“The West Surrey Cyclist” - April - June 2009

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Contents:

Front cover - Tour Series Woking logo
Inner front cover - Welcome to Our World - as in previous issue
CTC West Surrey 2009 - very similar to previous issue
Editorial front matter - very similar to previous issue
Professional Cycling Comes to Woking - by Geoff Smith
Riding Around - with Editor Geoff Smith
Where Bromptons Cannot Go - by Roger Philo
My Wonderful Folder - by Claire Hooper
West Surrey Riders Commit Murder - by Rico Signore
To the North Cape in Five-star Luxury - by Geoff Smith
Organised Cycle Rides  April - June 2009 - the Rides List
A Pilgrim’s Story - Part 2 - by Derek Tanner
Riding All of the Tour de France - by Ian Callaghan
Dates for Your Diary - (as in previous issues plus this one addition)
West Surrey Group Shirts - Off the Peg

Selected items transcribed from the original printed copy:


PROFESSIONAL CYCLING COMES TO WOKING

By Geoff Smith

WOKING will host a professional bike race on Tuesday June 2nd which, all being well, will make the pulses race of all who watch it, especially so for “ordinary” cyclists used to slow progress in the town.

Fifty pros in various teams will race around a town centre course with five tight bends at an average speed of 50kph.  Lap time will be about 2.5 minutes, the race itself due to last about 1hr. 10min.  Given all this, the cycling will be fast, skilful, and extremely aggressive.  No one will be able to hide in the bunch and any individual unfortunate enough to be lapped will be out.

The race will be recorded by cameras on every corner for later broadcast on ITV4.  At the launch event in December there was talk of the Tour Series being the “Premiership of Cycling,” or akin to “the Grand Prix, Formula 1” of the sport.

Woking is one of ten host towns for the May and June series, the others including Exeter, Milton Keynes, Peterborough, Blackpool, Southport, Stoke-on-Trent, Derby, York and Darlington.  Each venue will have its own one-hour TV programme.

Roads will be closed from early afternoon with the idea of encouraging a carnival atmosphere to build up and amateur race events to take place around the circuit as crowds gather to enjoy what the borough council is hoping will be the biggest event in its 2009 calendar.

Keep an eye on council announcements and local press for full details.  Our group has indicated a willingness to help on the day.  If you are feeling especially benevolent towards the event, various sponsorship packages are available.


RIDING AROUND

With Editor Geoff Smith

READING the Telegraph’s obituary on celebrity artist Tony Hart I was struck by the description of Shamley Green, his home village, as lying “deep in the Surrey countryside”.  Indeed it does and what a delightful spot it is, well entrenched in our West Surrey CTC group territory.

Not for the first time it occurred to me that we as cyclists take our home stomping ground very much for granted.  Even if we live in the towns, almost all of us can reach splendidly diverse open countryside within minutes of setting off on our bikes.

That said, we all have our favourite local stretches which, whatever the season, cause our hearts to be uplifted when we are fortunate enough to be cycling in them.

I know mine but what about yours?  Do tell me and we can share them with all readers.  We have much to celebrate.


THE February-March 2008 CTC Cycle magazine featured video cameras which can be fixed to helmets - old cycling news, really;  this column told you about them first.  But it was interesting to note there are now several types of camera now available.  I mention this in the fond hope that one of our regulars will take the plunge and buy one.  Are you listening Derek Tanner?

Derek has given us several excellent slide-show presentations of bicycle tours undertaken by Anne Tanner and himself.  Wouldn’t it be great to follow them up (or down) mountains courtesy of movie footage as recorded by one of these cameras?  I am sure Tannerama Productions could even record a suitable wheezy soundtrack to enhance the experience.


WHERE BROMPTONS CANNOT GO

Roger Philo reveals all

WHILE it is true that folded Bromptons can be taken in to many places - mine goes under my desk at work - it is sadly not true that they are accepted absolutely everywhere.  The 2008 Proms Guide is quite specific:  “The Royal Albert Hall is unable to accept folding bikes in the cloakrooms”.  Fortunately, nothing untoward happened to my non-folding utility bike when locked to the racks outside the hall.  It took me a couple of trips to realise that leaving the bike at Woking station and travelling by train to Waterloo and Tube to South Kensington was pointless.  It’s cheaper, quicker, and given the interchanges at Waterloo and Leicester Square or Green Park and the walk from South Ken, quite possibly less effort, to take the bike on the train to Clapham Junction and cycle from there.

