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The Final Blog Entry to My Tour de Force 2014 ….. 2 weeks on.

Finished !!   TdF medal

A long blog entry this…. but I hope to answer all the questions I’ve received from you…..

Its’s Over. So What Happened after Paris and the Eurostar/taxi home?

Well it’s taken me over 2 weeks to find the time and possibly the motivation to write this summary.

Does that say something? I don’t know.

Am I scared that by writing this final blog my Tour de Force is officially over? I think so.

What I do know is that I (quietly) miss writing the blog, and that I really do miss riding my bike. If TdF taught me one thing, it’s that I love my bike, with the freedom it provides, the simplicity and ruggedness of life that the bike and mountains offer in complete harmony…… in an exact same manner that my motorcycle and the vast sand dunes and immense emptiness of the Omani desert gave me for 6 happy years.

After finishing TdF in Paris I returned to England on the Eurostar. I met a group of guys and gals returning from completing L’Etape du Tour at Tourmalet/Hautacam. I had to laugh, they’d had rain and mist, and no views! I explained our 43degC and they were jealous … until they heard my stories of the Alps!

I was in a rush to get back. Priority number one was to see my darling 16yr old daughter, Annalie. She was back in hospital. So bravely, and quietly enduring her next bout of chemo. I spent 3 nights with her in hospital before she returned home for her next recovery period. Such a brave girl, and thankyou darling for being so brave and unselfish, and letting me go to ride TdF. I expected to spend hours quietly reflecting, but in fact……. I just slept, calmly next to Annalie. Nothing more.

I then had to visit the dentist…. I cracked a tooth and lost a filling “en-TdF-route” (day 13)…. But as “Man-Up” (or words to that effect) was the sort of unofficial motto during TdF I kept quiet about this, but it did need attention. I rode my bike to the dentist, for the first time, 10 days after the finish …. All 15km there and 15 back, on the flat! It was like putting on some old slippers. It felt so right, everything fitted. It really did feel like I belonged on the bike. Oh yes, I LOVE my bike, I love riding it, and in answer to the oh so many questions, no…. I won’t be hanging it up for cobweb collection. In fact I’ve fitted new (OK, you know me….2nd hand!) wheels and it’s ready to roll when I get back from Russia.

The TdF wasn’t a slog (mostly!) but a joy to ride, a pleasure to take part and privilege to have completed…… and I’ll be cycling for many more years, although perhaps a little less intensely. I think I’ve also learnt that…. you know what…?.... I’m pretty damn good at it too !!!  Ha ha, hope this doesn’t sound conceited, but come on…. So many of us just completed the whole of the toughest cycle race in the world, (OK, we didn’t race it… but we did 3,700km and 50,000m ascent). You can’t keep claiming “I’m not really a cyclist” (as claimed by myself and several people at the initial briefings) anymore! Let’s face it…. We’re cyclists, and pretty hard core too!! Chapeau to all my new found friends !!

But now it’s time to look back….. to summarise the ride, and so I will and I’ll start as usual with the usual statistical facts….plus a few “noteable” extra’s:-

Tour de Force (28 June – 21 July 2014)   Totals: 

Distance  km 3,733 Total Elevation  m 50,304
Ave Speed  km/hr 23.2 Max Speed  km/hr 77
Moving Time  hrs:min 161:08 Total Time 21 days
Ave Heart Rate 124 Max Heart Rate 177
Ave Cadence 67 Crashes on my bike 0
Calories burned 68,143 Temp Range  degC  03-43
Total Punctures 0 Spokes Broken 1
Gels Consumed 4 Energy Bars Eaten 1
Beers Consumed * 9 Wines Consumed * 10
Friends Made 50+    

*Does not include final boat trip party !!

If you are interested.... Vincenzo NIBALI (who won Tour de France this year, yellow jersey) finished in 89 hours and 59 minutes. Cheng JI (the guy who finished last - known as Lanterne Rouge - 164th out of 198 starters) finished in 96 hours and 01 minutes.

My time was 161 hours and 08 minutes. We cycled a bit further (to and from hotels etc) and dealt with traffic lights, and traffic in general ...... we also took photos, ate food, rode ALL of the cobble sections (!) and didn't ride in a peleton most of the way. Now, I'd say this probably slowed us down by about 66 hours, or so, don't you think? Therefore by my calculations, and had we had closed roads...... I wouldn't have won the 2014 Tour de France...... but I wouldn't have come last either . Would you agree? he he.

But far more importantly...… I managed to cycle 3,733km without a single puncture or without falling off. Amazing hey? Gatorskins…. Brilliant tyres. I left an old pair of them on for Yorkshire and London ….. then decided to leave them on until after the cobbles…. then realized weight is irrelevant and I’d wait till rest day. Then there was rain forecast which washes out all sorts of puncture causing material….. and then finally couldn’t really be bothered as there were only a few days left. My tyres were over 6,000km old by the end (and they’re still going strong!)

I did however almost wear out a front rim due to all the wet weather braking, break another spoke, and I did kill my free wheel hub (4 year old wheels, should have bought new ones beforehand, ooops, silly boy)

Eating is NOT cheating:

A typical sized 3 course evening meal ........

Starter Main Pud

Healthy stuff                     Filling stuff                        Chocolate stuff !!!

The most popular question I have received since finishing has been along the lines of “You did seem to go on about the food quite a lot, just exactly how much did you eat each day?” So…. Here is a list of what I ate one day in France….. and for anyone who doesn’t know me, I am 5’11” and normally weigh around 73kg (11.5 stone). I lost a bit of weight on the tour (1 or 2kg) but not as much as many people. So pretty normal really, a bit on the skinny side I suppose, definitely not an ounce of fat! And yes, I do like my food!

6am Breaky: 1 bowl of muesli, with milk and a yogurt poured over. Some bits of fresh fruit and nuts added. Glass of orange juice, cup of black coffee. 3 pain au chocolat. 1 croissant dipped in a honey sachet. A 6” baguette filled with ham and cheese (carried out to eat as I checked out my bike and got ready to go). An egg, a banana, and an apple.

