All the drama started a couple of weeks prior to our launch - on my second training run, 30k in, the rear deraulier fell off taking out my chain, back tyre and critically my rear deraulier hanger. This turns out to be a small piece of metal designed to break. Unfortunately it also turns out to be a very non-standard component and I had to fall on the mercy of Wiggle to help me find a replacement in my hour of need. Second time lucky we managed to find a part that fitted. So with a few days to go, having patched up my bike myself I decided to get the fine folks at Giant Docklands to service it on the grounds that they know what they’re doing - they managed to get my back wheel true and did a far better job of indexing my gears than I’d been able to do! They’d also pimped my tires to be ‘bombproof’ - more on that later.
So good news, my bike was all fixed up, bad news, the greater anglia trains were out. Time for another training ride - 65k this time all the way to Chelmsford before my bike lights charge gave out.
Bike: Moser Speed
Pedals: Normal pedals with red CF Nanos.
Tyres rocked: Continental Gaterskin hardshell
# of punctures: 0
# of nuraphen necked: 0
Probably the thing that will stick most in my mind is the warm reception we received from the French public - whichever village or town we went through. The number of people applauding us and hooting their horns was astonishing - France truly is the cultural home of the velo! It’s a marked difference from Britain where cyclists are generally perceived as a nuisance. It’s a side of the french I’ve never seen before but definitely to their credit - viva la France!
The early morning watching the mist appearing over the water as the sun started coming up.
Going through Champaign seeing all the wealthy distilleries.
As we climbed into the Alps, hearing the cowbells on the alpine cattle gave me hope.
Could you hack it?
While not expecting a sedate pace, I wasn’t expecting to be riding with guys that would think nothing of spending an hour swimming in the channel without a wetsuit. They had clearly done a few endurance events before.
Undeterred I kept up with them as best I could. When they were on the flat and the speeds started creeping up, it was all I could do not to fall off the back of the peloton. No time for eating or drinking, all efforts were on pedalling to stay behind the wheel in front. If you aren’t behind the wheel in front you both get left behind and it’s a lot more effort to cycle without the drag and not only have you got to overcome that you’ve got to put in the additional effort of catching up on them - exhausting! It makes me think of some of the CrossFit moves in that I’m forced to use good form when I’m tired and there’s no other way it’s going to get up there. You’ve got to stay behind that wheel no matter what.
We’re all going to get there. There’s a lot of teamwork going on inside a peloton - you’ve got the front guys taking the wind head on making it easier for everyone else. Then there’s the guys on the left / right shielding the other side from the wind depending on its direction. On top of the pro riders somehow had the strength to propel not only themselves but to ‘fast forward’ us back into the pack when we had dropped too far back from the peloton to be able to recover ourselves. All help was gratefully received!
Breaking was interesting. I’d not appreciated the stopping distance of a peloton going at speed. It reminded me of how to land a hot air balloon - to land you crash and hope for the best. Stopping a peloton isn’t quite as bad but the stopping distance is quite huge! - We had a van going in front with blinkers on warning of our impending arrival.
When the hills came I could keep up thanks to the CrossFit training - in fact I think without the hills I would have been in trouble as I’d have never caught up again with them. Apparently I’ve been ‘mashing’ all my life on a bike - that is I’ve been cycling at the highest possible gear using the quads to get me places. What I should have been doing (and tried to do) was to ‘spin’ - to use the lowest gear you can get away with without bouncing around in your seat. (or at least a slightly lower gear than I’d normally use). This transforms cycling from an anaerobic activity where your legs get tired, into a high speed cardio fest where you’re out of breath. Allegedly you can decouple your breathing from the speed at which your legs turn so you don’t pant 19 to the dozen, but instead keep farm cool and collected. I had no trouble with this *cough* *cough*.
Well it seemed to work - my legs didn’t really get tired. Food was hard, despite three square meals a day and eating nuts / tangfastics it is hard to get enough calories in with my inefficient cycling burn rate! I had some energy bars but they turn out to be really hard to unwrap while moving - had to either wait for a rare comfort break or a hill before I had time.