I haven’t toured on my Brompton, and probably wouldn’t, but my concerns are mostly different from those expressed in the mag by Paul Holmes.  16 inch wheels - a concern off-road for a non-confident (and non-competent) off-road rider like me, but not otherwise.  Short wheelbase - actually the Brompton wheelbase is pretty much the same as that on my touring bike.  Lack of drops - I ride on the brake hoods of the tourer most of the time anyway.  I’ve not ridden the Brompton far enough at any one time to comment about the comfort of the seating position for long rides, just far enough to decide to replace the Brompton “Anatomic” saddle it was supplied with.  I’d be more concerned about the lack of gear range on my 3-speed Brompton;  I’d consider fitting the bottom bracket Schlumpf Mountain Drive if I wanted to tour on it in anything other than fairly flat terrain.  The luggage carrying capacity is probably less than I usually carry touring but that might not be a bad thing.

As for spending £1000, on say an Airnimal I might only use once a year:  spread that over 10 years of tours and compare with the £1050 cost of the Romantic Road Tour organised by Mark Waters, from which I’ve just returned, and it doesn’t seem unreasonable.  So I agree with Paul, you can tour on a Brompton, but that’s not what they were designed for.  A Brompton folds quickly, easily and small, important considerations if you are folding and unfolding it four times a day, taking it on crowded commuter trains and putting it under your desk, but much less so for folding and unfolding at the start and finish of a fortnight’s tour and taking it on long-distance trains with, hopefully, more luggage space.


MY WONDERFUL FOLDER

By Claire Hooper

MY FOLDING bike is wonderful.  Each day we commute ten miles by train and seven miles on roads and bridle paths to work.  For the sometimes rough and surprisingly hilly terrain I chose a sturdy (re-badged) Dahon from Action Bikes, which has 20-inch wheels and V brakes.  The narrow handlebars are a shock at first, but the ratios of the bike’s six gears make climbing so easy that I’ve never used more than three.  The 20-inch wheels probably manage rough surfaces better than smaller wheels, but even then road vibration through the bars makes mitts a necessity.

At first, folding took thirty seconds, but now it’s less than ten:  quick-release and lower the saddle, open the locking hinge on the handlebar stem and fold the bars down and left, open the locking hinge near the bottom bracket, and fold the bike in half.  Bingo!

Due to the wheel diameter my bike doesn’t fold very small, nor very light, but because of the low step-over it’s easy to carry unfolded.  It even comes with its own bag, should you need to pack it up.


I am grateful to Claire and Roger for continuing the mag’s folder coverage.  Any more for any more?  - Editor


WEST SURREY RIDERS COMMIT MURDER

Rico Signore makes his confession (also implicating Bob McCleod and Peter Fennemore)

SCENE 1:  At 7.15 on a cold and windy autumn morning at Newlands Corner, we shepherded cyclists were encouraged to partake of an excellent hot breakfast, followed by rehearsing and filming the same sequences again and again.

Initially on the command “Ready, rolling”, us cyclists naturally started rolling.  No, no, this was meant for the cameras, not us.  We soon learnt we could start rolling only when the shout went up “Action”.

Negotiating a steep gravelly path we were asked to pretend we were on a leisurely ride chatting to each other.  Some hope.  All we could concentrate on was not falling off or hitting one of the cameras, each worth around £24,000.

Two ladies watching asked what we were filming.  When informed it was Midsomer Murders, they responded that they get that in Holland and looked forward to seeing us on TV (perhaps so if we make it past the editing stage).  We had no idea of the story line but as we were wearing “Midsomer Hospital for Children” T-shirts we reasoned we must be in a charity ride.  Intriguingly, DCI Barnaby (John Nettles) was seemingly cast as a villain driving a rally car right among us cyclists, hooting furiously.  We were finally paid off close to 6pm.