9am 40km Stop: Drink of water. 3 slices of flapjack. A piece of briochette (French cake), a handful of nuts, a handful of dried apricots. 2 bananas (ate one, stuffed one in my cycle shirt pocket)

11am 80km Stop: Fresh coffee. Drink of rehydrant powder added to water. 4 baguette style sandwiches (peanut butter, jam, cheese, chocolate spread), a few biscuits (bourbons even!) and several quarters of fresh orange.

1pm 120km Lunch: Big plate full of pasta with some sort of veggies and mild chicken curry mixed in. A second plate of rice with other bits of vegetables and stuff in. Some cheese, some bread, some pastry things. A piece of chocolate cake….. and a banana!

4pm 160km Treats: A can of coke. 2 bags of crisps (smokey bacon and roast chicken no less!) and 2 chocolate bars (bit like a French bounty bar, and a praline bar... yum yum.) It was at this point I usually discovered the banana I had been carrying all day, so I ate that too!

6pm 200km Finish: Leftovers from pasta lunch, some stale bread and a couple of bikkies, just to tide us over till dinner. My own protein recovery drink mixed into 0.5 litre of water.

8pm-10pm Dinner: Starter of various cold meats, some quiche and tomatoes. Loads of bread whilst waiting for the main course to arrive! Main was Grilled Chicken breast, green beans and garlic, some fancy French potato creation. This was quite small so a big bowl of more green beans and a bowl of pasta with some sauce was circulating…..so I had a generous portion of that too. Pudding was a lovely apple tart typical French slice thingy….with cream. I found sitting next to a girl at this point was quite clever, cos they usually allowed me to “help them out” with a bit of the desert…. but not always!

I have been known to nibble a leftover choccie bar or banana in the room before bed…. But not every night, that would just be greedy. he he......... Sleep……. and digest

Looking back. Reflections:

I don’t want to get too emotional here and offer up the inevitable Q&A’s to “Has this changed my outlook on life, changed me as a person, will I do it again?” etc etc…..because in all honesty I’m too old and set in my ways for changing!.....plus of course, as I mentioned a few times along the way in my blog I’ve had enough character building events in my life already, and I think mines built up enough, thanks very much. TdF was brilliant fun, and an incredible experience, and damn hard work at times, both mentally as a well as physically, but it hasn’t changed me….. I don’t think. I revel in this sort of challenge and will seek out something else at some point I am sure…. Not sure quite what yet though (or I’m not letting on here anyway!! )

 

Lifers at the Finish

All the "Lifers" in Versailles. Officially not on this years Tour de France, but we rode through, as it's too good to miss!

Learnings: and Top Tips:

What I do think is useful though is summarizing a few learnings from my experience, and perhaps they can act as a few Top Tips for any budding long distance cyclist or future TdF-er out there. I know I learnt a bit from previous riders blogs, and if this can help someone in the future and add to their enjoyment, then that’s great. Here’s my impression and learnings…. They may not be everyones… of that I am sure, but they are mine…. And they are honest! (as you know I like to be with these things)

So what did I learn? :-

1)      Wash out your shirt, shorts, socks every night. To dry, simply lay your kit on the towel on the floor, roll it up in a sausage and then stand on it. Unwrap and hey presto it’ll be basically dry! Brilliant. Hang up over night and yes, honestly it will be bone dry in the morning. I learnt this on day 2 and wow, what a revelation! (Do this after showering in hotels with only 1 towel!!)

2)      Extensive multi-day Training pays off. Not only did it develop my speed, stamina and general fitness but it also taught me that saddle sores are a reality and need to be avoided at all costs! No multi day training and I wouldn’t have discovered this. A comfy saddle, and lashings of cream! (“Second skin” mail order from Germany worked for me, plus Assos for the chamois, and sudocrem (baby nappy rash!) for the nights….. heaven).

3)      Writing a blog (diary!) really is an essential means to having any chance whatsoever of remembering anything on such an undertaking as this. If you are going to ever do anything like this for goodness sake do it. Whether its pen and paper, rough notes or a ridiculous electronic blog like this, just do it. I wouldn’t have remembered anything without it! 3 weeks is a long time. It’s hard at the time, but I am soooo happy I made the effort, and stayed up late doing it.

4)      Having a very good mate at home (called Craig - who even set up the website for me a year ago) to send photos to on a daily basis saved me hours of frustration trying to download pictures onto the blog site at awful snail pace internet hotel wifi sites, with 65 cyclists suddenly all trying to do the same thing! Thanks so much mate, the blog was so much better for having pictures. You are a star.

5)      You don’t need to shave your legs. You don’t need white shoes. You don’t need a fancy bike. (sturdy and reliable beats lightweight and troublesome…. cheaper too!). You do need good legs tho!

6)      Day bag management for spare gloves, waterproofs, arm/leg warmers, creams, drink powder etc etc can really make your day. Share with someone else and have bags in both vans (every 40km). Double up on waterproofs/gloves etc so you can always collect or dump at any van knowing you’ll have the same at the next van.

7)      Energy bars, gels! Pah, take a handful if you must but no more. Wrap a piece of flap jack up and stuff a banana in your vest….. tastes better, is better for you, saves carrying all round France for 3 weeks unnecessarily! Drink powder and electrolytes though are well worth it. Hydration, hydration , hydration.

8)      Ride alone for at least once every day. Look up, take in the view. Stop occasionally. Take pictures. Enjoy. Pick some fruit, steal a grape! You will always find someone else to ride with from the next feed stop.

Here's one of my favourite pictures taken by my crazy friend "Pippy". She stopped and observed so much...... Should we call it "The yellow sheep in the peleton" ? Look closely..... who else would have noticed this if their head had been down pedalling frantically?

Theres always one

9)      Do it. I wasn’t much of a cyclist a year ago. Put in the training. Have courage. Do it !!

