Category Archives: challenges

Le Tour de France 2018




My stock ‘Grand Tour’ photo taken during the TdF 2016. I’ll try to take some more in 2018

The route of the 2018 Tour was announced today in Paris. It is pretty much as the rumours predicted – not entirely surprising as some stages are pre-empted by excited host cities or by decent investigative journalism, including by studying things like hotel booking patterns.

Starting a week later than normal due to the World Cup, the first four stages, in the Vendée department in the Pays de la Loire, had already been unveiled officially, including a team time trial (absent for two years) for stage 3. The other three stages look to be ones for the sprinters.

Then into Brittany and Normandy as the route makes its way, clockwise, to Amiens for the finish of stage 8. Stage 9 includes over 21 km (15 sections) of the famous cobbles on the way to Roubaix last visited in 2014, before a significant rest day transfer for stage 10, the first mountain stage in the alps. This is from Annecy to Le Grand Bornand and will be the Etape du Tour for 2018.

It’s a great area – the Etape I did in 2013 started and finished in Annecy but this year the tough 151km stage takes in the Col de Romme (for only the second time) and the top half of the Col de la Colombiere. I’ve ridden Colombiere a few times and really like it but I’ve only climbed Romme from the (much easier) South. They will be riding it from the North – and that’s about 9.3 km at 8.8%.

The next two stages stay in the alps, with stage 11 running from Albertville to La Rosière. I’ve skied in La Rosière – it was a very nice, small resort at the end of the valley road before you cross into Italy and arrive at La Thuile. In 1999 we were in La Rosière and adding a second week’s skiing in the Haute Savoie. My plan was to drive into Italy and go through the Mont Blanc tunnel back into France. The first day we skied along the road I had been planning to take into Italy, leading to a quick revision of the route. No bad thing as that was the week of the fire in the tunnel that tragically killed 35.

Stage 12 finishes in l’Alpe d’Huez. When I rode d’Huez, I found the town to be a bit of a disappointment but the whole experience was improved by carrying on above it to Lac Besson (with its decent restaurant) and then coming down via the Col de Sarenne (tantalizingly signposted as being at 1999m).

Sadly, no Mont Ventoux – I did the cinglé in 2015 and I think it’s a really special Mountain.

Stage 16 sees the tour’s arrival in the Pyrenees, before an individual time trial for the penultimate stage, down in the South West corner of the country.

Then the traditional finish takes place on Sunday 29th July in Paris.

Likely decisive stages?

Certainly the cobbles on stage 9 – especially if it’s wet and trecherous. Also cross winds can be really disruptive and cause splits in the peleton on the coastal stages.

Otherwise, as always, look out for the usual suspects – especially the mountain stages, where there will be 5 mountain finishes. Also watch out for the gravel section at the top of the Plateau des Glières on stage 10 – I rode it in 2016 (we have a very fine Routemeister for our trips to the alps) but was very pleased I wasn’t trying to race along it. The climb to the plateau itself is also pretty tough from the east side.

The individual time trial looks to be quite hilly so might play into Chris Froome’s hands – even though he and Tom Dumoulin would, no doubt, have wanted two ITTs. In 2016 I watched Froome win the individual time trial (Sallanches to Megève) from the roadside at Combloux – that was up a hill and he was completely dominant.

Can Chris Froome win it? Certainly he can but it won’t be easy as Dumoulin, Porte, Quintana, Landa, López, Aru, Bardet, Urán and Nibali must all fancy their chances of a podium at least. It will be interesting to see what Landa can do when racing for himself and Quintana should put up a better showing assuming he doesn’t try to do the Giro as well, like he did this year.

However, what none of the other likely contenders have is the strength of Team Sky around them and that could, as in recent years, be decisive – even with the team size being reduced from 9 to 8 for 2018. Personally I hope it is as I’d love to see an English speaker joining the 5 time winners’ club (and staying there!).

Great congratulations to Chris Froome on winning the Velo d’Or – I for one hope he adds Le Tour of 2018 to it.


A ride, a seat post and Le Tour


I got out for the club red ride on Saturday – and thoroughly enjoyed it. The weather was really (unseasonably) decent and we were on some roads we rarely visit, including a long slog out of Eastbury that got the heart pumping. I decided to ride in the front group – if I could – and ended up finishing with two particularly strong riders to make up a front three. My Garmin mis-fired but judging by the records of fellow riders I did about 74km at an average of 28.9kph.

