Archive | September, 2014

N2A – day ++ (more post-ride thoughts)

29 Sep

A final word for this year, to assist with anyone who wants to support our charitable endeavours…..

Why do we do this to ourselves? Of course, it’s fulfillment of a huge personal challenge – but it’s also an opportunity to raise funds for important causes. As in past years (last year we collectively raised $55,000 for our various charities) , I am raising money for two charities – one in the UK and one in Bermuda.

Earlier this year, my darling daughters – Megan, Maddie and Lizzie, lost a school friend, Emma Rose Hatchley to a rare and horrific disease (a form of vasculitis). She was cared for by Great Ormond Street in London and her family have set up the Rose Bud Appeal and a JustGiving page. To date they have raised over £80,000 for this fantastic hospital that treats children from all over the world with the most terrible afflictions. If you would like to donate to the Rosebud Appeal, please make your donation (however small) via the link here https://www.justgiving.com/therosebudappeal and please quote “N2A”. UK donations attract Gift Aid, which gives a little extra to the charity if you are a UK taxpayer.

In May, my wife Elin and her friends ran the Bermuda Half Marathon Derby on behalf of the Friends of Hope Academy (http://www.friendsofhopeacademy.bm/team-hope). The Dame Marjorie Bean Hope Academy provides education to profoundly disabled children in Bermuda. Here’s a picture of Elin and friends pushing Dylan and his mates. The smile on Dylan’s face was magical and inspired me to part-dedicate this year’s ride to the school. If you would like to donate to the Friends of Hope Academy, please make your donation (however small) to the bank account linked here http://www.friendsofhopeacademy.bm/donate-now and please quote “N2A”.

If you choose to support either or both charities, please give generously – we have given blood, sweat and tears, so you don’t have to!  Many, many thanks for your support.

Thanks again to our corporate sponsors, KPMG, AMC, Validus, AlphaCat, LGT, Axis, Natixis, D&J Construction, The Prostate Practice and PaddyO’s who funded our team kit (and Alina Reitz at Tim Everest who designed it):

I hope you enjoy the blog and please do comment on it! Please also forward this email to others who may be interested in our adventures.

Best regards. CT

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N2A – day 6 (post ride thoughts)

24 Sep

Given no riding the next day, at the celebration dinner I didn’t mind having a few drinks, which as expected brought on the AF, which I can feel through my chest and neck without having to hold my pulse.   I’ve become a bit more accustomed to it now, so it doesn’t fill me with dread each time I get it. Long term, I think I’ll have to do something about it but, for now, I think I can manage around it.

I had announced at the T2MC celebration dinner that 2014 was going to be my last year arranging the trip but I have already been lobbied hard to do it again and we had even been discussing route possibilities….we’ll see!

I apologise that the blog has so little to say about others’ efforts. The main reason is that I was at the back of the pack for most of the climbs and aside from cheery waves as they went past, I didn’t see many other riders during the climbs. They will have their heroic stories to tell, very much like Henry V’s fabled band of brothers showing their scars on St Crispin’s Day!

To my band of brothers, I salute you!

To our corporate sponsors – KPMG, AMC, Validus, AlphaCat, LGT, Axis, Natixis, D&J Construction, The Prostate Practice, Tim Everest and PaddyO’s – thank you for the tour kit and supplies, without which we would have been much less comfortable!

To our individual sponsors, thank you for contributing to the many charities we are supporting. I will write an epilogue in due course to let you know how much we raised and I’m hoping we beat last year’s achievement of $55,000.

And to all, my love and many thanks for being part of the journey….I’ll leave you with this shot of Mont Blanc taken from the plane as we took off from Geneva….

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…at that point I knew we had to do this again.

CT

N2A – day 5 – St. Jean de Mauriennes to Talloires

24 Sep

Here’s the day in summary: CH THRESH 2014 MAP DAY 5

Total distance: 113.0 Km

Total elevation: 2812 m

Total descent: 2931 m

An early 7am start was requested by Gideon, so the alarm went off at 6.30am. I was already awake listening to my heart tapping out its irregular beat. By now it wasn’t fazing me too much and I didn’t even bother with a half Tambocor, on the assumption it would calm down when I got up (it did).

