N2A – day minus one

17 Sep

It’s the night before the start of Nice to Annecy (N2A), our third installment of pain and suffering for charity.

This year we are 26 souls (up from 23 last year) – we would have been 28 but we had 2 enforced drop outs through injury and work commitments (Mark D and Chik).  There are some new faces amongst the G2MC and T2MC veterans, and we are joined by Gideon, Peter and Claude of Classic Tours – who have been with us on all our trips to date – and Lee the paramedic in case we have any woopsies.

We are assembled in Carros, just north of Nice, to put the bikes together and share a “last supper” before heading North into the Alps.  In the two prior editions, we have finished in Monte Carlo for the Reinsurance Rendezvous.  This year, the timing of the second weekend in September – the traditional start of the Rendezvous – was early in the month, which meant starting the ride after Monte.

This means riding from the Mediterranean warmth into the colder Alpine air, and the 10 day delay in starting means the prospects of bad weather are greater than before (recalling the huge downpour we suffered on day 5 last year).  In fact, the forecast is rather horrible!

Our very generous corporate sponsors have kitted us out in some great tour gear – photo in tomorrow’s post – thanks to KPMG, AMC, Validus, AlphaCat, LGT, D&J Construction, Axis, The Prostate Practice and PaddyO’s.  Special thanks to Tim Everest and Alina Reitz for the design and VOMax for expediting production of the kit.

Readers may have already been approached by our riders for charity donations.  Whichever rider(s) you choose to support, please dig deep, knowing they will be digging deep – mentally and physically.  This year, I am supporting the Dame Marjorie Bean Hope Academy (a school for profoundly disabled Bermudian children) and Great Ormond Street Hospital (which needs no introduction, in memory of one of my daughter Megan’s friends who tragically died there earlier this year).

My preparation for this year has been hampered by a bit of a health issue.  A few weeks ago, I started having episodes of a heart condition called atrial fibrillation (AF).  After loads of tests, it appears I do not have heart disease but a periodic electrical short circuit.  AF causes a rapid, irregular heartbeat – the heart doesn’t beat to a good rhythm and becomes very inefficient. For most of the time, my heartbeat is totally normal but on occasion it flicks temporarily into AF, for reasons which are not yet clear.  I have cut out coffee and cut way down on alcohol, though neither has stopped the episodes completely.  I have been able to continue to ride, though I cannot press hard during an AF episode – the body just doesn’t work when the heart isn’t pumping properly.

After taking medical advice from my GP and cardiologist, I’m going to give the ride a go – starting a little earlier like last year and making sure I am properly warmed up, and hopefully there will be no AF.  However, I may have to take the van if I keep getting AF episodes.  As I type this, I have no idea whether I am going to be able to finish the ride – you’ll know quite soon after me!

Wish us luck!



T2MC – day 5

11 Sep

Having completed the most challenging day, it was all going to be plain sailing from here, right?


Each day so far, leaving the hotel at 7am it had been light. Today, emerging from breakfast (best croissants so far), it was still dark and there storm clouds were ominous. The rain started coming down the moment my foot hit the pedals and by the time I rejoined the main road a km from the hotel, I was soaked to the skin (last year’s rain jacket – untested to this point – turned out to be as waterproof as a tea bag).

Mark Allitt and I descended through the cold and wet – gradually getting some confidence going through the rivers of water on the road, and passing through tunnels that were warm and dry before emerging back into maelstrom at the other end.

Feeling very cold, we both felt relieved when one of the Classic Tours yellow signs pointed us off the main road to the first climb of the day. After a few turns, the effort of climbing warmed us up and we fell into our pace – me slightly faster that Mark today.  It was short climb of only 600m vertical (to around 900m) and so we were not overtaken until quite near the top (except by Lionel – who as usual caught us early on).  The top of the Col was undramatic….


….and soon after, when Mark emerged with Jason, Mark Booth, and Alastair Robson, we started the descent together.

