Fabio Barboni and the Turin Nice Rally

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Wow! I find no better word to start this story which will be short and concise respecting the ideal of is founder: this path must be a discovery for anyone who intends to tackle it. (I’m lying so if you don't want SPOILERS stop here….)

Introduction: the Torino Nizza Rally was born from the mind of an English boy: James Olsen, is first of all an annual event with limited number of participants, starts from Turin in the first week of September, or if you ask for the track a permanent path to be faced alone or in company.

The track: the route winds on the border between Italy and France for about 650/700 km, with a difference in height that can vary from 16,000 meters to 18,500 meters, depending on the choices of the various sections indicated by the organizer, all in a mix well balanced between asphalt, dirt roads, forest and in some cases single tracks that are recommended only if equipped with MTB or Monster; it follows a longitudinal line from Turin to Nice, continuously crossing valleys and passes over 2000 meters up to 2770 meters in the territory of the Cottian and Maritime Alps

How did I get there ?! Well it was my intention to participate in the event and I also had a good hook to enter the selections, however the 2020 event was skipped as well as the trip to Iceland and the Camino de la Plata due to the known restrictions from Covid 19, so with the my friend Andrea we decided to leave anyway for the permanent path of the Trail; I admit it with many doubts: we are talking about a track with over 18,000 meters of altitude difference in just 650 km about 3000 meters every 100 km on dirt roads with challenging ups and downs at over 2000 meters where the weather can decide (not I exaggerate) of your life if it gets bad or you make risky choices and where the organization of the stages is really important because, despite being in the old continent, there are various sections crossed that have stretches of over 20 km in which to find shelter , shelter and water is not always easy, especially in bad weather.


Useful tips.

Bad weather: It can really be the great unknown factor of the track, in fact, even if prepared and equipped, it can make the difference in terms of travel times and methods; luckily we never had rain, but a slight taste of disturbance on the downhill Col dell’Agnello was enough to make us understand what turn the whole tour could have taken if it had been the exact opposite.

Difficulty: So beyond the following story, the photos and the video you will see, remember that in a category of difficulty between 1 and 5 this trail certainly stands at 4, it is certainly not an Atlas Mountain Race or a Tour Divide, but absolutely not even a Tuscany Trail and similar, from personal experience it is physically more demanding than crossing the Tierra del Fuego or the southern Chilean Patagonia, as well as doing a Gran Fondo of the scope of a Three Epic because it is like doing 5 in a row with luggage in tow;

Luggage and overnight stay: Tents are not essential, absolutely avoid exceeding 25 kg between bikes and luggage, to stay overnight try to get to the bottom of the valley where a sleeping bag with crossroads is more than enough, at high altitude do not miss the opportunity to sleep at Gardetta and Don Barbera, (be careful to book or call!)

Wheels: Gravel bikes are fine but better if mounted with 27.5 wheels recommended from 2.0 upwards, 700 by 42 recommended, it is not necessary to have extremely aggressive tire imprints, we went well with both the WTB Sendero and ByWay (650b) perhaps with hindsight of the same house a Dwarf would have been the right compromise.

When to go: From the end of June it depends on the snow to mid-September no later than as protests find the Gardetta and Don Barbera closed which could reduce the options for stopping and organizing the stages for the less trained, (to understand if you are athletically under 400 meters of D + loading times, be very careful to manage distances and stopping places)

SITE INFO: Find all the Info (in English) on the following site:

DONATION: Donate to James Olsen's Cause to receive the patch



From the Marche ( Fantastic region to ride in the center est of Italy search on google Sibillini Mountains you will love its) we reach Turin with the "Misery Van" (we can't afford a WV T6 OCEAN) of our companion Copparo, we stay overnight and leave from the house of our new friend Massimo Alfero (co-founder of the well-known Ciclocentrico shop if you don't know him badly, loooong badly look for him with Google excellent e-commerce well stocked for everything related to the cycle trip) which, despite being complete strangers, hosted us at home like two brothers.