After the downpour the night before, looking out of the window at the Hotel St.Georges, the roads were still wet and it was difficult in the morning gloom to work out whether the sky was clear, or cloudy.

On the plus side, the towel warmer in the bathroom had dried our kit (it was almost stuck to the heating bars). Will and I both remarked that now that we were on the last day the getting up and out routine was down to a fine art. Before long the bags were where they should be and the bikes were rolling out of the overnight store. Lee redressed Mark Booth’s sore foot and then filled up a freezer bag full of Haribo for me to stop the bonking that I had the day before.

All things done, we set off. St Jean de Maurienne is around 500m and we descended down through the town to the valley floor at 400m and started a 10km flat section back down the same road we had come along in the other direction 3 years ago on day 2 of G2MC to get to the start of Telegraphe/Galibier.

The early morning warm up train – Drew, Will, Jason, Dennis, John, Mark and me – had a relaxed ride on a back road by the fields and farms, and soon made the right turn up an innocent looking suburban lane, with school children being dropped off at the village school. The scene belied the beginning of one of the most famous and challenging Tour de France climbs – Col de Madeleine. This was to be the longest and steepest single stretch of the trip – 1,600m from the valley floor and at least 3 hours non stop in the saddle.

By the end of the short straight off the main road, the rest of the train had disappeared up the road and Mark and I were left at our own pace. No rain, but it was cool and damp as we climbed through the village into the meadows.

We passed Hilary and Pete (on his first ever Col attempt) and then early on I executed a crappy low speed gear change and my chain jammed in the back wheel. By the time I had straightened it out, Hilary went past again and Mark and I followed her up. In time, we were overhauled by most of the later, 7.30am starters, from the hotel.

The gradient stayed at a harsh 9-10% for the next hour and a half, as the terrain changed from cow-bell meadows to alpine forest – though I barely looked up as I concentrated on grinding out one pedal stroke after another. The road was muddy from the lorries serving the earthworks at around 900m and just above the earthworks I bonked and had to pull in and take a mouthful of cola bottles and jelly snakes. Mark waited for me around the next corner and there was a 1km 6% section that felt flat after what had gone before!

We ascended up through the ski station and into the high meadows. It was interesting (and a welcome distraction from the grind) to see the pistes in summer mode, with the snow making poles and ski lift gates waiting for the winter action to start. The next 9km were 7,8,9% and the wind introduced a  chill factor. At about 4km from the Col, Mark and I stopped to put on warm gear (and get a breather) and then continued to grind our way up toward the top.

Over the next crest, we passed a bleak looking hotel near a sign for Col du Glandon (2.5km to the left) and for a moment I considered trying to bag that Col while we were up there but I think that’s cheating. We carried on up the last 3km in the mist.

At the Col de Madeleine there is a weather-beaten hotel, a granite monument marking the Col and a large car park with panoramic viewing platform. When Mark and I arrived in the car park, all the group’s bikes were lined up along the pavement and Lee stood there alone with his food and hot drinks stand. The other riders were waiting for us in the coffee cabin opposite. I didn’t have the legs to walk up the steps to the coffee shop immediately, so Mark and I sat out of the wind in the car with our tea, cheese and crackers rustled up by Lee. Moments earlier, he said, the sun was out – all that could be seen now was the viewing platform and mist.

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We weren’t the last ones to the tip on this occasion, so we didn’t need to rush on. We waited for 10 minutes for the last riders and the van (with Adam and Matt, who had retired through injury), by which time the sun and the magnificent view had emerged. The rest of the group came down from the cabin and we formed up for the last summit group shot.

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For a few seconds, there was even a view of Mont Blanc in the distance – though you’ll have to take my word for that as no-one got a picture!