10)    Do it. Yes I know I’ve said it twice. Whether its as a Lifer or a shorter Tour Taster you will meet the wonderful Wates family, the tremendous TdF organizing/support team, and many more perfectly brilliant people, who ride bikes!

Thankyou’s:

There are too many thankyou’s to mention individually. But most important is to thank YOU… the people reading this blog who have contributed to the William Wates Memorial Trust. You have made a difference to some child less fortunate than yourself. Your money is spent wisely I can assure you. On their behalf, Thanks a bundle. My total raised is over £8,000. Amazing.

Thankyou to the Wates family for this inspirational set-up. Thankyou for your personal touch and individual comments. You are a wonderful family.

And thankyou to everyone who met me en-route, sent me a message of encouragement by text, email, facebook or this blog page. It really did help and it was lovely to receive, and helped make the ride so special. Thankyou everyone.

The End     …....… (to this little adventure at least ! )

 

Day 23 Stage 21 Evry - Paris. The final day.

FINISHED !!!   I made it. I have cycled every single km of the 2014 Tour de France..... one week ahead of the professionals. 

Day 23 Stage 21 (The Last Stage) Sun 20/07/14 Evry - Paris  100km

Distance km 104 Elevation m 685 
Ave speed km/hr  22.4 Max Speed km/hr 57.4 
Moving Time  4:35 Total Time  7:25
Ave Heart Rate  115 Max Heart Rate 160 
Ave Cadence  62  Total Distance 3,733 
Calories burned 1,617  Temp Range  16-35

Garmin tells me... Hours riding = 161 hours 08 mins.    Total Distance 3,733 km   Total height climbed 50,304m   Total Calories burned 68,143 !!

A very leisurely breakfast after perhaps one or two too many shandies the night before.

We set off at around 8:15am and did a quick 6km loop so that we would end up doing over 100km for the Rapha Womens 100km ride today. This was Rene's idea and most of us joined her as Phil led us on a ridiculous lap of the car park and neighbouring streets! Then on for the ride into Paris. The first stop after 40km was at a little café and then at 75km we reached Versailles... for some lovely photos.... but most importantly to meet Andy who was there with a loan bike and his shiny new helmet and white shoes !!

Everyone was dressed in the blue TdF shirts and it felt great riding into Paris. Again, very mixed feelings though for everyone, although everyone was looking forward to meeting their loved ones. Have to mention the tumble though for Mark, who whilst discussing the merits of drafting -up behind a combine harvester 2 years ago, lost concentration, hit the curb and ended up in a hedge. Right in front of me.... Thanks Mark, it looked great !!! Oh how I wish I had a Camera going at the time!

Just one fairly major hill to climb.... 17% at times (and Andy zipped past us with his fresh legs......grrrr) which was a rather rude awakening to what was otherwise a very leisurely roll into town. (Literally in Marks case!). We passed by the Eiffel Tower for the absolutely mandatory photo's and the up along the Champs-Elysees and the Arc de Triomphe. Crazy, crazy Paris, but well worth it. More cobbled roads..... Typically we had drizzle early on, then some sun, then it was very, very hot at the Eiffel Tower, then heavy rain.... and then just nice, with damp roads...quite typical really of our whole Tour! 

At eth end, after a lap of the Champs-Eleysees and Arc de Triomphe, there was Champagne and Hugs before the quick blast down to the hotel for sorting the bikes, a quick clean up and off for our river boat cruise on the Seine from 8pm....till late...........

I'll write a summary blog page when I am home..... But for now...... it's "smugly enjoy the feeling of achievement".

Did I bite off more than I can chew? Yes, I did. But I kept gnawing away.... and won. Glorious. Incredible. Pretty damn chuffed, I have to admit!

Thankyou to everyone who sponsored me. You have helped me raise £7,400 plus gift aid of £550 so that is almost £8,000 in total. Helping disadvantaged children, in an incredibly good way. I think the group total is over £425,000 and expected to reach over £0.5 million soon. Amazing.

We have seen many members of the Wates family over the past weeks and especially over the past few days. 3 generations (all cycling) of Mum & Dad, Brothers, Aunts & Uncles, Cousins, Nieces & Nephews. Amazing. What a wonderful family.

Day 22 Stage 20 Bergerac - Perigueux. Time Trial (TT) Only 54km!!!!

The Time Trial (TT).  Our times won't compare with the pro's.... they get closed roads & no traffic lights. They also wear silly helmets and stupidly revealing skin tight clothes! We'd have wupped their sorry backsides otherwise.... I mean, we didn't crash in Harrogate, we didn't fall off on the cobbles, we didn't get 2 of the cobble stages removed..... Aye.... we're tough guys!

TOUR DE FORCE RULES !! 

Day 22 Stage 20 Sat 19/07/14 Bergerac - Perigueux  54km

Distance km 55.6 Elevation m 661 
Ave speed km/hr 32.1  Max Speed km/hr 66 
Moving Time 1:43  Total Time 1:45 
Ave Heart Rate 146  Max Heart Rate 172 
Ave Cadence  76 Total Distance to Date 3,629 
Calories burned 1,082  Temp Range 17-19 

Garmin tells me... Hours riding = 156hrs 28 mins.    Total Distance 3,629km   Total height climbed 49,619m

Time Trial (TT)  Saturday 19 July

We got a lie in till 7am, had a nice relaxed breaky, and set off at 8am...... for an easy 5 km cycle to the start of the Time Trial (TT).