SCENE 2:  Filming of the actual start of the charity ride began at 7.30am in freezing temperatures at Wellington College, Crowthorne.  It was sunny but the 50 or so cyclists and other extras (i.e. citizens of Midsomer) and a choir were stuck in the shadows of the courtyard for around four hours.  The “charity ride organiser” announced that two friends who were regulars of the event were unfortunately no longer with us.  No surprise there, then, for Midsomer fans!  At around 2.30pm we had finished our stint but the choir was required to carry on singing in the chapel.

For Bob McLeod, myself and, in Scene 2, Peter Fennemore, it was a great experience.  The general friendly ambiance and camaraderie between cyclists, actors, and camera crews, plus excellent catering and cash remuneration, more than compensated for all the hanging around.  Roll on the next filming session.  Meanwhile, we will happily sign autographs for a small fee.


Delete cycle-touring, insert cycle-cruising...

TO THE NORTH CAPE IN FIVE-STAR LUXURY

By Geoff Smith, Editor

OVER the couple of decades-plus in which I have been indulging in this exacting pastime, cycle touring has invariably been accompanied by elements of roughing it.  There has always been some sort of compromise involving me and my body or the bike and its treatment, or more likely both.

But for one idyllic tour in 2008 I can honestly claim it was five-star luxury from start to finish for this man and his machine, not forgetting wife and ditto.  Our tour operator was a cruise company, our back-up support vehicle a small cruise ship, our food and creature comforts while off the bikes.... well, what can I say?

It started when Debbie and I booked an adventurous-type cruise - i.e. one where the passengers were expected to have a modicum of mobility - grandly titled “Voyage to the Far North”.  The literature mentioned there were five bikes for passenger use on board and I guessed right in assuming they were hybrids.  On discussing this with my booking rep I mentioned that I might pack some tools in case these bikes might need a service before we took them ashore.

We chatted about the cycling possibilities and I said what I would really like would be to take our own bikes with us.  The result was she emailed the ship and permission was granted by no less than two top officers, the cruise director and hotel manager.

There was an important proviso - I was urged to keep a low profile about this permission.  It had never been granted before and there was barely enough room for the ship’s own bikes, let alone any more.

I could live with that.  Early booking had meant that we had a “free” limousine to take us, and our bikes, to the ship, so we did not even have to take the front wheels off.  The bikes were loaded by our chauffeur, carefully removed by the handlers at Portsmouth, passed to the crew, and wheeled on board.  Then they were whisked away out of our sight.

We did not see them again until Molde, Norway, when they were presented to us at the bottom of the gangway by our ever-smiling Filipino crewmen.  Could we not help by retrieving them ourselves from wherever they were being stored?  Certainly not;  there was no way that passengers handle “luggage” on this ship.  They insisted it was all part of the service.

So off we sped, being waved through port security like we were VIPs.  Fifteen miles out, 15 back, and then just handing the bikes over again before indulging in superb afternoon tea served by white-gloved waiters in the dining room... this was seriously good.

The pattern continued at our other ports of call, sometimes being back for lunch, sometimes tea, never so much as wheeling the bikes on or off, let alone manhandling them down to the out-of-bounds secret place where they were being stowed.  Actually, Debbie did once spot them out of the corner of her eye way down on D Deck so we knew they were sleeping safely and contentedly.

The cruise, our first, continued to the North Cape and we settled into a highly agreeable routine, me eating myself silly and then burning it off on the bike.  No, we did not “cycle round the deck” while at sea;  we lost count of the number of people who thought it was amusing to suggest we did.  But full use was made of the swimming pools and gym to get our exercise quota in when not able to cycle ashore.

I confess we eventually became minor celebrities as the voyage continued and word got out about us getting in the miles.  Perhaps inspired by us, a handful of the 340 other passengers took out the ship’s hybrid bikes for quick trips around the ports or into the towns.  One or two noticed that our bikes were “different” so I did confess to them they were ours and swore them to secrecy.

In all, we cycled just short of 200 miles on seven trips ashore on this two-week cruise, not a great mileage but it was satisfyingly hilly and no one should rush through this staggeringly beautiful terrain.  Under no circumstances would the ship have waited for us so it was imperative to allow plenty of time for punctures and the like to ensure we and our bikes were safely back before the “all aboard” call went up.

