Raid Day 4 – Tarascon-sur-Ariege to Cerbere

wpid-wp-1408712364776.jpegYou can’t beat a good night’s sleep to right the wrongs of the world. When that good night’s sleep is preceded by a fabulous hot shower and a slap-up meal, then even if you’ve cycled 96 miles and 9,700 feet, there’s a lot of wrongs that will feel right.

The hotel Trev found for the night of Day 4 was a fantastic French manor house, somewhat out of place with its surroundings. The rooms were plush, the beds were warm, and the decor and customer service was a world away from the countrified gite from Day 3. Breakfast too – amid a slightly surreal collection of adding machines that wouldn’t be amiss at Bletchley Park – was slap up. It was the usual French selection of croissant and pain – but there was also fresh fruit and cold meats to allow us to bulk up some protein as well as all that doughy carb goodness.

Finally we had a day where the forecast was not wet. It was a relief to have to actually make a decision on what jackets to take – rather than dressing for a winter’s ride: in August.

Today’s ride had three climbs planned for the morning – the largest first: Col de Puymoren, a looooong 15mile slog. There is a tunnel – but a) it would be cheating and b) it was closed for maintenance anyway, so it was over the top for us. I stopped a few times on the way up to take some snaps – it was the first time we’d actually had the opportunity to see the spectacular scenery we were pedalling through rather than the inside of rain-heavy clouds.

wpid-wp-1408697292006.jpegThe last kilometre levels off a bit – allowing the chill wind to whip over the col, so pedalling against the gradient was swapped for pedalling against the wind for the last push to a food stop.

I’ve found refuelling following a climb is key – on the way up it’s hard to digest food (and being unable to ride  hands-free, often physically awkward too!), and energy is best coming from either gels or drinks. Once the energy kick from them is gone, it goes. Quickly. So the porridge pots, cakes & coffee at the top of Col de Puymorens were very welcome indeed.

The views of the descent on the other side seemed to stretch into the distance, and I had to assure Sarah that I wasn’t going to go ‘too fast’ on the downhills. I stopped to take some photos on the way down – happy to take the corners slower than usual as the roads were Beds County Council standard rather than the usual smooth continental tarmac, and I had to work quite hard against an increasingly warm wind to catch up with the group.

We turned with the wind, which was a relief in some respects, but with the sun now high overhead the temperature rose, and the water was squirting out of my pores as quickly as I could pour it down my neck.

The next col snuck up on us – being one of the climbs where the gradient slowly increases and you suddenly realise you’ve been climbing for a while. With a lunch-stop promised at the top, and the wind having picked up enough to cool us as we climbed, we tucked our heads down and turned the pedals up a steady but long climb to the Roman citadel at Mont Louis.

The weather now looked settled and once we’d refilled (with food and water) only the long, steady 70 miles downhill to the coast lay ahead with our ultimate destination at Cerbere.

Our second puncture of the weekend struck as we hit some gravelly main-road, and the talk turned to technology-bashing as yet more Garmin devices succumbed to problems following the rain earlier in the week. The shimano camera I have is waterproof to 10meters, so why can’t Garmin make a device that can withstand rain! We were now down to one and half Garmins – but we weren’t worried as Trev still had the good old-fashioned paper backups and the route was straightforward. Having already done 90 miles with 50 to go, your mind tends to just drop into pedal turning mode so not having a complicated route allowed us to keep the group tight and a decent pace.

Stu won the (virtual) sixpence for seeing the sea first – the Mediterranean this time, and the realisation that we had cycled from coast to coast was uplifting, even if we did have another 30 miles to go.

wpid-wp-1408719883498.jpegIn the same way that I fell for “it’s along the Caledonian Canal – it’s bound to be flat” on LEJOG last year, the thought that the road along the bord-de-la-mer would be flat was soon dispelled. We wove through hordes of Les Chavs at Argeles-sur-Mer, which looked, smelt, and sounded like all the worst bits of Great Yarmouth/Blackpool but turned up to eleven. It certainly explained why all the other villages we’d passed through seemed deserted – the entire local populace seemed to be swarming around cheap tat, moules-frites and buckets & spades.

As soon as the signs for Cerbere appeared, the final practical joke from the Cyco-club Bearnaise became clear. By making the start and end points of the route the two closest towns to the Spanish border, we were committed to following the bay-ridden coastline down into ex-fishing villages and a steep, hairpinned climb over the next headland. By this time, I was praying each village we coasted into would be Cerbere, only to be disappointed numerous times.

