Archive | September, 2012

Day 5 – Roquebilliere to Monte Carlo

10 Sep

Final day!

After getting blogs up to date, had a good night sleep and I could tell Jason did too, as I could hear him snoring!

Felt good energy and no sickness – whaahaay!  A quick briefing about finishing arrangements in Monte Carlo – complicated because Classic Tours cannot put up signs and we cannot park the vans at the “finish line” – M0naco is a bit of a p0lice state.

Had a very pleasant (cool – requiring wind jackets) descent further down the valley to the start of the first climb.  No slouch – was a billed 900m but on my Garmin turned out nearly 1,100m.  Thankfully, nearly the whole climb was in shadow – I was dreading the heat – and I even felt strong in the middle third, keeping Richard (Bruton) and John at bay.  Things were looking good until a succession of wide boy racers in souped up Renault Meganes kept rorting past at high speed – very disconcerting.

Steep-ish (7-8%) with many switchbacks – but steady gradient – see photo below, you can just see Gideon manning the van on the loop, at the halfway stop:

I started to tire towards the end but found Oli’s wheel and kept with him to the top, after seeing Richard and John “sprinting” the last 50m (too much testosterone boys!).  At the Col, there was an (illegal) timing gate for the Renaults we’d seen early – they gave us a hearty wave, not knowing how close some of their drivers had come to wiping us out.

Miraculously, after a breather I felt good….and hungry.  Excellent nosh at the top, courtesy of a saussicon stall  (a bit random I thought but, Elin – I’ve bought a big one home – hope it lasts the journey – do those things need to be chilled?).  Although it didn’t feel like a “pass” – more like a country park in the pine forest and very Mediterranean – it was a named Col, so we had our picture taken [photo to follow].

Everyone was near-euphoric, as this was the last proper climb of the event…wasn’t it?

Still a little cool so we donned the wind jackets for the descent – in my view the most picturesque yet, although the roads were in the worst condition we had suffered – very bumpy and hard on the….saddle.

Next up, the last climb of G2MC – a “short” 600m ascent to the village of Peille.  Not particularly steep – but challenging enough and VERY hot, and not long enough for a halfway stop, so a slog all the way up to the village.

Matt Claridge – one of our stronger riders – decided to take some photos on the way up, so we ended up doing the last few switchbacks together – a rare event for us to be cycling together, and took a great photo of us coming through the streets of Peille, surely one of the most beatiful mountain villages in the South of France [photo to follow].

We all convened for a pizza lunch – cooked in a kitchen built into the side of the mountain – 2 at a time so the pace was nice and leisurely.

After lunch, a small climb to the road down to Monte Carlo – the steepest hill in the whole ride (my front wheel left the road on a couple of pedal strokes) – thankfully only 100m long.

Took a few photos looking back at the village (the pizza restaurant is to the right of the yellow building, under the trees):

We then set off down the mountain – over some undulations – toward Monte Carlo.  another long descent – these valleys seem to go on forever.  There was a nasty stretch of 2km of new chippings on the road – very disconcerting and took that very slowly.

There was a brief photo opp above the town:

…before we went in procession down the switchbacks into Monte Carlo.  The team did me the great honour of asking me to lead, with Ian Pilgrim, the kit-meister next to me.  We had to repair a couple of punctures on the way but made the gardens above the casino by around 3.15pm:

We must have looked quite a sight, because a couple of tourists wanted their photos taken with us!  Jeff the doctor was on hand to administer the Kronenbourg 1664 – good show!

After we split up – temporarily – we all packed our bikes away and showered, before returning for the KPMG cocktail party (thanks Louisa!) and a celebratory dinner in Monte Carlo.  At dinner I thanked the Classic Tours team – Louise and Natalie in the office, Gideon, Claude, Pete and Jeff on the road.  We then said our goodbyes to those staying in Nice, had a few more beers in Monte before bed and sleep without the nervous thought of climb, climb, climb….