My highlight of several highlights was cycling 45 miles to and from the North Cape from the “world’s northernmost village” of Honningsvag through cold wind, rain, thick mist and, back at sea level, warm sunshine.  Some of the passengers on their coaches gave me a cheer as they passed by and, as a souvenir, the captain even signed a special certificate for me.

Thanks to the cruise company and the helpfulness of its staff I was able to cycle-tour some of the best bits of Norway’s coast in the most agreeable of circumstances.  I tackled long 10 per cent climbs with dozens of hairpins in Fjordland, and explored fine towns such as Svolvaer, Tromso, Hammerfest, Bergen, and Stavanger.  Off the bike, I also achieved an ambition of swimming in the North Sea well above the Arctic Circle.


A PILGRIM’S STORY - Part 2

By Derek Tanner

ST-JEAN-PIED-de-PORT is the last starting point in France for pilgrims on the route to the tomb of St James in Santiago de Compostela in Spain.  The pilgrims office stands just inside the Pilgrims Gate at the top of the steep cobbled main street of the medieval town.  Tired from the climb via the citadel, the bustle of the pilgrim activity takes the breath away.  Leaning the loaded expedition tourers against the wall, we are invited to take a seat and we are interviewed to be entered on the pilgrims register and receive a “passport” which, if maintained to record our progress, will afford us access to pilgrims’ refuges on the 1500km route ahead of us, and be used as justification for a certificate and “absolution of our sins” at Santiago.  Explaining that we had already cycled 1200 kms from Geneva in the last four weeks and showing the stamps we had already starting collecting in our logbook, it didn’t take long.

The town was full of shops selling pilgrim mementos but we resisted buying scallop shells to hang around our necks and from the handlebars.  The rules are that walkers get priority for accommodation en route, and the campsite was full of cyclists resting up for the 30km climb across the border and up to Roncesvalles as the first section in Spain.  We spoke to a Belgian couple on a schedule of 150km per day.  On Day 2 the walker we had met in St Palais caught us up while we were servicing the bikes, doing laundry and restocking for food, and the girl in the tent next door was the South African we had heard about some days before.  Since we last saw her she had retreated for a few days to a guest house considering her options but was back out on the road again.

Day 3 saw us on the road at 0730;  the Belgians had long gone.  After a few kilometers we were overhauled by Garth, and it looks like he has collected a girlfriend riding a trekking bike with most unsuitable gearing.  After a bit of leapfrogging they were about 20 minutes behind us registering at the pilgrims office, where we peeled off into the campsite just as the restaurant was opening for lunch.  There were even more groups of cyclists here, quite a few on organised tours with vehicle support.  A German couple about our age towing a Bob trailer seemed particularly well organised, having routed via a less hilly route than us via Bordeaux.

Next morning it was sprinkling with rain, but it was not unpleasant until we got mixed up in a group of inexperienced cyclists with bus support.  They persisted in cutting us up on the downhills and baulking us on the climbs as we tried to keep a steady pace towards Pamplona.  Then we got mixed up on the ring road approaching Pamplona and spent nearly two hours backtracking before we found the campsite on the outskirts at Ezcaba.  A thunderstorm struck as we rolled through the front gate.  Anne miraculously found a strategically placed “dog’s pooh” as we ran to shelter in the bar and for a while all was not well.  Eventually we got checked in and picked up some useful TI leaflets.  Garth and his girlfriend had already pitched their tent, like us, close to the kitchen block, where we had to cook out of the rain.

Garth had not emerged from the tent when we left, to find, only 150m from the campsite gate, a cycle path that led to the Camino route and took us via the old drawbridge into the centre of Pamplona.  Built by Pompey to subdue the Basques, it provided an interesting half-day tour before struggling on the infamous N100 road to get out of town.  Our guide book told us to stick with it until it definitely became motorway and, sure enough, the planners had provided a cycle escape road that appeared at the last moment, as did “Bob the trailer” and his wife from a track across the fields.

