So i find myself in Starbucks Rhostyllen, waiting for Richard, he’s going to run through the details with me. I ask my self, will I get the time off work, can I afford to go, can I do it, Richard arrives, large brew ordered and on with the details, it sounds fantastic, I’m in if I can get the time off work.
Yes! the time is booked off work, that’s it I’m fully committed, text to Richard to confirm.
Practice as much as possible, I’m lucky Llandegla mountain bike centre on my door step, shift work allows me to get out in the week. We meet at Richard’s office and meet the rest of the team, seem like a great bunch, we meet for regular practice rides around the Wrexham and Cheshire area.
I start to look at kit, in particular the seat, I’m guessing long distance rides requires a good seat, a quick chat with a work colleague points me to the Brooks saddle, pure leather, no padding! surely that can’t be right, can it ?
Being tight with money, I search the web for a deal, it takes a few weeks but I finally find a new one at the right price, its on the bike and I’m off, it’s hard but I’m finding it somewhat comfy, it looks rubbish on my bike though, I can’t decide do I keep it or sell it. I stick with it, so after approximately 500 miles of practice, I’m sold, no sore/stiff bottom, it’s a keeper, having done a charity ride the previous year on a mountain bike, i’m fully aware of the need for a good seat.
Thursday 11th June 2015, the day before we leave, I’m lying in bed, have I packed everything? Am I going to be able to do it, have I taken on too much, It’s now 02.30 I cannot get off to sleep, 06.00 alarm wakes me, I’m very tired.
Bike and bags loaded I’m heading into Wrexham to meet at Richard’s premises, the sun is shining, Derek the Weather man tweets we may get rain on the way down to the south coast, Guernsey is under water with heavy rain, I hope we miss it.
Everyone arrives and after we say our good byes we are off, well Richard and Paul are literally, I’m sure it’s nerves. We head out of Wrexham and settle down to a good pace with Nick on the front and we make Shrewsbury in no time, I get to chat with everyone spirits are high, I have a feeling it’s going to be a great ride to Monte Carlo. First food stop, a greasy spoon cafe close to Ludlow, a chance to speak with the support crew. Fed and watered we press on and get to our first overnight stop in Gloucester, what a great start to the day, out for an evening meal, the team is bonding well.
Day 2 we pass through amazing country side, passing over the M4 , signs for London to our left, we are in the south of England, a long day but we finally reach the south coast, bikes packed and we are on the support vehicle heading for the Premier Inn to get washed and changed.
We are in the cue for the ferry, it’s getting late, we board, bags out and we head for reception Mr Williams senior does a great job, rooms sorted everyone darts for bed, not even a look around the ferry, I’m disappointed, bed it is then. 04.00 alarm rings, crew outside banging the doors we are docking in Dieppe, it’s still dark, we get on the bus and disembark, as we get to customs, passports are handed over, the nice lady wants to see us all, Richard opens the door, she calls our names, the first comedy moment, Mike does a special wave, it’s that impressive she waves back in the same manner, we cheer and off we go, looking for somewhere to eat, it’s Sunday nowhere is open, the sun hasn’t risen yet.
The support crew upfront look for a suitable stopping place, the routine is taking shape, bikes off suitable clothing on, water snacks and we are off, the sun rising to our right, it’s chilly but we’re not bothered.
We admire the road surface, smooth, no pot holes to point at, this is great. First down hill, and its fast, big smiles all round, when you get a big down , you get a big up and it was but at least it warmed us up, we progress passing rows of turbines close to the road, rotating slowly, what a sight.
We stop at a village, not a person in sight, no shops open, still no breakfast, no brew, i need a coffee, no Costa, I lie down on a bench, the support bus goes in search of food and drinks. We cycle on in hope of food and a coffee, please be coffee!!!!!
Alas, it’s croissant but they are warm, lovely job done by the support crew, I look around, I can see rolling hills, wheat growing in the fields, I can see a single poppy amongst the wheat, photo opportunity , 35mm out and photos taken, reminds me of the war. I asked if we pass a cemetery can we stop, I get the nod.
