The Tour de Force

The Tour de Force

Tuesday, 21 July 2015

Bullitt! Stage 18: Gap to Saint-Jean-de-Maurienne...Thursday 16th July 2015

Bit like TLR giving it les beans. Still unbeatable for a chase scene!

Blimey. No further message.
What...climbing right away? Outrageous behaviour!
Something clearly wrong here: I was ready early. Collector's item again.
We rolled out until beautiful skies straight into a steady climb: what always follows a climb? Alright, apart from the sweating'n'swearing...a lovely descent. At least until the next set of rollers come at you. It was going to be like that until the first real 'named' climb of the day, and what a name too: La Col de la Morte. Nice! We stopped at the summit as per and mugged a pose as per: shortly after the descent we spotted Tour Guru Phil ahead but stationary at the side of the road talking to a third party. We shouted hello and sped-by with Andy saluting and me high-fiving Phil, hah-hah! I think he enjoyed it as much as we did...gotta have the nonsense, right?

Hmmm...looks like we're getting a tad too close to those lumps.
Atop one of those lumps: The Damned! I'm wearing two pairs of shorts in a bid to suffer a bit less...
'Nuff said.
Without a doubt, the main event of today was always going to be the slog up The Glandon. Dear me, the first half of it has already been struck-off my Christmas card was bloody awful, even with a cafe stop. Gradient and heat are not always that much fun! I was dropped by Chris, Andy and Annabel (noted for future reference, hah-hah!) but was starting to recover a little during the start of the second half when I held back to take a couple of photos and then punctured. At least they were still at the summit's feed stop when I got there.

Oh dear: the start of the climb up The Glandon. the first half of it was awful. Truly awful.
Dam/damn Le Glandon. I prefer the latter.
The other side of that dam...looks lovely and to be fair, the second half of the climb ain't as bad. Good spot to puncture too...
Waterfalls all over the shop.
Chris, Annabel and some skinny Irish bloke.
Technique on display on the way down from The Glandon...go Annabel!
Grandma Bardet/Chris gives it some.
Le Billy de No Mates.
More loveliness.
Whilst The Glandon may have been the big name for today, the real Hollywood climb was Les Lacets de Montvernier which is barely 2 miles long but crams in a ton of hairpins. Think of Lombard Street in San Francisco and then triple it!

Ridiculous and yet strangely quite fun. Honest.
Les Lacets de Montvernier. More hairpins per mile than anywhere!
Told you. Just unreal.
We re-grouped again after the climb and enjoyed the run in to the hotel: I tried a little pretend breakaway which the cycling gods clearly didn't like...I punctured again 200 yards from the hotel and tried running across the 'finish line', hah-hah! No matter, I was able to ask one of the mechanics to adjust the rim tape and fit a.n.other new tube. Number four so far...

Tour Supremo Sarah then had a little bit of bad news for a few of us, including me and Andy. Basically, Le Dibble had stopped one of the luggage vans earlier in the afternoon and claimed that it was overloaded: this was a first, and it meant that Beth had to be left on the roadside with the offending items for a few hours whilst the van continued to our destination, unloaded and then turned-back again. All it meant was that we wouldn't have luggage until after dinner: worse things happen etc.. Sarah clearly spotted us as management material, as she presented us two with TdF staff t-shirts so at least we could shower and wear clean gear on our top-halves, hah-hah!

A post-massage, pre-luggage grin. What else can you do?
Because we had Le Chapeau today it was our job to decide who to award it to and why: we reckoned we should deliver a paragraph of the speech each. The recipient was Chris Ware, who had helped Annabel today and had done that to a few others during the tour, plus it gave Andy and myself an opportunity to put the boot in too, hah-hah! Seemed like a popular choice, to be fair...

After dinner, several riders found a kebab shop around the corner (Peter 'Lemond' Davies is your man to ask in these vital second-meal matters)...the proprietor was having a quietish night up until that point! It was a big old day today, but there'll be another one tomorrow...

Please click HERE for travelling light stats!

(We Are) The Road Crew! Stage 17: Dignes-les-Bains to Pra Loup...Wednesday 15th July 2015

Can't speak highly enough of this bunch. (Will that do, guys...can I have my bike back now please?) Photo by Paul Davy.
Today's ditty is for the TdF support staff: they're immense!
Sometimes only Chairman Lem & Co. will do...
Coach transfer before & after the stage. Oh good!
Lumps & bumps. Well it is The Alps!
This morning was an early start and it would be a long old day with a coach transfer to the start of the stage and one back to our hotel at the end. Aw diddums! As you can see from the stage profile above, we'd be seeing quite a bit of going up and down...

