Monthly Archives: October 2014

Ready to Go

Justgiving

For those of you who don’t know me, my name is Justin Hoffmann and I’m about to set off to France to cycle 21 Tour de France stages totalling 3400 kilometres.

Route Map

Route Map

After months of training, planning, fundraising plus a rotter of a sickness bug last week, the eve of the Tour Challenge is upon me and this is the first blog of the challenge. So long as I can get a decent network connection (and can keep my eyes open) I’ll be keeping in touch with you via my blog on a daily basis, please follow me on Facebook (www.facebook.com/thetourchallenge.co.uk) / Twitter (www.twitter.com/letourchallenge)  where you’ll get more frequent updates and where you’ll also be notified as and when a new blog is published.

I’m riding the route on behalf of Julia’s House – The Dorset Children’s Hospice, so it would be great if you could make a donation – all donations go direct to the charity as I am self funding the entire challenge.

I’ll be setting off to France with my soigneur*, my friend and work colleague Andy Pettman first thing tomorrow ready to catch the ferry from Dover to Calais mid-afternoon. Andy will be covering the first 2 weeks of the trip, following which ‘Dangerous’ Brian Hole will cover the final week and a bit.

Everything’s ready to be packed into the van including: food, bikes, spares, clothing, cooking equipment, the first aid kit, technical gadgets and all the logistical and insurance documentation.

Kit Picture

Kit Picture

The hard bit will be tomorrow morning when I have to say good bye to my wife and daughter, at least we’ll be able to keep in touch via Skype – but it will be a painful moment!

Cheers

Justin

* soigneur – a member of cycling team responsible for feeding, clothing and escorting.

Stage 1 – Underway… At Last!

Stage 1 – 164km from Le Touquet-Paris-Plage to Lille (2014 Stage 4)

tour Tracker stage 1

What a great start on the way down to Dover, Ken Bruce mentioned me on his morning  radio 2 show. There was with some great mickey taking out of my name, giving loads of material for the show, I particularly like the guy who rang in to say his mate is taking on a similar challenge and he’d like Ken to send on his best wishes to Mal Pacino- very funny and thanks Ken for making my day! Checkout the clip below:

Ken Bruce

Anyway, the start point, Le Touquet-Paris-Plage, resides in the Pas de Calais department* and has a reputation as an elegant holiday resort and doesn’t really have accommodation really suited to the rough and ready style used in the Challenge. therefore last night we stayed in a clean and comfortable out of town IBIS Budget hotel and had a nice and well priced meal at La Houblonniere restaurant a couple of minutes walk from the hotel. Myself and Andy have so far both nearly been run over by looking the wrong way when crossing the road – so we better get our heads in gear quick!

Todays stage is the only stage I’m riding from this years Tour de France and as tour stages go, this was a relatively light start with a flat parcours **,  covering 163.5km (in fact I clocked up 168km) ride from Le Touquet-Paris-Plage to Lille Metropole.

Starting in the North west of France, the weather is very much the same as the UK, so I’ve been blessed with a kind start from mother nature. The route skirted along the Belgium border and  I entered Belgium briefly by around 500 metres just before Boeschepe, but quickly ended back up in France – the next time I leave France will be at the end of the challenge – that does seem like a long way off!

I also passed the well named village of Saint-Justin about 15km’s in, hopefully he’s watching over me and I don’t end  up another Justin who’s a Martyr to the cause!

st justin

This years Tour de France marked the centenary of the start of World war one by passing many of the battlefields and war graves of the Somme and Flanders, I did head through the town of Cassel which is the highest point in the Flanders at 176 metres, this would certainly have presented a different landscape 100 years ago as it was the major strategic lookout post within the region giving views to the north of the Flanders region, north west towards Dunkirk and south west towards my destination – Lille. I would have liked the opportunity to stop and visit some more of these sites-  it’s certainly on my to do list. I would also add that the cobbles around Cassel were horrendous, leading to me have to fix a break/gear lever which decided to come loose half way down.

I will be using my Garmin bike computer to track my progress, and keep me heading in the right direction, here’s some of the statistics from todays stage:

  • Distance: 168.4km
  • Time: 6 hours 54 minutes
  • Average moving speed 25.4kmph
  • Elevation Gain 1500 metres

 

Stage 1 Route

Stage 1 Route

 

So all in all, the ride went well, with the only really slow aspects of the stage being when I hit the busier roads of Lille and I estimate stopping at 20 sets of traffic lights which impacted the average speed significantly. The famous one day cycling event, Paris-Roubaix (AKA
The Hell of the North) skirts around Lille, it famous for its numerous cobbled sections which knacker cyclists (and their bikes) – fortunately after todays shenanigans around Cassel I’ll be heading straight back towards the coast tomorrow so time for dinner and then an early night.

Thanks for reading

Justin

 

 

Stage 2 – Back to the Coast but with a Sting in the Tail

Stage 2 – 197km from Orchies to Boulogne-Sur-Mer (2012 Stage 3)

tour Tracker stage 2

After heading from the English Channel coast to Lille yesterday, I’ve done an about turn and headed straight back to the coast with mild, but overcast weather, to Boulogne-sur-Mer. By the way, here’s a pic I meant to put in yesterdays blog, it was taken just before I started stage 1.

Starters Orders

Starters Orders

Following my training programme, todays ride was supposed to be slightly slower as my body gets used to multi day riding, but I actually improved today which was surprising considering the severity of the second half of the ride. The key thing for me is to keep eating hydrating and resting whenever possible. On the bike I’m drinking around 750ml liquid every hour and having a nibble on sugary snacks (banana’s, malt loaf, harribo, gels, jaffa cakes etc.)  every 20 minutes or so. I also have some more substantial savoury food with salted peanuts, crisps and at lunch I have  light pasta, rice or noodle based meal with a touch of protein.

During training, I would have had to carry all my food and drink for my ride, fortunately Andy and I have a detailed schedule and maps (it took about 250 hours work to pull this together), and arrange to meet every 50km or so to replenish drinks bottles and food – meaning I only need to carry sustenance for the next section of the ride.

What I hadn’t picked until today, when I stopped near Aubers and got chatting to a friendly local guy, was that many of names of places we passed over the past 2 days (Hazebrouck, Bavinchove, Sainghin-en-Weppes etc.) were actually of Flemish origin and that the French, Belgian and Dutch borders have been very fluid over the years  – well you learn something new every day!

The profile today has very flat, for the first 100km it reminded me very much of the land between Bognor and Chichester where my wife and I often walk out to the Gribble Inn pub – that’s a great pub  by the way, the on site brewery were the creators of Fursty Ferret now brewed by Badger. The second half of the ride was very tough, due to having to ride the majority of it into a westerly breeze, there were also 5-6 short (170-200m) but very steep climbs to deal with, but at least has given the legs and cardiovascular system a wake up for what’s to come! There’s no surprise, with this type of finish, that the brilliant and entertaining Peter Sagan won this stage on the way to his first green points jersey in 2012.

2012 Stage 3 Profile

Tour Challenge Stage 2 Profile

  • Distance: 202.18km
  • Time: 7 hours 51 minutes
  • Average moving speed 26kmph
  • Elevation Gain 1995 metres

Don’t read into the timings and average speeds too much, the French love traffic lights and getting lost does both impact this, I also gained 4-5km on the supposed distance – some of that is due to getting lost – yesterday my bike computer took me through a supermarket car park and today I ended up going cross country down a narrow trail which did wonders for my bike!

 

Stage 2 Map

Stage 2 Map

Tomorrow is a long 214km stage heading south west along the French cost from Abbeville to Rouen, if there’s a south westerly wind it could be a long day!

Cheers

Justin

Stage 3 – Road to Rouen

Stage 3 – 214.5km Abbeville – Rouen (2012, Stage 4)

tour Tracker stage 3

I like the blog title as it is quite apt, but I can’t claim anything original as I did get the title from a Supergrass album which was recorded in Rouen, the opening track to the album is also well named – ‘Tales of Endurance 4,5 and 6′ – that’s what I’ll need over the next 3 stages! Anyway if you get a chance to listen to the album it’s well worth it- I’ve made Andy play it in the van today.

Stage 3 Start

Stage 3 Start

Aeroclub Cauchois Saint Valery

Aeroclub Cauchois Saint Valery

As I mentioned yesterday, the majority of todays ride took me in a south westerly direction starting at Abbeville, passing Dieppe before heading in land in an easterly direction at Fecamp for the last 70km’s into Rouen. I’m glad to say the weather has been kind with only a light wind.  The terrain in the first half was mostly flat, except for 4-5 short but steep climbs which each followed a descent to a seaside town – Treport, Dieppe, Fecamp etc. Here’s a great picture taken by Andy of the view west of Dieppe.