It was a great day riding in France, now for the hotel, IBIS I believe we are staying in, if we could just find the Tom Tom.
So IBIS is located rooms dished out, I’m with Bob support crew, I feel we hit it off straight away, he sees my photo on my computer, I’m paragliding in Turkey, he knows it well, we chat for a while, i need to get my gadgets out, sync my ride, from my watch to Strava, my bed is like a teenagers, crap everywhere suitcase has exploded, I hope Bob doesn’t mind, he’s engrossed in a book, washing done, showered we meet for tea, its quick and we are off to bed, I am tired.
04.45 alarm call, no time to snooze that extra five mins, Oh I’d love that extra five mins. Barry leaves us today, on the bus to our start line, the ritual is sorted, we are like fine tuned athletes, well maybe not, we are off, it’s a day of climbs I can see at the top of every climb is a telecommunications mast, it can’t get any higher, look for the next one, it’s across the valley, they just keep appearing. My seat is great no soreness, it still looks crap on this carbon bike, the shame of it, least no one can see when i’m riding, my bottom approves. I take the front lead at times, but due to my speedometer being on my watch, I find myself out in front on my own, oops time to slow it down, I let the team pass, I’ll sit on the back and help on the climbs, I know some riders are carrying injuries, it can’t be easy, we are blessed by the weather gods or Derek the weather man, sun is out and sun cream is applied in vigorous amounts. Prior to leaving home, I had been playing with the idea of hair removal, on the legs, I’ve lost too much on the head already and so I went ahead and got hair removal cream, it makes healing of the skin easier if you come off, it also makes putting suncream on much better, smooth legs, well I never. We reach the river Seine and see Barry’s boss in the distance, the time had come, we pull over, it’s scorching there’s no shade, we say our good byes and he’s gone, I feel a sense of loss. We refuel, water/flapjacks mmmm they are nice, thank you to whoever made them. We move on only to get a puncture, it’s been mentioned in the blog, we end the route for day three and start day 4 ten miles done, we call it a day, on the bus and looking for IBIS, where’s that TomTom, the banter between Richard and his dad amuses me no end, I think about my father and what he would have been like on this trip, god help us.
IBIS located the ritual starts again, case explodes, gadgets all over my bed, further more I’m now in charge of the blog, this worries me, I hated school, I think to myself CSE grade five English is not going to cut it, I’m panicking, I do worry at times.
Early to bed, except i’m putting the blog together, fortunately, I cannot log on, I contact Barry for assistance, I can write it and send it to him, for proof reading, relief.
04.45 alarm call, I start to see a routine taking place that I’m not involved in, Sudacrem is being passed around, fingers in, bib shorts opened at the front and a deep reach around taking place with moans of OOOH THAT’S NICE, I giggle pleased not to be involved although I do use talk to help me. We crack on we seem to be in the market garden of France crops both side of the road, I love a forage for free food, sweet peas in the pod as well, delish. There then starts a peloton, 21 miles per hour, Gary leading the front, I take over periodically to ease the strain, it’s hard breaking through the air at the front, there is moaning and groaning at the rear, but we have to cover some miles today and it’s flat, we press on, we enter a village to find the support crew having a hot brew at some tables out side a cafe, they direct us to the next stop some 10 miles further on, I need that brew, I sense Paul needs it too, but we crack on to my disappointment.
We knew today was going to be long, I didn’t realize how long it really was going to be, at our dinner stop, well almost the Garmin decides to throw us a curved ball, sending us down another bridle path, no way through for road bikes, Richard calls the bus, they are at the stop waiting for us, it’s miles away, teddies are being thrown out, poor Gary wasn’t privy to the news that they were only down the road, his Garmin telling us to go a different way, us telling him to ignore it, it all works out fine in the end, we reach the stop, some 90 miles into the ride, before our lunch, it’s about 3 in the afternoon, as we sit down to order, I hear the bar tender telling Mr Williams they had stopped serving food, this isn’t good, but we could fine somewhere else I’m sure, I tell Richard the good news, first mistake, I ducked, the teddy missed me, time for the loo, sharp exit, we are rescued when the bar tender says we can have pizza, teddies back in and we are all happy, photo opportunity and we are off, we travel through a large forest, warning signs for wild boar, brill I hope I see one, we have seen plenty of wildlife on the way, Hares, Deer, buzzard, even a white horse on the hill, chalk horse that is.