It gets bad immediately, in fact after the departure from Piazza San Carlo in Turin when it is about half a day I am not yet at 100% and I take a medicine because I have the after-effects of a slight cooling, the first rides under a leaden sky that threatened rain from Turin up to the Reggia di Venaria, the only flat stretch before the subsequent hellish ups and downs, are a real agony, I have a thousand doubts in my head, give up or insist maybe getting sick and ruining Andrea's ride ?! Moreover, in a period of health emergency it does not help me, we stop for breakfast with a full stomach everything improves.

It's about three in the afternoon when we face the Col Lombardo, first ascent, I'm not bad we go up to the top, Andrea with his 42 42 is forced to go down and push (HEROIC !!), because there are 22% stretches, for all the way we meet only two Germans, husband and wife who follow the same route loaded like mules, but they are in MTB and have certainly more agile and suitable gear to effort the track, going up, the weather, which threatened rain, changes suddenly and a contrary wind drives away the clouds when we arrive at the pass around 5 p.m. in the evening all very clear.

A very short Stop, photos and continue, in reality you still always go up on a dirt road and continue with ups and downs, until you take the first of the countless descents of the journey that take us back to Valley, I'm hungry, to use the protein drink is not contemplate , we first peck a food shop where we have a snack, then we continue towards the end of the valley to get closer to the hill of the windows, when we are attracted by the word HAMBURGER HOUSE shortly after Condove (if you do the Trail stop to eat one of the best Hamburger of your life, it is worth it you find it along the track)

Where do we sleep ?! We are equipped it is not cold, but given that they are not 100% we decide not to challenge fate and find accommodation in a small residence right on the track and 5 meters (not to say but it was just 5) from the beginning of the climb of the Colle delle Finestre and in line with our stage goal.




We leave on the second day and immediately we find the uphill to Colle delle Finestre, the first stretch is hard but we are helped by the presence of tarmac which is present up to an altitude of 1,400 meters after which we pass to a fairly beaten and gravel road up to the summit, we stop for breakfast at the end of the tarmac  where there is a historic fountain almost dry, once a last supply of water until the end, now there is a little more up just built near a small private refuge.

The climb is hard, I'm not 100% physically yet, but we climb to the top quite quickly, Andrea always has problems with gears, we were unable to replace the front the day before because all the shops found along the way were out of stock .

We arrive at the summit is not yet half a day we are the only cyclists to climb the "classic" side we find many others who climb from the opposite asphalted side to the top.

Numerous the presence of motorcyclists and Defenders in expedition trim that will make it difficult and dangerous to proceed in various points forcing us to various stops to let the various caravans pass.

After the usual photo at the summit, we quickly descend towards Pian dell’Alpe, I'm hungry but it's early for lunch, so we go for cappuccino and strudel, then off again we go up the famous Asietta road.

After a short interlude on asphalt 4/5 km descending from Colle delle Finestre we immediately climb quickly towards the Asietta pass, an uphill, steep climb made up of hairpin bends and breathtaking views, interrupted by the passage of the omnipresent caravans of GS 1200 and Teutonic Defenders that they greet us in amazement as they see us climb with loaded bikes down those streets where even the motorcycles and super-equipped 4X4s struggle with difficulty.

Getting to the top requires effort, patience and commitment, but they will be rewarded by one of the most majestic mountain views I could ever imagine, trust me, the view is worth every single drop of sweat left on the ground.

We are now over 2400 meters, our breathing is slightly more labored, we proceed at high altitude with some ups and downs that are never too demanding, we reach the refuge when it is now 2 pm., the kitchen is closed: never mind we have pots and a stove with us, so we ask permission to cooking our rice in the shelter of the cold north wind that had risen just before.

We enjoy our risotto on the shores of the ephemeral lake of the refuge, we take a coffee, at least that they can do and we continue to the plateau which with its various ups and downs will keep us busy for the whole afternoon when we will find ourselves at the end of the road above Sestrierre where we will descend quickly before evening, given the non-summer temperature, we wear the down jacket over the windproof.

We arrive in Cesana Torinese in the evening, we are pretty tired the stage was about 3200 meters for just over 70 km, almost all on dirt, the cold has made itself felt, I'm not better or worse than the night before, it's not very cold but it doesn't even feel like summer, so again residence so as not to make a mistake.




We start from Cesana Torinese, for the Italian-French border on the Mongenevre hill, there are only 500 meters of ascent that seem like nothing compared to those faced up to now, however, going down to Briancon where we lose more height difference than what we gained we risk freezing being the descent of about 10 km all in Shadow.