View West of Dieppe

View West of Dieppe

I survived the day without incident, although I somehow saved my ride on my bike computer half way through, so you’ve got 2 maps to view tonight. Here’s todays maps…

Stage 3 Part 1

Stage 3 Part 1

Stage 3 part 2

Stage 3 part 2

  • Total Elapsed Time: 7:58
  • Distance: 216.74 km
  • Average Moving Speed: 27.7 kmph
  • Elevation: 1,836 metres

The Seine - I am the Firestarter

I rolled into Rouen at 17:10 and got a chance to take a look around the city centre, crossed the Seine a couple of times and took a look at the Rouen Cathedral which is very ornate and gothic in appearance.

I found out before the ride that Rouen is twinned with Norwich, now riding on a bike all day can be quite boring and I do like to think of things which amuse me, I often just laugh out loud at some stuff that comes into my head, I can’t repeat it all as my sense of humour is very dark – sort of pushing the boundaries on channel 4 level. But today due to the Norwich reference, I’ve been unable to get Alan Partridge out of my head, I’ve been unable to find an Alain Perdrix, nor I have seen any Frenchman chomping on onions and going hoh-ee-hoh-hee-hoh (by the way quoting Partridge: ‘That’s not racist. French people chomp onions and go “hoh-ee-hoh-hee-hoh”, that’s a fact. ‘). Anyhow at tonight’s meal I might have to introduce an ‘eat my cheese you mother’ during the cheese course!

Knowing me Justin Hoffmann, knowing you my readers – Aha

Speak tomorrow

Justin

 

Stage 4 – Mont-Saint-Michel

 

Stage 4 – 33km Time Trial from Avranches to Mont-Saint-Michel (2013, Stage 11)

tour Tracker stage 4

It’s was a long 230km drive from Rouen to the start point for todays stage, Avranches.  Todays stage has been a short time trial to Mont-Saint-Michel which is, one of the places I’ve most wanted to visit on the Tour Challenge route.  Therefore the transfer has been bearable passing Caen which took a real battering in WW2 and Bayeux famous for the tapestry depicting the events leading up to the Norman conquest of dear old England.

Stage 4 Start

Stage 4 Start

I should have perhaps have thought about the planning for todays stage as it’s a Sunday and not only is Mont-Saint-Michel the 2nd most popular landmark in France, but the clues in the name, it’s also a religious site – so it was really busy. It’s also an island community accessed via a causeway (more Lindisfarne than Portland), I biked over met Andy and then rode back to the car park where I got changed and then did the tourist thing back on the Island. They offer a free bus over from the car park, although free is a bit of an exaggeration as they did charge 12 euros to park, Andy also got stung 5 euros for a can of coke which I’m still ribbing him about.

However forget all the moaning, the place is simply stunning, the Island and surrounding bay are both UNESCO World Heritage sites – I can see why!  Interesting fact – Cornwall’s St Michaels Mount site was historically the Cornish counterpart to Mont-Saint-Michel,  it was rewarded to the monks of Mont-Saint-Michel by William the 1st (The Conqueror) in 1067 for their support during his claim to the English throne.

Mont-Saint-Michel

Mont-Saint-Michel

Mont-Saint-Michel View

Mont-Saint-Michel View

The one let down was that once inside, you get to see lots of interesting architecture, but the main thoroughfare is lined with tourist shops and cafes which I guess helps maintain the site, but is a just a bit off putting. I might recommend the Tower of London sets up a Tesco Express by Traitors Gate,  they could even start selling pictures of footballers who’ve left to join a rival club – they would do a roaring trade.

Andy and Myself at MSM

Andy and Myself at MSM

I almost forgot, in amongst the transfer, site seeing and history lesson, I also squeezed in a very enjoyable 32km time trial, here’s the details:

  • Distance: 31.94 km
  • Elapsed Time: 59:00
  • Average Moving Speed: 32.6 kmph
  • Total Ascent: 259 metres
Stage 3 Map

Stage 3 Map

That’s the fun over for the day, off to Fougeres ready for tomorrows 218km flat stage to Tours – hopefully the weather will be nice and not too windy.

Cheers

Justin

 

 

 

Stage 5 – Into the ‘Night’ Garden of France

Stage 5 – 218km from Fougeres to Tours (2013, Stage 12)

tour Tracker stage 5

Yesterday I was raving on about how picturesque Mont-Saint-Michel was and ended up posting my blog prematurely. Last night I stayed in Fougeres and what a picturesque place that is as well, particularly the Chateau de fougeres, which is a medieval stronghold standing on a rocky islet – unfortunately time wouldn’t allow for a visit but Andy did take this snap from the hotel car park.

Fougeres Evening Skyline

Fougeres Evening Skyline

Todays stage was very long at 220km but also about as flat as it gets in the Tour, the stage didn’t even contain a categorised climb. Although it still gently rolled with numerous 1km 4-5% ascents, nothing to taxing but enough to interrupt the rhythm.

It has been a very hot day peaking at 35 degrees although there has been a slight cooling wind, so luckily I’ve not had to deal with any crosswinds. Riding in crosswinds is really mentally challenging due to the concentration levels needed to avoid being blown off the road or into the path of a car.

The ride took me into the Loire Valley, also known as the Garden of France, it was particularly evident in the lead-up to Tours as I passed a couple of vineyards and orchards along the banks of the Loire river – it was tempting to stop and unofficially PYO. I’m looking forward to tomorrows ride where I should see more of the same as the entire route will keep me within the Loire Valley,  although I’m not drinking so won’t be able to sample the wares of the region – that is a real shame!

Crossing the Loire at Langeais

Crossing the Loire at Langeais

I also am constantly thinking of music and get tunes lodged in my brain, today however has been horrendous. I guess it’s due to the ‘Garden of France’ reference but all I’ve been able to hum is the  ‘My name’s Iggle Piggle’ song from In the Night Garden – I’ve got my daughter to thank for that! I then got thinking about the film Touching the Void  where a mountain climber whose had a fall, is getting delusional and on the edge of passing out, but he keeps hearing a Boney M tune which keeps him conscious,  well if he’d had the Iggle Piggle tune instead he probably wouldn’t have made it.

Pulling into Food Stop at Rille

Pulling into Food Stop at Rille

Here’s todays stats:

  • Distance: 220 km
  • Time: 7 hours 58 minutes
  • Average Moving Speed: 27.8 kmph
  • Total Ascent:1,674 metres
Stage 5 Map

Stage 5 Map

Anyway time to switch off for the evening, and get an early night – at least the start point for tomorrows stage is within touching distance of the hotel. Although, I broke one of my own rules which is deal with first the thing you least want to be doing (normally it is the thing that needs doing first) unfortunately the van brakes have been making a horrendous noise for a few days and it looks like I’ll be without a support vehicle tomorrow, so my punishment is I’ll have to carry everything I need for the ride – hopefully it’s not too hot!

Good night all

Justin

Stage 6 – On my Own

Stage 6 – 173km from Tours to Saint-Amand-Montrond (2013, stage 13)

tour Tracker stage 6

After 5 days Andy and I have honed the routine, it’s normally a 6:30am alarm call, a quick hotel breakfast for me before heading out for an 8am start  – if it’s a long or difficult stage, the wake-up and departure time would be a bit earlier.

Chateau de Durtal (Stage 5)

Chateau de Durtal (Stage 5)

We tend to meet up 3 times on a ride typically every 50km where I replenish my drink bottles and stick some more food in my jersey pockets I might also have a brew. I typically have a light carb based meal at the 3rd stop. Once the ride is finished, I’ll have a protein shake and then keep eating a carb based snack every hour and ensure I’m well hydrated whilst resting, writing my blog, skyping the missus and charging phones, computers etc. Some evenings we eat out at local restaurant others it’s a case of raiding the local Carrefour supermarket; whichever the case it’s a well balanced meal, before heading back to the hotel for another protein shake and then bed.

Saying that, today has been completely different as the hired van has been declared unfit to drive and we’re now in a monster of a van – all that has meant that I rode the route by myself today, carrying all my drink and food.

Luckily the stage has been flat, with the weather being kind again not too hot with only a light wind. When this stage took place in the Tour de France last year  the crosswinds played havoc, ending the yellow jersey challenge of Alejando Vallverde – although another Alessandro has actually had a ‘bear’ing on the Tour Challenge. I ran a name the bear competition to raise funds for Julia’s House – the Dorset Children’s Hospice, with each name in the draw being a cyclists name and Alessandro Petacchi’s name was drawn out the hat – I’m sure he’ll be chuffed!

The 2 Alessandro's

Alessandro the Bear / Alessandro Petacchi

I really enjoyed the scenery throughout the Loire Valley and the vast majority has been on quiet agricultural roads with only the odd large lorry either pulling me a along in its slipstream or if its coming the opposite way knocking about 5km an hour of my speed – slightly unnerving!