Everyone was talking about the TT and would they push or would they cruise! Well you know me..... even if I wanted to cruise I wouldn't be able to!!!  I wasn't really in sprint mode but I knew I would be pushing a bit, and probably a lot at the end! Incredibly my legs felt great...... not heavy. It's amazing what 7 hrs sleep can do!!!!
I only had 1 pair of shorts on for the first time since day 1!  But the gel seat cover was still on and I had 2 water bottles, so I wasn't in full race mode!
We set off in town and had to cope with traffic and traffic lights. But after about 4km we had open roads and I set off on my own at a reasonable pace.....
I came across Florin and rode a km or 2 with him and then pulled away and was on my own for a while before the steam train of the "Banana gang" came by. Steve, Rich and Weeksy flew past me, so I realised this would have to be a team time trial! We pushed for a good 10 k rotating every 2 mins before Weeksy let us go after the first big hill. He'd planned this and had set a good first stint. So then Steve, Rich and I pedalled like crazy and the average speed rose from high 20's to low 30's very quickly. This was fun and it really felt like we were racers! We hit 45 on the flat, and higher downhill.
The hills came, the rain came but we kept pushing. I sneaked a crafty gel in at 25km which helped. We passed a lot of riders. The final big hill was a killer and I saw my Heart Rate go over 171 (it had been below 160 for the whole tour and only over 150 now and then.... so I was definitely pushing now!)
Then at the end of the 12% hill with heart pounding there was a flat bit and then ANOTHER ramp of 12%!! A killer. But only 4 km left as we hammered in. Just Rich and me now.
With 1 km to go a steep descent and a tight right hand bend before a roundabout caught Rich out and I saw him fall (loads of people fell here as it was so greasy with wet roads). I had to avoid and go the wrong way round the roundabout (as will all the pros I am sure!).
Rich got up straight away and we cruised through the traffic to the finish.
We passed the finish and got to the van where I stopped the Garmin. So we did a bit extra, but never mind. 1 hour 44 mins with an average speed of 32.1 kph (20 miles per hour). Not bad considering 3 reasonable hills and 1 killer 12% hill in the rain with town traffic and traffic lights at both ends of the distance!
Mr Nibali..... the gauntlet has been laid!

For the first time of our Tour I was the first back.... just ahead of Rich. Definitely not the quickest cos some of the faster riders started after us and/or weren't racing. I believe our fastest rider managed 1 hr 30. But it felt good to have pushed and done well.
A celebratory coffee in a nearby cafe where Steve's bike suddenly blew a tube! And then onto the bus at 11:45 for the 6 hr drive to Evry, just outside Paris.
A lot of thoughts and contemplation on the bus. Talking about the past 3 weeks and of course what lies ahead for us in the real world, outside the TdF bubble.

Last day tomorrow. 100km is easy and simple riding into the centre of Paris. We will do a slightly different route due to traffic issues and safety but we'll start and finish at the right spots. Looking forward to Andy rejoining us too for the final ride in. Well done mate for coming out for this final ride in. Chapeau!

Looking forward to the final day with mixed emotions, but in general...... Happy days.

On the bus to Paris  On the bus to Evry, near Paris - with mixed emotions!!

 

 

Day 21 Stage 19 Maubourguet Pays du Val D'Adour - Bergerac. Flat, they said?

Another beautiful days cycling. But the legs felt heavy early on…. REALLY heavy. No day on Le Tour is easy!

Day 21   Stage 19   Fri 18/07/14  Moubourguet Pays du Val D'Adour - Bergerac   208km

Distance km 212 Elevation m 2090 
Ave speed km/hr  27.2 Max Speed km/hr  71.9
Moving Time 7:47  Total Time 9:47 
Ave Heart Rate 116  Max Heart Rate 145 
Ave Cadence 64  Total Distance to Date  3,569 
Calories burned 2,862  Temp Range 17-39 

Garmin tells me... Hours riding = 154hrs 32 mins.    Total Distance 3,569km   Total height climbed 48,945m

Stage 19. The Ride to Paris begins.

Today started slowly. Very slowly. We were expecting a nice flat and easy 200km, but the first 60km we climbed over 1,000m !!! “Lumpy” was how it was described….. “Damn steep” would be a better description. My legs were so heavy I really struggled up the hills. It wasn’t painful like the steep inclines of La Planche des Belles Filles or the long Alpine/Pyreneen climbs, but the legs were heavy, I felt weary and I “just didn’t want to do this” !! Hill after hill after hill, all short but 7%..... not nice.

But we plodded on. And the scenery was great. Pretty French villages, rolling hills (!) and finally vinyards. Initially it looked like rain, then it got humid and a thunderstorm was imminent, but somehow we missed it. For once we were lucky with the weather. Hoorah!

After 80km I got my second wind. Joined up with a different peleton from normal, some lads who had just come for the Pyrenees and today. And then for the final 35km I rode with Nick (the Russian teacher) who has a house out here in the region and some of his fellow villagers came out to support him (and us!) Fantastic. Great to see them on the route.

Arses leading the peleton An earlier pic of Andy and I leading the Peleton!

We also passed through a quaint little village with decorations for Le Tour (first really well decorated village since Yorkshire to be honest!).

The final run into Bergerac was brilliant. Just Nick and I riding in, feeling strong, enjoying some warm sunshine and a bimble through the vinyards (well, OK a bit more than a bimble… we pegged it! 75kph downhill at one stage and some good aggressive climbing!) Turns out we were 4th and 5th home today. It’s not a race but it was nice to be one of the early ones for a change!

Back in the Campanille and the usual frustrations of rubbish internet, not able to download Garmin etc….. but I was met by my mate SJD who everyone knew was my mate cos he had his Desert Challenge T-shirt on and all my clothes seem to be Desert Challenge stuff too! Great to see you buddy, thanks for passing by! xx

Some great after dinner speeches again. Hugh made some lovely comments about various riders and staff who helped him through our Tour, and the moustache went to Pete.... the man with "the most revealing of cycling shorts". It really couldn't have gone to anyone else! 

Phil congratulated everyone for surviving one the hardest Tour de Forces in history (we only had 1 Time Trial - normally there are 2 - a TT day is a day off for us really due to the short distances!) and the weather was either too wet, too cold, both or too hot ! Character building stuff: As referenced earlier.... My character's plenty big enough already, thanks!

Today was mixed feelings. The major riding is over, just a 55km Time Trial tomorrow (plus a 6hr bus ride to the outskirts of Paris) and then a 100km ride into Paris…. And the end. I feel a bit “strange”. I think we all do. Good to be nearly done, but it will take a long time to get used to the real life and out of this bubble of “Pro cyclist taster” !!  Hmmmmmmmm…………

Day 20 Stage 18 Pau - Hautacam. The Famous Tourmalet!

