Monthly Archives: July 2018

Le Tour – wonderful. Transcontinental Race – more phenomenal cycling


More from stage 10 of Le Tour

I have never been mistaken for Mick Jagger – nor do we apparently have anything in common. However, having finished my ride to the alps, I can at least get some small sense of what it must be to try to come down from the high of a big performance.

The point is that the ride was quite all-consuming and, I’ve already said, that was one of the great things about it – the glorious simplification of life down to ‘eat, sleep, ride’.

Once I got to the alps I was occupied by the cycling with my friends and following Le Tour but having returned to what passes for normal life, it’s difficult not to think about the next challenges.

My promise to Mrs O that I won’t go for a solo challenge next year means I’ve got to recruit a fellow idiot or accept that I’ve got quite a while to ponder the issue – the main thing that might come off in the meantime being a marathon with our younger son in April 2019.

Happily, I can get the challenge experience second hand by following the Transcontinental Race that started on Sunday. I know it’s well beyond me but I can dream ….

As I write, the leader has ridden for 1 day 18 hours and 30 minutes and been stopped for only 4 hours 18 minutes. His average moving speed is 28.4kph (17.65mph). Quite phenomenal.

Of course, if I can’t exactly plan the next trip, I can think about cycling kit. Sometimes even that can be oddly entertaining. On the Chain Reaction Cycles website there is a Kask Rapido Road Helmet for sale. Apparently, they think one of its great attractions is the ‘Expanded polystyrene shell that optimises crash impacts’

Not sure about you but I’d go for a helmet than minimises crash impacts.

Tour de France 2018


A rare picture – Geraint Thomas was more often ahead of Chris Froome. This is stage 10, just above Le Reposior on the Col de la Colombière – the last before Thomas took (and kept) the yellow jersey. 

No doubt, much of the cycling world would have wanted anyone but a Sky rider to win Le Tour. There is a strong argument that any domination of a sport becomes unhealthy over time and six wins in seven years certainly amounts to domination in my book.

However, I guess that if a Sky rider had to win, Geraint Thomas was a pretty good choice – a man who:

  • seems to be very popular in the peleton,
  • served his apprenticeship with good grace and humour (in 2007 he finished 140th out of 141),
  • handled the pressure commendably (rather in contrast with David Brailsford at times),
  • passes the ‘would you be happy to have a drink with him in the pub’ test, and
  • above all, is not Chris Froome.

Cards on the table, I am a big fan of Chris Froome and believe him to be a great champion – but I fear that the reception he’d have got when standing on the top step of the podium would have been ‘mixed’ at best (!) and, in some eyes, the victory would have been potentially tainted.

Of course, being a member of Sky since its creation, Geraint may be tarred with the same brush in the eyes of the sceptics but I believe that he’s never applied for any TUEs.

He doesn’t even have mild asthma – how many self-respecting pro cyclists can say that.

Chapeau Geraint.

Ride to the alps: round up and verdict


Mont Blanc from Le Bettex. A lovely place to be – but was it worth riding out there?

The most important question from the experience: Would I do it again? Answer: Yes.

Eating, sleeping and riding: a simplified life, and very liberating. I loved it.

Some metrics:

  • Time – 84 hours elapsed
  • Distance – about 880km (c.550miles) and over 5600m of climbing (18400 feet)
  • Punctures – 3 (all on the last day, two within minutes of each other)
  • Gashed tyres – 1
  • Falls – 1
  • Mechanicals – 0 (other than the bent rear mech hanger as a result of the fall)
  • Sworn at by drivers – 0 (as far as I know)
  • Drivers sworn at – 4
  • Hooted at by drivers – 1 (a friendly warning as I was heading for a ‘no-cycles’ road)
  • Pills/medicines taken – 0
  • Shops visited – 1
  • McDonald’s visited – 1
  • Directions requested – 3
  • Raindrops felt – 0 (lucky – very hot but dry)
  • Cramps – 0
  • Water refills by knocking at random house – 1
  • Garmin ‘Off course’ messages – innumerable
  • Almost impassable cycle tracks – many
  • Phantom cycle tracks – loads
  • Time spent lost – a few hours
  • Fun had – immeasurable
  • Lessons learned – countless
  • Satisfaction gained – huge
  • Lunacy factor – off the scale

There were times when it was very hard – but they were vastly outweighed by the times when it was exhilarating, and by the feeling of satisfaction at having done it.

Would I do it differently? A bit.