The roads were lined with telegraph poles, particularly on the D8 to Issoudun  (a town I’ll be heading back to in stage 19) and with it being so quiet I couldn’t get Glenn Campbell’s Wichita Lineman song out my head, which is quite appropriate given the connotations of the song and me missing home and my beautiful wife and daughter.

Wichita Lineman

Wichita Lineman

I also went through the village of Farges-Allichamps which, along with 5 other villages, claims to be the centre point in France. although to be honest I didn’t get a chance to take much of a look.

Stage Stats:

  • Distance: 176 km
  • Time: 6 hours 37 minutes
  • Average Moving Speed: 28.9 kmph
  • Total Ascent: 1,228 metres
Stage 6 Map

Stage 6 Map

The next 5 stages will be tough with 3 high mountain stages and 2 medium mountain stages. To get an early start I decided to transfer to tomorrows start town after todays stage. So after the 173km ride we’ve had a 100km drive down to Saint-Pourcain-Sur-Siole, it was a bit of a pain
as I could really have done with a hot shower but at least it’s an easy start this morning.

Don’t forget that I’m riding the Tour Challenge for Julia’s House – so please make a donation - all monies will go directly to the charity.

Anyhow, time to get ready for the mountains.

Cheers

Justin

 

 

Stage 7 – Starting to Head Up

Stage 7 – 191km from Saint-Pourcain-Sur-Sioule to Lyon (2013, Stage 14)

tour Tracker stage 7

Todays stage has been a medium mountain stage and I’ve started the gradual ascent to the alps with a few decent sized climbs. For logistical reasons, I decided to shorten todays stage by about 10km, as I had a 148km transfer to Albertville after the stage and riding another 10km through Lyon (Frances second largest city) would have probably taken an hour given the
volume of traffic and number of traffic lights. In any road, I’m already well over my supposed distance to date, so it’s a decision I’m comfortable with.

The stage started in the very quiet Saint-Pourcain-sur-Sioule and ended up in France’s second largest city Lyon, so the contrast between the start and end of the stage has been huge. I really liked Saint-Pourcain-sur-Sioule, it’s a nice town and you can see how much being a start town meant to the place, on each of the town roundabouts there are sculptures commemorating the Tour, here’s a picture of my personal favourite.

saint pourcain bike

Saint-Pourcain Sculpture

 

Cycling from Urbise

Cycling from Urbise

Todays stage has been the first one with some serious hills (700 metre plus) and I’m glad to say I passed with flying colours, it was a fantastic stage to ride as the roads were quiet – with exception to the first 20km, where every other vehicle was a lorry. I particularly enjoyed the long descent from the Col du Pilon with it’s long sweeping bends, all in all it’s a good warm up for the alps which start tomorrow – here’s a view from part way up:

View from col du Pilon part way up

View from Col du Pilon Climb

As a Brit abroad I can’t helping looking for those things we associate as being stereotypically French, one of which is dog poo on the pavement. I can understand that the rich and famous down on the med – Nice, Monaco etc. are entitled not to pick up their dog mess as it is so below them and they probably wouldn’t know how to do it anyway, but what about Joe Public? Well today, whilst waiting at traffic lights in Lyon, I chanced upon my first owner with their dog downloading, so I watched and observed attentively only to be honked at by the car behind me as the lights changed, but I pulled over and am glad to say the owner walked off with said log still on the pavement – so it’s true!

Although to balance things out a bit, I’ve got to look at the British stereotype and you probably can’t go far wrong with the British characters in the classic eighties comedy ‘Allo ‘Allo! My favourite character was Officer Crabtree, the British Agent working undercover as a French Gendarme, who speaks really bad French – ‘good moaning'; ‘I was just pissing by’ etc. Well hopefully Andy and I using our pigeon French haven’t dropped to many ‘Clangers’
(Michael Palin doing the narration – Yay!) Although I can now comfortably ask in French if I’m allowed to take my bikes to the hotel room.

But don’t be too down heartened fellow Brits, the vast majority of French don’t speak a word of English either – so on that logic if you pick up your dog poo at home we win!

Here’s todays stats:

  • Distance: 179.5 km
  • Time: 6 hours 45 minutes
  • Average Moving Speed: 27.3 kmph
  • Total Ascent: 2,250 metres
Stage 7 Map

Stage 7 Map

Good night all time to go take some pictures around the alps before bed!

Cheers

Justin

Stage 8 – Into the Alps

Stage 8 – 148km from Albertville to La Toussuire – Les Seybelles (2012, Stage 11)

tour Tracker stage 8

This has been my first stage in the high mountains and the best way to describe the profile of todays stage is that it’s been like sharks teeth, with up and downs including 4  big peaks and 4,886 metres of ascent. Climbs in cycling are designated from Category 1 (hardest) to Category 4 (easiest).  A climb that is harder than Category 1 is designated as hors catégorie (HC), or beyond categorisation,  the term was originally used for those mountain roads where cars were not expected to be able to pass. Well today I’ve ridden two HC climbs, a category 1 and a category 2 climb – so it’s been a  baptism of fire!

Stage 8 Stage profile

Stage 8 – Profile

I started off todays stage in Albertville, the host city for the 1992 winter Olympics, and headed south towards the first Hors Category (HC) peak of the Tour Challenge, the Col de la Madeleine, normally ranked as one of the three hardest climbs in France. At 2000 metres and 26km long it was not exactly the easiest of introductions to climbing the high mountains, but I found a steady rhythm and made the 2,000 metre summit OK, although I did have a mechanical problem with the rear mechanism which ruled out my 2 easiest gear for the first 2 climbs. Road maintenance was in progress on the way up, meaning loads of loose gravel meaning I occasionally lost traction – luckily it wasn’t like this on the descent as that would have been really dangerous.  The descent was long and freezing due to how wet my clothes were from the hot ascent, but I forgot about that as it was also really exhilarating – particularly the hair pin bends.

madeleine action shots

Col du Madeleine Climb

Madeleine Summit

Madeleine Summit

The next big climb was the 22.5km, 2,067 ascent to the Col de la Croix de Fer via the Col du Glandon summit. The hardest part about this climb, asides from not having any of my easier gears available, was the heat – it was sweltering at 30 degrees. So by the time I made the top my clothes were dripping, so a change of tops was needed ready for the descent.

Croix de Fer Summit

Croix de Fer Summit

After the first 2 climbs I’ve understood a little more about the French language today, apparently ‘de la’ is the feminine for ‘of’ and ‘du’ is the masculine, so I surmise that the Col de la Madeleine was a right bi*ch and the Col du Glandon was a hard as nails b*stard!

View Toward Croix de Fer Descent

View Toward Croix de Fer Descent

I had a lot of fun on the descent from Col du Mollard, the road was blocked due to maintenance, but I was allowed through, meaning I had the entire road to myself and therefore I could take more of a racing line – great fun!

Col du Mollard from where and to

Col du Mollard – Summit View of Ascent and Descent

I almost forgot I still had another big climb with a 14km ascent to the Cat 1 ascent to La Touissuire to finish, the place was absolutely desolate as it’s a ski resort – but given the amazing views I’m surprised more people weren’t about.

 

Stage 8 Finish

Stage 8 Finish

Somehow I made it, and as expected, I’m absolutely knackered. Time for some R&R as I prepare to do it all again tomorrow, with the high point of the challenge, Col du Galbier at 2645 metres – let’s hope the weather is kind!

Here’s todays stats:

  • Distance: 156.13 km
  • Time: 8 hours 35 minutes
  • Average Moving Speed: 18.5 kmph
  • Total Ascent: 4,886 metres
Stage 8 Map

Stage 8 Map

So long, farewell, auf wiedersehen, goodnight.

Justin

Stage 9 – Happy Birthday to Me – Galibier & Alpe D’Huez

Stage 9 – 109km from Modane to Alpe-D’Huez (2011, Stage 19)

tour Tracker stage 9

Well at 37 today, I should really be thinking of the pipe and slippers, but todays stage has been the polar opposite of that. At 109km it’s not that long, but it has been packed in as tough and mean as Mike Tyson in his prime.

I still absolutely loved the stage and of all the stages on the route this is the one I’ve been most looking forward to due to the inclusion of the Col du Galibier (the peak with the highest ever summit finish in the Tour) and Alpe-D’Huez – the most famous mountain climb in the world.

Stage 9 Stage profile

Stage 9 Profile

To save a 30km transfer to the start point, I started at St-Jean-de-Maurienne rather than Modane, stitching myself up slightly as it was an uphill run to St-Michel-de-Maurienne, where I then turned off on the Route du Galibier towards the Cat1 Col du Telegraphe mountain and a 12.5km climb to the 1,566 metre summit.

Following a short ascent from the Col du Telegraphe, I then started the 17.5 km ascent to the 2,642 metre summit at Galibier. This climb was a toughie particularly in the last 1km due to having less oxygen available and it being around 10% gradient. Please ignore the stated altitude on the profile diagram, this is the altitude 1km from the summit where a tunnel has been burrowed from one side of the mountain to the other (the lord alone knows how they managed the logisitics of that), I chose to ride to the summit at 2,642 metres rather than take the easier route.

