Riding Les Bosses du 13
Season ending sportives have so many advantages; the pain is a fraction of that of the big mountain monsters of the summer and the bruising cobbles of spring, the weather is normally great and most people are in great shape with months of miles in the legs. Les Bosses may just be the perfect season ender.
This is a very French event and the locals are clearly very proud of the stunning roads just outside the city and of this sportive that has been running for over 20 years. With this comes the unique mix of honesty and charm that only the French can deliver – when I go to collect my stylish orange “Bosses du 13” jersey the day before the sportive I am asked which size I want. “Moyenne s’il vous plait” I say. As he reaches into to box of jerseys, his colleague sees me out of the corner of his eye and says “Non. XL” emphasising the X in XL as only a Frenchman can. An old boy at the back rubs it in by looking me up and down saying in English “you are very large.” And with this we are all checked in and ready to prove a few frenchies wrong in the morning.
City sportives often include a long boring into to get out of the city centre and ugly suburbs – not so this one. Les Bosses du 13 starts as it means to continue at the base of an absolutely stunning climb with incredible views over the city and the Mediterranean. The sportive is run by a local cycling club and is a perfect size – big enough to be quick with big pelotons to join all the time, small enough for the logistics to be easy and not requiring us to be in pens hours before the start. Parking is relatively easy though the police shut the roads by the start and the first climb around 7am. I park on the street about 3 mins from the start.
We roll off at 8.30 at the bottom of Le Col de la Gineste on the outskirts of Marseille. The atmosphere at the start is relaxed and most riders are French with a few Italians. There are approx 2500 riders starting in two waves. The climbs are all very steady, 3 to 10km averaging between 4 and 6% with max gradients rarely in double digits. The first climb is completely closed to traffic all day and the pace from the off is quick. At 8.30 the sun has not been up long and I could have started with arm warmers and a gilet on the first descent rather than just my short sleeve jersey. The road surface is fantastic and the views over Marseille and Med is spectacular. Over the top of the summit and we are into the hill country and a million miles from the second largest city in France.
The route takes us into the pretty fishing port of Cassis after a quick descent. There is little flat on the route and we are soon climbing again – long box hill like climbs mostly through lovely forests. The route is managed brilliantly with marshalls stopping traffic at every junction. There are rolling road closures and where traffic is allowed there are very few cars so it feels like we have the roads to ourselves.
One of the joys of sportives is getting in pelotons and hanging on for dear life at a pace much higher than normal. Thus I found myself climbing at around 30km/h holding on to a group of 20 or so on the Col de l’Ange and even peeling off the front for a long turn on a slight downhill section using every Kg of my XL frame. This is cycling at its most enjoyable. Riding with people you’ve never met but have an instant connection with, a September sun keeping you warm in a beautiful place and the knowledge that you have burnt enough calories to be guilt free in the patisserie later.
The route takes us back in a loop to Cassis and over the Col de la Gineste for a rapid descent to the finish line where quicker riders and other locals encourage us for one last push to the line.
Overall this is a brilliant sportive. The route is spectacular and the organisation first class. As a season ending ride it is perfect as the climbs never get too steep or too long and southern France at the end of September is a beautiful place to be. I look forward to coming back next year and justifying the 2016 jersey in “Moyenne”.