Briancon, well in fact the only real town of a certain historical and artistic interest that is encountered in the trail, deserves a small visit, a little stop for a souvenir and in a pizzeria run by Italians who, with a few euros, after listening to the report of the our feats and the follies that we still had to face towards Nice, prepare us two super sandwiches that are enough to make us face the climb of the Izoard in one breath.

The climb does not need any introduction, about 25 km, it climbs for 1200 meters first easily with ups and downs then after the last town with 8% steep, (at the end there is a dirt variant with portage recommended for MTBs,).

Helped by sliding tires and more adequate ratios, I climb the climb faster than Andrea, waiting for him under the summit at the famous Napoleon Refuge, where I chat with some Polish guys intent on making all the climbs in the area on a racing bike; the landscape to climb is typical alpine and wonderful but nothing as phantasmagoric as the landscape that we will see shortly after descending into the Moon zone, a road to be done at least once in a lifetime which the photos cannot do justice.

Descending from the Izoard takes time, both for the photo stop and for the length of the descent, however by 3 pm we are at the foot of the queen climb of the tour: the Colle dell'Agnello 1400 meters all in one pitch that will bring us back to Italy then we go up from 1300 m asl to 2750 m asl of the hill.

Before going up, we only make a short stop in a Bulangerie, cappuccino and double Brioche with cream (the cream variant is a serious mistake) that I will feel on my stomach for about 5/600 meters of elevation gain, the climb is long but pleasant for the first 10 km of the 25 km in which we gain yes and not 600 of the 1400 meters of total altitude difference, the panorama that surrounds us is fairytale the weather is on our side, but the last 1000 m are really challenging, either because 2200 m were already on our legs or because for three days we have been pedaling from morning to evening on challenging climbs, almost reached the top we see the pass disappear and appear among leaden clouds that do not promise anything good: the weather gave water mixed with snow.

We arrive at the summit, under the applause of some tourist in camper, it drizzles, we find ourselves in a surreal scene from the Lord of the Rings, sun and heat on the French side while clouds, water and cold on the Italian side, we are there in the middle, even today 3200 meters in altitude for over 100 km it was not obvious to arrive there before evening.

We rest for a moment even if only one descent remains before evening the 2700 meters are felt, I prepare a coffee to warm up, drizzle and the temperature had dropped dramatically.

Shortly after we go down, it is very cold, despite the duvet and other various lower layers I feel cold, getting to Sampeyere without stopping is impossible, we stop in a village a few kilometers before to warm up we are sure below zero, I add the waterproof suit to the duvet.

We arrive in Sampeyere where given the bad weather, this time not by choice we are forced to go to the hotel because we do not have tents with us but only a sack and Bivy on the other hand the cold of the descent seems to have rekindled my bronchitis.

I spend the sleepless night worried, at two in the morning again aspirin and I fall asleep at 3 a.m. and I wake up more tired than the night before at six a.m. in the morning.




The morning of the fourth day is personally tragic, breakfast does not tidy me up, in any case I don't feel like giving up halfway, going on is imperative.

We leave early, we do not find anything to take with us to eat, in any case we have a risotto to prepare in case of emergency and I have with me a sandwich taken two days before and a small single-dose jar of jam.

The climb to Sampeyere is long but not too demanding (considering the ones already covered are always 1200 meters all in one breath), pedaling again the condition improves at 10 a.m.  in the morning we are already at high altitude, we arrive at the pass with the sun, the Monviso is there which stands out in front of us in all its majesty, at this point the track offers two alternatives: go down to Stroppo directly on a comfortable dirt road then asphalt, or continue on the road that the organizer calls "death road" or via dei Cannoni.

Thanks to the fairly good weather, only a few passing clouds and a light drizzle that requires nothing more than a windscreen make us opt for the second choice, in hindsight maybe it wasn't worth it if not for the first 2/3 km from road to altitude, after which it is the hell of the Gravel, the weather turns quickly the temperatures drop, we are on a road full of stony ground, overhanging, (due to the blows we lose both anythings cage and Andrea is forced to running a lot downstream to retrieve his sleeping bag), given the hunger we make a stop before going down to the valley, we have to be content with sharing half a sandwich with jam and a soluble meal replacement.


