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

Saturday, 29 March 2008

Majorca 22-29 March 2008

Apologies for the delay on this - first week back to work has been a bit manic!

Anyway, what an amazing week in Majorca. In the 6.5 days we were there we managed:

  • 553 miles
  • 1 rest day
  • 1 broken rim
  • 1 broken rear mech (fixed by Ian's Dad Peter in 30 seconds!)
  • 1 puncture
  • 1 crash
  • Plenty of dodgy Spanish
  • Copious quantities of beer (the local shop started giving us discount we drank so much) - all in the name of recovery you understand.

Day 1 - Saturday

It started off well - arrived in Palma and picked up the car without incident, found the apartment with relative ease and assembled the bikes (or mostly). Ian's rear mech (the bit that moves around and changes the gears) had lost all its "spring". I recalled a bike shop from my previous trip to Majorca so it was off there. This was Easter Saturday and it was shut, however. Fortunately the owners were just back from a bike ride and so I knocked on the door and pleaded in bad Spanish and puppy dog eyes for a new rear mech for Ian. The lady duly obliged and it was back to the apartment for reassembly and out for a ride at about 4:30pm.

We went up to Cap Formentor, a rolling route of 40 miles return and we both enjoyed the hills and the conditions...until we turned for home when we realised that the rim on Ian's rear wheel was split (most probably due to over-exurberance on the part of baggage handlers). This meant some very steady descending for Ian on the way home. When we hit the flat though, we cranked it up and were whizzing along as the rain started to fall in big clumps. It was as we were speeding into a roundabout on the outskirts of Alcudia that I cranked the bike over at 20mph+ and found myself skidding along the ground on me bum. I quickly jumped up and hobbled to the side of the road. We were nearly home so we cycled on and on return investigated the damage. Most importantly the bike was fine, as were my new shorts (my first concern!) and I had some minor road rash.

So that was all good.

40.51 miles in 2:31:54 at 16.0mph average.

Day 2 - Easter Sunday

No shops open today so Ian's wheel was gaffa-taped to prevent inadvertent tube-poking-throughage-and-going-bang-ness! Ian had found a 50mile drive from the town of Petra which sounded flat (no descents to trouble Ian's dodgy wheel) and pleasing to the eye. So we cycled to Petra and then followed this route.

The scenery was very nice (wide green meadows, flowering orchards etc), the weather was changeable (overcast, windy, sunny in patches) and we felt good. We stopped for a bite to eat in Petra after 26 miles or so and headed on our merry way to Felanitx, Porreres, Llucmajor and then north towards Algaida. By this time I was getting a floaty sort of feeling caused by insufficient nutrition (i.e. I started to bonk) and we struggled from town to town trying to find a bite to eat. Eventually in Sencelles we found a bar open showing the football (Barca vs someone else!) and I wandered in through a haze of dope smoke to buy munchies. The barman must have thought we'd been indulging outside when I asked for four chocolate bars, two cokes and a water with a glazed expression on my face!

This provided us with valuable fuel to get home and we tonked it home along the main road from Inca to Port d'Alcudia at a healthy 20+mph (wind-assisted - as it would be for the rest of the week).

95.05miles in 5:43:02 at 16.6mph average.

Day 3 - Easter Monday

It was back to the bike shop in Binissalem today (Ciclos Gomila) to sort out Ian's wheel as we felt that after 95 miles the previous day was pushing our luck. We took what was meant to be a direct route, but lack of signposting scuppered that plan).

We reached the shop and in my best Spanish ("Esta rueda es rota. Quiero una nueva rueda, por favor.") tried to get a new wheel. The chap in the shop couldn't help us that day though but said he could have it ready for tomorrow - which meant Ian was going to have to do the world's most impressive stoppy to get the 30 miles home! However, the shop assistant then offered Ian his wheel for the day and we could ppick up the new one the next day!! This was so unprecedented that I asked him to repeat himself! So MANY MANY THANKS to Ciclos Gomila for their assistance!

So off we toddled towards the climb of Soller (5.1km at 5.5%) where I got a bit overexcited and climbed it in about 17 minutes pushing the heart rate far too high. Ian (being sensible) arrived at the top about 3 minutes later and we went for a hearty lunch in the restaurant at the summit.

