GT15 Tour de France ‘one day ahead of the race’ to raise £1 million for Cure Leukaemia.
For those of you who may be reading this blog for the first time, it is my attempt to let everyone have a small insight into what goes into preparing for and riding the Tour de France one day ahead of the actual race. At the moment it is monthly but will go to weekly then daily. I’ve ridden many major charity challenges over the years but nothing anywhere near this magnitude!
I’m writing this blog monthly and I have recently started doing a Vlog for those of you who either find it more convenient or simply want to see and hear my discomfort!
Whilst it’s probably hard to imagine what riding 21 days, 3500 km, 20 mountain climbs, 8 mountain top finishes and an average in excess of 175km actually feels like, raising £1million pounds for Cure Leukaemia is something most people can relate to. To do this means a commitment of at least 6 months of training and a lot of discomfort so I hope that this Blog and Vlog give you a bit of an insight into it. For this blog there are 2 entries.
Sunday 2 February
It’s 8 am Sunday morning and it’s the Wyre Forest club reliability ride. An annual organised event (most cycle clubs run them in winter), which is in reality a painful pre-season race. The route is a challenging 58 mile one from Stourport taking in numerous climbs. My ride includes the 20m distance from home to the meeting point and back at the end of the day, as well as the event itself, so it’s just under 100 miles. I know that this is going to be a tough ride and I’m hoping that I’m not too wrecked on the way home!
As expected it’s cold and dull with rain forecast as I set off. The ride there is uneventful and I arrive and sign on just before the start. There are about 80 riders and I know many of them. Most are complaining about their lack of fitness, being overweight and every other excuse used by cyclists before a ride!
We go off in groups of 25 and I start with the 2nd ‘fast group’ – a big mistake as they set off way too fast for my current fitness level – so much for all of the excuses! It’s a hilly route out and by the time we reach the first big climb we are averaging in excess of 20 mph and have dropped a number of riders. I’m gasping as we go over the top and onto the descent and along with about a third of the group have dropped off the main group. I manage to get back with them on the steep descent but it is short lived as I cannot hold the pace up the next hill. From there on small groups of people at the same level form and I’m in a group of 6. It’s cold and there’s a headwind and the norm is to take turns riding on the front into the wind. However it ends up with only 3 of us taking turns as the others are in survival mode.
Eventually we get to Clows Top, a notorious 2.7km climb of 9.8% - which is nothing compared to the Tour mountains, but uncomfortable, especially at the latter part of the ride at this time of year! As we approach the summit there’s just myself and Joe, a friend I know and have ridden and raced with for years. It’s tough going and Joe is waning and looking forward to the finish. As we go over the top we are pushing our limits and I try to imagine what it will be like on the Tour ride if there was still another 10 miles of the climb to go. I say this to Joe and can’t type his response!
On the way back to the formal finish Joe offers to give me lift home to save my additional 20 mile ride – I could easily have been tempted but decline quickly before I have time to think of a hot shower and a rest an hour earlier
than if I continue.
The formal ride finishes and I begin the ride home, realising the value (and pain) of riding with groups who are faster, fitter and younger than me. It’s easy to think you’re going well if there’s no one pushing you, but riding with these guys reminds me how far I’ve still got to go to be fully fit.
The pace of the ride means I get home fairly early and have plenty of the day left, but I and my bike are absolutely filthy and I’m exhausted.
Finally I’m home and after a hot shower, food, drink and a rest, the severity of the ride and my fitness level show in my legs. I now know what it’s likely to feel like when I’m 90 years old! It’s hard to imagine that in under 5 months we’ll be riding far more than this every day for 21 days!
Saturday 8 February
It’s 6.45 and I’m up getting ready to ride out at 7.45 to the next monthly club 100 mile ride which has come around already (and is now an essential part of my training). Fuelling up for this means my usual giant bowl of muesli, shredded wheat and fresh fruit and a ½ litre of water with an isotonic zero tablet. That will keep me going for the first 1 ½ hours. This morning is not as much of a trial as it was a few months ago as at least I’m now starting in the light. However, given the choice of a shorter quicker ride and having to ride this 100 miles which will take up a large part of the day, I’d prefer the former! It’s cold, about 4 degrees and I begin by doing a short vlog, trying to smile despite the cold and being overly wrapped up.
I know that the usual suspects: Jackie, Lawrence and Elaine are riding with me today, together with Russell who planned the route, but when I get to the meeting point (9 miles from my house) we have 8 people starting the ride and 7 planning to do the full 100. I’ve already downloaded the route onto my Garmin cycle computer and I know that the food/lunch stop isn’t until over 70 miles so I have extra power bars in my pocket as I’ll need one every hour. I’m riding on the front again – the advantage being that I stay clean!
On this ride we ensure that no one is left so it’s important to maintain a pace that everyone can manage – especially when we get into the latter part of the ride. Although the weather forecast said it would be 9 degrees it doesn’t go above 4/5 degrees until we’re almost home and it’s cold. Even with the best technical clothing it can be difficult to get the right balance and keep warm. Dealing with the wind chill when riding on the flat and then not being overdressed and sweating too much and getting wet when riding up climbs can be a challenge. At least this isn’t going to be so much of a problem in the summer.
The early part of the ride is pretty hilly which clearly takes a bit of a toll on some of the riders and the big climb before lunch makes everyone struggle. We have agreed to regroup when we get over the climb but it’s obvious that Russell has dropped off (due to cramp). Lawrence agrees to wait for him and then meet us at the lunch stop which we all think is only a few miles away. It’s actually 8 miles and Russell looks a little jaded when they eventually arrive. The lunch stop is very welcome and is a great venue with good coffee and this time I have less than 30 miles to home. Lawrence is going better than on previous 100 miles rides, so for once I can’t give him as much stick. For those who’ve read my previous blogs and feel he’s had unfair focus, I should point out that he is known for making fun of everyone else – me especially!
It’s flattish on the way home and I pick up the pace a little too much and despite the wind cover, we have to slow down a little to keep everyone together. Eventually I arrive home and I feel pretty good – far better than I did last week, but I know that there is still a long way to go and a lot of miles before we are ready for France!