Setting off on Le Tour - Brest, Brittany

Setting off on Le Tour - Brest, Brittany
Ian (Left) and Matt (Right)

Hello and a very warm welcome to our blog.

We are two amateur cyclists who have decided to follow in the footsteps of our cycling heroes and ride the complete 2008 Tour de France route. This year the most famous cycle race in the world covers 3500km (2200 miles) over 3 weeks in July and takes in some of the highest mountain passes in the Pyrenees and Alps.

We will start two days after the professionals on 7th July in Brest, Brittany and ride the whole thing stage-for-stage, road-for-road, day-for-day as the pros will be. This will result in us arriving in Paris on 29th July, having averaged 100 miles per day. Please click this link to see what lies ahead of us:
Our aim is to complete the whole route and this means that we will not be racing round but riding at a sensible, sustainable pace. As a result, we expect to be in the saddle for 12 hours on some days.

Friends and family will be driving a support vehicle but we will not have the benefit of masseurs, soigneurs, chefs and team doctors that the pros have. And there will be no Testosterone, EPO or illegal blood doping going on in our Tour!

We hope to raise as much money as possible for two very worthwhile charities: Ian is raising money for CLIC Sargent and Matt for MacMillan Cancer Support. Please dig deep and support these charities via our justgiving pages on the right. Alternatively, please email us with your name, contact details and the amount you would like to donate and we will contact you after we complete our tour.

At this time, a friend of Ian's, Robbie Stuart, is fighting Leukaemia and is a supporter of CLIC Sargent's work. A link to his blog can be found here. Best wishes go to Robbie who is currently recovering from a bone marrow transplant.

Please tell you friends about our blog and what we are doing, and please send us words of encouragement and support.
We will update you with our training and we will be keeping a diary on here as we ride the event in July.

Best wishes

Ian and Matt

Sunday, 3 August 2008

Stage 21: Etampes - Paris Champs-Elysees 93km 29/7/08


PARIS - The culmination of 23 days of hard cycling through some of the wettest, hottest, mountainous terrain we had ever experienced. After 9 months of training, through the bleak British winter (and sometimes equally bleak spring), after thrills, spills and bellyaches (sorry), we were approaching the finish.

I remember being sat on my stationary trainer in my flat in December - pitch black outside - tired after work and pedalling away watching highlights of Tours de France past and dreaming of what it would be like to come round the Place de la Concorde and up the cobbled street that is the Champs Elyssee, seeing the Arc de Triomphe crowning the view.

Today was the day to realise that dream - to realise what it was to ride the Tour de France. There was no doubt that the last 3 weeks have been the hardest we've ever spent, both physically and mentally, but that didn't seem to matter today. We seemed to float along the road, laughing and joking like we had done on the first day; the climbs seemed to have flattened out, the traffic to be inconsequential.

Certainly we got lost on the way into Paris (strangely enough, in the town twinned with the town where we had both grown up - I'm sure there is some kind of strange message there), but we knew where we were heading and passing through the Forest of Meudon we descended a dual carriageway and there, above the trees, was the Tour Eiffel. We cheered and shook our fists to the sky - no matter that we were still 15km from the finish, we would make it now.

We drifted through Issy-les-Molineaux (home to the headquarters of the Tour de France organisation - no doubt busy working out 2009's route, starting in glamourous Monaco) and Boulogne-Billancourt (crossing to the North bank of the Seine) before seeing the sign saying we were entering Paris (cue more cheering).

We hurtled along the road towards the Louvre where we had to turn left to get onto the Rue de Rivoli, all the while vividly aware of the insane Paris traffic and the potential (frequently realised) for the drivers to do something unexpected.

We called those waiting for us - all our support teams had travelled over to Paris (Chris, Paula, Kate H, Kate C, Jane(Kate's Mum), Peter and Liz) - to say we were nearly there.

And then we were on the Place de la Concorde. WHICH WAY IS IT??? - Oh - it was that way!Yes, even within about 200m of the finish line I managed to take us in slightly the wrong direction!

