Calais to Barcelona: a 1000 mile cycle to the sun
Day 1: Calais to Beauvais
I shall make this brief as it was probably the hardest days ride we have had. Getting up at 0230 to head down to the tunnel was soon going to take its toll. Picking up the Sunshine Corner Crew at Aylesham we shared out luggage to already bulging vehicles. A big thanks to Billy Plews for supplying us with copious amounts of water, mars bars, jelly babies etc etc. Although this meant we had less room for the important bits for cycling we were grateful for all the sugar filled rush food we’d need. Sure Carl would find the jelly babies useful at the local primary schools we’d pass too.
We passed through the tunnel without incident and I would like to thank Jane Alexander for making sure that went as smoothly as it did. We arrived at our departure point with time enough to set off at 0800 as planned. Thankfully the weather forecasters got it wrong and we enjoyed a dry start to the day. It soon became apparent they had got it wrong as we enjoyed the downpour that would be our companion for the next 10 hours.
So we rolled onward without incident until the 60 mile mark. The Captain true to form suffered the 1st puncture of the ride. Being the seasoned rider he is the dummy was spat the temper tantrum thrown and aid was soon at hand. Steve, one of the new riders this year being unaccustomed to these rants decided he’d better lighten the mood and showed us how not to get off your bike. Not only new to the ride he is relatively new to clip in pedals. I’m sure he has learnt a good lesson in that you are better off unclipping the foot you intend putting down on the floor 1st rather than the outside foot. Also it ain’t too good to soften your fall by cushioning it on a bollard. Suitably amused and with the puncture fixed it was agreed we had just as well stop for a coffee. Having not seen so many customers in an age we were warmed through with a hot coffee to match the outside temperatures. Mine barely dissolved the sugar of which I was so in need of.
We struggled to put on our sopping wet gear and set off for the final 60. Suzanne was never far away in the support van and the temptation to have a rest and a warm up was hard to resist but resist we did as we trundled on. The rolling hills were tough on increasingly tired legs but big Dave against all odds mashed his pedals to such a degree he snapped his chain at the 85 mile mark. A welcome respite from the intense pace I slowed down the mechanics and enjoyed a welcome rest by the roadside. It was an opportune time to stop for lunch and we found probably one of the worst places to eat in France. The food was adequate tho and as we ate we were all excited at the break in the clouds and a welcome glimpse of a rainbow. Shame we spent 20 minutes eating because to the minute we missed this break in the weather. So again we set off in the rain and wind.
Beauvais our destination soon came into sight where we witnessed a few hiccups. Traversing such a busy city in the rush hour comes with a certain amount of drama. Cycling up a dead end after 115 miles we were not about to backtrack. I went up a switch back disable ramp and made the fatal error of remarking on what skilful bike skills I possessed even after over 9 hours in the saddle. The pavement disagreed as I met it head on with fortunately nothing hurt but my pride. Not to be outdone Keith decided to go for some gravel rash a mile from home. I was glad I was in front and only heard the “oof” as he hit the deck on a tricky corner. But my conscious got the better of me and I waited for the re group, hard when you are so close to home. A 10 minute wait saw only 4 of us together and we assumed the others had gone a different way so headed on. It was only when we arrived we learnt Steve had punctured and freezing fingers couldn’t fix his leak in record time. With Cathal missing his ride in man Mark and Uncle Carl in the lost group he conceded the stage win to me. I was grateful of my 1st and probably last stage win. I didn’t deserve it as by own admission I suffered the most today but its a team effort and at the end of the day we all rolled over the line albeit in 2 groups safe in very poor conditions.
Day 2: Beauvais to Artenay
The Internet connection is very bad in France so apologies for the late arrival of is blog! It was only Suzanne’s persistence that made it happen!
Long day in the saddle only sat down at 21.00 for dinner! 1st incident was a broken gear cable from Carl 30 mins out. Fixed on the roadside. With all the meticulous route planning we were soon off road on tracks suited to mountain bikes ( and the mini bus followed!). Amazingly no punctures and the van also made it out safely! We traversed Paris without incident apart from Carl falling off his bike in heavy traffic. Luckily for all it was traffic at a standstill. We powered on and stopped for lunch in a typical French village omelettes, chips and coffee! As usual after lunch we smashed it averaging 25mph to our next stop some 18 miles short of our destination Saran (Orleans). Keith, dale and Steve set off 1st and somehow got lost. The remaining team set off in pursuit not realising they had gone in the wrong direction. Arriving about an hour later than us at the hotel! Our support driver had gone ahead checked us in, got all the bags into the rooms and had sorted out the storage area! It has to be said Carl was beside himself waiting for the late arrival of the three. How Dale, and Steve managed to come in with a smile on their face is beyond me! Keith as usual graced us with. Wry grin as only he can after such an injustice. The last laugh of course was on Carl as he realised he had left his two bags in the hotel that morning some 120 miles away! Blaming me for not carrying them to the van this morning I kindly pointed out I can only carry so much for him and today it was for the 121 miles on the road. It was a great day as the rain held in by the angry clouds that followed us all the way! Sorry this is so brief but I really need to have a beer and a bite to eat before some serious zzzz’s before the 105 miles tonight!