By now we were getting more confident in the rain and, warmed up, it was actually becoming enjoyable. We were passed on the down by a fantastic early 80s Renault 5 Turbo Gp 2 rally car (mid-engine, huge air scoops each side) – worth the risk on letting for with one hand for a thumbs up, which was reciprocated.

During the 20km descent to the start of the next climb, the group stopped on the road (it was early and only one bus passed the whole way down) to get a shot in the rain:


There were rock falls all the way down which required some care coming around the corners but thankfully there were no accidents.

Before the start of the next climb – from the village at 400m to 800m – we had to warm up in a coffee shop (that doubled as a Thai restaurant in the evening).  Mark Davison even needed a brandy to take away the chill!

Mark Allitt and I again set out into the pouring rain to start the second climb, which was quite gentle but gave the opportunity to generate some heat to keep warm.  In due course, some of the faster riders caught us up – Markus blasted past us like a man possessed – though it wasn’t long before we reached the Col, which was in fact a tunnel through the top of the hill – we had done the last Col of the trip! 

There was then a descent down to Menton, to the East of Monte Carlo near the France / Italy border.  From there we went up and down on minor roads around the coast, including a very steep section of road that required a few of us (me included) to take a second run up to get it right.  By now, the temperature was getting much warmer and the rain turned to drizzle before stopping altogether.

It took rather longer than expected, winding through the suburbs and up/down one valley after another, to get to our lunch stop.  It was fantastic finally to climb up to the village in the cliffs above the coast and get off the bikes. 

Tired but happy - final lunch stop in fancy dress village

When we arrived, all the locals were walking round dressed in what looked like pirate gear.   After a while, it became apparent that the village was celebrating the planting of a tree (in 1713, it turns out) and everyone was dressed in period costumes.

DCIM100GOPRO The tree hugging ceremony…..

DCIM100GOPRO Me and the ‘angman!

We set our bikes up against the railings and houses in the village square and draped sodden clothes over the frames in an effort to get them dry in the sun, which was now making a proper appearance.

The lunch was another belter – duck gizzards to start (or cod mousse), then wild boar stew. 

Duck gizzards Gizzards….

Gizzardsgone …..Gizzards gone!

DCIM100GOPRO Selfie – me and Mark

I skipped dessert to watch the fun and frolics outside, and to sit in the lovely sunshine and finish off the glass of rose someone had poured me.  I could start to feel that I really had done it!

Others came outside to do likewise until pretty much the whole group was enjoying the changed weather and starting to get drier clothes back on for the final 5km into Monte Carlo.  We eventually waved goodbye to the revellers in the village square and headed off.

I stopped to take a couple of shots looking back towards the hill top village….


…..(not very good, sorry) and was soon in my traditional last place spot. 

I took my time making my way around the high level coast road that leads to Monte Carlo – rather too much time as Rich O’Connell came back to look for me.  He escorted me to the group, who were waiting in a layby – for me and also because Jonah was collecting himself after a minor tumble.

The group gave me the honour of leading them the last km to La Turbie – a village with a viewing platform over Monte Carlo which was to be our official finish line.   We then had the first “on the bike” puncture of the whole trip – difficult to believe given what we’d been over – but Olli had one on the finish line! 

We looked a great sight as we filed down through the garden to the platform and opened celebratory beers prior to taking photos of the finishers.  Hooooorrrraaaaaayyyy!!!!!

 Hoooorrrraaaayyyy Proud finishers….

The only puncture of the trip …..after which Olli repaired the one puncture if the trip.

That evening, KPMG hosted us at the traditional Sunday night cocktails that mark the start of the Reinsurance Rendezvous, and afterwards we had our celebration meal.  Rich O’Connell was a great master of ceremonies – handing out the kudos awards and penalties for a host of reasons – all of which seemed to attract a shot of grappa.

Richie hands out the prizes and punishment      Richie handing out the prizes and punishments….

The group then dispersed with hugs and best wishes for the coming year – and promises to return to support the next event, wherever that may be.