What could have gone better?
Knees were fine after 1h of cycling each day, and by the 6th day they’d given up complaining - recognising the futility!
After a Typhoon in Taiwan it was a race against time to get our branded kit before we made it to Zürich. From Taiwan it went to Hong Kong and then onto Ireland before managing to track us down on the penultimate day in France - nice work keeping up with us @DHL.
A trip to Zürich wouldn’t be complete without a hill or two (8.5k of hills cumulative), but we had one corker, a gentle stage 1 Tour de France 9km climb to the top. Allegedly this is a hill that a 2CV can get up in 3rd gear or their about. We all gradually scaled to the peak, but the roads down the other side were closed. Undeterred we decided to try our luck on the ‘under construction’ road slip sliding over inches of gravel. (Road bikes are traditionally meant for completed roads). Braving the electric fence at the other end, we were back on fully metalled roads again albeit having lost some time. Possibly too metalled, as we seemed to take a wrong turn and be on a 6-lane french highway. Bringing up the rear and hoping for no punctures we single filed up the road till we could find a way off. Unfortunately the first way off went onto the autoroute! A swift changing of lanes and we were hugging the central reservation for dear life but were soon granted a way off. All’s well that end’s well! (new pants please).
Swiss cycle routes seem quite labyrinthine and it took the whole peloton’s hawk like eyes to spot the markers pointing the way. There were a few wrong turns and again we lost some time. A long time later…. with the sun on the horizon we were closing in on Zürich - we only had 60km to go. With fading light, being tired and having tried and decided against hanging off the side of a van I took one for the team and piled into the bus. Without me slowing them down (and more likely with the end in sight) the speed started flying - we had a hard time keeping up with them in the bus. Slippery these pelotons, ducking and diving where we couldn’t follow!
We could however spray them with Champaign as they finally arrived under the cover of darkness to the hotel. Well done to all. Horrifically hard work but a great sense of pride for having done as much as I had.
Never let your guard down. Once we got to Zürich (with almost no crashes), we took in the sights on our bikes. Unfortunately on the way back we had not one, but two separate crashes. It shows how good the pro cyclists were at clearing the way for the peloton and ensuring we stayed tight and in good formation (and helping the stragglers back into the pack).
What we should have brought?
Jeans and a t-shirt: Having scored everything on the list I neglected to throw in some off the saddle clothes so was having to mooch around in compression tights and a wicking t-shirt I happened to bring. - fitted right into the Zürich night life (not)!
Thank you everyone - we raised over £70,000 in total for Parkinson's UK - amazing!
So by Zürich for me, no crashes, punctures, or even aches or pains by the end. I have gained a whole new perspective on cycling - I think I understand the ‘spin to win’ mantra now, and I have gained a new family of friends and most importantly, I still love riding my bike.
Thank you to all who made it possible and thank you to all who donated for this great cause - together we’ve made a big difference and it couldn’t have been done without everyone plying their role, from the grandparents looking after the kids to the the organisers to the security staff to Stuart Hall’s team of professional motivators to the the french and swiss public cheering and hooting us on to the weather that proved that if we could get through Wednesday we could get through anything to the hotel staff at Ibis that in our hour of need found a way to dry all our shoes and clothes ready for the next day to Hanna for capturing our exploits on camera and having to do 5 days of constant driving to Ben in the van learning how to make 1000 sandwiches while on the move in the front seat. I’m sure there’s plenty of people I’ve missed out, but seeing everyone pull together to make this event happen was amazing - a very big team effort.
On the off chance that I should ever do anything like this ever again, I have promised Rhys that I will give cleats a try. Disaronno
One year later... I've got some cleats - let's see if they make me 400km better... We're raising money for FairShare - fighting hunger, tackling food waste who are an amazing charity.
If anyone wants to spur me on for the 1400km ride, FairShare is an inspiring charity that deserve as much help as we can give them - 2% of the UK’s surplus food is redistributed by them already!