  • My routing left much to be desired. I didn’t understand that going for cycle routing meant going for unsuitable paths and tracks in preference to perfectly good roads. Equally, I guess that going for road routing would not work perfectly as it would miss out on some great paths and would put me on some unsuitable roads.
  • On balance, if I were to do something similar, I’d go for routing using the driving option, avoiding highways, and then work out detours around any major roads that got included, and ways to include particularly good paths.
  • Not booking hotels in advance was a little bit of a pain – but added to the excitement. To be able to book ahead safely, my daily milage targets would have to be relatively modest to make sure I got to the hotel at the right time. That would take away a bit of the challenge but would give more time to stop en route to take in the scenery and any local attractions.
  • I guess you need to know why you are riding in the first place: is it to get somewhere as quickly as possible, or within a certain timescale, or is it to be a tourist or just to enjoy the ride?
  • I wanted to take my road bike because I was climbing mountains when I got out to the alps. Had that not been the case I would have gone for something better suited to long distances. I guess that would have slowed me down which might have made me feel more of a cycle tourist. Perhaps I’d have been more prepared to view the ride as an end in itself, rather than a means of getting to the alps as quickly as practicable.
  • I love my carbon saddle but it is probably best kept for rides up to about 6 hours. If I did a similar ride again I’d have to sacrifice some lightness for something more comfortable.
  • I can see the advantages of riding with one or more others – safety, companionship, the pleasure of a shared experience etc. On the other hand, I liked the independence and selfishness of just thinking about me – and you’d have to be well matched as cyclists not to get frustrated by the other’s speed, whether faster or slower.
  • I took, all packed in three bike bags:
    • cycling clothes – one jersey, one pair of gloves, glasses, helmet, one pair of socks, two pairs of shorts, rain jacket, shoes, arm and leg warmers:
    • evening clothes – one pair of shorts, one t-shirt, socks and underwear, one pair of trainers:
    • other, bike – Garmin, pump, bell, one spare tube, puncture repair kit, multi tool, tyre levers, lights (2 battery and 2 rechargeable), one bottle, lock and long cable,
    • other, non-bike – 9 oat bars, electrical tape, toothbrush, toothpaste, anti-perspirant, medicines and plasters, portable charger and adapter, passport, money, ferry ticket, credit cards, biro, reading and sun glasses, phone, plastic bags and dry sacks, two bungees, sheet of places passed through or nearby, wipes.
  • I used almost everything I took. The unused items were: the multitool, cable ties, lights (save for one small rear light that I used on the final run in to Les Carroz when it got a little bit darker as the storm clouds gathered – but delivered nothing), electrical tape, medicines (paracetamol and ibuprofen), tyre levers and spare plastic bags. All of them were pretty trivial extras – the only remotely significant items as far as weight went were the multitool and the lights and I think those were essential, even if I was lucky enough not to have needed them.
  • A slightly bigger frame bag would have been useful but for cheap and cheerful versions, the bags did really well.
  • Could I have done it in the hoped-for 3 days? Possibly, possibly not. Everything would have had to go in my favour to do that: no mechanicals, good weather, friendly winds, a route on roads and good paths, no getting lost, no falling off, perhaps an earlier start each day.
  • I’ve promised Mrs O, no big solo challenges next year, but our younger son is looking at April’s Rotterdam Marathon and it might be fun to run that with him …


Ride to the alps: day 4 (of three) ‘Climb every mountain’ (well, actually only the ones on the route)


Well above Neuville-sur-Ain – a good way to warm up the legs first thing

In keeping with previous mornings I woke with a variety of minor aches (which eased very quickly) and an extremely sore backside (which didn’t). I left Neuville-sur-Ain at about 8.30 after a very good breakfast, in kit that had dried better overnight than previously.

Having already cycled for about 730km (453miles) out of an expected 820km (510 miles), I reckoned that I still had about 135km (84 miles) to go.

Almost immediately I was climbing into the Jura mountains, heading towards Ceignes. It was a very decent climb – there is a clue that you are on a reasonable climb when you pass a bar/restaurant called ‘Le Panoramique’ well before you reach the summit.

The climb was around 380m (1250 feet) but had a fairly gentle gradient. That was a good thing as my fall at the end of the second day had bent the rear mech hanger. For a day I’d been able to move the chain into the gap between the largest cog and the wheel, had suffered a rather ‘clackety’ drive train and couldn’t use the lowest gear as the bent hanger meant that the lower jockey wheel cage brushed the spokes.