The consensus seems to be to arrange a similar event next year – are these people mad?  In the meantime, I will continue to post photos and omissions from the group.  Please keep your comments coming!

A final word of thanks to our personal and corporate sponsors (Validus, SPF Private Clients, Freshfields, Conyers, Mayflower, Citadel Re, KPMG and Paddy-O’s).  If you would like to send a donation for our charities, please send me your pledge by email.

Thanks for reading the blog.

Best.  Charlie


Day 4 – Jauziers to Roquebilliere

8 Sep

Overnight, I was on the point of sitting out the day in the van – I felt nauseous and under the weather.  However, if I took it gently, one 1km at a time….still, this was Col de Bonnette – the highest pass in Europe – a whopping 2,802m.

Gideon had suggested a staggered start today – so I was one of the first to go, accompanied by Jeff the doctor who would chaperone / pace me up the mountain.  This was also a long climb – 22km, starting at 6-7%, with some nasty “Haute Categorie” sections.

Like l’Izoard, Bonnette winds up through a river valley.  The climb was in shadow, therefore cold, until a third of the way up.  At around 14km, after regular stops weren’t helping enough, I began to feel like today was not going to be my day.  I was also conscious that I had one more day after this and be fit for the Rendezvous in Monte Carlo – oh, and I looked up at what was to come:

….so I decided to get in the van.  On balance, it was the right decision – I just wasn’t well enough to finish the climb.

From the van, I could see the full glory of the scenery and the challenge of the climb were even more apparent.  Chik and Jeff carried on, with regular stops and Pete and I followed in the van.

This is the view from the “false” summit to the actual summit (which isn’t visible on the way up).  The col is the small notch you can see on the right of the peak:

I have the utmost admiration for all the team who made this climb, the severity of which is difficult to imagine but hopefully this shot of Jeff and Chik nearing the summit will give some idea:

We met the rest of the group for photos at the Col.  It’s a bit of a bunfight because there are so many tourists – motorcycles and cars (who you cannot help feel have “cheated”) – that you have to queue for a photo.

After some snacks, I got back on the bike for the descent (I know, the easy bit) and went down with Mike Boles – another stunning, seemingly endless descent, though amazing terrain:

I’ll finish the second half of this blog tomorrow, as I need some sleep if I am to have a hope of getting through the day……still couldn’t resist getting this out there.

The descent after Col de Bonnette required new superlatives – over 50kms, the first 30kms of which was through steep switchbacks – initially in the high mountains, through the tree line into pine forests, then into the river valley for a further 20kms.  This latter part was against a headwind, so we adopted a “pace line” single file taking it in turns at the front (except me!) to push through the wind.

Lunch was not too bad – Gideon advised us not to ask what was in the “ravioli”, plus potato-au-gratin.  Jason kept up his custom of a lunchtime beer, although there were no other takers.  Some brief relaxation in the driveway of the restaurant, contemplating another challenging afternoon climb – another 1,000m+, this time in hot sunshine.  I still felt unsteady on my feet, so the bike went back in the van and I assumed photo and catering duty, with Gideon.  Here are some shots of the way up:

You should be thinking “hot, hot, hot…” looking at this….

At the top, Gideon brewed up some iced coffee that went down a treat.  The riders reaching the top all thought it was harder than billed, although thankfully the temperature dropped after the halfway stop.  Here’s the team at the top of the Col – the ski resort of Val de Blore – ready for the descent:

A beautiful descent – more pretty than awe-inspiring, into our hotel for the night.  Probably the best hotel of the trip and, given the large beer count settled the next morning, the team we getting de-mob happy.  I was also feeling better and up for trying my legs on the last day’s climbs….

Day 3 – Monetier les Bains to Jauziers

8 Sep

The less experienced riders – myself included – woke up anxious and slightly nauseous.  The ride the day before had been SO challenging, another day like that seemed a nightmare.

