Tag Archives: Tour de France

Riding up Mt Ventoux on my Brompton, not once, but three times in a day. Job done.

Brompton and me on way to the top of Mt Ventoux.  This is one of the 3 visits to the summit that I made on 18 June.
Brompton and me on way to the top of Mt Ventoux. This is one of the 3 visits to the summit that I made on 18 June.

I have been lucky enough to have been riding a Brompton for about seven months now.  I say lucky, because this bike really can do it all, as I hope that I have proved by my latest challenge which involved riding up all three roads to the summit of Mt Ventoux in southern France.

A murky summit shot of the Brompton
A murky summit shot of the Brompton

Some say that Mt Ventoux is one of the hardest climbs in France.  Its brutal reputation was enhanced in 1967 when it claimed the life of the famous British cyclist Tommy Simpson, who collapsed and died just 500 metres away from the summit.  Eddy Merckx, arguably the world’s greatest cyclist, required oxygen at the summit after his battle with the mountain in 1970.  Roland Barthes, a French philosopher said, “Ventoux is the god of evil, to which sacrifices must be made. It never forgives weakness and extracts an unfair tribute of suffering.”
For me, the appeal of Mt Ventoux is that you actually ride to the summit.  Most mountain stages on the three of the Grand Tours (Giro d’Italia, Tour de France and Vuelta d’Espana) ride over “Cols”, the lowest point on a mountain ridge between two peaks, so you are rarely at the summit of a mountain.  This is logical, as why would road builders and engineers build roads up to the top of mountains, when they don’t need to?  Mt Ventoux is different, because the road goes right over the summit and when you are there you are on the roof of Provence, with no other mountains looming over you.  I find this quite a special feature.
So on a wet Friday lunchtime I got on the Eurostar (a train that goes from London to Paris) with my Brompton packed into the Brompton B Bag.  Once in Paris, I used the Metro to travel from Gare du Nord to Gare de Lyon where I got on the TGV (a French high speed train) to Avignon.  From Avignon it was just a short journey to my start point in Bedoin.  For me, having been a cyclist for many years now, one of the highlights of the Brompton is the ease with which you can take it anywhere; put it on a train, plane or bus, with minimal fuss and hassle, and have a bike with you at your destination.  In fact, according to both Eurostar and the French Railway Authorities, bikes aren’t even allowed on their high speed trains without prior arrangement.  No such issue when travelling with a Brompton.  Nobody even questioned me, with my Brompton safely packed in its B Bag, which conveniently fits into the luggage racks like a suitcase.  And once at your destination, it is a few seconds to unpack your bike and you are ready to ride – so simple.

Don't tell anyone, but there is actually a bike in the bag.  Brompton B Bag #MadeForTravelling
Don’t tell anyone, but there is actually a bike in the bag. Brompton B Bag #MadeForTravelling

On Saturday morning, I set out to ride all the three routes to the summit. My plan was simple:
• Bedoin to the summit
• Descend to Malaucene
• Eat something
• Malaucene to the summit
• Descend to Sault
• Eat something
• Sault to the summit
• Back to Bedoin.
• Eat, shower and sleep!
• Return home
Please excuse my lack of artistic talent, but this was my pictorial representation of what I was going to do.  You will notice that the total ascent in metres was 4400 (14,400ft), which equals a tough mountain stage in the Tour de France.

The plan for the day
The plan for the day

And I have to say that it all went to plan.  I only took one summit shot, as the weather conditions deteriorated throughout the day, going from light drizzle through to thunderstorms with some hail thrown in for good measure.  But actually, the rain had quite a nice cooling effect on the way up and overheating and dehydration were not going to be an issue.
I also stopped to take a photo of the weather station, getting a good view from the ride up from Malaucene.  I could not help thinking that it looks quite like a giant syringe, a touch ironic given cycling’s shady history with doping.

Weather station or giant syringe?  Mt Ventoux
Weather station or giant syringe? Mont Ventoux

And to reinforce the syringe image, I found this poster in Bedoin…

The giant syringe of Mont Ventoux
The giant syringe of Mont Ventoux

I am constantly amazed at what this bike can do.  Mountains, long distance, commuting, travelling, you name it.  This bike can do it all.  With a bit of modification to carry water bottles, I would happily ride this bike anywhere, any distance, any time.

