Time for Tapering

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

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

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


The Tour Challenge Training Programme

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

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



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

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

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


The Crowd at JuJam

Bi proxy

Biproxy at JuJam

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

Bear 1 shrunk

Alessandro the Bear

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

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

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

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

Route Map

The Tour Challenge Route Map

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

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

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

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




Julia’s House – The Reason Why I’m Taking on the Challenge

Most of my blogs have focussed on my training as completing the challenge, however the underlying reason for taking on the challenge is to raise as much money as possible  for Julia’s House. I took the decision at the outset of this project that I wanted to support Julia’s HousJuliasHouseGirle 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.

As the challenge draws nearer and my training moves from building to sustaining my fitness level, it will be great just to spend some quality time with the family throughout August – 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.


Julia’s House – Rear Garden

Sadly, having a seriously ill child is something that can happen to anyone – and Julia’s House – The Dorset Children’s Hospice (Registered Charity Number 1067125) is the only charity in Dorset that helps these families.

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. We 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!

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






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

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

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

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

Justin and Steve

Myself and Steve Mills

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

Tony riding

Tony Beazer on the Turbo

Alan Drinking

Dorset’s Answer to a Recovery Drink

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

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






Wary of the Findus Lasagne Treatment

Well it’s been a pleasant couple of weeks in Cyprus and I’ve had a wonderful time with my wife’s family celebrating the wedding of Dan and Candace. Despite being over 2000 miles from my bike, I have been able to keep the legs spinning at the local gym; luckily I stumbled across the excellent Tower Fitness Center (http://www.towerfitnesscenter.com) in Pegeia which for 40 euros gave me unlimited access to the gym for my fortnights stay. So most mornings, I spent the best part of 2 hours getting a sweat on and having a good chat about all things sport (and restaurants) with gym members Matt and Barry – top blokes!

Throughout July is when the training (and fundraising) really ramps up and as soon as my flight lands I’ll be getting ready to hit the roads and hills of Dorset. It’s also that time of year when no-one can get onto a tennis court and every other 40 something in the land says I’ll go to Glastonbury next year (but don’t get around to it) so I suspect that now the Tour de France is on, the roads will be packed with cyclists, but at least  there’s plenty of room for us all!

It’s also just about a year to the day since I came off my bike, I don’t tend to fall off often (touch wood) but when I do it’s  normally a good (bad) one…

So picture the scene, it’s a pleasant Saturday morning, I’ve just ridden through the village of Milton Abbas as they prepare for the bi-annual street fair (if you’re ever in the area check out this place it’s stunning) and head off to Okeford Hill which to be honest is an easy climb from the south but a bugger of a decent as it get’s up to 20% and is completely exposed to cross winds.

milton abbas

Milton Abbas (courtesy of Malcolm Balmer)

I’d navigated the hard part and slowed down but got my line wrong into a sweeping right hand bend. This ordinarily wouldn’t be an issue for a pro, as they could take the racing line, but with on coming traffic  you need to take the long way around. Unfortunately, in this instance, I hit some loose gravel and couldn’t correct so it was time for a quick decision bale out right into the road (and get cut to shreds) or left into the nice comfy grass verge…

Well I quickly unclipped and chose the left route and as my bike hit the verge I did a superman dive and landed relatively softly, it’s then I realised something wasn’t right as my left shoulder was a bit sore, I checked for a collarbone break and then checked my shoulder and realised I’d dislocated it and that I needed to call home for a lift. Time for a lesson learned… always check your phone battery!

Fortunately I was able to flag down an elderly couple (sadly I never caught their names) who let me borrow their phone, no answer from the wife, so I left an answer phone message – ‘I’m ok but have come off the bike and will need a lift etc’. I reckon I had a 45 minute wait so I took the wheels off the bike and finished off my sandwiches.  The time passed so I flagged down another car and asked if I could borrow their phone, unfortunately my wife had got lost in the Dorset lanes.

Very kindly the driver who stopped, Ursula, who was with her mum and child,  offered to drive me and the bike to an easy to find location – so we agreed to meet my wife at Blandford Tesco’s. I’m extremely grateful to Ursula as she went out of her way to help, so a big plug to her business http://zorbsouth.co.uk/.

Well my wife, daughter and I drove home, I got changed and inspected the injury – apart from the dislocation I didn’t have once scratch on me – I guess it was just an unlucky and having cycled the route subsequently I think my shoulder took the impact as the verge gradient rises.

So in hospital, after the x-rays, it’s determined that I had a posterior dislocation which is quite rare (normally associated with electric shocks or fits), I’m then informed that I’m going to be knocked out when they pop the shoulder back in and the drug of choice will be ketamine (horse tranquiliser), given at that point the state of supermarket products I did have some fears that I would disappear, only later for traces of me to be found in a Findus Lasagne.


Daddy Recovering and Jessica Sleeping

Well, my drug of choice is alcohol, so this was certainly going to be a new experience… next thing I woke up to what I can only describe as a kaleidoscope of colours in a late nineties trance club with music pumping out left right and centre – god knows what I looked like to those in tune with reality but apparently I was enjoying the tunes!

