The Tour de Force

The Tour de Force

Wednesday, 22 July 2015

L.A. Woman...Stage 21: Sevres to Paris...Sunday 19th July 2015

Jim's journey also ended dans Paris. Top tune!

Flat as, right? Well there were a few unnecessary drags taken at full-ish pelt...
All correct minus the laps of Le Champs etc.: we don't have closed roads but I do have a self-preservation instinct.
As Sarah promised, it truly was a grim o'clock departure from our lovely Alpe D'Huez hotel: shame we only spent approximately 12 minutes in it, hah-hah! The two coaches did depart at 0530hrs and unfortunately I had to inflict my company on Pete B.: he pretended not to mind, being a bon oeuf et all...I reckon we were all in too much of a zombie-like state to care...

All told, we were on the coach for just over 9 (nine) hours: if I said it was a shocker I'd be smoothing things out. Never have I wanted to get back on my bike more...never! In a cool move, Sarah had arranged some delicious pastries and coffee at the start point where some of the chaps were reunited with family. Others would appear at Versailles but the vast majority would be waiting at Le Tour Eiffel. And wait they did- we were at least two hours behind schedule because of a re-route by our coach driver due to Autoroute crashes. Before all that caper, we had the slight matter of staying safe and sound for thirty miles...oh, and savour all this too please, because it'll be over before you know it!

Sorry about the decolletage. It was a trifle warm though!
Renault's centre de technology. Of course you already knew that.
It was a fairly brisk sector to Versailles with several deceptive climbs followed by sweeping descents: it was difficult to take in the fact that this particular adventure was drawing to a close, but at the same time it felt so exciting to be so near to the great city. Bittersweet, oui?

I heart the grandeur of Versailles. I also was glad of our final feed-stop because I had left my water bottles at the hotel. If that was the only collateral damage from last night then I'll take that!
The stop-start nature of the run-in due to traffic lights splintered the riders after Versailles. Andrew Wates is top-right...
After Versailles I stayed largely alone on the run-in which I was happy about: there were enough distractions on the road already for me and it wasn't until I reached the Eiffel Tower that I heard that of three riders hitting the deck separately. This is always bad but one of them was Andrew Wates who had joined us at Versailles, and I hate to tell you that he suffered a broken hip as a result. Heal fast, Sir. At least the other guys 'only' had road rash...not pleasant all the same.

Made it to the other Blackpool!
As I reached the RV point just behind Le Tour, I heard someone call my name: it was only Tish, who is Le Tracteur's much finer other-half...great to see you, Ma'am! In a stroke of management genius, Andy had texted Tish and asked her to pickup a few beers on her way to the RV...cue a Heineken or two, hah-hah! We waited a little and other riders started appearing and it was terrific to see their joy on not only completing this challenge but to meet-up with family and friends. Nice one!
Great to see Jolyon (ruthless Director Sportif) at the finish. Prolly my favourite photo...cheers Tish!
If Hitchcock did Avenues...
After more than a few photos and embraces and handshakes, we were all off again for the final spin to Arc de Triomphe de l'Étoile via one of the most famous and beautiful avenues there is. However, at 6.30pm on a Sunday it is absolutely chocka and I was happy to weave my way up it and dismount at L'Arc for more photos. Our hotel was only about 10 minutes ride away and was very comfy: good on ya', Sarah!
Don't need any caption, do I?
We were pressed for time so it was a case of a quick shave and shower and onto a coach for the transfer to our celebratory dinner on La Seine. was a bit special to have the sights pass before you as dusk fell. Lucky people, I know. There followed some heartfelt speeches and presentations of awards to all the riders, but also of collective gifts from the riders to Sarah and Phil and also Tracy, who kept the whole show running from Edinburgh. It was terrific to have a few words with Phil afterwards, and even more terrific to have him get up and leave the table half-way through one of Chris's 'Partridge-esque' stories, hah-hah! C'mon, the man cannot be blamed for that...

To be fair to Alan er, Chris, he did come out with one pearl of wisdom: whether we know it or not, on these kinda trips we initially present the idealised version of ourselves to the group but after a few travails, sleepless nights, long days and whatnot, slowly that version gets chipped away to reveal the more accurate picture. Or something like that: he's like Friedrich Nietzsche except he climbs a bit better...

Chris, Annabel, Andy and Andy's considerably better-half, Tish...cheers!
Team Lanterne Rouge sign-off on another fine mess er, successful mission!
Love this little momento. Nice work by everyone concerned...thank you.
We eventually coached-it back to the hotel where some folk retired and some folk didn't. Chris, Annabel, Rick and myself headed back to Le Champs, or just off it just because it was one of those evenings that you didn't want to end. I did bail first though, citing old age, hah-hah! The following morning Andy sent me a text from the breakfast room stating that scrambled eggs were on offer: I was there in 5! Afterwards we shook hands and said "Until the next time...". I dread to even consider what that's going to involve, hah-hah! Nah, thanks to Andy for being a top roomie again and taking care of a load of admin along the way. And by admin I do of course include getting a round in. Cheers mate!
Monday, and a suitably large lunch was enjoyed just beside L'Arc...tres, tres bon!
As is the way with big, old events like this you wonder if it will change you- and hopefully for the better. Similar questions were posed by a lot of fellow riders after the trek across the USA in 2011 but I don't reckon that it changed me at all. I don't expect that riding and completing Le Tour will either, but there are a few similar points to take away:

a) break the massive-looking tasks down and worry about one 'stage' at a time...

b) always leave a tip for room cleaners: Dear knows they earn it with some folk, ahem...

c) you're capable of a ton more than you think: sometimes it needs the help or encouragement from other people to drag it out of you. Sometimes not...

d) before I disappear up my own tailpipe that's probably about it.

