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

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.

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