I believe that mech hangers are designed to snap in the event of a big impact, to protect the frame. I’d decided that I wouldn’t need any very low gears for the rest of the journey and that I preferred it as it was, compared to being completely snapped – so I simply carried on.

Happily most of the roads followed the valleys or went over the shoulders of the hills. An early highlight was the lake at Nantua which I’ve often looked down on from the elevated roadway but had never visited before. It’s now on the list for a visit in the future.


The lake at Nantua

All was going really well until I saw a rock late, missed it with the front wheel, but clipped it with the rear – which immediately decided that it no longer wanted to hold any air.

I’d brought one spare tube and a repair kit so I removed the tyre with my bare hands to avoid damaging the tube further – but needn’t have bothered as I discovered a long slit in it from the rock. The need for the new tube wasn’t a great disaster but of more concern was the gash in the tyre itself. Not surprisingly, I’d not brought a spare tyre so I was left with no choice but a temporary bodge.



I had some small wipes in individual ‘metallized’ sachets so I took one of those (keeping the wipe for my hands afterwards … waste not, want not) and put it under the gash, between the inner tube and the tyre. I left the tube a little under-inflated and rode on rather apprehensively, particularly on the descents.

The next few villages had no bike shops but as the miles clicked by I got a bit more confident in my bodge, crossed the Rhone and rolled into Switzerland – through an entirely unmanned border post. Welcome to the Schengen area!


What would Pres. Trump say?

Switzerland looks like a really bike-friendly country with lots of very good paths alongside the roads and with bike lanes apparently well respected by motorists in Geneva itself. I got through Geneva (eventually) and headed out on the home run – only to be held up by the front wheel coming out in sympathy with the rear and picking up a puncture.

I repaired that and pressed on, only to pick up another in the rear wheel (unrelated to the first and the gash in the tyre) within another 5 miles. By the time I patched that, I was really annoyed and my hands had absolutely no strength left (having fixed all three without using tyre levers).

The other enduring disadvantage from the punctures was the square wheel syndrome of having patched inner tubes. I now remember why I just replace them once they are punctured.

That was probably the low point of the whole trip but it was compounded by being met with another ‘Route barrée’ somewhere between Geneva and Annemasse. It included ‘no cycling’ and ‘no pedestrians’ signs, just to show they really meant it.

I probably spent the next 15 miles (24km) off course, the other side of the River Arve, guessing it was a suitable alternative route – but it worked.

It was very hot and almost everything was shut (it was Bastille Day so I guess it was something of a national holiday) but I eventually found a supermarket in Bonneville that was open and gratefully bought some mini croissants, a can of coke and some water. I stopped again at a McDonald’s soon after for more coke and an ice cream – the only stop at the golden arches for the whole trip – but very gratefully received.

By now I was on roads that I’ve cycled before when getting to or from nearby climbs and I was getting confident of finishing. I’m sure I didn’t take the shortest way but soon I was on the route de Châtillon, through St Sigismond, Araches and into Les Carroz. I probably did my all-time slowest ascent for that final climb to the apartment.

I arrived just before 8 pm – under 84 hours since I set out from Caen. I had clocked up almost exactly 880km (c.550miles) and over 5600m of ascent (18372 feet). So, probably 40+ miles (64km) more than I’d expected – I guess that was due to detours, getting lost and otherwise going off course to find hotels.

Of the 135km I assumed I had to do on the last day, I did at least another 150km and climbed over 1800m (93 miles and 5900 feet) – presumably due to yet more detours.

Three of the others had already arrived and there was a cold beer (or three) waiting for me … and beer has rarely tasted as good. Sadly, we were one short on the trip as David’s wife had fractured her wrist and ankle playing tennis … and Mrs O says cycling is dangerous!

After a fine supper, I slept well and woke with no ill effects other than a very sore backside. I love my carbon saddle but it has its comfort limit, and 84 hours is well beyond it.

The following day (Sunday) I went out with the others on the bikes but on Monday I just rode down into the valley and back to get new inner tubes (a tube is charmingly called ‘chambre à air’ in French) and a new tyre as the original was bulging by now after more than 100 miles on the temporary repair.

The 5 of us rode together on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday. I took another easy day on the Friday but still did the Joux Plane (which nearly broke Armstrong in one tour and is described in my “Tour climbs” book as ‘hard as nails’).

Over the week we also did the Cols de Romme and Colombière, the Cote des Amerands, Bettex, Mont Saxonnex and the Sommet d’Andey – possibly the hardest road I’ve ever ridden. Watching a stage of Le Tour on the 17th at Le Reposoire, half way up Colombière was, as always, a great experience.

