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, 23 June 2008

Brecon Reservoirs 102km

Firstly, some more interest in our tour from the media. We have been contacted this week by the Daily Record, a Scottish national paper, and the Evesham, Cotswold and Tewkesbury Observer. Hopefully this will spread the word a bit more.

Saturday was supposed to be the local Avon Cycleway 130km for me but on rising at 7am the weather looked less than settled and set to be a bad day. I decided to give this ride a miss, seeing as I was going to ride the next day, but I regretted this because it turned out to be a dry day.

Sunday required a reasonably early rise of 6.30am to drive to Merthyr Tydfil for the Brecon Reservoirs 102km audax, spurred on by Chris' excellent 6.5 hours for his 100 mile Iron Mountain Sportive the day before. Driving down the M4, spots on my windscreen made me wonder whether I'd chosen the right day to cycle but it was good to see the friendly faces of the orgnaisers at the start who recognised my from the Dic Penderyn 100 a couple of months ago which I rode with Chris and Dave.

Heading out towards the first checkpoint at Trefechan I realised it was going to be hard going with the wind. In fact I heard later that trees had been blown down across the country. I pushed on with two riders, who found the pace heavy going and fell off the back after Llandew. This left me to cycle on my own to the control at Sennybridge (56km). As I was about to set off again, the next chap turned up so I set off again with him. I dropped him after 8km up a really long drag from Crai, straight into a headwind. Turning off towards Heol Senni, I recognised roads from the Dic Penderyn which took me over the Devil's Staircase. The slightly uphill road leading to it was a real struggle against a direct headwind, slowing me to 6mph but I persevered over the top. On through Penderyn and some long hills and on to the finish at Merthyr rugby club. The organisers weren't expecting anybody back this early and weren't at the finish so I had to ring them to come and meet me! The next guy came in 15 minutes after me.

I completed this 64 mile ride in a total time of 4hrs 25 minutes, an hour faster than the Dic Penderyn and averaged 15mph which I was pleased with in the wind. A tough, testing ride in beautiful scenery.

Thursday, 19 June 2008

Tewkesbury 100km and Cotswold Expedition 202km

Apologies for the delay in updating. As the Tour draws closer, much time has been spent tying up loose ends. We are almost sorted now for accommodation. Ferries and flights have been booked. Van hire has been looked into and we are finalising our nutrional requirements so that we can order in supplements for the big event. Little things like insurance and european breakdown cover for support vehicles is all under control. Amongst all this, I have been maintaining my weekend rides, keeping the intensity and volume down now for the lead up to France.

On Saturday 7th I met up with Matt and Chris in Tewkesbury to ride the Tewkesbury 100km event (actually 110km by the time we had taking a slightly "alternative" route!) An excellent scenic and lumpy route drawing a large number of riders. The Bristol organised events always seem to be well subscribed. The route covered a lot of familiar roads for me (having ridden a lot of Cotswold events). The route headed out towards Bishops Cleeve, Gotherington, Didbrook and a long grind of an ascent towards Stow. The photo shows Matt cruising up this hill. A quick stamp at the Broadway tower and we carried on to a fast descent on the A44, turning off soon onto a hidden and rough cyclepath, the cyclists ahead of us missing it and luckily hearing our yells for them to stop, otherwise they would have had a long hill to climb back up! Through Chidswickham, Aston Somerville and Dumbleton to a very nice control and cafe at Beckford Silk. Three Cheese and Ham toasties here for lunch. Matt by now suffering with hayfever. Pushing on we went slightly off course at Wadborough adding a couple of miles but made the garden centre control near Norton Barracks in good time, with only a tandem ahead of us. After spending a good 15 minutes looking for the conroller to stamp our cards we gave up and got till receipts to prove we had been there and headed back to Tewkesbury via Kinnersly and Dunstall Common. At one point we got overtaken by a truck carrying cut grass which did nothing to improve Matts hayfever! All in all a great ride with the three of us riding together again. 70 miles at 16.4mph average.

This weekend gone, I travelled up to Wythall South Birmingham for the Cotswold Expedition 202km audax. The 200, 150 and two 100km events drew a crowd of 350 riders, the most popular audax I've ever ridden. Obviously some very good riders and expensive bikes on this. Heading out to Ullenhall I joined up with a guy called Francis from near Basingstoke, Hampshire. We got on well and seemed to be going at a similar speed so stuck together. It turned out he had never ridden more than 100 miles so I wondered how he'd fair over a hot 125 miles. Pushing on through Aston Cantlow and Binton the first control was again at the Broadway Tower, a little more popular this time. From here we cycled along some of the same roads from last week near Ford and Snowshill. Around Salperton we were caught by a large group of Solihull CC riders, average age I would say about 65 years. These guys were phenomenal. The guy at the front, who looked over 70 and had been racing the day before, was powering up hills on his big chainring. We stuck with them till the next halfway control at Burford but I knew I'd never keep the pace up. I didn't know what speed we were doing as my computer wasn't working but it was fast over the Cotswold hills, heading through places such as Kineton, Hazleton, Sherborne and Windrush.

