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The Second Rest Day… Going Up Country

Justgiving

After 8 consecutive days in saddle I’m tired and need a break. Typically Tour de France cyclists will take on 6 stages in their second section of the race prior to their second rest day, but I made the decision, primarily based on the weather forecast, to take on the 2 Pyrenean stages prior to my rest day. The section has been very tough, I’ve had: 3 high mountain stages with massive summits including Mont Ventoux, Col du Tourmalet and Port de Bales; 2 medium mountain stages, very wet weather, very warm weather, landslides and horrendous traffic around Montpellier – but for me the last 8 days have encapsulated everything the challenge is about – it’s not supposed to be easy!

Over the past 2 days, Brian and I have stayed at the Hotel d’Etigny in the spa town of Bagneres-de-Luchon (Luchon). I can say with confidence that this is by far the nicest hotel we’ve stayed in on our trip and that nothing will surpass it. The welcome was great, with the friendly guy on hotel reception who couldn’t be more helpful. We then had our bags taken to the room, were shown to the car and bike lock-ups by Tomas (I hope that’s how is name is spelt) a decent lad from Hungary who would stop and chat whenever we crossed paths. The place had the oldie worldly feel about it, sort of like a 1930’s hotel you’d find in an Agatha Christie novel, I was expecting to see Joan Hickson sat there supping on a cup of tea and with scone at the ready. The room was very well decorated, although it did make me chuckle that both the TV and Canvas art on the wall were wonky, I guess the hotel handyman has one leg longer than the other – but for me that added a touch of character.

Hotel d'Etigny and View from Bedroom Window

Hotel d’Etigny and View from Bedroom Window

Looking out the hotel window we got a great view of Luchon, with a tree lined mountain backdrop. It was a shame to leave, but on doing so Brian and I spent a couple of hours walking around the town centre. The place, as with the hotel, seems to have it’s own pace and nothing is to rushed. You can see how much the Tour de France means to the place as there’s bunting everywhere, it is very much a hub town for Tour de France Pyrenean stages as it is situated at the base of the central Pyrenees – only around 3 km from the Spanish border.

Luchion - Bandstand, Central Avenue, Ski Lifts

Luchion – Bandstand, Central Avenue, Ski Lifts

Having sat down for a café-au-lait, I spotted my first 3 berets of the Tour, to be honest they’re about as common as bowler hats are in England. I did spot a guy in a bright green shell suit and it reminded me of about 10 years ago when my mate Matt Birch and I used to make regular trips to Anfield.  There had clearly been a hooky batch of  Turquoise Lacoste shell suits arrive in the area, we used to spend games seeing who could spot the most, we’d normally both be in double figures by the end of the game.

Luchon Tour Bunting

Luchon Tour Bunting

We decided to take a detour on route to the next hotel, traversing the Col de Mente which I climbed yesterday. My god is that a tough climb when viewed from the van, my ears were popping and the water bottle in the van was going mental with all the pressure changes. I think I did myself a misservice in yesterdays blog with regard to my performance on that mountain, as it is an extremely tough and steep climb – the pic below is about two thirds up.

Col de Mente - Route Cycled in Stage 17

Col de Mente – Route Cycled in Stage 17

Finally, thank you to all you who read the blog regularly and for those who’ve been messaging me -it does really spur me on. I do my best to reply, but often just run out of time in the evening as I have to wash clothes, shower, write the blog, maintain the bike, have dinner and most importantly call home. Anyhow if you get the chance, can you put the word around and share the blog with friends, colleagues etc.

I’m out of the Pyrenees and heading North to Brive with a 222.5km ride tomorrow, I’ll let you know how it’s gone tomorrow evening.

Cheers

Justin

Stage 21 – End of the Line

Stage 21 – 120km from Rambouillet to Paris tour Tracker stage 21 Justgiving

After 23 days of hard graft, over 3,400 kilometres of solo cycling and the toughest climbs the Alps and Pyrenees can offer, I rode into Paris mid-morning, running the gauntlet with all the traffic (particularly around the Place de la Concorde and Champs Elysees), before heading off and finishing up at the Eiffel tower.

I haven’t been that fond of busy city centre traffic, although I really enjoyed riding on the Champs Elysees and the Place de la Concorde. On the bike, I was able to swerve in and out of all the cars and get in prime position for the next junction, whilst all the motorised traffic were trying to jockey for position. Later in the day, heading out of Paris in the van, Brian had some fun traversing the l’Arc de Triumphe- there’s certainly an art to driving there, it’s called just go for it!