Bottle carriage on a Brompton
Bottle carriage on a Brompton

Yes, it might be slightly heavier than your average road bike, but it is twice as robust and can travel with you anywhere.  Yes, you may get lots of people asking you about it, but that’s what happens when you are riding a fantastic piece of British innovation.  Yes, you might get a few strange looks, but I say “bring it on” and now ask me how far I’m going?  For me, this all adds to its appeal. I have loved bicycles all of my life.  I have quite a few of them.  And do you know what, knowing what a Brompton is capable of, I could probably sell them all and just ride a Brompton for the rest of my life.

#ImPerfect #ThisBikeCanDoItAll
#ImPerfect
#ThisBikeCanDoItAll
Safely home.  This bike is made for small spaces.
Safely home. This bike is made for small spaces.

Thanks for reading.  If you would like to get in touch, please follow me on Twitter and contact me via this social media channel.  If I am mentioned in your Tweet, I will always get back to you.  Thank you for taking time out to read my post.


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21 Stages of the Tour de France and 21 Random Observations

Between 27 June and 19 July 2015, I rode every stage of the 2015 version of the Tour de France.  That is 21 Stages (Etapes) in total, so I thought that I would make 21 random observations about my journey.

1.  The Tour de Force is a brilliant organisation.  From the beginning of the whole journey right through to the end, all the staff go that extra mile to make the whole Tour de France experience a wonderful one and I cannot recommend them highly enough.

Sarah Perry, one of the most talented logisticians in the world. There is literally nothing that she cannot do!
Sarah Perry, one of the most talented logisticians in the world. There is literally nothing that she cannot do!

2.  Food rules the world when cycling.  I consumed in excess of 43,000 calories during the Tour, with no associated weight gain or loss.  I usually needed a bit more than the average French hotel evening meal to satisfy me!

Typical evening meal in a French hotel
Typical evening meal in a French hotel

3.  Sunflowers are an integral part of Le Tour.

The sunflower shot!
The sunflower shot!

4.  Life is simple with direction.  I followed these black arrows on yellow backgrounds around the whole of the route for 3 weeks.  No issues.  I am, however, finding it a bit tough to readjust to a life without arrows – I even got lost on my commute to work on my first day back!

Good directions!
Good directions!

5.  There is a lot of climbing in a 3 week Tour de France route.  During this year’s route, we rode 59,000 metres of vertical ascent.  That is the equivalent of 6.7 ascents of Mt Everest.

Col d'Allos, the highest point of this year's Tour
Col d’Allos, the highest point of this year’s Tour
Col de la Croix de Fer - also quite high
Col de la Croix de Fer – also quite high

6.  Cobbles – why would you want to race over them on a road bike?  No, seriously, I don’t get it.  On a mountain bike, maybe.  But on a road bike no.  They are just dusty farmers tracks.

Why put your road bike through this?
Why put your road bike through this?
One of the sectors
One of the sectors

7.  A clean bike is a fast bike.  My bike wasn’t the most aero, or most expensive, but it was one of the cleanest in the peleton.  I even wrote a post about cleaning your chain.  Bottom line is “keep your bike clean” and it will go faster.

A clean bike is a fast bike
FACT – A clean bike is a fast bike

8.  It is possible to ride the Tour drug free, but coke helps.

A can of coke can work wonders.
A can of coke can work wonders.

9.  Tour mania.  If the Tour comes to town, it is an excuse to get that rusty bike out of the shed, paint it up and put it on the roadside.

One of the thousands of painted bikes at the roadside.
One of the thousands of painted bikes at the roadside.

10.  Cycling can be a dangerous sport.  Broken bikes, broken legs, broken collarbones and lots of gravel rash.  This all happened during Le Tour.

11.  Mitigating risks.  The risks above can be mitigated somewhat by riding with people you know and trust and who communicate well.  That is why I rode with my two trusted Tour buddies and we made it to Paris without incident.

And me with riding buddies.
Me and my riding buddies.  (Peter on the left and Sylvain on the right).

12.  Money doesn’t grow on trees, but apparently bikes do!

The Bike Tree
The Bike Tree.

13.  France has some seriously beautiful countryside.  Particular highlights for me were the Pyrenees, the Gorges du Tarn and the Alps.

The Pyrenees
The Pyrenees
Gorges du Tarn
Gorges du Tarn
The Alps.
The Alps.