Believe it or not, the descent to Valle takes longer than the climb, about 20 km of very hard dirt road that puts a strain on balance, arms and forearms, we arrive at the asphalt after an abundant hour of suffering, so we decide to go to first place useful for eating, a sort of Trattoria. (tipically small italian Restaurant)

We leave as soon as lunch for the first time we are on time for the second climb.

After three days we make a 15 km of false flat along the Val Maira to get to Marmore where we begin yet another climb towards Priet, the climb is tiring with steps that put us to the test, we arrive in Priet aware that it would have been necessary to bivouac at high altitude or at the Gardetta Refuge.

The refuge has not responded at our phones call since the morning, given the time I do not know if it is appropriate to go up, Andrea insists, the numerous "e-cyclists" who come down, confirm that it is open and operational, we continue, badly we will sleep under a table we say to each other.

After the town of Priet you enter an enchanting valley, pines, rocks and a road that, although asphalted, climbs steeply and winding to over 2000 meters, it is one of the steepest climbs we will face and in which I use all the gears, Andrea is forced to make numerous stops due to inadequate gear ratios, in the end in some places pushing is certainly easier for him; we are on the top at 5 p.m. we would also have time to continue and close the stage at the bottom of the valley but the figure of the Maja stone, the little Peru, and the golden lights of the imminent sunset kidnap us, it is decided: we will spend the night there in order to enjoy sunrise and sunset.

Arriving at the Refuge, we discover with great pleasure that we have available not only room and board but also showers (it is not always obvious) so we stop, have dinner and chat with some guests, I stay late with the boys of the refuge with whom we have a small party based on chocolate and hot tea, they explain to me that within a week the refuge would be closed due to the imminent end of the season, (so be careful to organize the tour)

I could talk about this place for hours: the dinner was excellent, all tidy and clean, comfortable bed, not too hot or too cold, I get up just to watch the magnificent sunrise on what will be the fifth day.




The night passes quickly at the shelter, I sleep like a log, however at my usual time, five forty in the morning, I am finally awake in a state of decent shape; in silence I leave the dormitory and head to the one I had identified as my photographic station to capture the sunrise that I imagined beautiful I go out that does not betray expectations, let's do a timelapse and then off to breakfast, honestly it would have been nice to stop there for a whole day and do some hiking in the valley, but that's not what we are there for.

Breakfast as dinner is excellent and plentiful, we arm the bikes, obviously we take a group photo with the staff and with our friendly diner who is very experienced in the mountains and we are back in the saddle, in theory we should go down to the valley very soon, but the valley every corner is wonderful a postcard, even if we thought we had reached the summit the night before, we realize that the road to descend is long we face various ups and downs that add up a discreet difference in altitude, at a crossroads we leave the easy road to follow the official track that it takes us to the ruins of a fort, we need to push hard we are beyond the gravel perhaps even beyond the MTB, but they are a few hundred meters in a context so magnificent that it does not make us feel the weight.

After two good hours we are at the end of the valley we leave the "gravel" for a comfortable asphalt, on an infinite descent to the bottom of the valley, where we arrive for lunch time, which will consist of a sandwich and a pot of coffee yogurt that we consume on a bench, we have to go fast towards Limone, the leg turns and we make a 40 Km transfer.

We then have to go up the via del sale to the Don Barbera refuge to stay overnight.

Andrea is confident that he will arrive for the night and a little less climb to 2000 meters late afternoon is never advisable however this time we arrived in Limone we have confirmation of a place at the refuge, so we go up.

We take a break at the last refuge before the fort at an altitude of 1900 meters where we leave the asphalt and then gradually up to an altitude of 2200 with dirt ramps by human selection up to the ski lifts.

At the top the panorama is for the first time obscured by fog and various passing clouds, we continue in a sort of dreamlike environment, with the road that appears and disappears in the fog, we must be careful, in addition to being a very pebbly ground, the slightest mistake can be costly with the fog you cross various overhanging points and bridges at least 5 meters high without bulkheads.

The place is magnificent and with good reason the Via del Sale proves to be one of the most beautiful roads in the world to be tackled by bike, moreover we are there at sunset and we enjoy the spectacle of the white limestone rocks that acquire the color of gold thanks to the reflections of the last rays of the sun.