Altogether, the week out in the alps accounted for a further 340km and 7400m of climbing (210 miles, 24,300 feet) – my legs were still severely fatigued but it’s got to be done.

Saturday saw us return to the UK – with delays at the Channel Tunnel, just to make it a perfect trip.

I’ll try to reflect on the whole experience in a few days but the sense of relief and achievement is huge.

Ride to the alps: day 3. ‘Lost in France’ (without Bonnie Tyler)


Not all the paths were bad – sadly the great ones like this didn’t last long

In the morning the French couple in the next room apologised for the noise during the night. I though this might be too much information but they explained that the husband had walked into a wardrobe in the dark. I hadn’t heard a thing.

The usual morning aches disappeared once I got moving and my damp clothes dried on me fairly quickly as I left at about 7.20, breakfastless.

I quickly joined the Canal latéral à la Loire and headed south, still about 80 miles from Macon. I struck off to the east, crossed the Loire at Le Fourneau and resumed the journey south before recrossing the river at Le Perron and rejoining the canal, heading east again.

The turns to the east were a pain as they brought headwinds – not too strong but a pain nevertheless.

I continued with the cycle path problems for much of the day and took to trying to zoom out the Garmin to see if any road I might already be on was a viable alternative to some random path it was trying to direct me to.

I left the canal as it turned north just after Les Eaux Mortes (literally ‘the dead waters’ but more charmingly translated as ‘the backwaters’) but as soon as I got to the road I had (yet) another ‘off course’ warning. I retraced my steps a few times before I realised that the track I was being directed onto (below):

  • was not a track
  • was blocked after a few yards
  • led only to a field.

Another suitable cycle track!

It appeared that the only alternative was the N79 – a major and busy dual carriageway. That was bad enough but there were huge road works going on and one half of the road was shut leaving a contra-flow on the remaining two lanes. I wasn’t sure if I could use that road – but that was academic as there was no way I was going to even try.

I asked a friendly local and was waved vaguely in a direction and told to look for Charolles – which was lucky as it was on the list of nearly 100 places that I would be going through (or near) that I had prepared and had taken with me.

I set off not knowing where I really was or exactly where I was going. Being lost is not great – but I can think of worse places to be lost.

It was proper rural France and, running low on water I stopped at a random property in the middle of nowhere to ask for a refill of a bidon, which was provided by a charming, and very elderly, lady (one of three just sitting in the shade and being very French).

I stumbled on a village called Champlecy that seemed to have just a church and a restaurant and had a lovely meal in the most unpromising circumstances.

Eventually I found Charolles and was back on route, passing through Macon (which had taken a very long time too arrive, with all the detours) and then Bourg-en-Bresse.

I had forgotten to recharge my Garmin over lunch so shortly after Bourg I got the low battery warning. I plugged it into my mobile charger but it then wouldn’t fit in its mount so I put it in the top tube bag in place of my phone. It was not then in direct eye-line and as I slogged along the N1075 out of Bourg towards Pont-d’Ain I eventually noticed that I had the inevitable ‘off course’ warning.

I had no idea how long I’d been off course – and hadn’t seen any likely alternative routes – so I was reluctant to retrace my steps. I found a very friendly French family with a map who confirmed that I was still heading towards Pont-d’Ain. That wasn’t on my list of places en route but fortunately Neuville-sur-Ain was, and it was just 3 miles from Pont-d’Ain.

I must have missed yet another phantom or impassible track somewhere (which would have been a short cut if it existed) but I decided to ignore it and pressed on.

At this point I realised (or, more accurately, finally accepted) that I wasn’t going to do the trip in 3 days. No heroics by trying to ride through the night, I decided to book into a hotel.

I found the only hotel in Pont-d’Ain – it was full. They told me that nearest hotel was (I might have guessed) in Neuville-sur-Ain so I was clearly destined to go there. I headed off fully expecting to be sleeping rough that night – but they had a room and I checked in at about 8.30pm.

It was a real treat, set by a pretty bridge, comfortable and with friendly staff and a garage for the bike. I really needed to soak in a bath but the shower was good and I had a fine meal.

I was on the second floor and was aching so much that I struggled to get up the stairs after supper but slept well after a very hard and wearing 217km (135 miles) with 1370m (4500 feet) of climbing.

