“Declining from the public ways, walk in unfrequented paths.” Pythagoras
Getting off the beaten track for the weekend can be the reset button we all need. We recently invited ten French and Spanish athletes to leave the noise of towns and cars behind; to travel down peaceful, sunny tracks, surrounded by the sound of cicadas and the fragrance of pines – the smell of summer in the middle of autumn. An irresistible proposition. The destination: the south of France, for three days of gravel riding.
The Côte d’Azur is better known for turquoise seas and the Cannes Film Festival than it is for its singletrack riding. And yet in 1984, mountain-bike pioneer Stéphane Hauvette created Roc d’Azur, an offroad race between the Massif des Maures – a range of small mountains in the Var region of France – and Saint Tropez. Seven racers took to the start line in that first event; thirty-five years later, it has become the biggest mountain-bike event in the world, with 20,000 participants over four days of racing. In the same pioneering spirit, a Gravel category was added in 2016. A gravel bike is the perfect tool for exploring – a complete bike, as happy on tarmac as on bumpy tracks, it is the ideal companion for cyclists wanting to head off the beaten track.
After the opening formalities at our base camp, a few kilometres outside Fréjus, it was time to check the routes of Saturday’s Mavic Gravel Roc. With our IGN maps and the Strava Route Builder to hand, and with the Massif des Maures behind us, everyone pitched in with their opinions on which trails to take, which bluffs to explore, and where to adventure. Once we’d sorted our routes, we were only sure of one thing: our peloton of ten would hit a lot of unexpected surprises.