So, that’s it for another year.  Here are the stats from my Garmin

– distance: 465km (288 miles)

– climbed: 12,507m (38,773ft)

And a link to the whole route…..


In closing, I would like to make a few thank yous.

Thanks to Classic Tours for organising us so effectively – they are diligent, efficient, friendly and highly recommended.  Thanks also to our kit sponsors: Axis, Oakley Capital, Montpelier Re, Blue Capital, XL, Natixis, Conyers Dill & Pearman, KPMG and Jonah Jones.  Thanks to Ruth Costello of Timothy Everest for the wonderful kit design and PaddyOs for providing our supercharged granola bars and breakfast cereal for the trip.

Finally, this ride is dedicated to my wonderful mother in law Jo Daniels – who lost her courageous fight against cancer this year.  In honour of her memory, I am collecting donations for the UK Marie Curie nurses, who did such a fantastic job in nursing Jo in her last days, and their Bermuda equivilent, PALS.  If you would like to make a pledge, please email me at charlesthresh@kpmg.bm – anything, no matter how small, is appreciated and 100% of your donation will go to these charities, divided equally.

All the best.   CT

T2MC – day 4

8 Sep

This was to be by far the hardest ride of the trip.

First up, a 16km, 1500m climb to the 2400m Col de la Mortes (the Pass of the Dead), followed by a small but steep 600m Col and then a finish on the 1900m Col de Tende.

I was dreading it and as usual struggled to eat more than half a bowl of cereal and a gel for breakfast.  I also failed to sneak away 15 minutes early, so I was “behind” from the start.

The nasty 13km finish to get to the hotel from the night before turned into a nice downhill warm up (cold damp morning, requiring the excellent Castelli jacket our kit sponsors kindly provided) – before we peeled off the road and shed the extra morning cold layers, ready to start the climb.

I faffed around a bit too much while de-layering so, with Jason, was one of the last to leave the bottom (aside from the faster riders who started 30 minutes afterwards).  Mark Booth, my pace buddy from the day before was already ahead and though in sight at the beginning, I never caught him. Jason also pulled away, so I did the majority of the climb on my own.

But what a climb it was!  The road quickly turned into a track, which got narrower as it went up.  Up into the pine forests, the track deteriorated so that there was no tarmac at all in some stretches and “ramps” of between 20-25% gradient, often just sand and rocks, and barely enough space for a small car to get up (we had no mechanical support up the climb because the van couldn’t get up the track, though Julian the Doc pedalled along at the back to pick up any casualties).  However, there were respites of lower gradient – 5-6%, which meant an opportunity to recover the breath and legs.

I was passed by the quicker group and took a tow from Hank and Lionel for a part of the climb.   I then picked up Hilary Poggio on the way up but she soon showed her climbing mettle by pulling away from me and we didn’t meet again until the top.  Gregoire Mauchamp was also in sight ahead, but I did my thing at a slower pace and also didn’t close the gap.  I don’t regret the slower pace because it gave me an opportunity to appreciate the stunning scenery and also keep the pedals turning without stopping for the whole climb – I’m quite proud of that, given my “stop every km” strategy last year.

The pine forest gave way to alpine meadows – there was a farm at around 2000m – and then a rocky moonscape above 2200m.  Rounding corner after corner of the climb, finally a sign and parked cars came into view – the top!

Er…no, it wasn’t – there was another vertical 100m of hard slog up a pitted and uneven 20% track that had me reassessing the “best climb ever” status of this Col.  The wind was howling over this part of the climb, so by the time I reached the top I was fffffreezing.  I had to sit in Claude’s car for 5 mins to get out of the wind and grab a banana.  Just enough time for a photo (not on my camera, so someone please send it to me!) by the Marco Pantani memorial (Pantani was a heroic Italian cyclist who tragically committed suicide after being tainted by doping).  I then headed over the Col and down with Mark Booth, Hilary and Gregoire. 

