Life in the Bubble

Life during the tour was somewhat strange in parts for the riders. The further through the tour we got, the more strange it seemed to become.

“If it doesn’t begin with a 2 it’s a recovery day”

The thing I found most odd was what became normal to us in terms of a ride. I remember quite vividly my first ever 100 mile (160km) ride during training for the tour, it wasn’t that long ago. By midway through the tour, any stage which did not cover at least this distance we had started to view as “easy” days, chances for us to recover a bit. Rides which were less than 100km (a nice evening training ride before the tour) were almost annoying due to the faff involved getting into kit, etc.

Eat, eat and eat some more

During the tour we ate a lot, a awful lot! In order to ensure we always had enough energy we generally had four feed stops in a day, one of which was lunch. This was in addition to breakfast and dinner. Breakfast was generally buffet style and I’d say we made the most of it, bowls of cereal, yoghurt, fruit, croissants and rolls. You’d think that this would keep us going until lunch, but no, by the time of the first feed stop (around 40km, maybe an hour and a half later) our stomachs would be feeling empty and we’d be cramming cakes, sandwiches and fruit in like we’d missed breakfast. This would be repeated at the second, lunch and final feed stops of the day. Dinner couldn’t come to soon either, with some riders having a pre-dinner meal at some local establishment, typically involving burgers of some description.

Pain, a welcome companion

The Tour de France is tough, very tough, pushing even the worlds best athletes to their limits. For a normal person to do this is madness, a huge challenge to even the best club riders. Even the best riders had their moments when they had pushed themselves to their limits and then beyond, when your legs are screaming out to you to let it end (and you have to say, as Jens Voigt said, “shut up legs”). To get through this it isn’t enough to ignore the pain; it is going to get worse and at some point you can’t ignore it any longer. Eventually, after a time riding through this you start to welcome it, know that it’s coming and look forward to it. I think for me the latter climbs in the tour is where this happened, I just accepted the fact that they were going to hurt and looked forward to when it did, I knew I was pushing then.

The other side to this is the respect that pushing the pain barrier seems to gain you within the peleton. I know that following my accident (when my leg, hip and arm were all cut and grazed and I was obviously struggling with my back and ribs) being up and ready to go the next day seemed to gain me more acceptance within the group, or at least other riders made it be known that they appreciated the effort.

“No time to say hello, goodbye …”

The tour was hectic, perhaps more for us at the back than the quicker guys but I suspect even for them. A typical tour day started at 6:30am (leaving it as late as possible) to get washed, prepare kit for the day and pack bags to be dropped off before breakfast at 7am then ready to be on the bike at 7:30am. You would then ride for the day and arrive back at the hotel for maybe 5pm to have a massage, shower before dinner at 8pm, maybe some blogging or catching up on emails before sleep, ready to do it all again tomorrow. This was all assuming it was a normal day, some days starting as early as 5am and not arriving back until almost 10pm.

A wheel and some tarmac

How much of France did I see? Certainly not as much a I rode through. I don’t really remember much about several days and have snippets of others. What I do remember a lot of is rear wheels and tarmac. When riding in groups, particularly when riding as a chain gang, you have to pay a lot of attention to the rider in front of you, trying to maintain only a few inches between their rear wheel and your front, in order to maintain the best aerodynamic efficiency. This means that for large parts of a stage, particularly the flatter stages, you spend most of the time looking down at the spot immediately in front of your own front wheel, your surroundings flying past.

Sometimes it is nicer to put in a little more effort and ride alone. At least that way you see some of where you are riding through.

My Tour

I arrived in Corsica both excited and apprehensive, finally arriving at the hotel only 15 minutes before dinner and our first briefing. The following morning the apprehension had gone, I just had to get on with it now and do my best, whether good enough or not. The hotel car park was filled with many similarly excited riders, the anticipation was tangible. Phil rolled us out for the first time and our adventure began. We spent three days in Corsica cycling up the east coast, diagonally down the island then up the west coast. Corsica is a beautiful island and the riding was great, despite a small first day crash for myself. The third day was, by unanimous consent, the most spectacular days riding any of us had ever experienced.

After a very uncomfortable overnight ferry journey we arrived on the mainland, for a short time-trial day through Nice. This allowed us a well deserved afternoon off.

