After an epic 140 mile drive into the wind, Tuesday's ride was supposed to be the kindest. A mere 100 miles or so and relatively flat. Relatively is, of course, a term that can disguise a number of sudden climbs but it is fair to dsay that the ride was easier that what had come before and no doubt what was to follow. We ar e heading south from Troyes to Dijon.
After three long and hard rides, however, the riders' bodies were finding new ways of expressing themselves. George, the physio is massaging aching limbs until after midnight and conversation has turned to subject normally considered personal.
Backsides have been the main subject of debate. Sore bottoms have taken grip of the peloton and everyone is forgetting pains in the muscles and focusing their attention and conversation on the part of the body that poerches on their saddle. Some of what is said perhaps should not be. When cycling, thoughts circulate through one's mind and some of those thoughts can be dark in nature. Steve Fletcher might have considered this before making suggestions which involved my bottom, an inner tube and a degree of inflation. While he says that he was trying to be helpful, the image lingers.
Three of us have formed an elite slow group, playing tortoise to the hares that are the other 15 riders. We set off early and ride steadily. Steve Fletcher, Roddy Caxton-Spencer and I are perhaps not the greatest athletes on this tour but our achievement will be all the greater should we arrive. Some people, when they feel like taking up cycling will aim for the 26 mile leukemaia bikeathon or the 53 mile BHF London to Brighton ride. Not Roddy. He went our, bought a new bike and is riding to Monte Carlo. The again, he is a man of extreme pursuits and is daily showing himself to be a strong rider.
We arrived reasonably early in Dijon and were able to enjoy a late afternoon washing bid shorts and eating for the next day. Sudacreme applied, an early night was in order.
Day 5: Dijon to Lyons - 130 miles
After a decent rest, there appeared to be a little more optimism this morning before setting off for the last ride before the Alps. On the map it looked like a decent but untesting ride. 130 miles and not too many climbs. Of course, maps don't show wind and as we ride south the wind is driving from the south west. The wind sucks energy from legs and makes long days longer still.
The slow ride was made slower by seemingly sludgelike road surfaces that pulled back on tyres. Long café stops punctuated the journey as some riders sought solace in the bottle. Relief was provided after 80 or so miles with a roadside paella cooked by Steve Hall and containing many nutritious ingredients not all of which accounted for a decline in local fauna.
Flat countryside and fields of drying sunflowers have relaced vineyards but no one was discussing local culture. As the miles grew, the main subject was once again saddlesores and the various types that are available.
Finally the outskirts of Lyon arrived and some swiftl descents through rush hour traffic. Tiredness is starting to show on the faces and in the souls of all involved.
Day 6: Lyon to Alpe d'Huez
This was the day I have been fearing for months. 100 miles out of Lyon, into the foothills of the Alps and then up into the Alps proper and then an ascent of one of the most famous climbs in cycling.
We, the slow group, set out early. Over an hour negotiating the traffic of rush hour Lyon while squinting at the little red line on a satnav screen. A few false turnings and a route that led us into an alley and up some steps. Finally the countryside and some climbs. Using my carefully purchased ultra low gear (34X29 if you are technically minded), I coasted slowly up climbs and tucked in for swift descents. It is amazing how fast an obese man can move down a steep hill if balanced on two wheels.
Almost fifty miles and we stopped to be fed and arrived just before the two swift groups and left them munching on bacon sandwiches and scrambled eggs. Towards Grenoble, the route flattened and diverted up onto a smooth cycle path along the river for almost 20 miles and then out of town through industrial estates and then a search for the next feed at 80 miles. We reached it just after the group led by Neo Combarro and Paul Higgins among whose number Richard Panter was nursing the closest shave of the trip so far. The support drivers who witnessed his departurre over the handlebars and a wall, expected to have to mop up his remains (an added ingredient for tomorrow's paella perhaps). Richard was, luckily, unscathed.
We pressed on and up, now climbing into the Alps and now falling behind the faster groups. Even Peter Harris passed us at pace.
By now, it was apparent to any but the most deluded that the prospect of this aging and large chap cresting the Alpe d'Huez was only to be the subject of fantasy. My calculations indicated that if I was going to do the climb I would need at least two and a half ours and there wasn't that much time before sunset. The prospect of being alone on a dark and cold mountain did not appeal and so I waved the other riders off and went to the hotel to wait.
Some time later, as the sun was setting, they arrived. Freezing, exhausted but exhilerated. Darek the mechanic had achieved the fasted time of one hour, only just over 20 minutes more than the posssibly drug assisted record. Paul Higgins and Neo Combarro managed it in an amazing 1 hour 16 minutes and all the riders made it up in under 1 hour 30 minutes . All truly amazing times. I felt ashamed but rather grateful not to be still climbing.
Tomorrow a couple more Alps but in daylight. I shall see what I can manage.
Over 700 miles and six days gone. Two more climbing days and then it is literally downhill all the way.
NOTE: We are doing this for charity so go to http://www.combatstress.org.uk/pages/cs_tv_advert.html
If youre interested, heres the route:
Port to Hotel