We eventually arrive at our stop location lidl car park, the support crew have purchased fruit, the nectarines are delightful, oh the nectarines!!!!
Ibis is calling TomTom, we have the TomTom, suitcase explodes, gadgets everywhere you get the picture, washing hanging out the windows was a sight to see, you could see which rooms were ours, trying to dry clothes for the next day, I brought an electric heater with me, as Richard had said they struggled to dry clothes on LEJOG, I very nearly brought a sleeping bag, as suggested by Richard, he very nearly had me on that one.
4.45 alarm call, it’s not getting any easier, usual at the van to our next start location.
Another big day, I’m getting into it, legs feel great I’m looking forward to the Alps, will I be able to do them, I’ve done enough hills were I live, how hard can it be, I was a bit disappointed that we were not doing a famous climb, but they’ll still be there next year.
We climb up and down for miles, just rolling hills with no real reward, head down and grind them out, it’s the only way. I remember this really long road at the end I see a church, high on a hill, the road leads straight for it, I’m with Richard and mike chatting, I see Gary leaving us, that’s it I said, see you at the top, I’m off chasing Gary, it’s a good old slog, starting to breathe hard we make it to the top, support van waiting, I see a cyclist wearing sandals, the sure sign of a long distance rider, possibly Audaxing, French term for a long distance cyclist or Randonneur, I see him get his drinks bottle and disappear into the toilets on the car park, we take some time to recover, the cyclist disappears on his bike, panniers overloaded by the looks of it. Richard says he needs the toilet and will head off, we can catch him up, as he disappears Mike shouts up, aren’t they the toilets, oops never mind. We set off in hot pursuit of Richard, we can see him in the distance, Mike and I set off at a pace only seen in a time trial, I can see Gary out in front, he’s with the cyclist with sandals on, they appear to be racing, I laugh to myself, how funny, I’m looking at my speed and shouting it back to Mike, 35 mph we are sweating but won’t be beaten, we pass the sandals cyclist we acknowledge each other, I didn’t see him again, onwards we eventually catch Richard, it took some doing that’s for sure. 116 miles what a great day, IBIS here we come.
4.45 good morning alarm call, it’s now regimented. I like a good laugh, if I could of got away with it, I would have had the support crew going off their heads with seatbelt indicators wipers and lights going off, I thought I need them more than they need me so reluctantly wound my neck in. I was eating a banana and threw the skin in the bushes, its been documented in the day blog, but was funny seeing Richard do a David Bellamy, (ask your mum) off we go, unbeknown to me, it’s going to be a great day. GARMIN throws us the curved ball again, I’m so glad I’ve not got one, it must be very hard for Gary up front leading the way, me, I’m just looking around taking in the country side not a care in the world, brilliant. Back into the Forest it’s so beautiful, peaceful, I could live here, Mandy needs to come and see this, what a way to see France I think to myself, I continually tell everyone, you could be in work now, it focuses the mind I feel, it makes it all worth while, a reality check of sorts.