The descent from the Col was one of the longest I have done – nearly 50km down to Albertville.   The first 25km a steep and in places wet road but exhilarating. Mark and I stayed together at the steepest parts at the top, but further down the red mist came down and I pressed ahead….down….down…down…..alongside vertigo / nausea inducing drops and sphincter-clenching wet corners and new gravel patches. Only Lionel passed me with his customary ease and still we went down and down. It’s hard to imagine 30 miles of downhill – it feels almost never ending.

As we approached the bottom of the valley, the sun was shining consistently and the temperature rose. We were quite warm by the time we arrived at the food stop in the village of [something-en-Savoie]. We took a leisurely stop, drying our wet togs on the warm tarmac, taking on food and filling water bottles.

Next, a further gentle descent into Albertville, which sits in a wide alpine valley. We continued through the town and up the other side for the last climb of the trip. The small but pretty Collet de Tamie of 960m. This was my favourite climb of the whole trip – mainly because at 5-6% it required less focus and Mark and I could enjoy the scenery as we sent up through the fields and beech woods, with the sun streaming through the trees, which gave some relief from the heat. We weren’t quite in chatting territory – more like pleasant silence.

We got to the Col sign, which looked a little out of the place by the side of the road, still in the woods and it wasn’t even at the top, but John Milsom was there – looking broken and relieved in equal measure – and we joined him for a photo.

The crest was a little further on and we then descended in the sunshine, though the road was recently gritted, so we had to pedal a bit to make progress. There were a few cyclists coming up the other way, the most we had seen all day, and the road joined a main road. There was also a strong headwind and some long straights which John, Mark and I pace lined to share the effort. We eventually caught Lionel and Hilary and soon turned off to the lunch venue – only 10km from the finish.

The group were already on the terrace with beers in hand when we arrived and soon after we went in for lunch. Spag Bol – just the ticket!

After lunch, we formed a large group for the short ride to the finish. After only a km or so, there were whoops of delight as the road opened onto Lake Annecy. Car and van drivers were less happy as the road was quite narrow and we were spread out in single file. As I was close to the back, I could see some of the near misses as cars tried to pass – and this was the 5pm rush hour (where did the time go?).

My heart sank when ahead there was a steep uphill – I was mentally and physically reconciled to the end – but thankfully we turned off to the left (more honks from irate motorists) down to a small harbour and the finish line. Hooray!

The Classic Tours team had arranged a few beers as we hugged and congratulated each other.

Someone suggested a swim in jest – which reminded me of a dream I had along the way of doing exactly that – so I started to strip off. I think one person beat me to the water but it was beautiful – cool but not cold. After the others could see that we didn’t immediately expire and sink to the bottom, most of the group dived in too (kudos to Brian for his spinning somersault-twist-thingy entry, and to James for his tuck-then-open-up-at-the-wrong-moment-back-slapper).

[Can someone provide a finish line and swimming photo?]

Slowly, we gathered our bikes and discarded clothes and walked the short distance to the hotel car park, where dismantling the bikes started immediately. Somewho we had forgotten to take any organized finish line photo – but it didn’t seem to matter.

We were all stunned by the high quality of the hotel, right there overlooking the harbor. Will and I had the honeymoon suite with balcony overlooking the lake. Very romantic as the sun went down!

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It wasn’t long before the showered and freshened up group convened on the patio in a large circle for pre-dinner drinks. I organized an extra whip-round for the Classic Tours guys – by consensus a fantastic job done by the team and we went into dinner.

And what a dinner – full 5* silver service – I’ve no idea how Classic Tours managed it on our budget, but what a way to finish. You’ve set a high bar for next time guys!

I’m not a great speech-maker but gave my thank-yous (sorry Lee for forgetting your name mid-stream – oops!). I handed over MC duties to Rich, who doled out the kudos and penalties – both of which earned a large shot of Genepi (herbal rocket fuel), of which we consumed two magnums over the course of the evening….well, there was a lot of penalties and kudos to go around!  Here’s a small selection…

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No one was spared, even the Classic Tours crew.

