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

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.