So let me just explain – Tim wrote the blog as usual but not only is Suzanne (me) the support driver, suitcase carrier, lunch orderer etc I am also now the secretary too, as I kindly offered to type it up so Tim could sleep – well I only sat on my bum for 8 hrs averaging 15-25 mph singing in the top of my voice to my chosen tunes in the van!
From my perspective I am humbled by their achievements so far, and immensely proud (sometimes jealous and mostly relieved to be in the van). and just in case you are wondering although I am the only women I am having a ball and yes they are all being very nice to me! But now I must get some zzzzz’s too as I have a 250 round trip tomorrow to pick up the bags before making my way on to the next hotel!
Enjoy the blog!
Day 3: Artenay to La Châtre
So on day 3 we all woke up afraid to open the curtains in case the weather was not as kind as it had been the day before. Not that it was perfect yesterday but the rain did not force us into wet weather gear. How grateful we all were to see a blue sky and little wind. The bikes cleaned and serviced the night before, we’ll those of us that took the 121 mile route rather than the 140 mile we were soon ready for the off.
I must briefly recap on yesterday. Steve is perhaps a more dangerous cyclist than Carl and Dale still claims that he only did the extra miles putting Steve through his cycling proficiency test. A test he needs to retake, the reasons being revealed later. I believe I mentioned Carl kissed Tarmac yesterday and miraculously he escaped the same fate today riding in a style that must have taken years to perfect. Yesterday is now a bit of a blur after today’s 105 miles but I do remember after lunch we caned it and must have averaged over 25 miles per hour for well over 2 hours. For riders at our level believe me that is a proud achievement. However this mighty effort still did not see us home until 1830 ish. Of course on such a long stage we rewarded ourselves with a well earned beer 20 miles out. It was a long day in the saddle but a reasonably easy stage, at least the second half was once we had put the rolling hills behind us.
Wrapped up warm against the cold morning chill we set off ready for battle with the Orleans rush hour traffic. Our hotel was just north of Orleans you see. What a relief to discover that on Sundays the French do not rise way before 0900 at he earliest and our ride through Orleans was one we will probably never witness again. Resisting the temptation to jump red lights was the only thing that kept us in check. With Orleans behind us we enjoyed the open roads and picked up the pace.
It was not long before we were joined by the local French cycling fraternity keen to learn of our endeavours or to show us how to cycle. Our peloton was soon up to well over 20 and with flat roads and extra pedal power we ate up the miles Now as I mentioned earlier Steve really does not own a cycling proficiency badge and guess he never will. To the amusement of several local French cycling clubs he he skidded across the road at high speed fortunately toward the soft verge the far side of the road. Once we’d seen he’d missed any oncoming traffic I’m sure to a man we were hoping his speed would take him into the stagnant water filled ditch so his next 80 miles would have been spent cycling in stink ridden shame. We knew he was ok when he said he now knew why cycling shorts had built in nappies.
The roads were nice and flat and any wind was negated by the endless forest trees we were enjoying. So the Snowdown train rolled on without much incident other than spotting a wild boar charging alongside the roadside giving us a run for our money. The scenery was now changing for the better as were our spirits. We trundled on looking for a lunch stop around the 60 mile mark. It is very important on a long ride to get over half the ride out of the way before you stop. An unforced stop that is, and today, not only was the sun on our side so were the puncture Gods. Clocking up 70 miles we were well hungry and the small villages seemed deserted. Getting perilously close to the final 30 we fortunately stumbled across the most unlikely establishment for some refreshment. Pleased as punch to see such a large group of hungry cyclists they welcomed us with gay abandon. Why not they were about to get a couple of months business in one hit. We enjoyed a set menu, had no choice, of 5 courses. We were forced to wash this down with not only the beer we ordered but about 4 bottles of local red. The old (80 yrs) owner took a shine to Dale and we feared we may be one down at Barcelona. Once we pointed out it might be to marry him off to her toothless also ageing daughter he soon ushered us out for the last 30 miles. Heady from the wine, or drugs they laced our food with to entrap us we did our best to put distance between us and them.
