Stage 4

Day 4 stats

Saddle time for today – 7 hours 50 mins for 235 km

Saddle time cumulative – 21 hours 40 mins

Riding the cobbles on Stage 4 of Le Tour

The longest stage of the Tour was today, and we covered 236km with a few sectors of pave (cobbles) thrown in for good measure.  Don’t know what all the fuss is all about?  Yes I can ride cobbles, but I don’t particularly like them.  On a cross bike, yes, on a road bike not so great.  Anyway, it was a long, hot day and I tapped it out with a couple of riding buddies, Sylvan for most of the day and joined by Nick, Dave, Big George and Peter for some of it.  Glad to get the cobbled stage over with safely.  Just 195km tomorrow!

Amount raised for William Wates Memorial Trust so far:  £3532.  Thank you Charlie and Tracy for the great donation.  If you would like to increase this amount, please use this link to my charity page.  I will personally thank you in the next post.

Stage 3 with finish on the Mur de Huy

Day 3 stats

Mur de Huy uphill finish!
Mur de Huy uphill finish!

Saddle time for today – 6 hours

Saddle time cumulative – 13 hours 55 minutes

This may look like fairly easy stage from the profile, but believe me when I say that the Mur de Huy uphill finish was quite a challenge at the end of a longish day.  Granted, it is only 1.3 kilometres long, but it touches 19% at it steepest and averages around 10%.  It has been the finish of La Fleche Wallonne, the famous one-day race, since 1984.  Bagged three 4th Cat climbs and one 3rd Cat climb today.  If you want an explanation of how climbs are categorised, I wrote a post about it here.

Anyway, best get some sleep now for the longest stage of this year’s Tour de France route tomorrow.  It comes in at 222km, with a few sectors of pave (cobbles) thrown in for good measure.  Interesting fact, it is the shortest “longest” stage in Tour history.  OK it was not that interesting, but in the early 1920 the longest stages were in excess of 400km!  They were tough back then!  Also, tomorrrow, the Tour enters France after 2 stages in the Netherlands and one in Belgium today.

Amount raised for William Wates Memorial Trust so far:  £3431.  Thank you to the Carters and my boss Brigadier Huntley for the most recent donations.  If you would like to increase this amount, please use this link to my charity page.  I will personally thank you in the next post.

Stage 2

Day 2 stats

 

Some proper distance in the bank.  178km (did take a slight detour).

Saddle time for today – 7 hrs

Saddle time cumulative – 7 hrs 50 minutes

The finish today was in Zeeland, which is the westernmost province of the Netherlands.  It comprises three fingers of land jutting into the North Sea, and its residents have had to face the constant threat of flooding through the centuries.

It wasn’t the water that we had to battle with today, we had to battle another force of nature – the wind.  But I have to say that it was fairly kind to us.  A lot of the route today was exposed flatlands, where gusts blow in unchecked off the sea.  It was like a summer stroll along Holland’s picturesque coastline, following random bike paths for most of the day.  I have to say  that the Dutch have got this cycling thing sorted.

We also had a surprise visit from Big George Hincapie who rode with us all day.  Or is he a replica!

Surprise visit by Big George Hincapie
Surprise visit by Big George Hincapie

Amount raised for William Wates Memorial Trust so far:  £3361.  If you would like to increase this amount, please use this link to my charity page.  I will personally thank you in the next post.

Stage 3 tomorrow and we finish on the Mur de Huy – can’t wait.

Stage 1 of my Tour de France journey

Only a short opening day
Only a short opening day

Day 1 in the bag.  14km complete, (well actually 18km because we rode from the hotel) 3268km to go!  This first day is just the opening time trial, hence the short distance.  Proper day tomorrow, 166km, so slightly over the Century (100 mile) mark.  We rode around the cycle paths and had to obey traffice signs, so there was plenty of stopping and starting.  I have a feeling that no other day will be as easy as today!

Utrecht is a place of great religious significance and home to one of Europe’s oldest universities.  In fact, if my memory serves me correctly, I think that either the first of second Viscount Barrington, who lived in Beckett House, Shrivenham in the 1700s may well have studied here.  I only mention that because I currently work at the aforementioned house.  It is also the home of Miffy!

Utrecht - the home of Miffy.
Utrecht – the home of Miffy.

Utrecht has fully embraced Le Grand Depart of Le Tour, which starts here next Saturday.

Utrecht and Le Grand Depart
Utrecht and Le Grand Depart

Saddle time today – 50 minutes

Saddle time cumulative – 50 minutes

Amount raised for William Wates Memorial Trust so far:  £3361.  If you would like to increase this amount, please use this link to my charity page.  I will personally thank you in the next post.