Then things took a dramatic turn.  While pulling away off the Col, one of the other people at the top said something about a car accident (sorry, my Italian is virtually non-existant).  He got in his car and drove off.  We followed him down and rounding a corner Mark pointed out a crumpled ball of metal about 60m down in a valley next to the narrow road we were moving down.

IMG_00000182 The little black dot right of centre is a crumpled car, just gone over the edge… 

As we descended, help was already on the scene, as the occupants – a couple – were extricating themselves from the wreckage.  The woman was shouting loudly in Italian (so I guess everything was normal!) and the man was bleeding from a gash in his forehead.  Mark Allitt had seen the crash from below and the car had skipped off the road after hitting a boulder and then somersaulted 3 or 4 times head over heels before coming to rest.

Given help was at hand, there was little we could do, so we continued a very fast descent on the narrow – but largely smooth – track.  The descent was fantastic; 25km – all downhill through sweeping curves and steep sided valleys.  We hammered it all the way down until we met up with Markus and Olli, who were taking photos – continuing with them down into the warm sunshine in the valley.

Further down, Lionel passed me and the red mist descended – I pounded away behind him and we took the curves way too fast for my meager skills – but what a buzz!

Then, more drama. Gregoire caught a pothole while trying to take a drink and slammed hard into the tarmac.  I was ahead with Lionel, so I didn’t hear about this until afterwards.  Chik, Olli and Markus were able to stop and the Doc was along shortly to render first aid and, eventually, accompany Gregoire to hospital – the diagnosis, a badly broken collar bone.

Meanwhile, the rest of the group had gathered in a café in the village (no, sorry – I’m just not getting those names, am I?) and were awaiting further instructions while Gregoire was sorted out.  We made good use of the time drinking expressos and hot chocolate, and given the delay Claude then set up a food stop in the car park opposite, so we could refuel.

As it turned out, the middle Col was being used for a rally, so all the roads were closed. We couldn’t find a way around, so we had to do the 40km schlep along the main road to the Col de Tende. We buzzed along at 20-25mph in a pace line, as there was a headwind – tiring stuff and both Mark Allitt and I came off the back, pooped.

Rich O’Connell fell back and we took a drink in another village (no, same again) and he did a fine job of pacing me up to our lunch stop at the beginning of the final climb to the Col de Tende. The ski infrastructure is everywhere and our venue for lunch is a ski restaurant – with the added luxury of a pool and deckchairs.

Tende ski station looking up The view up the piste from the ski restaurant.

The idea was to have lunch before tackling the Col, however, I knew that if I sat down to lunch I wouldn’t get up again, so Rich, Hank, Bruce, Jonah, Mark A, Olli, Markus and I carried on up.  It was a beautiful and dramatic climb – not too steep so Olli, Markus and I were able to chat on the way up. There is a carpark which represents a false Col – the real Col is up an unpaved section another 100m climb, past an old Napoleonic fort. From the Col, you can look down the track on other side – which is totally unpaved and was beyond our reach (and liability insurance!) on this occasion.

Top of Col de Tende  At the top of Col de Tende.

Look down from Col de Tende The vertigo-inducing view over the other side – unpaved but brave car giving it a go.

After the obligatory photos, Olli, Markus and I descended and passed the post lunch crew making the climb a few pounds heavier. We rapidly descended and before long we were sitting down to a fantastic plate of pasta and a Moretti – heaven!  A few of the riders stripped off and took a swim.

Swim at ski station below Tende Julian the Doc having a bath in the pool (instead of doing the Col de Tende)

As we weren’t able to traverse the Col, we were ferried through the 3km road tunnel in succession, emerging the other side in a spectacular steep sided valley. After letting the cars go, we hooned down in usual fashion – slowing down only for a wedding car procession that was taking most of both lanes (and Lionel had a very near miss with a motor cycle doing a dangerous overtake round a bend – hold up index finger and thumb close together and you’ll get the picture).