We were all in danger of losing our lunch so took it easy for an hour. The competitive nature finally kicked in and it was game on as we jostled for position for the days honours. It was team Moses lead by a hyper charged Carl that set the pace. Tracked down by Tim with only a couple to go his ever loyal son Mark came to his aid. Team House responded well and Keith who had fooled us all lead the chase. To late it seemed as the miles turned to yards then feet. It was Cathal, who else, and Tim that looked to take the honours. Had Cathal listened to Tim when he told him left on left on the final turn he would have had a well deserved win. However with all the tactics already witnessed his mistrust got the better of him and it was an easy steal for Tim to take the day.
A few beers at our hotel in La Chatre set us up for a nice meal out and an early night ready for a pretty tough 105 miles through the Dordogne area tomorrow in weather forecast to be as good as today
Day 4: La Châtre to Égletons
Firstly I must apologise for not mentioning Suzanne, our comfort blanket, yesterday. The reason being, we saw little of her because she had to do a 300 hundred mile round trip to pick up Carl’s luggage from last nights hotel. This included 2 hair raising trips around the Paris peripherique. Something that nearly brought her to tears with no co diver and driving a strange bus to boot. We cannot praise her enough nor show our gratitude. She managed to join us at our lunch stop some 6 hours into our day as we were just finishing off our last course of 4 and saw us home for the last 30 odd miles tho.
Anyway on to today. We woke up to the best days weather so far. Having eating the most typically French breakfast you can get, croissants and bread with jam and coffee. Not the fuel we needed for such a day ahead but nice all the same. Dressed scantily we set off in all different directions as none of us could agree on the route out. Once regrouped we hit the first climb of many, today was one climb after another. A day perfectly suited to the youngsters Cathal and Mark. They have been sulking these last 3 days waiting for their moment. They took it well and claimed all the points on offer as they claimed every climb. Ray had a good day in the saddle after a poor day yesterday, his own words, and rode them close but there was always only one winner and that was youth. It was a day of attacks by all of us. Some working in mini teams some solo and some in pairs. Even though it is a team ride we couldn’t help but show some friendly rivalry. This friendly puffing of the chest took its toll and we were soon with hanging tongues and empty water bottles. The sun was up and the climbs were fierce. Suzanne scouted ahead for somewhere to eat but again the French culture caught us napping. In true fashion everything closed at mid day and we were left floundering. We rolled up at the 70 mile mark in a quaint village showing promise. All we found was a particularly rude man who took offence at having to remove his Gitane cigarette from his mouth to say “Non”. As only Keith could, he found a bar in against all he odds. Licking his lips and digging for his wallet he was rudely awoken as he discovered he’d entered someone’s garden and could only wander what the beer from their open air bar would have tasted.
Plan B saw us meet Suzanne with French bread and cheese so we enjoyed a roadside picnic. Once again our comfort blanket came to our rescue.
As nice as the scoff was it did not come close to replenishing our spent energy and the endless climbs became harder and harder. Big Dave seemed to benefit most and was leading the charge in pursuit of the climb specialists. A cruel twist saw his challenge snuffed out as he took a wrong turn at speed down into the valley. I shouted left but a little too late for him to make the turn. Carl will say I shouted right but Dave dragged me along for a good stretch on this challenge so I owed him at least the right call on a turn. Without his help I was left a lone chaser and my attack was over. There were some battles going on behind us only a minute or so back and Steve was having his own personal battle. This was to stay upright on his bike for the 1st time this tour. His main aim was to pedal with enough momentum to keep upright on the more steep climbs. To his credit he did make it but let himself down with only yards to go as he once again kissed the road as his back wheel slid away on a sharp corner.
Cathal stole the stage at the death from Mark on the last few yards. Either one deserved the honours and both will look forward a little more than others to another very hilly stage. Not quite the mountainous climbs but every turn offers a new hill. Into the Dordogne tomorrow with four days and over 450 miles behind us.
Day 5: Égletons to Villefranche
Reluctant to get out of bed. The rain can be heard pounding on the roof of the chalet and the sky is grey. Forecast not good for the day either, cold and rain all day. Hardest climbs of the tour today and if you can’t enjoy the descents to their full because of wet greasy roads it makes for a tougher day. My legs are beginning hurt now too and today will be a punishment for them. May have to let the climbers have their day and be content with my earlier stage wins. Climbing over 2200 metres today some 200 more than yesterday but with less small climbs. Today’s climbs are less frequent but more severe being several miles long. We all caught the sun yesterday and will be grateful we will be fully dressed from head to toe in wet weather gear.