If you are interested in the route, please go to Rides and look for Stage 1 at the bottom of this page.

So far, so good.  May the good times continue.

I wonder if Ed Stafford would approve – is it crazy enough?

Ed and Jerry
Ed and Jerry

As I am about to embark on my crazy ride around this year’s Tour de France route with the Tour de Force, I wonder if my old buddy, Ed Stafford would deem it suitably crazy?

He and I served together a long time ago, before he became a famous explorer.  I think that I will draw comfort from the fact that my little adventure will take 23 days compared to Ed’s 860 days, where he walked the entire length of the Amazon from its source to the sea.  Makes my trip sound like a micro adventure!  I will remind myself of that when I am feeling sluggish or tired and my mantra will be “Ed would eat this for breakfast”.

I, like Ed, am also doing my adventure to raise money for an awesome charity.  If you would like to donate, please follow this link to my donation page.  Thanks.

 

How to beat Team Sky on the Tour de France

Having just watched an epic week of racing at the Criterium  du Dauphine, I have seen how Team Sky could potentially be beaten on the Tour de France.

Chris Froome (Team Sky) snatched victory from Tejay van Garderen (BMC Racing Team) after a solo break on the last climb which gave him the overall.  As normal, Team Sky made it as difficult as possible for everyone else, softening up the favourites with a blistering pace in the run up to the final climb, before Froome put in his attack with about 2.5k to go.  This gave him the 10 second time bonus for the stage win and the extra 18 seconds that he had but into Tejay, giving an overall victory of 10 seconds.

So 18 seconds on a savage attack up hill is what Froome was able to take out on the others.  Gone are the days of taking minutes out on your rivals going up mountains.  The GC hopefuls are all awesome climbers.  The new place to make significant time gaps (and beat Team Sky) may be the downhills.  This was highlighted on Stage 5, where Romain Bardet, from AG2R, launched an attacked just prior to the top of Col d’Allos and then descended like a legend to take 1 minute and 23 seconds out on the Sky train and hold on to his lead up the final, short climb of Pra Loup to take the stage victory.  Chapeau!  See this YouTube clip for some epic descending skills.

And with this in mind, and some other great descenders (Nibali and Contador to name just two of the GC riders), the 2015 edition of Le Tour could be very interesting.

However, any article about descending skills has to include the epic Alpine descent of Fabian Cancellara in the Tour de France about 5 years ago. Picture the scene, he is in the Yellow Jersey, has a mechanical near the top of a climb and the peleton continue on without him. His Team car fix the problem and Fabian has to catch them back up on the descent to remain in Yellow. This 7 minute YouTube clip is a Masterclass in Descending. Take particular note of how close he cuts in front of the doctor’s car at 3 mins 33 seconds into the clip! Enjoy.

Tapering – Time to Reflect on my Tour de Force Preparation

The last few days or weeks before an event are always the hardest. You are trying to get to the start line, rested, relaxed and as adapted to the demands of the event as possible. However, during these few days, known as the taper, the mind starts messing with you, and the switch from ‘training I’m going to do’ to ‘training I wish I’d done’ clicks in and taper madness follows!

Not for me though.  I have had a plan for my training and taper since I signed up to the Tour de Force all those months ago (eight to be precise) and am sticking to it.  The reduced volume of bike time has allowed me to get my bike and kit ready for my three week trip around the Netherlands, Belgium and France.  With all this extra time I have even had the opportunity to do write some blog posts!

It has also given me a chance to reflect on my training.  It has all gone to plan, and I am where I want to be with just a few days remaining until the start line in Utrecht.  So what are the highlights for me?  In no particular order, they are:

1.  Completing the Rapha 500 Challenge.  Basically you had to ride 500 km in the week between Christmas and New Year.  The distance was not a challenge, but the icy roads were.  A picture from one of my Rapha 500 Challenge epic rides is below.

An Epic Rapha 500 day

2.  Raising money for the fantastic William Wates Memorial Trust.  This trust really does make a difference for some young, disadvantaged kids in the United Kingdom.  I also went back to my roots (my first ever job was as a bike mechanic in The North West Mountain Bike Centre – thanks Andrew Kyffin for teaching me everything I know about bikes) and did some bike maintenance for friends and colleagues, who then donated money for my time.  If you would like to help raise even more money, please visit my Charity page.

3.  I’ve tried some new types of cycling.  I even did an Audax in February.  I did also attempt to enter a Time Trial, but unfortunately the event was cancelled to a road traffic accident on the course.

4.  I have ridden my bike pretty consistently and have been very committed to training for the Tour de Force.

5.  I have completed at least one solo centuries each month since November.  Some months I have done more.  At the end of May I did my Benchmark Ride, which was to crack a solo century in sub 5 hours.