Most of us repaired to the bar and a “cleansing ale” was called for, not wanting the wonderful evening to end.   Most of us had only a couple more before bed, knowing there was an early transit to the airport.

The hard core party animals looked like their heads had barely touched the pillow in the car park the next morning – well done lads (and Emma!).

CT

N2A – day 4 – Bourg D’Oisans to St Jean de Maurienne

24 Sep

Here’s the day in summary: CH THRESH 2014 MAP DAY 4

Total distance: 97.2 Km

Total elevation: 3176 m

Total descent: 3317 m

Yes, today was going to be a big one. First up, the “Kim Kardashian” of alpine climbs – Alpe D’Huez – famous for being famous, more than it being a classic Col. 22 hairpins from the valley floor up to the ski station, with no “pass” as such – you have to come back down the same side. It has been in the Tour de France more than just about any other route, sometimes as a brutal, chest bursting time trial. Second climb of the day was Col de Croix de Fer (Pass of the Iron Cross – very apt) – right up there with the hardest Cols in the Alps.

More of that in a moment. We said goodbye to the Hotel BelleDonne – which had given us a good welcome but was by some margin the worst hotel we have stayed on during these trips (to be fair, we had been warned that there aren’t many convenient hotels in the area).   The early group warmed up for 8km along the long, straight main road between the hotel and L’Bourg D’Oisans, the town that sits in the valley between Alpe D’Huez and Les Deux Alpes.

Then, a left turn and an immediate 12% climb to the first hairpin of Alpe D’Huez. The intimidation of those first two hairpins is quite sickening – there is a sign at each one counting down from 22, 21, 20….Thankfully, the following hairpins are marginally less steep – 9-10% – and you get a rhythm going, easing off at each hairpin for a few seconds before getting into the grind in the straight bits.

After 3 turns I stopped to take a couple of photos of the valley bottom shrouded in cloud and let the group go on up without me – I wanted to take it at my own pace.  The first shot below shows the view back towards the hotel and the second just shows through the cloud the road we just came across to the foot of the climb.

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After 7 or 8 further hairpins I met up with Gideon, who was riding that day, and he was kind enough to keep me company for the rest of the climb. I asked him to do all the talking, which he obliged, while I just cranked out the pedaling. As for every climb on the trip, I made full use of my 39 front / 32 rear combo (quite often wishing I had and sometimes actually trying to change up to an extra cog at the back), occasionally dropping down to 39/27 to get out of the saddle and use different muscles for a few turns.

Counting down the hairpins, we rose up through Huez village, which is 6km from the top, I was beginning to feel like this was getting monotonous when I recognised the approach to the ski station from the Tour de France coverage, which livened things up again for me.  A short down slope onto the main street (complete with Rapha shop!), then a final left turn onto a wide boulevard where we could see the group and Lee’s food stop set up by the official finish line of the Alpe D’Huez climb. Gideon and I put in a spurt in the big chain ring – not sure where that energy came from – and the group were kind enough to clap us in. Almost automatically I headed for Lee and the freshly boiled kettle for a cup of tea – as soon as you get off the bike you realize how cold it is.

We shared a few stories and took a group photo, before we headed down – the day’s work far from done.

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The climb looks more spectacular from the top looking down than it does while you are doing it…..

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….not because the views aren’t there, but because you don’t really take it all in when your head is down and you are concentrating on….breath-in-breath-out-turn-turn-breath-in-breath-out-turn-turn.

We had to take a diversion down a lesser-known route to get to the bottom of the next climb. Mark, John and Brian overshot by 2km and had to climb back up to make the turn – so they did more than anyone else that day!

We passed by a viewing spot called Pas de la Confession at 1,542m – which seemed to convey the magnitude of the view….

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And then another steep descent to a brief stop where Pete was collecting jackets ahead of the next climb. It was starting to rain, so I swapped the warm jacket for a light waterproof (Castelli – top piece of kit) and Mark and I set forth.

