Monday 15 July 2013

Stage 21 - to Paris

It was an even earlier start than normal. The bus left at 5:30 for the 6 hour drive from Annecy to Rambouillet. Nobody felt like riding anywhere, and Paul looked liked everybody felt with the 1000 yard stare of the returning veteran.

The final stage did not follow the tour route at all. 10 laps of the Champs Élysées is rarely feasible, and on Bastille Day afternoon it's barely possible to walk it once. So it was a 'representation' of the route, starting at a Goat Farm outside Rambouillet, going via Versailles and then finishing in front of the Eiffel Tower.

About 20 supporters - including James - joined with us for the run in to Paris. The early start and ong bus ride was soon forgtten, and the mood was celebratory and frivolous with champagne bottles popping as we rode along. We still had to cover the 60km, so the pace wasn't slow - but James could keep up, which he enjoyed.

At Versailles , we met Jo, Lizzie and Bridget. It was lovely to see them, and there were lots of hugs from supporters. It was a feedstop like the 80 or so previous feedstops: water, snacks bananas and buns - all for 100 people set up without fuss. After a brief hug and chat, we saddled up for the final run into Paris. There was a bit of a hill between Versailles and Paris - which was a bit of a shock, but gave a great 1st view of the city as we came over the top.

Fiddling through the avenues and boulevards, we arrived in front of the Eiffel Tower at about 4:00pm. Much emotion and more champagne - it was a great way to finish.

In the evening, we partied on the 56th floor of the Montparnasse tower, looking over Paris and the rest of France as the sun set and the Bastille day fireworks started

Now It's over. Finished. The End. As always with a personal achievement, there is a sense of anti-climax when it's over, but it has been a remarkable 3 weeks. Few people have cycled a grand tour, and the group spirit was tremendous. I would recommend it anybody - provided you can ride a bike well!

For what it's worth - Strava link here

Saturday 13 July 2013

Stage 20 - Annecy to Semnoz

Stage 20 - The last 'proper' stage of the Tour.  None of us can quite believe that we're here now.  Corsica seems an age ago - yet the time has flashed by

The morning came too early.  A late finish after a really long day yesterday had left everybody tired and focusing on getting through today.  That's a bit of shame really because it was a short and beautiful stage and should be enjoyed for itself.

Starting by the church as the sun rose over Annecy reminded us all what we'll miss next week when reality returns
After 4Km by the lake, the climbs start.  This route was chosen by the organisers for this year's 'etape' - this mass participation ride.   They don't choose easy stages - even though this was by some margin the shortest of the tour.

Climb and descent, climb and descent.  Repeat until told to stop.  The ascent of Le Revard, I found very tough.  It was hot and long - although not particularly steep.  However, the lack of markers to tell you how far to go was something I found very troubling.

The final ascent of Semnoz was OK.  The kms were clearly marked and it was wonderful to hear the cheers as I passed the resteraunt with 150m to go.

And then of the best beers ever.

There was lots of congratulations at the top - even a few tears - as we realised how far we'rd come as group, and how it's nearly at the end.

Jo and the kids are in Paris, and we've a horridly early start to get driven up there for a celebratory ride into the city.  I'm really looking forward to seeing them again - and to not riding up so many hills - but will miss the experience and the criac hugely

Stava link here.  Possibly the slowest ride I've done in 30years

Friday 12 July 2013

Stage 19 - Alpe d'Huex to Le Grand Bornand

Today was a   l o n g  day.

However, I should mention that yesterday evening I was awarded the 'chapeau' - given each evening to somebody who the previous recipient thinks deserves it.  I'm not really sure what I did to merit the award - I think it was probably mainly due to cheerfully being overtaken 5 or so times per day by the same people!

The day started with a long traverse contouring around from Huez, and then down to the start of the Col du Glandon -avoiding the busy valley road.  The Glandon is a lovely climb - a bit frustrating because it has quite a lot of descent in the middle - but the moutainscape is awe-inspiring

I actually felt fresher than I look at this point

A long descent led straight into the Col de La Madeleine.  21 km at 8% with virtually no let up.  Just grind away, waving cheerfully to the faster people as they pass!

From there, it was tempting to think that the bulk of the work was done, but there were still many km and m to do.  A strong headwind in the valley.  A steaming Col de Tamie; an easier than expected Col d'Epine that led to the final climb of Col de Croix Fry.  12km winding past innumerable chocolate-box chalets.
I actually felt much worse than I look at this point

A long downhill brought me to the hotel at 7:30pm .  Tired - but I think that's OK after nearly 17,000ft of climbing

Strava Link here

1 more mountain day, then Paris!

Thursday 11 July 2013

Stage 18 - Gap to Alpe D'Huez

This stage was definitely one of the highlights of the tour route when it was announced last year.  Alpe d'Huez not once but twice in a day.  Obviously, they thought you can't have too much of good thing!  However, that wasn't the only climbing today, with several other chunky climbs.

I was joined by James Heath today, who although not part of the Tour de Force, had been given dispensation to join us for the day.  He gallantly rode alongside me the whole way, even though he could have done it much quicker (he missed out the first climb out of Gap - that must be why he had so much in reserve!).