We proceed fast and although we remain at a constant altitude between 2000 m and 2200 m we still accumulate a lot of altitude with various important ups and downs, in hindsight I thank God for the good weather, in adverse weather conditions this road could really transform itself from Paradise to Hell.

We arrive at the destination that it is now evening, just after a 10-minute stop to pass an immense pasture of goats and sheep guarded by at least 20 shepherd dogs, friendly but with which it is always necessary to have a minimum of prudence especially near the flock.

The Don Barbera refuge is located right in the center of the Via and is the only water supply point you will encounter, so keep this in mind if you want to redo this route or even just the salt route; we arrive at dinner time, they don't give us time to settle down, we immediately eat a nice polenta with vegetables for me, cheese for Andrea, then roast potatoes and stewed sausages, apple pie to finish and…. it all ends quickly.

We take a seat in the old shelter, a Spartan Blockhouse used as a winter bivouac, we have no way to wash ourselves as we run out of water for the day, around twenty geology students are guests who have used every useful resource ....

With what little we have available, we wash at least and worst with ice-cold water to the "Hard Men" and we go to Sleep confident of arriving in Nice the next day.




The sixth day starts early, here too dawn at 2000 m, breakfast and ready go, we would complete the final part of the Via del Sale in a short time, instead to go down to the valley we take the whole morning accumulating altitude difference above all by facing the Passo del Tanarello that leads us to Val Roya: with four hairpin bends and makes us return after two hours of descent again at over 2050 m.

The final part of the salt road is enchanting an enchanted forest an infinite succession of coniferous forests towards the south, with glimpses to the sea while while towards the north the Maritime Alps stand out with their severe and rocky profiles over 3,000 meters.

Incredible, we are less than 50 km air line from the Côte d'Azur and it seems to be in Canada.

Fortunately we stop to make water in a private hunters' refuge, otherwise we risked running out of water (NB If you were to cross the salt road, pay attention to the water reserves).


Val Roya: what to say wonderful, an infinite descent of over 20 km, at the limits of the gravel, a road very frequented by enduro motorbikes and Jeep, we have to make several stops to rest the arms and shoulders, the bottom in the first part is more suitable for Mountain Bike, at the bottom the situation improves but the slope requires attention if like me you do not have very clawed tires.

The first inhabited area we meet is Bruge, a charming town, we stop there for lunch, (in fact we had tried to cook a risotto higher up but then the stove with the pot fell due to an error of assessment by both of us and therefore we had to fold at the restaurant ... what a misfortune it is !?), given that the risotto did not turn out well and that the meat has been hiding a little in the last two days we choose to taste a nice Piemontese beef steak with chips, needless to say a show that we dust in a few minutes.


With new energy in body, we are preparing to face the last climb, there are 1600 meters of difference in height up to Col D'Argent that overlooks the more famous Col de Turinì, however arrived on site after continuing for a few km uphill, we find the road closed and being late afternoon, after meeting some off-roaders who tell us not to continue, we give up, thanks to Koomot, we redesign the route and decide to do the Col de Turinì on the contrary way, facing first the Col de Bruise and passing first through Souspel without practically losing parts of the track. The Col de Bruise with only 500 meters of positive difference in height seems to us a "tear" even if we suffer from the heat for the first time in a week; in the afternoon we arrive in Souspel; the detour made us lose about a couple of hours and lengthen by about 20 km therefore skip the idea of ​​arriving in Nice for the evening (even if it would have been possible to pedal until late at night) but from the beginning it was decided not to lose a meter of landscapes except for bad weather or necessity.

Anyway, we have time and decide to continue until sunset to remove the difference in height for the next day, after all from Souspel to reach the top of Col d'Argent are also more than 1600 meters, (about 1750 D +), all in one breath and we still have already over 600 km and about 16,000 meters in altitude in 5 days of pedaling and therefore we would like to leave the seventh day as decided as much as possible and imaginable "fooling around".