Stopping at a really friendly bar in Muruzabal, the owner directed us via the backroads to the church at Eunate, originally built by the Knights of St James as a burial place for pilgrims falling on the way.  Then came the town of Puente La Reina, to cross the bridge built in the middle ages by a charitable queen to reduce the number of pilgrims drowning while crossing the river here.  The church, now buried in the middle of the town, boasts an altar dripping with gold, no doubt funded by grateful pilgrims.  Estella was to be our overnight stop, and was the site of the “shower of stars” that led to the discovery of the bones of St James nearby.  Bob the trailer was already there.  Unfortunately the campsite was plagued by local youngsters who seemed to run riot until almost midnight.

First stop next morning was “Fuente del Vino” - the “fountain of wine” where pilgrims can drink from the tap emerging from the wall of the bodega next to the monastery.  Then comes Los Arcos, another church with an altar dripping in gold, this time Gothic overlaid with Baroque, a popular tourist spot, and another octagonal Templar church at Torres del Rio.  The Picos mountains were beginning to loom up to the north - like a scene from Lord of The Rings, and just as we approached a suicidal-looking ring road we found a marked cycle route that led us directly into the centre of Logroño.  Another river crossing, it was an important pilgrims’ stop.  It was here that St James first appeared, supposedly slaying 70,000 infidels in one session.  Thankful King Ramiro I instituted a tax to fund the cathedral, having escaped the demands of the Moors to donate 100 virgins a year to their cause.  Once again Bob the Trailer was on the campsite before us.

Yellow arrows painted on walls, litter bins and anything else that doesn’t move lead the pilgrim out of town, first via the main road, then the backstreets, across the park, into the nature park and up through the vineyards.  It started raining (hard), Anne dropped her glasses and we spent over an hour going back for them, and eventually after 19km we hit tarmac just outside Navarrete.  Another golden altar - a euro in the slot to light it up - it was fantastic!  Sight of the traffic on the A110 sent us back to following the yellow arrows on across the vineyards.  We had to push and carry the bikes for a while but it was worth it as we emerged onto tarmac for the last 5km down into Nájera, ancient capital of Navarra.

We camped below a huge sandstone bluff riddled Gorgonzola-like with corridors and stairways - but we couldn’t find the tourist office in town.  Determined now not to go anywhere near the A110 we followed the “Monastery Route” back up the valley.  Being Monday the touristy museums were were shut and it was deserted but the Parador hotel provided an excellent 5-star coffee and complimentary croissants in the lounge bar.  Topping the ridge back to our valley we overhauled a group of Germans on mountain bikes who presented no competition despite their frantic pedalling to keep up on the glorious 10km descent down into Santo Domingo de la Calzada - home of the famous sainted road and bridge builder after whom it was named.  His tomb dating back to 1109 is in the cathedral next to the chicken coop.  Hoping for an early start next day we checked in to the pilgrims refuge next door, electing to sleep with the bikes in the 25-bed room on the ground floor.

On the road by 0730 it was cool but pleasant, but uncomfortable being on the hard shoulder of the A110.  Entering Belorado after 24km, the pilgrim stamping station advised us that the off-road camino was cyclable to Burgos - only another 50km away.  We stopped for breakfast at the purpose-built pilgrim resort and continued to follow the yellow arrows through the backstreets and down little tracks until almost 1km outside Villafranca, by when it was time for lunch and we could not take any more of the wall to wall lorries.

After lunch the arrows led us up behind the church and we were pushing (but not carrying) again within 200m, but we persisted.  We cleared the summit, at 1300m, of the Montes de Oca followed by a bit of carrying before a long freewheeling descent, past the walkers who had passed us on the way up, down into St Juan de Ortega.  Originally another major hospital and church for pilgrims, we found it a sad place in the middle of nowhere.  A bit more descent, a bit more pushing through a particularly rocky patch, back up to 1000m and we were on the ridge looking down into a head wind into Burgos, now only 20km away.

Hitting the valley floor at the end of the off-road descent on the outskirts of town, the Camino signpost directs us for another 9km through the suburbs into the centre of town.  The TI sits just around the corner from the cathedral, but once again we were at wits’ end from disappearing signpost syndrome.  After cycling 5km back up the river to the campsite, we had been going 36 days, we had covered nearly 1,000 miles on tour, we had always thought of Burgos as a major milestone and with about another 500km to go we needed an excuse to lift our spirits with a celebration meal.