I’m still on the Rose but am completing the upgrades on the old Giant. It now has a new seat post (with faux aero design) and my spare carbon saddle – by good fortune its all open weave carbon fibre so I think it looks pretty good. I’ve managed to buy a right hand shifter on Ebay so once that arrives it should be good to go. I may decide to ride that for the winter to give it a good shake-down before riding it out to the alps in the summer (I hope) but might revert to the Rose (with its winter wheels) for special occasions.

The Giant weighs in at about 8.3kg compared to the Rose (in fighting mode) at about a kilo less (until the winter wheels are added) – looks like I’ll have to keep some control over my weight to make life as easy as possible. The exercise needs to step up a bit!

With thoughts turning to the summer, the unveiling of the route of the 2018 Tour de France is tomorrow. Next year the fun starts a week later because of the World Cup. Rather long odds on an English double, I fear.

The first few stages, as always, are already revealed but my favourite rumour site is:–the-rumours-about-the-race-route-and-the-stage-cities-.html

– it’s usually pretty accurate. After the start in the Vendée department in the Pays de la Loire, it points to Brittany for the end of the opening week, but the expectation is that it then heads east (a clockwise year) to the cobbles of Roubaix before the Alps (possibly including Alpe d’Huez), and then the Pyrenees.

For me, the 10th stage looks to be the most interesting as it comes closest to the apartment in Les Carroz. We’ve cycled the 40km to Le Grand Bornand (the 10th stage finish) on previous visits to the area but it’s hard to guess exactly where the route might go as the shortest distance between the stage start and finish is only about 30km – but the stage is rumoured to be 151km.

The rumour is that it goes up to the Plateau des Glières. It’s the site of an important battle between the French Resistance and the German army, in the second world war and it also has a fine national monument to the Resistance, constructed in 1973. We cycled it two years ago from the East side and it’s a bit of a beast that way with, I believe, 7km averaging 12%.

It might be too much to hope that it could take in the Col de la Colombière and the Col de Romme which are even closer. I’ve climbed Colombière several times but have only ridden Romme the easy way – from Le Reposoir (half way up Colombière). Riding it from  Cluses is a lot tougher (9.6km at 8.4% average – or 9.3km at 8.8% depending where you read it) and I’m surprised it’s only been used once in the tour, in 2009.

Although we don’t organise our annual trip only by reference to Le Tour, we do try to take in a stage or two if it comes close and the dates fit people’s availability, so the third week of July is pencilled in – can’t wait.


What do cyclists do in the winter?


New and old – the Rose and the Giant

There are definite signs of the approach of winter in Oxfordshire. The copper beech trees are starting to turn  and the horse chestnut is covering one of the paved areas in the garden with leaves.

That is the end of “Out of Town’ with Jack Hargreaves (sadly, the fact I can remember that dates me).

While appreciating that hardier cyclists just keep cycling throughout the year, and richer cyclists simply head south, my thoughts now turn to the end of the regular cycling season in an effort to remember what normal people do with their time.

Although normality does intrude occasionally, I prefer to focus on four key things at this time of year: thinking back on the cycling year just gone, planning next year’s cycling, tinkering with bikes and working out how to stay reasonably fit so that getting back into the swing of it in the Spring isn’t too awful (important as the White horse Challenge is in April).

The cycling year just gone: 2017 has been a pretty good one – I missed my 5 hour target for the 90 mile White horse Challenge by 5 minutes, but set a PB, and rode strongly in the sportive on 1 October, even if we did take the wrong route. Better was coming home first in the club’s 70 mile sportive (even though it’s not a race) but best of all was completing my ‘everest’ in July. Considering that I so very nearly talked myself out of the attempt that morning, and went into it sure it would fail, I’m delighted to have done it.

Planning for 2018: The White Horse Challenge remains unfinished business – so I will have to do that again, still trying to beat the 5 hours. The week’s cycling in the alps is (almost) a given, but the big difference this year is the aim of cycling out there, unsupported. It will probably be about 750 miles and I’d quite like to do it alone but one of the friends I ride with might be able to come with me – and I’d certainly not try to stop him.

One other thought I’m toying with is that doing the bicinglette (Ventoux 6 times in a day, twice by each of the routes) and then adding on one more ascent from Sault would gain access to two fairly exclusive clubs – the bicinglette has currently been achieved by only 217 people and the ‘high rouleurs’ society (for 10,000 meters of climbing) currently has only 300 members). Sounds crazy but less than 1100 metres of climbing more that the everesting. The big problem with the bicinglette is that it can only be done on Ventoux!

