When Monaco Tribune spoke with Rémi Clermont, it was easy to imagine him crisscrossing the high passes above Nice on his bike or riding along Les Corniches cycle routes between the capital of the Riviera and Monaco. His gaze, sometimes concentrated on the physical effort, would more often be lost on the horizon towards the Mediterranean Sea.

Clermont is so passionate about cycling that he has devoted his career to it, creating Le Café du cycliste in 2010, a specialised cycle-wear brand which transformed into a concept store located in Nice port.

Rémi Clermont: from Alsace to Maritime Alps

Although not originally from the region, he knows each nook and cranny like a native. Rémi Clermont was born in Alsace and came to the Alpes-Maritimes region for work 15 years ago. He was then working in marketing in an IT company in Sophia-Antipolis. “One of the magical things about cycling is that it’s a pretty cool social tool. When you arrive in a new place, at a new company, you start cycling with your colleagues, and that’s how you discover the region. After a year, I knew all the villages!”

Cycling is a family affair for Clermont; the skill passed from generation to generation. “My father is a doctor and passionate about cycling. When I was a kid when he went to work, he would put on his doctor’s clothes, and when he was riding his bike I thought that he was disguising himself, that he was pretending to be another person with his cycling clothes on,” recalls the entrepreneur. Today, Rémi accompanies his 9-year-old son every morning to school, by bike of course, along the Promenade des Anglais. “I remind him from time to time that not all children are so lucky!” he smiles.

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From Levens to Duranus the road clings to the rocks on the west side of the Vesubie valley gorges. The term ‘balcony road’ may have been invented just for this stretch alone. After the climb through the hamlet of Duranus there’s a sign on the left marking the ‘Saut des Français’. According to legend, it was here that militia defending the Savoy-governed Comte de Nice (not at that stage part of France), threw French republican soldiers over the cliff to certain death in the late 18th century. Don’t look down if you’re scared of heights.⠀ ⠀ The balcony road rejoins the main valley road at Saint-Jean-de-la-Rivière, where you can also turn left to climb La Madone d’Utelle. But the Turini lies just ten false flat kilometers up the valley, passing through more deep gorges. Looking up at the surrounding peaks gives a sense of the riding possibilities in this valley – they are plentiful.⠀ ⠀ The north western side of Turini that will be tackled by the peloton at the end of August is actually the shortest of the three main routes to the summit. Still, with 15km at 7.2% average gradient, this is hors categorie climbing.⠀ ⠀ Just 2km into the climb, the town of Bollène-Vesubie used to be a mid-mountain, fresh air health retreat for Italian and English aristocrats. Now the visitors from those nations are usually either on motorbikes or bicycles. The labyrinth of routes on this mountain and its history in the World Rally Championship have turned Turini into a veritable playground for two and four wheels alike, thankfully without the crazy numbers to be found on the Ventoux and Stelvio.⠀ ⠀ Climbing the western side could be broken into three parts – up to and past Bollène-Vesubie, into the middle section which is riddled with switchbacks offering views up and down the mountain, and then through the forest section to the Col. The fastest recorded Strava time is 43:55 by former Dutch pro Remmert Wielenga. A respectable amateur time is anywhere just below or above the one-hour mark.

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Maritime Alps: an ideal region for professional cyclists

Luck. That’s how he could also describe living in the region for the cyclist that he is, given the benefits of being in the Alpes-Maritimes as a cycling enthusiast are numerous. “The first, even before the weather, is the variety of the routes. We have a unique terrain between the sea and the route de la Baumette, about 150km of changing landscape. We’re between the idyllic postcard with the palm trees that everyone knows, and the Col de Turini or the Col de la Madone [two mountain passes winding high above Nice]. The terrain is the number one advantage.” Rémi Clermont also appreciates the beautiful roads, with little traffic when you get away from the seaside. “It’s not the easiest region physically as it quickly gets hilly or even mountainous, but it’s ideal for cyclists!”

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When asked about the best routes to take in the region, he hesitates. “There are so many!” he comments. “The one we do between noon and two at work is our go-to. We take Les Corniches from Nice to Monaco — the options are unlimited and we never get tired with the sun-drenched scenery, whether summer or winter, it’s wonderful. There’s also the Col d’Eze, or from Sospel, the gateway to all the mountain passes, you can tackle Castillon, between Sospel and Monaco, there’s Turini, or there’s the one to La Madone from Menton which has exceptional sea views.”

But also for amateur cyclists!

Rémi Clermont’s talk about landscapes and sunshine is encouraging enough to want to try the Tour de France. Yet the mention of all these challenging passes and routes does slightly dampen our amateur enthusiasm. Luckily, there is good news. “But you can ride a bike on the Riviera, without going over all those hills! You can go through the middle ridge to get to Eze without necessarily going up to La Turbie. And then between Nice and Italy, there is a beautiful cycle path, which runs along the sea, without danger, and which allows you to stop from time to time to eat an ice cream or have a coffee.” Phew!

Indeed, that’s the advantage of our region. There are things to do and discover outside of cycling. “You don’t just come here to ride a bike. But few places combine all these advantages — beautiful scenery, where you can ride all-year-round thanks to good weather, and discover plenty of other things along the way. You realise that there are not many places in the world like the French Riviera.” It says it all.

Claire Guillou