Torino Nice Rally
10 Days - 700km - 19,000m
Generally, when travelling, at least abroad, I consider myself sensible, organised, prepared, I’m 35 with a reasonable amount of both critical survival traits: common sense and street smarts. All of that went out of the window for this adventure.
Far from a smooth, expertly executed trip, my Torino Nice Rally experience indulged me with an absurd mix of emotive highs and lows. Some, admittedly, self inflicted. I’ll dwell more on niche aspects of the journey, if you’re expecting a ‘we rode here, saw this’ write up, I’ll direct you straight to the pictures and fill your eyes with their loveliness now. What will follow is a jovial sequence of fuckups and some musings on mental health while cycling.
My planned partner pulling out due to illness, I flew to this years Torino Nice Rally alone.
This was after:
1. Neglecting to pack / build the bike until 6 hours before my 4am train, after a 12 hour work day, whilst drunk.
2. Neglecting to research the route whatsoever.
3. Neglecting to get any miles in the legs in preparation (the absolute least of my worries).
I finished packing around 2am, and got the 5.10am train.
Hurdles continue below...
Ryanair are widely known to be bastards. I’d not flown with them before. I too, can now join the online hordes testifying against them.
A call placed to customer services earlier in the week confirmed I could use the standard ‘CTC travel bag’ to stow my bike on the plane, as long as I removed pedals, lowered the seat, turned the bars, deflated tyres, and accepted the risk of damage, standard fare. On arrival to Manchester Airport I double checked where I’d be ok to pack the cycle near the desk…
“What are you packing it into?”
Ryanair desk lady asked,
“Oh I’ve got this bag, and the instructions of what I need to strip”
“It can’t go in that, it needs to be a proper bike bag”
“It is a proper bike bag, I double checked this with CS”
“It needs to be a proper bag or a box”
“Ok, can you sell me a box?”
“No, try the luggage guys over there”
“Hey, do you have a bike box I can buy”
“They don’t have any boxes, can I flatten loads of smaller boxes around it inside the bag and gaffa tape it all up?”
“No, it needs to be in a proper bag or box, try and get one from a bike shop”
It was 7.30am on a Sunday.
She walks away.
At this point I thought I wasn’t flying. I got to the airport three hours early, and now, had about an hour and a half to go. I could feel myself getting upset, angry and frustrated, made infinitely worse by my tiredness.
Hangover kicks in.
I open my train app, see when the next one back to York is.
“Are you ok?”
I turn to find a lady from Swissport beside me. I explained the situation. From now on I’ll refer to her as ‘Swissport Lady’.
“We’ll get you on, don’t worry”
My faith was weak, but I followed her instructions.
Firstly, stripped the bike, pedals were seized. Off came the cranks and chainset. Seatpost was seized, not much I could do here. Bars turned, wheels off, tyres deflated, everything ziptied together. It became fairly small.
Next, back to my non-box-selling-luggage-guy, who was far too enthusiastic to clingfilm a bike on a Sunday morning, jauntily hurrying me through the busy check-in area, mounting my bike and dancing with it as it span, faster he turned, further my rear mech bent… “woah woah woah, two secs” off came the mech, ziptied to the seat stay, spinny-clingfim-dance resumed.
Several hundred turns later he was satisfied, she was satisfied, I was very hungover.
My cohorts and I slid the bundle of gaffa/bike/plastic into my non-proper bike bag, applied more tape and paused for a breath.
“Ok” Swissport Lady interrupted the peace…
“We’ve got a stupid new machine that scans everything. That won’t fit, so i’m taking you to the staff security gate. I’ll put your bags and tools in the hold for free first”
“Millions that machine cost, and it doesn’t work”
Cool. Manchester Airport is huge, and I think we crossed most of it. Arriving at the staff security gate. Swissport Lady saunters in, announces the presence of the bike, myself and its destination.
“We’ll need to open it to swab it”
Oh shit. Gate closes in twenty minutes.
“He’s just spent ages wrapping that”
“We’ll need to swab it, it can’t go through without being swabbed, he’ll need to take it out, we’ve got this one here too, are you dealing with that?”
Gestures are made toward a 90’s Raleigh Max, in complete form, no packing, or stripping, probably a staff members get about for the airport.
Swissport Lady keeps calm. Reaches down for her radio and mumbles into it. The radio isn’t on, this doesn’t phase her. Turning it on she mumbles again. More security staff appear as Swissport Lady explains her feelings to them about the new machine until a small man in a large suit appears, it becomes apparent he’s some kind of manager. Scanning machine sentiments are exchanged in detail, my situation briefly.
“Is there more tape” he asks?
I confirm my possession of tape, with a frail nod.
“Cut it” he states.
Several security staff members reach for blades, I sense the softer areas of my bike wincing. A small incision is made, first through my non-proper bag, then deeper, easing through the clingfilm. A swap is inserted, keyhole like through the layers, contact with bicycle is achieved.
I walk towards them, gaffa in hand.
“No NO, you need to stay that side, throw it”
Shit got tense, I fuck up the throw, the tape rolls away.
My hangover is at its peak.
Two lengths of gaffa are peeled, healing the wound with in a cross formation.
“Right” Suit Man is in charge now, “lets get you on a plane.
I thank Swissport Lady profusely, giving her a big squish before Suit Man whisks me away, up some back stairs, through several doors, along miles of corridors and to the fast track passport control. His lanyarded card granting me access of unfathomable levels, staff at various stages of the process fall by the wayside as we rush to my gate. A handshake exchanged, I’m on my plane, 6 minutes late, people turn and stare as I hurry up the middle, slumping into my seat.
