FOMO: London to Amsterdam / 24 hours in the life of a support rider

FOMO: London to Amsterdam / 24 hours in the life of a support rider

I missed the send-off. Inevitable when buying 100 Tesco Meal Deals (100 sandwiches / wraps / pasta dishes, 100 drinks and 100 snacks! Food of champions). I didn’t get to see the Official team photo, the Tour de France-style chalked pavement, the cheering, flag waving kids giving their parents a Geweldige Start (Dutch for Grand depart. Destination London to Amsterdam. Not Paris). 


It wasn’t the last thing I was going to miss on the Thompson House Parents’ London to Amsterdam 24-hour Cycle Challenge (one of the Bicycle Moaning Collective’s Sponsored Rides for Schools).   

Next up was the relaxed coffee / lunch break in the Hare & Hounds just around the corner from the school. The strict 24-hour challenge schedule meant that the Geweldige Start was more of a prologue as our riders headed straight to the pub.  

For everyone but me that is. I had those last-minute things that always need to be ferried to and from the support vans before they headed off across London. Lunch was a hastily made honey sandwich, wolfed down so that I didn’t miss my crew’s rollout. I hoped it was going to be enough to fuel me to Harwich. I hoped my stress levels were going to subside before Harwich too.   

No chance. From East Sheen to Harwich via 30 kilometres of Inner London. Through Clapham, past haunts of our distant youth. We all missed those days. We missed more than 1 green light as we cut east, south of the river, battling through Friday gridlock, London is far from a fluid cycling city. We were mostly seeing red. 

Looking back now, it was tough, maybe the toughest bit of the ride. We didn’t miss London once we’d successfully traversed it, from Putney, through Elephant and Castle and out past the Olympic Village.

Chigwell onwards we felt free, released from our urban shackles. Next stop Chelmsford. It was hot. Some of my group were feeling the pace. The afternoon break couldn’t come soon enough. A Tesco Meal Deal was never so tempting. Of course, we missed the designated stop. 

Then my Crankset fell out of the Bottom Bracket. During a humiliating dressing down at Evanscycles Chelmsford, I was told I was missing spacers (I took it humbly and thankfully – the Evanscycles boys kept me in the ride). Key Learning Point: don’t ride without testing new kit first. A new Ultegra di2 groupset is a good thing, when it’s had a few KMs to bed in. 

I never did get my afternoon meal deal. Instead, being last man on the road and a lowly Support Rider (abandoned by my Ride Director), I had to chase back hard for 30km. Like a lone breakaway (just at the back). I didn’t miss the Ferry but many of the front group had missed the memo about heading for dinner at the passenger ferry terminal and were enjoying post ride refreshments in the old port district of Harwich. Off I went to collect. 

I didn’t miss out on a mild hangover the next morning having missed the opportunity for an early night. If you look after the guys on the road they’ll look after you in the bar. I had to rely on electrolytes and hard riding, my sure fire cure for my post ride excesses the night before. I did miss our very own BMC Missile, he’d got the train home the night before. It meant that I had to move up to the front group. I’d did my best to hold their rear wheel and offer ‘support’ from back of the group. Besides they seemed content enough to do the hard work. 

The Dutch side of the route was all segregated cycle path. Surprisingly difficult to follow through the towns. Cycling on the road is the Dutch equivalent of a faux pas. We did our best to abide the rules of the cycle path even when the cycle paths became unruly, cutting through the coastal sand dunes, rolling and pitching like the waves to our left. I’d missed this, a 50km bike park entirely dedicated to the cyclist. 

Thank God I missed the bollard that appeared from behind the rear wheel of the bike in front. How I don’t know. It would’ve been nasty. I thanked mountain biking for honing my bike handling. (Later Stevo wasn’t so lucky. He didn’t miss the kerb, he hit it square on. Snapping his bike in half. There’s not much worse than can happen to a Support Rider. He jumped on a spare bike and gave chase in his torn and ripped Lycra. Catching up just in time for the photos). 

With the clock ticking down, ever closer to the 24 deadline the decision was taken to crack on without the missing back-markers. Controversial. As long as it wasn’t the Support Riders decision, we just did what we were told, just went with the flow, put the hard work in at the front or dropped back and brought the stragglers back up to the main group. It’s hard graft this support riding lark. 

The run in to Amsterdam was pan flat (as you’d expect), tracking the canals into central Amsterdam. Progress slowed as we got closer to the Central Station, delicately negotiating the traditional Dutch bikes hogging the cycle paths.   


Thompson House had done it. In 24 hours. The champagne flowed and cameras clicked. All that was left was to load the vans. Our stay in Amsterdam would total 30 minutes, we’d miss the celebrations on the roof top bar and the boat cruise. With Stevo’s bike folded in half and forced into the small gap remaining in 1 of the vans we were heading for home. What could possibly go wrong now? Job done.   

What about missing 3 bikes? That will be it. We spotted them in the rear view mirror just as we pulled away. They were loaded somewhat more carefully than Stevo’s and with only a ferry left to miss we battled out of Amsterdam, hit the Autoroute hard and hurtled towards Calais.  

Why the rush? It was Father’s Day the next day and I didn’t want to miss that. 

Congratulations to Thompson House School. Their dedication to training, riding and fundraising was exemplary.  Hoed (chapeau in Dutch).

Trinity Primary School:  Henley to Paris 2017

Trinity Primary School:  Henley to Paris 2017

However much you look forward to your London to Paris cycle challenge – 1 of the true monuments of cycling challenges – there is a dark shadow that hangs over every aspect. From training in the depths of winter, the beastings in the spin studio through to packing your kit the night before the Grand Depart.

