Thursday, 20 December 2012

Let's Work Together!

Thursday 20th December, 2012

This is definitely the last word from least in this consider that an early Christmas present, hah-hah!
Speaking of which, I was reunited with my Felt last night in the fine surroundings of Gatwick's North Terminal, and let me tell you folks it has rarely looked finer. Well worth the 550 mile round trip- and let me also tell you that the M25 has rarely looked more alluring, especially at 2mph- to be able to take delivery of my early Christmas present!

"It's Christmas!!!"

A big thank-you to Jim Alrain and his mate who packed the bike up so well and carted it with them: it arrived in the same condition as when I finished the Alpe d'Huez TT: remember this?

Anyway, aside from that result I was sent a charming 'thank you' letter from the Leukaemia & Lymphoma Research charity. Not quite so much/anything at all from the North West Air Ambulance folk but I know that we raised £1600 for them, so bravo!

I want to share their heartfelt gratitude with you folk who actually put their hands in i.e. you chisellers, so well done and good on you!

Ok, so it is almost time to start another blog for another adventure...The Italian Job 2013 !



Saturday, 1 September 2012

Pride and Joy

Friday 31st August: Day five of the Pyrenean beasting!

Today brought the final climb of the nigh-on two week adventure. Andy took great delight in basically smashing the whatsits out of the Col de Chioula: he salvaged a bit of pride as I had had the better of this second week, which is something that no one in their right mind saw coming, hah-hah-hah!

The Tractor disappears into the clag: he did wait for me so that we could reach the summit in the same time zone. Gracias amigo!
I reckoned that my legs had already checked-out and were in Barcelona- I could barely climb out of bed let alone climb another bleedin' col!

The last one...done!


Anyway we did it, shook hands, took photos and then descended back to our welcoming hotel in Ax-Les-Thermes where we set about packing away our bikes and all the other nonsense that we brought.

One item that wouldn't require packing was my ten-year old pair of cycling shoes: you can only wonder and guess at how fragrant they were- they still had some sand in them from last year's U.S.A. trip, hah-hah!

The next thing was to get the hire car back to Alamo in one piece: sounds easy, right? Well we decided to increase the fun-factor by going via my hotel on the Placa Catalunya just for a laugh...the trip back out to the airport included a very nervous navigation of La Rambla.

Anyway, with Andy's help we did drop the C4 off and then he checked his bags in, which meant we had only one more "job of work" to do: get stuck in to a couple of cold ones! Terminal 2 at Barcelona airport isn't the most bijou of locations but needs must and the price was right at under three Euros for an Estrella!

Cue the 'Laurel & Hardy' theme again!

So what have I discovered over the last two weeks?

1) French customer service has cemented it's place at the bottom of the league table! "Non".

2) Even when you really feel like there is nothing left to give, you can surprise yourself and keep going.

3) French cu...oh, we've done that one.

4) I cannot count: there were 12 days cycling all told. D'oh!

So what did I enjoy about the last two weeks?

1) The  most amazing scenery and roads of which no amount of my shoddy photos and videos can ever hope to do justice. "You really must go" if at all possible. Just jaw-dropping at times!

2) The company of some decent, funny and likeable folk, as well as being proper cyclists!
An honourable mention goes to my room-mate Andy "The Tractor": anyone who can put up with me for a fortnight deserves a medal, and a free pass for six months psychiatric counselling. Cheers pal- you made a difficult task an awful lot easier. By the way, are you sure that we are all-square for the toll roads?

3) The support and encouragement from you blog readers and FB sorts: you'll never realise the lift that your daft comments gave me, so thank you.

4) Although they may not give deux figs about le customer, I was genuinely astounded by the unconditional support from the French. They would line their town and village streets (sorry, rues) when we breezed/wheezed through and clap and cheer us, or bang the sides of their car doors and shout "allez, allez" or "bon courage mon ami" as we struggled upwards. They always got an acknowledgement from me and if possible, hands off the bars and a reciprocated round of applause. I loved them for all that!

5) It's probably fair to say that the top-brass of the organisers may have disappointed me with his attitude to my bike going walkabout, but a very big thank-you is due to his team: they faced a logistical nightmare e.g. transporting our bags to different hotels, but far more important was the completely efficient and safe manner in which they handled the road traffic situation for us, as far as was possible. And thanks too for all the genuine enouragement: it really meant a lot...mind you, so did the secret stash of Mars Bars!

Not sure if this was me struggling with reversed-brake levers or trying to decapitate the smudger!

So here I sit on La Rambla watching the skimpily-dressed world sashay on by, nursing a large cold one. I have the same empty feeling that I had in Boston at the finale of the America trip: before you all get the world's smallest violin out for me, I should say that if you had to choose a place to be deflated then surely Barcelona has to be right up there, hah-hah-hah!