Having finally returned to normality I did what many teenagers have done after pushing it too far and ended up with a whitey into a lovely cardboard bed pan. So I guess after all that, this day was my lowest point of the Challenge to date but also, depending on your take on life, also the high point!



Gripes, Gripes and Some More Gripes

Before I start here’s a date for your diaries… On Saturday 12 July, at the Colliton Club, Dorchester, I’m organising a Back to School Disco. The event includes a disco, games and raffle – school uniform to be worn. Tickets are £4 and are available from the Colliton Club – all proceeds go to Julia’s House. Please check out the event page on the Tour Challenge website.

Anyhow less of that…

It’s been a long week, with 425km covered over the weekend, two 170km rides during the week before work; I’ve also been to a 21st birthday party, missed most of fathers day, had a trip to watch the Eagles in London which includes the obligatory late night plus all the palaver that comes with my job. I’ve also been actively busy organising fundraising activities. But it’s not all that bad, it’s time to recover so I’ve got 2 light weeks of training to come before the intensity ramps up throughout July.

So while I’m in a moaning mood, I feel it’s right that I get some of the things that wind me up on the bike off my chest.

I suppose the place to start is the pot hole – they’re everywhere and are often difficult to spot. There’s 3 options to deal with them: swerve (after checking its safe), try and jump them or take the hit. The later can be quite painful, particularly  you don’t see them as there’s no chance to raise the derriere off the saddle and in some cases I’ve needed to check to see if my bits are still intact. For any of you new to cycling in the wet – one rule for you, if you don’t have to,  never ride through a puddle as you don’t know what might be lurking beneath it!

Gravel and general debris on the road is something I’m wary of, if you’re turning and go over loose material then the chances of losing control of the bike are increased. I generally tend to bike around this, but if I have to go over it  I will try and slow down in advance and hit the material with the bike as upright as feasible. The exact same principles apply to drain covers in the wet.

Living in a rural county I do encounter a lot of farm vehicles, the vast majority of farmers are generous and give me plenty of space. However I was unfortunate on one ride to encounter the annual muck spreading –  it seems that just as muck is spread on the roads as the fields. In essence, unbeknown to myself, I turned from a sweaty cyclist into a high speed cow turd.  It wasn’t until I got home and popped the bike in the house, and came back downstairs after a shower that I caught whiff of the bike – and the missus wasn’t to happy with me.  It took a week to remove the smell off the bike and since I’d been drinking from my bottles over the course of the ride – I ended up on dry rations for a few days!

Crosswinds can be challenging, particularly when riding along ridge lines. Having been out on the road throughout the winter, there have been occasions when I’ve had to bike on the wrong side of the road, so when the crosswind hits I’ve plenty of room to manoeuvre. Quick tip: if you’re out in similar conditions be wary of any gaps in hedgerows as this is when you can get a real blast from the weather.

I’m really aware of pedestrians, as many don’t look but only listen when crossing the road and I’ve had many near misses – in Cerne Abbas on one ride I had 3 different groups walk out in front of me in less than 500 yards.

The vast majority of drivers on the road are respectful to cyclists and leave plenty of space when overtaking, although I do believe that some underestimate the speed of cyclists. My favourite worst encounter with a driver, which I now look on with fondness, involved a near collision on a roundabout in Dorchester. Having made my way onto the roundabout, a driver of a van decided to pull out in front of me, I slammed on the brakes and stopped about 20cms from the driver side door – incredibly he also had a trailer on the back. My real admiration for the driver was his ability to multi-task by navigating the roundabout and simultaneously wind down his window to fire some insults at me.  It is a good insomnia topic for me to determine the rational used by said driver to think he was entitled to fire back some insults – if you’re out there please feel free to get in touch as it’s still nagging me!

As you’ll see from above, cycling involves a lot of concentration – I won’t ride no handed as if you hit a pot hole, wet drain cover, debris or a cross wind chances are you’ll come off. With my history of shoulder injuries it’s a risk I’m not prepared to take – more on that in my next blog!

Cheers for reading.


The Long Drag!

Hi everyone, as I stated in my last blog, I’d cover my longer training ride in this blog and I’m glad to say I’ve kept my word!

As my Tour route contains 10 stages which are longer than 190km, I try to include in my weekly training routine at least one ride of 200km. Every third week or so, I also include double or triple rides all of which include rides of 175km plus. In amongst these rides I have scheduled in 5 rides of approximately 225km, to help me prepare for the longest stages on the challenge.

A key characteristic of my Tour route  is that it contains 8 mountain stages, so all my longer rides have to contain a significant amount of ascent – typically 3000-4000 metres per ride. Fortunately, I live in hilly West Dorset, so that isn’t much of a problem, although it’s simply not possible to replicate a large mountain ascent as the highest hills in Dorset only reach around 270 metres – more on that later.

