11 Minute Read
11 Minute Read
First of all, this post is part of a greater series of posts that I’ve written about that documents my trip to the area in the summer of 2022. If you’re looking for more on that trip and where else I went, definitely check out the post!
After the previous day’s humongous ride, doing both the Col de Braus and the Col de Turini, I needed to switch things up. I had planned to do this ride when planning my trip weeks prior, and saw this as a bit of a rest day.
And what better place to rest than in Italy, right?
The highlight of this day was to visit and climb two smaller climbs, the Cipressa and the Poggio, that are both widely known in the Milano-Sanremo race. This is the longest single day classics ride in the Pro Tour calendar at usually around 300km!
So after finding a slightly “out and back” route, loosely following another route that I was recommended from a contact on Instagram, I set out to follow in the footsteps of the peloton.
While this was sort of a bucket list item for me, it actually was quite non-eventful that day. I left my AirBnb in Roquebrune-Cap-Martin and headed along the beach towards Italy through Menton, the last town in France before the border.
Most of the traffic through this region follows the major road / freeway, which is where I imagine there’s more security. But if you’re on your bike, there’s a frontage road that goes up and over that same major road. It also happens to go up through some nice gardens and back down the other side towards Ventimiglia, Italy.
This climb was actually tougher than I expected it to be that day. It’s certainly not anything like what I had done the day prior, but I definitely remember feeling the fatigue setting in. It was about 35 degrees celsius that day and a bit exposed, but it was a beautiful and smooth climb overlooking the Mediterranean, and somehow, it all felt so very different from the previous two days of riding.
The next few miles were spent wandering along some very nicely marked and separated bike paths following the many beaches through here. They didn’t have the glitz and glamor of what I had previously seen on the France side, and definitely felt a bit more family-friendly and more local. There were a lot of condos and what I thought looked like timeshares.
Following this path actually took me eventually to the town of Bordighera, which is on a point that has some commanding views of the coastline. There was a market that was just finishing up that day, and I specifically remember seeing women carrying their goods on their heads with the most ease, it was very cool to see!
I definitely felt like I was a guest in a new and unique place in the world, a place where this sort of thing is considered absolutely normal, and it just helped me, yet again, realize just how big the world is and just how varied the people are in it.
So while this path taken through here is nice and follows the beaches, it eventually does put you back onto the main road after passing through Bordighera. Turns out that the best way to travel through here is through what’s known as the Ospedaletti bike path. It’s amazing and follows an old rail line, past repurposed train depots out past Sanremo.
Seriously, there’s a 1.7 km tunnel through here that is fully lit, stays cool in the summer, and has fun banners and signs marking famous points in Italy’s history that are bike related. It’s what’s known as the Capo Nero, which is basically the location geographically of where it is. The Italians really do have a love affair with the bicycle, and I don’t blame them!
I actually missed this incredible tunnel on my way out, as I didn’t realize that the way to get to it was by taking the turn off towards the beach when you come upon a particularly visible dolphin statue. It’s near a small bodega shop if you need snacks or water.
Don’t worry, I made sure to come back this way!
This bike path went on for a long time, let me tell you. I saw mostly casual riders through here this day, as it was hot and most people were back and forth getting to and from various beaches or lunch. The architecture through here was old, beautiful, and had a certain Italian grit to it that felt so distinct and different from everywhere else I had seen on this particular trip.
Not to mention that seeing “Sanremo” in street signs so casually was something out of a movie. It didn’t fully feel real.
It was around this time that I got hungry, so conveniently, and in true Italian fashion, I found a delicious food stop that is literally on the bike path. How cool! It’s called Paninoteca La Cueva and the staff was super friendly, and definitely catered to cyclists, especially since they had a bunch of burgers that were each named after various professional cyclists.
Check them out on Instagram!
And yes, I ate that entire burger and kept on riding. Food in Europe never seems as heavy as a lot of similar American equivalents.
Continuing on, I enjoyed another cool tunnel or two, saw some colorful condos on the beach, and generally enjoyed myself on this wonderful bike path that seemed to go on forever. Eventually I found my way out to a train station at San Lorenzo, which is where the bike path turned to gravel. It continues, but I chose this as my turnaround point, because after all, this was supposed to be a rest day.
The bike path is actually still under construction through here as of July 2022, so perhaps on the day you ride it, it will go even further!
It also happens to be extremely close to where the Cipressa climb begins.
Getting to the start of this climb is a relatively short trip from the San Lorenzo station. It just requires you to leave the parking lot of the station and take a crosswalk to start pedaling back the way you came, but along the road as opposed to the bike path. It’s seriously only about 200 meters away, and most of it is even downhill, so don’t miss it! Look for the small, but easy-to-miss sign.