Overtaking a Frenchman Near Galibier Summit

Overtaking a Frenchman Near Galibier Summit

Col du Galibier Summit

Col du Galibier Summit

What I forgot to mention in yesterdays blog was the ascents are tough, but the reward you normally get is a fast and exciting descent, the descent from Galibier was a real rush with sheer drops and no crash barrier. The other factor that needs to be considered is the wind chill; I made sure I wrapped up (with a thick base layer, jersey, windstopper, winter gloves and cap) well on the summit as it was bloody freezing despite being 28 degrees in the foothills.

Climbing Alpe D'Huez

Climbing Alpe D’Huez

I still had the climb to Alpe D’Huez summit finish to come, so last night a did a little reading about the mountain. Wikipedia has a great section on the fastest ascents, although the 13 fastest times all have a disclaimer implicating the riders with drug use – there was no surprise that kings of the dopers Marco Pantani and Lance Armstrong’s names were at the top of the list!

Climbing Alpe D'Huez

Climbing Alpe D’Huez

Anyhow after taking on drinks and food at Bourg d’Oisans and changing into some lighter clothing, I started the climb and it’s 21 bends, personally the first 3-4 bends were the toughest with gradients around 10-13%, this was made tougher due to needing to get back into a climbing rhythm after a long descent from the Col Du Galibier.  Having got through this section, I somehow managed to sort out my breathing and cadence and made my way up to the summit ready for a well earned rest day!

Alpe D'Huez Summit

Alpe D’Huez Summit

Here’s the stats for today:

  • Distance: 109.5km
  • Time: 5 hours 36 minutes
  • Average Moving Speed:  19.8 kmph
  • Ascent: 3,509 metres
Stage 9 Map

Stage 9 Map

 

Don’t forget I’m riding the Tour Challenge for Julia’s House – the Dorset Children’s Hospice, please make a donation – all monies go direct to the charity.

Thanks for reading

Justin

 

The Rest Day – Please Support Julia’s House

The Rest Day – Please Support Julia’s House

As it’s a rest day, I feel it’s time to stop talking about cycling and let you know a little about the charity and why I’m taking on the challenge…

Most of my blogs have focussed on the Challenge, however the other objective of the Tour Challenge is to raise as much money as possible for Julia’s House – The Dorset Children’s Hospice. I took the decision at the outset of this project that I wanted to support Julia’s House and in doing so that I would also self fund the entire venture (circa £4,500) to maximise the donations received. 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.

Personally being away from my wife and daughter has turned out to be the hardest part of the challenge and I’m really looking forward to spend some quality time with them when the challenge is over – something I simply take for granted. For many families, time spent together is so precious, Julia’s House is the only charity in Dorset that helps these families. Can you imagine what it would feel like if your child was born with a very serious illness for which there was no cure. On top of that devastating news, no-one can tell you how long your child will live, only that they will need constant care, day and night. Under this strain, many families fall apart.

Sadly, having a seriously ill child is something that can happen to anyone – and Julia’s House is the only charity in Dorset that helps these families.JuliasHouseGirl

Julia’s House nurses and carers provide life-changing support for parents and their children both in the hospice and in their own homes. They’re there year-round and in a crisis, offering emergency respite and overnight care. They are also there when the worst happens, offering emotional and practical support at the end of a child’s life..

I urge to you watch the linked YouTube video which explains a little more about the amazing service provided by this wonderful charity – Julia’s House YouTube Video.

It did shock me when I saw how much it costs to run Julia’s House each year and particularly when I found out that government funding accounts for just 7.5 per cent of the £3.9m Julia’s House needs to raise in 2014 to run this vital free service. The rest of the income is raised through the generosity of the Dorset community, corporate partners and charitable foundations.  While my challenge maybe tough, it’s not as tough as the challenges facing Julia’s House families every day – what greater motivator do I need to climb a tough mountain!

Please make a difference and make a donation – you can do so via my JustGiving Page.

Here’s a panoramic picture I took from the top of Alpe-D’Huez and which I forgot to add to yesterdays blog:

Alpe-D'Huez Summit Panorama

Alpe-D’Huez Summit Panorama

Time to start thinking about getting on the bike again- tomorrow it’s a 190km ride from my hotel in Bourg D’Oisans to Saint Etienne. Catch you tomorrow.

Justin

 

 

 

Stage 10 – Thinking Ahead

Stage 10 – 195.5KM from Bourg d’Oisans to Saint Etienne (2008. Stage 18)

tour Tracker stage 10

After 9 tough days in the saddle, 1,450 kilometres and four high category mountains in the past two days, yesterday was the first rest day of the Challenge. The official Tour de France includes 2 rest days (my second one will take place before the Pyrenees in a weeks time).

The day after a rest day can often prove disastrous for a Tour rider, as performance levels can dip after just one day out of the saddle. To overcome this, Tour riders will head out on the road to keep the legs spinning, but I’m not racing so after cleaning and retuning my bikes, I chose too spend the day on my feet seeing the sites around Bourg d’Oisans instead- the views were spectacular with panoramic views of the alps. Here’s some pictures from the rest day:

Brunch - Wafer Thin Doughnut Filled with Custard

Brunch – Wafer Thin Doughnut Filled with Custard

Lac du Verney Dam

Lac du Verney Dam

Village of Allemond

Village of Allemond

Today’s been a weird sort of stage, I did feel a tad jaded after the rest day and it’s been a good 195km medium mountain stage into Saint Etienne (named after the nineties indie band, ok, actually after Saint Stephen), but I’ve had in the back of my mind all day, that tomorrow I’ve got a 242km ride with the infamous Mont Ventoux in the final 20km, so I’ve tried to keep something in reserve, not easy when there’s some reasonably tough climbs.

Stage 10 Stage profile

The start of the stage took me gradually downhill towards Grenoble, known as the capital of the Alps. From my personal perspective this place is a complete carbuncle and sterile sort of place and if this was a visitors first experience of the alps they would probably go back home. Many big busy cities in France have a fascination with traffic lights, this place is ridiculous, Andy stopped counting at the 22nd red light, I suppose at least that’s the Christmas lights display sorted with minimal effort.

View from 2/3rds up col du Parmenie

View from 2/3rds up col du Parmenie

I then headed in a north westerly direction towards St Etienne from there it’s been up and down all day with some quite tough climbs – particularly Croix de Montvieux where I gained over 700 metres ascent in just the one climb. On the way up I headed through the town of Pelussin and got sent twice down a one way street, luckily it was quiet, but riding up a 20% gradient in the wrong direction got some funny looks, so I just kept my mouth shut and hoped everyone thought I was French.

811m Croix de Montvieux Summit

811m Croix de Montvieux Summit

Saint Etienne is a bit of a cycling industry mecca with big firms such as Mavic based here, the firm I purchased my bike wheels from ACycles are also based here, so you can say at least they’re returning home for a fleeting visit.

Here’s todays stats:

  • Distance: 195.23 km
  • Time: 7 hours 5 minutes
  • Average Moving Speed: 28.2 kmph
  • Total Ascent: 1,778 metres
Stage 10 Map

Stage 10 Map

 

Rather than stay in Saint Etienne and face a transfer in the morning, I decided to transfer after the end of todays stage, so I’m now nicely settled in a hotel about 5km from the start of tomorrows stage in Givors, it’s going to be a very long day tomorrow, so it’ll be an early start.

And a quick finally, I’m delighted to announce that my wife and I are expecting our second child, we’ve just had confirmation that 12 week scan results were fine, so little Jessica will have a brother or sister to cause carnage with – let the fun commence!

Cheers

Justin

 

 

 

Stage 11 – Mont Ventoux – The Lonely Mountain

Stage 11 – 242.5km from Givors to Mont Ventoux (2013, stage 15)

tour Tracker stage 11

The only way I can describe todays stage is epic, not only has the stage been the longest of the Tour Challenge at 242.4km, but the last 20km involved a really difficult ascent up to the summit of Mont Ventoux (aka the Giant of Provence;  The Beast of Provence and the The bald Mountain) – widely regarded as the toughest climb in the Tour de France. It is geologically part of the Alps, but is so far distant and so much bigger than anything else around it sticks out like a sore thumb in the landscape. Hence why I prefer my own nickname the Lonely Mountain – although there’s no dragons or gold here!

Mont Ventoux View (I'm in there somewhere)

Mont Ventoux View (I’m in there somewhere)

Today has been my been hardest ever day on a bike, the first 220km was up and down all day, whilst I was starting to think that events were conspiring against me. To begin with the van
wasn’t allowed down the road to the start point, meaning I had another 3km on top of the 242.5 to ride. I then got caught in rush hour traffic and got lost in 2 different towns adding another 3.5km to the day – that was just my fault. I also had to contend with a southerly breeze for 220km, you’d think with the shape of my nose it would offer some aerodynamic qualities, sort of like concorde, but unfortunately not!