But no worries, there it was the Champs Elysse - although they didn't appear to have stopped the traffic for us (very inconsiderate). It was 15:01 on Tuesday 29th July and we had completed the Tour de France route for 2008, the 95th running of the event.

We cycled all the way up to the Arc de Triomphe where we saw everyone waiting for us.

Big smiles, unstoppable grins, photos galore. It all seemed to go by so quickly.

We were standing in bright yellow Le Tour t-shirts in front of the Arc and all of a sudden a tiny Japanese lady came and stood next to me to have her photo taken. Then a group of Spanish students huddled round to get their photo taken with us - it was all very surreal.

Some old family friends had come all the way from Normandy (Claudine and Serge) to wish us well.

That evening we had a big celebration meal with twelve of us (Claudine and Serge's son Herve also joined us) and afterwards a stroll to the Tour Eiffel, guided kindly by Herve. A wonderful culmination to a day which had promised everything we had hoped.

We would like to say a big thank you to all those who have sponsored us - who are far too many to name. Also thank you to those who contacted us while we were away to help keep us going. A special mention goes to Robbie for his motivational photos - I think that image is enough to keep us going on our bikes!

But the biggest thank you of all goes to the six people without whose help (both before, during and after) we could never have managed to accomplish this feat which has been a dream for many years.

To Team 1: Chris and Paula Ulyatt;

To Team 2: Kate Hewitt and Kate Cumming;

To Team 3: Peter and Liz Callaghan:

THANK YOU - WE DID IT!!! (And we promise not to do it again!)

Monday, 28 July 2008

Stage 20: Cerilly - St Amond Montrand 53km Time Trial 28/7/08


After a night spent at a rather impressive Chambre d’Hote with swimming pool in the finish town of Saint Armond Montrond, we drove to the start at Cerilly which meant back tracking. Schumacher, who had won stage 4’s time trial in Cholet, had also won this one in just over 1hour 3 minutes at over 30mph average. We wanted to beat the 2 hours and yet keep our heart rates down to promote recovery.
There’s not a lot to say about this route other than remark on the lovely rolling scenery and the fact that we passed the forest of Troncais where they source the high quality oak used for barrelling Cognacs and Clarets. A fast course in places though there were some long drags which made the old legs complain. A nice long descent took us towards the finish, but we were unable to find the finish as it required a left turn at some traffic lights and this wasn’t made clear on the root description. We went straight on instead and ended up in the town square which provided a useful carpark to rendez vous with Liz and Peter and ended up being the correct distance. 1 hour 54 minutes for the stage with an average heart rate of 123bpm.
Bikes on top of the car and us changed, we were ready to begin the long transfer up north for the last stage, Etampes to Paris.

Stage 19: Roanne - Montlucon 165.5km 27/7/08


This was quite fortunately a shorter stage as we were by this time totally knackered and a little jaded. With only three days to go to Paris we were by this time feeling that we’d broken the back of this Tour and it was almost a little hard to motivate ourselves this morning on leaving Roanne.
We left from the hotel adding on about 12km before reaching the start (we agreed to cut this off the downhill finish) to ensure we completed the right distance!
We were met early on by a very gradual 3rd Cat climb which we used to clear away the cobwebs of the previous few days – we seemed to be racing up the climb and for the first time in about two weeks we actually completed a sprint at the top of a climb! Great fun it was!
The route was an undulating one today and so another few kilometres later we hit a 4th Cat climb (only two more to go now until Paris!!) before a descent towards the town of Vichy (home to the exiled French government during the war). Seemed like a good place to hide out to me – if the Germans had ever got there they’d have got lost for sure and never found them (i.e. we got lost and ended up leaving on the wrong road)! At one point we even were on a road which was signposted to both Roanne AND Montlucon – very confusing indeed!
Anyway we found our way back on route and continued on our merry way across quite uninteresting rolling farmland to the small town of Bellenaves where the road kicked up on a long 11km stretch of unclassified climb in the searing heat which necessitated a cycle off the road and into the shade for Matt in order to cope with the excessive heat. Upon reaching La Bosse (no doubt they have a regular Bruce Springsteen tribute night) at 720m we had a mainly downhill stretch to the finish and the knowledge that we had only the time trial (53km) and the final stage (93km) to manage!
Huzzah! Off to Saint Amand for the night in preparation for the final two days of winding down!