Arc Traffic

Arc Traffic

With bright sunshine, it’s been a beautiful day to finish the challenge on. It’s pretty much the weather I’ve had through the majority of challenge and I have to admit that Mother Nature has been very kind, as it’s not nice riding day after day in cold and wet weather. Having arrived at the Eiffel Tower, Brian took the obligatory pictures before nipping off for a coffee, leaving me to try and absorb the moment, it was great just to sit there and try and take everything in.

At the Eiffel Tower with Allesandro the Bear

At the Eiffel Tower with Allesandro the Bear

I mentioned in the stage 11 blog, how elated I felt at having arrived at the summit of Ventoux after a 250km ride, well the feeling is just that much better but it still doesn’t feel real. It all seems to have flown by and I can’t really believe in the last 3.5 weeks I’ve covered 3,400 km’s from the north of France through the Alps, Pyrenees and back up again. Looking back one year, I wouldn’t have believed the amount of work that was needed to get to this position, but I had a vision and targets and that gave me something to work towards. Getting to the start line alone was a real achievement in itself, as I’ve had to:

  • Design and implement my training programme with other 10,000 km’s cycled (in all weathers).
  • Build the website and other social media.
  • Plan and organise all the logistics
  • Organise fundraising activites for Julia’s House – with great support from friends and family
  • Save up my pennies, as I have self funded the entire venture, (at a cost of circa £4k) – thanks to my wife for being tolerant!
King of the Mountains Fundraising Event with Steve  Mills of Julia's House

King of the Mountains Fundraising Event with Steve Mills of Julia’s House

I tried not to get philosophical (or in other words become a stereotypical Frenchman), so as I sat there in the sun I made sure I treated myself. After abstaining from alcohol for the best part of 3 months, I treated myself to a bottle of Badger (Hall and Woodhouse) Fursty Ferret which I brought over from the UK with me, it went down very well and after half a glass I was already feeling a bit light headed.

Celebrating with a Fursty Ferret

Celebrating with a Fursty Ferret

After missing out on dinner last night, Brian and I stopped off at a nice restaurant in Paris. I had my first taste of Escargot,  they tasted really nice, although the utensils used to get to them out the shell seemed more suitable for nasal hair removal. They were also a tad steep, it working out about 1 Euro per snail – but you only live once you’ve got to try new things.

Escargot for Lunch

Escargot for Lunch

At this point I must thank Brian and Andy, who’ve been great support over the past 3.5 weeks and they have also taken time away from their own families to come out and help me. It would have been extremely difficult to have taken on the challenge without their support. At each stop they would be waiting for my with a hot drink and fresh drinks bottles not to mention the morale support they provided – thanks guys!

The Team

The Team

For all you statisticians, I’ll start to pull together the various averages, distances covered etc. I’ll also elaborate a bit more on my experiences –  I’ll publish that over the weekend. Here’s the stats: Part 1 Chartres to Rambouillet (covered on 25 September):

  • Distance: 43.5 km
  • Time: 1 hour 33 minutes
  • Average Moving Speed: 28.1 kmph
  • Ascent: 356 metres
Stage 21 Part1 Map

Stage 21 Part1 Map

Part 2 – Rambouillet to Paris

  • Distance: 77 km
  • Time: 3 hours 25 minutes
  • Average Moving Speed: 24.6 kmph (not bad considering the volume of traffic)
  • Ascent 641 metres
Stage 21 Map Part 2

Stage 21 Map Part 2

Finally, thank you for reading my blogs over the past 3.5 weeks. I really hope you found them interesting and a good read. But it would be great if you could open those wallets and purses and make a donation to Julia’s House – the link to the Just Giving Page can be found in the blog.

We’re off to Calais now, so I’ll speak soon (and Jacqui do you fancy a curry tonight? x)

Cheers

Justin

It’s Not How You Start, Its How You Finish


Justgiving

Well it’s a been a couple of days since I finished the ride into Paris and I’m slowly being integrated back into a normal way of life: I’ve unpacked, washed all my clothes and have had the weekly trip to Tesco.

I eventually got home around 11pm on Friday, so there was no curry. After unloading the van, I got a chance to sit down with a cup of tea and piece of toast and watched the Jules Holland show. As you’ll probably have gathered from my blogs, I do like my music and spookily enough the first track which I heard was My Silver Lining by First Aid Kit. ITV produced a great montage of clips during this years Tour coverage and this was the backing tune, I’ve kept in on the BT vision box and have probably watched it over 100 times in the past 3 months – it’s been a real inspiration. There has been another tune which I always use for my sporting activities and for me it is always a driver and that’s: Ali in the Jungle by The Hours – just listen, absorb the lyrics and you’ll know why!

I feel very proud of myself that I didn’t take the easy road and that I handled adversity well during the challenge. It’s enforced within myself that not only did I have the physical attributes to make the challenge a success but more importantly mentally I didn’t give up and kept ploughing on. I can’t avoid the fact that I’ve been fortunate to have the weather on my side and I’ve only had one puncture on the way around and no mechanical incidents.