But I didn’t lose my head, with Mont Ventoux to come I made sure I ate regularly and remained well hydrated, so I met with Andy on 5 separate occasions to refill bottles and stuff my pockets with food. I also tried to raise my spirits and a few things made me laugh on the way around. At one particular point I saw a couple of French guys cutting the grass verge on the d538 on the Drome / Isere  Department border. They had literally cut bang up to the sign and had not gone an inch over, I reckon had I been there 10 minutes earlier they would have been out with a straight edge and a pair of scissors.

Ventorol Village (Department of Drome)

Ventorol Village (Department of Drome)

The route took me through the departments of Rhone, Isere, Drome and finally Vaucluse where I headed into the region of Provence. The route through Drome avoided many of the bigger towns such as Valence and Montelimar, which is  pity as Montelimar was just 20km west of my route and it would have been nice to stop as it is widely regarded as the nougat capital of the world –  I’ll try and pick some up from a local deli this evening ready for tomorrows stage.

Stage 11 Profile

Stage 11 Profile

Mont Ventoux had many tough elements, but it is spectacular. Having ridden 228km already I was tired, I was also way behind schedule and  ended up arriving early evening. Therefore I was one of the last couple of cyclists on the mountain. I didn’t see another cyclist on the way up and only bumped into a couple of friendly French guys and a decent chap from Bristol (who’d spent the day summiting Ventoux from the 3 available routes) on the summit.

The route I took from Bedoin is by far the hardest, with some really severe gradients, so after getting the legs warmed up on the early slopes of the climb, it really ramped up with 9km of tough 9-10% gradients. It’s fair to say I felt pretty light headed to start with but after a 10 minutes of this I just switched off and kept turning the legs. What I’ve forgot to mention that the mountain was shrouded with mist, you could see 1km in front of you but no further and there were lightning flashes all around which really enhanced the experience.

This gradient and landscape changed at the 14km point,  where the gradient relaxed slightly but the vegetation died out leaving a completely barren moonscape type environment; having looked into this tonight, this is due to the high winds with the summit of Ventoux being hit with 56mph winds on average 240 days per year. I did get a chance to take  look at the Tom Simpson (the British cyclist who passed away on the mountain in the 1967 Tour) memorial , but there wasn’t any time to stop as the gradient was around 10% and I didn’t want to break my rhythm.

Mont Ventoux Summit Radio Tower

Mont Ventoux Summit Radio Tower

I can’t describe the elation I felt when I turn the final bend to the summit, this is one of the targets I set myself as a major milestone and during my training programme, I’ve visualised this moment hundreds of times  – so I can forget about the Hardyes Monument mini Mont Ventoux – I’ve now done the real thing!

Mont Ventoux Summit

Mont Ventoux Summit

Here’s the stats:

  • Distance: 249 km
  • Time: 10 hours 42 minutes
  • Average Moving Speed: 23.6 kmph
  • Total Ascent: 4,095 metres
Stage 11 Map

Stage 11 Map

I’m now settled at the nicely named Blueberry Hotel in Malaucene, it seems like a really nice place, but I won’t be venturing out as it’s seriously chucking it down, I suppose I’m really lucky that this didn’t happen out on the ride as I would have been drenched. Anyway I’m absolutely exhausted, perhaps I should have scheduled a rest day for tomorrow, instead I’ve a 100km transfer and then a 177km ride into Montpellier to handle – oh well no-one said this was going to be easy, at least I’ll sleep well.

Goodnight all.

Justin

Stage 12 – Good Day Sunshine

Stage 12 – 176.5km from Aix-en-Provence to Montpellier (2013, stage 6)

tour Tracker stage 12

It’s not surprising that after my exploits yesterday, the legs have felt a bit jaded and it’s simply been a case of surviving the stage and getting into Montpellier and recovering.

Last night I stayed at the foot of Mont Ventoux, at the Blueberry hotel in Malaucene. I really enjoyed my meal there particularly the Chicken Provencal main – every evening it is a case of ‘I feel like chicken tonight’ – pun intended!

Naturally I didn’t want a long commute at the end of yesterday’s stage, so it meant an early start and a 100km transfer towards the Mediterranean and the stage start point on the outskirts of Aix-en-Provence. I’m personally not really designed for the UK and thrive in the warm weather, so I’ve lapped up the 25 degree heat and all the Med has to offer – I really could move into the sun permanently!

Riding into Maussane-les-Alpilles

Riding into Maussane-les-Alpilles

The stage took me in a westerly direction parallel with the Med, heading just north of Marseille and towards its most northerly point through the towns of Tarascon (in the Bouches-du-Rhone department) and Beaucaire (in the Gard department) which are only dissected by the Rhone. I also passed loads of olive groves, orchards and vineyards and I was constantly riding past the smells of lavender and oregano which are all getting me prepped for an upcoming recovery break to Cyprus – bring on the Keo!

Vineyard at Eguilles

Vineyard at Eguilles

I had my first puncture of the challenge today  where workman had stripped off the tarmac layer ready for resurfacing. It ripped a hole in the side wall of the tyre, meaning I had to ride the rest of the stage with part of the inner tube sticking out, so a new tyre has been fitted this evening.

Olive Groves at Chapelle Saint-Gabriel

Olive Groves at Chapelle Saint-Gabriel

Heading into Montpellier, brought me into the usual hustle and bustle of a big city. Montpellier is France’s 8th largest city, so I could have done without all the stop and starts (and getting lost) – it was a horrendous last 8km and pretty unnerving at times. I try whenever in a city to make use of cycle paths, but I’ve found in many places they just simply stop, leaving you with a kamikaze road crossing to get back on course – I think I’ll ignore them in cities from now on.

I also had the embarrassment of falling off when my bike wheel got caught in a tram line. Hopefully there’s no CCTV footage but loads of people saw me, so it was a case of head down and pretend that nothing happened, I don’t think it worked and I know I would’ve laughed if it was someone else!

End of Stage at Montpellier Rugby Stadium

End of Stage at Montpellier Rugby Stadium

Todays stats are in 2 parts, as I stopped the bike computer after the puncture and I forgot to start it again for 5 km’s so I’ve added that to the total distance.

  • Distance: 176km
  • Time: 6 hours 14 minutes
  • Average Moving Speed: 28.21 kmph
  • Total Ascent: 905 metres
Stage 12 Part 1

Stage 12 Part 1

Stage 12 Part 2

Stage 12 Part 2

Tomorrows stage is a time trial around the city,I might head out with my lights really early to avoid all the traffic.

Cheers

Justin

 

 

 

 

 

 

Stage 13 – Riders on the Storm

39km Montpellier Time Trial (2009, Stage 4)

tour Tracker stage 13

Todays stage consisted of a time trial entirely around Montpellier. The start point for todays stage was at the centre of the city at its main focal point the Place de la Comedie. After yesterdays experience around the city, particularly with the volumes of traffic, one way systems etc. I decided to set off really early. So my alarm went off at 6:15am and I was out on the road by 6:45am. I planned my route to the start of the stage on my bike computer and I got sent all over the shop – I had to head up one way streets in the wrong direction not to mention having to be wary of road furniture – man hole covers, raised curbs etc. I eventually arrived at the centre but had to be really careful as the road cleaners were out and they’d drenched the street, which created a very slippery area,  so all in all it was a tentative start.

Place de La Comedie

Place de La Comedie

I eventually started and reckon I got stopped at 15 sets of traffic lights with absolutely no traffic on the roads – I guess the department chiefs nephew has the contract for traffic light maintenance. It would have been funny if they’d actually left the lights running when the Tour de France cyclists took on this route in 2009 – I think Bernhard Hinault would’ve broken a few noses; whilst the bike mechanics would have had a busy evening fixing all the bikes that had been chucked on the floor.

So all in all it was a very slow ride, I also got lost around Murviel-Les-Montpellier – after yesterdays puncture I don’t think the tyres would have been pleased with a run downhill on a dirt track, luckily I managed to get myself back on track after a couple of minutes.

The final 10km took me in  westerly direction back into Montpellier and also into a stiff south-easterly wind, hopefully it’s like this tomorrow as it would be a tail wind. I arrived in Montpellier at the same point as yesterdays stage and I couldn’t figure out why as it’s a pretty bland area, so I’ve read into this and the end point was on the Bd Paul Valery who was a Montpellian poet and writer of some great aphorisms, I particularly like the following which I find really appropriate:

  • A man who is ‘of sound mind’ is one who keeps the inner madman under lock and key.
  • The best way to make your dreams come true is to wake up.

I’ve come up with my own to sum up my experience of cycling in Montpellier, see what you think:

  • Cycling in Montpellier is akin to applying deep heat to your nuts – don’t do it!
  • Life’s too short – red means go (only joking).
  • Cycle paths are like a consultant, they give you the easy solution and leave you on your own when it gets tough.