The bottom of the valley felt very damp and dark, and it started to rain in earnest as we started the climb amongst the trees deep between the cliffs. For me, this was the hardest section of the whole trip – long, steep and straight – no hiding from what was to come, and no hairpins to give relief. Plus the weather was miserable and promised worse as we got higher. I read out the profile from my Garmin, when the gradient flattened out to 9% for a few metres but generally it stayed above 10% for at least 4km.

Still, the break was only a third of the way up the mountain….or so we thought. Up, up and up we went…on and on…wondering where the feed stop was going to be. A couple of hairpins emerged…surely around this corner…no…then it must be the next one….no. Eventually, I had to stop and take some calories on board (thank goodness for Haribo!). Another couple of turns and we hit a steep descent – then, I was sure, we’d see Lee’s silver Ford Focus at the bottom and all will be well.

But no….nothing but a brutal 12% straight section and no relief in sight. Then Claude went past and saw the despair on my face – he stopped and gave Mark and I some orange juice and told us the stop was 4km further at a large dam, and the Col another 9km beyond that. Oh sh*t!

Well, we soldiered on and made the dam (very impressive but I was too pooped to take a photo). Lee has set out his stall and we took on a hot drink, fuel and water. I should say also that the weather had improved, so that it was cool but not wet – a blessing.

The other riders were not far ahead, we were told, so Mark and I set off. For me, this was very much a climb of two halves – the first half, horrible and merciless; the second half, less steep and more scenic, and probably easier because the fuel tank was full. There was another short descent – the type you begrudge because you are losing height and that takes you further away from your target – before the final climb to the Col. There must have been a thousand sheep baa-ing in the pastures above the road and there was a cheeky marmot looking at us a few feet off the road as we passed.

Claude was waiting for us at the top and Pete arrived in the van soon afterwards and kindly took a picture of us in front of “the Cross”…

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Here’s some of the group arriving earlier in a moody shot taken by Will….

photoIMG_0914 …and Dennis “broken” at the top!

Not far down the other side, we stopped at a ski station for lunch. One of the best lunch stops, with a friendly and enthusiastic husband and wife team and great salad and lasagna. The host was so pleased to have us that he got his camera out to get a shot of the group before we left. Seeing Pete eat outside in the sun with his trademark beanie hat in a deckchair – someone remarked that he could have been on the beach at Blackpool!

After that, another long descent, this time into St Jean de Maurienne – a town we passed through on G2MC before tackling Telegraphe/Galibier – and the Hotel St.Georges.   Before the rain began, we stored the bikes and headed for showers….

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Dinner was in what felt like a town hall meeting room down the street from the hotel – the lighting slightly too bright but the food very welcome.

After dinner, Gideon gave his usual briefing of the two-Col last day ahead. The fearsome Col de Madeleine, and a warning not to underestimate the smaller Col just before the finish.

Outside, it was pouring with rain with the odd clap of thunder…not a good sign for the morning.

CT

N2A – day 3 – Chorges To Bourg D’Oisans

24 Sep

Here’s the day in summary: CH THRESH 2014 MAP DAY 3

Distance: 112.4 km

Total elevation: 2536 m

Total descent: 2688 m

I had euphemistically called this “Rest Day” in the lead up to the trip – but it wasn’t going to be a soft touch.

We started to climb immediately we emerged from the hotel. Really tough on cold legs, plus the weather looked a bit iffy. My sister Karen had bought me a Dr Seuss cycling top (which, along with my red Oakley’s, earned me a penalty shot at the celebration dinner on day 5) – but it’s “not in the rain” on the back seemed to do the trick and we weren’t rained on all day.

Above the hotel the hillside turned into mountainside as the road winds its way up and up through the farms and fields. It was a 600m climb to the Col de Moissiere at 1,573m.

I started with Will and Jason, but they were in a similar zone which was a little quicker than the pace I was comfortable at, so I climbed the rest on my own, enjoying the chilly but bright morning. I felt reasonably strong toward the top and couldn’t resist accelerating as I felt someone catch me on the last turn – Nick Law, who was probably just being kind by not overtaking me!

When I arrived at the Col, Will and Jason were there and photos taken.

