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Three Tigers round Corsica

vendredi 27 août 2010, par Barry

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Going all the way round Corsica in one day ! Sounds crazy ?
Well a while back, just for a laugh, we did it for you !

Words : Hervé - Photos : Cyril Hiely

In fact, the whole thing started as a misunderstanding… What was going through Cyril’s devilish mind when, on that fateful evening before what was supposed to be a rest day, he uttered, “What if we did Propriano-Propriano ????
Did he just want to go and have an ice cream on the port ? Or did he want to play the tourist in shorts and flip-flops on the seafront ? No-one will ever know…

In fact, I took his question as a challenge… And then the others started taking the piss and saying that we weren’t up to it… So that’s why at ten in the morning in early May, three Tigers set off on what was to stand out as the most amusing day that I’ve ever spent in Corsica !

We had one day to go all the way round Corsica on the coast roads : 600 km of sheer amazement… Unfortunately for us, the best 400 km were done in driving rain. Next time we’ll do it when it’s sunny !

Rain suit or not ?

That was the big question on the hotel car park, mulled over by José, Cyril and yours truly as we warmed up our three Triumph Tiger 955i’s. After a moment’s hesitation we decided to get the rain gear on. Good move, that ; if we had known, we’d have donned deep-sea diving gear !

We had barely ridden a kilometre before we had to turn back : the deal was to use the coast roads only, so no short cuts via the main road that goes directly from Coti to Ajaccio. So we had to hit the trail at Acqua Doria and along the coast ; we had a moral contract to comply with, although it was beginning to look like the daftest idea of the year…

The tarmac was very damp and I must admit that, as I saw Cyril beginning to give it the berries, I was getting a bit concerned for our mate José who had found himself press-ganged into this ordeal somewhat against his better judgement. Luckily, the Parisian turned out to be a savvy rider, and from the way that he followed us as we shot down a series of downhill hairpins, I soon realised that he wasn’t a big girl’s blouse !

In Porticcio, I wondered how long I’d have to digest my coffee if we kept this rhythm up, when suddenly a few raindrops came splattering down. I hoped it wouldn’t get any worse… yeah, right !
We got round Ajaccio in double-quick time, with scarcely a thought for the “little corporal ???. However, we had to fill up and, while we were at it, partake of what bullfighters call “la mueca del miedo ??? (literally, the piss of fear) : by this time it was starting to rain stair-rods, and we still had some way to go…

When the rain finally let up, we were somewhere towards Cargese. In fact it hadn’t dampened our spirits and, helped by the lack of tourists, we reached the capital of the Moors at a very naughty speed ! Ah, those wonderful corners in the San Bastiano pass, in the wet, giving it a big handful on the exits…
To get to Piana, we had to leave the coast for a few kilometres : doing the smugglers’ trail was out of the question ! Then again, we almost regretted it, because as we came out of the section flat-stick, we came upon a herd of goats ! That was a bit of an eye-opener. Luckily there was some run-off… As I write these lines, I’m still wondering if this season’s cheese won’t have a strange taste ! We proceeded at a more sedate pace ; well for ten kilometres or so ! That was just enough time for the old ticker to calm down… at least until that bloody coach wiped out a car in the middle of the Calanche di Piana ! I had to brake Supermoto style, all crossed up, and came to a halt half an inch from the bumper of the 206. Cyril, who was following me, pulled up and asked :
“You ok ? That was pretty lairy, I really thought you were going to bin it !???
I managed to command an offhand tone :
“You must be joking, I had everything under control ! Bit of a close shave, though !??? At the same time, I was wondering if I should go and have a piss right away, or if I should wait for a few kilometres to avoid showing that my legs were shaking !

The landscape was magnificent, and we took the opportunity to take a few photos ; I don’t know why, but I had a sudden urge to smoke a tab quietly under the rain… and to think about how sometimes “it ??? comes so close that you can feel it breathing down your neck !

My kingdom for a big trailie …

We passed Porto. It was still chucking it down, but a few kilometres further on at the top of the Croix pass we discovered a fantastic landscape over the Girolata : the sea was emerald green, and there was a mist rolling down from the mountains. Even in this dodgy weather it had an indefinable charm, and looked magical : Corsica will always be Corsica, whatever the weather !

It got worse after that. The tarmac was torn up and huge puddles of mud had us riding along, standing upright on the pegs. Factor in oncoming traffic, the wind that had suddenly got in on the act, and the fact that we could only see for a few yards, and you end up with the toughest section of the ride. Cyril, who didn’t want to be one down on me, almost wiped out on a lorry that was grinding up the road without a second thought for downwards traffic. He managed to squeeze through between the rig and a digger : another one down…

When we reached Calvi, we had our boots full – in all the senses of the term. But just getting back onto smooth, pukka tarmac lifted our spirits. We had only forgotten about the white lines : that’s slippery in the wet, and Cyril had another moment that sent him round the far side of a traffic island. I managed to slither round on the right side, all crossed up but still upright. Meanwhile, José was bringing up the rear and keeping score.
It was quite a score for just a few kilometres. Hunger and thirst made themselves felt, and we went to the port of Ile Rousse for a drink and a bite to eat.
That’s where we made the first phone call to the mates. “You’re only there ???? was their reply. “You’ll be spending the night in Bastia at this rate !??? Talk about encouragement ! So we decided to switch the mobiles off !

