Wednesday, 24 July 2013


Two weeks have now passed since the Tour de Force rolled to a halt in the City of Light. I am pleased to report that despite the strongly felt anti-climax and cravings for post exercise endorphins, I have not started convulsing in my office chair or felt inclined to stick my head through my monitor just yet.

This is due to three reasons: firstly, my colleagues and friends have frequently indulged me by asking about the Tour, allowing me to continually relive the dream; secondly, I’ve had 15 stages of highlights packages to catch up on courtesy of Sky+ (the irony) and ITV4 – the yearly onscreen presence of Gary Imlach anchoring the TdF coverage settles any anxious veloist's nerves; and thirdly, I am just too knackered.

There does seem to be light at the end of the tunnel of tiredness. Having been reunited with the Colnago last Friday, now fully tuned and serviced, I tackled a couple of laps of the “Col de Richmond” on Saturday afternoon. A return to cycling the London streets was tortuous after the wide expanses of France and largely "Rapha MAMIL" free roads, but the legs produced some power and the heart rate barely raised an eyebrow as I danced up Richmond's measly ramps. It looks like the recovery is in full flow and there are some serious fitness benefits to be enjoyed.

This brings me neatly to answering the million dollar question that I have stalled on many times last week: so what's next? Well, here is my rational attempt at an answer. Immediately, lots of sleep and the growing sense of enjoyment of coming home from work, slumping on the sofa with the terrace doors open and letting the warm evening breeze into the apartment. Short to medium term, getting ready for Ride London on 3 August and seeing whether the Tour has made me a better bike rider, as well as re-learning how to appropriately socialise without wearing lycra. Long term, I'll be planning some goals both on and off the bike for 2014. I already have something brewing with a fellow TdF lifer, which will hopefully involve Italians, top-end coffee and some viciously steep mountains. Beyond that, who knows.

Having read some of the other riders' blogs it seems inevitable that this wrap up piece is going to tread a path of prophesying and emotionally charged musings. I will do my best, and who can blame us? The Tour de Force was an incredibly special experience to be involved with. For most of us it was our dream to ride Le Tour and immerse ourselves in the romance, beauty, drama and hardship of it all. The most intriguing part was always – could I really complete it? To combine this dream with fundraising for the WWMT proved a powerful combination. For us, the painful parts of the Tour thinly replicated some of the difficulties the kids face who are supported by the WWMT assisted charities. Whilst we all had each other to rely on when the going got tough, as well as our support networks back home, these vulnerable young people have nowhere or no one positive to turn to – a stark comparison and a sharp illustration of why WWMT’s grant giving is so important. The Tour de Force is WWMT’s flagship fundraiser and it is testament to the riders’ enthusiasm for the charity that the 2013 vintage is approaching raised funds of £400,000.

To finish this all too lengthy post, what did I learn from the Tour? For me this has not been a life changing experience, but more a vivid life enriching and affirming one. I was lucky enough to meet and ride with thirty-nine inspirational characters who rode the whole way to Paris. Whirlwind friendships were intensively forged in the peleton hot-house, yet serenely set against France’s cornfields, lush meadows and snow-capped mountains. As well as the cycling itself, these people helped hammer home three key points on the asphalt, all of which are transferable to my day-to-day living. Here they are, Baz Lurman style:

1. Anything is possible but it has to be earned. I've traced the seeds of my ambition to ride the Tour all the way back to 2007. It began with some fanciful thoughts, having been bitten by the roadie bug after some fairly amateur riding through France on my little brother’s rusty road bike. As I rode more and more, becoming stronger, better experienced and reshaping my build, these thoughts morphed into a pipe dream. As the ambition and passion continued to burn, along with the support of my girlfriend, friends, family and work, the stars aligned and I committed to ride the Tour in November 2012. After sacrificing a lot of time and energy, straining important relationships and pouring endless pounds into online bike shops, the pipe dream became a reality six years later. It has been worth every hard yard and penny spent.