Tinkering with bikes: If I cycle out to the alps, I’d probably take my old 2006 Giant TCR2 and leave it out there – that would help solve the potential issue of getting it back to the UK and would mean I’ll always have a bike there in case we decide to fly out in the future. I’ve found some pedals and I’m trying to pick up a replacement right hand brifter, but the main job has been solving the issue of the stuck seat post. It has been wedged in very firmly for a few years and has defied everything, including a can of WD40 and putting the post in a vice and using the leverage of the whole frame to try to twist it, without success.

In the end, on Monday, I decided to cut it out as it was not in perfectly straight and was not at quite the right height. I cut off the post (metal, strangely, considering that it’s a composite frame) and with a hand held hacksaw blade cut the down length of the post from the inside. It was a hell of a job which involved much bleeding and swearing but eventually I did it, without cutting much of a groove in the inside of the frame itself. I did my cut at the back of the post so it has strengthening from the rear stay assembly and from the seat post clamp itself – I’ll keep a watchful eye on it to make sure it’s still safe. I’ve ordered a carbon replacement post so I might have taken some weight off the bike, as a by-product.


Many miles on it like this and you’d appreciate standing on the pedals


Better out than in

An odd thing that has occurred to me is that when I bought the Giant I was terrified of hills and looked for a bike with a triple. With its 28 on the back, its bottom gear is actually a tiny bit higher than my Rose with its compact and a 32 on the back! How times change.

Then there are my 20 or so other bikes to have a look at …

Staying fit: as I get older, I tend to feel the cold more so it’s back to the turbo when it’s not possible to get out in sensible weather. Beyond that, I’ll keep running with Mrs Omil twice a week and will start the squats, lunges, planks and sit ups to keep the legs moving and the core strong.

It’s not yet too cold – with luck plenty more cycling on the roads to come yet.

Four fine days in Berlin – and only other people’s bikes in view


I like the aero aspects but guess that the weight is an issue. High quality training though, with passengers.

After Sunday’s sportive there was no resting on laurels (indeed there were really very few laurels on which to rest) because we were off to Berlin on Monday, leaving the house at 2.30am for a 6am flight (I know, but it seemed like a good idea at the time).

We were trying Airbnb for the first time and really struck lucky. The apartment was surprisingly large and was warm and comfortable and pretty well equipped. It was in the Mitte district which meant we were able to walk everywhere we wanted to go.

We did the usual stuff including the Brandenburg Gate, Checkpoint Charlie, the Reichstag, the Museum area, the Holocaust memorial, Potsdamer Platz and Alexanderplatz, with the Fernsehturm tower. We also stumbled across the Gedenkstätte Berliner Mauer (a memorial to the wall) which was just a few hundred meters from where we were staying – and which we might have missed had I not run by it on Wednesday morning.

It was a great trip – despite the rain we loved the city which felt surprisingly ‘British’ (though I’m not sure if that’s an entirely good thing). We were there, by chance, for Unification Day so also got the benefit of some free street party-type entertainment.

More surprisingly, it is a great cycling city. Bikes were everywhere, including rickshaw-type bikes and a Lidl bike (which I guess is like the Boris Bike in London). It all seemed well suited for riding, the traffic was much lighter than we would have expected, the roads are wide and the whole place seems to be remarkably flat. My only reservations would have been the weather and the tram tracks.

The last time I fell off a bike was 3 years ago when I got the front wheel caught in the gap between two slabs of a concrete road surface – and the tram tracks looked a bit like that. I didn’t see anyone suffer the problem, perhaps the tracks are wider and shallower (or the riders more skilful)?

Strangely I didn’t see a single Canyon, Rose, Focus or Cube bike – the main German brands I’m familiar with. The bikes were mostly old racers (usually down-tube shifters and a few fixies) or city bikes – perhaps the more exotic ones are kept for the weekends.


Commuting by bike seemed very normal. I guess the owner of this one had popped in for a beer on the way home from work. The shaky phone photo does not suggest I had just done the same.

A lot of effort for small reward


Looking more like an off road ride than an all on-road sportive

Sunday was my last Sportive of the year – the Cotswold Autumn Classic with a distance of 164 km and 2005 metres of climbing (102 miles and 6580 feet) … but it didn’t quite work out like that.

I’d not ridden for a week before the Sportive – I decided to pretend this laziness was ‘tapering’ but I was in slightly apprehensive mode meeting up with the other 4 from the club who were riding. Three of us were planning to do the longer route and the other two, the 102 km (64 mile) medium-distance.