The descent then took us into the town of Soller from where we headed through the very pretty village of Fornalutx before hitting a more main road and turning back East towards Lluc. This involved a climb of 10.7km at 6.4%. This was a real killer (especially in the heat of the day) but I was still surprised to drop Ian for 7+ minutes. When he reached the top - looking very grumpy he collapsed over his handlebars and proceeded to swear when he realised he cycled the entire climb with the front brakes on!! (I did laugh).

The climb had been made more interesting by the sight of cars approaching us with minature snowmen built on the bonnets of the cars! Very weird - must be a local tradition. However, as we descended the other side of the climb it got more manic as the entire local population of Majorca appeared to have decided to congregate at the side of road to revel in the snow - this lead to me getting angry as I couldn't enjoy the descent! Bah Humbug - people enjoying themselves!

We soon passed this though and hit a lovely descent into Caimari which I thoroughly enjoyed - catching and overtaking cars aplenty! We headed back through Campanet along our fast return road to complete a total of:

98.82miles in 6:44:36 at 14.7mph average - not bad for a hilly day!

Day 4 - Tuesday

Oh how the time was flying past. We returned to Binissalem today but via Pollenca and the climb up towards Lluc (7.8km at 5.1% (or something like that)). Our legs felt awful - very heavy and not at all energetic as we started the climb. However, we spun away in small gears and proceeded to catch and pass just about all of the Wrekin Sport Cycle Club (or so it appeared). This was quite a surprise to us but made us feel pretty good about ourselves to be catching folk when we felt awful! We were soon put back in our places when a group of about 10-15 guys went past us with a swoosh soon after the summit (I swear one of them was Marco Pantani's taller brother)!

After a stop for to pick up the newly mended wheel we headed south towards Algaida where we stopped for a late lunch before taking a North Easterly road home through Sineu and Santa Margalida. This covered some wonderful ground, lightly rolling with green fields dotted with early spring flowers, a slight tailwind and we thoroughly enjoyed ourselves. It was only a shame we had to finish along the strip from Can Picafort to Port d'Alcudia which is populated with nasty high-rise hotels and Burger Kings! But you can't have everything.

80.50miles in 5:25:02 at 14.9mph average.

Day 5 - Wednesday

After much debate the night before it was decided we NEEDED to do a proper mountain stage and this was the day for it. We set off at 7:30am knowing we'd need all the hours we could get. The route toook us on back roads to Caimari before climbing up towards Lluc (7.7km at 5.6%)and on to Sa Calobra. Sa Calobra is a small cove at the bottom of a long, steep descent and the only way out is back up the road (or hire a boat!). This is a killer of a climb and one which the professionals use in early season training. It's 9.9km long at an average gradient of 7.0%. This is equivalent to a Category 2 climb in the Tour de France (maybe Cat 1 if you're lucky).

We were filled with trepidation at the bottom and set off very slowly. With slightly bigger gears than Ian I went up faster and crested the summit after 45minutes 18seconds. Ian was about 3-4 minutes later and looking considerably more relaxed! We had done it though and felt excellent! So onwards and back down towards Soller (after another 5km of climbing at about 5%). This was followed by 15km of descending (which I found a trifle scary as my headset became disctinctly wobbly as the descent continued!)

At the bottom there wasa quick call to Dad who gave me a quick fix and then it was off to climb Soller again from the other direction (7.2km at 5.7%ish). Ian clearly felt good up here and he powered off. I tried to keep pace but watching the heart rate I backed off and saw him at the top after what was a very pleasant climb. Lots of hairpins, plenty of shade and very quiet roads. We stopped breifly at the top before dropping back down and into the village of Bunyola where we stopped for more food.

This brief respite was followed by the last climb of the day of about 8km at about 5% out of Bunyola towards Orient and Alaro. This was a spectacularly beautiful road and little used as there was a much quicker route between the two villages. It descended between two enormous rocks which looked to me like volcanic plugs of some sort but I'm no geologist - they were pretty spectacular either way!

It was again home along our fast route from Inca and a well earned beer (or two) and rest followed by watching an awesome display from the British Cycling Team in Manchester.

110.65miles in 7:39:54 at 14.4mph average.

