CLUB MED

There’s a clus­ter of rid­ing spots on the French/Ital­ian coast that of­fer trails that are up there with any­thing in the Alps

Mountain Biking UK - - CONTENTS - Words Tom Marvin Pics Rus­sell Bur­ton

There’s a clus­ter of rid­ing spots on the French/Ital­ian coast that of­fer trails that are up there with any­thing in the Alps. We in­tro­duce our four favourites

The Alps are still the big­gest draw for UK moun­tain bik­ers look­ing for for­eign climes in which to test their met­tle each sum­mer, but there’s an­other area, split down the mid­dle by the French/Ital­ian bor­der, that needs your at­ten­tion. Be­tween Nice and Genoa the moun­tains drop straight into the sea, their sides lit­tered with hot, dry, rocky and dusty trails that are the home turf of sev­eral down­hill and en­duro leg­ends. Take Peille, for ex­am­ple – a small vil­lage tucked away in the hills be­hind Nice that’s home to three world cham­pi­ons, all of who grew up on the same street! If that’s not enough, al­most ev­ery area of the Mar­itime Alps is keen to at­tract more moun­tain bik­ers to its towns, so ac­com­mo­da­tion, trans­port and trails are all be­ing primed for a well-de­served in­flux of rid­ers. There are four spots in par­tic­u­lar that we reckon are worth check­ing out.

Fi­nale Lig­ure

If you’ve only heard of one rid­ing desti­na­tion in the area, it’s prob­a­bly Fi­nale Lig­ure. The small Ital­ian town has played host to the fi­nal round of the En­duro World Se­ries (EWS) since its in­cep­tion in 2013, and prior to that was the lo­ca­tion for many do­mes­tic Su­perEn­duro races. If you’re look­ing for a rid­ing spot that typ­i­fies en­duro rid­ing and rac­ing, then Fi­nale is it.

Most rid­ers will use one of the nu­mer­ous up­lift ser­vices, but that’s not to say there’s no ped­alling in­volved. Fi­nale’s trails are known for their fast and flow­ing na­ture, and are in­ter­spersed with tech­ni­cal sec­tions, rather than just be­ing full-on steeps (though you can find those too). With lit­er­ally hun­dreds of miles of trails to ex­plore, there’s a de­cent week’s rid­ing from just this one town.

There’s plenty of de­scend­ing to be done around the for­mer NATO base, which sits at an al­ti­tude of just un­der 1,000m and has some of the best views in the re­gion, out to the Mediter­ranean. Our favourite area, though, is the Manie Plateau, near the town of Varig­otti. The ter­rain here is a lit­tle more open than it is fur­ther down the val­ley, so the views are dif­fi­cult to beat, and the trails are a lit­tle wider and faster. This means you can open the throt­tle and let rip, leav­ing clouds of dust be­hind you, be­fore drop­ping down into town. There are three main down­hill trails from here back to Fi­nale – ‘DH Women’, ‘Briga’ and the more techy ‘DH Men’.

San­remo

Mid­way be­tween Fi­nale and the French bor­der is San­remo, a smaller re­sort with an at­ti­tude that more than makes up for its size. The guys be­hind a lot of the trail work ( www.san­re­mo­bik­ere­sort.it) have put the blood, sweat and tears in to make it a rid­ing spot well worth vis­it­ing. While Fi­nale has a mix of trails, with a bias to­wards fast and flowy, San­remo’s rid­ing is steeper and more tech­ni­cal, with 20 of­fi­cial down­hill and en­duro tracks, which are marked on maps and sign­posted in places. Home to one of Italy’s first down­hill cour­ses, this place has rac­ing pedi­gree.

With a much longer sea­son than the Alps, we rode San­remo in early spring, hav­ing just come out of a long win­ter of rid­ing in the slop. To say it was an eye-opener would be an un­der­state­ment. Straight off the plane and into big rocks, deep dust, gnarled roots and pun­ish­ing gra­di­ents, we

all rode like shit on the first day while our brains read­justed to the tech­ni­cal in­san­ity in front of us. But with the guys from San­remo Bike Re­sort up­lift­ing and guid­ing us for a few days we soon got our eye in, and were def­i­nitely glad of the long-travel en­duro bikes we’d taken there. While 160mm seemed to be the sweet spot for us, down­hillers and trail rid­ers should also find plenty to ride in the val­leys.

Peille

This pic­turesque vil­lage perched on a rock must have some­thing in its water (which we’re think­ing of bot­tling and flog­ging at a vastly in­flated price) be­cause it’s spawned not one but three world cham­pi­ons. Down­hill (and later, en­duro) stars Ni­co­las Vouil­loz and Fa­bien Barel were born here, along with 1999 Ju­nior XC champ Ni­co­las Filippi. An­other DH champ, Löic Bruni, has been known to hang out in the area, and Filippi’s half brother is en­duro racer Yoann Barelli. This is an area where moun­tain bike leg­ends are made.

So what’s in it for you? Well, 335km of trails in the wider area should be more than enough to ex­plore, even if you just stick to the 150km of sign­posted routes. If you’re hun­gry for more, a reg­u­lar train ser­vice from Nice heads up to­wards Sospel and the Roya Val­ley, which of­fer even more great rid­ing. The trails are full of flow, but be wary of tech­ni­cal fea­tures along the way – their eas­i­est stuff would be red-graded here in the UK, so take your knee pads with you. With a rel­a­tively large area to ex­plore, it wouldn’t be a bad shout to get a lo­cal to show you around – www.ac­tivites

pleine­na­turepeille.com of­fer guid­ing, shut­tling and e-bike hire.

While en­duro is def­i­nitely the main fo­cus at the mo­ment, the rac­ing his­tory of this French vil­lage goes back decades. The down­hill track in town was raced from 1996 to 2009, and it’s back this year. Its name? The ‘DH of Cham­pi­ons’, of course.

Sospel

Sospel sits a bit higher up in the moun­tains than the other spots here but is eas­ily ac­cessed from Nice by road or rail. The rid­ing is a bit more chilled out than down in Peille, but the 160km of trails are well way­marked, mak­ing self-guid­ing a bit eas­ier. While the Ital­ian coast gets bru­tally hot in sum­mer, the higher reaches of Sospel are a bit friend­lier. Still, de­spite their moun­tain­ous lo­ca­tion, the trails are ac­ces­si­ble year-round, and can eas­ily be linked into the Peille net­work if you want a mas­sive day out.

The area has a typ­i­cal Mar­itime Alps feel, with sparse tree cover and bedrock push­ing through the thin soil on the south side of the moun­tain, while there are more loamy forested trails on the north­ern side. Of all the lo­ca­tions here, Sospel has the most nat­u­ral feel, with fewer ob­vi­ously man­made fea­tures and trails. But fans of jumps and drops can still have a laugh in the bike park close to town. This is a place for fast-rolling yet grippy tyres that are able to take a beat­ing. You should be able to get away with rid­ing a reg­u­lar trail bike here too – a 140mm­travel 650b/26in bike or even a de­cent 120mm 29er should be more than ca­pa­ble of tack­ling most of the trails.

If there’s one thing hold­ing Sospel back, it’s that it can be a lit­tle sleepy, be­ing off the beaten track. There aren’t masses of restau­rants and bars in town, and they won’t al­ways be open – an emer­gency stash of food wouldn’t be a bad shout if you’re think­ing of vis­it­ing.

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