The Toe of Italy to Monte Carlo
Day 8 - The Final Leg
A routine develops and one becomes ever more reliant on the routine. Tired bodies and stressed minds need a routine to fall back upon to ensure that everything that needs to be done to prepare for a day's is done and that everything is in its place. Often the routine takes on a importance of its own and the greatest stress is caused by an interruption to the regime.
Finish the day's riding. Collect luggage, find room, shower and change, wash kit and hang it to dry. Lay out kit for the morning and pack all but overnight things. Eat. Sleep. Wake, shower, pack, fill pockets with food and essentials, fill bidons. Move kit down eat breakfast, load van, ready bike. Ride.
It was therefore rather pleasant that, this being the last day, some element of the routine could be waived. No washing of kit. No damp kit to stow in a hope that it might dry en route. No need to put things away "just so" to enable a swift resumption of the routine on arrival in the evening.
I was nervous about this last day. 120 miles along what looked to be undulating roads close to the coastal beaches on a Saturday. Traffic lights, cars parking and endless ups and downs. Added to this, we had to arrive in Menton, just over the border in France by 3:30 for a photo.
Two riders, we were told, had left at 5:45 to ensure they arrived on time. I wished that I had save that it would have cost me an hour or so of precious sleep.
I checked my tyres. They needed pumping but I didn't pump them. Seven days without a puncture. I wasn't tempting providence. I also had an issue with my gears. At the end of the day before, every time I sought to shift from the small ring to the big ring, I lost my chain. I would have liked Darek, the mechanic to take a look bt had arrived too late last night and now needed to leave.
Dawn was breaking over Genoa as we rode off along the coast. The Costa Concordia sat rotting in a shipyard to our left. Outside beach front cafes, small groups of uniformly dressed cyclists were meeting for their Saturday morning club runs.
Four of us we together. We had been together almost the whole way and we were determined that we would all make it to the end.
A sharp climb away from the coast. I hit it in the big ring, in a high gear. I climbed fast. The hill continued but I managed to keep moving. No need to change down.
The traffic was lighter than I had anticipated and the hills more manageable. My leg felt strong from the ride not tired. The road surfaces were smooth. We made good progress. I wanted to say that, for the first time, the route was proving to be less challenging than my expectations. I said nothing for fear of what might be thrown at us.
We stopped for lunch, well on schedule for the 3:30 rendezvous. Instead of pasta, I enjoyed a salad. There was no need to fuel for the next day's ride.
As we rode off after lunch the GPS route appeared to direct us through a car park. We were quizzical but followed it cautiously and suddenly were thrown onto a cycle path made from a disused railway line.
Smooth and traffic free, the path went through and not up hills. Tunnels were a cooling and, without traffic, stress free punctuation of the ride.
At San Remo, one tunnel extended over a mile and was decorated with bizarre lighting and the names of the winners of the classic Milan - San Remo race.
Sixteen miles of blissful cycling; a reward for the hills, broken tarmac, traffic and weather of the past week.
A text arrived telling us that the rendezvous had been rescheduled to 4:30 and so we took our time and enjoyed the ride, stopping for refreshments and shade.
Back onto the road for the final fifteen miles of Italy, we rode freely as though out for a Saturday afternoon ride. The border passed we rolled into Menton and joined the early riders at a cafe and waited for the others.
We had done Italy. Almost 1000 miles of it. Toe to top.
All that remained were photos and then a ride into Monte Carlo and onto Nice.
The entire group set off together with photos being taken from the support vehicle. The mood was buoyant. The vans drove off and we cycled chatting, swapping experiences and memories.
And then a motorist in a parked car decided to open his car door without looking.
Three riders went down. Three bikes were broken. Luckily only minor injuries sustained.
As injuries were treated and arrangements made to transport the bikes and riders to the hotel, the rest of us broke up and rode towards Monte Carlo or directly to Nice. The planned photoshoot was cancelled. The feeling of joy and accomplishment was extinguished by the thoughtless act of one idiotic motorist.
The rest of the ride was quite. Monaco was ready for the Rendezvous de Septembre and the bubble in which I had lived for a week was temporarily burst when I saw someone I know from real life in Casino Square.
We followed the route to Nice and along the Promenade des Anglais to the airport and then scurried across a grass verge carrying our bikes to the hotel for the night.
There were no fireworks or champagne. We were presented with our bike boxes, grabbed our tools, dismantled our bikes and loaded them onto the van.
The end of a long journey. A journey that started for me, not in Villa San Giovanni a week before but in a small town in France on a cold afternoon in April last year. Then i climbed off mike bike during the Lloyd's Cycle Club's non stop charity ride from Lloyd's to Paris.
I was near hypothermic, over weight and undertrained. I knew I was unlikely to go the course and that if I continued, others, supporting me, wouldn't have made it either. It was horrible to abandon but I had to.
The Italy tour was my chance to redeem myself. I trained. I trained hard over many months devoting every free day to riding and riding thousands of miles. I rode 14 rides of 100 miles or more in the three months leading up to the tour and many shorter rides. I tackled hills, I tackled distance and I tackled hills and distance together.
I lost weight. With the help of the nutritionist, Dr Debbie Quinn at the Lloyd's Wellbeing Centre, I lost four stone (25 kilos). I changed my eating habits.
Before the ride, I was fitter than at anytime in my adult life and yet I was still nervous and unsure as to whether I would make it.
The course was far tougher than I had anticipated. Looking back with the benefit of the knowledge of completion, I can say that it was a spectacular and testing course; a work of art throwing everything at the rider with abysmal weather added to complete the picture.
Despite the severity of course, I was able to meet the physical challenge. The tougher challenge was the psychological one. Fear of the course, fear that I was not properly prepared, frustration with my navigation during the first days, the weather and tiredness all combined and nearly defeated me.
The curious irony is that if I had appreciated that I was fit enough to ride the course with ease, it would have been far easier. It would also have allowed me to provide more support to others rather than looking to them for support.
It is done now and somehow I managed it.
I couldn't have done so without the support of many people.
Dr Quinn and the others at the Lloyd's Wellbeing Centre who helped to prepare me physically.
The riders of the Lloyd's Cycling Club who were my companions through Italy. The level of morale boosting support from them was amazing. Some stronger riders, who might have been excused if they had turned their noses up at those of us who were weaker, instead took time and effort to cheer, rouse, educate and inspire. All the riders contributed to the success of the ride and I am hugely grateful.
The support crew were magnificent and cheerful and got us there. The mechanic, Darek, the physios and the van drivers.
Most of all, the two people who organised the whole thing as they have organised other spectaculars in the past:
Peter Harris and Rick Welsh. Absolute stars. I could write a whole book and it would not convey the depth of my gratitude to them.
And now, back to Monte Carlo and for the endurance event that is the Rendezvous de Septembre.