14.  Tour life isn’t that glamorous.  It’s not all podium girls and champagne.

Podium girls
Podium girls
And celebrations...
And celebrations…

In fact, it is quite the opposite.  Different hotels every night, washing kit, cleaning bikes and eating.  I wrote a post on the daily routine whilst on Tour here.

15.  Support from family, friends, colleagues and local business makes a real difference.  I got loads of support from all the above throughout the whole event and it made a massive difference.  Nineteen of my family and friends turned up in Paris to welcome me to the finish line.  An ex boss turned up at Alpe d’Huez to support me on the way up (probably one of the reasons I was able to do a 51 minute ascent of the hill).  My colleagues at work followed and supported me via social media whilst I was away.  The local opticians, in a random act of kindness, provided me with an awesome pair of Oakley Radarlocks and ran a collection tin for me.  It all meant so much and was fantastic.

Support from work colleagues.
Support from work colleagues.
Support from an ex boss on Alpe d'Huez
Support from an ex boss on Alpe d’Huez
Support from my family. This is my daughter and me in Paris.
Support from my family. This is my daughter and me in Paris.

16.  I am actually quite a good cyclist.  All my training paid off and I completed the Tour comfortably.  I have added a couple of Strava screenshots to reinforce my claim that I am quite good.

Note my name at the KOM slot at the top. Then see barguil warren at the bottom. Warren Barguil is the chap who knocked Geraint Thomas off his bike on the descent of Col de Manse on Stage 16 of the Tour de France.
Note my name at the KOM slot at the top. Then see barguil warren at the bottom. Warren Barguil is the chap who knocked Geraint Thomas off his bike on the descent of Col de Manse on Stage 16 of the Tour de France 2015.
Note the names directly above and below me. Jeremy Roy, pro cyclist with FDJ and Alex Dowsett, pro cyclist with Movistar and hour record holder before Bradley Wiggins took it off him.
Note the names directly above and below me. Jeremy Roy, pro cyclist with FDJ and Alex Dowsett, pro cyclist with Movistar and hour record holder before Bradley Wiggins took it off him.

I also managed a sub hour ascent of Alpe d’Huez, which is apparently a respectable time.  I did it in 51 minutes with 20 stages and about 3400km already in the legs, so not too shabby.

17.  P20 suncream is awesome.  One application pre-breakfast and no further suncream faff required, which is pretty impressive, especially when you consider that the mercury touched 42 degrees Celsius (107 degrees Fahrenheit) on occasions.

18.  Hydration becomes an obsession.  Riding long distances every day, in some pretty hot temperatures (42 degrees Celsius or 107 degrees Fahrenheit on a couple of occasions) makes you become obsessive about your hydration state.  I was probably drinking around 5 litres a day on the bike and another 5 litres a day off the bike.  Needless to say, I never made it through the night without a visit to the bathroom (but at least that it meant that I was properly hydrated).

19.  Continental Grand Prix 4 Season Tyres are the best.  Period.  I rode 3427km on them, over every conceivable road surface, including cobbles and gravel, and did not get one single puncture.

If Heineken made tyres.
If Heineken made tyres.

20.  Fundraising is fun.  Raising money for the William Wates Memorial Trust has been very satisfying, especially when you know that the money you raise is going to have a significant positive impact on the life of a disadvantaged young person in the UK.  To date I have raised about £4062, which really will make a difference.  My donation page is still live at this link.

21.  My last observation is about PMA (Positive Mental Attitude).  The mind is a wonderful thing.  I woke up each morning excited about being able to ride my bike all day.  (I love riding my bike, so this was a real treat for me).  This positive outlook make the whole experience really enjoyable and I honestly believe that my positive mindset make the whole journey so much easier.

Thanks for reading my post.

 

 

 

Stage 21 – The Final Push to Paris

Day 21 stats

 

In Paris!
In Paris!

Saddle time for today – 2 hours 15 minutes

Saddle time cumulative – 134 hours

Total distance covered since start in Utrecht on 27 June – 3427km (2130 miles)

Wow, it’s all over and I have made it safely to Paris.  It was so lovely to be greeted by family and friends on my arrival into Paris.  There were 19 in total, which is a most impressive support team – thanks everyone.  An evening cruise, eating and drinking on the River Seine with some of my family and all my fellow cyclists was a lovely ending to a wonderful tour.