6.  I have ridden  the distance of the longest stage of this year’s Tour on my own to give myself a bit of confidence  (Stage 4 Seraing to Cambrai is 221km long).

7.  I have done some interval training and mastered the art of riding on rollers.

8.  I have handed out some pain to my riding buddies.  This little YouTube clip is me dishing out some hurt on one of them on my local hills.

9.  I have bought lots of extra kit.  The Garmin Virb footage above is just one example!

10.  And I have made some new friends along the way.  A week of riding with the Tenby Aces springs to mind as a particular highlight.

So for me, tapering rocks.  Roll on Utrecht.

 

My Benchmark Ride

So I set myself a goal about 7 months about when I signed up to ride this year’s Tour de France route with the Tour de Force. The goal was to ride a sub 5 hour century (100 miles or 161km) on my own prior to the start in Utrecht on 27 June 2015.  I achieved this on 30 May 2015, so was rather pleased with myself and my preparation. I feel ready, both physically and mentally for the challenges that lay ahead. All I need to do now is to stay healthy and fit and the Tour should go well.

How are cycling climbs categorised?

The Citreon 2CV - the climb categoriser
The Citreon 2CV – the climb categoriser

Climbs on the Tour de France (and all Grand Tours and bike races) are categorised. I thought it would be useful to write this little post, so that you know what I am talking about when I say something like “Today’s stage was savage: there was one 2nd Category climb, two 1st Category climbs and a Hors Category (HC) climb…..”

I was once told that the climb classification was originally worked out using a good old Citroen 2CV.  As I once used to drive a 2CV, I could relate to it.  The story goes that if the car could make it up the climb in 4th gear, it was a Category 4 climb; if it could get up in 3rd gear, it was a Category 3 climb; and so on up to 1st gear. If the little car could not get up the climb, it was Hors Category (HC) which means “without category”.

So in terms of effort, I could simplify it even further:

Category 4 climb – Moderate 

Category 3 climb – Hard 

Category 2 climb – Really hard

Category 1 climb – Really very hard

HC climb – Really very extremely hard

So there you have it – simples!

Even today, the way a climb is categorised is not much more scientific, although a bit of subjectivity is thrown in for good measure and the organisers of the Grand Tours sometime increase the category of a particular climb to light the race up and increase the King of the Mountains (KOM) points.

And for the record, during my Tour de France ride of 2015 I will be riding the following number of categorised climbs during my 21 Stage thrash around France:

18 x Category 4 climbs
13 x Category 3 climbs
12 x Category 2 climbs
7 x Category 1 climbs
7 x Hors Category climbs

If you would like to sponsor me for my efforts, raising money for the William Wates Memorial Trust, please do so by following this link to my charity fundraising page.

Kit List for Tour de Force

This summer I am riding the whole of the Tour de France, a week before the race itself, but over the same three week time frame.  I will be staying hotels at night, so weight is not an issue.  In addition to my bike, the picture shows what kit I will be packing.  And it all fits nicely into one easy to carry bag.

Packing for Tour de Force 2015

 

Kit list of what I am taking on my 3 week adventure around France:

1.  Helmet

2.  Cycling shoes

3.  Oakley Radar Locks

4.  Plenty of matching bibs shorts and jerseys

5.  Buff/ neck warmer

6.  Garmin 810 cycle computer

7.  Heart rate monitor strap

8.  Mobile phone

9.  Gilet

10.  Chamois cream

11.  Emergency road side repair kit (including spare tube, pump, multi-tool, tyre levers and quick link, all packed away neatly in a Lezyne pouch)

12.  Selection of arm warmers, knee warmers and leg warmers

13.  Socks and overshoes

14.  Short fingered gloves

15.  Undervests

16.  Skratch Labs hydration product

17.  Toe covers

18.  Under helmet skull cap

19.  Long fingered gloves

20.  Recovery tights for evening

21.  Recovery shakes and mixer

22.  Physio band for stretching

23.  Travel Stick for self massage

24.  First aid and wash kit (including suncream, earplugs and multi vitamins)

25.  Charging cables and travel adapter

26.  Travel documentation (including passpost, insurance, travel tickets, money and E111)

27.  Decaffinated tea bags x 24

28.  Tech (including on bike camera, iPod, tablet and Kindle)

29.  Travel pillow (for bus transfers)

30.  Evening wear

31.  Rain jacket and long sleeve jersey

32.  Bike spares (including new cleats, tyres, tubes, favourite lube and most importantly, a spare derailleur hanger)

So far I have raised about £3000 ( 4500 USD) for the awesome William Wates Memorial Trust.  If you would like to increase that amount, please do so using this link.  Thank you in anticipation.