The Newhaven to Dieppe 2300 ferry night crossing. It can’t be trained for.

Imagine then your departure point is Henley Upon Thames. Adding a draining 50km to the parcours. With the dreaded night on the floor getting ever closer with every pedal stroke. The triumph of reaching Newhaven is muted. Even the bonus shower in Newhaven’s finest hotel (Premier Inn) and a feast at Newhaven’s finest eatery (Brewers Fayre) can’t wash away the foreboding that prior knowledge of inevitable sleepless night brings. Just ask any parent.

The day’s ride (a damn good one) quickly falls into the distant past as you watch, confused, as apparently more knowing cyclists perform strange stretching exercises whilst balancing their backsides on strange shaped rubber balls, as you struggle to keep your eyes open first in the plastic seats (nearly as uncomfortable as a saddle) in the DFDS holding bay – I mean the passenger ferry terminal, before finally your transported on the DFDS cattle truck (sorry bus) onboard the ferry. Finally.

It’s a shame. Any route that cuts through Oxfordshire, Berkshire, Surrey and both the Sussex-es can’t be bad. True there was ‘Death Valley’ (aka the road to Twyford) to be survived, the TTT along Drift road to be endured and multiple stretch-hummers (on the way to Royal Ascot) to be avoided but on the whole Day 1 was not far off the Best of British. Even Crocknorth was met with a smile – or was that a grimace?

Then it happens. It’s as bad as you think it’s going to be. You’d been promised cabin. Or as good as. It’s the floor then. ‘Why did I sign up to this.’ you ask as your eyes don’t close as soon as your head hits your inflated pillow. At least your head is awash with images from the send off, your kids looking up at you proudly. The send off was unforgettable. That’s why you signed up.

Then the French bit of the ride happens.

Dieppe is quiet at dawn. Its race course deserted. The 30-odd strong peloton rolls through town. En masse. As one. For approximately 10 minutes before the selection. The Mountain Bike in 1 group, everyone else in the other. 

Even that collective didn’t last. There were soon lots of groups. Whether separated by metres or miles they are all joined in their awe of the traffic free roads (it was only 6am after all), the radiant sunrise and the super smooth tarmac. All the fuss about the ferry had hidden the fact that ride between Dieppe and Paris is one of the best. 24 hour challenge or not, it should be ridden by everyone. It’s got everything, climbs that hurt more than enough, descents that excite just enough, cutting through scenery that makes you feel good to be alive.

Everything you need, except somewhere to buy a coffee and croissant. It wasn’t until 50km in that rural France shook of its sleep. Buchy represented the first sign of life, a bustling market where you could buy an eclectic mix of vintage bikes, ski boots, agricultural equipment, fireplaces. You just wanted coffee. You gulped it down quickly in its flimsy plastic cup if you wanted to get back on the road and drive on for Gisors (to watch the 1st Lions Test). You took your time in the morning sunshine if you just wanted a second coffee.

If Henley to Paris isn’t the normal London to Paris, neither is racing on to Gisors to watch Rugby. The Lions versus All Blacks 1st Test. But you did. You probably also had pizza and a couple of pints before the final run into Paris from Poissy whilst the rest of the Peloton caught up in time to join your second pint.

Then it was just Paris or bust. 30 riders snaking through the Parisian traffic, with tiredness, heat, hunger, excitement taking grip of your senses. Of course there was a puncture less than a kilometre from the finish line. That just preceded the crash at the finish line.

With all riders accounted for (“never leave anyone behind”), you’ve created a new monument in more ways than 1 way: A prayer at send off, a police escort, lucrative jersey sponsorship, a BMC 24-hour distance record, a fixie and a mountain bike with Tri-bars, homecoming in the Reading FC team bus, leaving bikes in the ‘Hands of God’.   

It’s hard to know how to follow that. Where to next? Bring it on. (Just not on the Newhaven to Dieppe Ferry).

And here’s proper report: https://www.henleyherald.com/2017/06/29/trinity-fundraisers-conquer-24-hour-cycle-paris/

London to Luxembourg 2017: dictation

London to Luxembourg 2017: dictation

Team Kendall edged the Send-Off. With bacon sarnies, not 1 but 2 support vans, a mechanic, masseur and team photo (starring a badly constipated Chard). Not forgetting the 25km less riding than Team Missile riding out from Missile Towers had to knock off before they could even begin to think about catching up with Kendall’s Cohort.

Fuelled by a few donuts leftover from the Missile’s pre-ride midnight feast and verbally abused by 1 of the Missile’s Roehampton neighbours as he drunkenly staggered out of the William Hill (the neighbour not the Missile) the mood was edgy in Team Missile as it battled the South Circular.

No surprise really when you consider Chairman Kendall (Junior’s) ominous designs for the Bicycle Moaning Collective’s Annual 300/3 Tour. Yes, there was the preferential treatment for the Chairman’s Cabal, but even they were not to be spared the ardours of a route that tested then broke, then broke some more even the most gnarled veterans of past BMC tours.

Not to mention the Bear’s newbies, heartlessly abandoned to fend for themselves by their host after the super-hot ride to Dover.

The London to Dover route, familiar and welcome in the unique way that it combines tranquil Kentish lanes with frenetic Kentish A-roads populated by angry Kents*, is nevertheless effective in getting the job of catching a ferry done. The only shadow cast by the scorching sun was that damn Danton Lane climb, never disappointing in its brutality or its picture-postcard view of the Eurotunnel terminal from the top.

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(Dover looked splendid too, that’s not a typo).