Stage 5 (we had now lost track of days and dates, only referring to stages) turned out to be one of the unexpected highlights of the tour. We rode from Nice to Marseille which was nice enough in itself. What made the day so special however was that we were accompanied by members of the Lorgues Cycle Club. We were to ride through Lorgues that day and Pete, one of the Tour de Force staff now lived there and was a member of the cycle club. Not only did we have the pleasure of the riders company, but their wives and families put on a spectacular lunch for us in the town square.

The next couple of stages took us along the south of France towards the Pyrenees, the first of the tours two visit to the big mountains. Though I’d thought some of the climbs up until now were tough I was about to get an experience of real mountain climbs. Stage 8 was actually a very good day, particularly completing my first HC climb, the Col de Pailheres. It also showed quite graphically just how slow I was in the mountains, as I finished that day after dinner had already started. It was Stage 9 however when some of the realities of riding the Tour came to the fore for myself and others. With five major climbs in the day it was always going to be tough for me. It got tougher on the downhill section of our second climb. I had been becoming quite good at descending, something I had been relying on to make up for my slow ascents. However, on the second descent I got a front wheel puncture and crashed quite heavily. In addition to yet more road rash I also hurt my back and ribs. After progressing up the third climb of the day I really started to struggle on the fourth climb and abandons about 2km from the top.

The following day was a rest day, though it did involve a lengthy bus transfer. This allowed me recovery time from my accident and I was ready to go again, helped by massages and a good supply of painkillers. Fortunately it was a flat stage and we took advantage to practice our group riding, actually getting a very effective chain gang rolling. We then had an excellent time trial stage into Mont-Saint-Michel, despite the rain.

The next four stages saw as cross the heartland of France, finishing at Mont Ventoux. The first three days were generally quite long and flat, nothing too taxing. The final day however was not only ending on Mont Ventoux, but also the longest stage of the tour. The 220km of the stage were not too difficult. The 21km constant climb of Mont Ventoux, on the other hand, was. Arguably the most difficult thing I had ever done. Starting the climb at just after 5pm, I completed it just before 9pm. In the almost four hours ride up the mountain I had to deal with 35C temperatures, lightning storms, hail, torrential rain in addition to fatigue, pain and cramps. It was at time hell, it was also the most amazing feeling to complete. I was also awarded the Chapeau award for my gutsy ride through what were abysmal conditions.

We followed Ventoux with a proper rest day, no transfers to deal with, and spent the day wandering the market, eating and catching up with some sleep. The following couple of days were also fairly short, allowing us some recovery before we hit the Alps, the Big Lumpy Triple as Phil called it, three very tough stages to end the tour.

The first of these was one of my favourite days, the double ascent of l’Alpe d’Huez. The first ascent of the notorious 21 hairpins was tough, in fact at the lunch stop at the top I really wasn’t sure I could go on, the thought of the upcoming descent was worrying me, I had become very nervous of descents since my crash. However, go on I did and after a long time descending I started my second ascent of l’Alpe. This time everything seemed to come together, I fixed my effort level at a certain cadence and pretty much maintained this the whole way up the climb, taking about 15 minutes off my previous time. Arriving at the top after a good ride was exhilarating and I returned to the hotel in very high spirits.

The next day was what I believed to be the killer stage of the tour. Many high category climbs with the HC climbs the Col du Glandon and the Col de la Madeleine right at the start. Completing these climbs I really struggled on the descent of the Madeleine, spending almost an hour in the drop position on the long descent. This unfortunately had my back again spasming in pain, and once again I had to abandon a stage early. I was reminded however that I did do two of the hardest cols in the Alps in a single day, quite an achievement.

The final alpine day and I was again ready to go (more painkillers) and we set off, a relaxed feeling in the air among the riders. It seemed most were out for a more relaxed day than previously. The first part of the day was a couple of climbs, then rolling terrain until the climb up the Semnoz. This climb we had been told was very challenging, averaging about 10% gradient. I really enjoyed this climb however, again finding a cadence I was happy with and just keeping to that the whole way up the hill. The cheer I got (being the last “lifer” home) was amazing, it felt great to know the other riders were so supportive of me, something that had become apparent throughout the tour. Dinner in Annecy was an amazing finale to our experience, everyone feeling that in reality, the tour was now over.

