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

Tuesday, 20 May 2008

Cotswold Challenge 160km Randonee and The 28th Stonehenge 200km

A busy weekend. After getting on well with the "new" bike last weekend I thought it was time to test it out of some long distances. So sliced up Coke can wedged between the saddle pin and seat tube to act as a shim to stop the saddle slipping down again, I was ready to test it out.

Up at 5am on Saturday for the drive up to Meriden near Coventry for the start of the Cotswold Challenge 160mk (100 miles). The forecast was poor, depressingly as the week had been gorgeous. Highs of 12C and heavy showers.

From the start I rode to the front and rode with a friendly chap from West Bromwich who, it turned out, had ridden a couple of 24 hour time trials in his time. This is literally as it sounds: ride as far as you can in 24 hours ie through darkness non-stop. Having completed a 12 hour myself a few years I can't say the idea appeals to me! A gorgeous lumpy ride to the first control at Hapton Lucy and then on to Ilmington and Chipping Campden. Unfortunately the route sheet was a little ambiguous here and I went off course, the brummy chap having stopped for mechanical problems. Back on course after a 3 mile detour I overtook a group of riders who had previously been behind me and I continued to the next control at Batsford Arboretum after a 1km descent down a muddy track, praying that my tyres would cope with the off-road. Luckily they did nd I joined up with a group of four riders. Not bothering to stop, I continued with this group dropping 2 riders.

On through Moreton-in-Marsh, Todenham and Great and Little Wolford I cycled with a local chap called Stephen and another rider on a very expensive looking carbon-fibre Bianchi bike. In Brailes, Stephen persuaded me to stop at a bakery and I scoffed a Goats cheese and leek flan and absolutely gorgeous almond coissant! Refueled we carried on to climb up to Edgehill and up through Burton Dassett Country Park. At the next control at Harbury we found we were only just behind the the guy who carried on at the bakery and the West Bromwich chap from earlier. He seemed to be in a rush and as we sat down for a drink he upped and left to push on for the finish. There were a lot of riders at this control because there was a 100km event going on at the same time.

Pushing on from this control we overtook a large number of 100km riders and right at the finsih caught the guy from West Bromwich. We had averaged 16.4mph over this hilly 100 mile route. I have to admit when we saw the guy up ahead towards the finish I initiated the chase, which was a little foolish as I was supposed to be pacing myself for the next day's ride. Thanks Stephen for the company and also for your kind sponsorship! We never did see the guy on the Bianchi again and he hadn't got to the finish before us.

A 4.30 am rise on Sunday to drive to Elstead, Surrey for the West Surrey Stonehenge 200km (28th anniversary). I have ridden this 125 mile route several times and on a good day it is one of the most picturesque rides I know. The forecast was execellent and the sun was coming out as I drove the monotonous M4.

At the start it was a shame only to see a couple of faces I know: Jeff banks and Clive Richardson. I originally planned to ride with Clive but I got separated from him at the start and found myself cycling on my own through Farnham and out to Well/Long Sutton. here, a three-man group including Jeff Ellingham (whom I had ridden with before) overtook me so I got on the back of this group and we set a cracking pace out to the first control at Overton of 17.5mph average. I paid for my efforts soon after and found myself struggling to keep up with them through Upton and dropped off the back. My heart rate would not lift above 150bpm no matter what I did so I decided to take it steady and hopefully catch them in Amesbury at the lunch stop. I got myself back together with plenty of energy bars and drink and felt good as I cycled past Tidworth oval to Amesbury. The route had changed from when I last did it. You used to go along the A303 past Stonehenge but this was no longer the case and you don't get to see Stonehenge any more.

A large lunch at the fantastic Friar Tuck Cafe in Amesbury and I continued with the group who had dropped me. Feeling much better I pushed on with Jeff and the other two (Chris and Mike) and dropped Chris up a big hill near Porton. Mike dropped back too and caught up with us again a little later. My three-man group pushed on at a great pace along the gorgeous, undulating Hampshire lanes to the next control at the Midhants Railway (Watercress line) station at Alresford. By now the wind had really picked up and we were overtaking riders who were doing the 150km and 100km rides. After the last hill 25km through Ropley, Farringdon and West and East Worldham, we reached the finish in 8hours 12 minutes (easily the fastest time I'd done round this route). Jeff told me he'd once done it in 7 and a half hours. We had averaged 16.7mph which I was very pleased with considering the 100 miler I'd done the day previously. Good to see old cycling buddies Geoff Smith, Rico and Chris Jeggo at the finish.