Peter and me at the end
Peter and me at the end
Me and the Untypical Athletes
Me and the Untypical Athletes
Reunited with my lovely daughter
Reunited with my lovely daughter
And reunited with my lovely wife
And reunited with my lovely wife

Amount raised for William Wates Memorial Trust so far:  £3736.  Thank you to the following for the latest donations:  Mervyn Davidson, Aunty Gillian, Glen Batty and Katharine & Suria Perera.  If anyone else would like to increase this total amount raised so far, please use this link to my charity page.  I will personally thank you in the next post.

Stage 20 – summit finish on the iconic Alpe d’Huez

Day 20 stats

 

Xicon, the bike and me at the top of Alpe d'Huez
Xicon, the bike and me at the top of Alpe d’Huez

Saddle time for today – 4 hours and 55 minutes

Saddle time cumulative – 131 hours and 50 minutes

Actual distance covered to date – 3373km

Three weeks of riding and this was the last hurdle before the finish in Paris.  Only 110km, how hard can that be?  Well quite hard when you factor in 3 weeks of riding and then the infamous climbs of the Col de la Croix de Fer (this time from the other side) and the mighty Alpe d’Huez.

Many have climbed the famous Alpe d’Huez, but none as fast as Marco Pantani in 1997.  Helmetless, with that famous earring in place, Pantani exploded into action on the lower slopes at the end of Stage 13.  He took Jan Ullrich and Richard Virenque with him.  First Virenque cracked and then Ullrich.  Pantani took his second solo victory on the Alpe in three years.  Even with what we now know about this era, it remains visceral, thrilling viewing. It is worth a watch on YouTube, and the Italian commentary makes it even more atmospheric!

I actually really enjoyed the stage and am really pleased to have got this far safely and still feeling strong.  In fact, I even managed to do a sub 1 hour ascent of Alpe d’Huez (51 minutes actually) which is meant to be pretty good, especially when I consider that this is at the end of 3 weeks of riding and with more than 3000km in the legs.  So, yes, I am rather pleased with myself.

Burning some matches on Alpe d'Huez
Burning some matches on Alpe d’Huez

I was also rather pleased to see my old boss, from my seismic days, John O’Connor turn up to support me (or hurl abuse at me), from his van all the way up Alpe d’Huez.  Support from family and friends on the roadside really does make you ride faster – FACT!

John O'Connor (ex boss) and me at top of Alpe d'Huez
John O’Connor (ex boss) and me at top of Alpe d’Huez

Amount raised for William Wates Memorial Trust so far:  £3586.  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 17 – Pra Loup finish

Day 17 stats

Col d'Allos and Pra Loup.
Col d’Allos and Pra Loup.

Saddle time for today – 6 hours 45 minutes

Total ascent – 3311 metres

Saddle time cumulative – 111 hours 30 minutes

This was Stage 5 of the Criterium Dauphine this year and the scene of the epic attack on the descent of Col d’Allos by Romain Bardet.  He took enough time out of peleton on his descent off the col to enable him to keep the chasing group at bay on the final ascent of Pra Loup and take the stage victory.  It was a super impressive display of talent and I wrote about it at the time.  If you want to have a look, click here.  I, however, didn’t come down the Col d’Allos as quickly.  I did enjoy the Col though, both up and down it.  It was also the highest point of this year’s Tour route.  Spectacular views all round.  We then headed up to the summit finish at Pra Loup, which is where Bernard Thevenet ended Eddy Merckx’s reign and took the Yellow Jersey.  This is a photo of the location where he rode away from Merckx in 1975.

On the road up to Pra Loup, the place where the Cannibal's reign came to an end.
On the road up to Pra Loup, the place where the Cannibal’s reign came to an end.
Xicon, the bike, on the Col d'Allos - the highest point of this year's Tour
Xicon, the bike, on the Col d’Allos – the highest point of this year’s Tour

Amount raised for William Wates Memorial Trust so far:  £3586.  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.

Rest Day 2 (of 2) – Bastille Day

Rest day 2 stats

Saddle time for today – 0 minutes (unless you count 5 minutes riding around the car park checking over my bike post cleaning).

Saddle time cumulative – 104 hours and 45 minutes

So today is the final rest day in Gap.  Have completed my normal bike cleaning and other faff and am now taking it easy, reflecting on my Tour so far.  All has been good, I have been riding with a couple of lads of a similar standard to me and we have, most importantly, stayed safe so far.  It is good to cycle with wheels that you trust – it makes it a lot less stressful than riding in a big bunch of unknowns.