Here’s todays stats:

  • Distance 39.7 km
  • Time 1 hour 42 minutes
  • Average Moving Speed 23.8 kmph
  • Ascent: 553 metres
Stage 13 Map

Stage 13 Map

Oh well, less of the academic gubbins…  considering the difficulty of the previous 3 days, it was nice to get back to the hotel early, have a massive breakfast, take a shower and tune up the bike for the days ahead. I’m also really glad that I headed out early as storms are brewing over Montpellier and I wouldn’t have fancied riding in that.

Storms Brewing

Storms Brewing

My other soigneur, Brian Hole will be joining us later this evening, therefore I suspect Andy and Brian might indulge themselves in a glass of the local brew this evening, I’ll be hitting the sack early as it’s another difficult 205km medium mountain stage to Albi tomorrow.

Cheers

Justin

Stage 14 – Hang Me Up to Dry

Stage 14 – 205.5km from Montpellier to  Albi (2013, Stage 7)

tour Tracker stage 14

Last night my second soigneur and good mate Brian joined the challenge and it’s been great to welcome him on board, at least Andy has someone to share a beer with in the evening. Brian, alongside another work colleague Tina Sams (and her team of cake makers) have been heavily involved with fundraising and it’ been great that so many people have gone out of there way to help raise money for Julia’s House- The Dorset Children’s Hospice.

Stage 14 Profile

Stage 14 Profile

I’m glad to have left Montpellier, although a really nice city, it’s roads were just too busy for cycling. Montpellier did fight back and in it’s own way gave me a 2 fingered salute in the form of a massive storm at the start of todays stage – I guess you could call that instant karma!

I did get soaked through despite wearing a half decent jacket, it was still imperative that I kept eating and drinking, the only problem with the cooler weather being that the minute I stopped I desperately needed a wee. But no toilets and busy roads meant holding it in, I eventually found a spot near a vineyard and I think that with the extra fertilizer that the local Farmer Gilles (Grimandi) will now be having a bumper harvest this year; plus if you get a fruity Cabernet Sauvignon 2014 from the Languedoc region you might well have me to thank.

With all the rain the village of Saint-Gervais-sur-Mare had a landslide. I was allowed through but the van had to take a detour. I got absolutely covered in muck and debris (the bike really needs a clean), I also made the mistake of not taking my lights and visibility dropped to about 30 metres at the summit of Col du Mounis (at 809 metres) but luckily I got through ok – although it made for an interesting descent.

Limited View from Col du Mounis

Limited View from Col du Mounis

It’s a shame the weather closed in as I was riding along the plateau of the most southerly parts of the Massif Central, a raised land mass that covers almost 15% of France. After 110km of cool weather and pouring rain, the sun came out and the views were fantastic and very similar to West Dorset just on a bigger scale. As I headed into the end stage town of Albi, the temperature had risen to 33 degrees and I felt like I’d been poached as I still had my rain jacket on.

View over the Southern Massif Central

View over the Southern Massif Central

Now Albi is a town you can cycle in, it’s also a really pretty place, it’s a shame we’re not staying there as Andy is catching a flight back to blighty tomorrow, we’ve had a 80km transfer to Toulouse which not only makes it easier for Andy, but also shortens the morning transfer;  having an Indian restaurant next to the hotel may have also influenced the decision – lets hope it’s open!

Albi - Tarn River and Cathedrale

Albi – Tarn River and Cathedrale

 

Here’s todays stats:

  • Distance: 206 km
  • Time: 7 hours 53 minutes
  • Average Moving Speed: 26.6 kmph
  • Total Ascent: 2,569 metres
Stage 14 Map

Stage 14 Map

Although It’s been a really tough ride,  in a masochistic type of way I really enjoyed the challenge the weather through at me,  although I’d happily settle for sunny days from now on in!

Cheers

JustinStage 14 Profile

Stage 15 – Gateway to the Pyrenees

Stage 15 – 158.5km from Samatan to Pau (2012, Stage 15)

tour Tracker stage 15

Whoever designed todays stage  is a right git. I was hoping the stage would be more of a transition day getting me ready for the Pyrenean climbs to come. However, the parcours have been very similar to the roads I’ve ridden in my training around Dorset, with lots of short and steep climbs and very few flat sections meaning there was no chance to get into a rhythm. Generally if you were riding this in a group it would be far easier, because in a group you can more easily maintain the momentum over the climbs, but on my own the constant changes of gradient have slowed me down a bit. It’ also been a sweltering day, with the temperature reaching 35 degrees, so I’ve been drinking loads on my way around.

Marciac Lake

Marciac Lake

Early on in the ride I passed a town which shall remain unnamed as it reminded me very much of Royston Vasey (League of Gentlemen). Before I even got there dogs were barking at me and then I passed a very camp fellow who can take on the roll of Herr Lipp (if you don’t know who Herr Lipp is checkout this clip - you’ll crack up). The main street consisted of lots of people just staring at me – definitely a local town for local people and a very swift passing visit on my part.

Bassoues Church

Bassoues Church

Contrasting this, the town of Auch was the most northerly part of todays stage and is a stunningly beautiful place which sits on the Le Gers river.  Alongside the stunning Cathedrale Sainte-Marie, there is a statue of d’Artagnan (Dogtanion) who was based on the real life person, Charles de Batz, Comte d’Artagnan born nearby in the château de Castelmore, and written about by Alexandre Dumas in his book Dogtanion and the Muskehounds ;o) – as a consequence I’ve had that theme tune stuck in my head all day.

dogtanion

d’Artagnan / Dogtanion

The scenery throughout the day has been stunning with lots of hilly agricultural land and in the distance the ominous looming of  the Pyrenees, it has surprised me a little because I had visions that the landscape in the lead-up to the Pyrenees would be much steeper.

Looming Pyrenees - taken from near St Justin

Looming Pyrenees – taken from near St Justin

Behind Paris, the end town Pau (pronounced Po), must be the most visited place on the Tour, this is probably in part due to it being the principal administrative town in the department of Pyrenees-Atlantiques, but primarily due to it being the gateway to the Pyrenees.

Here’s todays stats:

  • Distance: 160km
  • Time: 6 hours 18 minutes
  • Average Moving Speed: 25.5 kmph
  • Total Ascent: 2,446 metres
Stage 15 Map

Stage 15 Map

Tomorrow was supposed to be the second (and final) rest day of the challenge.  although my legs feel good and the weather forecast is promising so I’m going to take on Stage 16. This is a 197km ride in the high mountains taking on the toughest climb in the Pyrenees – the Col du Tourmalet; not only that, I’ll also be taking on the high category climb of Col d’Aubsique and the category 1 climbs of the Col d’Aspin and Col De Peyresourde – in  my view, on paper, this is the second hardest day of the challenge!

Time to fuel up.

Justin

 

Stage 16: Talking Pyrenees – The Col du Tourmalet et al

Stage 16 – 197km from Pau to Bagneres-du-Luchon (2012, Stage 16)16tour Tracker stage 16 On paper for me this is the second hardest stage of the Tour challenge, only behind Stage 11 and Mont Ventoux. It’s certainly met my expectations as it’s been a really long,  hard and tiring day and there’s not much left in the tank.

I’ve been keeping a close eye on the web to check the best day to take this one on as the weather can be really bad in the high mountains and therefore I postponed the rest day and decided to take this on a day earlier – although I was tired from riding 6 days in  a row, taking on a big stage such as this after a rest day could have ended up being even harder anyway.

Aubisque Cheeky Smile

Aubisque Cheeky Smile

Climbing the Aubisque

Climbing the Aubisque

Before hitting the mountains I had a 30km ride from last nights stop off town, my bike computer came up with ominous road names such as the Route d’Aubisque, but I much preferred the signs that lined the road advertising the route as the Route de Fromage, but unfortunately it was the Col d’Aubisque for me.

Stage 16 Profile

Stage 16 Profile

The stage features 2 real beasts of high category mountains starting with the Col D’Aubisque early on in the stage, the climb started relatively easily and then ramped up to about 8-10% after about 6km in for the remaining 9km of the climb.

Col d'Aubisque Summit

Col d’Aubisque Summit

Before hitting the second climb of the day Brian and I, bumped into a friendly guy from Manchester, called Murray, whose out on his motorbike touring the Pyrenee’s, Spain before hitting Marrakech, he kindly donated some Euro’s to the charity and wished me well, I’d like to reciprocate that by wishing Murray a bon voyage!

The second big climb of the day the Col du Tourmalet ( translates as The distance Mountain) is widely regarded as the 2nd hardest climb in France (and the hardest in the Pyrenees), sandwiched between Mont Ventoux (stage 11) and Col du Madeleine (Stage 8). I was tackling the climb from the western side and it’s certainly quite steep with long sections in excess of 8% peaking at just over 10%. The climb itself is 19km long and starts relatively easily before really ramping up from about 15km to go.