The final day saw us ride into Paris. The highlight for me was seeing the Paris boundary sign, knowing we had made it. Picking up our bottle of bubbly we arrived at the Eiffel Tower in celebratory mood. Bubbly drank, or sprayed around, and pictures taken we headed to the hotel, some celebratory drinks then off to the final night party.

Stage 21

Stage Distance: 46km

Total Distance: 3193km

The final day, we’d made it. Porto-Vecchio seemed a distant memory.

The day started with a final bus transfer to our start point, this time a goat farm outside Rambouillet where we were greeted by some friends and family that were going to ride the stage with us. We were starting here as due to the Bastille Day celebrations in Paris we were unable to ride the Champs Elysees. After a quick lunch we set off, the mood very jovial, much like the actual race on the final day.

We rode for a while reaching Versailles, the actual start of todays stage, where we had a feed stop and were greeted with more friends and family who had come out to support us. It was at this point that I managed to give thanks to the parents of Neil Kemp, who had followed us for the whole three weeks and been very supportive of us all. Hearing their cowbell ringing aloud was always an extra motivator to push that bit harder, or to keep pushing when you felt so tired.

We quickly moved on and the final section of ride began. One final ‘surprise’ climb out of Versailles was the only real challenge of the day and once again I lost those I had been riding with. Waiting at the top however was Trevor and I rode up to him to discover that he’d had a crash. Fortunately it wasn’t bad and we rode to catch up those ahead. We caught them just before we crossed into Paris itself. We all stopped at traffic lights and I noticed the sign marking the boundary of Paris. We’d made it, everyone was shaking hands, slapping backs and hugging. When the lights changed we pushed on.

As we approached the Eiffel Tower we saw Sarah directing us to stop by the van, which wasn’t allowed any closer. She gave us each a bottle of Champagne (or other such fizzy wine, I didn’t pay attention), which we placed precariously in our cycle top back pockets. Carefully we rode the last 100m to where everyone was celebrating. It was a joyous moment, such a great feeling to be there, to have made it. After the celebration Trevor, Chris and myself rode off to our hotel, commenting on the elation at what we had achieved but also the emptiness we felt that tomorrow we would not be out on our bikes.

At the hotel we celebrated again with some incredibly expensive beers, then got ready for the evening’s party.

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Stage 20

Stage Distance: 143km

Total Distance: 3147km

Today was one of those strange days that are hard to put into words. A couple of days ago I had wanted the tour to be over, I was having such a hard time and didn’t want to go through the pain anymore nor spend hours each day riding on my own. This morning however I awoke feeling down that it was all almost over, now not wanting it to end. I even was looking forward to the final climb, placed intentionally right at the end of the day by the organisers so that the race could swing and the last minute. Being 11km at an average gradient of 10% it was no easy finale.

The day started with an group roll out through Annecy. I love Annecy and riding through it when quiet first thing in the morning was amazing. All too soon though we started up the first of several climbs that day and my legs felt like lead. Neil Kemp was riding close by and he gave me a gentle push through the hills to the first feed stop. At one point Neil was pushing me and Phil arrived and pushed Neil. Fortunately someone photographed this moment and the picture has become one of the defining shots of the tour for me, showing the camaraderie and help that everyone gave each other throughout the tour.

We eventually arrived at the first feed stop and everyone seemed in high spirits, taking longer than usual having coffee and Coke in a nearby cafe. Everyone then set off again and for a while I was again riding on my own. Soon however David (a rider from Glasgow) came up and told me he was going to ride along with me today. I was grateful of the company but didn’t want to hold him up, however he told me he wanted to ride slower today, wanting to just enjoy the day. I hope he did, as I did. We joked and laughed our way through the remaining stage. It was a great day despite the never ending up and down of the route, the ‘flat’ sections were particularly rolling.

Eventually we came to the final climb of the day, the road suddenly steepening. Phil had told us the first 4km were the hardest but to be honest we didn’t really see much difference all the way up, the km markers never indicating less than 8% gradient. However I was back in my zone that I had on the second l’Alpe d’Huez climb. I just kept a constant cadence, turning nice circles, going at a nice constant pace. In what seemed like no time at all (though I am sure it was still much longer than the other lifers) we approached the last ramp up where I could see the tour vans opposite a large cafe. Everyone was sitting outside the cafe having a celebratory drink and as I rode past there was a huge cheer and round of applause. I was told later that it was particularly big for me, the last lifer in. The climb wasn’t finished for me though, there was still another short climb to the actual finish and I pushed on to the top, where I stopped my front wheel exactly on the finish line.