It was a chilly morning in the mountains, so after stretching exercises…

…we all rugged up to pedal the 15km down the valley to Briancon, where the climb to Col d’Izoard starts.  The road is a main road, so we formed a long pace line and pedalled quite hard to warm up and get to the strart of the climb.  The fast descent into the town was exciting – the drop in elevation in a single town is incredible, particularly for those of us who live in Bermuda.  Gideon had set up in a car park so we could take the warm clothes off and the climb started immediately right out of the car park.

The initial climb was suprisingly gentle – 5 – 6% – a real relief given the terrain previous day, although the first sign was 19k to the summit – the longest climb so far.  We pedalled out of the town into a river valley, in the shadows – which was cold but perfect riding conditions.  The road was quiet – unlike the Telegraphe and Galibier, where the many big (generally German) touring bikes take the racing line through each corner.

The road climbed steeply – 8-9% – up into the pine forests.  I settled into my rythym of a stop every 1k, which put me well behind the pack.  Lionel Poggio – without doubt the strongest rider of the group – came back down the pass to 3k and rode with me all the way – encouraging me and, very wisely, suggesting I pedal slower so I don’t “go into the red”.  Sure enough, we made the last 3k without stopping.  The view from the top was spectacular:


Gideon was ready with the snacks and hot coffee (I didn’t have any, for fear of upsetting my already precarious body chemistry).

The descent from the Col was absolutely amazing.  After the first 20 or so hairy turns, the curves were sweeping an enjoyable.  The descent of the day before was surpassed – 30k all downhill, through some of the most spectacular scenery I have ever experienced….

As the descent moved into a river valley, the wind – surprisingly and mercifully absent from the Cols – became a hard headwind.  I’ve never worked harder pedalling downhill!

Lunch was at a hotel with a garden complete with ducks, fishpond – and deckchairs!  After some spag bol, the group lobbied hard for a delayed start, giving us an hour post-lunch to let lunch go down.  We met and greeted some of the Tokio riders doing a similar (but even more challenging) route to us.  Thankfully they had an even later start so only their strongest riders overtook us in the afternoon!

Next up was the Col de Var, which sits above a skiing village.  The road up through the village of Var is actually the steepest part of the climb.  By this stage, I was REALLY suffering and needing at least 5 mins break at each km.  Jeff, the team doctor, was regularly giving me the option to get back in the van, but I felt that with regular breaks I could take it slow and make it up.

Counting down the km to the top (and the flies, millions of them), I gathered my energy and made the Col – to be fair, it flattened out at the top but I had completely had it by then anyway.

The descent was another fantastic experience, although lower down I had to pedal even harder downhill through the wind.  Again, I was with Chik as we finished in Jauziers – beers already lined up and Mark Davison on the slab outside having a massage.

I confess that by now I was feeling quite ill.  I lasted through dinner’s main course (turkey lumps – in a good way – and potatoes au gratin) but had to bail before desert and get to bed.  I really wasn’t feeling right and just wanted to get to sleep early to see if it made any difference….

…it didn’t.

Day 2 – Chamousset to Monetier les Bains (part II)

8 Sep

To be honest, I don’t feel in any better shape tonight to write the catch up blog from Galibier yesterday – but here goes….

I wrote that last night, then bashed out 400 words of fine prose, only for it to go “phut” in the tinterweb, so the following will likely be more brief as I have 2 further catch up blogs to write tonight.

In retrospect the 70km “transit” to get to the bottom of Col de Telegraphe was a little ambitious (at the pace the peleton set), although the scenery was fantastic along the valley.  There was a nasty but short climb leading up to a coffee stop before we started on the Col.  Matt Claridge administered some TLC on his beloved, with assistance from Pete the mechanic:

Along the valley a little  further and the climb began.  There are markers every kilometer up the mountain, with distance to go until the Col and average gradient for the following kilometer.  You may think these are a curse (in which case, you don’t look) or a blessing (like me, looking for each one to count down the distance until the top).  For mere mortals like me, any gradient of 5-6% is quite manageable, 7-8% is a quite tough over any distance, 8-9% is really hard work and anything over 10% is horrible.  More comparators later.