It’s difficult to adequately describe how is feels to go downhill at speed for 25km – but imagine freewheeling for a full 30 minutes – its amazing.

We turned off the main road to get to our hotels (2 for this night) and had another fantastic dinner.  Being a Saturday night – the village was pretty loud but I was tucked up by 10pm – and wrote most of the above before turning in.

I will finish the blog for today and give some of the overall stats for the trip in another blog when I have a chance to write it – hopefully soon.


T2MC – day 3

8 Sep

True to form, I had no appetite at breakfast.  Olli and Markus were tucking into a hearty breakfast and all I could manage was half a bowl of cereal and some apple juice.  I knew that wasn’t going to be enough so I went back upstairs and had a gel and recovery shake – goodness knows what it’s doing to my insides!

My left knee was sore, so Julian the tour Doc applied some Ralgex and magic cream (no idea what it was but worked a treat – I’m just left with a slight craving for it!).  The itinerary for the day was Col d’Agnel (the “pass of sheep”, 2700m), followed by Col de Sampayre (2300m) – thankfully, following the nasty post-lunch climb of the day before, we were starting at 1700m – so “only” a 1000m first climb.

Start for the slower riders was at 7.30am, so I adopted my winning strategy of going 15mins before that – with Tim Briggs, Julian the Doc and Mike Steel.  Tim was off like a shot and saw him again only as a disappearing shape on the horizon.  Julian took a leisurely pace and I rode with Mike for about 5k, until he had to stop for a rest and I rode the rest on my own until the faster riders started to pass me in succession (Hank Vivier, Kevin Topple, Rich O’Connell, Bruce Smith, Lionel Poggio – in that order, I think).

This climb was a first for me, as we had only ridden in the alpine sunshine before.  This time, as the clouds closed in at the top, the visibility was only around 10m – quite spooky – and cold.  There was time only for a brief stay at the top – I took photos for others but didn’t get one myself, but captured the top on the GoPro.  The name Col d’Agnel is misleading – I didn’t see any sheep on the way up – only cows and goats.

The descent was also a new experience – wet and liberal doses of er….what goats and cows do quite well, so took it quite ginger on the way down.  Very glad of the team issue jacket (thanks sponsors, Ruth and Tim!), plus full gloves, as it was very cold.

We formed a group including those that has passed me on the way up and some that arrived while I was at the top – except Lionel, who typically went back down the way we had come because doing a Col once in a day just isn’t enough!

The road condition was patchy so great care was needed.  Eventually, we descended into sunshine but by that stage, we were all so cold that at the first stop, near a man-made lake, everyone was shivering.  Gideon poured water on the steaming brakes and that prompted many to sit on the front of the car to get some heat from the engine into frozen backsides.

Frrrreeeeezzzzing after first descent off Col d'Agnel

A further descent to the village of Sampayre, thankfully through sunshine and then a quick stop to take off all the extra clothes, and the second and major climb of the day – Col de Sampayre.  It’s difficult not to get into superlatives on this event, however, each day has been more challenging than the last.  This climb was just about the hardest thing I have ever done – 1200m, never less than 9%, on rough road.  I climbed with Jason Piney and Mark Booth – until Jason tired of our lacklustre performance and went on ahead.  Unfortunately, I wasn’t quick enough with the camera to catch Jason’s backwards pratfall trying to get on his bike after a breather – apparently caused by a gear problem (yeah, that’s right Jason!).

Mark was my climbing companion for the rest of the climb – we set rest goals at 1400m, 1700m and 2100m – which allowed a 30 sec breather and refuel.  Chik Miyamoto and Mark Allitt were on a different rest strategy, so we passed each other a couple of times – and were prowled by Pete the Mechanic’s sweeper van, already with a couple of occupants.

Although winding beautifully up through the ski pistes and trees, I found the climb difficult to enjoy because it was such a challenge. On and on it went up, very steep, until the clouds wafted across the road ahead.  As the visibility closed in, the Col emerged, with Gideon’s now familiar table laid out with goodies – including a team favourite – bread and thick slabs of salami.  He handed Mark and I a very welcome fruit juice concoction as we arrived in the car park.  Chik, Mark and the van arrived in due course – and we all descended together.