At the start of the day, we were in mist for quite a while - following the N85 north in the valley.  As we turned east towards the Col d'Ornon the sun broke through, and its was a lovely quiet climb up the valley, surrounded by steep-sided mountains, with some patches of snow still hanging around at fairly low altitudes.  The descent was beautiful - see below

Arriving at the base of Alpe D'Huez is always a bit daunting.  Knowing we had to do it twice didn't help.  As alpine climbs go, it's not the biggest or the prettiest - but it is the most iconic.  There are 21 hairpin bends on the way up, each signposted and this helps psychologically as you can always do one more.  Also, the steepest part is at the bottom, so getting the first 5 bends out of the way helps.
Looking down into the valley from about 1/2 way up.
Plugging away at the climb got us to the top and lunch.  Just another lap to do.  First there was the climb and descent of the Col de Sarenne - a little used road over the mountains going east from Alpe d'Huez. This really was a mountain road.  Steep, narrow with a very rough surface.  The surroundings were majestic - but the riding hard and a bit frustrating.  The descent was steep hairpins on a rough gravelly surface.  There was little opportunity for safe speed and I had to stop 1/2 way down to cool the rims of my wheels.  If they got too hot, the tyres could easily explode.  I hope the pro negotiate it safely next week, because I would really not like to race that road.

Once back in the valley, there was a strange sense of deja vu....except this time it was hotter.  This time we stopped a couple of times to cool down in the roadside streams - shame they weren't there on Ventoux! We finished with an average speed of nearly 20Km/h which I think is respectable given the 15,000ft of altitude gained

Compared to today, tomorrow's stage is a LONG day - so blog might be late.   In the meantime enjoy the view from the bedroom window 

Really looking forward to Paris now, seeing Jo and the kids.

Strava link here

Wednesday 10 July 2013

Stage 17 - Tme Trial - Embrun to Chorges

Today was a short time trial stage through the hills on the edge of the alps.  At 32km, it'll probably take the pros less than an hour.  It took me considerably longer, but then I did stop for photos.
The stage consisted of 2 cat 2 climbs and their descents.  The climbs gave wonderful views over the lake and the 2 descents was lovely and fast (the 1st was too twisty to go fast)

Sarah had prepared a treat for lunch.  I'm not sure where Nutella pies feature in a balanced diet - but they taste good!

I should write a bit about the organisation behind this trip.  I think I'm probably a pretty harsh critic of poorly organised events, but the organisation and logistics behind this enterprise are nothing short of brilliant.  Sarah (Perry) is the mastermind behind it all and has been supported by a team of masseurs, mechanics, physios and drivers).  She has arranged everything from the hotels, to the catering (e.g early breakfasts, getting the hotel kitchens to cook buckets of pasta for us each night), the transfers, the bike shipments - she appears to remember every detail effortlessly, and nothing is too trivial for her attention.  Without doubt, she is the fundamental reason why The Tour de Force is such a success.

Saying that should not diminish the contribution of Phil Deeker.  A slightly greying wiry - ageless, but probably older than all but a few people on the trip.  He covers more miles than any of us.  Sometimes riding with the fast guys - and capable of beating most of them, he'll then drop back and help the back markers before helping to take down the route markers at the end of the day.  On the Mt Ventoux day, he was one of the 1st to the summit, yet was last back having been most of the way down and gone back up with the back-markers.  There was no room in the bus to come down, so he appeared in the hotel after dark, soaked but still in good cheer having down a phenomenal ride!

  I'm still pretty slow up the hills but I'm getting quicker (about 750 vertical metres per hour, compared to just about 600 m/hr in Corsica).  More importantly, they feel much easier - I can just get into the rhythm and the km just tick by.  That's fortunate, since we have 3 enormous mountain stages coming up with 4 cat 3 climbs, 5 cat 2 climbs, 3 cat 1 climbs and 5 HC climbs.  I find it helpful (but sometimes a little daunting) to convert the climbs to multiples of Kop Hill - one of the biggest climbs near home with 130m of ascent.  It's a standard Cat 4 climb.  Category 3 is 2-3 Kop Hills, Category 2 is 4-5 Kop Hills. Cat 1 is about 6-8 Kop Hills and HC climbs are 9-12Kop Hills.  Some very rough maths means that the total climbing over the next 3 days is very approximately the equivalent of 100 Kop Hills.  Actually, I wish I hadn't just worked that out!

We have 20 new people arriving this evening.  Its a bit od seeing them arrive fresh-faced for their adventure, while the lifers are definately think about the end, looking forward to getting through the last 3 days and reaching Paris.

Strava link here

Tuesday 9 July 2013

Stage 16 - Bedoin to Gap

After a relaxing rest day yesterday, it was back to the routine today.  A lovely stage going from Provence into the High Alps.  Great scenery throughout.

 Although the real tour route will start from Vaison La Romaine, a few miles north of My Ventoux, we started from our hotel in Bedoin and round the shoulder of the mountain to join the route after a few miles giving ourselves some more 'bonus' miles.  There were some fine views back to Ventoux before we moved out of Provence and into the Alps.

Although surrounded by steep mountains, the road picked a gentle gradient down and then back up over 40 miles before arriving in Gap. From Gap, there was an entirely unnecessary loop up the Col de Manse and back into town.  I rode with the lead group for much of the afternoon, before getting dumped on the final climb.  However, that did allow me to get in before the rain started - and it really is coming down in sheets.  Lots of thunder and lightning filling the whole valley.  The last descent is pretty technical along a narrow road with hairpins - I just hope that those out there now make it back safely
Back before the rain

I'm definitely getting stronger as the weeks progress - and am starting to really look forward to Paris .  However, there is the small matter of 3 big alpine days ahead.