Thanks to all the Tour de Force staff, riders, my super-generous sponsors and anyone who has enjoyed this blog. See you at a food-stop sometime?

Some stats before le final stats proper:

Miles cycled...2100
Feet climbed...150,000
Saddle sores...2
Highest temperature...43c
Beers stopped from going bad...more than a few
Top speed...54 mph
Gels used...0
Laughs had...more than a few
Bananas eaten...loads
Slowest speed...2 mph
Dodgy knees...2
Ambition realised...1

Do It Again...Stage 20: Modane to Alpe D'Huez...Saturday 18th July 2015

Because we got to climb up to The Croix again. Yeay!
Only two climbs today, but it is a nailed-on Hollywood finish up The Alpe...21 hairpins of er, pleasure?
Not overly looking forward to going up to The Croix again, hah-hah-ouch!

We had a leisurely 7am coach transfer away from Le Toussuire's Savoy to our official stage start point in Modane. You could tell it was almost like the end of term with a very buoyant, if not positively giddy atmosphere. Let's just stay upright though, please. We started with a long and fast descent before our first feed-stop and getting stuck in to our second bash at La Croix de La Fer. 19 miles of joy!
There is light etc...
Strangely I didn't find it too awful, mainly because with my posterior problems abating a little it meant that I could sit for longer periods which meant a slightly improved climbing effort. That said, Andy and I and pretty much everyone else needed a cafe stop/fountain stop to break-up the two hours plus climb in rising temperatures. Standard, then...
Chuffed to get this climb immense downhill follows. Got 53.6mph on it, hah-hah!
Le Tracteur makes his front wheel flex under a sprint to finish at La Croix. At almost 3 mph, hah-hah!
As with the previous day's finish at La Croix we didn't hang around too long: it was breezy again but also we wanted to enjoy the superb downhill that just went on forever. Albeit with a naughty section of uphill halfway, hah-hah! I clocked almost 54mph on the run down but we were made to look like we were stationary but a couple of Dutch kids. I dread to think how fast they were going: we caught and steam-rollered them on the following flat section on the run into Bourg D'Oisans. We also caught up with Chris and Annabel and enjoyed a crème glacée with them prior to saddling-up for another tilt at The Alpe. 
Just the best descent!
This marks the official start of the climb up to Alpe D'Huez. Hello again, hello...
I was last here in 2012 during The Haute Route: some of you may remember that THIS happened: stop sniggering, hah-hah! Anyway, I genuinely was really looking forward to this climb: words like iconic and legendary are thrown around a bit easily but are spot-on in this case. We had to watch ourselves as the temperature would reach 42c/ was an oven and how glad were we of spotting a fountain? Um, quite.
21 hairpins. Just ridiculous in temps of up to 42c!
Not much in it but Chris enjoyed the climb a tad more than Team Lanterne Rouge...
A week early and some Dutch fans are in place.
Will be carnage here on Saturday, hah-hah!
I know.
The final climb into the resort. Savour this!

Andy, Chris, John and myself regrouped on the final few hundred yards and rode together, arms over shoulders across the deserted and nondescript finish-line, which was the right move. We then decided to head to a cafe to watch the rest of that day's Tour stage live. And also re-hydrate obviously...
We took over a cafe near to the finish to cheer home our riders. The owner couldn't believe his luck. #sixeurosapintgoldbentleyonorder
It worked brilliantly because the cafe was just before the final roundabout and left-turn so we got to shout and cheer at any riders about to finish the final 'gloves off' stage. More than a few of them thought we were the finish line and tried to dismount for a beer but they were sent packing, hah-hah!
Our numbers swelled over the next hour or so and frankly the cafe owner could not believe his luck. And at 6 Yo-Yos a pint I'm not surprised: we had to eventually settle two tabs totalling almost 800 Euros, but it was right up there as the best laugh of the whole tour!

The celebrations continued throughout and after dinner: George and Chris were clearly on a mission. Chaps, we do still have a 5am alarm tomorrow...ah boll**ks, we'll worry about that later, hah-hah!

Heartbreak Hotel...Stage 19: Saint-Jean de Maurienne to La Toussuire...Friday 17th July 2015

That's Putin on the Ritz. Nothin'? Tough audience in tonight...