Although I’d thoroughly maintained and upgraded kit on my bikes prior to departure, I’d designed and planned every day in such detail and had plans ready to implement in the event of bad weather or mechanical that it wouldn’t have made a difference to the end outcome. I’m not one to believe in luck, I think you just make your own luck by being well prepared and using your judgement – in the event of the puncture I chose to ride on a particular piece of road under construction where I could have ridden on the same side as the workmen were based – so in my view that was just a poor decision.

The Bike at the Eiffel Tower Holding the Latest in Energy Drinks

The Bike at the Eiffel Tower Holding the Latest in Energy Drinks

Anyhow, I’m not one to blow my own trumpet (no innuendo meant), I’ve assimilated various stats from the challenge, some are quite surprising:

  • Total Distance Covered: 3,426.48 km
  • Total Moving Time: 135 hours 46 minutes
  • Average Moving Speed: 25.24 kmph
  • Total Ascent: 46,672 metres
  • Total Calories: 131,159
  • Number of Pedal Revolutions 606,931

Here’s the food intake on the bike which doesn’t include energy drinks:

  • 9 malt loafs
  • 105 Jaffa cakes
  • 4 boxes of Cypriot Delight
  • 8 big bags of Harribo
  • 46 bananas
  • 1.5 * 500g bags of peanuts
  • 2 * 150 gram bags of dried berries
  • 40 cereal bars
  • 30 energy gels

I’d also like to add a few words about France, I really enjoyed my stay and met some really friendly and helpful people – it is odd that we’re only 30 odd miles apart yet we have such different cultures. Language is the biggest barrier and where possible I tried to converse – but it’s not easy when you don’t have a full vocabulary and the words are coming out faster than a greyhound from the traps.

Without being extravagant ,the food has been really good and I miss my continental breakfast, so it’s back to porridge again. The landscape has also been breath taking and I’m missing the quiet agricultural roads and high mountain passes already.

Reaching Peyresourde Summit (Stage 17)

Reaching Peyresourde Summit (Stage 17)

The French are in general far more accommodating to cyclists and the signs are all over the mountains please give cyclist 1.5 metres of space when overtaking – if only we could have the same here in the UK, it would make it safer. Many of the trunk departmental roads (equivalent to an A- B road) also have a designated cycle lane. Although not always that well maintained and often containing all the stones, gutters, drain covers etc. it is reassuring for a cyclist when a lorry is zooming up at 60 MPH behind you.

Oh well I suppose nothing changes, I’m off to mow the lawn in a minute and oh damn, I’m back in the office tomorrow as well – thanks for letting me have all the time off!

And finally, but most importantly, if you’ve not yet done so and would like to donate some money to Julia’s House, the link can be found at the top of the blog.

Cheers

Justin

Time for Tapering

There’s only 3 weeks to go until the start of the challenge and I’m relieved that I’ve now finished my training programme.

The programme ended at lunchtime on Wednesday (13 August 2014) following 2 back to back 160km and 170km rides, unfortunately on both days I’ve had to go into the office afterwards, so trying to recover properly isn’t easy, at least in France I’ll get the chance to recover after rides. I also had the misfortune, to forget to take a pair of socks in on Wednesday, so I spent the afternoon hoping not to many would notice the suit and no socks look.

I actually designed myself a training programme over Xmas, which commenced in March, it detailed on a daily basis the length of rides to be completed. With the exception of the odd cold, or family event, I’ve pretty much kept to the schedule which is really satisfying.

trainingprogramme1

The Tour Challenge Training Programme

On a weekly basis, I’d update the spreadsheet and total the distance tally.  At times I thought I never get there, but it’s frightening to realise that since March, I’ve covered 10,000 kilometres and I reckon somewhere in the region of the equivalent of 20 ascents of Mount Everest – let’s hope it pays dividends.

Basically I’m now tapering, this in effect means that I’ve reached my peak level and the objective is to just sustain the level of fitness, whilst keeping the legs fresh for the challenge ahead. I still have a couple of 100km rides and five 50km rides plus a few turbo trainer sessions to keep the legs spinning over the next fortnight, but at least there’s no more big rides – well for 3 weeks at least!

Cheers

Justin

The Route – Mont Ventoux, Alpe-D’Huez, Col du Tourmalet et al

The training is really tough at the moment, as my schedule ramps up to a peak over the next 2-3 weeks – I’m about to hit 10,000 kms (since March). All the hotels have been booked, the van has been hired and we’ve had some great fundraising events, so before I go into the Tour Route here’s few pics from the JuJam event…

The JuJam live music event turned out to be a cracking event, thank you to all the bands, cake makers, Brian, Spencer and Phil from the Royal Standard for making the event a success.