Stage 18: Bourg d'Oisans - Saint Etienne 196.5km 26/7/08

After a night spent in a hotel with magnificent mountain views, we awoke at 7am for breakfast prior to starting stage 18. We decided that as we had done an extra 5 miles the previous day, we would knock the last 5 flat miles off of this stage to avoid having to travel into busy Saint Etienne. Yesterday’s stage was really the decider and once through that, we were confident that we were going to finish barring mishaps.
A short drive from our hotel to the start close to where we had finished the previous stage and we set off from a carpark onto the busy main road all the way to through Grenoble ( I wouldn’t bother!) to the foot of our first 3rd cat climb of the day, Colle de Parmenie at 70km. So far the route had been pretty much downhill and flat but this 3rd cat turned out to be a long one. After a fairly steep start, it went on and on and with my legs complaining, I decided to take a breather just before the top. We were out of the mounatins now, and the landscape became more green and hilly, rolling rather than mountainous. A few more ups and downs and we had lunch after about 50 miles. I was not feeling good today. I couldn’t stomach the energy bars and I couldn’t manage solids. I think I had mild heat stroke from the day before and I felt decidedly queasy.
After lunch and heading for the 2nd cat climb, Croix de Montvieux at 163km, thunder and lightning started and the temperature began to cool. A quick pot of rice pudding at the foot of the climb fuelled me and I climbed better than I expected the 13km ascent. Matt felt better and summited a couple of minutes before me but I was relieved to have got to the top so smoothly. A wet descent, requiring care on the bends and a fairly grim trek through unremarkable towns to begin the ascent of 3rd cat Cote de Sorbieres, where we finished the stage 5 miles short of Saint Etienne.