Strava link here

Monday 8 July 2013

Stage 15 - Givers to Mt Ventoux

Apologies for the late posting of this.  Yesterday was a long day and I knew we could relax on the only proper rest day of the tour today.

Regular readers will know that Stage 15 was 'the big one'.  242 km finishing with Mt Ventoux.  The last time the Tour de France had stage this long finishing with Mt Ventoux, Tommy Simpson died 2km from the summit from a potent mixture of over-exertion, over-heating, amphetamines and cognac.

It was another brutally early start.  Breakfast at 5:30am, bus left at 6:00 and we were on the road by 7:00am.
7:00am in Givers

 We knew from the outset that it would be scorching hot day, so the initial 130 miles was all about  pacing - regular drinking and eating and not pushing too hard on the hills.  The terrain was beautiful and rolling - lots of lavender fields, vineyards and olive groves - it felt a thousand miles from the damp, grey of St Malo only a few days ago (in fact it's not much more than 650 miles).  The mountains to our left as we went south gave warning that stage 16, to Gap, isn't going to be flat!

Finding some shade at lunch  
Provence prepares for Le Tour

I've mentioned before that I tend to go at my own pace - generally fastish on the flat and through the stops but slowing on the hills.  It has now become rather a joke that I am sometimes overtaken by the same people 4 or 5 times a day and yet I never seem to overtake them.  The impossibility of this has led to various theories such as  I use a car to get ahead or (more fun) that  I bend the fabric of space-time to get ahead while travelling slower.  I tend to think the answer is more prosaic - I stop less and for less time.

Arriving at the bottom of Mt Ventoux at 4:30pm I felt in reasonable condition, but the temperature was scorching - variously recorded at between 36deg and 42deg at the base of the climb.  I started the plod up the hill, very glad to be able to dunk my cap in a well after a few km.  The climb starts gently for a few km before heading steeply (9% average ) up through woods for about 12km.  This section had caused me problems before with the stifling heat and unremitting climb.  However the sky had started to cloud over and as I climbed there was an occasional breath of breeze.  1/2 way up, one of the vans was parked with water and peaches (very nice), and I treated myself to a large caffeine gel before grinding on.

At Chalet Reynard, the road leaves the trees and heads diagonally across the rock-strewn moonscape that caps the mountain.  The top looks an impossibly long way ahead at this point, but it was a case of knocking each km, one by one.  About 5km from the top I was overtaken by Lee - a tiny Scottish lady who must weigh as much as my right leg.  She skipped past with a cheery 'You're amazing, Rob' - very encouraging but it did betray genuine surprise that anybody could haul something the size of me up the mountain.

Jo rang with about a km to go, so after a brief exchange concerning the tennis, I mentioned that I was bit busy and could I call a bit later (I was still pedalling).  In the end, I did reach the top to find a motley bunch of survivors there already.  Some had clearly gone beyond normal limits on the climb and there were tears of relief and exhaustion from a few (only from the men, though - the women are much tougher).
Having the sign attached to my helmet cost me hours!

The sky had clouded over and the wind picked up, and it was time to leave.  As we started the descent, lightning flickered over to the east and I started to feel drops of rain.  The descent is wonderful - very quick and comparatively safe, but I did feel like I was racing the wind down the mountain.  Those who were even a few minutes behind had a freezing cold and very wet descent.  

In the end everybody made it up the mountain, although some were bussed back down to avoid the darkness and rain.  It was a lovely relaxed atmosphere back at the hotel, having conquered the longest stage and with the prospect of a day off today.

Saturday 6 July 2013

Stage 14 - St Pourcain Sur Sioule to Lyon

Today is all about preservation and preparation.  120 miles with 7500ft of climbing in temperatures that touched  and the aim is to finish in better condition than when I started to give me the best chance to finish tomorrow's monster stage in good shape.

An early start today with an hour's transfer from one rather anonymous bit of central France to another.  As you can see from the photo, all the riders were eagerly enjoying the scenery
 At the start, the fields were covered in mist, and it was bit chilly.  I started alone, but was soon joined by 'L'autobus ecosse' - the well-drilled group of Scottish riders.  I was honoured to be allowed to lead them for 15km to the first feedstop.

Then rolling terrain makes it tricky to find a group going at my speed, so I did much of the day alone - losing time on the climbs and making up some of on the flats, descents and feedstops.  Lunch was at the highest point - some 2500ft up.  The temperature started to climb so it was important for today - and tomorrow to keep fully hydrated

It was a long down run into Lyon, and then some irritating climbs around the city to mimic the tour route around town.  Having seen much of the city, I don't think I need to see more.  Much of it appears to be a monument to modernist town-planning from the 1970's.

Back in time to see Frome grab the real Tour by the scruff of the neck.  The pace at which he climbs is astounding!

Strava link here

Tomorrow will be a late finish - even if all goes well.  220 km and 4 categorised climbs BEFORE tackling Ventoux.