We stop in beautiful town, the names pass me by, we have breakfast, we even get to choose in the shop, we were very tempted to go across the road for a brew, ooh coffee, I need coffee, it was decided against and we ate at the bus, river running past with its own canoe course brilliant. All stuffed we set off, Gary quickly diverts us from a 20% hill, breakfast wouldn’t have lasted long thats for sure, we circumnavigate it and wind up the first set of S bends , wow I was smiling, Gary at my side we wind our way up, it’s fantastic, just what I had been waiting for, I think it’s fair to say, myself and Gary had been coasting up to this point, i was in my element, pushing on through the trees, grinning from ear to ear, I couldn’t get enough, we finally make the top and patiently wait for the rest, I didn’t mind, it allowed me to push hard and have a recovery period, fantastic, Paul comes around the corner, breathing hard, but he’s up, wow he’s committed. Mike and Richard appear, they continue on, its their way of coping. Onwards and up wards we make 20 miles at the top of the climb, support bus waiting, Richard tells us, it’s 20 miles down hill from here, I found that hard to believe, I though he was joking, we donned jackets to keep the morning chill out and we were off, wow the views were amazing, down we went stopping for photos, we could have stopped every few feet it was amazing. Off we went, sweeping left and right hand bends, no traffic behind us, it was about as near as i can get to reading it in a magazine, only this time it was me, on the bike descending like a pro racer, thats how it felt to me, I was in bike heaven, sun on my back, zooming down, it never stopped it really was amazing, I cannot do it justice on this blog.
20 miles in and we have reached the bottom, wow oh wow. To finish it off, a farmer had set a bird scarer in the field close to the road, bang bang, I swear Richard passed wind, it woke us all up.
Great end to a fantastic day.
4.45 alarm call , and so my day had come, the day I thought about since sitting in Starbucks Rhostyllen, the Alps, our fist initial climb was a steady 15 miles nothing to write home about, but when we went over the top, the sight that greeted us was amazing, the french alps, in all their glory, snow on the tops, here it is, have I got what it takes to climb these, we shall see. Our decent into Grenoble did not disappoint, I kept telling Richard and Mike, we’ve won the lottery, this is what it feels like to be millionaires, they agreed, it was very clean, cycle lanes and paths, along side trams, it was set up for cyclists without doubt, we head into Grenoble and in the centre Paul gets a puncture, a shard of glass in the tyre, as we all assist, Richard tries to get the glass out with his fingers, I for medical reasons,carry a pen to jot down heart rate and breathing if necessary, I hand him the top, it has a point on, it will get the glass out without injuring his fingers, I think, as quick as a flash, he says and i quote “WHAT DO YOU WANT ME TO DO WITH THAT WRITE A LETTER” not expecting the sarcastic comment I was taken aback, I explained the reason, it was too late the group had engaged with Richard, it was lost on them, it never appeared again.
We plod on through Grenoble. its huge it takes us awhile to get through, but we see the signs for Napoleon’s Route, the bus is lost, we crack on the mountains both side of us, its amazing. we head out of town the sun is beating down on us again, I’m not moaning its great. We stop for a comfort break, I see cherries hanging, I don’t need an invite, cherries anyone.
A short time later we meet the bus and we are topping our water up, the Alps start now. I give the support crew a brief, if someone looks iffy, stop them riding, including me, I tell every one, no heroes, we’ve got a long way to go, it’s agreed by the group we ride at our own pace, the bus will collect us if we cannot make it. And we are off, its steep for the first 200 meters, then levels into a continuos climb, gaining height against the valley to our right, again it’s fantastic, my self and Gary as riding partners. We reach the top and stop for photos and wait for the rest, more suncream, the group together we set off, climbing then descending it was amazing looking back at the group all inline just like the tour, we stop in a small alpine town for lunch, at the side of the road, I love people watching, it didn’t disappoint, food ordered we wait patiently, we talk of the climb, I’m in climbing heaven, I believe Gary is too, food arrives, Mike some how drops his plate, its smashes on the floor, he makes a grab for his toastie, much to the shock of the waitress, who is trying to get it back, the group fully support Mike again.
It is then decided that due to the speed of the group, we would stop at 6 o’clock, the bus would pick us up and we would start off the next day from were we stopped, myself and Gary set off, at a good pace, feeling guilty to leave the group behind, it soon disappeared. The climbs were hard, the downs were just as hard, 12% down hill, pulling on the brakes for the S bends was hurting my forearms, down to the bottom across a bridge and then up we go. After some time we stopped and decided we might make the finish point before 6, or if we need to turn as we had the Garmin, we would wait at the turn, agreed off we went, running out of water early was a worry, it wasn’t going to stop me now, I was gunning it, I could see the top of the pass, Gary was out in front, I told him to just go, but to be fair, he stuck with me.