As the sign says, it’s a relatively gentle climb, averaging only 5.6% with a maximum gradient of 7%. Strava’s full segment, which for some reason is marked as “hazardous”, shows it as 3.5 miles / 2.1 miles long.
It honestly is a quiet and beautiful climb. There’s a ton of history on this road, even if it’s not quite the final climbing battleground for the Milano-Sanremo race. You pass olive trees and a few houses, a road winding its way through the mountains of Liguria in the north, and your view southward of the ever-present blue Mediterranean.
At the top, you’re greeted by a lovely church that the street barely avoids, as well as a small village with a central park.
Descending the other side is very fun, very similar to a miniaturized version of the lacets I had done a few days prior, zipping through what is basically a neighborhood. Just keep an eye out for people and traffic through here!
After getting back on the main road, I headed towards the next climb, the Poggio. On the way, I stopped briefly at a Carrefour to get some water, where the guy at the front watched my bike. It was fun chatting with him, as he talked fondly of watching Peter Sagan descend during a previous event that went through here. I always love talking with the locals in unique places that I don’t think I’d normally ever be in.
I can understand why the Poggio is such an iconic climb. It’s not steep, isn’t long, and isn’t even particularly beautiful. But it’s one of those perfect, smaller climbs that let you go as hard as you can. Usually gears are available for you in the right ranges and you can really choose to take it easy or just really push yourself as part of either training or an event.
It even looks like a ramp, as if it’s asking you to take a running start!
The official strava segment for the Poggio di Sanremo shows it as 3.7 km / 2.25 miles long, with a 4% average gradient. According to the sign at the start of the climb, the first portion of the climb is slightly steeper, with it averaging downward a bit as you get closer to the top, where you’re met with another sign and another, slightly larger town square.
I actually took a few more minutes to wind down a bit by heading up into this town a bit more, where I saw some fantastic, old architecture. I even walked down a small street where I passed a few Italian shopkeepers who said something to me in Italian about some water along the path that they were cleaning - or at least that’s what I thought they were saying! Again, the very fact that I was out here on my own was kind of mind blowing to me, even if at this point in my trip, it was just simply what I was doing that particular day.
So there it is, the famous Poggio. Basically a road that, on its surface, is nothing special. But as with all things, the association that we attach to it can turn something simple into something quite special and unique. Experiencing this with the Cipressa in the same ride was something that I enjoyed more than I thought I would. Coastal Italy definitely had its own unique and special flair that I did not see just a few miles west over the border.
If you’re following my route, take note that my recording decided to pause itself as I stopped at the top of the Poggio. I didn’t notice this until getting out of the Cap Nero tunnel, so at first I thought my Hammerhead Karoo had lost its connection inside the tunnel. Turns out it actually stopped / paused at the top of the Poggio. I’m not sure why, since I do not remember pausing the device, so perhaps there’s an odd glitch on my end or it’s one of those weird GPS related bugs.
This also means that instead of this route being 44 miles / 71 km, it was actually 9 miles / 15 km longer.
Once I had successfully tackled the Poggio, the only thing left to do was get back to France! It was relatively simple at this point to retrace the day’s earlier steps, and that meant finding a route back to the bike path and following it back. This is where I got to experience the Cap Nero tunnel properly, which seriously felt like it took forever! It was wonderful.
And of course you have to have gelato when you’re in Italy. It’s a requirement!
I actually stuck to some of the main roads through Ventimiglia on the way back, and it was a bit crazier than I had thought it would be, especially given how quiet it had been earlier that day. Nothing unmanageable, of course, and perhaps it was simply because it was commuting hours, but it definitely required a bit more “direct” action when it came to taking lanes and making your intentions known amongst the sea of Italian drivers. I think generally they’re respectful, but they definitely expect you to be pretty confident and okay when you’re out there sharing their road with them.
Don’t forget that getting back into France requires you to go up the way you initially came down into Italy, too, so save some strength for it! Later in the day, the road actually stays secluded in the shadow of the ridge it ascends, which was a very welcome surprise for me that day. Once at the top, the descent into France felt triumphant, despite me getting thoroughly confused as to which lanes were for which direction! There was some construction on the side road next to the tunnel that particular day.
Definitely don’t forget to enjoy this part, too. And don’t forget to take a picture of the French border sign like I did! It’s basically on the Ponte San Luigi next to a beautiful rocky canyon that’s quite intriguing. And there’s even a bar next to it!
Voila! Welcome back! Cruise through some of the lemon-colored streets of Menton and before you know it, you’ll have just experienced a wonderful slice of La Dolce Vita!
Do you have it in you to join Armstrong and Hincapie and continue onward to one more world-class climb? Perhaps the Col de la Madone?