Friday 5 July 2013

Stage 13 - Tours to St Amand Montrond

Through The Corn Belt

The stage today was another day of long straight roads.  It was shorter - at 176km, and the sun was shining so the general mood in the peloton was lightened compared to yesterday.  We're 2 weeks into a 3 week event and yet have a lot more than a week to go - which doesn't seem to add up somehow. 

I was in a group of 3-5 people for most of the day; I think a larger group is more efficient (less time at the front).  Nevertheless, we were finished by 2:30pm giving plenty of time for a snooze and even a swim before an early supper.

As an aside, I should mention the story of Adrian - who is riding with us and also posting videos on Youtube about the ride (somewhere - can't find them at the moment).  When on holiday in the Channel Islands aged 9 some 34 years ago, he put a message in a bottle and threw it in the sea.  Some time later, he received a reply from a 9 year old french girl, Emmanuelle who had found the bottle on the beach and replied to Adrian's address.  They corresponded for many years but for one reason or another never actually met - until The Tour de Force came to Mont St Michel a few days ago.  Finally, after 34 years of waiting, they met each other in person!  See the reaction here

Strava link here

I didn't take any pictures today, but you can see an assortment from other people from previous days here

Tomorrow is a bumpier day with 7 categorised climbs over 191km, finishing in Lyon.  None of the climbs are big, but it'll be important to finish as fresh as possible considering the monster day on Sunday.

Thursday 4 July 2013

Stage 12 - Fougeres to Tours

The Long and (not) Winding Road

This year's Tour De France has many beautiful and wonderful stages meandering through fantastic scenery.  And this one. At 134 miles, it was a long stage and despite the lack of classified climbs, it undulated up and down 5,500 feet over its length - but it was the straightness of the road that was amazing - disappearing 5, 10km into the distance.  I think everybody found it a trial and was glad to arrive.
The road goes south-east

I was in a quite a large group for most of the day - the second group on the road.  It consisted of several people who should be in such a group (such as me - provided it was a flat day), plus quite a number of the fastest riders who just couldn't be bothered to ride hard today.
From Left to right (click the picture to enlarge):  Slyvain, Jamie, Elton, John, Doc Col, Gareth, Matt, Tim, Paul, Simon, Larry, Chris, Phil, Sean, me and Luke.

Incidentally I gave a brief talk to everybody last night about Chiltern Lighthouse Mentoring which seemed to be well receieved.  I think many of the guys would make great mentors, but there aren't many charities like ours around.  Food for Thought.

Strava link here

Wednesday 3 July 2013

Stage 11 - Avranches to Mont St Michel

The weather today is definitely more British than it was down in Provence and the Pyrenees.  Cold with rain squalls blowing in from the west meant that that 20 mile time trial was more of a trial than it needed to be.  The ride itself was fairly uneventful - much like cycling into a strong wet westerly in Devon.

We started early, with some people deciding to race to get a good time while others grouped together to get round efficiently.  A few started off fast and then decided than racing into the wind and rain was too much like hard work.

Just finished the time trial.

After the ride, we all retired to the cafe for a hot drink and a criossant or 3 before heading to Fougeres, where we're holed-up in a motel at the edge of town.

Strava link here

Tuesday 2 July 2013

Stage 10 - St Gildas des Bois to St Malo

The tour felt different today.  After a day off and a night at a very plush Chateaux, we had recovered from the hardships of the Pyrenees and felt ready to face the next week.  The focus of this stage and the next 4 is to get to base of Mont Ventoux on Sunday afternoon in a good enough condition to get up it without problem.

Today we split in about 5 groups and spent the day working together.  This was sometimes 2 abreast with the leader dropping back after a couple of minutes; on the busier roads we went single file, with a minute at the front and when it was safe we did 'through-and-off', riding in 2 columns with the fast column moving up one side to the front, then slowing and drifting back past until you join the back of the fast column again.  We got it working very well, keeping quite a speed without significant effort - but it requires concentration and clear roads, so 15 minutes max.

The banter in our group, 'Group 4', was fast and fun - although it diminished as the miles rolled by and everybody wanted to get to St Malo.  Overtaking the fast group with 15 miles to go was a mistake - they blew our group apart on the climb through the village of Concale and I was left out the back to do the last miles into the wind on my own.  However, 115 miles with 5800feet of ascent at 19mph (including villages etc - excluding stops) is fairly good for me.

The day finished with a dip in the channel - looking a bit grey and overcast compared to Nice, where the pros are today.

Strava link here

Sunday 30 June 2013

Stage 9 - St Girons to Bagneres de Biggore (and then some)

Just a quick post because it's late and I want to go to bed.  Tomorrow is a rest day (= day in a coach) so I can elaborate then.  But the basics are:

beautiful weather
fantastic scenery
v long day (>4000m of ascent)
a few spills with 1 broken collar bone
first use of the word 'epic' about a stage
strava link here

top of the last climb

Supplement:  on the coach northwards

The stage from St Girons started very early - with a 6am coach from Ax Les Thermes. The coach was late a Sarah looked dressed for the 1st time, which is amazing given what she is organising.

We started at about 8:00. The ride had 5 categoried climbs all cat 1, except the 1st - the portet de Aspet.  Conditions were perfect, with light cloud being burnt off by the sun.  

A steep descent passed the Cassertelli memorial, a large carved alabaster memorial to a talented young rider who died racing down that road in the Tour in 97(?).  he came off on a steep corner, hitting his unhelmeted head at about 100kph. i came down much gingerly - and safely.