Le Roi. Towels weren't a problem pour him, I bet.
Today's route is pretty much a big loop. And one that goes up and down too.
Up, up and away on my beautiful, my beautiful push-bike!
The initial section of the first climb today was a retracing of yesterday's run in to S-J-D-M and we had some fantastic changing colours as the sun worked its magic. Much like the magic wot the TdF mechanics had worked on my rear wheel rim since my puncture faffs yesterday...thanks a bundle!

The morning sun is spectacular.
"Ok Simon, if you're going to wobble, then I strongly suggest that you wobble left."
It was a fairly spectacular climb up to our first named climb, the Col du Chaussy: always a thrill for people who aren't dying about heights, hah-hah! At the summit I was able to get a photo with Phil, so at least the frame contained one proper cyclist...
Yep, the animals did wonder what on earth we were thinking of.
A privilege to get a photo with Le Tour guru, Phil. Forgotten more than I'll ever know etc...
From the top there was a super descent before resetting focus for a climb that I wasn't particularly relishing, although I'm pretty sure that I wasn't alone in that. We would climb back up the Col du Glandon (thankfully from the other side this time) before turning left at its summit and climbing another 2 miles to reach the summit of the Col de la Croix de Fer. Piece of lemon drizzle cake, right?
Here we go, here we go, here we go...out the back!
To be fair, I didn't find this quite as awful as I feared: for once I was able to help Le Tracteur a bit with tried and trusted ways to divert attention away from the struggle e.g. asking him to name The Arsenal 'Invincibles' team. Always with the nonsense, hah-hah! Big thanks to the elderly French gent who doused me with ice-cold water: I really appreciated it, was getting a tad warm.
#bigfan couldn't even spell the Great One's name correctly.
Yep, it's just another stunning landscape.
Yes. Yes I'm too tight to buy the original.
We made it up there and regrouped at the feed-stop. You didn't really want to hang around too long as your clothes are literally saturated and getting a chill from the breeze won't do you any favours.
Nope, that wasn't my bike. Worse luck, hah-hah!
Motorhomes getting in position a week before Le Tour arrives. Hardcore Euro-loonery.
Listen mate, quit stopping for photos and get on with the descent: you've lost contact with them again!
There were tons of cyclists from all over the place out and about, not least because there is a hugely popular amateur cycle event that weekend (The Etape du Tour, which has 15000 entries!). We passed a bunch of guys from the UK and some of them were showing just how good they (thought they) were. Andy asked one of them if they had covered much ground and the answer was "Oh, around 10km so far...".  When the bloke airily asked what we had done, Andy replied, "Do you mean today or over the whole event?". I believe that George came out with something similar when he described L'Etape as an entry-level sportive. Ouch, hah-hah! And it's all gone quiet over there...

Enough 'Big Time Charlie' nonsense because there was another col between us and the close of play. We had looped back around to the same town that we had started from (S-J-D-M) before starting up the initially horrible climb up to La Toussuire. We had now learned that you always look for fountains when you pass through villages- the sign that you want to see is 'Eau Potable'. Fill those bottles, dowse your head and say thanks!
Only another 2 miles and we can call it quits for the day...keep going my son!
It had been another tough day at the office and I was glad to see La Toussuire appear eventually: Andy and I finished pretty much together. As we weaved through the crowds towards our acco, Andy heard someone shout his name- it was MVP Tim (the loon who joined us two weeks ago for three stages and broke us, hah-hah!) who was over with a few mates to ride The Etape/entry level sportive, hah-hah! I headed on to get a now-essential massage...thanks Beth.
Pleased to see this wee fella. You may now climb off the bike!
Sarah, Tour Supremo, had already adjusted our expectations with regard to tonight's acco: suffice to say that she still oversold it, hah-hah! Nah, her insurmountable problem was that because of The Etape, her choices were severely limited, so it was a case of just having to get on with it. Bunk beds, four in a room and no towels. Apart from that, pas des dramas...
The view from our er, unique acco in La Toussuire. Hmmm...
Andy and myself snuck out for a second meal pizza which was the right move: after the briefings we hooked-up with Matt, Dave, Peter, Chris and Annabel to say hello to MVP Tim. Whilst we were sat outside enjoying a beer and listening to some Euro X-Factor Wannabe, I saw a pretty humbling sight: Tour Guru Phil was cycling with a couple of the last guys on the road. It was just about 9.30pm. Phil had been helping to load luggage about 16 hours earlier. Plus the two riders who we cheered in had been given an absolute shoeing but refused to give up. There's your perspective.

I do have a bit of previous...

2014: 1000 miles solo & unsupported out to France, then La Bicinglette...6 x Mont Ventoux in a day!

2013: 1000 miles solo & unsupported out to Austria, then the worst climbs in The Dolomites!

2012: The inaugural Haute Route sportive from Geneva to Nice, followed by the worst Pyrenean climbs!

2011: 3500 miles across North America...coast to coast!

2010: 1600 miles from Gibraltar to Blackpool!

2009: 1000 miles from Land's End to John O'Groats!

2008: 250 miles from Blackpool to London!

2007: 100 miles around Manchester!

2006: 0.5 mile to corner shop!