A massive thank you too to the people who sponsored me and donated to the two great charities: I just pray that none of us ever need them.

Right, it is time to put away "the suitcase of courage" for a little while...although it was the last thing on my mind when I awoke this morning, I just couldn't help myself, could I?

Giving it some 'Nerys Hughes district nurse' at Barceloneta

                                                  Rubbish final climb stats!


**Update on Wednesday 5th September**

Two bits of good news today...

1) Thanks to an insanely generous donation from m'boss, Young Katie, both fundraising targets have been reached. Good on you all!

2) I had a message from the Haute Route organisers to let me know that the French police have recovered my bike in the town of Bourg D'Oisans, which lies at the foot of L'Alpe d'Huez. Apparently it is in "ok" condition but we have to somehow ship it back to sunny Lancashire...still, that is a totally unexpected bonus!

Please check back on the blog as there are still more dodgy photos (some pro shots) to be uploaded. Fair warning and all that!

'Nuff said.

Thursday, 30 August 2012

Misty Mountain Hop

Wednesday 29th August: Day three of the Pyrenean beasting!

Today was a transit day from Argeles-Gazost to Ax-Les-Thermes with a stop-off to take care of a couple of minor bits of speed-bump business on the way. The only thing that travelling on French roads confirms is that their DJ's choice of music is even worse than mine...and I do mean awful! Cue 'Boney-M' for a bonus.

The first climb was the 14km Col de Peyresourde which was frankly unpleasant due to the hanging diesel fumes and the false flats which kill the legs.

Above the diesel fumes and away from the crowd...

Solid camera work from The Cloggies. Schweet!

Two 'wins' today on these horrible, long climbs- believe me, they don't give their views away cheaply. Superbagneres especially deserves a mention because of it's varying gradients, with the last 2 km ramping up to will have heard the language back in the U.K. for sure.
We saw this Tour Legend sign above another bike shop- we didn't go in...

Continuing our recent refuelling-form , it was a case of (alright, only two) hot chocolates at both summits. And Solaros. Junk rules!

No product placement here.
Slowly my body is telling me that I have been taking liberties for the last 2 weeks (and beyond) but the conundrum is always the same: the more you do, the more tired you get but the stronger you get too. Still me arse is ragged, hah-hah!

Milka moos nearby...

Always love the French tree-lined streets an' that.
Not my arse but yer actual Pyrenean speed-bumps.

                                          Day 3 stats...ouch!

Thursday 30th August: Day 4 of the Pyrenean beasting

This morning was met with low cloud and continual persistance: it was even worse when we looked out of the window...

The view from our reinforced balcony.

The start of the nasty, horrible Col de Plateau de Beille.

 The Umpires (i.e. me and Andy) made a further pitch inspection and declared play possible. Shame.

"...Godber...". Heartening to see a tribute to perhaps the finest British sit-com.

I had to fight and fight and fight up to the summit of this mountain: it was a new experience for us because we climbed into cloud which didn't help breathing/wheezing or because of the clawing cold and damp. To be fair, we had been lucky with the weather until now. Until now...

Just follow the road.
We had a life-reviving hot chocolate at the summit and met a couple from Brum who were camping (!) despite the awful weather. Hardy, if a tad unbalanced.

Bit of a tourist trap.

The decent was made without arm-warmers (d'oooooooh) and in still-air temperatures of 9c which meant chattering teeth, frozen hands and a desire for a hot shower like you wouldn't believe.

Put bluntly, I never want to do that again. After a pizza and a beer and a glance outside the window it was obvious that further play was a just the one col for us today, although one that I would avoid in the future.

 Day 4 Pyenean stats!

Tuesday, 28 August 2012

Spanish Caravan

Monday 27th August: Day one of the Pyrenean beasting!

The first day of 'Operation: Pyrenean beasting' begins in a hell of a more civil fashion than the last operation, thankfully! Breakfast at 0745? Marvellous, isn't it?

No more of this cardboard-dried fruit garbage either. Result!

It was a surprisingly robust start from our hotel in Argeles-Gazost but I amazed myself by climbing relatively ok, and we reached the first target (Col du Soulor) without too many profanities uttered.

Corn? Maize? Mountain!

Just for proof, you understand. Car parked just out of shot...

Amazing views on the way to the Col d'Aubisque. Don't look down!

Every  view is bought and paid for!
Laurel & Hardy pushing a piano?
7000c wheels.
The only things adhering to the 25km/h speed limit are the motor and le sheep.

