Cent Cols Challenge Corsica

With stages still averaging 200km but with climbing limited to a ‘mere’ 3800m average per stage, this is a perfect CCC for those whose knees shy away from incessantly steep gradients. Most of the climbs are long but steady, which does not mean they feel easy. We will meet far more animals than cars on the roads and though villages are frequent, shops are rare; modern life has yet to even scrape the surface of tradition in most of these remote locations. Road surfaces vary as much as the local economy, with pristine new tarmac making mysterious but sometimes brief, occasional appearances. Changing hotels every other night will take much of the off-bike stress out of this CCC but the temptation of a day on the beach, rather than another day in the saddle, might prove too much for the weak-minded.

Thanks to the attention the visiting pro peloton has granted it in recent years, Corsica is now gaining the popularity it has always deserved as one of the best ways to enjoy cycling in the Mediterranean. These 10 days leave little of the island unexplored.

Dates:
18th May to 28th June 2015

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Stage One : Bastia to Corte

Distance: 220km
Elevation: 4,200m
Key climbs: Cols de Terghine, San Stefano, Bigorno, San Gavino, Casardo, San Cervone.

Following a brief but grand view of the western coast from the Col de Terghine, the route takes us due south across wooded hills, through remote villages and over eight main climbs. We almost come back to sea level after a 26km downhill section, near San Guiliano, before an even longer climb due west up to the Col de Casardo. From here it is a bumpy ride further inland to the busy town of Corte.

Stage Two : Corte to Corte

Distance: 190km
Elevation: 4,380m
Key climbs: Cols de Vergio, Sevi, Vizzavona, Serra, Bellagranajo

A stage of contrasts. The opening climb, the Col de Vergio, requires upward cycling for almost 50km and is rightly considered the most beautiful and challenging on the island. Narrow roads with jaw-dropping views keep the mind occupied. An equally entrancing road awaits on the downward side, towards Porto. Then another of Corsica’s wildly remote roads tackles rocky hillsides taking us south-east, eventually finding the N193. It is a long slog to the top of the Vizzavona but at least the original road up remains, allowing us to battle the climb away from traffic. Another smaller upward section spoils an otherwise perfect descent section to the stage’s end.

Stage Three : Corte to Propriano

Distance: 195km
Elevation: 3,850m
Key climbs: Cols de San Quilico, Erbajo, Morello, Sorba, Verde, Vaccia, Ste Eustache

After the exceptionally beautiful climb to the Col de Sorba, the greater part of this stage follows the green spine of Corsica, a fabulous mixed forest through which the D69 struggles to find its way. Most of the tarmac on this stage seems brand new, though some clearly isn’t. The Verde tops the stage, leaving three climbs and some fabulous descents before we see the sea.

Stage Four : Propriano to Propriano

Distance: 177km
Elevation: 3,400m
Key climbs: Cols de Bavella, Vaccia,Granaccia, Bellevalle

From one port to another, our route first goes inland, heading towards the curious rock formation of the ‘Aiguilles de Bavella’, which can be admired from the col of the same name. Back down through the charming village of Zonza, we then head north-east along more twisting roads, taking on the Col de Vaccia from its southern side this, before rolling along a bumpy section that includes several cols but no major climbs. A very pleasant 28km, more or less downhill, finishes the stage.

Stage Five : Propriano to Porticcio

Distance: 177km
Elevation: 3,400m
Key climbs: Cols de Bavella, Vaccia,Granaccia, Bellevalle

From one port to another, our route first goes inland, heading towards the curious rock formation of the ‘Aiguilles de Bavella’, which can be admired from the col of the same name. Back down through the charming village of Zonza, we then head north-east along more twisting roads, taking on the Col de Vaccia from its southern side this, before rolling along a bumpy section that includes several cols but no major climbs. A very pleasant 28km, more or less downhill, finishes the stage.

Rest Day

Today is a time to take things easy at our hotel in Porticcio. Relax on the beautiful white beach, then enjoy the second of three nights we’ll spend in this fabulous resort.

Stage Six : Porticcio to Porticcio

Distance: 195km
Elevation: 3,900m
Key climbs: Cols de Cortone, Chenova, Crichetto, Val d’Eze, Scalella

A southern swoop along the coast opens the stage, before some sharp climbing inland towards the Col de Cortone, which dominates the forest of Chiavari. The profile from here until the 1,200m Col de Scalella is particularly jagged. More narrow roads (few back lanes are left unexplored by the end of our trip) eventually take us to the 20km section to the top of the Scalella. Another long descent down to sea level closes the stage perfectly.

Stage Seven : Porticcio to Porto

Distance: 188km
Elevation: 4,000m
Key climbs: Cols de San Bastiano, Bocca di Sarcoggio, Ambiegna, Sevi

This bumpy ride takes us first along the west coast, along a gently rising (and falling) road, before veering off again onto the ‘lost roads’ common on the island. Harsher climbs are to be found along the way but the stage really comes alive in the last 60km. This contains a section of spectacularly wild and apparently forgotten tarmac, followed by the severe climb up to the Col de Sevi – with its 12% final kilometre. The 22km descent down into Porto is one of the best pieces of road you could ever wish to cycle on.

Stage Eight : Porto to Porto

Distance: 170km
Elevation: 3,500m
Key climbs: Cols de Vergio, Sevi, St Antoine, San Martino, Osini

The shortest stage of the event but starting with the longest climb – from sea level to 1,400m in 36km. Descents galore follow, before a beautiful ridge section with distant sea views. Finally, we plunge down to sea level for a rollercoaster ride taking us to the grand finale of this stage: part one is the road to the beach via Col d’Osini; part two is the descent through the famous red-rock Calanches of Porto. Quite exceptional.

Stage Nine : Porto to Ile Rousse

Distance: 209km
Elevation: 3,300m
Key climbs: Cols de la Croix, Salvi, Bocca di a Battaglia, San Colombano

The first of the two-stage ‘tour’ of the north of the island. An 80km coastal stretch is a real treat to open the stage, taking us to Calvi. From here, we turn inland for some higher view points of the azure Meditteranean. This stage includes the toughest climb of the Challenge, with a few quite steep bits. After this battle, the rest of the stage seems gentle but always entertaining.

Stage Ten : Ile Rousse to Bastia

Distance: 162 km
Elevation: 3,100m
Key climbs: Bocca di Vezzu, Ste Lucie, Serra, San Martino di Lota

To begin the ‘Tour of Capi Corsu’ we first traverse the Desert des Agriates, from St Florent up along the rocky coast on perfect roads to Abro, from where we take the high road to Pino – a very dramatic piece of tarmac. Cutting east here, across the Cap via the impressive Bocca di Ste Lucia, we then descend to the much tamer east coast to enjoy a fast 20km on a sweeping smooth road. But then we head up to San Martino for some more infinity views of the azure blue sea. This stage is less predictable then might be expected and makes a perfect curtain call to this very special series of rides.

Full price of trip: £3050

More info: centcolschallenge.com »

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