The road down had some nasty culverts going across it, jarring the jaws, the bike and, it seems, by GoPro, as it sheared off and dropped off at high speed.  Thankfully, it didn’t go over the edge and apart from a small chip in the case is (I think) undamaged.

We descended through some amazing villages, though I think we were all so tired no one bothered to stop to take photos.  I took a shot near the bottom that had the Col in sight but it wasn’t entirely successful at showing the scale – I’ve attached it anyway:

We've come from up there We had just come from the Col – just visible right centre horizon, with cyclists below.

In the valley, we were treated to a further 13km uphill slog to the hotel – definitely need to plan that better next time.  I was absolutely spent, had lunch and then retired for a snooze (and emails).

The food at the hotel was one of the highlights of the trip – home made pasta and panna cotta for lunch, then huge selection of anti pasti, plus wild boar and polenta for dinner – bizarrely, with brussel sprouts.

Pastatastic View from hotel window - day 3 

Above – the view from my seat at lunch, and my room before dinner….

Carafes of red flowing at dinner (or, if you were close to Mark D, actual BOTTLES of wine) – we must be over half way! 

Sorry if the last bit above was a bit rushed – at 10.35pm its way past my bedtime for an early start tomorrow – a 120km beast of a ride.


T2MC – day 2

6 Sep

I was a little zoned out over dinner on Day 1, so went to bed early to try to get some rest.   I woke up with the usual slightly queasy feeling – but managed some cereal and coffee.  There was a hot plate to make your own fried eggs and Mark Davison did the “what does this remind you of….” gag with two wobbly eggs….couldn’t help but smile!   

For day 2 – we staggered the start so that the slower riders (including me) had a head start on the faster riders, with the loose objective of meeting together at the first stop of the day.  As it happened, the strategy worked very well.

At 7am in the Alps, the air is quite chilly and my knees tend to take a good half hour to warm up – so I was fully rugged up against the cold when we set off and I stayed wrapped up all day to keep the knees warm.

The day’s route was an interesting variation – forced by necessity but welcome nonetheless.   The first 2 Cols were in fact on the main Turin to Briancon road.  Briancon is at a major, historic alpine cross roads, evdenced by the huge castles on the mountains either side of the town.

We had descended from the Colle Della Finestre to a small town on the main road (I cannot honestly remember the name, sorry).  The road to Briancon passes through 2 ski resorts – Sestriere (a Winter Olympics venue) on the Italian side and Montgenevre on the French side.  The road through each town is a wide road, very different from the wooded tracks we experienced on day 1.  Thankfully, the road was quiet and we made good progress, all arriving within 10 minutes of each other in Montgenevre.

By this stage, the sun was out in a virtually cloudless sky and stayed that way all day – though from here the forecast is for unsettled weather.

Special thanks from me to Alastair Robson, who paced a group of us up both of the first 2 Cols – and continued the favour for me up the Col d’Izoard later.

The descents from both towns on the main road were faaaassssst – broad sweeping bends to swoop around at high speed, with the occasional transit van (or Maserati) doing a casual near miss.  Again, the GoPro footage is spectacular – just need to work out how to upload it.  However, no photos from me up to this point – nothing interesting enough to take a picture of (or at least distract from grinding away to get up the hill).

We passed through Briancon and soon started to ascend the Col d’Izoard.  There are a few photos posted on last year’s blog of the ascent – gave me an excuse not to stop on the way and just plough on.  Alastair did me a real favour by letting me hold his wheel – gave me some focus and allowed me to regulate my effort.  The first stop was just less than a third up the mountain and after that it was one big dig up to the top.