Crowd

The Crowd at JuJam

Bi proxy

Biproxy at JuJam

We also now have a name for the Tour Challenge Mascot – meet Alessandro the Bear:

Bear 1 shrunk

Alessandro the Bear

In determining the Tour Challenge route, it took months of planning through assessing previous tours and their stages. Personally the highlight of any tour are the mountains stages, so this is where I started. I listed all the mountains I’ve always wanted to ride:

  • Mont Ventoux
  • Alpe D-Huez
  • Col du Tourmalet
  • Col de la Madeleine
  • Col du Galibier

There were also a few locations I wanted to visit:  Mont Saint-Michel, a simply stunning place and France’s second most popular landmark; and Montpellier – I don’t know why, it’s probably football related,  but it’s a place I’ve always want to travel to.

From there I researched the tour route from recent years and selected a number of stages which contained these mountains and locations, that gave me a framework of a route upon which to build. The hard part was to find stages which logistically were feasible, as I didn’t want to spend hours being driven between stages on the evening or morning before a stage.

Route Map

The Tour Challenge Route Map

All in all I think I’ve come up with an exciting and challenging route, which gives a realistic blend of mountain, time trial and flat stages – if anything the route I’ve chosen is harder than recent Tour de France routes – I’m riding 8 high category mountains, this years tour contained 6; whilst as I’m riding on my own, there will be no drafting meaning I’ll take the full brunt of the weather.

On paper, there are some really hard stages at 242.5 kilometres, stage 11 from Givors to Mont Ventoux is extremely tough and is likely to contain some real extremes in the weather, whilst stage 17 from  Pau to Bagnere’s du Luchon is a very long and challenging 197km mountain stage including 2 HC climbs (Col du Tourmalet, Col d’Aubisque). Although these look the toughest on paper, I’m not taking anything for granted, often the easiest looking stage can be the hardest  – you might have a head wind, feel unwell or simply not have the legs on that day. There’s nothing worse on a ride when you’re struggling and check the drive train, brake pads etc and realise the problem is you and not the bike!

I just hope that amongst all the hours of riding, I’ll still get the opportunity to savour the sites, smells and wildlife. Ultimately alongside the adrenaline rush of cycling, that’s the main reason I like to ride around Dorset, you just never know what you’re going to come across round the next bend.

Anyway, I hope you like the route and can appreciate that I’m not making this easy for myself, thanks for reading.

Justin

 

 

Fundraising – Cake Sales, King of the Mountains and the Free JuJam Band Festival

Over the next couple of blogs I’m going to veer away from cycling and focus on the other major objective of the Tour Challenge project and that is to raise as much money as possible for Julia’s House – The Dorset Children’s Hospice.

I made the conscious decision at the outset of the project to self fund the entire venture. Taking into account vehicle hire, fuel, accommodation, food, insurances etc. it’s going to cost me in the region of £4,500 and that doesn’t cover any the costs of bikes, spares etc. – so I’ve been saving for a couple of years. I always said I wanted to raise as much money for the charity as possible and it didn’t seem right that others should be paying for the challenge, I’d much rather any money raised went directly to the charity and the people who really matter.

I’ve been very fortunate to work with some generous souls, who’ve spent their own time and money to help me fundraise. Only last Friday (11 July 2014), at my place of work, a cake sale and Tour de France themed dress down day was held. I have to say that Tina Sams, who works with me, did a fantastic job in baking and organising her team of bakers to put on a fantastic spread – ranging from victoria sponges, coffee and walnut cake to the legendary cheese and bacon savouries – we are a bunch of gannets and all cakes were sold!

Justin and Steve

Myself and Steve Mills

During the lunch break I arranged a King (and Queen) of the Mountains competition involving entrants riding 1km on one of my road bikes, fixed to the turbo trainer, with increased resistance over the km. Steve Mills from Julia’s House also came down to help out and we had a great time as the participants got stuck in and really did get a sweat on in the 25 degree heat.

Tony riding

Tony Beazer on the Turbo

Alan Drinking

Dorset’s Answer to a Recovery Drink

The next big event is JuJam, a free live bands day at the Royal Standard Pub, Upwey, on Saturday 26 July from 2pm. I’m really grateful to Brian Hole for organising all the bands and raffle and for Phil Anderson to let us use the venue free of charge. It must also be said that the line-up is top notch and that all the bands are also playing for free. Please checkout the JuJam Facebook page and let friends and colleagues know – it should be great day of live music, beer and merriment!

Thanks for reading, in my next blog I will be providing you with some information about Julia’s House and the great role they play in supporting families with a seriously ill child.

Cheers

Justin