2. Tread your own path and respect others doing the same. The Tour affirmed this in spades. Whether you are trying to stick with a group tapping out a pace which you know is too much for you or fancy riding with different people for the day who want to stop at every café to experience the regional variety of Magnum Blancs, have the courage to follow your instincts. Similarly, respect those with different goals to you. Laying it down on the tarmac everyday or cruising at tourist pace may not be your mantra but concentrate on your own riding and working with those around you.

3. Embrace the suffering. I have not come across any experience like being depleted on a twisting mountain road, where the only solution to end the ordeal is to keep pedalling up. It strips away all of life’s flux and presents you with a simple yet deeply divisive dilemma: stop or continue? Regardless of all the negative thoughts and screaming muscles, always continue. The suffering will stop –eventually – quickly transform into raw elation and relief, before dissolving into quiet satisfaction.

Actually I am mistaken; there were four points and the fourth is easy to succinctly state – whilst I’ll never be as fast as the Froome-dog, I love riding my bike.

Tuesday, 16 July 2013

J'arrive a Paris!

On 14 July, Bastille Day, and whilst the pros were facing their demons on Ventoux, I rolled into Paris to complete the 100th edition of the Tour de France.

All 21 stages, a week before the pros but on the same scheduling, had been undertaken.

It was a surreal day which started at 5am with a six hour coach transfer from Annecy in the Alps to a goat farm 25 kms outside of Versailles. Once off the bus we were treated to a fantastic rustic French lunch by the goat farmers before saddling up in their barns for one last hurrah.

En route to Versailles, where friends and family were gathering, the peleton rolled at a relaxed pace as the champagne bottles in the riders' jersey pockets were popped and the bubbles were dished out. It was a beautiful sunny day and a chance for us to enjoy riding with each other for one last time and revel in what this group of riders had achieved.

It was an emotional moment coming up to the Versailles Palace as family and friends of the riders had gathered to applaud and cheer their loved ones into Paris. Knowing that my girlfriend Emma was going to be there was a great feeling but I was bowled over further by seeing my Mum and brother who I had no idea would be present. It topped off what was already turning into a fantastic day. Once they had all been given sweaty hugs, the peleton re-assembled and started making its way slowly to the Eiffel Tower. I couldn't help but chuck my water bottles as we peddalled, my one last re-enactment of being a pro rider, although I doubt the local Parisians will be fighting over them as souvenirs. Shame on them.

The final reckoning came as we swung right across the pavé onto the Place Joffre from the Avenue de Suffren and wheeled to a halt opposite the grandiose Ecole Militaire. Large numbers of friends and family had turned out to welcome us at the finish line as well as those that had hot footed it from Versailles. Cue more DIY banners and signage, champagne spraying, hugs, tears of joy and photo shoots. The atmosphere was electric and to have the sun shining down on us, as well as the Eiffel Tower glittering in the background as the French prepared to celebrate Bastille made it all the more special. It is a scene that will be emblazoned on my memory until the end of my days.

After soaking up the atmosphere we all made our way to our final hotel in Montparnasse and dug out our three week creased shirts from the bottom of our bags in an attempt to look respectable for the end of tour party. The tour organisers could not have secured a better venue for the night - the 54th floor of the Montparnasse Tower. The panaramic views of Paris in the sunset were glorious and we had the best seats in the house for the Bastille fireworks exploding over the Eiffel Tower as darkness fell. However, and most importantly, we had a private venue where we could celebrate our achievement together, thank our friends and family for all their support in getting us here and sign off with some heart warming speeches from Rick Wates (one of the trustees of the WWMT and William's brothers) and our lead rider, the mountain goat, the one and only Phil Deeker, without whose generosity of spirit, humility, sense of humour and leadership the TdF would have been half the experience.

But, as is the same with any transcending experience, the bubble has to burst at some point. In an act of sheer brutality, and much tougher than any moutain climb, I popped my bubble at 8.43am the next day as my Eurostar to London pulled out of Gare du Nord. Sitting at my office desk yesterday lunchtime, I could not believe that 24 hours earlier I was preparing to finish my TdF odyssey. Dazed and confused only touches upon it. The reoccuring questions yesterday afternoon - where is my bike and which foodstop am I heading for?