After feeling so strong yesterday, I was a little too blase about this climb at the beginning.   Once going, I found it really tough – particularly the last 3 km – it is an Hors Categorie (beyond classification) climb in the Tour, so guess it should be hard work!  I had to ask Alastair to slow down at one point and he kindly obliged – and I’m not ashamed to admit that we went from side to side up the road to reduce the effective gradient.  But at least I didn’t stop at every km marker like last year.   Alastair and I emerged over a brow with 1km to go and saw the last few very steep switchbacks to the Col. There was (as last year) a photographer waiting on a bend to catch the punters and we both mustered up a “we’re fine, really” expression – despite feeling anything but (http://www.griffephotos.com/AppleMark,en,ipf2140p80n123.html).

Still, I managed to take some pictures at the top, which is more than I could do last year.

Me at Izoard Me at the top of Col d’Izoard

After some refreshments (no fresh coffee this year – Gideon said it was the coffee kit or the first aid kit) we headed down in the bright sunshine.  The view through the first few turns was so stunning, I had to stop and get a picture:

Izoard descent

Almost immediately I started off again, Tim Briggs took a tumble after avoiding a motorbike in one of the switchbacks. Landed on his chest but dusted himself off and we continued down. After stopping at the Fausto Coppi memorial, I passed Hank and Richard and we played cat and mouse down through the next village – we reached 46.9mph – not quite a PB for me but felt very fast.

After the lunch stop, we had to climb another 500m on tired legs, but at least it was towards the Colle d’Agnel – our first climb of day 3.

We compared GoPro footage before dinner and I wrote this blog after dinner – another fantastic alpine feast.  Took a couple of stiff Neurofen before bed time to ward off the achy knees and slept fitfully, knowing there was a very big day ahead. 


T2MC – day 1

4 Sep

Here is was then, the real deal – no going back.

I woke before the alarm and got up for the 6am breakfast.  Looking out the window, Pete was loading up the bags already. The first thing I noticed was that I had an appetite to eat breakfast, which was totally missing last year – good sign. I also took a pre-emptive energy gel and two nuclear strength ibuprofen.

We assembled outside – nervous banter and unnecessary fiddling with the bikes (except Andrew “Chuffy” Hunter, who’s gears had been mangled overnight – no one owned up to that!). We also took the obligatory team photo:

Doesn't that kit look great - thanks Ruth and Tim (and our sponsors of course)

Doesn’t that kit look great – thanks Ruth and Tim (and our sponsors of course)

Today’s route started with a 30 mile flat-ish traverse to the village of Susa, from where the day’s fun and frolics were to start.  In part, the early start was to get clear of Turin before the traffic started in earnest, as our route out was a main road.  The riders gave me the honour of leading out the peleton (which I was delighted to do – mainly because I could control the pace!).  After about 5k a head wind whipped up and I was happy when Hank Vivier offered to take over.  Not the best road because of the lorries and cars – but at least it was a flat warm up for the first hour and a half or so.

A left turn off the road and the first stop of the day.  I knew from the Garmin that the climbing started immediately after the break – this really was it. We had stayed together for the first section, so everyone refuelled (I took another gel)….

...bottom of Colla Della Finestre

…bottom of Colla Della Finestre

….and then set off more or less together.  Less, actually – as Mark Allitt and I tried to sneak a head start but we were soon overtaken.

Our climb, the Colle Della Finestre is one of the greatest bottom to top climbs in the Alps.  The Col sits at 2,176m and the climb starts at around 400m – that’s over 1,700 vertical meters.

The first shock is the gradient of the initial section through the village of Susa – at least 15% in places (bearing in mind the scale of 5-6% reasonably manageable, 7-8% painful over a long distance, 9-10% painful over a short distance and over 10% – oh mother why am I doing this?).  After that, the road settled into something between 9 and 12% – proving the Italian Alpine climbs are generally steeper than the French ones.

After 11k, the road just ends (time for another refuel and comfort break – Hank got VERY comfortable) and is replaced by a dirt track.  For another 8k, the dirt track (complete with rocks and ruts) winds upwards through the trees until the end of the tree line. It carries on from there through the scrub to the Col.