After a few photos beside the finish marker and with David we set off downhill to the cafe for a well earned drink and some lunch. After a fair time, a beer, sandwich, ice cream and many cokes it was time to go. I still had a fairly long downhill to do before reaching the hotel, so I set off cautiously, not wanting to have another incident at this late stage. Towards the bottom of the downhill I noticed I was starting to pick up some speed again, starting to flow through the corners better. Not by any means the speed and flow I had managed in the first week, but certainly much better than I’d managed since my crash. It felt good, though I always had thoughts of a late crash running through my mind. It wasn’t long though and I made it down to the side of Lac Annecy and it was a quick ride around it back to our hotel.

That evening we had a lovely dinner of several courses (too small portions), a fair bit of beer (that had become more normal the later we got through the tour) and several bottles of nice wine. Everyone stayed up late to watch the pre-‘Bastille Day’ fireworks held in Annecy and celebrate our achievement.

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Stage 19

Stage Distance: 118km

Total Distance: 3004km

Stage 19 was in my opinion the real “killer” stage of the tour with two HC climbs at the start followed by a Cat 2 and ending with two Cat 1 climbs. The fact that the two HC climbs in question were on their own “tour classics” did nothing to allay my fears. As was pointed out to me afterwards by many more seasoned riders, many amateur cyclists would make a holiday riding the Col du Glandon one day and the Col de la Madeleine the next. If they did l’Alpe d’Huez as a third day they were doing well. We were to tackle both Cols in one day, the day after doing l’Alpe twice.

Afterwards I would have to take these words to heart, as today’s stage was too tough for me in the end. I completed both Cols, slowly but quite happily. However, the 11km descent following the Madeleine proved too much for me, or more correctly my back. Still suffering from my crash my back has been in constant but manageable pain. Being slow at descending now, the long descent from the Madeleine meant almost an hour on the drops and when I got onto the flats my back ached, I couldn’t sit straight and more importantly found that I couldn’t exert any real pressure in my pedal strokes. I coped OK on relatively flat terrain but as soon as I hot any small rise I found myself struggling.

I had already been caught by the back van and when he drew alongside and asked if I was OK I knew that this time the answer was no. I pulled over and let him load my bike once again into the back of the van. I was even more disappointed with myself to have given up again. However, I knew deep down that this time, no matter how much I pushed myself on I wasn’t going to make the end of the stage. As it happens, I wasn’t wrong as several riders did not make the cut-off for the final climb and were diverted straight to the hotel. This didn’t make me feel any better however, that took the support of fellow riders who made me understand that what I had achieved was more important than what I hadn’t.

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Stage 18

Stage Distance: 171km

Total Distance: 2886km

Stage 18 was the first of three stages which Phil dubbed the “Big Lumpy Triple”. It was also the second of three stages which I think the tour organisers had made to pay homage to the classic stages in the Alps (the first of these being Ventoux at the end of the longest stage).

Today’s challenge was to be the classic l’Alpe d’Huez, not once but twice. Once is normally enough in any amateurs itinerary. We also had to deal with a couple of other categorised climbs before we tackled l’Alpe.

The first of these came shortly after leaving Gap, the Col de Manse. This would be our second time at this Col, we had come down the same route we would now ascend on our road into Gap two days previously. As always, the climb up here was slow but I was grateful for a small push from Neil Kemp who had decided to ride with me until the first feed stop. It is always a pleasure to ride with Neil, he’s such a nice guy and such a strong rider. It amazed me how he could push me, making it noticeably easier for me, while still being well within his limits. The views we were greeted with at the top of the climb were spectacular.

Following the feed stop I rode much of the stage on my own. I was used to this and in some ways enjoyed it, no pressure to keep other peoples pace, although it did expend more energy. Soon enough I was at the final stop before l’Alpe and after topping up water bottles I was off. The start of the climb took me a bit by surprise and all of a sudden I was climbing.

The nice thing about the climb up l’Alpe d’Huez is that each of the hairpin corners are numbered, starting at 21 at the bottom and descending as you chalk each one off. This actually made it easier in my mind as each corner became an individual target for me. Eventually I reached the town and lunch. I was exhausted and ready to call it a day at that point and go to the hotel, after all I’d done the climb and had a horrible descent to deal with also. Still, after eating lunch I set off, still feeling fairly exhausted but determined to go on and complete both climbs.