Ride to the alps: day 2. ‘Loire to the left of me, sunflowers to the right, here I am stuck in the middle with(out) you’


Sunflowers by the Loire

The cycling kit I’d washed the previous night was still damp in the morning but I used the hotel hairdryer to make it at least wearable – and it dried fairly quickly once I got moving. I had two pairs of shorts but only one jersey, one pair of gloves and one pair of cycling socks. The non cycling clothing had only been worn for a couple of hours so that was OK for the next evening (however crumpled it might be by then).

I was continually refining my packing. I had the big sausage shaped bag pointing out backwards from the saddle (which had a tendency to wobble and needed regular re-tightening), a frame bag (I should have got a bigger one) and a top tube bag. The saddlebag also tended to droop – I solved this by strapping my trainers on the outside of it with a bungee cord and they acted rather like ‘splints’ and kept it fairly rigid.

I’m sure there was a more logical way of distribution of my meagre luggage (something like 5kg – 11 lbs – of it) but beyond making sure my passport and wallet were accessible and safe and the bike lock, spares and tools could be reached quickly, I had no real clue what I was doing.

As it was, I was hardly ever parted from the bike during the day (only once was it out of sight for more than a moment) and I used the lock only three times (twice over night) during the whole trip.

I’d woken feeling really stiff, although that eased as I got moving. Leaving the hotel after breakfast at about 7.30 I feared a rush hour into Orleans – but it didn’t materialise and I rolled into the city without drama. Getting through it was another matter as there were road changes and closures. I guessed my way through the city, crossing the Loire for the first time and headed for Sully-sur-Loire, nearly 30 miles (48km) away, where I joined the Loire again.

Initially the bike path along the river was magnificent – smooth tarmac and great views with the river on one side and fields of sunflowers on the other (all the better as the song is by Stealer’s Wheel). I soon had confidence that the ride would be fairly easy and that doing it in 3 days was well within my grasp.

Sadly that didn’t last.

I’d used ‘Ride with GPS’ for my route but I soon realised that opting for ‘cycling’ as the routing option is taken to mean:

‘I love cycle paths so much that I really want to struggle along virtually impassible tracks in preference to riding along smooth and traffic-free roads that are just 50 metres away and heading in the same direction.’

I spent hours being directed off perfectly good roads onto terrible or sometimes non-existent tracks. I assume that they think that anyone opting for a cycle route is riding a hybrid (at least) or preferably a mountain bike. I rode on grass verges, farm tracks (and the occasional decent path) for the whole day. I wasted time and energy and found it all really frustrating. Credit to the bike for holding up to the abuse it suffered, and to the tyres for not puncturing.

At one point I was told by a lock keeper that the path was impassible between there and the next lock. I didn’t have the heart to tell him that I’d just cycled along exactly the same sort of path for several miles – and had come to exactly the same conclusion.


Another ‘track’ I was directed to. OK for a hybrid, perhaps, but not for a road bike. Let’s be grateful for small mercies – it least it had been mown

I got to the point of zooming out the Garmin and trying to guess if a nearby road was a sensible alternative to the path I was being directed onto. The big problem was that, while some tracks were fine, there was no predicting what the next section of track would be like.


By no means the worst track I cycled on

On the plus side, one of the highlights of the whole trip was sitting in the sun at a cafe on the bank of the Loire canal, drinking fruit juice and eating a bag of Haribo and a white chocolate Magnum ice cream. Simple but great pleasures!

I crossed the river to find a quick lunch of a cheese and ham baguette, with more coke (I rarely drink the stuff at home but drank two or three a day during the trip) and a refill of the bidon. It was very hot and shade was at a premium – I remembered to use the sun cream I’d taken but still got the best tan lines ever on my arms and legs.

The feeling of freedom from being on the road with nobody but myself to please or be responsible for was terrific. Life becomes very simple – eat, sleep, ride, repeat.

The struggles on bad tracks meant that I had worked disproportionately hard in clocking up about 240km (150miles) during the day. At least it was fairly flat with about 700m (2300 feet) of climbing.

I found a place that was advertising rooms in Gannay-sur-Loire – a small village which was otherwise entirely shut – and went for that. After 500km (310miles) without mishap I turned into the driveway for the last 20 metres and immediately hit deep gravel and fell off.

Of course, my immediate reactions were, in order:

  • swear
  • embarrassment – did anyone see me looking so stupid?
  • pain, with grazes to my shoulder, elbow and knee and a bang to my right hip.

The bed and breakfast rooms were all taken but I was offered a bed in a room with four bunks, in an out building. I was the room’s only occupant, other than a plague of flying ants that, happily, seemed to go home for the night. I got the room, bed linen, a shower (I could have really done with a soak in a bath), a can of coke and a bottle of fruit juice with change from 20 Euros (about $23).