The road up Col de Telegraphe winds up through the pine forest – the smell of the pine resin and the sounds of the crickets telling you that you are not far from wilderness.  The air is warm and humid but gets fresher as you ascend through the seemingly endless switchbacks.  The group quickly split up according to ability, which left me near the back – I would have been at the back had Richard Bruton not dropped his chain at the bottom and Chikashi (“Chik”) Miyamoto decided – very wisely – to take a break after every kilometer.  We all received a clap from the group as we ascended the Col and obligatory photos were taken:

That’s me in the light blue towards the left, with Mike Boles doing an impression of how steep it was.

 The top of the Col is still within the tree line but the air is brisk and you cannot stay around long without feeling cold.  Lunch was the next stop in the ski village of Valloir, and we descended through a sweeping road into the village.  Lunch was a rather-too-hearty lasagna and (thanks to Richard O’Connell) a carafe of red wine – neither improved the afternoon performance.  Before set off, I felt the need for a snooze in the sunshine:

Onwards to the beast – Col de Galibier.  The road out of Valloir was long, straight and initially too steep for any form of comfortable progress.  Richard O’Connell kindly tried to pace me but I had to wave him away with thanks – I needed to find my own pace.  Thankfully, there was a level stretch that allowed me to regain my composure before the road started ascending again:

I was quickly in my lowest gear – a little worrying given the slope  was only 6% or so, and there was much worse to come.  The heat was also rising and it was a godsend when I came across Chik in the shade of a tree at the roadside – by the 12k sign.  I decided at that moment that his was a winning strategy.  Galibier effectively starts 9k before the summit – the 10k leading up to that is just a gentle beginning.  Just before 9k out, the road rounds a left hand bend, after which you can see the road meet the end of the valley, cross a bridge and ascend back sharply up the other side of the valley.  This is a photo looking back the other way (I’d just come up the lower road by the restaurant, then up the hill to where the photo was taken):

The photo in my part 1 blog for day 2 looks down over the first few switchbacks.  I was taking it 1k at a time – and frankly finding it tough going.  From 6k to 3k out it is really hard going at 8%+ around the contours of the land.  The last 3k is brutal – not least because you can see the top with such steep roads leading up to it.  At this point – a word for Jeff (the Docter) and Pete (the mechanic) in the trailing support van – they did a supe job, staying with me and Chik the whole way, until a handover to Claude (the lead driver) at 2k from the top, so they could take the bags to the hotel.  Around then, Mike’s wife Gwen came down from the pass to chivvy me on – thanks Ettie and Loren for the poster on the back of the car – really cheered me up!

The ascent to the Col was very hard – at 1k, there is a tunnel through the mountain and it is very tempting to take it:

…… however, the route was up and over (the road to the Col ends just to the left of the left sign in the above picture) – a 10%+ climb, and on very tired legs is really testing.

After a quick photo at the top….

….change into warm clothes and it was down the other side into Monetier les Bains – it’s quite an amazing descent – 15k of tight switchbacks and sweeping turns.  It’s the longest time so far that I have been downhill on a bike.  The beers were lined up at Bar l’Alpin by the team.  After one of those, a quick trip to the hotel to change and down to the thermal spa for a hot bath and a massage.  The outdoor hot tub in view of the ski piste is top notch!

The fatigue really set in for me over dinner – I was pooped – I could hardly cut the cote de boeuf (no disrespect) and didn’t really feel part of the banter.  The rest of the group enjoyed the local hooch (called?).  I left early and decided to get some sleep to prepare for the next day – also very challenging.  Still, it was good to get the 8th highest Col in Europe and a Tour de France favourite under the belt.

Day 2 – Chamousset to Monetier les Bains (part I)

7 Sep

Tonight’s blog will be short and sweet, until I have the energy to post the full story.