I wake as we fly over the Alps, stolen glimpses of what visual treats are in store for the coming two weeks.
Landing in Bergamo, I realise I’m miles away from Milan, where my Train to Turin commences. Remember that research I said I neglected, this is a situation that required it.
Google is awesome. I love google. I also love mobile data. The ability to find out 99% of anything you could ever know from your phone, I love it, I also love my new phone, more on this later. My onward journey becomes apparent:
Bus: Bergamo Airport to Bergamo Train Station
Train: Bergamo to Monza
Train: Moza to Milan
Train: Milan to Turin
I left the bike wrapped up, Bergamo station made no sense, was full of confused tourists, boarded without a ticket, got away with it.
Found Alex on the Monza to Milan train, a fellow TNR rider, I was no longer alone.
I missed my booked train, haggled with the conductor on the next, avoided an 88 euro fare.
The coming days were fairly standard, I assume most people attending would have seen the photos, had an idea of what they were getting in to, perhaps, those reading this are stalking the wares of the internet considering riding next year, it’s an easy ‘review’ to write:
The Torino Nice Rally is beautiful, but fuck it’s hard.
You will not regret doing it.
'Toughness’ is obviously subjective, contrary to the “Suffer Score” of Strava, I personally feel toughness is pretty hard to measure. I’ve always found climbing a challenge, and the route I was undertaking involved rather a lot of climbing.
I had ventured to the rally as a holiday, allowing myself two full weeks between flights, this bestowed opportunities to explore, not to worry about putting miles down, tackle climbs at my own pace, stopping to indulge my photographic tendencies. I’m a wanderer, if I see something, I want to be able to go and have a nosey. This also meant I found myself eventually riding alone for long periods.
I’m not shy about my personal experiences with mental health, I’ve been up and down with depression for most of my adult life, I know how it effects me, I can tell when it’s coming and ultimately, bar a few slip ups, I’m fairly good at getting myself out of it.
There are plenty of accounts online which describe the positive effects of cycling (and more generally exercise) on mental health, I too have contributed to that positivity specific forum, often riding to the coast for an overnight camp in times of stress, being soothed by waves and waking refreshed, or perhaps hacking round my local loop with some extra vigour to vent frustrations.
Something a little different happened this time. A few days into the journey, I received a call which informed me of some upsetting news, the news itself is irrelevant. My initial thoughts were questioning my ongoing participation. ‘How can I get home’, ‘CAN I get home’, ‘will getting home help?’. Then progressing, ‘would this have happened if I’d have come’, ‘I shouldn’t have come’, shit, where’s Swissport Lady when I need her?
Losing sleep pondering the above each night a physical fatigue started to creep in. Thoughts continued, ‘can I do this?’.
Waking each morning knowing you’re about to spend 3-5 hours riding (if you’re lucky), maybe walking up the same mountain is daunting. Knowing you’ll be doing this alone, while failing to process a deep sadness is incredibly prohibitive.
So, emotional distress aside (partly), here’s a couple more self inflicted fuckups...
Firstly, arriving in Nice, we tripped and fell onto ‘the sesh’.
Wayne’s Bar, dancing on tables, promenade-walking, elderly-Japanese-barkeep-forced-shot-sharing, beach-sleeping later I came around, climbed up from my pebble nest, reached for my phone to navigate home, gone, bank card gone. I’ll leave you to imagine the frustration of being lost abroad with no communication, or funds. I’m not prepared to relive it.
Lastly, leaving my hostel, collecting my proper box (oh yeah, not risking that, even with my return booking aboard the always lovely Jet2), spending the day on the beach, eating fancy (overpriced) salad, walking the 10km to the airport, finding a spot to sleep around 10pm, reaching inside my luggage to find my jumper... no jumper. In fact no clothing at all. It was back at the Hostel.
It’s surprising how quick you can walk 10km with a folded box gaffa taped to a bike, wearing flip flops, when your two favourite and irreplaceable hats are at risk.
Reception was obviously closed, the door code unchanged, I gained access to my old room via a very confused African labourer, spent my last few euros on beer (breakfast is overrated), and walked back to the airport.
Actual lastly... Not a fuckup as such, but an amusing anecdote... Picture a cyclist, having had a stressful few days, four beers in and tucked up in his bivi on a beach. Said cyclist was aware you’re not supposed to sleep on the beach, but opted for a section in plain view, for security if you will, but also near some fellow rough sleepers, who’d probably had a significantly worse time recently, and who were also more likely to get ‘griefed by the law’.
I fell asleep quickly, vivid dreams rolling around my head, policemen approaching, dream me sits up, some French is exchanged and I’m handed a €60 fine.
Non-dream-me is startled by pebbles (street smarts, remember), was that someone jumping from the promenade? Is that someone running toward me? Pebbles signal louder.
“Monsieur, MONSIEUR!! RESTER RESTER” (Stay, stay)
From the darkness four armed policemen gesticulating wildly are approaching.
Shit. What fresh hell is this? Am I still asleep?
They get closer, very close, then pass me. A young guy sprints toward a rocky outcrop on the beach, at 3am, interesting time for exercise I think, heart racing, probably drunk, (me not him). I shuffle up my Thermarest, sit up and reach for my water.
“Monsieur, MONSIEUR!! RESTER”
“Anglais?” I meekly reply.
Nothing comes back.
Oh I’m not moving. Thankfully their weapons are holstered. The young guy reaches the water, stops. The police pass me, ignoring my presence completely. Wrestle the runner to the ground and search the area. I wave as they wander back past, searchlights in hand, one offers a polite nod.