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

Sunday, 13 July 2008

Stage 7: Brioude - Aurillac 159km 13/7/2008


After a night in a rubbish Logis de France (really wouldn’t recommend them – unless you are a fan of restaurants that close at 8:30pm and have no staff present between 10pm and 8am the next day). Anyway enough of my moaning.

We set off from Besse at about 8:50am for the 70km trek down to Brioude aiming to start at about 10:20am for what looked like a shortish stage which we could just knock off. Alas, this was not the case.

Right from the start, the road headed uphill and we had our first 3rd category climb of the day at 11km – this meant that we were slogging along at a very slow pace which was fairly depressing and Matt was certainly feeling very sluggish and mentally and physically fatigued after a hard day on Stage 6 and a late night.

After only 19km we missed a turning which was not signposted and headed off in the wrong direction – it was only when we descended sharply into the amusing named St Poncy (well I laughed) and climbed steeply out of the other side that we realised that we had gone wrong. A quick call to the support team and we were directed the best way back to the route – another wrong turning had Matt jumping up and down and swearing at the consistent failure of French roadsign makers – a distinct gap in the market for those of you with a signmaking bent!

Anyway, after struggling up more hills we met for lunch at the top of a hill somewhere outside St Flour and regrouped. The next part of the route took us on three sides of a square South of St Flour with a little climbing but nothing significant and we were able to get into more of a swing of things.

Matt started to perk up and was soon singing away and waving at cows again as seems to be a common theme during the daytime! I’m sure this is a sign of madness which has been enhanced through excessive exercise and too little sleep.

A short catch-up stop in the unpronounceable Valuejols and we knew we only had about 36km until we crested the second of two 2nd category climbs in short sucession. The support met us at the top of the Col d’Entremont (or Col d’Entrapment according to Ian) to hand out rain jackets as the temperature plummeted and the rain came down – France in the summer appears a little too much like Scotland for my liking – we had not booked weather like this!

Anyway after the descent into Le Peuch (another source of laughter for Matt), we had the 7.8km ascent of the Col du Pas de Peyrol to contend with. This started nice and gently and then with 1.75km to go a sign informed us that the average gradient to the ascent was 9.72% with a brutal hairpin in. As Ian and I crested the summit together it really felt like we had arrived on the Tour – the summit was shrouded in mist with a little hill top station for provision of sustenance to walkers et al. We grabbed rain jackets for the descent of 31km to Saint Simon which was to be our finishing point for the day (our detours of the previous day having added 13km and the detour on this stage having taken in an extra 3rd cat climb we were happy to stop 11km short if the town.

Total time: 6:34:01, 14.2mph average compared to L Sanchez (Esp) 3:52:53.

Stage 6: Aigurande - Super Besse 195.5km 12/7/2008


Today was my (Matt’s) Dad’s birthday and as a present he had decided that he wanted to ride the stage with us. This was very welcome as it gave us someone else to ride with and share the load and it had been a long time since I had been able to spend his birthday with him.

We drove to just outside of Aigurande and Mum saw us on our way on forgivingly rolling roads. After yesterday’s very dull scenery, it was pleasant to head into more interesting countryside and more into the type of landscape which was typically French. Small villages of winding roads, stone-built houses and pretty little churches all surrounded by golden fields of crops, rolling hills and old French farmers wearing black berets, sporting grand moustaches and driving ancient tractors!

The cycling wasn’t half bad either and we met up with Mum for a top up of drinks after 2 hours almost exactly to schedule.

The terrain from here was a little lumpier and continued through lovely scenery with short sharp climbs from villages with names as diverse as Crocq, Giat and Verneugheol – not typical French names!

We stopped for lunch atop a hill in Fernoel witth views overlooking the distant Massif Central – our destination for the evening in the ski village of Besse (having first climbed to the ski station at Super Besse).

The ride became increasingly tough for Dad as the distance began to tell. We descended into La Bourboule for our third meet up of the day.