Lining up for the team photo as the rain poured down we were all thinking “why on earth are we doing this” We have all proved ourselves years back in our youth and have no need to puff out chests. However here we were and we could no longer put off the inevitable. So running a little late we set off at 0840 in cold conditions and heavy rain.
Not long into the ride on a day like today you cant feel that monkey crawling up your back to whisper sweet nothing’s in your ear only the demons! Why not give up. Why not get in that nice warm van following. Nobody will think any less of you. If you are worried what they might think why not just ditch into the side and feign an injury. Why not break your chain or buckle your wheel when no one is looking. There is a lovely warm van behind you with hot air blowers to warm your cold wet feet. No one will think any less of you. It’s so cold you will freeze before you finish if you ever do, why not give up now. All these sweet little nothing’s are repeated over and over in various forms. The temptation sometimes becomes unbearable but you resist. Why? Because now at the end of the day when you roll in after 11 hours on the road, less an hour lunch break and you are showered, warm and have a beer in your hand, you can look your fellow riders in the eye and say nothing, because they know, just like you. That’s why.
So it was obviously wet out there today and its fair to say that it was wet all day. Not only that it was cold too. Not much banter on a ride like today as everyone is digging deep. The terrain was amazing today with long climbs and huge descents. Usually you spend an age climbing and the downhill is over in a flash. Today was different, the descents seemed to go forever. No matter what the conditions on the road or in our minds we bombed down them with sheer adrenalin fuelled joy. I am sure if it had been dry our enthusiasm would have seen at least one of us crash as we’d have pushed it to the limit. There was a crash however but that came later and was the second one for poor old……….
The main honours if not the stage has to go to big Dave. He attacked the hills and gave the youngsters a good challenge and smashed the descents fearlessly. He also rode selflessly when needed and shook off his demons sooner than most. The stage today went to Mark who thoroughly deserved it as he too rode fearlessly along with his climbing partner Cathal. Freed from looking after Carl, Marks Dad and Cathals Uncle they were free to enjoy the stage. Fortunately for me once I ditched the demons and I was able to share most of the ride with them.
Half an hour before we found somewhere to eat, increasingly difficult now we are getting into the unpopulated part of France, Dale nearly got knocked off his bike by a tsunami. A van met him on a corner at speed and hit a puddle sending a wave waste high his way. A much needed laugh for us all. Another followed just after dinner when we stopped for a pee stop at the side of the road. Maybe delirious at the days ride and lateness in the day or just through respect for his elders Cathal complied to my suggestion. Why not grab that electric fence and see if the voltage is different than in England. As it nearly blew him across the road in his wet gloves it was a good job we’d all just had a pee.
Nothing much more exciting on the next 35 miles to our hotel in a village I am not going to try and spell at this time of night until the 5 mile left mark. Getting itchy not to be caught out in a dropped group so close to home Ray was blamed for bringing down a rider. Blame was passed up the peloton and it was decided the responsibility laid with all of us and the only one not at fault was the rider that hit the deck. So once dusted down and blame apportioned we set off for the relatively easy roll home. Now that didn’t turn out as planned. Firstly one of my planned shortcuts turned out a little familiar in as much as it was not to great. In fact it was impossible and we had to improvise in a new heavier downpour. Adding 3 miles to an already long day seemed like running a marathon on top of an already long day. We soon picked up our route with only 3 miles left on the clock. Game over, we thought, not likely, an ugly 1.8 mile climb to reach our digs greeted us. As we crested the climb and rolled into the car park it was a miracle we all didn’t hit the Tarmac as we rode our bikes to a halt. Keith was especially pleased as he was the one Ray pushed to the floor earlier.
We hope for a sunny ride tomorrow, will settle for a dry one but expect another wet one. Either way we will ride the 100 miles to Castelnaudary with our own ray of sunshine following us all the way, our always present and attentive support driver Suzanne.
Day 6: Villefranche to Castelnaudry
So we got away at 8.45 in light drizzle. We couldn’t wait any longer for the heavy stuff as we had a long day ahead. It was only a couple of miles into the ride before we hit an off road section. It’s becoming the norm on this tour and it hurts to ride bikes £3000 + over rocks and mud on a mountain descent. Having no choice we gritted our teeth and hoped our bikes would fair better than us if we took a fall. On reaching a Tarmac road we were lucky to suffer only one puncture for Keith. No hissy fits this time a quick change and on our way.
We were all in desperate need of brake pads which Suzanne was going to pick up on route however seeing a cycle shop ( the very same one Suzanne was going to) several riders took it on themselves to take matters into their own hands, Understandably so as some were down to the metal not good for effective braking on a mountain descent.