It is too early to reflect on what has so recently come to pass but I am sure to wrap up this blog with a debrief and "what next?" in the coming days. For now it is a case of re-adjusting to reality, dealing with the accumulated fatigue, marvelling at how much quicker the pros will ride the exact same route this week into Paris and to stop eating six times a day. That will be challenge enough.

Friday, 12 July 2013


In a similar vain to Hannibal and his elephants in 218BC, we have spent the last few days on Tour conquering the Alps, but swapping tusks and trunks for carbon fibre steeds. When I say conquering, I really mean surviving, although each mountain pass summited feels like a victory and a step closer to Paris. 

Nearly all of us are hanging on by our fingernails now and whilst the realisation that the Tour is soon to finish is dawning, we are still willing the end to arrive. 

Going into the Alps for the final week is as close to cycling cruelty as you'll get. This is typical programming from the TdF organisers who are passionate about seeing the strongest rider wear yellow in Paris. These last gruelling stages are designed to weed out maillot jaune pretenders and put the winning candidate under vast amounts of physical and mental pressure. 

For us, it is a test of hanging on in there. Our bodies are riddled with fatigue. Eyes are sunken and nobody is walking as tall as they did in Corsica. Despite the exhaustion, broken nights' sleep is common as legs twitch and constantly ache, we continue to saddle up by 7.30am each day, knowing full well the next 7 to 10 hours will hurt. The masseuses are fighting losing battles with limbs as the only cure now is rest and recuperation. We are at our limits. 

In terms of riding my bike and to coin cycling parlance, I am pedalling in squares. Smooth and supple revolutions have been replaced with staccato stabs. As I ascend now, I rock and roll over my saddle and grind. It's not really cycling anymore, just digging in. Today, and after two HC climbs back to back, my grip became so weak that it was difficult grasping the handlebars. My appetite constantly craves caffeine and sugar to help fight the fatigue. My throat and stomach are not so keen. 

Despite where we find ourselves physically, emotionally and mentally, we are so close to Paris now. Just the final push on Stage 20 covering off some beautiful peaks near Annecy. As a group we will continue to support each other and I am sure that the unique camaraderie that has been created here will see us over the line. It's astounding that just under three weeks ago we didn't know each other and now we work as a well oiled machine, knees excluded. The Tour de Force... a giant bike ride, an amazing fundraiser and an accelerated friendship programme. Essentially a triumph of the human spirit and a legacy I am sure William Wates would have been proud of. 

Another Alps col in the bag

Stage 19 finishing photo - a superb bunch of Tour de Forcers

Wednesday, 10 July 2013

The hammer and the nail

Jens Voigt, cult hero and professional cyclist currently riding for world pro tour team Leopard Trek, once said that when racing your bike "some days you are the hammer and other days you are the nail".

Having felt like a little hammer for so long on tour, it was only going to be a matter of time until I was royally nailed. That time arrived yesterday unceremoniously whilst tackling the relatively straightforward Stage 16, consisting of 110 miles and some rolling hills - a typical transition into the Alps. 

Despite the rest day on Monday, the legs and mind just were not at the races. A wave of fatigued had rolled over me, generated from a series of poor nights' sleep, sickness, and not to mention the previous 1600 pedalled miles round France. Whilst you can usually push through a day when the legs feel sore, losing the mind and motivation spells bad news. There were a couple of times yesterday when I could quite happily have chucked the bike in a ditch and hailed a taxi home. All you can do is try and accept your day's role as the nail and grit your teeth. 