Day 6 - Thursday

This was our rest day. I got up at 7:30 (more sort of wobbled up due to the feeling in my legs actually) and my kit had not dried from being washed the previous night so we couldn't go out. It was hence back to bed and an enforced rest day was the result. We drove out to Santa Eugenia and had a very simple Menu del dia followed by an easy walk in the coutryside around the village to ease off the legs.

We had an easy evening that day and I planned a monster 140miler the next day to take in the Easternmost point of the island (Cap de Capdepera) and the Southernmost point (Cap de ses Salines) before returning up the North of the island.

Day 7 - Friday

It was up early then and off through Can Picafort and Arta to the easternmost point. This was a smooth if busy road with a few brief gentle climbs to wake the legs up before we reached our first goal after 30 miles. This had been fairly easy so we had a quick photocall and off we toddled to head to the South. This took us through some nasty developments along some splendidly made roads (pain and pleasure!) to the beautifully located Cap de ses Salines. We had managed the 78 miles there in a 17.2mph average. We basked in the glory of the sun before turning unwillingly back into what we anticipated would be a very strong headwind.

We were very glad to be proved wrong, however, and continued along at a fair old pace back to Felanitx (96 miles) where we stopped for another bite to eat (our first stop having been after 48 miles in the very plush Porto Cristo). On continuing from there I completed my fastest ever 100miles (5:49:00) and we carried on cranking up the pace as the legs got stronger and stronger.

On arriving back we both looked at each other thinking "Well that was easy" and thinking that we'd come a long way in the week and that our training was paying dividends.

Last day: 128.00miles (I didn't read the map properly the previous night) in 7:19:25 at 17.5mph average.


An excellent week. We've both come out of this with the confidence that we can complete the Tour if we pay close attention to diet and heart rate. These are going to be the key things to watch.

Anyway, keep the support coming - we've just reached £1,500 today in sponsorship - and we can definitely do this!!

The next 14 weeks will fly by now!


Sunday, 16 March 2008

Kingdom of Fife 210km

This ride started through in Edinburgh so I travelled through to stay with an old school friend, Simon, and his girlfriend Anna the night before. A big thank you to Anna for a splendid dinner once again - she looked after me before I did the marathon 3 years ago as well!

Simon's friend Ben came along as well for the ride which worked well - the more the merrier! The route started just shy of the Forth Road Bridge before heading out (unsurprisingly, by the name of the route) to Fife through Cowdenbeath, before heading to the coast South of St Andrews and hugging the coast all the way to Newburgh where we headed South and back to Cowdenbeath, the Forth Road Bridge and Dalmeny for a very welcome feast of tea and soup!

The route was not hilly, but undulating with only two proper climbs after about 25 miles and 85 miles. We'd started about 5 minutes late and ended up picking up a number of riders on this climb - Simon and Ben disappearing into the distance as my excess weight (bodily and bikily!) showed.

We kept together throughout the ride and had a really pleasant ride, even meeting up with a couple of guys short of St Andrews and getting into a 5-man team time trial-esque bit of riding for about 8 miles! This was fun but my legs complained too much and we let the two chaps head on in St Andrews while we grabbed some lunch.

Had we know what awaited us another 33km up the road we may well not have done as George and Margaret Berwick put on a wonderful spread of tea and cakes at their house - many thanks indeed. We sat on benches outside enjoying some very welcome rays of sun with a cuppa and some flapjack. This is what Audax is all about! CAKE!

It was around this point that we had started to head back with the wind having had a mild but persistent headwind for the best part of 75 miles. This was some relief and the average picked up from a low of about 14.0mph at 25 miles to 16.1mph by the end of the clocked 131miles.

Many thanks to Simon and Ben for sticking with me today - we worked really well together (though maybe more of them on the front than me for a lot of it) and it was great to have company on the ride for a change.

It's now less than a week before Ian and I head to Majorca for our week of training in the sun (hopefully) and no wind (even more hopefully!). Looking forward to that, I'll tell you.

I'm now half way through my 32 week training schedule for the Tour and have completed 140hrs 36mins training, of which 97hrs 41mins had been on the bike. These 97hrs odd have taken me 1,500miles at an average speed of 15.4mph. So basically, in 16 weeks I've not even cycled 75% of the distance we'll be doing in 23 days. Hmmmm - a little worrying. It is still the most training I've ever done, though - so that must count for something, eh?