A plate full of local charcuterie and greens soon got us fighting fit again. It was still pouring. We had to head off towards Cap Corse. Weren’t you tired, I hear you ask ? We didn’t feel tired : the Tigers were turning out to be very comfortable on these goat-tracks. I doubt it would have been possible on another kind of bike, and I’d rather not find out. If you decide to engage in similar tomfoolery one day, don’t do it on anything other than a big trailie, or else you’ll regret it !

The Centuri – Bonifacio bullet train

When we told the restaurant owner that we were going round the island and that our mates were expecting us for dinner above Propriano, I’m not sure that he really believed us. In any case, he came out under the driving rain and gave our spirits a boost when he said, “If you’re going towards the Cap, you’ll be heading towards good weather !??? As it turned out, he was right.
To reach the Cap, we had to cross the Desert of the Agriates, which was full of flowers at this time of year. And the road had recently been resurfaced : as the tarmac dried out, we got back on the pace. I was able to run-in the soles of my new boots : I was going to get it tonight, for sure !
We didn’t take the time to visit St. Florent, which is a jet-setter’s paradise at this time of year, and instead we got our heads down and took the road towards Cap Corse. For two of us, Cap Corse was a great unknown ; I knew the road well enough, but Cyril had only been through once, and José didn’t even know there was a road there !
Of course, we weren’t disappointed : it was the best part of the trip. The landscapes were breathtaking, the cliffs were vertiginous, the sea was bluer that Laetitia Casta’s eyes… and there must have been a corner per metre ! It was like riding on a roller-coaster, with a few stops on the way : the black sands of Nonza, a few snapshots of the marina at Giottani, the outsize tomb of the Forlani, and the sound of the wind in the windmills at Centuri. We got there at about 6pm, just as a huge Chevrolet Corvette roared past us. We had to get back down south, we were too close to the continent.
I won’t talk about the drink we had at Sta Severa under the dubitative gaze of a bunch of rough-looking hunters ; the dice that we had on the way down to Erbalunga, as if exorcising the demons that would end up inhabiting our bikes ; going through Bastia, a return to civilisation with all of its problems : it was 7pm – yes, Corsicans do work, you know !
I won’t mention the road between the capital of the northern half of the island and Solenzara : I must admit that even though it’s in Corsica, I wouldn’t spend my holidays there. Hardly any corners, a sad, mournful coastline, frightfully ugly villages ; fortunately, one can make out the Castaniccia to the right, a sight that brightens things up a little. This is also where we saw the only accident of the whole journey, a couple of blokes who had slammed into each other on a straight : not a pleasant sight. We overtook a three-kilometre-long tailback and then nailed it southbound. The rain caught up with us again just after Solenzara, but it was only a light shower. By the time we got to Porto Vecchio, it was dark ; for a while we thought about taking a shortcut via Figari, but we decided to keep to the original plan to the bitter end. After a cable-stretching session, barging past a herd of sheep that was well out of harm’s way at the roadside, and a lightless cyclist who got blown away well into next Spring, we reached Bonifacio : it was 9pm.

We said that we’d take the last stretch easy

The waiter in the bistro in Bonifacio was a bit nonplussed at seeing us wet through, particularly when we told him that we had come from Propriano. But when we told him that we had come via Centuri, he began thinking that we were barking mad ! But that Pietra that we had on the port of the southernmost town in Corsica tasted glorious ! José had finally dropped the Tiger… at a standstill. He was starting to get really tired ; then again, who wouldn’t be after such a crazy day ?
Backing it off was out of the question : we were hungry, it was starting to get chilly… and we still had 105 km to go.
I went off ahead, under orders to keep it mellow : no way we could bin it on the last leg of our trip. It lasted all of ten kilometres… and Cyril, who had been staring at my rear tyre all day, suddenly had an epiphany. Thanks to his 100W lamps (not endorsed by the manufacturer !), we could see as clearly as in full daylight, and the road to Sartène was dispatched with, MotoGP style. He got it a bit wrong at the roundabout at the entry to the most Corsican of Corsican towns, and I shot past on the inside line before diving down towards Propriano. Just before the town he tried to go round my outside, but I didn’t roll off, and forced him to exit wide, on the edge of the tarmac. It was only on the last straight that he got me, as I made a pig’s ear of a tightening right-hander. We hit the last section with him in the lead. I couldn’t see well enough, and he played pilot fish to us until the end, at a fair clip, finally reaching the hotel in first place !
And what about José ? He was quietly admiring the show, wondering if we were really aware of what we had done, and of how tired we were.

We entered the hotel’s dining room laughing our heads off at exactly 11pm, to rapturous applause from the participants of Corsica Week, who had been waiting impatiently for us. The Mistress of the hotel had prepared supper for us. And Annie, who I had forgotten about all day, was able to breathe a sigh of relief.

We had done it ; perhaps not in the best of conditions, given the rain, but it had been a crazy bet !
According to the satnav, we had been on the road for nine-and-a-half hours : for a total distance of 680 km, that gives an average speed of over 70 km. That’s the time to beat…
And if we tried ?

I’m cool !

If you want the roadbook, it’s easy : whatever part of Corsica you start from, first get to the coast. Once you’re facing the sea, either turn left, or turn right. And then just follow the coast as closely as possible !
A word of advice : since the east coast isn’t as lovely as the west coast, do the trip anticlockwise, unlike us. At Cap Corse, don’t forget to take the little road that leads to the port at Centuri, it would be a shame to miss it.
Take great care on the long straights between Bastia and Porto Vecchio : it’s not a good idea to get white line fever…

A last piece of advice : don’t try this, it’s silly. Corsica is such a beautiful island that it’s worth taking your time over it, instead of gobbling it down in one gulp.