First challenge was to first climb the Col de Sarenne. This was no easy climb, made no easier also by the terrible condition of the road. Part way up the climb I was joined by Johnny Wates, an incredibly nice guy as are all the Wates family, and a good bike rider also. We chatted for a while and from the look on his face I knew he could see how exhausted I was, to be honest I was sure I was finished. He offered to ride with me but I told him I was OK, not wanting to slow his ride too much. He wished me luck and cycled off. I knew the long descent we had coming up and that with my current descending still being affected by my crash, that I would take a long time to complete it.

I crested the Col and started my descent. It was just as I has expected, horrible; very technical and the road was in terrible condition. A fair bit down the descent I came across Steve and Peggy. Peggy had crashed on the same stage as myself and was being similarly affected in feeling very uncomfortable getting any speed up on the downhill sections. We rode together a while to the next feed stop and think we both took a little more confidence afterwards. Sometimes it helps when you know that the other person understands how you are feeling.

With the descent over and a short flat section complete it was time to start the second ascent of l’Alpe. What I hadn’t realised until I started climbing again is that I was again feeling stronger and had been since part way through the descent. I was actually looking forward to the climb, not to finishing as I had been on Ventoux but to the climb itself. I set myself the initial target of a small water fountain over half way up as a rest stop and climbed, not quick but steady, keeping my legs spinning at a nice cadence. I didn’t even have to be in bottom gear the whole time, for the first time I was feeling an identifiable improvement, not enough to make me a good climber but improvement non-the-less.

All too soon (how things change) I had reached my water fountain, filled my water bottles, set off again and reached the end of today’s route. I took almost 15 minutes of my time for my first ascent. A quick photo call at l’Alpe winners podium and I headed off for the hotel.

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Stage 17

Stage Distance: 31km

Total Distance: 2715km

Stage 17 was the final time trial of the tour and this time we set off in time trial fashion, 30 seconds apart. The day started however with a bus transfer to the start line in Embrun.

The “start line” was hilarious, with some taking it very serious; wearing skin suits, being fully clipped in with somebody holding the bike and racing off at the start, whilst others were taking it as an easy day. Everybody to their own as I often say, and this is part of what makes the Tour de Force special, everyone does it how they wish and how they are able. Needless to say I was in the latter category and set off knowing that this wasn’t any normal time trial, with quite big ascents and technical descents to navigate (I’d have loved these a week back, not so much now).

It was a thoroughly enjoyable ride however, though did make me wonder exactly how the pros would tackle it a week later, especially the first descent which was narrow, tight, twisty and bumpy. Surely the weren’t planning on doing this on TT bikes.

At Chorges we had time for coffee and ice-cream before again boarding the bus for a transfer to our hotel.

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Stage 16

Stage Distance: 180km

Total Distance: 2684km

Following our first real rest day (the previous rest day had involved most of the day on a bus) we had a reasonably easy day riding into Gap, only three climbs; a Cat 3 and two Cat 2’s. I think we are starting to get cocky in the ‘bubble’. I actually heard someone say “if it doesn’t have a two at the start it’s a recovery day”. Cocky, but it does have some truth, today was 180km and we were all treating it as a short day. The ‘bubble’ is madness.

Today was fairly uneventful but rode through some of the most amazing scenery. I spent the day riding with Andy Green, whom I suspect was having an “off day”. It was a great day, Andy was great company to ride with and we took it quite easy, just enjoying riding through a beautiful part of France.

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Stage 15

Stage Distance: 245km

Total Distance: 2504km

Stage 15, Mont Ventoux, stuff of legends. The day I had been anticipating and dreading in equal measure.

Mont Ventoux is one of the hardest climbs the tour ever attempts, so hard in fact that it took the life of Tom Simpson whose memorial can bee seen at the side of the road where he collapsed on his bike. It is one of the crowning achievements of any cyclist. The climb itself is 21km long at an average gradient of 8% peaking at about 12% in sections. It rises out of the town of Bedoin, first through vineyards, then forest and finally above the trees in what has been described as the “moonscape”.

Today was also to be the longest stage of the tour, as if Ventoux was not hard enough in its own right. There was also the small matter of three Cat 4 and a Cat 3 climb to deal with on the route also.

