Col d’Eze is the closest, as well as one of the most iconic, of the Alpes-Maritimes climbs. The climb is used as the decisive time trial on the final day of the Paris-Nice stage race and so enjoys a long and rich history with names of past winners including Sean Kelly. Team Sky have made Paris-Nice an essential race in their build-up to the Tour de France: in 2012, Bradley Wiggins won both the time trial stage and the overall, whilst in 2013 Richie Porte took top honours.
Richie Porte winning the TT stage (19′ 16″), and the race, in 2013
Don’t be fooled by the 5.2% average gradient, this is a genuinely tough test. Starting in Nice, the route follows the Grand Corniche (the “high road” between Nice and the Italian border at Menton via the village of La Turbie above Monaco) to the high point at Eze Le Col. The road rises steeply out of Nice heading North-East with a gradient of 10% in places, offering a stunning view over the left shoulder as the panorama of the city of Nice and the Mediterranean beyond unfolds with each turn.
The road then flattens out a little as it contours around the back of Mont Boron, but it’s hard to keep the power on after earlier exertions, the temptation being to ease off and recover a little, and enjoy the shade from the trees lining the road. Reaching the first TT checkpoint at the Col des Quatre Chemins, the road then rears up sharply again, the shade disappears, and now we are rewarded with sublime views to the right of the bay of Villefranche, Cap Ferrat and the bay of Beaulieu. This is classic Côte d’Azur terrain, instantly recognizable from the number of films located here, from To Catch a Thief, to James Bond, and more recently Priceless: the winding tarmac, olive trees, a low stone wall, and 500m below, the deep blue Mediterranean.
Eventually the road tops out, turns North away from the coast, and there is a short, slight descent to the finish. The pros finish opposite the Hotel Hermitage where the finish line is visible on the road, mere mortals continuing another few hundred flat metres to the Eze Le Col town sign.