We had a lunch break back in A-G and then set about giving The Hautacam a shoeing. Yeah, right! In temperatures of up to 38c. With ever-changing gradients of between 5% and 13%. I was giddy (read 'stupid') enough to showboat a little and got my arse duly kicked by the mountain: it was bloody awful to be fair, hah-hah!

Plenty pleased to see this banner.
The cafe owner at the summit asked how long the climb had taken us: after he had stopped laughing in my sweat-drenched face, he said that the record was 42 minutes...and mimicked sticking a needle into his arm. Awwww, say it ain't so?

Pretty nice neck of the woods. Just a tad difficult to climb you understand!

We flew back down to A-G: actually we took the bicycles (badum-kish!) and attended to 'admin' back at the hotel i.e. hand-washing a ton of clothes before we went to the cafe in the town square for a couple of pre-dinner snifters: perhaps my favourite part of the day, when I'm not gliding up mountains of course, ahem...

The hotel dinner was fine, as per, and The Tractor's Del-Boy Franglais ensured us an extra helping of pasta.

 Never realised that the bloke excels as a dietician too, obviously. Bonnet de douche!

                                                        Day 1 Pryenean stats!

Tuesday 28th August: Day two of the Pyrenean beasting!

There was a big old thunderstorm overnight but by the time we were loaded-up and on the road at 0900 it was regulation blue skies. Fantastic!

Our first climb was the 15km trek up to Luz Ardiden and it was one that I had sort of looked forward to (albeit with no little fear) because I remembered watching the Tour de France back in 2003 when Lance Armstrong had his handlebars snagged by a kid's bag-strap and come crashing down, only to absoulutely charge up the climb and emphatically win the stage.

 Look at the extraordinary footage below...if you can see beyond the massaged words:

I watched in disbelief as he rode, or smashed his his way up and past his rivals towards the finish line in a furious charge. It was truly a great moment in sport and I remember the thrill in watching it all unfold.

2003 was also the first year that I went to see the finale of the TdF on the Champs Elysee- as Ray Wilkins would have it, "My word, my word...what a spectacle for the young man." Lance won of course, and I cheered accordingly and felt  priviliged in seeing a true sporting champion at the top of this game.

What I still vividly remember is the crowd giving Lance respect and applause of course but this was dwarfed by the acclaim, well-wishing and love for his beaten rival, Jan Ullrich, who did seem to be a much more personable guy all round. The difference in the half-million strong crowd's reaction was like night and day.

 What linked these two rivals? Well, Ullrich has admitted doping and now Lance has refused to defend doping charges brought by the U.S.A.D.A. with the result that he has been stripped of all of his seven TdeF titles. Join the dots yourselves.

A lot of people had suspected for a long time that Lance had used banned products or practices to maintain or gain an advantage over his rivals and now it seems the game is up. I only wish that he and his partner-in-crime, Johann Bruyneel, would come clean and say what they did. No harm in being an optimist, right?

So why have I wasted both your's and my time mentioning this? Well, because my climb up to Luz Ardiden mattered to me because in some ridiculously small way it somehow reclaimed a llittle piece of the sport. Believe me when I say I gave it everything: nobody passed me and even Andy was about a km behind by the summit. This probably sounds (or reads) a little childish perhaps but it meant something to me. Awww, say it ain't so, Lance? Right we'll move on before I disappear up my own tail-pipe...

Luz Ardiden dealt with. Let's go!

And below shows the beginning of the run back!

After a short break we have at the Col du Tourmalet, which has a rep as bad as George Foreman had circa 1973.

Alright, alright...we all know you've got previous.
It was like a Madonna concert (or so Mr. Eason tells me): a case of grind, grind and grind again for the first 10km until I felt alright/stupid enough to take the fight to the mountain: remarkably, the final score was a draw with me shading the second half!

A great cyclist: RIP Monsieur Fignon.

I was already praying.
Tribute to my old mate, Jens.
Alright, we'll call it a draw! Dunno who the wee scrote on the lhs is though.
The Tractor arrived at the summit's cafe shortly after me and it was (whisper it) time for a hot chocolate. My idea, to be fair and one of my better ones. Photos and then a descent of jaw-dropping proportions: did we really climb all this nonsense?

Check your brakes first.
Yours for 520 Yo-Yos. Done!

Managed to talk Shawn down: I was afraid he might've been a wooly jumper.

"The House Of Pain" vs "The Suitcase Of Courage"
With two big-name scalps dans le bag we were content (read shattered) to call it a day and head back to A-G. We go again tomorrow...bonjours!

                                                            Day 2 Pyrenean stats!

