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Discovering Provence: Marseille To Cassis Via La Gineste

A closer look at a long-storied destination

French Provence is a long-storied destination. From the ancient, yet mysterious city of Marseille, to its quaint fishing villages, and from its exotic calenques — coves hidden along the rocky coastline — to the picturesque lavender fields, this corner of southern France has attracted travelers from around the world for millennia. And for a weekend this summer, it offered the perfect stage for Panaracer to test their current line of road tires.

The southern city of Marseille dates back to the Phoenicians, while its streets inspired films like The French Connection. Cassis in comparison is the quintessential French fishing village, lost in time only some 25 kilometers away, it offers a perfect destination for those wishing to escape the city, if only for a few hours. Connecting them is La Gineste, a rugged yet breathtaking road that stretches across the Parc National des Calanques.

Meeting up at the Stade Velodrome, the onetime cycling track that is now home to the ever-popular Olympic Marseille football club, Panaracer ambassadors Louise and Sylvain were excited to finally ride La Gineste. “I drove over La Gineste once and told myself I had to come back and ride it,” Sylvain said while chatting before taking off. “It took me a while, but here I am. And I can’t wait!”

Rolling out of town they soon passed under the historic Cité Radieuse, an architectural masterpiece by French modernist Le Corbusier. And while the massive cement structure is clearly rooted in post-WWII tradition of Brutalist architecture, his repeated use of bright primary colors outlining each balcony brings a certain lightness to this imposing structure.

After looping through the gardens below, Sylvain and Louise quickly returned to the road. Already rising in an ever-continuing false flat, the road then suddenly jetted skyward after passing the last round-about. Just as instantly, the landscape changed as the duo made their way around a series of rocky switchbacks towering over the backdrop of Marseille.

“It’s crazy,” said Louise. “I mean Marseille is very much a large city. But in only a few kilometers we are not just out of the city but literally on a mountain pass. Okay it is only five kilometers long, but it is a real climb. I sure can tell you I was glad that there was a tailwind!”

Once over the summit, the generous tailwind allowed them to easily pick up speed over the plateau that laces its way along the arid landscape that defines the Parc National des Calanques. And while the exotic rocky coves below are fit for a desert island, the plateau above calls to mind a desert road somewhere in America’s West. And as one of France’s national parks, the land remains virtually undeveloped.

Sylvain and Louise chatted easily as they picked up speed. “I still cannot believe that we are only a few kilometers out of Marseille,” said Sylvain. “The landscape is so striking, so arid and deserted. In just a couple of kilometers you go from the heart of the city to absolute country.”

(Photo: James Startt)

And seemingly just as suddenly, the two attacked the descent, bombing downwards into Cassis. The descent into Cassis is both feared and admired. With the wind shifting drastically at every turn, it can be treacherous, as riders pick up speed quickly. But then there are those views of the cliffs over the Mediterranean that are simply unforgettable.

Attacking the descent, Sylvain had little trouble negotiating the technical turns, clearly enjoying an opportunity to put his Panaracer Agilest Duro tires to the test. “What a decent! It’s tricky, but the roads are great and you can really pick up speed.”

Arriving quickly in Cassis, the two rode gently along the port eyeing up potential lunch spots, before sitting along the docks to take a moment and reflect on the stunning fishing village simply lost in time.

Soon enough lunch was served and glasses were raised. “Cheers,” said Louise. “What a morning. What a ride!”

The Equipment

For their ride over La Gineste Sylvain opted for Panaracer’s Agilest Duro tire, a 28mm endurance clincher that he felt was best equipped for a rider of his size to negotiate this ever-changing terrain. “I went for a good all around tire. The Duro are the most resistant road tire that Panaracer makes and they are just tremendous. I inflated the tires to 5 bars, which is pretty ideal for 28mm wheels like mine. Unlike similar endurance tires, the Duro is really supple and grabs the road on the descents. Something that is just crucial on La Gineste because the descent into Cassis is really technical and you don’t want a tire that is too hard because you really need to feel secure gripping the road.”

Meanwhile Louise opted for Panaracer’s new Agilest TLR tubeless tires. “It is really supple and grips the road but is also reinforced against flats,” explained Louise. “It too is a great a tire that combines amazing comfort and performance. It’s the perfect balance between speed, weight, and durability. I also went for the 28mm version. For me that is just ideal. It’s so comfortable and yet so fast!”