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Pete handed out the warm clothes for the descent and we went down together.   Nick is a notoriously rapid downhill rider and went past us early. Jason, Will and I went as a reasonable pace but allowed ourselves to take in the scenery. The winding mountain road opened up to a wide valley around Ancelle that had a “Shangri-la” feel to it – hidden from civilisation and lost in time – it wouldn’t have surprised me if there was a horse-drawn plough in the fields (though we didn’t see one). It was a beautiful place.

There was another descent down a good road where we could test out our speed (I tried but failed to get over 42mph on this trip – nowhere near my record of 47mph – must need some lube in the hubs!). Drew came past at this point and told me later he’d managed over 50mph (on 25mm tyres)!

Three of the group missed a turning at this point but were picked up by Lee and returned to the path.

Next up was Col de Parquetout – 1,382m, and a feed stop at the top as an incentive to get a move on. Mark and I partnered up for that one. We had started from 800m, so the climb was only a further 500m. Still, the salami and cheese on baguette was very welcome and the view down to the next valley was impressive.

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After making the Col, there was a further 50m vertical metres of climb above the pass, which was without doubt the steepest section of the whole trip – I’m going to guess 20% more or less. One of the Irish boys behind me let out a world class cuss, which I cannot remember precisely and I doubt it would make it through a respectable firewall if I tried to write it down – but I recall testicles and copulation were involved.

The descent was quite hairy – steep and wet, with a worrying amount of (very slippery) green moss on the road under the overhanging trees, so most of us took it easy (Hank, Drew and Lionel didn’t hold back).   When the road opened out a little, we entered a deep chasm with the road literally stuck onto the side of the cliff. I’m not prone to vertigo but it needed effort to focus on the road and not the thousand+ foot drop on the right (also tough when you are riding on that side and can see over the edge on each turn).

Here is a photo of the bottom of that road (the thin ribbon left of the middle), taken from the Alpe D’Huez side the next day…

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The road eventually entered the valley between Alpe D’Huez and Les Deux Alpes (lower right in the above photo) and we joined the main road from Biancon to Grenoble, which ran straight for the next 7km as we pace lined to the night’s hotel, the BelleDonne.

The hotel was a roadside motel and “travel worn”, but the bar was open and the masseurs waiting for us. Mike Boles – a G2MC veteran – lives over the Lauteret pass in Monetier les Bains, and joined us for a beer here with fellow G2MC veterans Mark and Nick.

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Gideon’s after dinner briefing promised a tough next day with Alpe D’Huez to tackle and then a third of the Col de Croiz de Fer before the first break. I felt the onset of an AF episode at dinner, so I went upstairs to take a pill and Will came up soon afterwards to check I was ok.

In the event, I still had AF the next morning but I took my usual beta blocker and it settled down soon after I got up, so I thought I would see how it went after the warm up.

N2A – day 2 – Valberg to Chorges

19 Sep

Here’s the day in summary: CH THRESH 2014 MAP DAY 2

Total distance: 149.4 Km

Total elevation: 3332 m

Total descent: 4145 m

This was a day of highs and lows….

…the opening high was the result in the Scottish Independence Referendum – I’m a Unionist / Great Britainist at heart….

…and the opening low was that I woke up at 6.20am in the middle of an AF episode.  My heart was tapping out its strange AF rhythm two hard beats and then three of four rapid flutters.  A felt a big downer, as I contemplated spending the day in the van.

I took my daily dose beta blocker and a half a tablet of Tambocor (I figured if that didn’t work I could take the other half).  I went back to bed for a half hour and, thankfully, all returned to normal and I prepared for the big riding day ahead.

….and that is it for now…because today was a big day, 10 and a half hours from start to finish, and I’m pooped.  Take a look tomorrow and I will write up the rest of the story.

Col de Champs

The day started with low cloud and a few spots of rain, so full weather gear was to hand.  We had finished at the top of the ski resort, Valberg, the day before, so the first ride was a 700m descent to the main road, drop off the weather gear to Lee, ready for the 8km traverse and then the start of the climb.