The first choice of the day was how to tackle the stage; take the first 220km easy in order to conserve as much energy as possible for Ventoux or make good time to give a long break at Bedoin before Ventoux. Knowing that I was slow at climbing anyway I opted for the latter, keeping pace with the faster groups when I could on the flat sections in order to arrive at Bedoin as quickly as I could, though obviously without finishing myself in the process. My plan worked well and I rolled into Bedoin well before 5pm (Phil had set 7:15pm as the cut-off time for attempting Ventoux that evening). This gave me good time to relax and refuel before my ascent, though with the temperature at about 35C it wasn’t the most comfortable place to relax.

And then it was time, time for me to start my ascent, I set off alone just wanting to concentrate on my own ride rather than see others and be tempted to keep pace with them. The first section was very nice, the ride out from Bedoin then starting the ascent through the vineyards. It wasn’t long though before Ventoux hit back. Entering the forested region the gradient rose sharply to over 10% and I was quickly in the easiest gear available to me. Easiest gear or not, my cadence slowed, my speed slowed and I was struggling. This came as no surprise to me however, this was my cycling life in the mountains and I slowly crept up the mountain just trying at points to keep moving. At a couple of places however I had to stop to rest, again not a problem, Phil had advised us to do this if necessary.

Mont Ventoux gives very little once it has you, a single “easy” kilometre at a mere 8% and a couple of hundred metres of flat at Le Chalet Reynard. My long progress up the mountain eventually got me to our water stop, just in time as I had been worrying about my shortage of water, especially as I had been feeling cramps start in my legs. Refilling and eating, I resigned myself to the continued effort I faced and set off again.

On the net section cramp began to affect me badly, causing me to stop several times. The weather was also beginning to look somewhat threatening at this time too, what had been about 35C sharply dropped as the sky darkened. The rain started, as did the thunder and lightening. This wasn’t UK type heavy rain however, this quickly became a full on mountain storm deluge. Water was running down the road in rivers, washing dirt, rocks and pine cones onto the road with it. Though I was riding up in this my thoughts turned to the dangers faced by those descending and I hoped that everyone would make it down safely. I had already decided that I was taking advantage of the offer to be ferried back down the hill.

It was here that things got somewhat strange for me. It started when I again took cramp. Getting off my bike I started to try stretching it out and rubbing it to get the blood flowing again. Taking on some more electrolyte drink I prepared to set off again through the deluge when it actually got worse. The rain was joined by hail stones. Hail, in July, in France, less than an hour after I’d been riding in 35C heat. I couldn’t believe it. I took shelter as best as I could, figuring that it wouldn’t last long. I was soaked through and shivering with the cold, not something that often happens to me, I’m fairly good at dealing with the cold. My waterproof jacket was in my bag at the top of the mountain. At this point the wife (and support crew) of the rider doing all three grand tours solo, who had passed us almost every day, stopped her car beside me saying that I’d taken the “sensible” option and sheltered. After she drove off I thought that it wasn’t really sensible. I was cold, soaked through and the storm didn’t seem to be getting any better. I knew these could last some time in the mountains and tended to go almost as quickly as they arrived. I had two choices, to continue up or ride back down to the water stop and shelter in the back of the van. I elected to continue up, as much to avoid a downhill in the wet as much as anything else. As soon as I got started (always difficult trying to clip your feet into pedals on a steep slope, with no speed and still keep your balance) I became quite determined that having made the decision I was going to make it. I regressed into that state when I didn’t think about much apart from keeping the pedals slowly turning, trying to keep a steady tempo regardless of how slow that was, only just aware of the peculiar sound of hailstones hitting my helmet and becoming less and less aware of the rain (I couldn’t get any wetter). It did however remind me of the Tour o’ the Borders sportive that I had done as training which had been in similar conditions. I had found it strange that I had enjoyed that so much in such bad conditions, and here I was, starting to enjoy Ventoux now that conditions had become so bad.

As I cycled upward, through the gloom, rain and hail I approached a bend in the road and saw a group of our rider sheltered under the awning of one of the many caravans and mobile homes claiming their viewing space for the following week. I immediately recognised Doctor Col, not difficult given how tall he is, amongst what I thought was maybe ten of our riders. For an instant I thought about joining them before dismissing the idea and continued on past. It wasn’t brave or heroic, as it was portrayed by others later, I was just stubbornly wanting to get to the top and get it over with.