Looking ahead, we have four Alpine stages that I am really looking forward to, then Paris and family reunions, which I am most excited about.

Anyway, after last night’s supper I think that I might need to go and find some more food, a chicken leg, one potato and some courgettes, irrelevant how delicious it was, it not going to sustain me for 4 hard days in the Alps.

Fuel for the Alps?
Fuel for the Alps?

Amount raised for William Wates Memorial Trust so far:  £3586.  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 16 – To Gap

Day 16 stats

Not quite a mountain stage - but near enough.
Not quite a mountain stage – but near enough.

Saddle time for today – 7 hours 20 minutes

Saddle time cumulative -104 hours and  45 minutes

Today was the last transition stage and we are now in Gap in the foothills of the Alps.  Tomorrow is Rest Day 2, so it is a bit of a luxury lie in tomorrow morning, with a bit of bike cleaning and watching the Tour ride up Pierre St Martin slightly quicker than I did last week.

It was a pleasant ride with my ride buddies, Peter and Sylvain.  The smell of the lavender fields was very pleasant.  The roads were good and we had a couple of nice ascents and descents along the way to keep it interesting.

Me with the Alps in the background
Me with the Alps in the background
Xicon, the bike, with his Pinarello friends.
Xicon, the bike, with his Pinarello friends.
And me with my friends, Sylvain and Peter.
And me with my friends, Sylvain and Peter.

Amount raised for William Wates Memorial Trust so far:  £3586.  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 15 – Mende to Valence

Day 15 stats

Definitely a day for the sprinters.
Definitely a day for the sprinters.

Saddle time for today – 7 hours 20 minutes

Saddle time cumulative – 97 hours 25 minutes

Today was another hot transition stage towards the Alps.  Fairly uneventful until one of my two ride buddies got a bit too hot near the end of the stage.  I hope he recovers well this evening.  The road was pretty good, lots of Tourmac and some really enjoyable fast descents.

Titanium bikes rock!  Xicon with some friends.
Titanium bikes rock! Xicon with some friends.
Tiffy Laing and Jake French in identical kit and bikes - respect!
Tiffy Laing and Jake French in identical kit and bikes – respect!

Amount raised for William Wates Memorial Trust so far:  £3586.  Thanks to Paul Campbell for the latest 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 14 – Riding through the Gorges du Tarn

Day 14 stats

Another transition day!
Another transition day!

Saddle time for today – 7 hour 10 minutes

Saddle time cumulative – 90 hours

Total actual distance so far – 2371km

Today was another transition stage, through the beautiful Gorges du Tarn and under the very impressive Millau viaduct.  It was a warm one again, with a couple of cheeky climbs thrown in for good measure.  The final one to the finish line was a Cat 2, known as the Cote de la Croix Neuve outside Mende, which is only 3km long but averages out at 10%, so was quite a challange at the end of a long hot day.

Couple of photos of the Xicon, the bike along the way:

Xicon with Millau Viaduct in the background.
Xicon with Millau Viaduct in the background.
Xicon in the Gorges du Tarn.
Xicon in the Gorges du Tarn.

And some roundabout decoration.

Traditional Tour de France roundabout decoration.
Traditional Tour de France roundabout decoration.

I have also invented a new word.  Let me explain.  Basically, if the Tour is coming through your town or village, it seems to be an excuse to get the road resurfaced with silky smooth tarmac, which from hence forth, shall be known as TOURMAC.  As we are riding the route, we are treated to quite a lot of Tourmac each day.  I wish the Tour would come to Oxfordshire!

Amount raised for William Wates Memorial Trust so far:  £3566.  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 13 – Sunflower Stage

Day 13 stats

A transition stage!
A transition stage!

Saddle time for today – 7 hours and 20 minutes

Saddle time cumulative – 82 hours and 45 minutes

The day started in Muret.  It is said that the town produced the world’s first motorised flying machine 13 years before the Wright Brother took off.  I certainly wasn’t flying today after 3 hard days in the Pyrenees!  That said, I really enjoyed the stage.  It was the Sunflower Stage, beautiful rolling countryside and very hot.  This stage is the first of 4 transition stages to the Alps.  You would be crazy to think that they are easy, the roads through this area are very undulating, and in the 195km of today, there was about 2400 metres of climbing.  I loved it, but am looking forward to my supper later on.

IMG_20150710_091150

Amount raised for William Wates Memorial Trust so far:  £3566.  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.