Superb Scenery, Horrendously Hot, Stupendously Steep, Unbelievably Up !! 

Day 20 Stage 18   Thurs 17/07/14   Pau - Hautacam  145km

Distance km 158 Elevation m 3,554 
Ave speed km/hr 18.9  Max Speed km/hr 73.4 
Moving Time 8:20  Total Time 9:56 
Ave Heart Rate 121  Max Heart Rate 149 
Ave Cadence 59  Total Distance to Date 3,357 
Calories burned 3,874  Temp Range 17-43 

 

Day 18. The Tourmalet and Hautacam…..

Hot. I think that’s all I really need to say…… 43degC we saw (that’s 109 Fahrenheit)

Up at 5:15am again for a 6am breaky and 6:30 departure. (Bags on the coach, creams applied, all kitted up etc! ). It was the best breaky in France to date (bacon, eggs, sausages!) and a shame to rush it…. But needs must.

Nearly 2 hrs coach ride and set off around 8:15am after a little sleep for most of us. The first 30km as usual was easy-ish and relatively flat (with just one Category 3 climb) but the heat was definitely on.

Russian feed stop

We were then treated to a Russian themed Feed Stop! Sarah (the boss!) has lived in Siberia in the past) don’t ask why she “chose” to live there! And Nick (a fellow Lifer) teaches Russian in a school in the UK, and went to the same Uni as Sarah….. and I work in SIberia right now! So, Sarah with her brilliance asked me to bring some stuff back from Russia and she bought a few ingredients locally and hey presto we had a fantastic feed stop. Everyone was very impressed. I must say….. (sorry to any Russians reading this….) it was in fact better than any Russian snack I’d had!)

The day then got hot….. It basically went up, up, up for the next 60km to the top of Tourmalet at 2,115m.

My legs were tired, it took a long time to get going, but eventually (several water fountains later) we reached the top….. Met up with a group of Irish lads over for L’Etape on Sunday. L’Etape by the way is held every year. It’s basically the biggest and best (most prestigious climb of Le Tour) and is held for the general public to ride/race a few days before the real TdF race it. Usually several thousand take part…. I believe 5-6,000 cyclists pay to ride I each year. This year it is this stage (Tourmalet/Hautacam) and will be held on Sunday just before the pro’s race it on the Thursday just after. Many top amateurs race it so it’s a big event. We of course didn’t race it, just the usual plod… for some. There were a few of the younger lads of course who sprinted at the end, but true to form, Matt was first….again. What a star he is. Such a modest rider, but absolutely brilliant in the mountains. Chapeau!

The descent from Tourmalet was brilliant. Massive speeds. We then had lunch in a beautiful setting, and I even had a can of shandy! It tasted so good! Ice cold and 1% alcohol!!!

By now it was 3pm and the Hautacam loomed. The temperatures were up at 43degC ! It was searingly hot. A long slog up the Hautacam, stopped once at a fountain to top up water bottles and I managed to reach the summit by 6pm. I was in the top third of the group, so after a very quick coffee at the top, and a rapid descent (something the pro’s don’t need to do…hence my extra mileage again today) managed to get on the first bus to the hotel. Basically we need 2 buses for the number of riders we have (about 70 today). A few riders didn’t ride up Hautacam due to the heat, so the first third to complete the section and the guys who cut the day short took the first bus back. The next bus waited for all the others.

A Campanille. We arrived around 7:30pm. Just enough time for a quick shower, wash the clothes before feeding time at the zoo at 8pm. No speeches / briefings as the second bus was a couple of hours later. It got in around 10:15pm. It’s still incredibly hot…… and I am ABSOLUTELY EXHAUSTED.

The climbs up the 2 mountains were very slow today (ave speed 18.9 kph includes the descents of 60kph!). At times I was grinding along at 7kph. It was just soooo incredibly hot. And the lack of sleep, the continual day in day out riding is definitely catching up on me…. Getting moving after a stop is starting to hurt. Today was tough, I suspect tomorrow will also be tough (physcologically). It should be easy, a flat-ish ride, no major climbs and only 210km… but the heat will drain us. And it’s kind of the last decent long stage. But the general toil of 20 days on Le Tour is definitely affecting us all. Tired and weary, the spring in our step has gone, although generally our strength is definitely up.  

But we only ride the routes. I have so much respect for these boys who race the Tour de France. It is incredible what they do. Really incredible. Chapeau boys, Chapeau !!

Day 19 Stage 17 Saint Gaudens - Saint Lary Soulan Pla d'Adet. A Tough Roller Coaster Ride!

Wow! Today was tough. Up, down, Up, down, Up, down, Up, down..... Yes... 3 Cat1 climbs and an HC climb thrown in at the end!

Before you read todays blog PLEASE read yesterdays....  I take it all back.... I just wanted today to be over at times!

Day 19   Stage 17  Weds 16/07/14   Saint Gaudens - Saint Lary Soulon Pla d'Adet  125km

Distance km 138 Elevation m 3,369 
Ave speed km/hr  17.9 Max Speed km/hr 76.9 
Moving Time 7:45  Total Time  9:25
Ave Heart Rate  122 Max Heart Rate  146
Ave Cadence 59  Total Distance to Date 3,200 
Calories burned 3,202  Temp Range  16-37

Apparently according to Mr Garmin I have been riding my bike for 138 hrs and 24 minutes so far..... (moving time). That doesn't include stopped time (i.e. eating, resting, warming up, cooling down!)

The Roller Coaster Ride

For those of you who think 125km isn't very far..... I challenge you to todays ride!

Up early at 5:30am and a quick transfer in the bus. The ride began at 8:15am. The briefing , moustache and chapeau speeches took place before we started the ride because last night everyone was too late / too tired etc etc etc.

