2021 Komoot Women’s Torino-Nice Rally Report: To The Finish!
Lael Wilcox reports in from the final days of the 2021 Women’s Komoot Torino-Nice Rally to share more impressions of her time spent riding along the Italy-France border with a group of around 20 other women. Find her story and a phenomenal gallery of images here…
Photos by Rugile Kaladyte (@rugilekaladyte)
At least eight women are stopped on the ledge. Tamara gives Sian a tube to fix her flat. Gaëlle has her bike flipped upside down and is changing her brake pads. Katherine is fighting a cold, popping herbal throat drops that she’s been carrying since day one. Emily is passing out thumbnail-sized amaretto cookies. Nobody turns them down. Half a dozen more riders turn up. They all stop and we’re together. We’re on the sixth day of the rally and have climbed eight significant mountain passes with a few smaller cols in between. The bikes are showing the beating and I can feel the riders sinking into contentment and camaraderie. We all spent the first five days riding our own paces in small groups, leapfrogging each other along the way, and have come together near the end. It feels right.
Mechanicals resolved, we get back on the pedals. Around the next switchback, I see Valérie slide out on a loose corner, and right behind her Gaëlle does the same. They hit the ground in quick succession. I’m off my bike and running over. I lift one bike up and then the other and the two of them get to their feet. Both of them have bloody knees and dust-covered limbs, but nobody is crying and it’s going to be all right. The rest of the crew rides up and stops and we have another switchback gathering. Valérie and Gaëlle rinse their wounds with water bottles. Emily gets out a first aid kit and plays nurse. Soon enough, Valérie has gauze over her knee, strapped down with sports tape. It looks a bit like a pirate’s eye patch and that puts a smile on her face.
“Let’s go for a beer!”
The switchbacks continue down to Tende where we connect to the Roya River. Just a year ago, Storm Alex ravaged the area—the worst flood in 120 years. The river shows evidence. Massive boulders still lie in the stream. Houses are destroyed and entire villages are abandoned. Road construction is heavy through the river valley and we ride the 17 kilometers as a crew. Some trucks honk greetings and others sound off in anger. We make it to Breil-sur-Roya, passing the turn up the next mountain pass to regroup in town.
Among the storm damage, a wooden hut has been constructed to serve as an interim bar and the owner pours us cold blonde beers. Emily pulls out a half kilo of salted peanuts that she’s been carrying as emergency rations since the start and the party begins. Everyone cheers when the bartender brings us little bags of potato chips.
I check the Komoot Collection to make plans for the next couple of days. It turns out, we only have two significant climbs and 120 kilometers to ride over the next two days. No one is in a rush to get to Nice. We’d rather spend more time on the route. We’ll camp nearby tonight, ride over the Col de Turini tomorrow, resupply in Sospel, and spend a final night camped out together before descending to the Mediterranean for a swim in the sea. Party pace!
We order another beer.
With an hour to sunset, we turn back onto the route and stop at the supermarket to buy provisions.
Gaëlle and Adrienne ask locals about camping, and they recommend an olive orchard behind a church a kilometer or so up the climb. With food strapped all over the bikes, we get going. Gaëlle sprints off and I follow. Rue jokes that I’m on an e-bike. I spot the clover leaves, purple fruit hanging and dozens of figs scattered on the street.
Rue and I pull over and tell the group we’ll catch up. We place Rue’s bike against the concrete wall just below the tree. Rue spots me while I step on her saddle, using it as a ladder to get up to the wall. From there, I grab onto a branch and start the hunt.
“There’s a good one! There’s a good one!”
I pass the figs down to Rue two or three at a time. Once we have a few good handfuls, I climb back down.
It’s just a couple hundred meters to the church. We roll our bikes behind to meet the other women and find a nice flat spot to set up the tent. The olive orchard has terraces and Gabrielle compliments our first-floor choice. The sun is going down and the mosquitoes are out.
Headlamp out. Batteries in. Tent body parachute. Poles connected. Hooks latched. Rainfly clipped. Sleeping bag fluffed. Clothes stuffed inside a dry bag to make a pillow. Air blown into the pads.
We zip it all together and bring our dinner to the circle.
Rue and I spread pesto on rye bread and top it with salami. Emily and Gabrielle are cooking gnocchi. Sophie J. is forking tuna out of the can.
“Does anyone have a stove I can use?” asks Sara.
“Yes, but my food is still in the pot.” responds Emily.
“Well, how about I move your food to my bowl?”
This gets us all laughing. Sara makes soup and hustles ingredients from a few other riders. She’s a middle school teacher and knows how to wrangle her way into any situation.
“Okay, okay. I see how this works. Who wants to donate some tomatoes to me?” asks Gabrielle.
Immediately, two hands reach out from different directions with tomatoes on the vine. We all have plenty to share.
It’s dark. We’re eating by headlamp and we don’t stay up too late. It never gets cold.
In the morning, Sara pops her head into the tent with a fresh pot of coffee. She’s making the rounds and I’m grateful.
In their own time, women are packing and eating breakfast.
Rue and I shoot a gear video for SRAM and leave the church much later than the others, but we’re not stressed. We’ll catch up.