View from Near Tourmalet Summit

View from Near Tourmalet Summit

Col du Tourmalet Summit

Col du Tourmalet Summit

As I’ve mentioned in previous blogs the real challenge with climbing mountains is to get into a rhythm, that means getting into a gear you can turn at around 70-85 revolutions per minute and zoning out.

It’s also important to breakdown the climb into manageable chunks, the big climbs in the Alps and Pyrenees, all have kilometre to go markers, which normally also state your altitude and average gradient for the next km. For the first half of the climb each marker is a milestone, once over the half way mark I then turn it around so now I’ve climbed half, two thirds finally three quarters, then I normally revert back to km’s to go. It’s all in the head and small victories  are really important. I also do lots of sums in my head, e.g. working out based on the percentage of the last marker what the stated altitude will be at the next marker and in the lead up the final marker I’ll work out the remaining percentage for the last marker – all this just takes your mind off the pain.

Ascent Marker on Tourmalet

Ascent Marker on Tourmalet

In a long stage such as this, which has a gradient map shaped like sharks teeth,  I’ll also half the km as typically only half will be uphill, the downhill is free and also fun – if not a tad dangerous!

Let’s not forget that I still had 2 other big climbs, the Col d’Aspin and Col de Peyresourde.  Due to my earlier exploits and from having 7 continuous days cycling in legs, it was simply a case of surviving. The views at the top of Col D’Aspin were breathtaking whilst the descent was very fast and exciting, I’ll write about the Col De Peyresourde after stage 17, as I’ll be tackling that climb again, but from the opposite direction.

Col d'Aspin From and To

Col d’Aspin From and To

Here’s todays stats:

  • Distance: 198 km
  • Time:  9 hours 3 minutes
  • Average Moving Speed: 22 kmph
  • Total Ascent: 4,909 metres
Stage 16 Map

Stage 16 Map

After all that, do I take the rest day tomorrow or do I head off and take on the final high mountain stage? You’ll just have to check tomorrows blog to find out.

Cheers

Justin

Stage 17 – Lost in France

Stage 17 – 143.5km from Bagneres-du-Luchon to Peyragudes (2012, stage 17)

tour Tracker stage 17

Justgiving

Well after a big pizza and frites last night, plus a final check of the weather forecast, I decided that I’d postpone the rest day by another day and take on my final day in the Pyrenees.  At 142km, the stage wasn’t long by Tour de France standards, but it was a very difficult stage with lots of steep climbs and total ascent of around 4,000 metres.

Stage 17 Profile

The day started with the Col de Mente which turned out to be really tough, in part due to the 9.1% average gradient, but also due to lactic acid in my legs as I didn’t warm down properly after yesterdays ride. On the way up I passed the very pretty town of Saint-Beat which ran alongside the Garonne river, it had a very pretty chateau/church nestled into the rocky landscape. Myself and Brian both noticed that in the centre of the town there was a statue of Mary Magdalene which attracted loads of visitors, although it was situated directly outside a Credit Agricole bank which sort of undermined it slightly. You can really tell this part of the world is a religious area, there are loads of towns with religious names, crosses are everywhere and Lourdes is also just a few kilometres away.

Saint Beat Chateau / River

Saint Beat Chateau / River

Having made it the top of Col De Mente, I was happy that my legs had sorted themselves out, but due to the fresh air I needed a wee. The van toilet consists of a 2 litre bottle and it was still 30% full from yesterday, upon opening the lid, it actually fizzed a little and after one day of fermenting had more life than a can of Carling (doesn’t take much), so could we make our own brew? On route to the next climb, I came up with the formula and name if we added a little chlorinated water we could name it Chateau Swimming Pool (sorry that’s a really lame joke from the teenage years).

Mente Summit

Mente Summit

Both myself and Brian had problems with our navigational devices in the next section, meaning we had to resort to manual methods, at times both our devices had us floating over the Pyrenees – hence todays blog title.

Property at Mauleon-Barousse

Property at Mauleon-Barousse

The majority of the route to my next big climb, Port de Bales, was either downhill or flat. This enabled me to prepare for the big climb to come, but in the distance I could see that storm clouds were brewing so I knew the chances of getting wet were really high. Getting wet didn’t both me to much, but I knew in advance that the Port de Bales is both a very technical climb and even more so on the descent.   The roads are very narrow (about 1-1.5 cars width), bendy and have sheer drops with no barriers.

Under the Tour Bunting

Under the Tour Bunting

 

The climb itself was 19km long, but was relatively light for the first 9km, following which the gradients then average around 9-10% for the remainder of the climb. With about 8km to go the heavens opened, with very intense rain and thunder all around. At one point a herd of cows made there way onto the road. Myself and cars, coming in the opposite direction, had to swerve between them and I was very close to getting a cows horn stuck up my derrière after one turned its head.

Avoiding the Herd

Avoiding the Herd

Now these cows have bells attached to them and throughout the Alps and Pyrenees you can hear them ding donging away for miles around. Each bell seems to have a different pitch, at times it can be tuneful but normally it just makes a horrendous racket, I’d really pity any cow that actually did have natural musical abilty and had to put up with that racket day after day.

I finally made it to the top of Port de Bales and the weather had settled, but a change into warmer and drier clothes was needed to prevent me from freezing on the descent. The descent was exhilarating, but my concentration levels had to be really high due to the wet roads and technical nature of the descent. Again I had animals on the road, this time sheep so I needed to take those sections carefully.

Arriving Wet at Port de Bales Summit

Arriving Wet at Port de Bales Summit

Having reached the bottom of the climb, my feet were frozen and I again had to change clothes, this time donning lighter gear as I was immediately ascending to my final 2 climbs of the day, Col du Peyresourde and Peyragudes.

In amongst the sheep - Where's Wally

In amongst the sheep – Where’s Wally

It’s the second day running that I’ve climbed the Peyresourde, today I tackled it from the opposite direction. It’s not that difficult a climb, just a slow leg turner and fortunately French roads signs again gave me something to mull over on the way up.  I spotted a sign in the town of Cazeaux-de-Larboust pointing to the Centre d’Exploitation (I subsequently found out that in French this means Farming). All I could envisage on the way up was what I would walk out with if I went there:

  1. A time share in Los Cristianos which I could access for 2 weeks of the year – so long as it is between October and November.
  2. A subscription to Deagostini’s build you own Eiffel Tower magazine first week 99p, each week (for one year) you get a new magazine with another component – future retail price £5.99
  3. 1 less kidney
Centre d'Exploitation

Centre d’Exploitation

Although it doesn’t seem like much, it took my mind off the mountains. Therefore the final 2 climbs didn’t register with me and as I rolled into the desolate Peyragudes ski resort, I thought where did that last 45 minutes go.

Peyragudes Summit

Peyragudes Summit

Here’s todays stats:

  • Distance: 143 km
  • Time: 7 hours 12 minutes
  • Average Moving speed 20 kmph
  • Total Ascent: 3,959 metres
Stage 17 Map

Stage 17 Map

After another 8 solid days in the saddle, it’s time for a very well earned rest day.

Speak tomorrow.

Justin

 

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 18 – On the Road Again

Stage 18 – 222.5km from Blagnac to Brive-la-Gaillarde (2012, stage 18)

tour Tracker stage 18

Justgiving

Today has been the second longest stage of the tour at 225.5 km (equivalent of driving from Dorchester to just south of Birmingham), it doesn’t help that I had a few detours today, bringing the total distance up to 230km.  Once you start riding over 200km you really do separate the men from the boys and you can never be 100% certain how your body will react.

From my perspective, today seemed to go on forever, it’s probably not helped by the rolling hills in the second half of the stage and the fact that I’m also in the home straight having already had 17 days in the saddle – the Pyrenees are now behind me and from now on I’ll be heading north each day, ending up in Paris on Friday 26 September.

Stage 18 Profile

Stage 18 Profile

After a 160km transfer from the Pyrenees yesterday evening, the stage started off in Blagnac.  The area we’ve stayed in is very built up as it’s near to the airport, it was also quite busy on the roads, so the first hour this morning wasn’t pleasant. Having got the first hour out of the way, the following 90km were in very picturesque, relatively flat, countryside and there was very little traffic about, the highlight was the L’Église St-Martin at Castelnau-Montratier.

Castelnau-Montratier

Castelnau-Montratier

I much prefer it with minimal traffic and I’ve been blessed with numerous days like this, particular in northern France and the high mountains. Riding in September was a bit of a lottery, I chose the month to avoid all the holiday makers, as the schools returned the week I came out, but had to balance that against the increased likelihood of having bad weather – the gamble has so far paid off as I’ve only had 2 bad days so far.  Although it has been a shame that I’ve missed the sunflower fields in bloom. They’re all over France, but unfortunately the bright yellows have gone, as the plants are withering and the seeds drying out for harvest – I can imagine it would have looked stunning in July and early August.