Officially only 125km, but basically all up and down. We rode the first 30km together which was fairly flat to FS1. And then we all split up for the climbs. 3 BIG category 1 climbs and an Hors Categorie (HC) at the end up St Lary Pla d'Adet. After yesterday I was brimming with confidence and ready to roll..... Ha ha..... oh how wrong I was to be confident. The 1st climb was tough, the 2nd climb was tougher (VERY tough) and very long, and the temperature was rising to 37degC.... so sun cream was re-applied in great bucket loads at the feed stops.

The 3rd climb was so difficult cos we were so drained form the 2nd climb. We were all exhausted. Seemed to meet up by accident at Feed Stops with the usual banana gang (Steve, Rich, Andy, Weeksy, Darrah) but separate a bit on climbs. Rich had a lucky escape as he pulled into lunch (FS3) as his tyre had been catching on his brake, and had worn right through to the wire. A few more km and it would have burst. Thankfully there was a bike shop nearby in the own and for 21 Euros he got a new fancy red and black tyre.... so he bought 2 at that price! Ha ha

So after lunch (which was so nice and relaxed in a park, by a river, dangling our bare feet in the ice cold water...... heaven.... it really was a struggle to set off!) we completed the 3rd Cat1 climb and dropped down afterwards to FS4, with officially only 10km to go (20 for us though as we had to go up and down the mountain!). This was quite soul destroying actually, cos at Feed Stop 4..... the hotel was 100metres away! We just had a little 10km HC climb to negotiate.....(the pro's finish at the top but we then had to ride back down again...... which actually was brilliant fun cos you got loads of encouragement on the way up... and gave it all back to the other guys on the way down.....). On the way up I found a fountain. At about 6km into the ride... So I stopped, stuck my head under and WOW...it felt good. The next 400metres were easy..... and then the grind returned! My average speed was 6 or 7km/hr.... could have run faster! It was basically 10% the whole way up. Man it was tough. I consumed my 3rd gel of the trip up this hill. It seems HC ascents are calling for a little boost, and as I don't have the connections/associations (never mind the financial funds!) for EPO I am afraid I have to resort to simple Hi-5 gels! They do work though, and give a definite boost.

When I finished the climb and the descent I popped over to the Feed Stop 4 to grab an extra ice cold coke (which I'd been dreaming about all the way up), and met Ivo (the German) who was tired and struggling and "wanted sugar"! I had a couple of gels and an energy bar which I "rather stupidly"  gave him....  With hindsight I could have made a few hundred dollars on that deal!! :-)

Into the poshest hotel yet, a Mercure..... fantastic shower, washed the clothes and hung them in the sun to dry... a novel idea! Made a cup of coffee and got writing this before dinner.... Oh what a day.

The Pyrenees really are special. Absolutely stunning.

I heard today a quote..... "The Alps are for Tourists, the Pyrenees for Purists" and then I heard "Alps for Amateurs, Pyrenees for Pro's".

My thought for day?  "It's only Up inbetween the Downs ........"   hmmmmm, I wonder if that will catch on?

Tomorrow.... I daren't look. I believe there are 2 HC climbs called Tourmalet....and Hautacam !!!  You might have heard of them.  Aghhhhhhh !!!  Apparently this is the Etape stage.... and the toughest.... can't wait!     I really am loving this. It's so tough, but it's great. The commeraderie too is wonderful. And.... the wine last night with the meal, was fantastic!

 

Day 18 Satge 16 Carcassone - Bagneres de Luchon. Beautiul, oh so beautiful.

The Sun has got it's hat on...... Hip, hip, hip, hip Hoorah!

Day 18   Stage 16  Tues 15/07/14   Carcassonne - Bagneres de Luchon 237km

Distance km 237 Elevation m 3,692 
Ave speed km/hr 23.5  Max Speed km/hr  66.2
Moving Time 10:06  Total Time 12:11 
Ave Heart Rate 128  Max Heart Rate 154 
Ave Cadence 66   Total Distance to Date 3,061 
Calories burned 4,351  Temp Range 14-38 

Day 16. Pyrenean Pleasure…..

What a day! Well, I can definitely say that today was BY FAR the best day of Le Tour so far.

Clear blue skies, fantastic views of snow capped mountains, deep long valleys, a most bizarre grotto cut through the mountain that we cycled through, several birds of prey, a herd of deer (being guarded by a huge stag…..) and even a strange fury jet black squirrel which I nearly ran over! (Could it have been a Marmot? here?)

Plus…… and this is very important, I completed todays ride easily… a mere 240km (that’s 150 miles by the way, for all you old fashioned types out there!), 3,600m ascent, after cycling 3,000km of Le Tour over the past 2 weeks……and I don’t feel exhausted. Incredible but true. Must be getting fitter. RESULT! In fact I feel really good. I took it steady, and REALLY enjoyed the day.

We were up at 5:30am, for a quick Premier class breaky…..which was lavishly added to by Sarah….who really does understand the needs of hungry cyclists.   Extra pain au chocolat, muesli, ham and cheese……. Sarah… you’re alright you are!!

The Translation of the banner above us says Port de Bales (that's the last climb of the day) "19 km of happiness" (French humour!)

The sun was up and we set off at 7am… as this was expected to be the longest day so far. Indeed it was. For me and “the banana gang” it was a 12hr ride. (10 hrs moving time, 12 hrs in total). But here I am, writing this blog at 10pm and still there are cyclists coming in. Several failures too, due to heat exhaustion or other issues with the long day and steep climbs. Tough day for many, and so tomorrow will be even worse for them I suspect, as they won’t get much time to recover.

So apart from the fabulous riding, what I learnt today and want to share is the following:-

I heard someone say last night “Ah, once we get these Pyrenees out of the way we’re almost there….. I can’t wait till they are over”. Now this made me think. I fully understand where they are coming from because as you know…I am a very determined person and I REALLY want to complete this tour….. even if it kills me! However, what I have realised today is that I CAN COMPLETE THIS TOUR, and IT DOESN’T HAVE TO KILL ME! I can actually finish whilst “enjoying it”!