Stage 17: Embrun - Alpe d'Huez 210km 25/7/08

An epic stage in Tour de France circles and the day we had been dreading! 130 miles over 3 of the most famous climbs in Tour history, the Galibier, Croix de Fer and Alpe d’Huez.
Christine had kindly set out our breakfast for us the night before as were had to be up at 5am. We knew the pro’s had taken 6 hours over this stage so we were looking at 11-12 hours plus stops. We shoved down as much food as we could to fuel us for this and set off from our accommodation at 6am. This meant an extra 5 miles added on to the ride as it was 5 miles to the start but it was unfair to expect Peter and Liz to get up at this hour. Immediately from the start my legs were complaining and we headed straight into a head wind following the same route from our Embrun-Cuneo stage, the difference being we headed straight on towards Briancon rather than heading into the mountains (yet!).
Luckily the wind died down as we headed along the valley to Briancon, and after a long 3rd cat climb, Cote de Sainte Marguerite, we reached Briancon along a horrible main road. The part of Briancon we saw was not very attractive and there was nothing open at 8am so we pushed on and had a pain au chocolat up the road in a small village. We then carried on nervous about the big mountains looming ahead of us and the fact our legs were suffering after yesterday. Climbing the 5% gradient of the Col de Lauteret (2058m), Matt began to feel it and dropped off the pace slightly. We rested at the top before turning right to climb the Gallibier (2645m), an ascent of 9km at just under 8% average. Although Matt was suffering, he set a good pace up this and we quickly caught and overtook a large Dutch chap before Matt opened up a gap between himself and me. Matt has always been a better climber, especially on the big stuff and I just had to ride at my own pace. About 3 minutes separated us at the top and the views were breathtaking. We met Liz and Peter at the top and, after a rapid descent where we over took cars, bikes and a horse and cart we had to climb the short side of the Col de Telegraph (1566m) which they didn’t bother categorising though we both felt it deserved a 4th. On the descent I got stuck behind a crazy cement mixer, cutting corners, and I regrouped with Matt at the bottom before meeting Peter and Liz for lunch at the side of a busy road near St Jean de Maurienne.
I wasn’t to concerned about the next climb, the Croix de Fer (2067m) because although it was 30km long, it was an average of 5%. I should have been concerned because it was hell. After the initial few kilometres at a solid 7-8% minimum it descended before climbing again. Descents are bad because you know there must be more severe uphill to make up the average! The heat was worsening and I was in all sorts of bother with Matt opening a sizeable gap. The tunnels provided some cool air and I was grateful for this but the sweat and flies were horrendous. After what seemed like hours and probably was I took a breather before the last few hairpins where Liz and Peter were waiting, having climbed through a very steep town. I made it in the end about 15 minutes after Matt and, although I don’t think I cracked, I wasn’t far off. I hadn’t felt this bad for some time and I still had Alpe d’Huez to contend with. After recovering and having photos taken we descended but the climbing hadn’t finished. We had to struggle up yet another uncategorised climb before descending to Bourg d’Oisans for the ascent of the Alpe.
Alpe d’Huez is one of the most famous climbs and has 21 hairpins on the 15km 1100m ascent. Each hairpin bears a winners name on it and the record is 36 minutes set by Marco Pantani. Carlos Sastre was fastest up it this year in 39 minutes. An epic climb starting at 11% and I suffered immediately. I must have looked terrible ascending it but was determined not to stop, though I wanted to. Liz and Peter were ready to hand out regular water and I found it really helped having it poured over my head to cool me off, as I had on the Croix de Fer. Hairpin after hairpin I struggled and finally made it to the ski resort and finish in 1 hour 30 mins, 11 minutes behind Matt.
An exhausting day, but thoroughly satisfying! 135 miles over three massive climbs and several uncategorised ones. Matt finished in 10 hours 48 minutes and I was 35 minutes slower, compared to Carlos Sastre (Esp) the winner of the this year’s Tour in 6 hours.