Sunday, 26 August 2012

The Persuaders

Saturday 25th August: day seven, Auron to Nice

So the final day of 'Operation Alpine Beasting' begins like most others- with a horrifically early alarm. I will never be able to shovel down a ropey breakfast at 5.15 am, although I'm not alone in this regard. By this point I would happily serve 10 years for a 'Full Irish'.

In fact, the other day we were struggling along and tormenting/demoralising ourselves further by listing all the foods that we missed. For Heavens' Sake, we've only been away from Blighty for a week! Pathetic, isn't it?

A barely controlled descent...great for chatting to other riders though!

Looking back down as we wound our way up the first Col of the day.

Anyway, we had a controlled section for the first 16 miles before the clocks started and the first climb began. As usual I glanced across and up at what lay ahead and caught a brief glimpse of our yellow jersey leader cycling up the mountain faster than I can cycle on the flat. As the golf-saying goes, 'They play a game with which I am not familiar'.

Day seven: never mind the map, show me the sea!

By the way, the leading female cyclist is Team GB's Emma Pooley, so here is a photo of Ms. P. and her Olympic bum:

E.P. really is tiny. And fast as.
The challenge today was to cross the timing mat at the top of the Col du Vence (about 20km from Nice) by 14.25 at the latest otherwise you would be put in the broom wagon. I hadn't had that pleasure all week and as much as I wanted a rest, I really did not want to start now and was sweating big-style.

Anyway, off the top of the first climb was another beautiful descent but tragedy struck this time: a 40 year-old Swedish rider called Pontus Schultz collided with a wall on the wrong side of the road and careered into a ravine. Pontus did not survive. Everyone is desperately sorry for his family who came to the finish to see their man home.

A privilege to be cycling along these roads.

Mini Millau.
The big hand is on the...never mind all that, just shift your 'arris, lardy!

Eventually we crested the last climb and saw the '5km to go' banner: cue a realisation that this stage was dans le bag, a big shout of sheer joy and the application of full beans to the finish line.

Over the course of the week I had never walked and missed two cut-offs: one on the legendary 'Tuesday In Hell' and also on Thursday by 15 minutes or so, but I didn't really care because,

 a) I couldn't have tried any harder, and

 b) see a)

Above shows the final timing mat atop the Col du Vence- straight after was a descent with unbelievable views of the Med and then a meet-up in Vence for handhakes, hugs, a beer and a surprisingly weighty finisher's medal.

Hefty medal for a hefty cyclist. Fair deal!

I am never getting up from this chair. Ever!
We were then given a Gendarmerie (probably just made that word up) escort into Nice via the Promenade des Anglais and managed to hack-off scores of Euro-Trash motorists into the bargain. Fantastic!

On the run into Nice we have some of T.L.R., namely Andy Fla, David, Matt and The Tractor. Dunno who the interloper/wannbe on the far left is. We get a lot of that y'know.

We were staying at the polar opposite of this place regrettably. Although our hotel did have a kebab vendor outside. Open past 2am. Negresco schmesco!

It was also gratifying to note that Team Lanterne Rouge were the first eejits into the Mediterranean brine too- it was warm and felt wonderful, hah-hah!

How to empty a beach.

Martin, Andy Fla and Matt had to disappear fairly soon unfortunately but the rest of us attended the Haute Route 2012 Closing Party which quite correctly observed a one minute's silence to honour Mr. Schultz. It really is difficult to reconcile just how fleeting all this can be.

We have all met (and in some cases, been) some great company on this ride so it was always going to be a downer saying au revoir etc..

Anyway, we struggled through a monstrous downpour which killed Andy's iPhone to an Irish pub in Vieux Nice where the unofficial after-show party continued way after we left at around 2am.

Complete. And. Utter. Disgrace. Excellent!

One of T.L.R., Mark, had an airport taxi booked for 4.45am so he reckoned the best way to deal with that was to just keep going. He was our 'Man Of The Match' by a country mile: 24 carat comedy gold!

The Tractor, David, The Funniest Man In The Northern Hemisphere Last Night aka Mark, Some blinged-up lardy. Vieux Nice, 2am.

A couple of days ago a rider noticed The Tractor's number plate (which says he is a T.L.R. member) and said 'thank you'. Andy asked what for and the stranger* said that he had been about to scrub his whole Haute Route entry until he read about our team and it's less than po-faced attitude: it was then he thought that 'yeah, this will be alright!'. Good to hear that, hah-hah-hah! (*see the comments section below!)

So that is part one of the 'Toughest 11 days On A Bike' done...we have just driven 500 miles from Nice to position ourselves in Argeles-Gazost, right amongst some 'Paramount Movies'-type mountains. The fun starts again tomorrow in the a.m.: until then, cheers!

                                                               Day 7 stats!