As I was riding along today I backed off the pace… and rode a few bits on my own, it’s not a race after all. I looked up, I saw the birds of prey, the snow capped mountains, the wonderful woodlands, the beautiful villages and the amazing houses. I looked at the incredible churches built into the mountains…. I paused for a photo at the scene of the 25 year old Italian 1992 Olympic champion Fabio Casartelli monument. He crashed and died here on the descent from Col de Portet d’Aspet in the 1995 Tour, he was aged 25. It was this incident which brought about compulsory wearing of helmets. I reflected for a few minutes.

In short, I ENJOYED the ride. I didn’t treat it as a slog, and a “got to finish this, get it out of the way and move on to tomorrow” attitude, which I have done on a few days, I have to admit (something to do with torrential rain and 3degC…. I feel!).

I realised, it’s easy to get sucked into doing this in order to achieve this monumental feat of completing the whole of the Tour de France.

But now, as we all get fitter we can slow down a bit, and ENJOY the beauty of the Pyrenees. I suddenly realised how lucky I am to be cycling through the Pyrenees, in the fresh air, smelling the smells and seeing the sights. I don’t want it to end! I don’t want the Tour to end….. I want to keep riding….. but I can’t!! I’m not on an endless holiday. I am doing a fixed route. So…. I have to ENJOY and SAVOUR every moment. And I did today…. And (incidentally!) that also included honking down the 20km descent at the end at break neck speeds! Awesome!

Now I know this sort of reflection is not normal for me…. It’s not the usual “Come on let’s Go Go Go …Follow Me, It’s Easy” attitude….. but it’s what I felt today. It really is beautiful here, and I want to enjoy the rest of the Tour. Really enjoy the beauty and not just the physical challenge…. Which initially seemed impossible, but now seems to be really a very high possibility.

Hmmmm. Bit of a different side to me hey! Ha ha. Well I don’t care… This blog is my diary of my thoughts….. I loved today. I rode a fair amount on my own at 1 or 2 km/hr slower than I can if I push hard, and I really did enjoy it. So……. Now you know.

Night night

 

Day 17 ANOTHER REST DAY.............at last !

Day 17    Mon 14/07/14   Nimes to Carcassonne  0 km!

Distance km 0 Elevation m  
Ave speed km/hr   Max Speed km/hr  
Moving Time   Total Time  
Ave Heart Rate  very little Max Heart Rate  not much
Ave Cadence      
Calories burned  less than I ate for once Temp Range 30degC 

Rest Day number 2

After waking up in Nimes in pure luxoury. (And that was nothing to do with the fact that my new room mate, Steve, doesn't snore!) we had a relaxed breaky in the Novotel, before setting off for a 2 hour bus transfer to Carcassonne.

Premier Class hotel, not the most luxorious (!) but for some reason I ended up on my own, so have the luxoury of a room to myself for once.

Another beautiful sunny day, meant a quick taxi into town, a lovely relaxed lunch of a sort of pizza, some chocolate brownie and cream, coffee and sirop de grenadine..... and bizarrely a lift home from a Frenchman who lives in England (London, Brixton) but is back in Carcassonne for a while.... he took pity on us trying to hail a taxi on Bastille Day.....14 July. Fantastic. What a gent. Christophe....merci!

So then it was bike clean, change wheels (I fitted Andys rear wheel as my free wheel hub is broken) and a spare front wheel as my rims were very badly worn from the rain, and don't want to risk a blown up wheel. Both my front and rear have tyres on so I left them as spares in the vans in case of emergency for other riders.

We then watched the end of stage 10 (La Planche des Belles Filles) and leant that Contador has also pulled out. So that's Froomey, Cav, Contador and they didn't do all the cobbles. Soft lads these pro's!

Then at 6:45pm a group walk to a nearby restaurant ready to start thinking about the last 6 stages which are upon us tomorrow.

The last big push. The next 3 days are HUGE, the biggest and most difficult days. It's forecast to be hot, but we are all trying VERY hard not to moan about the heat, after the hideously cold descents where we were praying for sun!!

Bring it on.... Paris beckons... just these pesky Pyrenees in the way

PS Just been told that collectively we have now raised over £422,000 for the WWMT. Amazing. Makes all that rain and pain seem worthwhile! Thanks to everyone who has sponsored me or anyone else.

 

 

Day 16 Stage 15 Tallard - Nimes. An easy day they said.....220km tho !!!

Hooooooorah.......... THE SUN IS SHINING !!!!   Oh Happy, Happy Days.

Day 16  Stage 15  Sun 13/07/14   Tallard - Nimes  222km

Distance km 215 Elevation m 1,639 
Ave speed km/hr  27.3 Max Speed km/hr 61.7 
Moving Time  7:50 Total Time  9:25
Ave Heart Rate 113  Max Heart Rate 139 
Ave Cadence 69   Total Distance to Date 2,823 
Calories burned  2,645 Temp Range 14-38 

Oh Happy Days..... we woke up to clear blue skies..... we could see the sun. Halleluyah !

A quick hours transfer from the hotel at the top of the mountain to the stage start in Tallard.

We then had basically a nice, easy flat-ish ride (if you call 1,600m ascent flat - but it was comparatively!) ride down to Nimes. A mere 215km ..... amazing how 215km and 1,600m ascent can seem like a rest, but it really did. Everyone was happy, spirits have risen after what has seemed like forever in the rain and cold.

We even managed to pass by a very famous French sausage shop...  the smells were absolutely awesome.

Lunch stops were spent sitting on the grass enjoying the pasta and rice, rather than shivering and trying to shelter from torrential rain. Sun tan cream was being splashed on, instead of searching for dry gloves..... Shirt pockets were empty, arm warmers were packed away in day bags.... fantastic.