Keep the sponsorship rolling in as well folks, we're over £1,400 and counting, but still have a long way to go - if you'd like a sponsorship form to pass round your office/friends/acquaintances/strangers you meet on the street just contact us and we'll e-mail you one.


Sunday, 9 March 2008

The Cheltenham Flyer 210km

After hearing about the weather conditions Matt was facing yesterday up in Scotland, yesterday’s drizzly, miserable weather in the Southwest really didn’t compare! At the time of writing this, I have heard on the radio that it looks like the weather is moving down this way with storm warnings and forecasters advising people to only travel to coastal areas if absolutely necessary!

Yesterday I travelled up to Cheltenham for an 8am start and a 210km event – my longest this year. I actually did this ride back in 2001 and didn’t remember it having the 2000m of climbing that the route included this year. Either I was fitter then or the route has changed.

After riding on my own for the first few kilometres I caught up with a group at the first control at Didbrook. From here the route went uphill at a good gradient for several kilometres. This is the sort of gradient we will be tackling on the passes in France and I was pleased to be reeling in and overtaking several riders. I rode with a group of strong riders through places such as Clapton on the Hill, Sherbourne, Aldsworth, Bibury and Poole Keynes. The route from here passed very close to where Doug and Chantal’s wedding was held near Lynham and Wooton Bassett last week. The quick pace meant that we reached the halfway control in under 4 hours.

What had started off as an overcast day turned into a very wet day at this halfway point. No choice but to ride the other half as we were at the furthest point from the finish here! So waterproof on, I pushed on with the group through Compton Bassett and Heddington. Although feeling comfortable at this pace, I dropped off the back as one rider took the lead and wound the pace up. Training for endurance rather than speed requires keeping your heart rate below a certain level and, at my present fitness, mine was above this so the sensible thing was to back off. No point pushing it hard with a long way to go only to pay for it later on! This meant a lonely ride through the gorgeous little village of Lacock, and on to Biddestone and Castle Coombe (one of my favourite villages). The route actually went past the motor racing circuit which I hadn’t seen before.

Continuing through Tetbury, a husband and wife team overtook me on a tandem and I failed to stick with them. On the hills, however, I caught them back up again. From then on it was like I was attached to them with elastic…being dropped on the flats and downhills and catching back up on the uphills. The last part of the route continued through Cherrington and Winstone back to Cheltenham.

I have to say I have had better days! I pushed it a little too hard early on meaning I had little in the tank at the end. However, in order to improve it is necessary to push your body through your comfort zone and I certainly did this. The miserable weather was disheartening but makes the ride more challenging and is a good test of mental toughness. 210 km (131miles) at 16.0mph average.

Saturday, 8 March 2008

Nasty horrible West of Scotland weather!

Now as you may have realised through some of my earlier blogs, I cycle mainly because I throughly enjoy it and because of the sense of achievement you feel at the end of a ride.

Today, however was not one of those days! I set out to do about 100 miles heading due South on one of the routes I did a few weeks ago down towards Sanquhar. However, after 2 hours of trudging into what must have been a 30mph gusting headwind, in the pouring rain, I'd had enough. It just wasn't enjoyable and I wasn't getting out of the ride what I needed - so I turned and headed back.

Now I still managed over 45 miles in just under 3 hours so it wasn't a total right off - but I don't feel great at having packed - but there's no way I could have coped at being nearly blown off the road for another 4 hours.

Still, there's always tomorrow - the BBC is forecasting snow (but then their weather forecasts are always rubbish anyway). They got the wind direction wrong by an impressive 90 degrees this morning.

I hope Ian has managed better!

Friday, 7 March 2008

Rosewell 200k

Well, apologies for the delay in getting this post up as I rode this event last weekend. I'd had a nice long weekend with my old uni friend Chris coming up from Warwick with a Thursday night gig seeing Eels (who were fabulously quirky, by the way!) and relaxing Friday and Saturdays before an exceptionally early rise on Sunday to drive to the South of Edinburgh (near the now infamous Roslyn Chapel - thanks to the atrocity that was The Da Vinci Code).

