An Alpine Adventure: Bikepacking on gravel from Torino to Nice

A cyclist bikepacks on gravel roads somewhere in the Alps between Turin, Italy and Nice, France.
Christian Smith somewhere between Turin and Nice.

Would you say “Yes,” if someone suggested bikepacking roughly 700 km (435 miles) from Turin, Italy to Nice, France.  On the ride, you’d wind your way through the Alps and camp a bit along the way.

 In Christian Smith’s case, the answer was, “Yes.”  Here is the story of his trip from this past September when he participated in the Torino-Nice Rally.

 THE RIDE

The Torino-Nice Rally is a bikepacking, touring or randonneur event – a ride that’s a bit of most things except technically difficult in the mountain biking sense. It’s not a race, just a challenge to finish and a question of what to ride and where to focus your efforts.” -Torino-Nice Rally

There were no entry fees for the Torino-Nice Rally. It was suggested, however, that we make a donation to the Smart Shelter Foundation. There was no timing and no support other than .gpx files so we could follow the route. Some people went all out and completed it in less than four days, but why you would want to miss the scenery by riding in the dark was beyond me… Some people really drank it in and took 10+ days. We did it in 5 1/2 days with no night riding and a mixture of bivying, refugios and hotels.

This was the rally’s second year. In total there were approximately 120 participants who set out from Turin on the 5th of September taking to the winding Alpine route to Nice. The organizers supply you with GPX tracks to follow and there are various route options along the way which vary between tarmac and gravel.

Bikepacking on a gravel road in the Alps rides under a man-made, roof-like tunnel which leads into a tunnel dug out of the side of the mountain.
The tunnel before the tunnel.

CHRISTIAN’S HIGHLIGHTS

  • After completing the TNR, I completely feel like I have peaked for European cycling. The scenery was stunning and just the scale of everything – particularly the Little Peru region, Via Del Sale and ‘Death Road’.
  • The first climb of the Colombardo was completely savage and a serious wake up call for what was to follow. I ground my way to the top hoping I had the gearing for the rest of the trip.
  • Staying in a couple of remote refugios around 2400 meters (7800 feet) was an amazing experience as well.
  • Absolutely ripping it down long, gravel descents was a major highlight as well. There’s nothing anywhere near that length in the UK.
  • Gnocchi – How I have overlooked this as cycling fuel for so long is criminal.

CHRISTIAN’S CHALLENGES

  • Grinding up Cols for two hours at a time fully loaded. Though the scenery did help ease the pain, being in your bottom gear for that amount of time can really get to you.
  • Getting caught in a couple of thunderstorms – once while summiting Col Priet and the second for the entire climb up Turini.
Bikepacking in the Alps with amazing views of the mountains
Christian takes in the incredible landscape.

CHRISTIAN’S SUCCESSES

  • Completion!
  • An extremely well-performing bikepacking kit! I was grateful for the extra capacity of the Niner fork as I really do not get on with giant seat packs.
  • No get downs or injuries other than severe punishment for the gooch region…..

CHRISTIAN’S PREPARATION

  • I had done a small amount of bikepacking before and was coming off a sporadic mountain bike race season.
  • Prior to the rally, my main focus was on testing the setup on my packed up Niner RLT 9 which seemed to work well during a few 200 km rides. Although shorter distances, I felt like this replicated the time spent for the upcoming days in the alps. These rides proved very useful as I wore out some dry bags that were not robust enough and made several changes to how I was packed.
A bikepacker rests along the road, his loaded down bike leaning on a fence.
Contemplating the cyclists’ life, Christian takes a moment to rest.

MEET CHRISTIAN

Cycling has many facets for me, primarily escapism and also the catharsis of training/hard rides. Socially, cycling has been incredible as I have lived in various places in the UK and it has always brought me friendships. To quote a friend, “Cycling is the real social network.”

Now I’m really happy looking to the bridleways and gravel of the UK to open up areas I have never ridden before. I’m trying to link in as many breweries as possible on the way!

Next month, I plan on doing the Badger Divide which a route between Inverness and Glasgow in Scotland.

For more images of Christian on his bikepacking, commuting and racing adventures, follow him on Instagram: @alwaysapleasure

Note: Not to confuse the reader. Turin and Torino are the same city in Italy. More about the name HERE.

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