Roadside repairs left Dale and myself a bit frustrated so there we formed a two man break away. We were out on the break away for 4 hours just 20 mins ahead of the peloton. Our break away inspired by the cold and the wet and our reluctance to watch the roadside repairs!
Our ride went without incident until the 3rd hour when Dale missed timed a sharp bend and ended up in the hedgerow! Once He started to enquire about his bike I realised he was okay at which point the laughter came! Brushed down we continued on, all be it a little slower on the descents. But not slow enough as once again Dale over shot a corner and had another fall. All be it, very unspectacular and Dale was able to laugh even before he hit the deck. Around the 4 hour mark a major mechanical issue when one of my spokes broke. The bikes had been out through hell on the rough roads and mountain tracks. Is was a timely halt to our break away as some 5 hrs had passed since we left the peloton and we were in need of a lunch stop anyway. All it took was a phone call and our support driver Suzanne was with us in minutes with spare wheel and a picnic lunch! The smell of food soon saw the chasing pack lead by Mark who is normally gagging for food after 5 hrs!
Over lunch we learned that Steve has still not got hIs cycling proficiency badge as he once again showed us how to crash properly. Witnesses to the crash state that he actually got back on his bike quicker than he fell off it. This was not the last we would see of a day if total carnage. Only 4 of the 9 riders managing to stay upright.
So bikes fixed, lunch eaten we set off for the second half of a gruelling day! Less than a 100 yds riding Keith decided his brother wasn’t having all the limelight and hit the deck himself. Suitably cheered up by another crash we carried on hitting some big climbs and great descents.
Mark and Cathal were doing their usual thing in the climbs toying with us leading us to believe we may possibly win some points on a mountain climb! Just as we were nearing the top they would glide by effortlessly. Rather annoying to us but we chose not to take their toys away.
About the 65 mile mark the rain eased up and the clouds were starting to break. Some of us were also starting to break so a coffee stop was called with 15 miles to go at the 85 mile mark! With only an hours cycle some thought a cold beer was well earned while some had a coffee. With a smile on our face as the sun was out we set off for Castelnaudary, our garmins decided to route us all in different directions this split the pack leaving Carl, Steve, Ray and myself to bring up the rest as it took us the ,longest to figure out where to go, this hour ride turned into s etching close to 2 hours as it was a monstrous finish to the day. We were the lucky ones as when approaching another short cut, some local residents sighed and puffed like only the French can and say “non” not a good idea, we ended up taking a four mile detour while the others took the off road short cut which really required a pack of sherpers. This is where the carnage kicked in a mark doing a spectacular back flip, Cathal going over the bars, Dale cycling backwards as gravity provided stronger than his pedal power. Only Keith’s forward momentum preventing him from ending up where he started at the bottom of the short cut. Once they did get a forward motion with their back wheels spinning Keith could on,y wish he could get to the front as he was the one who was splayed with mud and dog poo from their spinning wheels.
Finally on reaching the road they enjoyed the same 7 mile downhill charge to our hotel arriving just before us at 8.15pm’ some 11 1/2 hrs after setting off!
It’s now 11.30 signing off for 7 hours sleep before the big one tomorrow.
Day 7: Castelnaudry to Puigcerdà
Waking up to beautiful sunshine fully rested after the best nights sleep we’d all had this tour we were in buoyant mood. A hearty breakfast served to our table was a welcome relief from eating yesterday’s croissants and drinking luke warm coffee. With full bellies and short sleeves the order of the day we lined up for our team photo chomping at the bit to hit the mountain climbs. The Snowdown train hit the road in good formation cutting through a light breeze cooling down the rising temperature. It was not long before we hit the first climb and Ray found his form leading us to the first viewing point. After taking in views of the sun kissed valley we coasted down cracking jokes to the next climb. This went on for a couple of hours until we hit the 1st big one. Keith took the early honours setting a pace we found hard to keep up with. It was only his brother Dale that was able to charge ahead and slow down the pace. For once the young climbers Cathal and Mark lost their form an we were able to coast past them laughing and joking. Dave was enjoying the sun and rolled his clothing as far up as he could, a sight best left to your imagination and one we desperately try and forget. Carl left free to ride solo having to not worry about his ailing team, Cathal and Mark, went from the front and back of the peloton annoying as many of us with his tongue as he could. Steve proved to be a great domestique and handed out the supplies we needed to get us through what we thought was going to be a hard day. In fact as I effortlessly rode back and forth through the peloton it became glaringly obvious we had bigged this day up to be something it wasn’t. We soon crossed the border into Spain and stopped off for a well earned beer with Suzanne who had followed us through some of the trickiest mountain passes you could imagine. She was once again our comfort blanket that was never out of sight.