At Burford, Francis and myself continued on with a chap from Cambridge I had ridden with on the Meriden audax a few weeks ago. The Solihull lads stopped for a bite to eat in Burford. We were fine through Swinbrook, Kingham,and Bruern (though feeling the effects of the last few fast miles) but got lost around Whichford. After doing a bit of a loop a lady kindly produced a map from her house and we found are way from Whichford to Sibford Ferris and from there to the next control at the George & dragon pub in Burford. A large Coke and a tuna mayonnaise sandwich went down well here. As we were eating this the Solihull boys arrived and carried on. One of them had obviously had a nasty crash and was covered in blood. The three of us pushed on for the last 38 mile section through Walton, Hampton Lucy, Lowsonford and Tamworth. After pushing along a good pace, I started to suffer in the last few kilometers but finished in a total time of 8 and a half hours. Francis did a brilliant ride.

Today I had the pleasure of speaking to the children at Rangeworthy CofE primary school where Kate's mother Jane is head mistress. I spoke to the school about our Tour and the children were really interested and it was really nice to be able to talk about our challenge. Its hard to get across to 5-10 year olds the magnitude of what we are taking on but the idea of 2 and half times the distance of Lands End to John O'Groats is a scary thought! A few were especially interested how I would be able to go to the loo if I was cycling for 2200 miles!! Only two and a half weeks to go now!

Wednesday, 4 June 2008

Three mixed weekends

Well I've missed updating a couple of rides on here which is a bit of an oversight. Now that the old work-life balance is being restored I have more time to get my thoughts down on paper!

The Tour route has finally been fully disclosed on the Tour website and we are in the process of mapping it all out so we don't get lost! It's all getting a little close now!

After my last update I've managed a pretty poor 320 miles in 3 weekends.

On 17th May I headed out East to do an extension onto a ride I'd done back in February heading to Linlithgow, Livingston and then South towards Biggar and home via Abington (a service station next to the motorway) and then a rapid route back north. The main reason for doing this route was to heads through the strangely named village of Quothquan (according to Wikipedia: "The name is derived from Gaelic and translates as The Common.") - so now you know (and so do I as I only just looked it up!)

I didn't feel too good on the ride and my heart rate was a bit high (probably due to a touch too much booze the night before), but I felt strong once I'd blown the cobwebs away and managed a 16.3 average for the 123.5 miles with two blowouts thrown into the bargain and having to ride the last 15 miles out of the saddle (very sore legs!!)

In the next week I managed a short ride from Melrose (half of which was with the rear wheel rubbing on the chainstay). I do this unintentionally, mainly because I'm totally stupid, but it does help with resistance training. It's so much easier without the rubbing!

Anyway, that following weekend I didn't get out as the wind was blowing a hoolie and I really didn't fancy it - naughty.

I had a good'un this weekend though, managing 53 miles on Saturday morning in the blistering heat before heading through to Edinburgh where James (my old flatmate) and I had been invited for the Edinburgh Office work ball. Thank you to Gillian and Ellie for entertaining us that evening and apologies for my early exit.

I left early you see, as I had a ride starting at 9:00am 20 miles South of Glasgow. This meant leaving at 7:30am and hence getting up at 6:30 - urghhh

The ride was one I had been meaning to cover for quite some time - down to the highest village in Scotland (Wanlockhead) and back. This was going to be about 115 miles on roads which I mostly knew - so was looking forward to it. I hadn't ridden the climb to Wanlockhead in over 10 years since Andy Kitchen and I rode it while completing the Land's End-John O'Groats in April 1998.

A total of 43 entrants set off and as I was warmed up already I found myself at the front unutil the rode sloped upwards and I slowed to keep the old heart rate down. This folks had 40miles less than me to do, remember! I found myself in the middle of the pack then after about 5 miles before a guy about 50 metres in front had a massive blowout and crashed badly. Three of us stopped to help him up, get him and his bike to safety and make sure he was going to be OK. He ushered us on our way and so, with everyuone having passed us we found ourselves at the back of the pack.