 

Don’t mistake this as a letter of complaint or an expression of dissatisfaction. To the contrary. This is the very ideology of a BMC Tour. And we’ve not even got to the Feared (in a good way) Day 2. Day 1 was still to be enjoyed, our BMC Life President had surpassed himself with a quality lakeside retreat (that wouldn’t disappoint an African Despot), to rest weary legs and unwind after the totally unnecessary and wholly predictable race to the finish line by BMC elders who should know better.

Only the most autocratic leader could devise Day 2. 200km gruelling, cooking miles across the Northern extremes of France. Yes, it was flat, yes there were peaceful canals but there were also grassy fields (to be crossed on foot) steep flights of stairs (for bikes to be carried down) crystal meth tunnels to be negotiated. The oppressive heat meant that the BMC was spread out across the length of the bonus cycle tracks, bottles ran dry, sweat poured out – creating a Thai-dye cycle kit of a fashion not seen since the late 1990s.


We’ll never know if those camels were real or a sun-induced mirage.

After avoiding a ‘trench-of-death’ and admiring the Missile’s solo chase to catch the riders he’d generously afforded an unconventional ‘half a kebab head start’ the post-Apocalyptic silhouette of Charleroi was a welcome vision. Towering, derelict industrial relics marked our finish line. More importantly it meant rehydration. Rarely have endurance athletes quenched their thirst so voluminously as Mechanic Glenn worked on the street, attracting a following amongst the interesting locals (that’s interesting not interested).

All that was left of a Day 2 that lived up to its billing, was for Dave-O to have his customary ‘Cycling-Induced Whitey’ and for the really dehydrated to head to Charleroi’s best Irish bar, surely just a coincidence that it was located next to the hotel.

Day 3 should be easy by comparison (if you could get out of the lifts). We even had a local guide. Not since Cologne had the Tour enjoyed indigenous participation. Erwin rode into town on what quite possibly (but was probably not) Cavendish’s spare Cervelo. With its gold chain hinting at superior performance, Erwin’s bike and fresh legs were the envy of the group.

The temperature had dropped but the total scheduled ascent had not. The route profile looked as inviting as a dragon’s back. Only the most heinous Martinet could impose a Day 3 that topped Day 2. 190km better. 3500m ascent much much worse. It was no wonder that the minions dropped their protected ride, it was every man (and minion) for themselves.

But as brutal as it was, Day 3’s route was cycling perfection. Where there was beauty it was swiftly followed by pain. Every mini-alpine-like descent, was cruelly followed by a punchy ascent. Big climbs. Long climbs, stretching for kilometres-climbs.

From ‘kilometre ridiculously early’ the notion of the traditional front, middle or rear group melted into irrelevance. The Ardennes was exacting its toll. Groups were strung out such that membership of any 1 group was a loose concept. This was before Ming the Merciless played his Ace: Montagne de la Croix (Dinant). Short, sharp and wall like. Not great on a bike, not great on foot (in cleats) either. Crampons would’ve been more suitable.

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Post the Wall, inevitably the first rumblings of discontent could be heard. The Regime was close to crumbling, with the battered Peloton reduced to eating 2-day old sausage rolls on the pavement, maybe the Generalissimo had gone too far this time. The grip of his iron fist showed signs of weakening as riders dared to disobey his authority and escape off the front of the subjugated peloton on the final awesome descent into Luxembourg.

But this being a BMC 300/3, when the beers started to flow in the centre of Luxembourg (after a few inevitable diversions), the Wall, the near starvation, the enforced captivity of a young masseur in the back of a van, the double ‘sting in the tail’ climb into Luxembourg was forgotten. Dear Leader that was the toughest 300/3 yet but it might just have been one of the best.

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Thanks to all the BMC Riders, Support Crew and of course Stevo for making London to Luxembourg 2017 some if the best fun you can have for 3 days (on a bike).

 

*Kents: residents of Kent, when positioned behind the wheel of a car, easily mistaken for….

Kew Riverside Primary School: Kew to Bruges 2017

Kew Riverside Primary School: Kew to Bruges 2017

Friday 19 May, 9AM (sharp) the first Bicycle Moaning Collective Sponsored Ride for Schools of 2017 rode out of Kew, South West London, across London via the perilous South Circular, heading through the rain for Dover on the South East tip of the UK (Day 1: 160km / grippy). Followed by a ferry to Calais (and a much needed drink/sleep) before heading North along the heavily fortified coast (WWII) of Northern France and Southern Belgium before spurring inland at Ostend for Bruges (Day2: 120km / pan flat).

The peloton of parents from Kew Riverside Primary School was unique in a number of ways. It included – shock horror – Mums! (We soon discovered they’re no different from Dad’s – just the toilet stops are more complex!). For the 1st time on our school rides the riders were resplendent in a cycle jersey designed by their school kids, topped off (or should that be bottomed out?) with zebra print bib-shorts. A cycling first for sure.


What wasn’t unique was that they had started training in the depths of winter, were an eclectic mix of cycling-newbies and seasoned weekend warriors, operating as a cohesive unit to drive themselves through the wind and rain, up and over brutal climbs (that one behind the EuroTunnel terminal) to cover the 280km to raise money for their kids’ school. If you knew where some of KRPS riders started and saw how they finished you’d be impressed and inspired in equal measure too.


Enough off the plaudits. There was more than the fair share of cycling mishaps. Failure to unclip the right foot, equals painful fall. As does grinding to a halt (on that hill), slowly toppling and almost gracefully, tumbling into a hedge. Then in the moment of euphoria of arriving in time to catch the ferry there was the abandoning of bikes at the ferry port or the riding with only 20psi in both tyres. That was just the drama in the peloton – the BMC Support Crew have a few stories to tell too but they’re keeping quiet about those – what goes on in the support vans, stays in the support vans. 