If you say it quickly, it doesn’t sound too bad does it?  But it was brutal.  Here’s a shot of well known (brilliant) Bermuda artist, Jonah Jones, making up the last couple of turns to the Col.  It gives you sense of just how steep, narrow and generally knarly the track is.


Jason Piney paced me from the beginning of the track but, after a breath stop by a mountain farm, he had too much beans for me, so I settled into a slower rhythm.  He did shout encouragement (or was that obscenities?) from above, which spurred me on.  I was sorely tempted to stop but I’m glad I didn’t – I soon emerged into the last couple of turns, which were really rough going and in sight of the Col.  I made it to the Col about half way down the field, which was a great result after the disappointments of last year.  As I watched the other riders as pin pricks coming up the mountain, I couldn’t help thinking “thank goodness I’m not back down there”.  Some casualties – Chik came off twice on the ruts and has a bloody leg to show for it, and Mark Allitt had bad cramps that hampered his usual style.  The sweeper van came into use but I will spare the blushes of those who succumbed.

A very relieved, tired but happy chap at the top:


And for those who were sorely tempted to come but didn’t (or couldn’t – Ruth Costello, Tim Everest, Dennis Fagundo and John Milsom), here’s something of what you missed:

The team viewing from the top

Despite the sun, it started to get chilly at the top, so after waiting for most of the riders, the main group donned the softshell jacket from the team kit (Castelli – great gear) and we started a fast descent down the other side.  I caught a very narrow escape on the GoPro as a cow wandered across the road (I’ll put that on YouTube in due course) and a very fast descent by our amateur standards – I hit 40 mph – sweeping through the (blind) corners.

This year, we adopted a different approach of doing most of the cycling before lunch, so we could relax over lunch and have a longer recovery before dinner. We had a fantastic venue for lunch, in a village in the valley below the Col:

Lunch stop viewed from the well

After lunch a short (but hard – thanks Olli and Jason) ride up to the hotel, I am writing this with a beer next to me.  Knees a little achy but otherwise ok – mind you, I haven’t tried to stand up for an hour!

Kudos to Lionel and some of the hard core cyclists – they did another 30k afterwards. Er…not me.

More fun tomorrow.


T2MC – day – minus 1

4 Sep

The day didn’t start well.  All my own fault of course.

The night before, staying with my great friend John Dutton in Bray before travelling to Gatwick for the Turin flight, I “popped down to the Crown” to meet him.  It was quiz night – always a recipe for disaster and, worse, we won.  That called for a few more drinks to celebrate and then further toasting the victory back at John’s with Rioja.  Hardly the preparation you would expect for a trip to the Alps under pedal power.

Head feeling very fuzzy, I arrived at Gatwick and soon met up with around half the T2MCers for the 1.30pm flight to Turin.   We flew over the Alps, Mont Blanc was snow capped and glaciated and the view South over the mountains – were we are headed – was sensational.

We landed in Turin and it was baking hot.  After a short transfer, we arrived at our hotel and the process of building up the bikes began.  The backdrop of the alpine foothills was spectacular (see Chik’s blog http://chikashimiyamoto.wordpress.com  for a super shot of from the hotel).


Dinner was a great opportunity to meet the new riders (who didn’t do last year’s G2MC).  Due to a last minute cancellation, Gideon – our tour manager from last year – was able to join us, together with Claude and Pete.  The only new face was the tour doctor – Julian, with a shock of very impressive “Stuart Granger” hair.

After a welcome from me and briefing from Gideon, there was a hearty dinner and relatively early night.  After doing some work emails and calls (Bermuda still very much in play, given the 5 hour time difference) – went to sleep at 12.30am.  That put paid to doing the first blog, hence this is a catch up one day late.

Slept fitfully – thinking of how the wheels came off last year (read the blog below for details) – and also clock watching because a 5.45am alarm – we were due to hit the road by 7am.