The 2nd climb was the Col de Mente.   Breakfast felt small and a long time ago at the bottom, and I was very hungry by the top .  Here we learnt there had been some fallers.  Some guy had clipped a back wheel on the run in to 1st hill and brought and brought done some others.  Just road rash.  However, potentially more seriously a girl called Peggy had come off on a descent and banged her head.  She couldn't remember how it happened, but her day was over and she was put in the van under observation (she's fine now).

A long descent went past St Beat.  The village had been decimated by flash floods 2 weeks ago and there was still debris everywhere.  Some houses that back onto the river were virtually destroyed, with walls ripped out and mud everywhere.  Large clumps of debris were caught in trees some 10ft above the still high river levels.

Along the valley to Luchon before the col de Perysoude.  Having done this previously from the other side, I thought I knew it - but it longer and harder than I remember, with almost 1000m of ascent.  I plodded on at my own pace.  News of a couple more fallers at the top - 1 from a front wheel puncture on a descent, the other caused by taking a gravelly corner too quickly.  Both caused nasty grazing and 1 chap, Donald, decided to sit out the rest of the stage. But he'll be back.

Lunch (at tea time) was in St Lary, where Bridget , Lizzie and I went canyoning a couple of years ago.  The food was very well received - it seemed to have more flavour than the normal paste in green or beige.  

The 4th climb ( not final as labelled ) zigzagged up the side of the valley giving great views back to the Perysoude.  A very fast descent (80kph at times) required care because they had put gravel on some of the corners.  

At the base of the last climb, l'horquette d'ancizan, my legs felt extremely heavy, but after a few km grinding away lunch reached them and the last 1/2 of the climb sped past.

There was a long descent to the official end of the stage, and then a 20km bonus to get to our hotel.  Everybody was pretty tired at the end.  About 3km from the end, one lad, Shien (from Malaysia via Rugby) came round a corner to find a car reversing out of a drive.  He came off and unluckily broke his collar bone.  That's his tour over but he seems remarkably sanguine about it.

Yesterday's stage marked a definite turning point.  Corsica and the Pyrenees are done, and we have a few days before the next real test.  It's now just the 'lifers' on the coach and there's a sense of camaraderie building that I hope will see everybody through any tough times.

Saturday 29 June 2013

Stage 8 - Castres to Ax 3 Domaines

Today was a day of 2 parts - flat and grey and then sunny and v hilly.

It was a very early start to catch a cramped bus to allow us to start in Castres at 7:30.  The sky was leaden and the temperature downright cold, and the general mood in the peloton was a bit leaden too.  The first 75 miles were flattish, but the wind was helping us today because we've turned south.  I rode with the fast group for the first 60km, but then dropped back to save some energy.  4 of us then rode together to lunch, in the lovely village of Quillan, low, but set in a deep valley.

 Much of the morning was spent at not much more than 100m altitude, but the road now started to head upwards, at first very gently, then noticeably, through deep ravines besides a mountain river.  After what seemed an age, the actual climb started - 16km at 8% to the Col De Pailheres
 The scenery was sublime - the very epitome of the word bucolic.  Shepherds herding their goat, horses on the road, and snow-capped mountains towering above the pastoral valley.  Of course, all I could think of was how far it was to the top.

The road stretches down from the Pailheres.

After the enormous hill, came a screaming descent to Aix Les thermes, before another big climb to the ski station at Ax 3 Domaines.  At 700m of climbing, it felt relatively short, and allowed me backm in time to post this before supper - unlike some of the guys who are still out there.

More mountains and bucolic sweat tomorrow

Although the screen for my speedo is broken it can record my activities for posterity - if not current use.  Strava link here

Friday 28 June 2013

Stage 7 - Montpelier to Albi

Today was the last 'transition' stage before the Pyrenees start tomorrow - but it was a tough test in itself.  210km with 4 categorised climbs.  However what made it tougher was the strong mistral wind and cold damp weather.

The route climbed unsteadily out of Montpelier - lots on undulations with each up longer than the following descent. I managed to lose the entire route leaving Montpelier (having been in the middle), and arrived at the first feed stop 1st in glorious isolation.  The flattish section before the big climbs started was very windy and I was glad to be in the group

Sheltering from the wind

Once the climbs started, I reverted to my normal pace, and passed through the Col of 13 winds on my own (actually, all the winds seemed to be fairly well focussed!).  Another descent and the 2nd feed stop came before the biggest climb of the day up to 900m.  Anthony paced me up most of the climb, but the 15 mile section after that was hardwork.  Constant up and down, all around 800m with buffeting from the wind took it's toll and I was very glad of lunch - which was a veritable mountain of pasta.  From then on, I cycled with Anthony, which is less stressful than peleton riding, but less hard work than being on your own.  Intermittent rain kept us on our toes on the descents - but was also a bit chilly. Just before the last feed stop, I dropped my water bottle onto my garmin computer - breaking the screen.  I think all the computing electronics are fine - but the screen means the results stay locked in the little box.

We're now in Tarn region - steeped wooded hills looking quite like Devon in places.  Plenty of ruined history to wonder about
 The descent into Albi was lovely - little traffic until the last couple of miles.  Albi is a magnificent old city with an amazing cathedral.  Unfortunately we'll only see the Ibis hotel, which is less lovely!