After conquering the rain, steep hills, British roads and traffic of the Kew to Dover leg – and most importantly not missing the 1730 ferry (don’t tell the Riders we had booked a flexible ticket!) – waking in Calais to blue skies and a fresh tailwind was a welcome boost. With a few early morning, pre-departure bike tweaks by Glenn the Mechanic (as he is known) the show was ready to get back on the road. A very flat road, hugging the coast and in some places almost straying onto the beach. This stretch of Belgian coastline is well worth a visit, bike or no bike.

Where Friday was a day to test the best of them, Saturday’s ride was just reward. So was some rather exotic Belgian takes on coffee in De Panne. The kilometres flew by and it was perhaps a touch disappointing that Bruges hovered into sight so soon. Maybe carry on to Brussels? No, Bruges will do, popping celebratory champagne corks in a back street behind the hotel will do just fine!

Many thanks to all the KRPS Riders, for training so hard in the depths of winter, persevering with mastering clip-in pedals and for being a damn fine bunch of cyclists – embracing the Bicycle Moaning Collective’s ethos of each rider helping their team mates when they need a smile, some gentle encouragement or a little shove up a hill. Lastly, thanks to Sabina Mangosi who proved that everyone needs a strong mum to help them along.

New Year new cycling challenges

New Year new cycling challenges

New Year, New Challenges. Life will throw its usual curved balls our way.

Previous experience suggests that setting cycling challenges and goals is as good a remedy as anything or simply a positive distraction.

I don’t have a crystal ball but I do have the Strava.com Route Planner and it foretells 2017 will not lack for cycling:

  • 5 -7 May. The 1st Bicycle Moaning Collective Brecon Beacons Climbing Weekender, with over 4000m climbing in just over 200km of cycling through the most scenic mountains this side of the English Channel and South of the Border (and not including the Lake District or Snowdonia).  Whether it’s a first time face to face with a real live mountain or fine tuning before heading to the Alps later in the Summer, if the weather is kind there aren’t many better places to round off Spring-cycling / welcome Summer-cycling.
  • 19 – 20 May. Kew Riverside Primary are the first school through the (playground) gate participating in the BMC’s Sponsored Rides for Schools 2017  Programme, heading from Kew to Bruges to raise money for a new Eco-Garden for the school children.  Supported by BMC riders and road crew, over 20 of the school’s parents will be cycling to the coast (the Port of Dover to be exact) to catch a ferry to Calais before heading up the coast of Belgium to Bruges for copious well-earned Moules Frites, Belgium Beer and a fair chunk of Bruges’s finest chocolate.
  • 01 – 04 June. The Big One. The annual BMC 300 miles in 3 days, the 9th edition (just 1 off the even bigger 1 next year).  Just outside of the 300 mile target lies Luxembourg, the destination for nearly 40 cyclists and crew.  The route down to Dover will be familiar but after that Belgium will no doubt spring up its own surprises (Cobbles?) before descending into the Grund for the best Guinness Luxembourg can offer in Scott’s Pub (getting back out again could be a problem).
  • 16 -17 June. The turn of Thompson House Primary to hit the road.  This time the destination is Amsterdam.  The road on the Dutch side is familiar from a BMC 300/3 ride to Amsterdam but the London to Harwich route will be new (an excuse for a training ride recce?) the route promises to be fast and flat, with some of the THP Team already out training the BMC Support Riders may have their work cut out keeping up.  Hopefully there will still be some gas in the tank for the party at the end of the ride.
  • 23 – 24 June. No time to rest.  This time its Henley to Paris with Henley Trinity Primary.  However hard we try we can’t get the route from Henley to Newhaven below 145km.  It’s going to be a tough 1st day.  It gets tougher, as this is the ride where we crash on the floor of the Newhaven to Dieppe ferry and start riding again at 5am (or is it 4am?) I Either-way the clock is ticking on making it to the Eiffel Tower by the afternoon.  2 hard days riding but the routes are exceptional and worth the pain!
  • 19 – 23 July. There’s only 1 Tour de France but this will be the 5th BMC Chasing the Tour.  The definition of pleasure and pain.  With Col du Telegraph, Col d’Iseran, Col de la Croix de Fer, Lacets de Montvernier and Col du Grand Colombier all in the sights (plus a few optional extra ‘little bumps’ thrown in for good measure) this year’s edition promises to bring the BMC’s touring season to a close on a high.

(the small print: All subject to requisite ‘cycling-passes’ being authorised by home management)

On top of all of the above are the training and club rides which means an annual distance target of 7500km and elevation gain of 50,000m should be achievable.

More importantly a combined target of £50k raised by the BMC Sponsored Rides for Schools Programme would be an even more laudable achievement in 2017.

testing times

testing times

I’m testing whether I can ride a bike again after my carpel tunnel operation.  It’s interesting (if it wasn’t so annoying) to consider how a small thing – like a great big incision just where the hand holds the bars – can destabilise the functioning of the rest of the body.

I will spare you the detail on what functions are impaired by temporary loss of use of a right hand other than to say riding a bike is one of them.  Not only do you grip your bars with your hands to steer (obvious 1 that) they also stop your 5kg head banging of your handlebars (assuming that your core isn’t super conditioned – mine neither).  A whole lot of your weight goes down through the palm of your hands and a whole lot of pain comes back up as you crash over another pothole.

Then there’s the starting off, keeping the bars straight as you stamp down on the pedals, accelerating away from the lights.  You can’t change gears easily or brake when the muscles in your hand have been severed.  Whilst I was listing out my exhaustive excuses not to cycle in the winter, a ‘good friend’ reminded me of Danny Crates, the 1 handed cyclist we rode with on Ride Across Britain – his only concession was to walk over cattle grids over the 960 mile journey.