We started about 8.15am and I was enjoying it immediately, even though it was a bit cool and there was rain in the air (which appeared a couple of times through the morning). For the first hour David, Alun and I were riding together, which made sense as we were all heading for the long route, but then David, who had been chatting with one of our other riders, fell behind on a long climb. Eventually we realized we’d lost him, but assumed that he’d hung back to accompany the others.

Alun and I carried on and decided to miss the first feed stop as we were both feeling good. We did a very comfortable 28kph average for the first 2 hours on some fairly lumpy terrain and when we got to the point where the medium and long route split we decided to carry on, as planned, to do the 102 miler (a bad idea).

Unfortunately, by the time we got 3 hours in Alun was starting to suffer a bit. He’s a very decent chap and a better rider than me, but he’d done the 40 mile club ride the previous day (chapeau, Alun) and either that was starting to count against him or he was getting his nutrition a little wrong (or both).

At the 90 km point I’d pulled ahead a bit but my Garmin hadn’t been giving me turn-by-turn directions and my cycling glasses were both covered in rain and steamed up so I was riding almost blind. Despite that, I had a definite feeling that I’d missed a turn somewhere. I rode back and met up with Alun who thought we were still on the right road, so we carried on.

The lack of route markers and the fact that we were on a fairly main road soon told us that we had indeed gone wrong. In fact, we had both missed a right hand turn to Longborough (home of an excellent 2 month opera season in the summer) – strange that either of us missed it, let alone both, separately, missing it.

We decided to continue and, soon, the proper route crossed ours near Broadway – I spotted the route markers to our left so we rejoined. What eventually became clear, however, was that the few miles that we’d missed contained a timed climb so, having flunked that, we would not be able to record a time for the long route. We’d also missed the second feed stop – I didn’t need it but it would have helped Alun, I’m sure.

With Alun not feeling great, we decided to see if we could head back to the start by a slightly shorter route so we struck out on our own and eventually rejoined the proper course (thanks to Alun’s eagle eyes) having shaved off another few miles. I was feeling really strong but we stuck together and I hope I had some small hand in helping him get to the finish in good shape.

At the end of the ride we had earned ourselves Bronze awards for the medium route. Of course, the organisers could do nothing else, but our relatively slow time for the 102 km (64 miles) route is not much of a surprise given that we had actually completed 145 km (90 miles) with an additional 750 m (nearly 2500 feet) of climbing compared to the medium route! At least I had a fairly decent time (8m 23s – top 40 out of about 350?) for the really tough Chedworth timed climb.

It is a genuinely hard, well organized sportive – hilly and on some small country roads that were wet, covered in leaves and muddy (some of my kit is in the machine for a second wash as I write). At the end we looked like we’d been doing an off-road ride and at various points I’d been unable to stand on the hills because that merely meant I was spinning the rear wheel.

So, it was a strange day of mixed emotions. I’m disappointed not to have completed the proper course but very satisfied that I was riding so strongly and happy that Alun and I completed the day together. David completed the (whole, proper) route with a silver award, so ‘chapeau’ David!

Nutrition on the bike is a strange thing. I had some cereal bars and a chocolate bar before we started but for the 90 miles of riding I then had less than one bidon of water, two salty peanut bars, one gel and a banana. I felt good and strong through to the end – I don’t understand how that can be as it’s way short of what I should need, based on all I’ve read about fuelling strategies.

Oxfordshire, Wiltshire and Berkshire hills – lovely, but not quite the alps


Dragon Hill – again

We got back home from the alps late on Thursday night. Despite too much cheese, bread, potatoes and wine, I managed to return weighing a little over 66 kg which is better than I’d feared.

I got out on the bike this morning despite still feeling a bit jaded – it’s not that I’m worried about a lack of training for next weekend’s sportive, of course.

It was breezy but I went gently, looking for some hills – typically that means heading for the Ridgeway.

First I went up Dragon Hill Road to the White Horse at Uffington – I make that the 177th ascent of it this year after using it as a key training climb in my everesting training. Then along the undulating Ridgeway road, turning off for a climb up Sincombe Hill and a descent into Lambourn (with a lot of race horses out on the gallops).

Climbing back out of Lambourn I rode through Baydon, Bourton, Shrivenham and back via Highworth and Coleshill (which is largely a National Trust village but was also the home of the late, lamented, Sir George Martin).