My only issue was an incredibly noisy and clunky chain, pedals, rear wheel, bottom bracket? So I briefly swapped wheels with Darragh for a few km, and we concluded it was the wheel, cos he had the same issues with my wheel, and all my problems disappeared when his was fitted to my bike. :-)  So no need to play with indexing etc. It's clearly just a dying free wheel hub, so I'll either try and get a new hub or just borrow Andys wheel, who has left today. Either way..... it's on on for the final 6 days.

But tonight, its food, a few beers and dressing in Black,red and yellow to cheer on Germany with our German friends......Can't wait. Food now........ byeeeeeeeeeeee..............Rest day tomorrow........ washing and transfer to the next hotel.... No riding

 

 

 

Day 15 Stage 14 Grenoble - Risoul. Digging Deep........ in search of energy.

Day 15 Stage 14 Sat 12/07/14  Grenoble - Risoul  177km

Distance km 193 Elevation m 4,559 
Ave speed km/hr 19.1  Max Speed km/hr  71
Moving Time 10:08  Total Time 11:56 
Ave Heart Rate  121 Max Heart Rate 145 
Ave Cadence  61  Total Distance to Date  2,608
Calories burned 4,099  Temp Range 3 - 16 

Stage 14. Things Get Colder and Wetter…… Had to dig deep today.

Yesterday was a tough day. Rain for most of the day. Temperatures as low as 6degC, 207km distance, over 4,000m ascent, 9.5hrs cycling and 11.5hrs on the go.

And I was about half way in the pack. Some people were still finishing at 10pm….. 15hrs after starting.

But today was tougher !!

We were all up at 5:45am getting the dried clothes together and packing bags ready for breaky at 6:30am and a departure at 7:30 from the hotel.

The rain was absolutely lashing it down….. and I mean… MONSOON STYLE POURING. The temperature was 3degC cos we were at altitude. We had an immediate 18km descent. It was treacherous.

By the time we were at the bottom we were all frozen, teeth chattering, and many of us shaking uncontrollably. A van waited for us to put any unwanted warm clothing in, but most people kept it all on.

And don’t forget this extra 18km was “an extra” to get us to the start of the route! The pros don’t do this. Hence our 194km total, whereas the pros on do 177km! Hmmmmm

I have to describe to you at this point quite what we were experiencing. Descending is an art, and during sunny periods with dry roads brilliant fun… And often speeds up to 80kph can easily be achieved. However, in the wet, it’s a nightmare. You simply get soaked, and then in turn frozen to the bone. Fingers go numb, feet go numb, face is pickled with rain. You can’t see through your glasses, so you take them off and this means you have to slow down….. your brake blocks wear away. It’s miserable. And it takes a long time as corners have to be taken so slowly so you don’t slide off (as we are all riding on slick skinny tyres!)

In the rain, it is simply not a pleasant experience. Strangely enough going up is better than down in the cold and rain. Down is just too painful. Plus you seize up and its incredible how difficult it is to do the first few hundred meters after a long descent.

Today we had this huge 18km descent and then thankfully a steady 80km of ascent to the top of Col du Lauteret. It stopped raining after about 40km so the climb, although cold was dry. The problem was we were all soaked to the skin and gloves, shoes, leg warmers etc were all cold and wet.

But, as ever, we made it. A long slow, lonely climb (we all separated out as we always do on climbs) and to be honest not that special as the views were obscured by low cloud.

Next another descent of 30km which was quite simply hideous. Again, freezing cold, and treacherous. Nobody enjoyed it. Also, this really takes the energy out of you. Whereas normally this would be a period of rest, enjoyment and fun, it becomes energy sapping (stress from the constant worry of sliding off) shivering energy and holding hard onto the brakes.

Thankfully Sarah and Phil decided to give us extra feeds stops today so we could warm up. We stopped in 2 cafes for warm coffee and drinking chocolate… essential. 

So next was the Hors Categorie (HC) climb up Col D’Izoard. Apparently the most beautiful Alpine ascent. Well, we saw nothing of it unfortunately. Hidden in cloud. I took my first gel of the trip today…!! I needed it. Exhausted from yesterday, it was a struggle up this HC climb….all 20km of it!! At the top it was 3degC, an impromptu stop, more food…. And another killer descent. 30km in initially dry but cold conditions (where I reached 71km/hr top speed) but then the last 20km were in heavy, heavy rain. Some good views early on of snow capped mountains, but as we descended just rain bouncing off the road and getting seriously cold.

It took 45 minutes to descend 30km and at the bottom a wonderful café, hot chocolate and more snacks! Ready for the final Cat1 climb up Risoul.

 Final ascent

I teamed up with Neil and we rode up steadily, enjoying a good chat and finally no more rain. The views appeared and generally it was a good and relatively easy ride (compared to what had been before!)

We finished just before 7:30pm, so nearly 12 hours on the go, and 10 hours of actual riding time.

What a day…. 193 km, 4,600m ascent (yes… really, a huge ascent). Temps as low as 3 degC. 2 Cat 1 ascents, and 1 HC ascent. I challenge anyone to do this faster, in these conditions, and with 14 days continual riding in your legs….. Man…… this is getting tough. Oh, and don’t forget, only 5 hrs sleep the night before! 

A quick bike wash and brake pad check and a shower and clothes clean and into the ski resort chalet style (school dinners!) restaurant for chile con carne and apple tart….. and a well earned 2 glasses of wine. 

In Summary:-

A very, very hard day, especially after yesterdays ride.

Marks out of 10 for enjoyment…. 2

Marks out of 10 for hero stories afterwards…..10

With clothes drying it was time for bed. Everyone exhausted. No wifi so not posting blogs or downloading Strava/Garmin….. 

A lot of very tired people. (Not everyone made it today….. it was just so very, very cold). We are all learning that to cycle the Tour de France, is no game. Our conditions are making it especially tricky, but all the same…. Day in day out 200km+ stages with huge ascents…. Is very, very tough.

I am tired. But I will get up in 6 hrs time and repeat. I don’t know how, but I will. We all do, every day! Splitting each day into 40km sections somehow makes every day less daunting. I am definitely tiring rapidly though, just like everyone else. Tough, tough days.

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