So I shut up, which I think was my friends hope.

I’m back riding, out with some of the crew of the newly formed Kew Riverside Primary School CC.  Formed with the intent of completing the 1st Bicycle Moaning Collective Sponsored Rides for Schools of 2017.  They’ve chosen London to Bruges.  It feels good to be back out on the road, it feels good to be helping the new to riding riders, talking them through gear changes, road positioning, refuelling, new kit choices and telling them not to worry (as long as they train) about cycling 200 miles in 2 days.

It feels good to be introducing new riders to riding a bike – hoping that my bike-chat isn’t putting them off.

The Bicycle Moaning Collective have 3 more schools signed up for epic 24 hour rides in 2017.  That’s 4 new Cycling Clubs!  Covering off the distance to their respective destinations (Amsterdam, Paris, Paris from Henley & Marlow) is half the test.  Getting everyone up to pace (an average of 15mph), with the right kit and most importantly riding as a cohesive peloton the other.

The good news is that they’re already out training.  I’ve got some catching up to do.

chasing the tour (pt1)

chasing the tour (pt1)

18.10. A date as exciting as 25.12. Correction: More Exciting.  The day the 2017 Tour de France route was announced.  Like Christmas I was disappointed.

Why?  You can’t Chase It.

Previous years have been easy: Alps or Pyrenees?

A simple binary choice: What mountain range’s stages fall on a weekend?  Tour Chasing is only a weekend pastime (all be it long weekends) – Tour Chasers have day jobs after all.

The choice hasn’t been a choice we’ve had to make.  It’s always the Alps on the last weekend of July. The Pyrenees always seems to fall mid-week.  We’ve only made it there once in our 5 years of chasing (and having nearly died of hypothermia; we haven’t hurried back).

Thanks Monsieur Prudhomme.  3 Mountain ranges, 4 if you include the Massif Central – the Alps twice – in 3 weeks and I’m struggling to make the Bicycle Moaning Collective’s Chasing the Tour work.

Usually the Chase planning goes like this:  Wait for the official tour route to be released – although I’d been checking out the rumours online since before 2016’s Tour had finished – book lots of rooms.  I got a good idea that Briancon, the highest town in France, was going to feature.

Looking at Booking.com and the fully booked hotels throughout the Romanche Valley, from Le Bourg-d’Oisans through to Briancon and likewise in the Marianne valley confirmed it.  The Galibier was in for sure.  I just had to find the beds.  Easier said than done.

Obviously the ASO get in there first but these rumours must be sound as it seemed every other Tour Chaser in the World had already booked their hotel.  Even if you find a hotel that’s no guarantee. We were kicked out of our hotel by Skoda this year. The Tour entourage is huge and it needs to sleep somewhere.

– Not too despair.  We’ll have our bikes with us (that’s kind of the point of all this chasing) and can ride to wherever we need to be.

Grenoble and Lanslebourg-Mont-Cenis are the best I can do.  I doubled down, hedged my bets and booked beds in both, lots of beds.  We can ride in from the East or the West. There’s just the small matter of getting up and over some Monster Cols.

We’re travelling down on Wednesday.  We might just make it to the top of Telegraph, over the top and maybe to the foot of the Galibier before the Tour closes the roads.  It’s going to be tight and not how I dreamed conquering Galibier – a 6-hour drive in our legs, probably miss the Tour and not be able to climb against the traffic coming down the mountain, euphoric from chasing and catching the Tour.

On Thursday – it gets worse.  From Grenoble or Lanslebourg-Mont-Cenis to the top of Izoard is over 100km, with a sprinkling of Monster Cols and then there’s back again.  That’s not looking promising either!  Close, yet so far, the Tour within touching distance, slipping through our fingers.  

Just like Christmas, disappointment, this year’s Tour promised so much more than a pair of slippers and a sweater.

But True Tour Chasers don’t give up that easily!  After the disappointment of Christmas there is always Boxing Day.  If we miss the Tour there’s our lunch in a ski resort, probably Val D’Isere via Col d l’Iseran or maybe Alpe D’Huez.  We might still have a crack at Galibier of tick off some of the best climbs we’ve missed during the last tours, tick off some of legends.

The must do’s: Lacets de Montvernier, Col de la Madelaine, Col de la Croix de Fer or the corkscrew on Grand Colombier.

That doesn’t sound so bad.

Watch this space!

The Bicycle Moaning Collective Chasing the Tour 2016 (Edition 4)

The Bicycle Moaning Collective Chasing the Tour 2016 (Edition 4)

an article written for the bicycle moaning collective newsletter

The Bicycle Moaning Collective Chasing the Tour 2016 (Edition 4)

Stage 17 | Wednesday July 20 | 17km | Berne to Finhaut Emosson / the BMC: Chamonix

The hotel looked nice enough, attractive décor, pleasant staff, pool, sauna, Jacuzzi, spa – the usual.  None of that mattered as we hurriedly pushed through the Skoda girls mobbing reception to get to our bikes. We had a Tour de France to catch and like a very fast train it was heading our way. With only the relatively small, cute even, Col des Montets and the Swiss border between us it was very catchable.


Cut a long, hot story short – we missed it (again) but the Bicycle Moaning Collective were back, #Chasing the Tour, #Hunting down Cols – that rag bag bunch of cycling desperadoes (some who looked like they hadn’t seen their bike since the last time they were in the Alps). We had the old and the new, it’s always good to welcome newcomers (even if she was faster than most of us!)

