Secrets of Cécile Ravanel : The Var at top speed

Cécile Ravanel is pure Var, born and bred in this picturesque Provençal region.  Born in Fréjus and currently living in Montauroux, she knows even the smallest trails in the department by heart. Now a three-time world champion of enduro (a discipline midway between cross-country and downhill), she talks to us about her love for the Var – which she now shares with her champion husband – and reveals the spots that made her a professional athlete.

Cécile, tell us how you started out on a bike…

I always had one. Even as a little girl, I was roaming the trails behind my house in the Gorges of the Siagne.

I started competing at 14 years old. In the region, we had Nicolas Vouilloz, who comes from the Alpes-Maritimes. He was a ten-time world champion, which inspired me.

I did the Roc d’Azur for the first time when I was a junior. It is THE big event in the mountain bike world. It enabled me to explore the professional side of the sport.

Without the Roc d’Azur, I may not have been attracted to mountain biking. Had I grown up somewhere else, I might have been a cyclist, but not at this level.

So you developed on the slopes and trails of the Var. What makes it an ideal training area?

First of all, the weather is always good. The temperatures are mild, even in winter. That is really its strong point.

Then, there is a wide variety of terrain. There is dirt, roots, rocks, and gravel. So from a purely technical point of view, it is great for training. It is one of the most difficult terrains you can find. When you manage to ride quickly here – that is to be confident on unstable ground – it’s a bit easier to handle in other terrains.

When I need to do more uneven terrain, I sometimes head out from Mont Lachens (1,714 m) in the Haut-Var. Everything above Mons offers what you need in terms of varied elevation. Between the Haut-Var, the Esterel and the Maures, we’re in good shape. It is a fairly unique environment, which requires a quite demanding technical level.

This region enabled me to have a cycling career by providing a terrain for building up technical skills that I would certainly not have developed elsewhere. That is why there is no reason to go and see somewhere else, and, anyway, I could not live anywhere else!

What are your favourite routes?

I like the Esterel in the winter. The sun beats down, the weather is always good, and you can see the sea. The trails are wide and not too difficult, so you can hit them hard without overdoing it. It’s perfect for long rides to work on the fundamentals like endurance work.

I also like cycling over by Montauroux. It becomes a bit more technical, and it is steeper to ride. These trails are best a bit further along in the season, like March-April, or in the summer when it is too hot at lower elevation.

Cédric (my husband is also a professional mountain biker) comes from Chamonix. At the start, I showed him my training trails. But even though he’s from another region, he now introduces me new ones. Nowadays, it is getting difficult for us to find trails that we both don’t know (laughter).