Tour de France 100

The idea to combine our trip through France with the opportunity to watch the tour was a mere glint, a slight possibility and a “nice to do”  given we’re going there notion. While I have watched the tour, as much for the scenery (the riders and the landscape) and take a distant interest in bike events I don’t really have a full history and understanding of the competitive cycling world. While my interest has grown as British cycling success has, getting to Alpe D’huez to watch stage 18 has become a major factor in our route planning and daily mileage targets.

Having travelled around 650 km from 9th July we finally arrived at the top of the mountain the day before the tour. Cycling up from Grenoble to Bourg d’Osian then up to the peak at around 1800m was a real buzz. Surrounded by thousands of other riders, they were all so encouraging as with my 17kg bike (well, Bob, the borrowed bike) and a further 30kg or so in panniers etc, I slowly made my way to the top. Bon courage, bravo, respect and chapeau – hats off – all shouted at me as I slowly pushed ahead.

While the climb was far from easy it was not as difficult as I was expecting. Sometimes I guess we can build these things up to be much bigger than they are. I was nervous as I started but as I got into granny gear the trick was Ghent to keep a comfortable pace. I was not planning (and had no hope) of keeping up with John and Thijs. I stooped at corners when I had the chance – I could not get my bike going again on the hill so when I spotted a chance to rest on a flattish corner turn I just had to do it.

Nearer the top  I got chatting to another rider – he had also done a little touring. It was great to talk to him though unfortunately his front wheel ran into mine – just where I knew getting going again would be difficult. Usually in situations like this I would traverse the road first, then quickly turn to continue my journey. Alps d’huez was very busy. I waited for a gap and went for it only just avoiding a collision with a guy heading downhill. Chatting was nice but did make things tricky! The same happened again closer to the top though I did finally arrive. Seen as a real cyclists badge of achievement I finally reached the top after just under 3 hours ride time. Averaging 5.8 km/hr , my Garmin recorded a climb of 1123m over a distance of 18 Km. slow but yep, I was quite chuffed.

Having drunk a few coffees to warm up again we were on the lookout for a wild camp spot for the night. Despite picturing this as a spot with magnificent views and a quiet nights sleep, we soon had our homes built. On the roundabout, next to a water tap and porta loos. There were a lot of folks “wild” camping tonight! We woke early after a very noisy night – exuberant supporters (aka drunken idiots), fleets of trucks and about about 2am – the barriers were being erected for the next day.

We left early to make our way to the Dutch corner. Given we were travelling with our Dutch friend Thijs then where else would we go. We arrived at 930 am and it was here we would wait for 5 or so hours before the pro riders came through. The atmosphere was buzzing as bike, after bike, after bike came up the mountain, just as we had the day before.  Soon trucks, vehicles and pedestrians would follow. The smell of burning clutches, Dutch carnival music and the sheer mass of cyclists will be my over-riding memories. It was estimated there would be more than 1 million people on the Alpe d’huez that day. To me, it looked like this was be exceeded. Phenomenal but very glad I rode up the day before.

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Soon, 2pm arrived and the carnival was about to begin. I thought ads on the TV came on at a much louder volume but boy, this was mind blowing. Hundreds of cars, decorated to theme , built in microphones and “goodies” galore just thrown at the crowds.  The  trucks sped round the corner we were standing on and it was not uncommon to have to very quickly jump back to avoid being run over. As for the goodies we got – while perhaps not what everyone was looking for, we were really pleased with our small packets of washing powder – Very useful for the touring cyclist!

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The record up Alpe d’huez is for 37 minutes and as we lined up to watch the pro riders we would get a sense of the speeds it is possible to go should you chose. I missed Froome the first time around – lucky for me they sent the pros up twice!