Job done. A pleasant downhill roll to Barcelona awaits us tomorrow. Forgive me if I don’t do the blog tomorrow I may have better things to do after our great adventure.
The hotel was awful. It had no heating, poor beds awful showers but to its credit the staff tried hard. Poor old Steve bore witness to this as the bed bugs obliged and did not fail to disappoint. For the rest of us it was so cold the bugs hadn’t yet woken from their winter hibernation. Needing some cheering up we looked out the window hoping to see some sun. Unfortunately we had to content ourselves with taking some amusement from Steves constant scratching. Eventually this became infectious and we had to exit to the near freezing conditions for the team photo. Reluctantly we set off into near freezing, raining conditions.
We hit the peddles hard trying to eat into a 97 mile ride over the Pyrenees and with a thought to warm ourselves up. There is not a lot to say about the first 50 miles other than it was freezing. The rain was relentless and for once we welcomed the climbs so we could at least warm up a bit. The climbs were less frequent than we were used to but were much longer. The usual pattern in the climbs panned out. Cathal and Mark setting us a target. We willingly took up the challenge as we just wished this stage over. It was a welcome relief when we fell into a cafe at the 50 mile mark and were able to huddle around a 1 watt heater. When ordering our coffees the owners reception was chillier than the outside arctic conditions. We didn’t care. 3 coffees later and a cheese burger that had no chance of containing horse meat because it had no chance of containing any meat we stepped out into what surprisingly became a nice afternoon.
Suzanne had finally tracked us down after losing us some 3 hours earlier. Filling up on food supplies and water we headed toward a mighty 20 mile climb to 1800 metres and the Spanish border. We rode at our own pace in pairs mostly leaving no one riding alone. The morning – early afternoon freezing conditions slowly becoming a bad memory. But believe me, these were the most awful conditions any of us had ridden in and none of us would wish to again. Honestly you will never know and the memory of just how bad it was is already fading, thankfully, because we would never sign up for another tour. We all made it to the top eventually to cycle into Spain together.
A mad 8 mile downhill charge at over 40 mph saw us thankfully arrive at our digs in Puigcerda. Met by Suzanne our faithful support driver we gratefully accepted the offered cold beer. A 30 minute shower saw us thawed out and suitably dressed we went for dinner. Raising a glass to our efforts we reflected on our day. It may sound a bit twee but without each others support and humour I doubt we would have managed to finish this day. I harp on about this because tomorrow it will be just a memory.
Day 8: Puigcerdà to Barcelona
So here we were waking up in Spain for our last days riding of the tour this year. All we had to do was get on our bikes and roll down from the mountains into Barcelona. The hard work accomplished the previous 7 days. A small climb before free wheeling for the most part of 121 miles would see us averaging around 20 miles per hour. Convincing the team and myself of these facts we had a late breakfast and leisurely start. If only I’d studied this stage a little more.
In good spirits as the rain held off and the winds were once again light we pumped up tyres, checked our gears, filled water bottles etc. we didn’t need much more cheer but as usual we were not waiting long before some came our way. Keith was showing off his riding skills as he did his final bike checks and to much applause from over a hundred Spanish 12 to 14 year old school kids he did what he does best. You got it, he kissed Tarmac in perhaps the most ridiculous fall of the tour. This left him eager to get us away and he led the way with a red face lighting the way.
It wasn’t long before the hill specialists Mark and Cathal came to the fore on the 1st of many a tough climb. This one being mostly 20 miles in an upward direction with a few pretty sharp kicks in it. Not the start we were looking to nor the one I had convinced them of. The climb to our highest point of the tour at 1900 metres left us warmed up and looking forward to the freewheel into Barcelona. If only I’d studied the route. With every climb comes a well earned downhill and some of these were the best I’d ever had. Carl thanked me for the earlier off road parts of the route we’d done as he miss judged a corner and was forced onto the rugged mountain terrain. Had it not been for this earlier training he might not have made and in true explorer fashion we’d have had to leave him behind. The best descent was an 8 mile one in to a an ancient village of which I can’t remember the name. Carl, the 2 climbers and myself led the charge on perfect roads in perfect conditions chasing record speeds. A big thank you to the car that we caught up slowing our descent. You probably saved our lives as we threw too much caution to the wind. The speed record was to come later.