Up, up, up. It’s 1,700 meters to the top with no reprieve. I wait for Rue at the final turn from gravel to pavement where it gets really steep. Some older French folks are stopped on the roadside and I hear the man say he has the right to be tired.
Down, down, down. We lose all but 30 meters to Sospel on switchbacks. We catch Nic and Tamara just out of town and the rest of the group is in the plaza.
It’s mid-afternoon and only one restaurant is serving food. I order bruschetta and Rue orders a panini. We’ve lived off of different forms of bread and cheese for the past week and we’re not complaining. Riders head to the supermarket to buy supplies for the evening. In pairs, we make our way up the Col Braus, the final high point of the route and our camp spot for the night.
The clouds are turning pink when we get there. Over the hills, a patch of sea is visible. Women are drinking little bottles of beer and setting up their bivvies. We walk the grounds, looking for a flat spot. In the end, we realize it’s exactly where we put our bikes down in the first place.
Night falls and reveals distant city lights. Somewhere in the dark, the sea and sky meet.
We wake up early and start packing. I’m ready to be on my bike. The dirt road rolls. The orange morning light paints the rocks. We ride through stone tunnels along terraces and make our way to civilization, first past a wealthy community and then on cobbles into the plaza at La Turbie.
The French are sitting at fold-out tables in the courtyard drinking coffee. I ask where it came from and they point to the restaurant across the street. I order two double espressos and two cappuccinos just for us two and wait for delivery before making a trip across the street to the boulangerie. Peta arrives and orders double drinks. Then, it’s Nic and Tamara. Then, it’s Gaby and Sian, and within 20 minutes, we’re all together again and back on the bikes.
We bonjour groups of roadies climbing up while we coast down. We wait at turns. We detour off route, making a direct line to the beach at Villefranche. We can smell the sea, but we can’t see it. We ride alleys, then shoulder our bikes down a long staircase. We pass women in swimsuits with towels over their shoulders. It must be that way. The walls are tall. We ride between them and come out at the sea. We roll our bikes over the sand and onto the rocks. Some women change into swimsuits. I walk into the water in my bibs. It’s not cold. I dunk my whole body, emerge, and lick my lips. The high concentration of salt makes it easy to float.
The newest gag is to make circles with our fists and pretend we’re spying through binoculars in search of Louise and Océane, dear friends who started with us in Torino. They’ve been on their own journey. This is Océane’s second bike trip and her first time riding in the mountains. Her first bike trip was a cargo bike tour de France this summer to promote Louise’s book “Le guide du Velo au Feminin.” Louise is an idea machine—from organizing a refugee cycling program in Lille to scheming a bike-surf girls’ mentorship program in Brittany. The best part is she always follows through. There are few people in the world who inspire me on this level, and Louise is at the top of my list. Océane personifies kindness and grace. We hug like family.
Late morning becomes early afternoon and we run out of time. We pedal the coast to Nice to take a group photo and then around the corner to The Service Course for the finishers’ party. We stack bikes in the cobbled alley and pull up seats around little tables. The meal comes in bites and they have to go into storage to get more beer. As a group of women, they expected we’d all drink rosé. Still covered in grime and salt from the sea, I order rosé.
One by one, every woman shares a story from the ride. There’s a lot of laughter and a few tears and plenty of hugs and arms around shoulders.
We move across town to the brewery. Brew Dog has promised all of the finishers a beer. We order baskets of fries and talk into the night. Cyril from evanoui.cc rolls up with two full-sized cardboard bike boxes gear strapped to his back for us to pack for the airplane tomorrow. He accompanies us home for safe delivery.
People who travel by bike extend themselves by riding the spectrum from pain and discomfort to joy and contentment. We learn the value of food when we run out. We learn the value of shelter when we’re stuck in the rain. We learn the value of climbing when we’re coasting the curves down to the sea. We learn how to help each other and how to enjoy more of the moments. We find courage through experience.
Life is beautifully simple when you’re focused on solving the present. With your feet on the pedals and the wind in your hair, your head is in a good place to process what’s around you and dream for the future. Choose a route. Choose a date. Invite others or don’t. Pack your bike and show up. There is room for many self-supported communities and there aren’t any rules.
Be on the lookout for at least two similar women’s bikepacking challenges with Komoot in 2022. This year, we had 50 riders sign up. Many had to cancel last minute for various reasons and we feel it was a success to get 26 women out there. There’s room for improvement. Let’s do it again! A huge thanks to the Torino-Nice Rally for this wonderful route. It is free and open to the public at any time. I couldn’t give the overall ride a high enough rating—go ride it!
- Komoot Torino-Nice Rally Collection
- Our Women’s Torino Nice Rally Collection
- Background about the TNR/Smart Shelter Foundation connection
The Torino-Nice Rally is a fundraiser for the Smart Shelter Foundation, a non-profit group that is “using locally-available resistant materials with local labour to develop lower-cost and safer building methods for homes, schools and hostels in Nepal, Indonesia and India.” If you’ve enjoyed these articles, dream of riding the route or are making plans to be there, please consider donating here.
You can find our day six route below, during which most of the above story takes place.
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