Sunflowers

Sunflowers

The biggest town I passed on route was Cahors, principal city in the Department of Lot. It’ main landmark is the spectacular Pont Valentre – a 14th-century fortified stone arch bridge crossing the Lot River. It is known locally as the Devils Bridge as the builder, who wanted to save his soul, bet the devil that he couldn’t supply him with water using a sieve to make the last batch of mortar. The devil lost the bet and as means of revenge broke a stone from a corner of the center tower every night that had to replaced every day. Well this is the story told to the architect responsible for restoring the bridge some years later – I’ve heard a lot of workman excuses but this has to be the best yet. Anyway the architect commissioned a sculptor to make a stone sculpture of the devil pulling a stone out of the wall. That sculpture was then placed where the stone was missing – hence the name!

Pont Valentre

Pont Valentre

The end stage town of Brive la Gaillard seems like a really nice place, I most associate Brive with it’s rugby team who were a very successful side in the late nineties winning the Heineken Cup in 1997. Although the main reason I wanted to include this stage, is I remember the Tour de France stage very well as it had a nail biting finish.  There were a few breakaway riders who’d been out on there own for the majority of the stage and were being chased down by the peleton (the main bunch of riders) in the last 20km. Only in the last 500 metres did Mark Cavendish emerge from the pack and go zooming past the breakaway group winning the stage by quite a large margin. Checkout the video of the finish, it’s very impressive.

I really do like Cavendish as he’s a born winner and like me has the attitude that second place isn’t worth bothering with, unfortunately I’m just not that good. I would add that after playing sport competitively for the last 27 years, it has been great to take on the Tour Challenge without having to worry about competing – those front runners in the Tour  must be seriously tough guys, particularly the lead riders in the mountain stages.

Instead of the competitiveness angle, my real pressure is that of failing and letting people down – hence why I’ve been meticulous in my planning and management of risks.

Here’s todays stats:

  • Distance: 230 km
  • Time: 8 hours 41 minutes
  • Average Moving Speed: 26.8 kmph
  • Total Ascent: 2,488 metres
Stage 18 Map

Stage 18 Map

Anyway, my speed over the finishing line today was a touch more pedestrian than Mark Cavendish’s but I did put in an extra few turns of the cranks for good measure.

Cheers

Justin

Stage 19 – One Step Nearer

 

Stage 19 – 194.5km from Limoges to Issoudun (2009. Stage 10)

tour Tracker stage 19

Justgiving

Before I cover todays stage, one of the first responses I’ve had when I’ve told people that I’m riding the Tour Challenge is ‘you’ll get a sore bum’, or ‘apply lots of cream’. But luckily I’ve not had any problems, I put that down to having a firm saddle that I’m very used to, wearing good quality clean shorts which I apply chamois cream to pre-ride and applying Sudocreme in the evening – yes the stuff used to stop babies getting nappy rash.  There are 2 other contact points with the bike, at the peddles and handlebars, I have been getting lots of pain in my wrists as they take the brunt of potholes, cobbles and bumpy/stony road surfaces – having broken both wrists in the past doesn’t help matters.

I’ve also been getting lots of lower back pain, particularly in the mountains, but I expected this as ultimately that’s the injury that restricted my football and led me to give up. So each morning I layer myself in deep heat, it’s great stuff for backs, however as my food is also in my jersey back pocket,  I’ve had to get used to the odd Deep Heat flavoured Jaffa cake.

Todays stage started in cooler autumnal weather and for the first time I kept my light weight jacket on for the full day, however come 3pm it had really heated up.

Bridge Early in Route

Bridge Early in Route (name unknown)

The stage has been another long one at 195km, it’s the last really long stage of the challenge and I’m now starting to see the light at the end of the tunnel. The day started with a 93km transfer from the Hotel in Brive to the start town -Limoges a very attractive town with lots to see, but it was only a fleeting visit.

Stage 19 Profile

The stage started off with a climb up onto a plateau which I believe to be the Massif Central (mentioned in my Stage 14 blog). After ascending from Limoges the first half of the stage has been relatively high up on the plateau roughly 340-480 metres. At no point did any of the climbs get really steep but they were just enough to build up a light sweat and knock the average speed. The area is very sparsely populated, with a few small hamlets, and places that sound grand and magnificent were passed by in a minute, so it’s not been the best of days to get pictures for you – but I’ve tried.

Viaduct at Glenic

Viaduct at Glenic

Using a football metaphor, it really has been a ride of 2 halves today, not only did the weather improve in the later half, but the landscape flattened meaning I could maintain a relatively constant speed. Going back to the game of 2 halves metaphor, I started to think on the bike how pundits would rephrase it should the game to go to extra time, they couldn’t break it into quarters as extra time is only 30 minutes, so if extra time was evenly matched I went for: it was a game of 2 3/8ths followed by an even quarter, then I remembered penalty shootouts and that there’s no stated time limit so feasibly that could be infinite  -I gave up at that point as I was starting to lose concentration, but if any bright sparks have an answer please send it via postcard to…

As I neared Issoudun a town I passed though on stage 6, I could see how the landscape had changed. Farmers have been very busy with the harvest, hay bales are stacked 10 metres high in fields, the sweetcorn has gone and fields have been ploughed ready for future crops.

Agricultural Land on Edge of Issoudun

Agricultural Land on Edge of Issoudun

Here’s todays stats:

  • Distance: 193 km
  • Time: 7 hours 24 minutes
  • Average Moving Speed:  26.4 kmph
  • Total Ascent: 2,492 metres
Stage 19 Map

Stage 19 Map

Tomorrows a time trial day, and for logistical reasons I’m also taking on the first part of the final stage, more on that tomorrow.

Cheers

Justin

Stage 20 – Rambouillet On

 

Stage 20 – 53.5km from Bonneval to Chartres Time Trial (2012, stage 19)

tour Tracker stage 20

Justgiving

Today is the penultimate day of the challenge and I can’t believe how quickly the time has flown by. Traditionally the penultimate stage of a Tour de france is a time trial following which the winner is decided, as the final stage is set aside for the sprinters.

For logistical reasons, not only did I take on the time trial from Bonneval to Chartres, but I also took on the first part of the final stage. The reason being that in the Tour ,the riders circumnavigate the Champs Elysees 7 times (I’ll do most of one loop before heading off to the Eiffel tower), all fine and well with closed roads, but not when there’s loads of traffic on the roads and traffic lights are forever turning red on you. Instead I decided to ride from Chartres (the end point of the time trial) to the start point for the final stage (Rambouillet) as it just so happens to be the same distance as taking on the Champs Elysees 6 times.

Tonight’s the final stay over in a hotel and I’m really looking forward to getting back to my own bed tomorrow, I’ve spent the best part of 3 weeks on the top bunk and it’s a case of traversing the ladder in the early morning light to get my breakfast. At least I’ve had the chance to stay in the same room as 2 lovely ladies for the trip (not Brian and Andy), but my 2 bikes. It’s been absolutely no hassle with storing them there, cycling is so embedded in French culture and so important to the tourist industry that taking them to your room is the norm. Where we’ve not been able to do so, there’s always been a lockup shed or garage supplied.

Bedroom Picture

Bedroom Picture

The morning started with a case of out with the old and in with the older. As mentioned a few blogs back, the van supplied to us had knackered brakes in fact they were that bad all 4 were declared unfit for road use. Not good when you’re going into the mountains (and the supplier was well aware of the nature of the challenge.) Anyway I’ll be playing hell when I return to the UK.

So it’s been a 2 hour detour to pick up the original van, which has been sat in the city of Tours for 2 weeks waiting for us.  Brian and I then had to transfer all our kit and finally return the Avis van supplied to us – thank you to the RAC and Avis for getting us out of a sticky situation.

After finally starting at around 2pm, it was a relatively easy ride into Chartres, with the majority of roads being quiet until I arrived on the outskirts of the city, it seems a really pretty place and the Cathedrale was certainly the standout building.

Chartres Cathedrale

Chartres Cathedrale

The ride into Rambouillet started within a km of the finishing point for the time trial, so after a quick coffee, I got on my way but got sent on a detour due to some road workings, it was a bit of shame as the d6 which had been riding on seemed to have some pretty villages.

So what originally was supposed to be a short day finishing at around 3pm, ended up with a 6pm finish due to the late start. It’s a bit of a shame as it would have been nice to go out for dinner this evening, instead it’s been a pretty uninspiring McDonalds takeaway.

Here’s todays stats for the time trial, I’ll add the stats for the ride to Rambouillet in tomorrows blog.

  • Distance: 54 km
  • Time: 1 hour 51 minutes
  • Average Moving Speed: 29.4 kmph
  • Total Ascent: 306 metres
Stage 20 Map

Stage 20 Map

One more sleep until Paris!

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