Last week, a dozen of our European based riders met up for a small team camp in Cavalaire, just outside of Saint-Tropez in France, to get ready for the upcoming races.
There are very few moments in a year where the whole team gets together for a full team event. This year was more difficult to pull off, and having any chance to see our teammates isn’t something we take for granted. Especially when we’re able to explore a new area like the beautiful Provence-Alpes-Côte-d’Azur region.
While we usually would have a full host of staff, mechanics, photographers, and soigneurs at a camp like this, the smaller crew of staff and riders present gave the gathering a much more intimate feeling.
Microwavable meals were provided by a local caterer for lunches and dinners and the riders and staff cooked their own breakfasts. The more laid back approach to team camp seemed to suit everyone. It took riders just two days to set up a cookoff amongst themselves – after the off-season they needed to get those competitive juices flowing again.
The event entailed cooking one’s breakfast and showing off food presentation skills. Mitch Docker – the food competition commissaire – laid out the rules. “Put a photo of your breakfast creations up on here. Best breakfast will be voted out on the ride,” said Docker. Michael Valgren, whose friend owns a Michelin-starred restaurant in Nice, came in the clear favorite. But it was Julius van den Berg, the underdog, who seemed to narrowly edge out the competition to take the win. Who doesn’t love a good underdog story?
With his favorite oatmeal recipe (coming soon) full of fruits and nuts, accompanied by eggs, coffee and toast, Julius’s cooking and presentation skills were good enough to squeeze out the win (see the winning dish below).
Home cooked meals, a hotel room all to yourself, and world class roads in the South of France right at your doorstep – that’s the recipe for a great camp.
The Région Sud, which stretches from Marseille to Nice and includes popular tourist destinations such as Cannes, or Saint-Tropez, often gets overlooked as a cycling destination. The region includes coastal roads where one can explore the beautiful Côte d’Azur to the South, mountains with peaks above 4,000m (13,000ft) in the Hautes-Alpes to the North, and lavender fields on rolling hills of Provence in between. Not to mention, the region has become a staple of the Tour de France, often featuring in crucial parts of the race. It is also home to the infamous Mont Ventoux, which has written itself into cycling lore with its barren, windswept moonscape.
Julien El Fares, who joined the ranks of EF Education–NIPPO this year, has lived in the region his whole life and currently lives in Manosque – a city known for its lush lavender fields. “Being myself from the region, I am always surprised by the beauty of the landscapes as well as by the diversity it offers,” said Julien. “On a short ride, you can end up with maritime landscapes or even mountains. There’s something for everyone.”
He wasn’t the only one surprised by the area. Standing on top of the Col du Canadel, a newly paved road with views over the Mediterranean Sea, it’s easy to wonder why this area feels below the radar of Europe’s cycling hotspots. With beautiful scenic roads, small trails where you can avoid much of the traffic, and climbs that remind you of Alpine passes, there’s a ride for everyone here.
A few days before the Grand Prix Cycliste la Marseillaise, camp came to an end and it was time for the riders going to the race to explore a new part of the Côte d’Azur. The new hotel was at the foot of the Route des Crêtes, a road that runs along the Cap Canaille cliffs. With a cliff to the left, the highest sea cliff in Europe we might add, and the coastal city of La Ciotat to the right, the road gives a panoramic view of the region and is a true testament to the beauty of the region.
A few days later, Simon Carr would launch an attack at the foot of this climb. A strong headwind made the task of staying away nearly impossible, but to attack on such an iconic climb and to be able to race his first WorldTour race in the area he has called home for so long wasn’t lost on him.
“The area is really nice, and this is a race that I have heard a lot about. Having trained and raced in the region quite a lot, it was really cool to be able to race here,” said Simon after the race.
No win on the day, but our sport director at the race Matti Breschel said it best at breakfast the following day, “I don’t think the riders realize just how lucky they are to be racing again.”
With the rest of the season ahead and still so much uncertainty, Breschel’s words were a good reminder of how lucky we are to ride our bikes in a beautiful area of the world, with good people and friends around us.
So how about some parting advice from Simon Carr, who impressed in his debut?
When it is safe to do so again and you plan a cycling trip to the region, what should you do? “Definitely go the Route des Crêtes,” he said. “But not if it’s too windy!”