Coleshill … er … hill

… and Badbury Hill …


Looks OK but it kicks up in the trees with bits at 15% and 16%


Why do hills never look as steep in pictures as they feel when riding them?

Clocking up a few more metres of climbing in and around Faringdon I did a total of 73 km with 1008 m of ascending. It felt pretty tough and I rode it at only just over 24 kph – but somehow managed 36 Strava ‘achievements’. I have no idea how that happened.

I’ve always avoided any product placements or endorsements in this blog but if, like me, you lie awake at night wondering how you can organise your next cycling holiday in Taiwan, help is at hand through ‘Pedal Taiwan’, a company set up by the son of some friends.

The cycling and scenery look spectacular so if you are going to be in the area – or are looking for something just a little different – please have a look at their Facebook page.

Back to the Alps, briefly


Back to the Col de Pierre Carrée – this time cycling it from the bottom to the top

Our short trip to the alps was planned some time ago – but did not include any cycling. Strangely, when we arrived in Les Carroz on Sunday evening I found my bike and cycling kit in the back of the car – it seemed silly not to use it for a bit of (low) altitude training for the forthcoming sportive, seeing how it had travelled all that way.

The weather wasn’t at all good on the Monday – cold and raining – but we managed to get out for a run and got only a little wet. The rest of the day was spent on domestic matters, sorting out the apartment for the skiing season.

Tuesday was worse – wetter and just as cold. Walking round the village we bumped in to a friend, Franck, who was complaining that November had come early to the Alps.

At this stage it didn’t look like we’d timed our trip well – in addition to the cold snap the village was undergoing of some fairly major works in the centre putting in new drainage and power systems. Just to complete the feeling of disruption, almost everywhere was shut – we guess that businesses had decided to take their post-summer and pre-skiing break to coincide with the disruption. The two small supermarkets were running on restricted hours and just about no restaurants were open in the evenings – even in November they tend to operate a rota to ensure that something is open every night!

However, we ate in, read and watched DVDs and Wednesday dawned with clear blue skies and warm sunshine even thought the air was still crisp to say the least.

We ran again in the morning and I went out on the bike early in the afternoon. One issue I have uncovered with autumn cycling in the alps is that of what to wear. The village was at a cool but pleasant 11 degrees but first I was heading about 10 km down the mountain to the bottom of the climb up to the Col de Pierre Carrée.

I decided to wear my cold weather gear, including long trousers, with just a compression top underneath, and that looked like a good decision. A lovely descent, and feeling comfortable despite the wind chill.

I turned straight round at the bottom and hit the climb. It’s 21.2 km with a total ascent of 1351 m (or so, depending who you believe). That puts it up there with the two main climbs of Ventoux for length but with 250 m less climbing so it’s testing but not ruinous.

The first half of the climb back to Les Carroz was very enjoyable but I got pretty hot (it was probably 16/17 degrees at the bottom) and I was regretting the winter weight clothing. Riding straight through Les Carroz and upwards towards the top of the col, I went through another spell of feeling comfortable but soon had cold feet. As I climbed higher, pretty much everything else got a bit cold. I thought I was just being a wimp but soon I was riding beside verges with snow on them so I felt rather more justified.

This was the part of the climb I used for my ‘everest’ in July. I was wondering if I might have spoiled it for myself by doing it 12 and a bit times in July but, happily, no. Despite the cold I loved it.

At the top I took a photo like the one I took in July – an interesting comparison:


July at the top of the col


Just 66 days later (the camera on the phone not coping well with the contrasts in light)

The descent, of course, was even colder as it had started to cloud over at the top, but I arrived back in Les Carroz safely and happy. It was a really enjoyable ride – and all the better for being rather unexpected. In all, 43 km and 1385 m of climbing, according to Strava.


Back to the village – with more snow in the background (and a milk bottle bidon, having forgotten to take one out to France with me)

I had hoped that I might set a Strava personal best for the top half of the climb. I didn’t. I was a couple of minutes faster than any of the ascents in July during the ‘everest’ but one I did last year was quicker. Sadly, it occurs to me that, at 62, perhaps I shouldn’t expect to be getting faster but should be happy if I don’t get slower.

I’m not accepting that (yet) and still aim to beat the 5 hour mark for next April’s White Horse Challenge. What I do have to accept is that I’m simply a one-paced stayer. I’m not blessed with many fast-twitch fibres but I do have endurance. It looks like the planned ride out to the alps next year might be more up my street than setting Strava personal bests.