As I continued up some riders again began to pass me, riding alongside for a bit then shooting off ahead. It later transpired that many of these were those huddled under the awning minutes earlier. I had inspired them to get out from shelter and continue their journey, whether that was up or down the hill.

Getting to Le Chalet Reynard I knew I was going to make it. It flattens out for a few hundred metres and gives you a chance to think. The terrain changes to the famous rocky “moonscape” but the gradient doesn’t get any easier once you start climbing again. However, you feel as though you have broken the mountain, just keep pedalling, keep your legs moving and you are going to make it. So that’s exactly what I did, kept my legs moving, slowly but steadily, trying to push circles rather than heavy down strokes. Constant cadence instead of changing speed depending on the slope. I was however getting more and more tired. I watched the km markers decrease, then to my horror realised that the 21km was not to the top, but to the Col. There was still a couple of km left to the summit. Feeling somewhat cheated and a little angry I continued on. The last little bit didn’t take long however, and one of the descending ‘better’ riders had turned around to chum me up to the top. Sorry I can’t remember who you were but it was hugely appreciated.

Then it was the final kick to the car park. I stood in the pedals and fought the steep last section, then it was over. I arrived to find the van, minibus and a whole bunch of riders huddled in blankets. A couple of quick photos (I wish I’d taken more time getting photos) and I quickly joined them, blanket around me, can of Coke in hand. The journey back in the minibus seemed to take forever and it was sitting there that what we had just done really began to sink in. We had conquered Ventoux.

Chapeau

At dinner each evening (or on rest day following a big day), Phil presents an award for an outstanding ride of the day. This is followed by the ‘Chapeau’ award, given by the current holder to another rider for doing something good on the bike that day, whether a particularly good ride, helping other riders, or other such acts that merit a “well done”. Finally, the ‘Rocket’ is awarded, similarly by the current holder, to the rider who has committed a “crime against cycling” or some other idiotic act on a bike.

Dr. Col had been awarded the Chapeau the previous evening and as he started to talk about what had happened on Ventoux, I realised he was talking about my ride past them while they sheltered from the rain and the hail. His story was told so much better than I remember it, I wish I had recorded what he’d said. I thought as he spoke though that this was the customary “worthy mentions” that went before the actual award. I was so shocked when he awarded me the Chapeau for grit and determination. I so pleased and shocked as everyone seemed happy that I got it. That means a lot when you come into something wondering if people wonder whether you should even be there. It confirmed the inclusiveness that I had been feeling as part of the Tour de Force, something that had become increasingly important to me.

Pleased as I was, I didn’t feel that it was entirely justified. I did however feel I could correct the balance the following evening. As part of the Chapeau and Rocket awards, you ask around for nominations for moving the award on. It was Marianne’s suggestion initially, which struck me as my favoured option. It seemed a favourable idea when I discussed it with others. So, when it came my turn to present the Chapeau, I presented it to Elton, who had been the first up Ventoux. The Chapeau moved from late gutsy ride to early brilliant ride, a fitting reminder of the varied challenges faced by riders of varied abilities in the ‘tour bubble’.

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Stage 14

Stage Distance: 190km

Total Distance: 2259km

Today started with a bus transfer, which though none of us were pleased with as always, did afford us some amazing morning sunrise vistas over the mist covered fields. Everyone was awake, snapping away trying to get good pictures of what we saw.

Today’s ride was significantly more lumpy (as Phil calls it) than the previous few days with five Cat 4 and two Cat 3 climbs. Though still not good at hills, I was surprised however at how much less these smaller category climbs frighten me now.

Today was hot though so was pleased to get it over with. None of us were quite as pleased however with the somewhat contorted route through Lyon to our accommodation. The final climb of the day was impractical to do so Phil tweaked the ending to end up at our hotel, though kept the general form of the route the same. What this ended up with was cycling into Lyon, then taking a hilly route round and back to the outskirts of the city to where our accommodation was. What accommodation it was too, all that was missing was ‘red coats’, so much did it remind me of the holiday blocks of Butlins in the late 70s and early 80s. With the temperature and humidity high, three to a room also didn’t lead to the most comfortable night, so much so that we slept with the door open all night and took our chances with the mosquitos.

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