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The chaos of course then began as everyone headed down the mountain back to Bourg. We all rode slowly down the hill, avoiding other cyclists (some riding like lunatics giving cyclists a bad name) and pedestrians. Finally we set up camp ready to say goodbye to the tdf and continue our journey into Italy. Seeing the tour was such a fabulous day. I’m already looking forward to seeing the mayhem in Yorkshire … infact I’m starting to have an idea about that one … I’m sure you”ll all find out soon if the plan comes together…

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The secret race

In his book, “The Secret Race” , ex pro cyclist,  Tyler Hamilton, reveals much of the talked about doping that has surrounded the world of professional cycling in previous years.

I was on my tour through Africa when Lance Armstrong finally confessed to taking performance enhancement drugs. Writing as someone who struggles to play “cheat” at cards and could never even attempt poker, I found it incredible that someone could keep up a lie so significant for such a period of time. With this background and many people asking how I could remain cycling for so long I have chosen this time to reveal my top riding secrets.

It’s 9pm. The party (though also the thunder and lightening) is just starting here on Alps d’huez. I am already in my tent, with my hot water bottle and about to sleep. No doubt a surprise to many who know me. While I love riding it’s possible only with adequate rest, carbohydrates and, given we are in France, cheese, pain au chocolate and a cheeky vino.

I don’t waste my energy constantly doing laundry. Obviously I’m going so fast on my bike no-one could smell me anyway though I do wash shorts daily to avoid sores.  I have invested well in a good saddle, and unless it’s wet don’t bother with chamois cream. I don’t try to keep up but stick to my own comfortable pace.  While fully aware that increasing cadence is a better way to ride I find it exhausting. That said, I occasionally work on this for shorter distances but ultimately I listen to myself.

Having managed around 20, 000 km so far (I will soon calculate the distance more closely) I think I’m doing ok. So, for now I”ll carry on. The only thing I need to keep going is to continue enjoying it. I may not lose weight;  I may not go any faster. I will see the world and thoroughly enjoy my time doing so.

The only real secret….it’s not a race.

Detour de France

This part of the trip started out as a filler. We were waiting until rains reduced in South East Asia. Yet, as plans were made and ideas were formed it certainly became a fabulous trip in it’s own right.

We decided we would ride to North East Italy to visit John’s father. We would meander through rural France, chose the flatest route over the border and slowly make our way through these culinary wonderlands. Then I started gazing at maps and getting yet more crazy ideas!

To date, each part of our trip has included a significant element of physical and mental challenge. In our first stage we cycled, pushed and carried our bikes and panniers around the Annapurna circuit in Nepal – the peak of which being  the Thorong La pass at 5416m. We had followed much of the Yak Attack race route – listed in the top ten endurance bike challenges in the world. This list also includes our second stage trip -  Tour d’Afrique (TDA), a race covering the length of the African continent.

So, given this year sees the 100th Tour de France and we can, we are heading to climb Alps d’huez from where we will then watch the pros coming after us. Unlike many other amateurs we will attempt this 1800m climb on our touring bikes with luggage. No doubt I will look on at the lightweight carbon racers with envy yet the sense of pride when we finally reach the top will be amazing.

To date we have cycled around 540km having left Epernay on Monday – 6 days ago – and we now found ourselves camping just South of Montalieu-Vercieu. For this trip I have finally invested in a GPS system, given our ability to carry very detailed maps is limited. However, with such a hectic time at home I have neither managed to load detailed maps or really find out how my new Garmin Etrex 30 actually works. Fortunately, our fellow rider is more tech savvy and so we have been planning routes on his Garmin and I hope I can get a basic lesson in how to use my new device.

I had planned a route using my Cycle France book though with two broken spokes (on Thijs bike) and with John now unwell we have stayed to the West and away from tough mountain climbs until we have to face the inevitable. As with all independent bike tours we have constantly been changing and adapting our route – such is the freedom of carrying all your gear. These detours then have seen us go via larger towns, in search of bike shops and building in a full rest day in the hope John will feel better ready for our Alps d’huez day. We smiled as we arrived into Troyes, spotting TDA flagging tape as we entered the town but this time we were going our own way and detours are simply part of the ride.