Our first 2nd Cat climb of the day followed which was a nice gradual ascent, providing us with a good level of comfort over our prospects for the coming days. Matt’s Mum provided support for us on the way up and with cool weather we all managed up OK. At a distance covered already of over 100 miles, this was the furthest Dad had done in a while.

The descent down was stunning with sweeping turns all the way into the valley. Due to poor route directions we got lost on the way to Super-Besse and this led to us being over an hour later than estimated into the ski station. We arrived at top of the very unpleasant climb to find that Mum was not there as she had got worried and left to go to the hotel in the hope of finding us there.

We were supposed to be meeting up with Team Kate but an accident on the road up to Besse on the motorway led to them being stranded and unable to reach us. Fortunately they were OK, although their van was not so well and they ended up spending the night in a grotty hotel in Brive apparently.

The Logis we stayed in was awful with lousy service – the standard of these things has really not endeared the network to us for future visits!

Time for the stage was 8:51:36 for 130.39 miles of travel (including getting lost) at an average of 14.717mph compared to the R Ricco (Ita) who took 4:57:52. He was later kicked out for doping.

Stage 5: Cholet - Chateauroux 232km 11/7/2008


The longest stage of the tour today and we predicted 9 hours in the saddle for the 145 hours. We awoke at 6am to a miserable morning – rain and a little wind. The forecast was for a south westerly which would help us on the route which travelled almost due east.

After a good breakfast and saying our good byes to the Dugast’s for their generous hospitality we headed out to Cholet again in the car and parked in a LeClerc supermarket carpark. Setting off in pretty grim conditions we were surprised at the speed we were maintaining. In the first hour we covered 18.5 miles along a rolling main road with a tail wind. Swapping turns on the front, two-up time trial style, meant that the guy behind got soaked. This and the spray from the rain and the traffic made it quite difficult to see. We sped through Maulevrier, Argenton and Massais and met Chris and Paula well over half an hour up on schedule just past Richlieu. We maintained the 18.5mph average, deciding to get on with it as the road was busy and the scenery pretty uninspiring really. At least we were covering large distances in minimal time. By the time we met for lunch at Dange St Romaine, the weather had improved. A quick stopped for a pee led to me being bitten by a caterpillar on my neck. It seemed to be a day for it as later on a wasp flew into my cycling helmet and after me trying to persuade it to get out, I was stung on the ear. Along with this my tendon in my lower shin started to give me jipp again and Matt’s achiles tendon was aching so we made a right pair. This didn’t stop Matt slipstreaming an old gentleman on his moped which was pretty comical really. I couldn’t be bothered to sprint after him so just pootled on watching the old guy nearly skid his machine on a roundabout at about 15mph. Later we were speeding along at such a pace that we did a double overtaking manoeuvre of two tractors on an uphill stretch. Lunch was a nice picnic of bread, cheese, ham and tabouleh by the side of the road overlooking a sunflower field and set us up nicely for the remaining 104km.

By now the weather was really on the up and we enjoyed lovely descents between fields of hay bails, speeding through small deserted villages. Through Descartes, Abilly and Le Grand Pressigny we continued on to join the D925 which we powered along all the way to the finish for a good 50km, counting down the distance markers at the side of the road.

Overall, a pretty boring day scenerywise but we did cover 232km(145 miles) in 7 hours 45 minutes on the bike. This stage in Le Tour was won by our own Mark Cavendish considerably quicker in 5:27:52! I would say this was by far the easiest ride of this magnitude we have ever done.

That night was spent in a dated hotel in the middle of Argenten sur Creuse south of the finish in Cateauroux. Lugging bags up narrow spiral staircase set off my tendonitis quite badly and I was ordered to rest! Dinner was very tasty: Pigeon foix gras and roast duck, the restaurant having an interesting array of paintings of cows on the wall. Not sure who was in charge of the decorating!