The French couple in the next room were charming and the owner was great too. He explained that he would frequently leave his car and his house unlocked but still perfectly safe – I put a chain on the bike in the cycle rack but it came to no harm. No supper to be found and I’d had nothing but two oat bars since lunch so I went to bed fairly early, listening for the rustle of flying ants, but slept like a log.


Ride to the alps: day 1. ‘So it begins’


There were times that I did feel a bit of a silly gouffern for taking this on. Even a small cycling reference to the left with FDJ, the French national lottery – and pro-team sponsor


I expect King Théoden had my cycle trip to the alps in mind when he said this in The Lord of the Chainrings but perhaps the massed army of orcs were distracting him at the time.

Leaving the port at Caen at 8am on July 11th, I rode along a great cycle track by the side of the Canal de Caen a la Mer. It joined the road at Pegasus Bridge (the original having been made famous in the film ‘The Longest Day’) with the nearby cafe which was the first house liberated by the allies on 6 June 1944.

It was cool but I was wearing the arm and leg warmers I’d put on overnight because the ferry was pretty cold. The track surface was lovely and I was travelling at a good pace. In almost no time at all I had covered ….. 5 miles.

I made a mental note to keep the Garmin on the map screen to avoid driving myself mad by checking speed and distance too often.

My route to Le Mele-sur-Sarthe was a bit lumpier than I might have liked – but was along good small roads and the miles continued to fly past. It was tried and tested as I’d been given the route by friends who have cycled there a few times as part of the twinning of Le Mele with my nearest town, Faringdon.

Just as I reached Le Mele at about 70 miles (112km) I was directed on to a cycle path, part of the widespread French ‘voie vertes’ (green way) cycle routes. It was shaded by trees, had a pretty decent, but not entirely flat, hard base and a surface of fine grit. It was OK but would have been better for a hybrid than my rather race-oriented carbon bike with 25mm tyres. It had four big disadvantages:

  • first, the noise from the grit covering was a constant assault on the ears,
  • secondly, the track kept crossing very small roads which always had priority so involved a lot of slowing and accelerating,
  • thirdly, areas of deep grit were dangerous and the bike often twitched worryingly and
  • fourth, it took me away from all the towns and villages.

It went on for the best part of 30 miles (48km) and I was running short of water and was ready for lunch for most of that.


Cycle path from Le Mele. Nice and traffic-free but certainly not ideal for an out and out road bike

Eventually I came to the end of the track and found a small village called Le Musset. There was a lovely little cafe/restaurant which produced a fine assiette (plate of cold meats and salad). I recharged my phone and Garmin from the ‘Intelligent Pelican’ mobile charger – noting that I’d actually covered a non-stop 101 miles with 3412 feet of climbing (163km with 1040m) in under 7 hours.

I pushed on after lunch, through Fraze and Chateaudun, finding myself on the rather busier-than-wanted D955 early in the evening, heading towards Orleans. I got to a town called Ormes having not spotted a hotel for many miles but I got directions to a place called Saran a couple of miles away where I found a perfectly adequate hotel that, I guess, was mostly aimed at travelling businessmen and others en route to somewhere else!

The key positives were that it had a room, a bath and a restaurant. Kindly, they put my bike in their secure conference room.

It was just after 8pm and I’d been travelling for a bit over 12 hours elapsed time. I’d covered 263km (163miles) and climbed over 6800 feet (about 2100m). It hadn’t been too hot and the winds were light, but not particularly helpful. It was probably 10 miles short of where I’d have liked to have been, but a decent enough effort given the amount of the climbing and the quality of the bike path.

I washed out my kit and prayed that it would dry in the morning (no heated towel rail).

I was tired and my backside had suffered but I ate and got a reasonably early night, not even staying up to watch England being knocked out of the World Cup, in extra time, by Croatia.



How to cycle to the alps (I hope): No8, actually make a start


Looking nervous at Portsmouth before boarding the ferry – shorts over the bib shorts to protect the sensibilities of others

People will tell you that setting off on a challenge or adventure is a 50-50 mix of excitement and apprehension. Lucky them. For me it was at least 80-20 in favour of apprehension.

So it was that on the evening of my 63rd birthday Mrs O dropped me off at Portsmouth docks to catch the overnight ferry to Caen on the north coast of France.