Mark Booth and I climbed together, winding up the hairpins through the forests.  We adopted a slow but steady pace, waving to the faster riders going past (Drew in this shot).

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There was a classic car rally coming down the other way – Alfa, Merc SL, Austin Healey and a couple of Porsches (looked a bit less effort than our method – must do that sometime!).  After 6-7% gradient most of the way, there was a nasty 10% section just before the food stop and a ski station that was deserted (until the start of the season).

There was a short descent before the steeper climb to the col.  The pass was in cloud and drizzle, but we posed for a picture with Lionel, Hilary and Gideon at the top, before descending in the mist.

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The rapid descent was taken with some care because of the damp conditions (and sheep sh*t on the road).  At the bottom, Lee had set up a weather gear changeover, so had a quick feed and water bottle fill up before the next climb.

Col de Allos

The next climb had a very different feel to it.  No one was hanging around at the gear stop, so Hilary, Lionel and me were the last to leave.  This time, the road was a main route.  It’s not such a pleasant way to climb on these roads – more traffic and less picturesque.  However, it makes for more rapid progress and it didn’t feel very long before we hit the ski station below Col d’ Allos and the next feed stop (proper food – pate and jam on bread, bananas etc. – very welcome).

Above the ski station, the weather opened out and the road became the more familiar narrow, winding mountain roads.  Above, you could see the road all the way to the Col at 2,250m – inspiring and intimidating at the same time.

The road averaged a managable 8-9% to the top.  We posed for the obligatory summit shot….

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….before a spectacular descent that deserved some photos along the way.

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The road turned into a major route and we pacelined hard to cover the ground to get to the lunch stop.

 “The Nipple”

Lunch was at around 100km (out of 150km, so quite a way to go), in a village that was still on the downslope.  Gideon reminded us that the route was essentially flat all the way to our overnight stop, except a “nipple” to get over.  Mark, Jonah and I were amongst the last to leave and we had a very leisurely meander in what was now bright sunshine.

The descent from the restaurant skirted the beautiful lake and ahead lay the “the nipple” a 400m rise from the lake and the steepest road yet that day.  The hard work was worthwhile as we were rewarded with a fast descent on a good road down the other side.

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Mark, Jonah (taking photo) and  I on the “Nipple”.

Back at the lake, there was a bridge crossing the lake with the wind against and Jonah did a heroic pull all the way across and a good way on the lake shore the other side.  Mark took a turn and then me (a smaller effort) for what started to feel like a drag.  We turned off the main road and climbed up into the fields and meadows – almost the last straw – before descending through a small industrial estate to a slightly out-of-place hotel and spa.

Massages had been arranged (choice of two masseuses, proving that the best looking masseur does not always provide the best massage) and not long to bed afterwards, sore but pleased that the longest day was behind us.

Best.  CT

N2A – day 1 – Carros to Valberg

18 Sep

Here’s what we had in store for us: CH THRESH 2014 MAP DAY 1

Total distance: 98.2 Km

Total elevation: 3351 m

Total descent: 1743 m

The alarm went off at 6.45am immediately, it seemed, after my head hit the pillow (courtesy of half a sleeping pill). Will Peckett and I had a quick shower, got our gear together and dropped it off with Pete the van man, before heading to breakfast.

Those that have read prior blogs will know that it is hard to stoke up an appetite before a big ride, because the nerves and trepidation tend to suppress the appetite. This morning, however, everyone – me included – tucked in to croissants and fruit. The atmosphere definitely felt a little more laid back than prior years, despite some new faces.

A slightly early start for me and the others who kindly decided to keep me company had been agreed for 7.30, a 30 minute head start on the stronger riders. We posed for a group shot in our team issue gear (thanks VOmax) – not everyone in the group had mustered, so there are a couple missing from the shot below. I’ll remedy that in another blog.