Pyrenees tomorrow - could be a late finish!

Thursday 27 June 2013

Stage 6 - Aix en Provence to Montpelier

Today's stage was flat and fast.  At 105 miles, it wasn't particularly long, so was billed as 'recovery' day.

We had to get up even earlier than normal to get a coach from Marseilles to Aix - about an hour, but a bit dull at that time of the morning.  So it was 8:00am before we rolled out from a car park on the outskirts of the town.  The first hour or so was slower, with cars and few bumps, but soon a group of 10 formed working well together.  Going 2 abreast and being on the front for 2 minutes.  At the 1st feed stop, the group increased to 20 or so and we worked as a group all the way to the finish (except on the only categorised climb where I once again got dumped).
A familiar sight - the group disappear ahead as a climb starts.

The mistral wind piped up strongly from the north - every right turn slowed the group by 5mph or more, left turns were well received.  Crossing the Rhone, the wind was very strong, and everybody had to lean them well over to the right to stay upright (if you see what I mean).  When the route had a bit of south in it, and the group was working, we hit 30mph on the flat fairly easily.  The miles flew by.

Strava link here

Tomorrow will be different.  Longer and with 4 categorised climbs.  However, I'm feeling stronger than day 1, which is a good sign.

Wednesday 26 June 2013

Stage 5 - Nice to Marseilles

Another great day - with lots of miles and lots of food.  At 230Km (143 miles) with 4 categorised climbs, it's taken everybody longer to finish than previous days - and I've got to rush this before dinner at 8:00pm.

The climb out of Nice was a bit trafficy, but after the 1st feed stop, things eased out beautiful countryside.  I should perhaps explain that there are normally 4 feed stops spread across the day evenly:
Stop 1 - basically 2nd breakfast, buns and banana, dried fruit
stop 2 - sandwichs and salted snacks
Stop 3  - lunch copius pasta/coucous or other carb
Stop 4 - coke and sugar fix to get home
Today however was different since we were riding with a local club from Fourges and the route passed through their town, feed stop was postponed to about 110km but upgraded to 'feast' status!  The space outside the town hall was cleared for us, the mayor said a little speech, a photographer took our pcture for the local paper and we all agreed that it was magnifique!  The food was certainly excellent, and I didn't really do justice to the food at the next stop.
I cycled alone for most of the afternoon - I can't find anybody who goes the same speed as me on tghe flat, and then slows down as much as me on the hills.  Just before the last stop, I had the 1st 'bonk' of the tour, when my speed declined almost instantaneously as I ran out of energy.  A gel got me to the food where 1/2 litre of coke fuelled me to the end.  The scenery is spectacular with lots of riding through fragrant forest underneath rugged cliffs.  The final descent into Marseilles was superfast with superb views of the city and sea.

Marseilles is, however, one of France's least attrative cities - but the room is comfy once I changed from a double to a twin.  Donald, with whom I'm sharing tonight is a nice guy - but he's bigger than me, and having us both in one bed wasn't going to work!

Strava link here

Tuesday 25 June 2013

Stage 4 - Team Time Trial

Many stages of the tour are great to do as an amateur, most are pretty beautiful.  Today's Team Time Trial was neither, unfortunately.  The ferry arrived at about 7:30 and we followed an approximation of the route as a group.  So it was as a team, timed and a bit of a trial!

Here's the view of the sea.

We'll spend the rest of the day doing laundary and preparing for the next tough 5 days into the Pyrenees

Monday 24 June 2013

Stage 3 - Ajaccio to Calvi

A stunning stage. 145km but very up and down along the west coast.  Big rolling waves landing on the beaches and then climbing high into the hills overlooking the  sea, with big drop-offs down the cliff.

Some fantastic descents, with good gradients and sweeping curves .

We're now in Calvi,waiting for the ferry, having had a swim, beer and pizza - so things are pretty good!

As the group dynamics develop , the quantity of humour grows - but the quality declines .  I suspect that after 3 weeks, our conversations will be unintelligible to outsiders.

Strava link to here

Sunday 23 June 2013

Stage 2 - Across the middle of Corsica

Stage 2 was billed as being shorter, but with some proper hills.  In fact it turned out longer than advertised ('Viper' had 'improved' the route), nut was properly hilly.

The 40km neutralised section gradually became less neutral as the young guns - who have yet to establish who is Iceman and who is Maverick - couldn't resist raising the pace.  After the 1st feed stop, the gloves came off.  Along the flat, I'm fine keeping up with them, but when the road turned up, they seemed to barely slow down - but I did, and immediately ejected from the back of the group.I would like to say that they are all 1/2 my age and weight - but its not true.  The picture shows one of the team doctors, Col, having a coffee waiting for everybody else 1/2 way up the climb.

The climb meandered on - mostly at a fairly decent gradient - through scenery like this to 1100m height.

The decent was very quick, with sweeping bends and a good surface. Lovely.  However on the valley floor there was a strong headwind, and I was very glad to be in a group of 3 working well together.  We kept it over 20mph into the wind but when we arrived in Ajaccio I was finished.  Which was a shame because there was an extra 12km loop rising 200m above the town before finishing along the seafront.

The group is gelling well.  2 awards each night - a plastic rocket for 'unbecoming' behaviour and a 'chapeau' for kindness/helpfulness etc.  So far there have been no serious 'rocket' events - although its awarded every day anyway.

