q: Does Corsica really fit into the CCC ‘mould’?
A : As the concept of the CCC is more widely understood, there will be less need to build events around the Big Iconic Climbs. These events are about getting under the skin of a region by being taken out of ours! By surpassing our perceived limits we discover the essence of a) our surroundings, b) ourselves and c) our sport. Corsica achieves this very adequately!