After a stop in Bulangerie, chat with a young couple of "supertramp" (travelers on foot) we leave for the col de Turinì, we go up the road full of hairpin bends and ramps but with an exceptional background (shortly thereafter it would pass the Tour de France) we arrive shortly after to the next town where we stock up and stay overnight in a very cheap "easy camping" where we spend the night in the company of two French motorcyclists, and where we sleep very well despite being at an altitude of 1000 meters above sea level with Tarp and sleeping bag: even if very “Easy, the campsite offers us a beautiful bathroom where, after three days, we finally have a proper shower, no rationed water, no cold water; while we're doing the laundry.




The morning of the 7th day is obviously dawn, however here we are in the middle of the valley so no breathtaking photos, on the contrary we hurry to recover everything and leave for the Col de Turinì now it's done, after just over an hour we are at Colle (1650 SLM) famous both for the cycling feats of many champions in the Tour de France and for one of the most iconic special stages of the Monte Carlo Rally, in reality the track should pass through the highest altitude of 2050 meters of the Col d'Argent , so even if it would not be necessary as we will be able to descend back to Nice directly, we decide to climb in altitude anyway.

From Col D'Argent it is possible to see Nice and the sea, it almost seems to touch the middle, although there are about 50 km now we know that it is done, in fact, the track would not foresee going direct to Nice, but passing through Souspel and Col of Bruise but we have already done it by turning the track, then we stop at the Col De Turinì Refuge, full of memorabilia, posters, models and photos of the Monte Carlo Rally where I indulge in an exquisite breakfast of coffee and milk (not call it cappuccino) and blueberry pie.

After this stop we enjoy an infinite descent of 46 km and 2,050 d- to the sea, an incredible road, made of hairpin bends and unique views, here all the “sts” climb: cyclists, motorcyclists, motorists, I sincerely would not want that road ends, either because it seems like a dream after days spent climbing for endless steps, or because the goal, albeit agonized, is always the end of the journey which is the real reward.

We arrive in Nice which is almost half a day just before Nice and I am forced to take off my shirt, shoes and socks: I finish the tour by pedaling with a vest and sandals, in an hour we pass from mountain to sea climate, with a temperature range of about 20 degrees from 15 ° to 35 ° we don't have much time to get around the city, due to the fact that it is very little animated and busy.

We head directly to the Café du Ciclist, the arrival point of the Track, a wonderful industrial-style bike shop that overlooks the marina.

Seeing us arrive in bikepacking mode, they ask us if we had followed the track, to our affirmative answer, they offer us a traditional coffee, milk and biscuits, I was genuinely excited; from a physical point of view it was one of the most difficult tasks I have ever faced: 18,000 meters of elevation gain in just over 6 days concentrated in 650 km for another party in a somewhat precarious health condition, I do not deny that I shed a few tears emotion because especially in the first few days I was tempted to give up the company, I can't help hugging my partner Andrea who pushed me to continue and who faced the whole journey with absolutely unsuitable relationships, a single crown with 42 teeth with a 11/42 derailleur (example not to follow if you don't want to push the bike too far).

The Café du Cycliste is the right destination for an absolutely perfectly designed trail, beautiful shop, with bicycles, clothing products and high-end accessories, I leave a lot of my monthly VISA plafond there. I take some photos and sit for a few minutes with my gaze fixed on the entrance where our bikes are dusty with bags a little out of place as always happens at the end of the trip; I breathe hard to fix the moment in my mind, I look at Andrea who returns his gaze and winks, he does not say anything but it is clear that he is happy, he is also satisfied, we have arrived, the weather, which we feared more than the climbs, has assisted us, despite unexpected events, bronchitis, absurd reports, endless ramps and an interrupted track on the most beautiful…. despite everything we did it on schedule and ... it was not obvious.



In reality our journey does not end in Nice, we have to go back to Italy, via Monaco and Menton, we spend the afternoon, we make a sortie just for some tourist photos in Monaco and we arrive in Ventimiglia to catch the last useful train at 18.30 , train that we are told is complete for the anticovid rules: rightly we are loyal to the rules, we bump into them and get on illegal immigrants mingling with the crowd of cyclists who return to Limone after following the Via del Sale, luckily we manage to get to Cuneo when get off without penalties, then get on the next train and arrive at Turin at ten in the evening where Massimo is waiting for us and an abundant quantity of pizza around which we can only dazzle him with anecdotes of our journey that has just ended.



Settembre 2020 


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