It was a breezy day with steady winds of 20+mph coming from the West. This was the first Audax I'd done for a good few years and I was fortunate to get into a group of four and we toddled along at a steady 15mph sharing the workload fairly well before reaching the first check at 30miles. Bacon rolls and tea made for anice break here but the tiny hall in the rolling hills of the Borders soon swelled with sweaty, smelly cyclists and the view was much more appealing outside so the group of four I had been in left soon after the first group.

The road rose briefly to the side of a reservoir before climbing very sharply over the hills to descend to the next valley. The climb here was 1mile long at 20% and was the toughest climb I'd experienced so far. I had small enough gears and was able to catch and pass one chap and was gaining on another - felt pretty good I must say.

I joined with one of the four I'd been travelling with earlier and we passed the leading group as they stopped to wait for one of their punctured colleagues. We were whizzing along at a heady pace before my travelling partner began to accelerate away as I watched my heartrate. A long gradual climb saw the larger group of fast riders pass me but I soon caught up after a sweeping descent to the second check.

The third leg was lightly rolling before turning left over Witchie Knowe, a pleasantly testing climb which went on for a long while and up which I was able to catch and pass one of the group ahead of me for a good 2-2.5 minutes as I found my climbing legs.

On the descent, I caught up to my previous travelling partner but couldn't hold him as the larger group of faster riders overtook me again. This was the last I saw of them as the weather began to close as I approached Peebles and then headed along a river valley to Innerleithen and Clovenfords where I turned north to head back up towards Edinburgh for the last 30 miles or so up the A7.

The wind was a struggle but I managed home in 8hours 50 with 7hours 50 travelling time at a 15.9mph average. Most of this was by myself so I was pleased with this and enjoyed the majority of the ride though it was a shame not to have more company. It turned out I was over 30 mins ahead of the next rider so the difference in pace was quite significant.

I shall be attempting about 190 miles this weekend, while enjoying my work annual ball on Saturday night and the Rugby on Saturday afternoon - it's a hard life! As if to add to the challenge, I've got to go and find some furniture for the flat as well.

No rest for the wicked!

Sunday, 2 March 2008

Bristol-Gloucester-Monmouth-Chepstow-Bristol (A hilIier alternative!)

Firstly, well done Matt for having the balls to appear on live radio! Must have been a fairly nerve-wracking experience but you sounded good matey!

This week training has been somewhat limited as I had a wedding to go to. Congratulations to Chantal and Doug! Twas a very nice day!
I did a couple of turbo-training sessions mid week, and thought that I’d better make up for the lack of training this week by putting in a tough ride today. I was partly spurred on by the fact that Matt was going to do an extremely hilly 200km event so I altered my Gloucester-Monmouth-Chepstow circuit to make it hillier and longer. No events available to enter today so it was going to be a lonely ride!

Essentially the first leg from Bristol to Gloucester was fairly similar, though I navigated my way around the lanes rather than time-trialling along the A38. This turned out to be a lovely route, stolen from an Audax event I did a couple of months ago. The route goes via such places as Littleton On Severn, Olbury on Severn, Berkely, Slimbridge and Framton on Severn. Although windy, these lanes are reasonably flat and I averaged just under 17mph for the first 45 miles.

From Gloucester, the route was identical to my usual, going along the busy A40 before turning off left onto the A4136 to Monmouth. This bit is hilly and unfortunately I was riding right into a fairly stiff headwind. After the swoop down to Monmouth I had a choice, either to go along the A466 Wye valley road which I normally do, or cross the river and turn left along the A40 for a bit before picking up a hilly B road to Chepstow. I decided to do the latter and make the route tougher. About a third of the way along this road, between Mitchell Troy and Trellech, the is a long winding hill, the closest I have seen to an alpine ascent for a while! I remember cycling along this road in December, although I didn’t realise before I got on it today. Once over this the undulating road continued to Chepstow. From here it was a case of crossing the old Severn bridge and heading back to Bristol. I decided to take the lanes rather than the monotonous straight roads back through Avonmouth. Hillier but infinitely more interesting.

All in all, quite a testing route and a really nice day. Sunny, not too hot but very windy! 109 miles, averaging just under 16mph and a decent alternative to the usual loop.