It took a few grumpy seconds to realise that the sign Cervera was not yet another disappointment and just the spanish spelling of Cebere… We had arrived. On with the camera (again) to film our arrival – I just hoped that the girls & Toby had found  the hotel and would be waiting for us!

I needn’t have worried – our welcome committee had seen us coast down the road stuck to the sea front from across the bay, and were already tucking into the wine and their cheers brought grins of relief to all our faces.

wpid-wp-1408697301915.jpegIt was a profound feeling – just as when we rolled into John O’Groats last year – that we had finished. We had cycled the length of the Pyrenees. The exhaustion, pain, aches and bum-numbness all faded under a flood of endorphins. Of course the champagne helped.

Raid Pyreneen: tick.

Epilogue

Another slightly quirky hotel awaited, with a wardrobe-sized bathroom that was smaller than some that I’ve seen on narrowboats. Sarah’s commentary and laughter as she tried to shower with the curtain that rotated with her had me in hysterics. Nathan’s wife and daughter had come down from Surete to meet us, and we tucked into a table-filling welcome three courses and beer, safe in the knowledge that there was no agenda for kit to be prepped or bikes to be fettled for any more miles tomorrow.

The threat of two of us (probably Stu and Trev) having to cycle to the villa had been worked around, with only the man-machine Geoff having to ride to the next stage of their European odessey Roses – Sarah, Stu and myself only needed to get ourselves to the Parthbou railway station over the border in Spain, which would take us to collect Robyn in Gerona. Google had informed us that it was only 3km away, but we took a taxi. As the taxi slalomed us up and over yet another headland into Spain – we all agreed that the walk over the hill would have been a headland too far. Stu and I were definitely finished with our bikes. Never again – next time it would be a holiday with pizza and a TdF DVD instead. Probably.

Someone said there was a Raid des Alpes. I wonder where that starts…

Raid Day 3

Okay – a brief update on Day 3 before I go back and fill in the details for Monday & Tuesday. Today’s numbers: 92.8miles, 8,804ft of climbing.

Mr Bear’s travels are being logged by Julie – and photos of his expedition will appear very soon! In the meantime – you can always donate to his cause at Virginmoneygiving

This morning started in the rain – which came on before we left the quaint, but very quirky, gite we stayed in following the Peyresourde. We had had an interesting night – we had enough beds in what was a ski-lodge, but not enough rooms – meaning that the normal groups had to be split. Sarah ended up sharing with the Browns (Stu, Julie and Toby) and I was in bunk beds with the other three single guys. Very school-trip like! 

Breakfast was fairly basic (we’d had to cook our own meal the previous night, for which we were prepared) – but we loaded up with as much muesli and baguettes as possible. Some confusion was had over the usual French method of drinking from bowls, which confused some people unable to find any cups in the cupboard! Continue reading

Raid Day 2

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Well, for some, that was a very long day in the saddle. Only 96 miles but four huge cols to get over… The Aubisque – straight out of the hotel, The Tourmalet, Aspin and Peyresourde. Over 16,000ft on one day.

I managed the Aubisque and the col after it and got to the lunch stop,  but by that time the state of my knee meant that any pressure on they pedal was painful – and even the incline up to Bareges had me in my lowest gear. Knowing that the Tourmalet was ahead, the only way I would make it was in the van.
We passed a young lad who we met again at the top, an eleven year old from Derbyshire called Zack. He waited patiently for his mum who appeared 15mins later but became a minor celebrity in that short time.
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A huge climb into fog and rain and a cold descent afterwards meant that the lads didn’t get there till gone 4pm. With two big cols to go there was only time for a quick slice of pizza and some cakes before pushing immediately up the col d’Aspin – the highlight of the day as we had clear air and dry roads. The best descent of the trip so far.

A quick water refill and then the Peyresourde… By the time the last riders rolled in the light had gone.

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No detours today and still the day finished for the riders at 8pm.

Raid Day 1

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This will be short… Due to EE’s incompetence, I cannot get data roaming added to my account, so am limited to the WiFi in the hotel’s cafe.

Yesterday was tough day. Col d’osquich, col de Marie blanc, and two thirds of col d’aubisque… Spread across 122 miles.

Halfway up the 9km col de Marie blanc, the thunder started to roll around the clouds and before long the rain was trying hard to wash the despondency from my soul.

A high pace central section had depleted my legs, but more of a problem was the pain in my knees on every pedal stroke. Ibuprofen dented the pain slightly… But by the time I got to the top I was defeated and climbed into our support van.

The day started well, with fantastic roads and the rolling foothills slipping

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past. Fantastic weather, neither too hot or to cold meant that we had views but weren’t being baked by the sun.