Tomorrow is a shorter - but very undulating stage north the Calvi.  Should be time for a swim before catching the ferry.

Strava link here

Saturday 22 June 2013

Top Gun...

Scene: The briefing room overlooking a swimming pool.  Moon starting to rise over the mountain.  Excited chattering from everybody.  This is a verbatim description of the briefing (maybe)...

" My name is Sarah, codename Jester, and I'll be looking after  you for the next 3 weeks.  In charge will be Phil Deeker - codename 'Viper'"
"Good afternoon gentlemen [and ladies]. You are the best of best - the top 1% of British cyclist - Our job is to make you better.  Over the next 3 weeks you'll be put in over 20 stages with points awarded for successful completion of each mission - at the end, the person with the most points will be awarded the 'Top Gun trophy'. Good Luck.

OK, he didn't really say any of that, but the atmosphere was similar - everybody scoping out each other.  Shaved legs vs hairy.  skinny vs (ahem) less skinny.  Lifers (i.e. those doing the whole thing) c.f. the rest.  The are 40 lifers and about 35 here for a shorter time.

Stage 1
Stage 1 was long - 212km, but basically flat.  The first 60 km was a loop around the south of the island before returning to Porto Vecchio.  The first hour or so of each will be 'neutralised', which means everybody willl cycle as a group (or in 4 groups) and at a pace that everybody can maintain easily.

The road then turned north and went along the east coast of Corsica for 90-odd miles to Bastia.  There was a cross-tail wind that flattered the average speed, but even so, I felt pretty good.  I was in a group of 4 and we took turns on the front.  Gradually, the others seemed less interested in going to the front, so I finished slightly ahead of them, a few minutes behind the 1st group to finish.  This stage played to my strengths, and I have few illusions about maintain that formed when the road heads up!

Full details available here

Bastia is lovely - very quaint and run-down in a chic Mediterranean way.  We're staying in an ancient hotel overlooking the harbour

Tomorrow we head across the mountainous centre of the island - shorter but slower

Monday 17 June 2013

Better now than later

Final preparations for the trip.....
While cleaning my back wheel, I found a worrying crack in the freehub.  It might last a while before failing completely, but I'm not going to take the chance.
So I spent this morning hunting around London looking for a decent wheel that would suit 'the larger rider', before handing my bike to the guys at 'on your bike' to be taken to Corsica.

Meanwhile, jo's cousin Alistair has been cycling from Lands End to John o Groats.  64 hours in, and they have reached Brora - about 50 miles short.  He should finish in about 66 hours - which is an awesome achievement.  I know which feat is harder, and it's not my French trip!

Tuesday 21 May 2013

Extreme Weight Loss....

One kind sponsor has promised so-much per pound weight lost between Liege-Bastogne-Liege and the end of the Tour de Force.  But I think neither he nor I intended it to go to such extremes..

I was in Alderney harbour at the weekend, on our boat, having sailed over there for the weekend.  Just prior to going ashore, I checked the mooring and saw it had jumped out of the roller and was chaffing.  I tried to haul it back, but just as I lifted the rope, the boat was lifted by a wave bringing the rope hard down on the steel  edge of the anchor roller.  Unfortunately, my left middle finger was caught under the rope and the last inch or so was avulsed (look it up!).

A trip to Alderney hospital confirmed it had taken 1/2 the last finger bone, and needed to be tidied up properly to heal.  We searched the front of the boat, but the tip was probably in the sea.  A few alternatives were suggested, but in the end it was better to sail back overnight (Nelson style) and then get it dealt with in the UK.  It's now been cleaned, 'debrided' and dressed, and the healing process can begin.

This is the finger now now.  I have picture of the finger just after the accident, but it's really too gruesome to post here.  Let me know if you really want to see...

Tuesday 14 May 2013

Getting Closer...

It's not very long now until I head to Corsica to start Le Tour.  5 and a bit weeks.  On the cycling front, I feel fairly well prepared.  I've felt fine at the end of the long rides I've done, and am going quicker than I have for a few years - provided that I eat enough!  I am probably asking for trouble by saying that.  I think the problems (and there will be many....) will be more related to the following:
- General wear-and-tear on the bike and body
- No recovery time so minor niggles can't heal.
- Weariness not just from the cycling but the coach travel, new hotels having to sort out food, washing, bike issues etc.
-  Making sure that I stay upright on the bike and don't hit anything.

I've looked in detail at the schedule, and I'm thinking of the event in 4 sections:
- 3 day warm-up in Corsica - heat will be a real issue here
-  5 days across the south of France ending with the Pyrenees
-  6 days of La France Profonde going almost directly from Brittany to Provence
-  6 days of Alps and the end.
In other words, 4 nice cycling holidays strung into 1!

I'm sure there will be many moments of exhaustion, pain and despair - but at the moment the one I'm dreading the most is the long day to Mont Ventoux.  I've been on Ventoux twice and the mountain leads 1 1/2: 1/2 on points at the moment.  On both those occasions, it came after about 80-90 miles cycling.  This time, however, it comes after about 120 miles of riding.

I met Rick Wates last week to try to persuade him that WWMT should support Chiltern Lighthouse - the charity of which I'm a trustee.  No definite answer yet.  I'm ramping up the fund-raising effort at the moment, so if you are thinking of supporting me - please do it now!