We’d been in Bournemouth for a couple of days – with a delightful birthday lunch at The Jetty overlooking Christchurch bay but now I was on my own, heading for France.

The aim was to ride the 510 miles (800+km) out to the alps to meet up with friends in Les Carroz d’Araches in the Haute Savoie, for a week riding in the mountains (and a day watching stage 10 of Le Tour).

After years of skiing out there I started to cycle as a hobby and I began to wonder if I’d ever be able to ride up to Les Carroz from the valley (about 600m – 1968 ft – of climbing). I first did that (to my delight and surprise – and with much sweating and stress) in 2010. In more recent years I’d begun to wonder if I’d ever be able to ride out there. This was going to be that attempt. Strangely, I’d not been able to convince any of the 5 others I go out with to come with me.

I am a keen cyclist, but my enthusiasm is not matched by my ability and I’d not done any long journey by bike before. In 10 weeks of training I’d ridden over 2000 miles (admittedly, too much of it on the turbo trainer) or nearly 3300 km. Sadly, I’d flunked the long rides which I should have built in (my longest was 76 miles – 123km).

To add to the difficulty, I’d decided to try to do the trip in 3 days. That was really just a function of wanting to be in the UK for (most of) my birthday and the fact that the first of my friends were planning to get to the apartment in 3 days time. I’d given them a set of keys in case I wasn’t there – but I was hoping that was just belt and braces on my part.

The daily distance coincided roughly with the 175 miles (282km) I’d done when everesting in 2017 – but that had been a single day ride (admittedly with 8912 m of climbing) so I wasn’t sure how relevant that was going to be. See that story here everesting

Mrs O was not at all keen on me rough camping. I’d not booked any accommodation but I had agreed to look for a hotel each night as I didn’t really know how far I could get each day. Booking something 170 miles in advance might just mean I was 50 miles short of a welcoming bed by the time I could go no further. Conversely, in the event (admittedly a very long, long shot) that I was making better than expected progress, I’d have hated to get to a hotel early with more miles left in my legs.

I was travelling with just an emergency blanket in a feeble attempt to cover the lack of hotel – at least the weather forecast was for very warm and dry weather.

I deposited the bike in a little side room on the car deck, detached the three bike bags and found my seat in one of the lounges. The ferry left at about 10.45pm. I probably hadn’t needed to book the seat as I managed to get some sleep lying along three of them. It was a bit cold, rather uncomfortable, noisy with the sound of snoring and disturbed with the lounge door being opened regularly – perfect preparation for the ride!

We docked just after 7am on 11th July. Waiting to disembark I got talking to a couple of other cyclists who were planning to cycle to Roubaix (rough camping on the way) to watch the Tour – I hope they made it in time and safely.

I had a couple of oat bars for breakfast, filled the single water bottle that I was carrying and rolled off the ferry and out through customs at 8am – and into the Normandy countryside.

How to cycle to the alps (I hope): No7, cross your fingers and hope for the best


Letting the loaded bike see the English Channel – it’s not been on a ferry before.

After 9 weeks of training in which I’ve ridden over 2000 miles or nearly 3300 km (admittedly, too much of it on the turbo trainer), I’m into the bit of training that I’m most comfortable with – the taper.

In fact it’s a bit more of a grind to a halt – the only recent exercise was a run in London on Friday morning (8km – 5 miles) as Mrs O and our younger son went to watch the tennis at Wimbledon.

It’s now possible to check weather reports for the ride – but I’m not sure they are very helpful yet. I can find several, but some of them show wind directions differing by 180° for the same place, at the same time, on the same day. On balance, they still show the winds as crosswinds at worst for most of the ride and temperatures in the mid to high 20s℃ (around 77-83℉).

Perhaps the biggest problem coming from the challenging (unrealistic?) schedule of 510 miles in 3 days is that I’ve not booked any accommodation. I don’t really know how far I can get each day so booking something 170 miles in advance might just mean I’m 50 miles short of a welcoming bed by the time I can go no further.

Mrs O is not at all keen on me rough camping. I have agreed to look for a hotel each night but I am left with the dilemma of whether I should be taking a tent or a bivvy or sleeping bag on the off chance that I might need one.

It would be easier to take longer and book hotels with more confidence that I will be there, or alternatively decide that I won’t use hotels and take appropriate kit. I’m a bit stuck between the two options and in the end I’m planning to be travelling with just an emergency blanket to cover a lack of hotel.