Highlights of the day included numerous detours to follow cyclocross-like off-road sections, rutted gravel tracks and even a stream bed. None of this was required… Just a result of overly optimistic ridewithgps cycle path routing. Today we’re sticking to roads.

More photos and stories will appear later, but we have to get set for today’s cols… Aubisque, Tourmalet, Aspin and Peyresourde. Less distance but more climbing. Hopefully the ibuprofen will allow me to continue…

Raid against Polio

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Mr. Ed Bear en route to Hendaye

Mr. Ed Bear en route to Hendaye

Tomorrow morning sees a team of seven friends from iCycle start their assault on the Raid Pyreneen. An assault that will be completed in less than 100 hours (if all goes to plan), having comprised 720km and 14,600m of climbing.

It’s a challenge that was instituted by the Cyclo-club Bearnaise and is a popular challenge for insane cyclists…

This madness is what my training this year has all been aimed at. The Etape last month was a dress-rehearsal.

Tomorrow’s blog post will, no doubt, have more information about the day’s cycling – but today I wanted to use the opportunity to bang a drum.  That drum is one which has already made a difference to the world and presents an opportunity to make an even more profound one.

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Shimano CM-1000 Sports Camera

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shimano cm1000In preparation for (hopefully) some fantastic photo opportunities in the coming Raid Pyrenean, I’ve managed to get my mitts on a Shimano SportsCamera CM-1000.

You may have seen some of the footage from the exciting last 3km of Stage 8 of the Tour of California. Video is from Shimano CM-1000’s mounted on Koen de Kort and John Degenkolb’s bikes.  More recently, and closer to home, Geraint Thomas and Bernhard Eisel had Shimano CM-1000’s on their bikes for Stage 3 the Tour de France from Cambridge into London.

Obviously there are other choices – GoPro, Drift, Garmin – all of which have their pros and cons.  However – the cost and features were right on the Shimano, and so that’s where we are.  I’m hoping to collect thoughts and tips – maybe someone out there has one and would like to weigh in with comments or ideas…

There’s a really great review by DCrainmaker over at his reviews section, so this will just be my thoughts and experiences.

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Garmin Workouts – A Eureka Moment

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CaptureHaving been working with Tim Ramsden from Blackcat Cycle Coaching since January, I’ve been a heavy user of the Workouts facility on the Garmin 800. It is excellent – but has a couple of bugbears. Last night – I had a flash of inspiration which has made transferring Tim’s plans into Workouts a cinch.

For those who are Garminless, or who haven’t explored the features it has to offer and just use it as it came out of the box – Workouts allow you to program a step-by-step programme of timed or criteria based segments.  If you have a Garmin 800 and haven’t been to Dummies Guide to the Garmin – go now. I’ll wait.

Workouts allows you to program, for example, a 10min warm up, followed by a section to get your heart rate up to 160, followed up by 3 x 300 watt intervals with a 1 min recovery.  Start your Garmin running then all you need do is pedal and follow the instructions on the screen. And sweat of course.

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Etape du Tour(malet) 2014

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post-1-0-53999700-1403527742 So you’re a cyclist? You reckon you can race in the Tour de France? It’s never going to happen, you’re never going to be that good…

Only you can. Each year since 1993 and now in its 22nd ‘Edition’, L’Etape du Tour (eng. Stage of the Tour) is where ASO – the company that owns and runs The Tour de France – run a sportive of one of the real stages of the Tour de France a few days before the big boys ride it.  It’s a proper dress rehearsal – with closed roads, support cars/bikes, and an audience cheering the cyclists on. Anyone can sign up, pay the entrance fee, and get a single day taste of what Team Sky and the rest of them do for three weeks solid.

Of course you’ve got to be completely barking mad to think you’ll be able to finish – let alone race in it, after all those pros are, well, pros. Continue reading

The ‘Fred’

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If you were thinking of going out for a quick Sunday training ride, The Fred Whitton Challenge (aka ‘The Fred’) isn’t something that would seem to fit the bill. At 112miles & 10,800ft climbing it’s been described as the “hardest sportive in the UK”.

And yet – here I was, queued up at 6am in Grasmere.  It’s ‘only’ a training ride for me by dint of the fact that I’ve rashly committed to improve myself enough to join a group of friends on the 450mile Raid Pyrenean in August.

I joined the Black Cat Stable in February when I decided that the determination, ad-hoc spinning and chamois cream combination that I used in the past wouldn’t work. Although it got me from non-cyclist to 7-day LEJOG survivor in two years I didn’t think it would be enough get me along the Pyrenees. Continue reading