To be continued


RIDING ALL OF THE TOUR DE FRANCE

By Ian Callaghan

THE Tour de France.  Whether or not you are a cyclist, you’ve heard about it.  The annual race around France has been taking place since 1903 and, although mired by controversy in recent years, still holds a firm place in the hearts of the French public and as the most highly attended spectator event in the sporting calendar with some of the mountains cramming in up to half a million spectators in the space of 15km of road!

The legendary nature of the Tour, its myth and history, coupled with an insane desire to take on a hefty challenge, led us, Matthew Ulyatt and Ian Callaghan, two old schoolfriends, to follow in the wheel-tracks of the Tour in 2008.

Our lofty ambitions were set in motion in September of 2007.  Reminiscing over a beer or two about the days when we both used to race competitively, Matt mentioned a long-standing dream to ride the route of the Tour.  This seemed a good idea at the time.  People thought us mad and doubted that we could ride the same route as the professional tour in the same time frame but we quickly garnered some local media interest and support from companies such as Powerbar and SIS nutrition, and riding the challenge in aid of two charities, CLIC Sargent and MacMillan Cancer Support, made us even more determined.

We had previous form in this area, Matt having ridden the “End to End” as a 17-year-old and Ian having ridden a number of long-distance events.  This was somewhat of a larger undertaking however, and we both set about training with considerable gusto.  Living 370 miles apart meant solo training, however.  Weekly phone calls kept us in touch and we almost challenged each other to see who had covered more miles.  By Easter we determined that as we were going to be doing what the pros were doing, we should act like pros, so it was off to Majorca for a week for some warm weather mountain training together.

We broke bikes and crashed spectacularly during our training.  We drove miles all over Britain to ride organised events and test our growing fitness.  We got up at ridiculous times in the morning and cycled in all weather conditions.  We were supported throughout by family and friends and, as the dream developed, we were offered support on our planned trip.  We would have three support teams each doing a week of the three-week Tour:  Matt’s parents Paula and Chris, Ian’s girlfriend and her friend Kate (who came to be known as Team Kate), and Ian’s parents Liz and Peter.

By the beginning of July we had everything (route, accommodation, support, food, drink, etc) prepared.  Now all we needed to do was turn up and do it!

Easier said than done - Le Tour is arguably one of the toughest sporting events in the world and attracts spectators from all over the world.  In 2008 there were 180 riders from 18 teams supported by a myriad of team doctors, masseurs, mechanics, managers, vehicles carrying spare bikes and so on.  The police operate rolling road closures to ensure clear roads for the riders - no need to observe the rules of the road for them!  There is even a “caravan” which precedes the Tour.  This is a curious and baffling mix of vehicles advertising sponsors of the Tour - the sight of a giant mobile Camembert rolling along the road with someone throwing smaller versions at/to the fans at the side of the road is not unusual.

However, we didn’t get to see any of this as we were following two days behind the race - without the closed roads, the masseurs or the giant Camembert - more’s the pity!  We had the published route description and the maps we had plotted.  We had one spare bike and a support car cum picnic site cum mobile bike shop cum energy bar/gel/drink dispenser!

Our ride started near Brest on a damp Monday morning, waved off by Matt’s parents and a bin lorry - not perhaps as romantic as the start which the pros would have encountered, but this was the beginning of the realisation of a dream.  We were riding the Tour de France!

We had imagined glorious sunshine and waving crowds - what we got was tyre-deep standing water, tropical rainfall and the occasional Frenchman eager to point out that the Tour had already passed and we were a little behind schedule.

Still - the first day passed without incident and what a feeling that was.  We had ridden a whole stage of the Tour de France.  And then the realisation hits you - that’s 195km down, 3300km to go!

And so into a soon-to-be-familiar routine of downing energy-replenishing drinks, driving to overnight accommodation, washing off water bottles, showering, changing, massaging of legs, eating, updating of blog, night-time recovery drink, sleeping, waking, eating and then back on to the bikes.

This is a very basic summation of the time from the end of one day to the beginning of the next.  It had to become routine because there is so much to fit in.  When you are on the bikes for an average of 7 hours per day, riding on average 105 miles, we were using at least 5,000 calories per day on the bike.  It’s hard to eat that much, and without it you simply can’t go on from day to day.