I plodded on by myself picking up the odd person here and there and only stopping for a stamp at the first check before heading on. A long climb towards Crawfordjohn from Glespin followed and then down a long valley descent to Sanquhar where I stopped for a quick refuel to tackle the brutal headwind up the steep V-shaped valley to Wanlockhead. This was a 6 mile climb rising about 350 metres. The wind really made this a struggle and I was not enjoying myself as my strength was fading and I was being passed left, right and centre.

I made it to the lunch stop gladly however and had a very pleasant soup and an Irn Bru. A big group of about 25-30 shortly packed up to leave and I tagged on to the back. The stop and the food had done the power of good and I found myself near the front of the group following a sharp climb. As others' legs were getting significantly weaker due to a lack of distance, mine were staying the same or getting stronger and I was enjoying myself, powering up hills. However, this is whe nthe rain started. 40-45 miles from home it started to rain - good Scottish rain - which comes from nowehere and doesn't stop. It was miserable. It was cold. It was windy. I was grumpy. I was sleepy. I was not Happy.

I arrived into the finish at Strathaven Scout Hut with a large group from the East Kilbride Road Club, grabbed a quick bite, topped up the water bottle and bade them adieu as I trudged the last 20 miles home on me lonesome. Not pleasant.

Overall, a good training ride, though one of the least enjoyable. Off down South this weekend to see my Grandad - who in his day was a very keen cyclist himself, riding around most of the coast of the UK in his holidays, and frequently riding to watch Yeovil FC play away games as far away as 100 miles. And he didn't look nearly as silly as me as they hadn't invented Lycra back then! The craziness runs in the family you see!

Pontcysyllte Aqueduct 175km

After a wet weekend where not much was done cycling-wise I made up for it this week with three training rides.

Thursday I headed out with Dad from Portishead and we negotiated our way across the Avonmouth bridge by way of the cycle path and headed across the old Severn bridge into Wales. A gorgeous day in the Welsh lanes through Caldicot to Caer-went and then back through Shirenewton and across the bridge back to bristol. 60 miles.

Saturday necessitated me dragging myself out of bed at 3.45am to drive 3 hours to Snowdonia for the start of the Pontcycyllte Aqueduct 175m Audax. After initially questioning why I do these things and driving extremely cautiously through thick fog, the weather improved dramatically along the M5. Unfortunately, part of it was closed due to a bad accident a couple of hours earlier so I cut across country. In fact I made good time and got to the start half an hour early.
This ride has to be one of the most beautiful rides I have done. Starting out past the aqueduct and across the A5 it headed straight up an 18% hill (Methodist Hill) before heading up a long drag over the North Wales Hills. Dropping down near Berwyn and across the river Dee the route then headed up the long and spectacular Horeshoe Pass. A section of this was reportedly 20% though I didn't think this was the case. Maybe I'm just getting strong on the hills. I rode most of the way with a couple of lads, Julian from Worcestershire and Phil who was local. Obviously very strong riders as I really struggled to hold them on the 4 long climbs of the day.

I made the mistake of heading out to fast on this ride and in the hot conditions I suffered and found myself riding on my own through Corwen and soon after that it all went wrong! I took the wrong left turn and instead of a nice descent towards Llangollen for the last climb up the Panorama pass and home, I went over something very hilly and down the other side and found myself on the Chester-Corwen road, obviously off-course. Carrying along here I reached a roundabout which was the one I crossed earlier on the fast descent off the Horsehoe Pass! So there was no alternative but to ride back over the Horseshoe Pass in reverse. Luckily this way is a shorter climb but steeper. I stopped for a bite to eat and a Coke at the top absolutely drenched with sweat before enjoying the long descent to Llangollen.

Back over the Panorama Pass, where I was in bottom gear and really suffering, as well as having to negotiate sheep, I headed back to the finish. The finish was at a community centre a little way from the start and I knew there was a long climb back up to the carpark where I was parked. Luckily, as an alternative, I was able to walk across the aqueduct and enjoy really spectacular views.

A great ride resulting in 113 hilly miles. I would have done it under 8 hours if I hadn't gone wrong and this is a respectable time which they suggest people planning to do the Etape du Tour should aim for.

Rather than driving 3 hours back to Bristol, I drove back to stay over with Chris and Paula (Matt's parents) in Hereforshire. On Sunday Chris and myself got out for a good 48 mile ride around the Herefordshire lanes and did part of the Iron Mountain Sportive route which Chris is going to do in June. This was a really nice, lumpy ride but I really felt my legs after the day before. We averaged 15.7mph.

So, overall, 220 miles in the week. Saturday really proves you need to pace yourself and especially in high temperatures. Something we really need to be aware of in France!