Monday, July 18, 2016

Cycling Corsica Day 5: Cap Corsica with Bonus Climb (115 miles, 13k ft climbing)

Day 5- Cap Corse with Extra Fun (110, 13k ft climbing miles)

On our last day in Corsica, everyone agreed that we should do what we most wanted to with our remaining time.  For most it was, with apologies to Shakespeare, "Once more unto the beach!"  But not for me -- I was still reminiscing about my 95-mile circumnavigation of Cap Corse a few days before.  I wanted to do that again, but to spice it up by adding a second -- and arguably harder -- hors categorie climb along the way.  If the day cooperated, I'd finish without a pedal stroke left in me.

The elevation profile of this ride left no secret as to where the challenges lay.  In fact, the ride might have been called "Mountains for Breakfast," as it had 6,000 feet of climbing in the first 35 miles.

I've covered the first climb a couple of times: 7.7 miles at a grade of 7%+, with the final 2.5 miles a 10% kicker.  But it turned out that this wasn't the hardest way up the mountain -- that honor fell to the climb to the summit from the east, in Bastia.  So, after summiting from the west for a third time, I descended to Bastia, loaded up on some anonymous-looking treats called "Fenioux Energie Barres" at an Esso gas station, and then turned around and climbed back up to the tower from the other direction, the "Route Imperiale Col du Pigno."

Yikes -- on tired legs, not an easy task.  That beast is 6.6 miles long at a 9% average grade, again with the last 2.5 miles at 10%:

But I survived, which is to say, I managed to outpace the cows wandering around near the summit.   The eastern ascent is definitely the harder of the two, as it starts steeper and doesn't include any of the gentle stretches you get from the western side.  Essentially it's slightly more climbing, but a mile shorter.  You earn your Fenioux bars, and I have to say, those are easily some of the most delicious things I've ever had on a bicycle.  If you're in France and not eating these, you're wasting your time.

They're so good I ordered a couple of boxes for Race Across Oregon -- hopefully I'll have some left by the time I get to the starting line.

The great thing about front-loading two HC climbs into a 115-miler is that the rest of it is a sheer joyride.  I'd taken my pictures the last time around, so this time I just enjoyed the experience, making sure to stop by my favorite ice cream shops along the way.  At the end of the day, it was 115 miles, 13,000-something feet of climbing, and utter perfection.

Looking back on it, I would say that at least 3 of my 5 most memorable days on a bicycle came on this trip.  One can make an argument for riding through Denali at sunset in the Big Wild Ride 1200k -- nothing is going to top that.  My 2014 ascent up Mt. Ventoux was up there, as was my cruise down the Pacific Coast Highway on the Central California Coast 1200k.  But I have to say that I prefer Corsica to the PCH: the scenery is, if anything, better and more varied, and the traffic is comparatively nonexistent.  Ventoux was memorable but comparatively brief.  

The bottom line is, there may be a better place on this planet to ride a bicycle, but I've never seen it, and frankly, I doubt it.  Mainland France and Italy have higher mountains for sure, but good luck finding them juxtaposed against the most beautiful oceans you've ever seen.  The coastal motif is what sets Corsica apart, because the sheer jaggedness of the landscape means that rides are more like rollercoasters than meanders from one point to the next.  Pair it with terrific local wine, the best produce you've ever tasted, spectacular beaches, historic villages, world-class hiking, and relative affordability, and I'm not sure why anyone ever vacations anywhere else.  I give huge credit to Amy for dragging me here against my uncertainties.  Just go.

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