Back over Col des Montets Tour catch or not Tour catch (as was the case) spirits were high after the first taste of an alpine descent followed by a quick beer detour into Chamonix before returning to relax around the pool with the Skoda girls and take in the magnificent views of Mont Blanc and its ailing glaciers. Any disappointment of missing Froome & Co race up to the stage finish at Emosson was long forgotten as we tried to concentrate on plans for the next day’s riding.


Stage 18 | Thursday July 21 | 17km | ITT Sallanches to Megeve / the BMC: lunch in Verbier 99 / 2424m ascent

Whilst The Tour riders had the uphill Individual Time Trial to worry about – and being only 17Km long it was a stage that we could realistically complete in full – the BMC headed in the opposite direction to Switzerland (in our vans) passing smoothly through the border (no passports required). Our heads were buzzing with Skoda girls (still) and the logistical conundrum of getting 14 riders, 1 minibus, a van and a car up, down and back up the Col de la Forclaz from Martigny, the apricot growing capital of Switzerland (and maybe of the EFTA).

Finally, it was agreed that everyone but Stevo would descend to Martigny on their bikes and he would drive the van down leaving the minibus and 1 car at the top and then on the way back…that’s as far as we got. In true BMC style we’d sort the getting back bit later.  After a nervous straight out of the van 1st proper warp-speed alpine descent and with the van parked (the 1 now the bottom of Forclaz if you’ve lost track) we started out for Verbier.  This being the Chasing the Tour tour and not a traditional BMC tour the peloton soon splintered – with a high tempo pace set at the front, no doubt to soften up any potential Verbier climb contenders.  A truce of sorts was called and we regrouped at the bottom of the climb, then promptly splintered again on the climb as Strava times were selfishly chased.

It’s not every day you can go to Verbier for lunch. We earned that lunch.  Scorching hot?  Yes. Brutally steep? Yes.  A baptism of fire for some, a nasty reminder for others but apparently easy for Mrs KHC. Luckily Verbier was the end of the road, with only a gravel road over the top (that only Kiero eyed wistfully), it was back the way we had come.  That brutally steep climb was now a devilish descent, awakening our senses – sharpening the eyes, gripping the brakes, tasting flies, smelling Hansford’s brakes and hearing his screams as he hurtled too close to the precipice.


Back on the road to Martigny we concocted an unofficial race, with riders attacking (foolishly) off the front at 60kmph only to be pulled back in by the collective will of the game peloton or more likely stopped in their over eager tracks by the damning headwind of truth and fading, retreating back to the shelter of the smirking peloton; until they were ready to go for the breakaway again. Being an unofficial BMC race – there were no official winner.

The reward for being first was to try again to solve our earlier conundrum of getting 14 riders and their bikes into a van with only 3 seats back to the top of Forclaz, eventually solved by a handful of the overly-keen tackling the penultimate climb of yesterday’s stage (and one of the worst climbs known to the Tour due to its dreary, unrelenting drags with few hairpins until near the summit, to add character or a much needed centrifugal kick). It was a hot, muggy, devoid of visual stimulus kind of climb.

The only interest in the dreary rain was watching the Tour debris clean up-parties removing the evidence that the immortals had climbed the same way the day before, promotional cr#p thrown by the caravan. Whether it was the thunder and lightning that cracked first or the rear half of the peloton but Mrs KHC soon burned the bunch off her back wheel, disappearing fast in the drizzle and low cloud with Stevo (that’s how rumours start…) – chased relentlessly by the Doog.

The sarcastically cheering welcome party at the top didn’t provide much comfort either. The other half of the equation had been solved by Hansford’s ingenuity.  Having foreseen a circumstance where he could avoid a 13km climb he’d ardently volunteered to be insured on the van.  Selflessly he drove the mechanical cheats to the top, blind and shaken around the hairpins in the back of a hot van – just punishment for their cheating.

Stage 19 | Friday July 22 | 146km | Albertville to Saint-Gervais Mont Blanc / the BMC: various 102km / 2053m ascent

Sensing that Tour was reaching its climax the Skoda girls in the hotel made their move, offering the more easily led members of the BMC, finish line hospitality passes for the day’s stage. There was a steely determination at breakfast that this was the day when we were all definitely catching the Tour, whether it be sipping champagne in hospitality, standing on the side of a wet mountain wearing a plastic bag or at the foot of the day’s final climb (when you’ve underestimated how long it takes to complete 2053m over 3 monster climbs and 100km).


The day’s best laid plans lasted all of 2 minutes when the keys to the unlocked minibus disappeared up the mountain (all be it slowly) in Big Carl’s jersey pockets and had to be retrieved. By the time the minibus was secured the BMC were spread out on various roads leading up to maybe Megève, or was it Saint Gervais or quite possibly neither? Maybe the presence of CheeseMap on the mountain had something to do with the directional dispersion. Of course it would all work out in the end – whatever happened we’d all meet in a bar in Saint-Gervais Les Bains, that didn’t even need to be planned for.

Whether it was planned or not, 3 of the BMC set off on a 3 Col super ride: up to Megève, over Col des Aravis – complete with chalets, cows with cow bells in alpine meadows, through half-recognised ski resorts – ticking all the boxes without shredding the legs, onwards and upwards over Col de la Colombière, the day’s biggie. Whilst the pace on the road was good for the moving average, the time taken to drink coffee, chew on baguettes and gorge on tarts in the col-top cafes was hurting the overall average.  As the storm clouds re-gathered and the Tour moved relentlessly towards St Gervais, from the summit top of Colombière the 3 had to lift their game, Miss Daisy Jones had to descend like stone not a feather.  The race was on.