The next thing I know the bus is along side us, the team was back together, we were ten miles ahead of them, wow I thought, I looked at my watch, miles stated 99.84, I said to them, I’m not stopping now, it’s 100 miles on the watch, see you up the road, Bob said first safe place around the corner, thumbs up and we were off, we get 100 just before the corner, Gary states we need more incase it downgrades our mileage, off we go, its up hill, I’m spent I’ve got nothing left, we go around the corner, no bus, I was throwing my teddies out big time, so was Gary, where the hell was the bus, right I thought to myself, I’m going for it, Gary also, we set off again determined to get up this steep hill, we round the next corner to see the team in the road cheering us on, the rest is documented, I felt ill, the heat, no water, the pace it took it’s toll, I was also elated that I’d done it, gave it my all there was nothing left, I’d climbed in the Alps and left nothing behind that day, best day of my cycling career, getting back to the hotel, I was feeling physically sick, once I ate I was fine, until 3 am when I was awoken by the same feeling, it passed and I went back to sleep, what an amazing day.
5.45 alarm call, its the future. We set off, the high mountains appear to be behind us, we get a good pace on then we stop , the support crew have found a bakery its open, they even do coffee, yes finally coffee for breakfast yay. The baker comes out, Richard is in some sort of conversation with him, at least he can can by, I’m just ignorant having not listened in school, he likes the bikes, mine in particular, well I do have good taste, I might not know the gear size, I just ride it. Off we go 40 miles down hill the pace is set, it’s a brilliant morning, we knew we had another big day, surprisingly I felt really good after yesterdays antics, I was pleased very pleased. We turn off and head in a different direction, we keep going down, stopping at a set of traffic lights, we look to our right, we about to go through a narrow section through the mountains with a river passing below, it was magical, the lights change and we are off, its amazing, we clear the lights and continue for a short time, the bus is on the right we stop, refuel, the river is running uphill, very strange feeling indeed.The climb then beckons, it doesn’t disappoint onwards and upwards sun blazing, it was another amazing pass, an arch way through the mountain, motorbikes passing either way wow, we reach the top, Paul is close by, the views are fantastic, quick recovery and then the best downhill section of the ride, right down into the valley floor were we stop for lunch, I get my laptop out and start typing, I’m behind with the blog. After lunch we climb out of the valley it goes on forever, Gary and myself go off again at a pace, I hear thunder, the clouds are building, I suspect rain, it starts I’ve not got wet gear with me, oh well I’m going to get wet. We press on and reach the top, Garmin says right, sign says left, cafe on the left, thats it we stop and wait for the others, Richard arrives, we look at the mileage 99.something, we all make the 100 superb, however as we descend in the bus, I realize i’ve left my watch on 117 and king of the hills recorded, ah well it wasn’t done on purpose honest. Another great day in the alps.
start at 7 am yes yes yes finally the weather is hot already, go pro on and we are off, heading for Nice then along the coast to Monte Carlo, this is it, I do feel emotional, its ending today, we will have succeeded in the challenge, I was excited as well, will we reach Italy another country to tick off. Thanks to Garmin, we head into the airport, bit early as the three leaving us fly later, we find the prom and the sea is there, lovely and blue and people in the water already it’s only 9 am. We press on and a short time later having rounded a few headlands we enter Monte Carlo, wow the boats are lined up the sun is shining we are over the moon, We shake hands pat each others backs, the support vehicle is with us, what an experience, beer is ordered and did it taste good. We then look at getting to Italy 18k down the road , it didn’t take long i could see the check point, yes yes yes, we had made it.
Well what a ride it was, I have been amazed by the people who rode with me, the support from everyone following back home and a big thank you to everybody who donated to the amazing cause, that kept me going most of all. I have made new friends that will last forever. It has been an amazing experience one I will cherish forever.