Thursday 2 May 2013

Getting Out there

Finally winter has ended and conditions have improved for riding.  For the 1st time this year, I ventured out on my bike wearing shorts as opposed to  long tights.  Oddly enough, it seems to make me go much faster, and I was substantially quicker on my standard 2 hour ride.  Any idea why shorts make you go quicker?  Anybody else notice this?

The wonders of GPS and the Internet have combined to produce Strava, allowing one to get competitive against people who you've never met, will probably never meet and who have no interest in me or how fast I cycle.  Is this a good thing?  It certainly allows me to obsess about a multitude of details about otherwise unremarkable rides.  Why, for instance, was I slower up Kop hill yesterday than the day before?  Is having a pulse of 160 for 20 minutes a good thing?  The trends on Strava are clear however - on very gentle, non-technical pieces of road, I am quite good!  However, as soon as the gradients get steeper, gravity takes its toll, and I slip down the rankings.  'Twas ever thus.

A winter of doing ergos has left aerobically fairly fit - with my 1hour erg score about the same as 5 years ago.  From now on, I think the training should focus on time on the bike - trying to get used to the hours in the saddle.  I reckon there will be many problems on the 3500km around France - but few will be related to lack of top-end speed!

Monday 22 April 2013

Liege- Bastogne-Liege

I've just returned from a weekend in Belgium participating in the Liege-Bastogne-Liege sportive.  Most sportives in the UK top out at just about 100 mile mark, but this was over 170 miles, lots of climbing and most of the hills in the last 1/3 or the race - so a very good test of preparation for the Tour De Force.

The day started clear and cold.  A strong northerly wind blew and it was about 3degC when we rolled out at 7:00am.  The route meandered through the grim industrial outskirts of Liege before we eventually reached 'Km 0' - where the official 'race' begins after 12 miles or so.  From there the route climbed out of the town and into the lovely Ardennes countryside.  There were some good groups for the first 60 miles and I made good speed powered by the Jo's chocolate flapjack and the tailwind.

At Bastogne, the route turned sharply into the wind, and for the next 45 miles it was vital to get into a good group to counter-act the effects of the wind.  A couple of times I was dropped by a few yards and had to strain to get back into the group.  Had I not done so, I would have lots chunks of time.  The supply of chocolate flapjack failed at this point, and there was rather an unpleasant period when the major climbs started and I felt very under-nourished.  I was crawling up some of the hills, whilst others seemed to be flying.  However, I generally was able to use my superior size to maintain speed on the downhill sections.

The picture shows me at the top of 'La Redoubte' - perhaps the most famous climb on the route.  The bottom section was lined with camper-vans waiting for the main event the following day, but there were few supporters nearer the top.  I was going very slowly at this point!

At the last couple of feed stops I forced down a number of unpleasant energy bars, and that allowed me to finish in better form that I had feared with 50 miles to go.  In the end, I took 11 hours 25 mins to do 172 miles - about 4 hours 45 mins behind the pros,  but then they didn't have to go so far......

Sunday 14 April 2013

Spring is Here

We've just returned from Devon, where the weather went overnight from the cold easterlies caused by the blocking high over northern Europe to warm southerlies, driven by a deep low west of Ireland.  The result is not only  a lovely increase in temperature but a change in the pacing on my standard ride.  Yesterday I was 5 minutes quicker on the 1st hour, and 7 minutes slower on the 2nd hour, into the wind.  For those who care, or haven't got anything better to do, you can see my training on Strava.

I'm now starting to fund-raise in earnest, so if you would like to support my attempt to ride the route of the Tour De France, please donate here

In a few days, we'll be off to do the Liege-Baston-Liege sportive.  160 miles of rolling Belgian countryside.  That will be the first proper test of the winter's training.

Wednesday 27 March 2013

Easter Cancelled

I had planned - and trained - to do the Devizes to Westminster canoe race over Easter.  This is a 125 miles race along the Kennet & Avon canal and then the River Thames.  Run non-stop (at least in the event I entered), it starts on Easter Saturday morning and should take about 24 hours to reach the Westminster Bridge.  

Unfortunately Matt, my paddling partner, has come down with a horrible bug that has filled his lungs with green slime and he is struggling to do any strenuous physical activity - 24 hours paddling in freezing conditions definately qualifies as strenuous In addition, the Thames is running very fast (have a look here - the numbers are cubic metres (i.e.tons) of water per second) , with red boards on all the locks indicating strong stream - and potentially dangerous conditions. So, we have pulled out of this weekend's race.  It's a big disappointment, but we get to fight another day (or year).  Matt and I will go and give them a hand on Saturday night as the crews go through some of the swirliest bits of the Thames.

With no more kayaking obligations for a while, I can concentrate on cycling, and preparing for the Tour De Force - starting in less then 3 months.  Cycling has been limited by the weather and kayaking, but I'm still a fair bit fitter than I have been for a number of years.  


The Tour de Force is being organised by the William Wates Memorial Trust.  It funds charity projects in London & the South-East helping disadvantaged youngsters.  It particularly relevant to me as trustee of Chiltern Lighthouse Mentoring.  We have 25 mentors helping young people across Buckinghamshre, and we really need some funds to retain our Programme Co-ordinator - who keeps the whole thing running smoothly.