Two unhappy events:

  • a friend (the chap I rode L’Eroica and Ventoux with in 2015) has just broken his hip in a fall on the first day of an organised trip to the pyrenees; and
  • our older son has a cracked sternum, rib and a broken finger from a car crash in France last weekend (as a rear seat passenger) – I got to see him on Friday and he’s recovering well but is sore from the seat belt pressure (thank goodness he was wearing one).

For Mrs O they are big concerns – if you believe bad news comes in threes …

Just to put a shine on it, a friend’s son has been cycling in France this week and has been drenched with torrential rain and hailstones.

So, I guess it’s now too late to do any more significant or helpful training so I’m putting my efforts into preparation of kit, and prayer.

The practice packing is looking OK and I’ve now tried riding the bike fully loaded. I’m getting a bit ‘weight weenie’ and am having to control that and accept that I have to take stuff with me. At the moment, the additional weight is just around 5kg (11 pounds) including tools, spares, clothes and necessary electronics. It is certainly noticeable, but by no means impossible.

On the plus side, my body weight is well under control at under 65kg (143 pounds). That helps as I am not overloading the bike and I can go with it despite it’s (relatively) race orientated geometry – I just hope it’s comfortable enough.

Unfortunately, it’s a small plus overall as it means that I don’t have too much by way of reserves – and it is going to be fairly flat for a couple of days so weight won’t be too much of an immediate issue anyway.

With the prospect of more tapering to come, this may be it until after I try the ride. One thing that falls by the wayside for weight saving is the laptop – and blogging goes with it!


How to cycle to the alps (I hope): No6, get back to some training


A parched lawn – why doesn’t clover suffer from the heat as much as the grass does?

It’s got hot here in the UK – this week has been close to 30℃ – mid 80s℉. After months of complaining about the cold I wonder what is a reasonable period to wait before I start complaining about the heat.

To finish off a couple of weeks for training, on Friday it was up to London with a Saturday morning run and supper with friends in the evening, so it didn’t get any better.

On Monday a group of us (4 retirees and one who doesn’t work on Mondays) got out for a really good and sociable ride. It was 87km with 973m of climbing @25.1kph (54miles and 3192 feet @15.6mph).

It was a good example of yet another benefit of riding with others – it was a route I’d not have thought of … there is a danger of getting into a rut and just riding the same routes if you only ride by yourself.

I always reckon that if the climbing metres are expressed as a % of the distance in metres, anything around 1% is a hilly ride, anything around 2% is a seriously hilly ride and anything around 3% is mountainous. So, it was hilly by my ratings (my everest being over 3% and the Cinglé du Mont-Ventoux being about 3.5%).

Tuesday morning I ran with Mrs O and then I spent the day in London. After a run and nearly 6 hours of driving I did not feel like getting on the bike in the evening but managed to persuade myself to do 50km on the turbo in 1hour 03mins @ 47.3kph (31 miles @29.4mph).

Despite starting at 8pm is was very hot. I’m not sure if this is a personal best but my first drip of sweat appeared within 4 minutes.

Back on the turbo again on Friday to complete the 3 day block after a day waiting in for a couple of deliveries and having a fence erected and a hedge trimmed. A hard and hot 50km in 1hr 05 minutes @46kph.

Friday was back to the turbo (65km in 1h 22m @47.5kph – 40.4miles @29.5mph) and Saturday was very sociable, leading the club blue ride. It was a good attendance for the blue ride – 13 bikes, and a fairly leisurely 54km (33.5miles).

I did it on the Giant having found the Rose with a flat in the shed – at least it had the decency to go down after I finished Monday’s ride – but it confirmed that the Rose is the one to take to the alps.

I took the opportunity to do my 9th 3 day training block by getting on the turbo Sunday evening too – yet another hot and sweaty session for 42.9km (26.6m) in an hour.

It was horrible: one of the hardest sessions I have done for a long time …. much too soon after Sunday supper and a couple of glasses of wine. If I needed reminding, it’s got to be easy on the big heavy meals and alcohol during the day when I’m cycling.

All in all, a much better week for distance with 6 rides, a run and some serious sweating for England.


3 day training block Distance Week Distance
1 150km (93m) 1 271km (168m)
2 246km (153m) 2 407km (252m)
3 160km (100m) 3 319km (198m)
4 249km (155m) 4 Run 21+ m swim & gym
5 205.1km (127m) 5 205.1km (127m)
6 225km (140m) 6 280.5km (174m)
7 123.4km (76.7m) 7 55.5km (34.5m)
8 187km (116m) 8 123.4km (76.7m)
9 163km (101 m) 9 369km (229m)