The solution was obvious. The Doog was put to work on the front, his panting ignored as he dragged the chase group back to St Gervais.  Despite some shameless shirking (from this author) they made it to see a Romain Bardet and domestique race pass en-route to deliver a rare French stage victory, followed by battered, bruised and bloodied Chris Froome, jersey ripped but holding on to his third Tour win.  That wasn’t the highlight of the day though.  That belonged to the Quintana as he got to descend with the BMC back down the mountain to the tour buses (his was the one with the on-board shower but no stop for beers before the hotel).

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Stage 20 | Saturday July 23 | 146km | Megeve to Morzine / the BMC: Taninges to Les Gets 78km / 2361m ascent

Last day of the Tour proper and last day of Chasing the Tour. The split in the group was well established by now.  Roughly along the lines of those who wanted to enjoy themselves and those that wanted to enjoy themselves by hurting themselves a little bit more. There’s more people into this than you might think and the selection evened up into a 60:40 split.

For Team Leisurely Ride there was just the small matter of the notorious Col du Joux Plan before finding a bar to watch the final mountain showdown of the 2016 Tour. As it was the 2 groups had very similar days with the exception that Team Max Mosley had to haul itself up Col de la Ramaz, a nasty climb, steep and spiteful especially through the dark tunnel section but with a quite magnificent open bowl before the true summit providing a 2-mile-wide amphitheatre to watch the tour play out (if you were stopping to watch the Tour that is). Instead the BMC raced down off Col du Ramaz, a messy thin ribbon of tarmac, rutted, scarred with untidy bitumen repairs mixed in with gravel, greasy white lines and rollercoaster hairpins – steep and banked like a natural velodrome.  The race wasn’t a fair one, DrewVo had split, proving once and for all Dad’s descend slower.

Whereas Team Leisure got to have a jolly old time in a bar in Les Gets, Team Max rode back from Morzine in the rain (there’s a moral in there somewhere…I’m just not sure what it is). Both teams got to descend into Taninges, pace-line like hell to Samoen then crucify themselves painfully on CdJP.  Except Stevo who found some new skinny French bike friends to climb with. CdJP is tough, even tougher when the grim faced gendarmes make you cyclo-cross across a muddy ravine in cleats across the summit (wrecking Strava times in the process…the stewards inquiry rumbles on for this one).


With the 2016 Tour’s final climb bested there was still it’s final descent to look forward to…except if you were Team Max who were forced to descend in a sadistic thunderstorm at a pace so sensibly slow as to defy gravity, so slow that to date only Descending Miss Daisy Jones had been able to achieve on a consistent basis (whatever the weather). The road down becomes a river; we tip toed around the hairpins until we entered the barriers that marked the last 3km to the finish line. We almost certainly shouldn’t have been. You’re not allowed to drive your car around an F1 circuit before the race starts.  Under the gaze of the massed Tour spectators as the Tour closed up its mountain shop for the year, so did we.

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Crossing the same finish line, roared home by the same crowd (in our dreams). As Froome’s Team Sky steam rolled the opposition into the melting tarmac with a pre-ordained inevitability the BMC showed its always best to get out on your bikes and make your own fun.

empty head

empty head

My bike and I are on Cycle Super Highway 8.  My head is still in the Alps.  It’s the same when I’m sat at my desk at work.  It hasn’t been easy to fit back into my normal life.  Whilst 3 weeks on Froome & Co have moved on to Rio, I’m still looking at my col top photos, planning routes for future col conquering trips (I like the sound of the Circle of Death in the Pyrenees) and my head is still a whirl of cycling cliché ridden flashbacks, flickering like movie reel, playing over again and again.

Our unofficial race from Verbier to Martigny (the centre of the apricot growing universe) with riders attacking off the front at 60kmph only to be pulled back in by the collective will of the rag bag peloton or more likely stopped in their over eager tracks by the damning headwind of truth and fading, retreating back to the safety of that same rag bag peloton; until they’re ready to go for the breakaway again.

The world has an infinite ability to move on.  Look at the news.  The bloodless coup that saw Cameron’s clique ousted not by the coup leaders but by Teresa May’s puritan posse. Forgotten.  Labour leadership battle, hardly newsworthy, not even the intriguing undercurrent of plotting Trotskyists lurking in the shadows.  Syria and its refugees a footnote.  All overshadowed by the Rio Olympics.

Stevo pulling a neat line of us up Col du Forclaz, Wout Poels like, until the elastic snaps and I fall off the back, legs pounding out squares rather than spinning effortlessly like Christine’s as she floats past.  My stomach is cramping with hunger pains, a sure sign of hitting the wall.  I’m blowing up, with a low rumble of thunder the skies open bringing refreshing rain, part washing off the ingrained grime and sweat.  Forclaz was so bad it was almost good, the climb itself wasn’t too tough but the long grinding road lacks visual drama, making it a mental rather than physical haul to the top. The top is a relief, bathed in sunshine, the storm has passed over in the time it’s taken me to ascend.

The Olympics brings us wall to wall joy, hope and over achievement.  A rainbow of colourful drama to banish the recent darkness from our lives.  It’s almost as if it planned.  The economic fallout from BREXIT, conveniently unreported, what we don’t see can’t hurt us.  The American car crash Presidential Election.  Actually that’s still receiving of column inches because it’s entertainment: Presidential Election Reality TV.