Overall, a solid weekend. 225 hilly miles at over 16.5mph average. (And the saddle didn't slip down this time!!)

Friday, 16 May 2008

And After A Long Time in the Wilderness...

OK, so I appear to have stopped cycling judging by my lack of update here. This, unfortunately is partly true.

I did another stunning 200km down in the Borders a few weekends ago shortly after we got back from Majorca and I was toddling along quite nicely with a couple of guys from the local club (Gala CC) and went past them coming down a very steep (20%) hill which I had ridden over in the other direction about 6 weeks before. Much more pleasant going downhill (or so I thought)!

I came a bit of cropper coming into a sharp right hander at the bottom, where, despite all my best efforts I went careering over the top of the handlebars and ripped all my nice new gear I'd bought in Majorca. The folks I was riding with kindly stopped and enquired as to my injuries (they hadn't much option as I took up most of the road as I lay there legs akimbo staring into a sullen and rather mocking grey sky!). I checked myself over and set off again, only to stop shortly after when I realised the handlebars were pointing off into the distance at about 30 degrees to the direction I was wanting to travel.

Straightened out, we carried on to the second check of the day in the village of Moffat. The ride was named the Moffat Toffee 200 after the eponymous (and supposedly famous aforementioned sweetie). I, however, was in considerable pain and pedalled on my way to get it all over with. I'd crashed after 40 miles and still had 85 to go so just wanted it over and done with.

From Moffat I found myself all alone and in front of the rest of the riders. I did stop in a very pleasant cafe by the side of St Mary's Loch (I'd recommend a trip - 'tis lovely) for a quick bite and some of the other front runners stopped just as I headed off on familiar roads covered in the Dave Harris Memorial 200 a few weeks earlier. Needless to say (as I'm a bit of a moany so-and-so) I was feeling sorry for myself and kept up a brisk pace to Hawick (one of many smal towns in the Borders which is notorious for the game of rugby - a sport I'm beginning to reconsider - it never hurt this much getting sat on by 15 stone hairy thugs, and it smelt considerably better too).

Out of Hawick a short 25 mile hop to the finish. The road was irritatingly undulating and I kept looking over my shoulder awaiting a troop of guys overtaking me. They never came. I began to think I was going to come in first - a first (if you see what I mean). With 5 miles to go though I turned a corner to see a familiar top from earlier struggling up a climb and thought: "I might as well go after him!"

I screamed past him up the last climb of the day and thought first dibs at the awaiting soup and cakes was assured. Little was I to know he was going to take a shortcut and beat me back. I claim a moral victory however.

I didn't want to hang about though as the pain was returning so I drove the 85 miles home and waited to my arrival to strip off and reveal a very grazed and cut right knee, thigh, elbow and shoulder and a throbbing left thumb. :-(

I'm a hardy soul though and off to work the next day with the excitement of a week's stay in Dundee.

Anyway, I was out the next Saturday with the intention of a trip on a previously tackled route to Linlithgow. I got as far as Ruchazie (not a place to be seen in Lycra, I can tell you) before realising that having to release the handlebars every time I hit a bump due to the pain in the left thumb probably meant there was something wrong. Off to the local hospital for me! After the quickest stint in A&E ever (40 minutes) I was assured there was nothing wrong as the x-ray appeared to show. Four weeks later it is still fairly sore however - but not enough to keep me off the bike though - I told you I was (fool)hardy!

The next two weeks were, to be frank, rubbish. Work has got in the way. I managed a half-hour on the bike before my folks came up to relieve the tension which work had built up in me. A very relaxing weekend with Ma, Pa and Dog (that's an actual dog, not a nickname for an ugly sibling) and a 75 mile ride with my Dad (that's Chris for those familiar with Ian's blogs) left me feeling much more perky.

However, I then had a four week away job in the Scottish Borders (the arena of my footballesque hitting-the-deck antics) to contend with. The bike was loaded into the back of the car though and with the Scottish summer come in May I took advantage with 40 miles on the Monday-Tuesday before work caught up again.

That first weekend saw me helping my friend Kirsten move into her new (third-floor) flat on the Saturday. So with sore arms I set out to do the mammoth ride (which Ian has earlier mentioned) on the Sunday. It was a 180 miler taking in three ferries, an island, the Mull of Kintyre (all sing along) and some brutal climbing.

The timings of the ferries meant that some hard riding was required at points and so off I set at 7:50am (5 minutes later than planned). It was a wee jaunt of 30 miles to the coast at Ardrossan to catch the 9:45am Brodick ferry to the Isle of Arran. A road closure gave me a few problems but a brisk tailwind solved those and a made it with 5 minutes to spare.