Saw quite a few 'Route Napoleon' signs along the way. He got around a bit.
There's always one...Chris appearing to find it a bit easier than Le Tracteur, hah-hah!
Sylvain applying medium beans for a downhill stretch. Immaculate as ever.
The landscape lends itself to hydro-electric activity...dams and lakes ahoy!

Bad enough looking at a photo, let alone the real thing!
Whilst I descend in a rather sedate fashion, others push on...just stay on the right side of the road please. Oh, you are.
Quiet as. Except for the wheezing, natch.
And back up we go, this time to the highest point on Le Tour...
I free-lanced after lunch and stopped to buy a tuna sandwich to help me get to the top of today's biggest climb and the highest point on this year's tour, the Col d'Allos. Those calories were burned easily and the climb was almost enjoyable, except for the annoying flies. There was a feed-stop at the the summit and I don't reckon anyone stayed too long...except for the long-suffering support crew who had to staff it. The guys will always play some top tunes at a stop too: the TdF iPod is remarkably similar in content to my own, hah-hah!
Strangely, I didn't find this climb too bad. Apart from the wee bast*rd flies, hah-hah!
It was during today that it struck me just how much work that the TdF support crew do: loading and transporting luggage and bikes, buying, preparing and setting-up feed stops, the all-important route signing, the fixing of bikes, medical advice and help, cycling with the last riders on the road and giving them all possible help and Goodness knows what else. Their hours are way worse than ours and yet they still have tons of enthusiasm and bonhomie. I'm in awe, really.
'Paramount Studios' mountains, the smell of pine...blimey.
As seen on the run into Pra Loup...Phil keep me company on the way up.
From the top it was a case of turn around and get down to the coach pick-up point in 25 minutes: this is to make sure that you're on the first coach as there'll be a wait of over an hour for the second one...always trying to make a long day slightly more manageable. As ever, you cheered on any riders that you passed on the way makes a difference, at least to me.

After dinner I asked one of the Docs to give me some medical alcohol to rub on my now very painful posterior: saddle sores are a nightmare to be blunt. I reckon you may have heard my yell back in Blighty: this stuff is napalm, but it is supposed to toughen-up the vital areas...
Things are getting desperate!
After dinner each night, there are two briefings for the riders. The first one is delivered by Sarah and involves admin for the following day: times of transfers and where to leave luggage etc., whilst the second one is given by Phil, and concerns the terrain that we'll tackle the next many miles, climbs etc.. All good to know!

This leads to the first of the three daily awards for individual riders: Phil will award a laminated route map of that day's stage to the rider that he thinks really pulled-out all the stops. Quite a few riders will have to put in very long days, which then impacts on recovery time for the following day. I have nothing but the greatest respect and admiration for these guys because almost certainly every day when they wake they know that it's going to be another tough one. Takes some doing...

The second and third awards are decided by the current holders of them: the first one is the Pink Horn which is won for dubious fashions, faux pas on the bike or generally daft behaviour. The recipient has to attach the hooter to his handlebars for the duration of the following day's ride. The disgrace, hah-hah!

The final award is 'The Chapeau' award which is given to a rider who has done something to help his colleagues in some way, shape or form. Well lo and behold, guess who was awarded it tonight? Jolyon was the current holder and nominated myself and Andy (we now also go under various other monikers like Ant & Dec, Laurel & Hardy and most worryingly, The Chuckle Brothers!) because we have been known to take the odd turn at the front of groups (well, Andy more than me, obvs) and are usually in good spirits...anyway we retired a nearby pizza joint for a top-up meal and to model the beret, attracting some looks from the locals, hah-hah!
Giving it Le Fred Scuttle dans le chapeau. Le clown!

I do have a bit of previous...

2014: 1000 miles solo & unsupported out to France, then La Bicinglette...6 x Mont Ventoux in a day!

2013: 1000 miles solo & unsupported out to Austria, then the worst climbs in The Dolomites!

2012: The inaugural Haute Route sportive from Geneva to Nice, followed by the worst Pyrenean climbs!

2011: 3500 miles across North America...coast to coast!

2010: 1600 miles from Gibraltar to Blackpool!

2009: 1000 miles from Land's End to John O'Groats!

2008: 250 miles from Blackpool to London!

2007: 100 miles around Manchester!

2006: 0.5 mile to corner shop!