After only 370km, Matt had to climb off with an excruciating pain in his left knee.  He thought that it was over.  But we knew the pros put up with phenomenal amounts of pain - there is a story of one rider arriving at the finish of a stage having worn the enamel off some of his teeth from grinding them to distract him from the pain he was in following a fall - and so Matt thought, “if they can do it, so can I”.  And it worked - after a few very slow and painful kilometres, the pain had gone.

Ian was in the wars as well with a tendon-related pain in his right shin which he got over by applying a very tight bandage and anti-inflammatory spray, which probably just cut off the blood supply and hence got rid of all pain!

We laboured on and a short Stage 4 allowed us a virtual rest day before we continued in towards the centre of France, including the longest (and what turned out to be the wettest) stage of the Tour at 232km to Chateauroux.  A 90-degree shift south followed through the Massif Central and our first taste of “proper” hills - they didn’t really class as mountains yet!

Matt’s Dad, Chris, celebrated his birthday on Stage 6 and decided to ride the stage from Aigurande to the ski resort of Super Besse.  Unfortunately, with the stage being the best part of 200km including the two largest climbs so far at the end, we missed Paula in the support car who had gone back down the mountain to look for us as we were so late arriving!  Thinking it couldn’t get worse, we later learned that Team Kate had lost control of their hire van and crashed into the central reservation of the motorway on their way from Toulouse to meet us that night!  Luckily unharmed but shaken up they found temporary accommodation and convened with Chris and Paula at the start of Stage 8 from Figeac to Toulouse.

With a noticeably pleasant shift in both weather and architecture, we passed through Gaillac, a noted wine-growing region (which we later sampled).  We entered our first big city, Toulouse, after eight stages with the shadow of the Pyrenees looming ominously in the background.

Stage 9 was a mammoth 225km over seven categorised climbs including the famous Cols de Peyresourde and Aspin.  We set off from the hotel at dawn, so that we could finish before dark, after saying our goodbyes to Chris and Paula as Team Kate took over for the next few stages.  Three minor climbs, and a quick croissant in Carbonnes, and we were ready to take on our first proper climbs of the Tour.  These were proper mountains!

Stage 10 from Pau to Hautacam was the stage chosen as the Etape du Tour this year (a stage which is ridden about a week before the Tour itself by about 8,000 foolhardy amateurs).  It was 160km including two of the most famous climbs in the Tour, the Col du Tourmalet at 2,115m and Hautacam at 1,520m, our first mountain summit finish.  These climbs are categorised as Hors Categorie (outside categorization) - which basically means:  “I’d get off and sit in the car if I was you, you strange lycra-clad fool.”

The Hautacam and Tourmalet are the site of a number of historic Tour de France moments and it was a real feeling of pride to be riding over the painted names of past Tour greats such as Fignon, Virenque, Jalabert on the melting tarmac as we slowly ground our way up these long, punishing climbs.

After 10 days of riding we had travelled from the north of France to the very south and crossed the highest passes we had ever ridden including some of the most iconic to the Tour de France - the names of Tourmalet, Hautacam, Aspin and Peyresourde are enough to put fear into many a cyclist - but we’d conquered them and had earned a well deserved rest.

And while we were still getting on famously off the bike, conversation when on the bike had slowly diminished from the hysterical frenzy of day one.  We had both retreated into our own thoughts to try to find some way to deal with the creeping pain and exhaustion that was affecting us.  We could still ride and were keeping up a good pace, but mental stamina as much as physical stamina was as important now.  The rising roads of the Pyrenees brought this into sharp focus as we separated to each travel at our own pace and try to conserve energy for the next mountain, the next day, the next week.  We had covered nearly 1100 miles with over 70 hours in the saddle and deserved our first of two rest days.

To be continued

Wow!  What do you think of it so far?  Can’t wait for part two?  Make sure your subscription is up to date.  Send a cheque for £4 payable to West Surrey CTC, to Phil Hamilton, 165 York Road, Woking GU22 7XS


DATES FOR YOUR DIARY

As in previous issues plus this one addition:-

JUNE 2nd:  Tour Series Woking professional bike race, Woking Town Centre (see separate article)


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