Some of the team were now carrying injuries from falls or their efforts and we had 2 groups as some fared better than others in the mountains. We were never more than a couple of minutes apart though, but that was enough. We had a split of 4 and 5 riders and 2 tried to make the jump. Realising it was unlikely they’d make it Steve set off on his own assuming he was on the right road while Ray waited for the rear 3 riders to rejoin him. The roads were pretty remote and Suzanne was having a terrible time following us today so Steve got pretty lost. Communications were poor, my phone got wrecked due to the rain earlier in the tour and most people didn’t take phones out. Had we have been able to contact one another Steve would not have needed rescuing by Suzanne who realised something was not right. In fairness to us all the last thing you want to do is stop and make phone calls making a long ride even longer. So Steve would have gotten lost anyway as he was not reading his Garmin or chose to ignore the off route warning. Steve suffered terribly earlier in the tour with his knees and had to sit in the van missing a bit of the route earlier so at least this did not cost him his ultimate prize.
We encountered climb after climb but at least they were becoming shorter if not less steep. Our predicted 20 mph average was stubbornly set around the 12 mph mark. This stage was proving so tough we could not bump up the average no matter how hard we tried. It was also difficult getting the clothing right. At the top of the long climbs there was a strong wind giving a chill factor close to zero but we were sweating buckets in our efforts. On descending we were hitting speeds close to 50 mph creating a wind chill even colder so the clothing was on and off almost all day. Suzanne was desperately trying to find us but with no idea where to look so we had to carry our our stuff as best we could. Eventually we were able to dump it all and spend the last 6 hours or so in weather we’d not witnessed since last summer. This brought its own problems as we were now running low on water and were needing it the more. This was turning into a very tough day indeed.
It was around the mid point of the ride that we re grouped before yet another big climb. Big Dave had seriously hurt his Achilles and Dale had suffered more damage to his knee than he’d thought in an earlier crash and these climbs were taking their toll. They kept each others spirits up and ground out the climbs reaching new heights of personal achievement. It is difficult to ride these big climbs in anything but your own comfortable cadence so we knew they would not curse us for our apparent selfishness. To outsiders it would seem cruel but it wasn’t, we’d have all been injured riding outside our zone be it faster or slower so we all got to the top in our own way some earlier than others but not a lot. Remember I said we not more than a couple of minutes apart at any given time. This climb rewarded us with about a 20 mile gentle downhill section of which parts were steep enough to go for the speed record. Mark won with a speed of 48.7 I took silver and Cathal Bronze. We found a hostel at the end of this road and were able to get some water which came just at the right time as we had another climb.
Cathal pointed out we’d climbed more today at this point than we had yesterday and we’d still got 70 miles to go. What madness was this? I thought. I had repeatedly said this is the last climb and it was wearing thin, this was affirmed as Keith mentioned the next person to say this was the last climb would get a thump. Those of you that know him would know this would not be welcomed at all. Finally we did hit the last big climb not long after stopping for lunch some 40 miles from home. Lunch was an interesting time as Dale swapped chicken impressions with the bar staff trying to get across a food order to bar staff that didn’t understand a word of English or Dales Spanish. Chips were what we got, not the best food to get us to the end but better than nowt. A strong coffee, probably the best we’d had did perk us up somewhat so not a bad 30 minute break. Suzanne had found us earlier and dropped Steve off so we were all together as we set off, finally climb free for the end.
The light now became our enemy as the 20 mph average was still sat below 13 mph and the sun was setting. We charged as a team toward our goal on some fast roads. Passing through an old town we hit some cobblestone roads. The choice to ride out of the saddle to protect some tender bits caused havoc on our calves. It was a tough choice to make and I can’t speak for everyone but I sacrificed my calf muscles. Somehow we lost Mark and Steve some 30 milesnout but were found by Suzanne. We dropped off unnecessary gear to ride in sporting our polka dot shirts. We cut a catching sight as we stormed through the city. We met up with mark and Steve on the sea front at around 2130 just as the sun went down. Our challenge complete we should have been cracking a beer but we had to crack Barcelona first. We had no real idea where our hotel was. We were supposed to arrive some 5 hours earlier to be greeted by our loved ones who would guide us home and push our bikes through the city to our hotel. How we kept so calm and together remains a mystery. It was a long hour lugging our tired bodies from street to street trying to find our way home. Seeing all the revellers out in a bustling city we were keen to join them. At around 2230 we finally saw the girls across the road outside our hotel. What was supposed to be an easy day was perhaps one of the hardest rides we had done. Had the weather been as it had been, wet and freezing cold we may not have rolled in until the small hours of Saturday. But as you already know the weather at last was kind and we finished off dry but sweaty after a very testing tour.