In summary, today was the greatest physical challenge I have ever faced – I finished the route (last) but I am absolutely spent tonight and left wondering whether I will actually complete tomorrow’s similarly severe route.  For now,  here is a bit of what we climbed today (bike facing down the hill, not the way we climbed)…

The group did fantastically well and judging by the banter over dinner are loving the experience.  Here’s a shot from over my shoulder earlier in the day – 75k over flat-ish land to get to the bottom of the first climb…

I will invite the group to comment for themselves – and will post some more of today’s photos after a good night’s sleep!

Best.  Charlie

Day 1 – Archamp to Chamousset

5 Sep

We were allowed a leisurely start by Gideon, our tour manager, so the group convened in the car park at 8am for the off….

The view of the mountain from the night before was shrouded in cloud.  In the “flesh” however, it didn’t disappoint – just a roundabout and a junction away from the hotel, we started climbing  – through pasture land, a couple of villages, a bit of autoroute and finally crested the hill next to a chateau…


Our hotel?  Er…no.  from the top of this hill we weaved downwards through more farmland and forest to Annecy, a beautiful city by a lake.  After a tuck stop (I even had a Nutella sandwich) we set off along the lake – for a short time dodging lorries – before starting the ascent to the first “official” Col of the trip.

The red mist descended for our strongest cyclists and the pace was unrelenting to the top – 12km of solid climbing.  Needless to say, I was not among the lead group – too early in the trip for heroics, I thought (plus I was knackered).  That said, no one was really left behind and we soon sat down for a “proper” lunch at Hotel La Baratte, which is a ski lodge in the winter…


Very respectable menu and Sophie the waitress was noteworthy.  All things considered, an excellent first lunch and a pleasant surprise for those expecting sarnies the whole way.

From there, we had an undulating descent into a high valley and then a gentle but testing (headwind) ascent to the last Col of the day.  The last stretch was quite tough, not least because I pushed to stay with a group of better riders – felt proper pooped at the top, though thankfully the last tuck stop of the day was near the Col.

After cresting the Col there was a seriously steep and quick descent into the next valley.  In metres, we descended more than we ascended today and the severity was apparent from those coming the other way – the sort of punishment we are in for tomorrow onwards.

Near the floor of the valley, Jason and I stopped for a photo opp among the scenery and the vineyards…too stunning for words…

 A final stretch of level and sunny ground to the hotel…not quite a chateau and quite a challenge to hold the shower head and wash at the same time, but a very welcome place to dry the kit (top right window)…

Still have to get through dinner, so may blog later if still coherent (from the fatigue, you understand…)

Our thoughts are with those in Bermuda threatened by Hurricane Leslie – looks like it is arcing in for a direct hit on Sunday morning. 

Best wishes.  Charlie

The night before the morning after

4 Sep

Well, we’ve all arrived in Auchamp, just outside Geneva and, as I type this, most if not all the riders are getting an early-ish night.

The now 17 riders arrived between noon and 10pm, unpacking and building their bikes up on arrival, with the help of the Classic Tours crew, particularly Pete the mechanic.  Jason Piney’s bike in particular arrived a bit battered – with broken seat tube and mangled front derailler but all was sorted after a trip to the local bike shop and some brute force with the pliers.

Didn’t look like anyone was holding back on the beer and wine front in the lead up to and over dinner.  We’ll see whether there are any regrets tomorrow!  We had a team briefing tonight – do’s and don’ts and general advice, plus lots of people had their Garmin gadgets sorted out.  It’s fair to say that everyone is a little nervous about what to expect, except perhaps the old hands who have done all this before (including one of our number with “10 etapes” under his belt).

For those of us new to the Alps by bike, the view from the hotel car park is a little daunting – there’s no gentle lead into this event – our first climb is only a mile away (see below).

The first climb….

Planning on taking some shots of the riders in front of this view tomorrow with the team kit on and will post another entry then.  In the meantime, thanks to the many sponsors who have pledged donations to our charities.  I haven’t responded to each of you but your gestures are very much apprectiated and I will thank you individually when we meet. 

Best.  CT