Descending off Col du Ramaz, a messy thin ribbon of tarmac, rutted, scarred with untidy bitumen repairs mixed in with gravel, greasy white lines and rollercoaster hairpins – steep and banked like a natural velodrome.  I’ve no idea how to ride them properly, maybe like a mountain bike berm, that’ll do, not too much speed scrubbed off.   Stevo and DrewBear have gone, disappeared down the road, its’s still worth chasing them, attacking out of the hairpins for the hell of it, to do the brutal climb justice, to pay back the legends who inspired in memorial posters on every hairpin on the way up – Coppi, Anquetil, Merckx, Hinault, LeMond, Indurain (no poster for Armstrong, he’s been erased).  It’s a good one, with the road as good as closed we can confidently-ish use its whole width, not as good as the descent of Colombier the day before but we’re in the alpine descent sweet shop so no need to compare.

Olympic flavoured Dopamine for the masses.  The Developed World masses – investment in Olympic glory does little to alleviate the pain and suffering outsides of the medal table top 20.  Even in the top 10 countries what do all these medals achieve?  A satisfied population?  Unedifying glory on the world stage?  It beats going to war.  It beats being miserable.  State sponsored escapism can be good.  Our sportsmen are our modern day warriors, adventurers, heroes.  They don’t need to defeat an armada to earn a knighthood. Which is progress of sorts.

On the road between Taninges and Samoens we’re at Tour peloton pace, or close enough.  A disciplined pace line hauling 45kph, racing in the suppressive heat of the valley floor, taking our turns on the front, sun burnt noses in the wind, team time trialling to the foot of Col du Joux Plan before it gets closed.  That and hunting down coffee and pastries (plural). It’s a brutal pace, we’re being made to work hard in the chain gang.  I let them go as we arrive at the outskirts of Samoens, saving myself for the climb, besides I know where the best café in town is.  They’ll have to wait for me.

 The media decides the news that we see.  Have they decided it’s time for us to be happy?  Or what are they trying to hide?  We should be suspicious of the 4th estate as any of the other 3.  What news will shoulder its way back into the limelight when the Olympics has ended.  The old stuff or new news?

The crowd are closing in on top of brutal col du Joux Plan, the gap in road no wider than a meter.  I’m in the crazy footage you see when the pro riders climb Alpe D’Huez, Ventoux, Galibier and the spectators, close in, over step the mark.  I’m not about to hit anyone.  This is too exciting and I haven’t even started the descent.  Then I do and so does the rain.  Lots of rain starts.  Thunder too.  The road down becomes a river; I tip toe around the hairpins to scared to regret the lost opportunity to push max speed.  I can’t see much other than huddled spectators waiting for me to slip/slide off the road.  They don’t mean me ill; they’ve just had a long roadside wait of nothing much too see.  Satisfied that I’d cashed in a month’s worth of risk cheques in 1 sodden descent I was in the barriers.  The barriers that mark the last 3km to the finish line.  I almost certainly shouldn’t have been. You’re not allowed to drive your car around an F1 circuit before the race starts.  Under the gaze of the massed Tour spectators I don’t know whether to look serious, grin like an idiot or concentrate on not losing it on the still wet corners until crossing the finish line where my grin is unstoppable.

That’s better.  My memories have been backed up to the hard drive.  Time to sit back and enjoy the Olympics.

cycling the new rugby

cycling the new rugby

This is the fourth year the Bicycle Moaning Collective have been Chasing the Tour.  I don’t know who came up with the name – Kiero I think (our club photographer and mechanic – talented guy, if only he could climb as fast as his wife).  The idea wasn’t strictly mine either. I stole it off Ned Boulting (“How I won the yellow jumper” circa 2011).

As a journalist, Ned, gets to follow the Tour de France (TdF) from ringside. Initially he was employed to bravely/foolhardy-ly chase down Mark Cavendish (who’s interviews pin-ball between exuberant, venomous or banal (or all 3 at once)) for a post sprint sound bite.  This year he’s progressed to the role of ITV 4’s ‘voice of the tour’ providing excellent commentary alongside David Millar (I have to admit Ned is something of an inspiration to me).

I saw no reason why I couldn’t get close to the action too – even without a media pass. That’s the great thing about the TdF – you can.  In 2012 we did.  CheeseMap, Stevo and I loaded our bikes into the Volvo and chased the tour from Col du Girond in the Alps, via Mont Ventoux and on to the Port de Lers in the Pyrenees.  And we’ve been chasing it very year since. The only difference is that there are more of us Tour Chasers each year. 14 to be exact, 1 short of a rugby team.

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Looking around at lunch in Verbier (yes lunch in Verbier on a Thursday), even though we’re pretty much all resplendent in the Bicycle Moaning Collective club kit we’re all individuals, different sizes/personality/background – that’s what I like about this bunch.  Even though we’re wearing our cycling kit these Bicycle Moaning Collective Tour Chasers look more like a rugby club than a cycling club. We drink like a rugby club. OK – maybe that’s an exaggeration but we’ve got a couple of 2nd rows, a centre, a few wingers and definitely some flankers.  That’s how rugby used to be, a game for any size and any shape. That’s not so much the case these days but it still can be with cycling.

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Is cycling the new rugby?  It’s been the new golf and the new mid-life crisis.  If you have to have a mid-life crisis, then riding your bike in the mountains must be one of the best.  Our big guys might not climb as quickly as the whippets but if they’ve got ‘big balls’ (as Sagan so eloquently puts it) – they’re catching everyone up on the descents.  It’s their rear wheel that the whippets desperately cling onto when the power is applied and the pace lifts on the flat gradient of the valley floor. In the end, over the course of a ride, it all evens out, we all arrive at the bar at the same time and all have stories to tell.

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Lots of stories. We’ve nearly got it perfect this year. No shivering on a mountainside in sleet, no riding the wrong way up the mountain and being stopped by unimpressed gendarmes (all 2012 errors).  Sure there are always wrong turns and dead ends (more accurately the gravel roads over the top of Col de la Marlene above Verbier – all are integral to the adventure and those stories.

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