There was a glut of cyclists on a jaunt for the day, including rival clubs, the East Kilbride Road Club and the Johnstone Wheelers. The Johnstone Wheelers are a club I'm considering joining and they were helpfully going in the same direction as me so I caught a wheel and had a wee chat before the road went uphill and we were scattered apart. A thoroughly friendly bunch of all abilities who reminded me of the atmosphere I used to experience at the Charlotteville CC in Guildford has persuaded me to join up with them so that's a job for this weekend!

Anyway the ferry at Lochranza (to Claonaig -no idea how to pronounce that!) split us apart and I set out to bask in the sun on the 30 minute crossing to the Mull of Kintyre. The next bit was the tough one. After 45 miles of cycling I now had a brief 11 miles to cover in 45 minutes over 300m of climbing. I knew it was going to be close but also didn't want to take my heart rate into the red as this ruins the legs for the remainder of the day. I pedalled and I pedalled, all the while working out distances to go and average speeds required (I'm a big geek), and cursing every rising piece of tarmac. I arrived into Tarbert and follwed the signs to the ferry. I'd checked my map and thought the terminal was only just round the corner...time was running out...I had one minute to go and still no ferry terminal...I rounded a left hander and there it was..but that sound was one of a soon-to-be-departing ferry! I looked pleadingly at the man on the bridge and he waved me on as the ramp began to rise behind me - I kid you not - I made it by about 10 seconds. I tell you it was exciting stuff (well, relatively speaking!)

On the ferry I met a very friendly chap who cycles around Scotland in his spare time (see his website here - he's more eccentric than me I think!). We went our separate ways come Portavadie, which was where I discovered why the trip to Ardrossan had been so easy (15 mph easterly - oh bum!) I still had 125 miles to go into this with some ruddy big hills. I followed the route round to Ardlamont and Tighnabruich - two very scenic little villages on and around the Kyles of Bute (I take many visitors here in the car as it is simply stunning!)

Here I stopped and reassessed the chances of getting home in the daylight with enought ime to eat, iron and prepare for the next week down in Melrose, rapidly concluding it wasn't possible. I determined to follow my route forthe next 25 miles before diverting to Dunoon and the ferry back to the mainland.

This 25-30 miles was VERY hilly and windy (if not a little bit absolutely beautiful!) and I enjoyed and cursed in equal measure. I was a bit knackered by now after 95 miles and actually fell asleep on the ferry home before jumping on the Gourock to Glasgow train home and a rapid ride back home. So a shortened ride of 97 miles - but the most enjoyable for months - and I stayed on the bike.

Anyway - that's me caught up. Apologies for the epistle and hope you ain't missed me! Now that work is under a little more control I should get to update this bad boy a little more!

Monday, 12 May 2008

South Glos 110km

Since the Dic Penderyn a couple of weekends back I got out last week with Dad and did a very scenic and hilly route through Somerset which added another 75 miles to my total. A testing route for both of us and I was pleased at how well I was going on the hills. Unfortunately Dad had a nasty crash with 10 miles to go. He hit a rock in an otherwise empty rode and went over the handlebars injuring his shoulder. Unable to cycle home, a phone call to Mum had him rescued. An unfortunate end to an otherwise lovely ride.

Some intense turbo training and some time putting my Eddy Merckx racing bike back together in readiness for Saturday's 110km event, which started in Alveston, Bristol. This was my first time on this bike for 10 years and I had converted it from a double-chainring bike to a triple to give me more gears for the French mountains. I thought this ride was a good starter to test this bike out. With the ride to and from home, it ended up being 98 miles. I met up with Chris to do this gorgeous undulating route on the hottest day of the year (25C). We averaged over 17mph and took in some fabulous Gloucestershire scenery. The main problem I had was that even with the seat bolt tightened up to maximum, the saddle kept annoyingly slipping down. This meant regular adjustments which on a hot day is really frustrating!

Matt had devised a mammoth route for Sunday so I had better start getting in some regular big rides again now I've got the bike up and running. I am hoping that with some ingenious advice from my brother James regarding the use of a sliced up Coke can wedged down between the saddle pin and seat tube , I will have solved the saddle issue! Next weekend I have entered a hilly 160km event in the Cotswolds on Saturday and then a 200km event on Sunday called the Stonehenge 200 which is an event organised by my old cycling club back in Surrey. I have ridden this several times in the past and it will be interesting to see how my ride this time compares after all this training.