Thursday, 24 July 2008

Stage 16: Cuneo - Jausiers 156km 24/7/08

After spending a splendid night at Malcolm and Steph’s (in the secret location we are not allowed to disclose!) we headed off following our hearty breakfast feeling well rested.
Many thanks to Malcolm, Steph, Carl and Sue for their exceptional hospitality and helping us to recharge our batteries before our assault on the Alps over the coming two days.
So – to the stage itself. This would see us climbing out of Italy over the 2,351m Colle della Lombardo (Col de la Lombarde) before descending through the ski resort town of Isola along the valley of the river Tinee and up the Cime de la Bonnette Restefond (the highest tarmac-ed road pass in Europe at 2,802m) before a sweeping descent down to the small village of Jausiers – and all in only 157km.
The road to the base of the first climb took in a few surprising little climbs but kept us away from the main valley road for quite some time and through some quiet little villages nestled in the foothills. The only evidence that the Tour had recently passed through was the occasional bit of tarmac writing extolling the virtues of Damiano Cunego and Marco Pantani (the latter slightly more surprising given that he’s dead!).
The manufacturers of yellow bunting had also been having a field day in the Piedmonte region as each place was heavily adorned with the little plastic triangles.
The pretty village of Aisone was typical of the area with narrowing streets overlooked by balconies filled to the brim with bright red geraniums. A very pretty picture it made!
Peter and Liz met us at the bottom of the climb of the Lombardo and we restocked drinks before setting off to tackle the 26km stretch of uphill starting with a winding section of hairpins to bring us into the valley proper. With 1,500m of climbing to undertake we went through a variety of scenery from cool shaded pine forests on the lower slopes through some small mountain side villages, through hotter and more sparse forests and then above the tree line into the most spectacular alpine meadows. The sound of cow bells clanging away as we weaved our way ever higher and towards the summit was quite surprising but very restful. The meadows showed a rich carpet of purples, yellows, white and greens which had me singing “The Hills are Alive…” until Ian pointed out we were in the wrongs Alps and so we broke into the Matt Monroe classic “Days Like These” - much more appropriate for winding Italian roads.
We crested the summit together, took in the view and then whistled our way down the mountain and through Isola 2000 and Isola to the valley floor. I never seem to notice much going down as I’m going so quick and concentrating so much on the upcoming corners that the scenery kind of becomes a blur. I can tell you that there were some horrible tunnels which made for tricky descending and a lot of very tight hairpins and technical sections. A brief stop at the bottom of the valley to wait for Ian and onwards for a quick lunch stop and on to tackle the Bonnette, following signs all the way reminding us of its noteworthy status!
The climb settled in fairly early to a steady but steep gradient of over 6% and was set to go on for over 28km. The key to attacking such a climb is to get into a strong rhythm and mental attitude and just keeping plugging away and to take plenty of time to enjoy the view which changes significantly as you climb up (especially if you are able to look back at any point and see how far up you’ve come).
The road passes though the odd habited village and also one group of houses which may well have been old military barracks (now thoroughly abandoned) before winding up to follow a ridge with spectacular views in all directions. The final 750m of the climb takes an unnecessary diversion to climb up to over 2,800m around what is effectively a shale cone at the top of the mountain. You could easily divert left and avoid this 15% stretch of climbing but we had to do what the Tour did and around we went. I nearly fell off my bike at the top and it was a good minute before I could open my eyes to enjoy the view – Ian wasn’t much better about 6 minutes later!
Fortunately the remainder of the stage was downhill to Jausiers and we enjoyed our descent before driving back to Embrun to prepare for the following days monster stage.
Before we left the UK we visited my (Matt’s) Grandad in Yeovil Hospital as he has been very unwell recently. He was a very keen cyclist in his time and one of the first people to tell me I was totally mad when told that I would be attempting this ride. I thought a lot about him as I climbed the Bonette and all of his cycling achievements and this helped spur me on. I placed a wee rock at the monument at the top of the climb to show that my thoughts were with him as I’ve been going around France.

Rest Day 2: Near Cuneo 23/7/08


We had been looking forward to this rest day after some long, hot days in the saddle and we were blessed with perfect weather this time. We spent the day and evening with Malcolm and Steph, Carl and Sue in a small town near Cuneo. They asked me to keep the exact location secret as it really is an idyllic spot not yet discovered by British tourists! In fact, even the ski resorts, such as Prato Nevoso, are unvisited by the Brits. They were in the process of renovating an old Italian farmhouse, having relocated from the hustle and bustle of the UK.
We couldn’t have been a lot lazier on our rest day! We had a leisurely breakfast and gave our bikes a once over before heading to the nearby village for a coffee and beer. Here Matt spoke via phone to BBC radio Scotland live on air. They were interested on how we were progressing and had a Tour de France expert on the show. After this we wandered down to a local spring where locals had been filling up their water bottles for centuries!
After lunch and a well needed snooze we headed over to the local campsite to use the swimming pool. I had been dreaming of swimming in pools and rivers while we were cycling in the hot, arid conditions of the past few days and it was great to finally jump in one! A bit of sunbathing too though it had no effect on improving our ridiculous tan lines from over a hundred hours in the saddle through strong sunshine! We must have looked a bit silly in our swim shorts with white torsos and brown arms, legs and faces.
Dinner was spent at a local favourite restaurant of our hosts where we stocked up on beer and pizza ready for the next day’s two tough HC climbs, the second, the Cime de Bonnett-Restefond being the highest road in Europe at 2802m!
A thoroughly enjoyable stay with great people. We hadn’t even met them before and it was luck that Malcolm had seen the Bristol Evening Post article back in February. Thank you so much Malcolm and Steph!