I will post some stats later on in the week, total miles, total ride time, total hours out averages, crashes punctures etc etc until then thanks for sharing our ride.
Day 9: Barcelona
Just to let you all know the lads arrived last night at 10.30pm in Barcelona after a very long and exhausting day on the saddle! The blog from yesterday will go up in the next day or so but first let me tell you my story – the support driver perspective – the ray of sunshine, comfort blanket…..
It’s hard to believe a week ago I picked up the mini bus and drove it for the first time at 3am taking the lads to Calais for the start of their Barca 10 challenge! Since then me and then van have become inseparable – like old friends!
This challenge is really all about the 9 cyclists, but many of you have (kindly) enquired after me, and I thank you all for your kind words, it has been much appreciated! For those of you who don’t know me I am the wife of Tim and sister to Keith and Dale so I did have a vested interest in this challenge!
So what’s is like being the support driver – well first let me tell you what I took being the support driver role to be – exactly what it says on the tin – support! As far as I was concerned my job was to ensure that the lads didn’t need to have to want for anything! That is their comfort blanket – I wanted to be with them, behind them mostly protecting them from the traffic and when I couldn’t be, aim to be just a phone call / short distance away, provide them with food, water clothing and be their pharmacist when needed! Ensure that they had places to eat on route where they could gain warmth and calories. If this was not possible, France being France, I would provide a French picnic at the roadside! I wanted to get to the hotel first check them in, put their luggage in the rooms, sort out the bike storage, where we eat look after the kitty and pay the bills and always try to welcome them with beer and food if needed! And I also wanted to take photographs of them – and try to get them so people could just maybe understand a little of what they have been through and seen!
So largely that’s what I did, I would set off with them in the morning between 8 & 9am and roll home between 5.30 and 7.30pm some 9 hrs in the van most days!
The view from the van was always an interesting one, and I learned a lot about my team from just watching them (I have become very protective). I saw how they worked together, and then sometimes not! I saw the pain they were sometimes going through, I often felt completely helpless when they were so cold and yet the van was baking hot as I tried to dry their wet clothing! I would try to look at their faces to work out what they needed – was it food, painkillers, water or clothing! I watched the politics.. You know the normal stuff that kicks off in any team being out through such a gruelling 8 days – Who would set the pace, Who would help who, who would drop back to bring someone back into the group and it changed daily, hourly sometimes! I became very good at driving the van, talking to the riders and taking things off them as they road alongside me, I think I could get a job on the Tour de France after this – my dream job!
Things weren’t always perfect, sometimes I would lose them, and then have to try and work out their speed, and where they would be – this was very stressful at times particularly as the French are so fickle about their lunchtimes. You had to first find a cafe open between 12-2 and if not find a shop before they closed between 12 – 2 and try to help the riders by getting them a stop around the 60/70 mile mark! It wasn’t easy believe me! On top of that I had to sometimes make manoeuvres on the road that you really wouldn’t wish to do on a bike let alone a mini bus, very often single track roads! I am the queen of the 3 point turn on occasion being the 25 point turn! I sometimes got through the smallest of places not always intended for a mini bus including the awful 6 mile tunnel in Paris! And i have driven the peripherique on my own twice! And more recently the 4/5 lane motorway into Barcelona on a Friday night! As well as the tricky manoeuvre into the hotel car park last night!
I loved every moment of this trip even when I got angry and yes for those of you that know me it takes a lot but occasionally I do lose the plot, most often it’s caused by tiredness but it’s also where I can see them not always working as a team. They were great on the bikes but not always so off the bikes and it did cause them some tension – mornings were an issue as the week went on! But they would ride it out of their system and I would always quite quickly see the love blossoming a little way into the ride! “Bromance”.
I have nothing but admiration for these 9 lads, and have been immensely proud to have been with them and shared this journey with them! I have seen what they have achieved, and what they have been through, in terms of terrain and conditions! Believe me some of the roads that they have cycled – well I can honestly say that the van struggled to get out of first gear on occasion! And what’s more I have witnessed the conditions they have had to endure – you seriously wouldn’t get your bike out of the shed on some of those days believe me let alone get on it to cycle 100+ miles!
If you haven’t sponsored the team so far for their efforts – please do so now, even if the Charities are not your bag just do it for what they have put themselves through for the past 8 days! It’s been an absolute pleasure for me and I sincerely hope I was everything they needed from their support driver!
Thank you Carl, Cathal, Dale, Dave, Keith, Mark, Ray, Steve and Tim for making my job a pleasure you are (as corny as this sounds) my heroes!
[many thanks to the tour diary written by Tim & Suzanne Gough]