N2A group photo

Without further ado, off we went. The first hill started immediately, though it was a gentle incline winding its way North through the valley Carros sits in. The road was wet after overnight rain but the air was cool and it was overcast – which was a blessing as we soon warmed up and the riding temperature was perfect.

We climbed around 600m before the road dipped between valleys and gave us some spectacular views back to the Mediterranean coast. On the descent before the first food stop, we had our first hardware failures – punctures for Hank and Dennis, and a broken spoke for Adam – and our first “offs”, with Jason and Tim coming a cropper on the wet roads. Jason’s tumble happened right in front of me on a muddy hairpin when his front wheel slid away – he has some road rash to take home with him but otherwise is ok. Tim went over on a newly painted zebra crossing and also copped some road rash, plus he split his new bib shorts (I think I have a spare pair somewhere). Lee, the paramedic, looked rather pleased that he had seen some action on the first day!

For me, I was delighted that the slow warm up appeared to have worked and there was no sign of AF.

After another 400m climb, we descended through some beautiful forests on good roads into Puget-Theniers and crossed the valley to the main road. We continued on that road slightly South East (which felt a little odd, as we had been going North East to that point), riding in a line to shelter from the headwind, and then a further food stop before the first “proper” climb of the day.

The support team had laid out a good spread, so everyone filled up and chatted about the fantastic scenery so far in the first 65km of riding. Opposite the layby where we stopped, the road was signposted 29km to Valberg, our overnight stop.

The dark clouds were gathering ahead and the road disappeared up and road the corner into the gloom. We set off up the road, knowing that Valberg is a ski resort and we were quite low in a river valley, so it was going to get tough. We weren’t disappointed.

After the first few turns, the road started to climb steeply up the valley side – around 7-8%, which is quite tough for a sustained climb. I maintained a steady pace and felt reasonably strong, passing a few riders working at their own pace. I stopped for water about half way up and then, in a tunnel ahead, Adam was sat down, suffering with bad cramp. I tried my best to massage it away before carrying on.

After around 700 metres of climbing, the slope leveled out to 4-5%. However, after the steep section, it looked deceptively flat (even downhill) and many of us wondered why it was taking so much effort. It was only from the hairpins above you could see that it was very much up hill.

After the hairpins and 22km of solid climbing, just when I was starting to notice the growing pain in my knees, the road opened out to a village square and the group had assembled for lunch at a small former gas station. Lentil and onion starter, chicken and veg and (the highlight) ice cream sundae. Strictly speaking, the highlight was the Thai waitress who bought an exotic feel to an otherwise very French country village and quite a coincidence, given we had another well-qualified Thai waitress in Carros (didn’t I mention that?). Altogether, very satisfactory – and some of the rouleurs took up the rose option!

There was a definite feeling of achievement across the group over lunch. The hardest climb of the day over and only 7km left to get up to the hotel and everyone had made it pretty much intact.

N2A day 1 lunch

When we emerged after lunch, the warmth had definitely left the muscles and most people donned the rain jackets as spots of rain fell outside.   My goodness it was painful to start with, particularly as the road was quite steep almost immediately and there was no chance to warm up. I slowed almost to walking pace as stabbing pains shot through my knees and most of the group went past me, some looking indecently fresh! I was drawing big deep breaths because it was so painful.

Over the next 7km, the pain never quite left the legs, though they did warm up and eventually Claude clapped me in from outside the hotel (thanks Claude!) – 99km and 2,598m of climbing in the bag.

I washed the tour kit in the traditional way – by having a bath in it – and settled down to write up the blog. Legs are tired but not in pain, though my backside is a little sore – more to come of that, I’m sure.

As I began typing this, there was a downpour outside, so the next job is for me to check the weather forecast for tomorrow – as tomorrow is the longest day of the trip – nearly 150km. Gideon said earlier that it was best not to look!

Thank you to all for your good wishes and messages of support, through the blog and otherwise. It’s really appreciated and very motivational to know you are following our progress.

Finally, sorry there aren’t more shots of us cycling.  I was too focused on getting to the top to stop – but I will take more tomorrow and/or post others’ shots.