Starting the ride is always a real drag as I’m carrying a big bag of food around 4.5 litres of drinks and I know I’ve got 7-9 hours before I’ll be home again (to see my wife and baby girl). Its even worse if the weather is bad -I do ride in all weathers and on some bad weather days I haven’t seen another cyclist on the entire route! Riding in cold weather also plays havoc with the bladder and I’ve been caught many a time marking my territory on local landmarks.

For me to complete a ride of this length is 25% preparation, 25% fitness and 50% psychological. Mentally it’s always a challenge, I have to ignore any negative thoughts, to do this I think about the end goal of completing the challenge; I also know how moody  I would be for the rest of the weekend if I did give up on a ride early and how good I would feel after completing the ride – so those 2 polar opposites are a good motivator.

Sorry for those not familiar with Dorset, but friends are always asking me about the route I ride, so here’s a bit of an overview…The route takes me out from Dorchester towards Bridport where I then head on the back roads into Devon, before re-entering Dorset and heading back through Beaminster and back towards Uploders where I have my first food stop, normally guzzling a packet of salt and vinegar chip sticks.

A savoury snack is a real treat as I normally only get to eat sweeter food due to the need for fast release carbohydrates – in a typical ride I’ll eat 6 Jaffa cakes, 4 chunks of malt loaf, a mini pack of haribo, 2 banana’s, 3 energy gels, 1 energy bar and 1 cereal bar, in France I’ll raid the local boulangerie for some tasty alternatives;  I’ll also add a slow release carb based lunch such as pasta with some fruit/veg and a little tuna, chicken for a touch of protein.


200km route Map

Moving on… I then head off towards Eggardon Hill, Maiden Newton and Cerne Abbas, this contains a sequence of 4 tough hills, all with sections of gradient exceeding 15%. After hitting Blandford and heading up Bulbarrow Hill I then tackle the same 4 hills from the opposite direction – this is one way in which I overcome Dorset’s distinct lack of 2000m mountains.


200km Ride Elevation

To finish the ride I then head along Roman Road, into Martinstown and back to Dorchester for a well earned protein shake, shower, some noodles and a cup of coffee. After which I prepare the bike for my next days ride and then finally put the feet up and then eat a well balanced, but very large dinner!

Thanks for reading, in my next blog I’ll be venting some of my frustrations about biking on the roads!




The Training Schedule

In the lead up to the challenge in September, I’m aiming to provide you with some insights into my approach to prepare for the challenge. I’ll also be sharing some of my experiences and knowledge gained.

Well where to start? That’s actually quite easy, most of my friends have been asking the following 2 questions:

How far are you riding each week?  What are you training routes?

Each week consists of 4 shorter rides of 30-60km, 1 long ride of 200km on a Saturday and typically an 80-100km ride on a Sunday morning. Every third week, or so, when family/work commitments allow, the weekend ride is extended to a 200km and a 200-225km (sometimes with a 175km ride on the Friday as well) ride to build up endurance over consecutive days. I also include a few recovery weeks, where the intensity is significantly reduced and the longer rides are shortened.

It’s not possible to train to ride a full Tour de France, firstly time constraints won’t allow for this and secondly I’d burn out and be even more grumpy at home. The trick is to make the most of the shorter rides, by working intensively whether that be in time trial mode, interval or hill sessions- the variety also keeps training interesting and challenging. By keeping this schedule will allow me to get through the first 3-4 days of the Tour and the body will naturally adapt for subsequent days (hopefully).

The Tuesday Evening Interval Session

I typically train early morning on the road. On a Tuesday , I can only fit in a 45-60 minute high intensity evening session. Therefore it’s in from work, set-up the turbo trainer (in the dining room which is starting to annoy the wife ), get changed, turn on the computer and my Tour de France route DVD, switch on the fan and start. I know it going to be painful, particularly if my wife ups the temperature and starts boiling food on the oven hobs and my beautiful baby daughter starts taunting me from her high chair!

Jessica watching daddy

Jessica watching Daddy on the Trainer

The session includes a 10 minute warm-up followed by an interval session at high resistance, where it’s 1 minute flat out (100+ cadence*), followed by a minute recovery (85-90) as the intervals progress the intensity period increases and the recovery period shortens until there is no recovery period, meaning the last 15-20 minutes is flat out, this is followed by a 5-10 minute warm down. I can tell you, that after the first interval, l think there’s no way that the intensity can be kept up, but the cardiovascular system catches up – by the end of the session you can maintain a higher intensity than when you start.

Once finished, it’s a case of jumping off the bike, downing a protein shake, bathing my daughter and then chasing her around the room trying to get her PJ’s on (cue the Benny Hill theme tune), having a shower, eating a ‘big’ dinner, preparing my bike and sustenance for the morning ride and relaxing on the couch with some mindless TV!

In my next blog, I’ll cover the route, hills and wee stops on my 200km ride.

Thanks for reading


* Cadence – revolutions of the cranks/pedals per minute