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 9: Toulouse - Bagneres de Bigorre 224km 15/7/08


Left hotel at 06:10 due to length of stage. Also Team Kate’s first day of supporting and they had to get van from Toulouse.

Really didn’t want to get lost today and unfortunately the road numbers disappeared after about 25km and we added an extra 2km by the time we corrected our mistake.

Shortly following this Matt punctured on a roundabout and the replacement tube used was faulty leading to extra time being lost while this was replaced. The road down to Lezat-sur-Leze was an unpleasant and busy road but did pass through some nice towns on the banks of the Garonne. We stopped in the small town of Carbonne for some breakfast of croissant etc and duly headed onwards to our arranged meeting spot with Team Kate outside of Figarol.

By this point we had covered three 4th Cat climbs with one remaining plus one 3rd Cat and two 1st Cats still to come.

The route from Figarol took us through the town of Aspet which sits at the foot of the infamous Col de Portet d’Aspet (site of the untimely death of Fabio Casartelli in the Tour in the mid 1990’s). Our route today took us up the less well known 3rd category climb of the Col des Ares which wound nicely through wooded slopes at a gentle gradient and allowed us a pleasant respite from the rapidly increasing temperatures out of the shade.

A sweeping descent took us back to the banks of the Garonne (I believe!) and we headed towards Luchon and our lunch stop with the two Kates. This was taken up a steep hill (which we negotiated in the van!) with wonderful views up the river valley to the snow capped Pyrennes in the background.

Having sated ourselves it was onwards to Luchon and the base of the Col de Peyresourde – a climb the Tour visits on a fairly regular basis. This was steep from the start and the prescence of recent roadworks made the steep gradient all the more taxing. Ian soon opened a sizeable gap and was going well. The bottom of the climb rose from the valley into some small roadside villages which were fairly pretty before the trees subsided and the sun really started to make an impact.

The extremely hot conditions meant regular stops for the girls to exchange bottles and water and energy drink with us as we used them up within a matter of kilometres. The climb was long at 15km and an average gradient of over 7% (a climb of over 1,050m – about the same as Ben Nevis from sea level).

However, as the kilometres counted down and the summit approached I found renewed energy (aided by a couple of SIS energy gels with added caffeine!) and passed Ian to crest the summit in about 1 hour and 10 mins. The emotion of coming over the top of one of the famous Tour cols and realising that I could do it was all a bit much and I did shed a tear or two – Ian on the other hand is not nearly such a soppy bugger and just had a big smile on his face!

Team Kate greeted us at the top and we dressed for the descent which took in some wonderful sweeping bends and down into the town of Arreau from where we started the final ascent of the day of another famous Pyrennean col – the Aspin. This started off in a much more forgiving manner and twisted and turned a lot more than the Peyresourde while remaining more in the shade.

So with helmets discarded for the climb and with drinks and gels were dispensed again at regular intervals to aid us on our way we plodded on up the climb. Once again Ian headed off up the road before I found my hill legs and caught him up again.

When you remember to stop struggling against the pain and heat of these climbs and take look to your left or right you are really greeted with a fantastic scene. The Pyrennes stretching into the distance all around and above you, and the small ribbon of road below you which you have successfully conquered.

The climbing of these cols is really a mental as well as a physical struggle and you need to find something on which to focus the mind, whether that be singing a little tune, chanting a little chant and summing a little sum (or anything else for that matter!) Simply looking upwards and going “Crikey, it a long way and it’s awful steep” won’t get you up there. The feeling of immense satisfaction of having done it is staggering though - and so worthwhile (especially when you have people with you saying “I don’t know how you did that – it was hard in a van” – does boost the ego a little J).

So from the Aspin it was the matter of a simple 26km descent into Bagneres de Bigorre and to bed for the night (except that there was a bike race in town and we couldn’t get the van in)! Irony, eh!

147 miles in 10:05:58 compared with R Ricco (Ita) in 5:39:28, though he was later kicked out for doping!

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