The nail usually pays the heaviest price. Whilst the majority of the peleton were finished for the day, I was caught near the top of the day's last climb in what appeared to be the warm-up act for the apocalypse. The temperature plummeted, whilst thunder and lightning exploded around the valley, and the road became a river as torrential hail thrashed everything below it. Being so close to the finish I pushed on up the climb taking my beating, my arms stinging from the hail but suddenly riding faster and faster in a vain attempt to outrun the storm. The descent to the finish line was sketchy and by the time I arrived at the hotel I was verging on hyperthermic. In typical Tour de Force fashion my room mate Simon (Judas Morten is back on his single supplements!) helped me up to the room with my luggage. Whilst warming up in the bath I vowed not to be a nail again on tour. I had to get my mindset back to where it was. It is typical to have at least one awful day (just ask Sky's Richie Porte after last Sunday's stage), particularly after a punishing stage like the Ventoux massacre. In a way I'm glad it came yesterday rather than on one of the big alpine days. Ashamedly I took comfort in that I drove on through the hail whilst others stopped to take shelter. You've got to take your small victories at this stage of proceedings, however pathetic and self-serving they are. 

The good news is that following this morning's Stage 17 mountain time trial it seems I'm back to being the mini-mallet. A good night's sleep, inspirational alpine scenery and a thumping playlist did the trick. With just three big mountain stages left, including the unprecedented double ascent of Alpe D'Huez tomorrow, and then the ceremonial ride into Paris, long may this new lease of life continue. 

A couple of nails playing at being hammers on top of Ventoux...

Monday, 8 July 2013

Introducing the roomie... Danish Morten

Morten Hansen has become my go-to roomie on tour. We have struck up an unexpected bromance and something always feels a little wrong if I don't find myself rooming with Morten. 

Nicknamed Van Dam by the peleton for his propensity to wander around in his string vest base layer and his no nonsense approach to bike riding, Morten is a mid forties Dane living in Frankfurt, working as a Euro banker and married to an English woman. Morten's wife found out she was expecting their first child a week after he had committed to the Tour and she has been particularly supportive of his grand tour ambitions despite their imminent August arrival. 

I am reliably informed that according to Grazia magazine there are ten questions you need to ask someone to find out who they really are. Thanks for all that filtration work you must have carried out Grazia - the mind really boggles when I think of how many questions you must have trawled through. So, let's ask Morten the Grazia 10 to see if we can peel back the layers of this Danish hard man.

1. Who are you closest to? My wife Emma - we have been married 4.5 years and expecting a baby boy in August. 

2. What is your first memory? I was 4 years old and remember travelling in a VW camper van with my parents for holidays in Holland. 

3. What is your greatest fear? Developing locked-in syndrome so that I would be trapped in a useless body but have my mind in tack

4. What is the most important thing to you? Being a good husband and soon to being a good father

5. Which qualities in a person are most important to you? Honesty and openness

6. What is the strangest experience you have had? I use to sport a punked Mohawk hairdo when I was younger. I was clearly a rebel without much of a cause looking back. 

7. When is the most exhausted you have felt? After the TdF's first mountain stage in the Pyrenees (Morten may want to adjust that answer after Ventoux yesterday!)

8. What is your biggest regret? Despite travelling around the world for two years, I did this on such a shoe string budget that I didn't actually see that much of the world. In retrospect I would have gone for a year and enjoyed a bigger budget. 

9. What do you drive? A 20 year old VW Golf - still runs like clockwork (so German!)

10. What is your most prized possession? My Pronghorn carbon fibre road bike. 

So there you have it - Morten in a nutshell. Long may our rooming union continue. 

A day in the life

It's all very well posting stories and progress reports but some of you may want to know what the nitty gritty day-to-day life is like on the Tour. Below is a brief snapshot to give you an insight. 

We typically share rooms on Tour so the day usually starts around 5.30am by fumbling around to turn off the alarm clock and removing the anti-snore ear plugs. It's then a time trial to get lycra on and chamois cream applied, main luggage packed and day bags prepared before breakfast at 6.30am. This process usually starts earlier if we have to coach transfer from our hotel to the day's stage's starting point. The aim is always to be riding by 7.30am. 

The unsung heroes of the Tour are our mechanics and soigneurs. They are up at 4.30am each day driving our bikes ahead to start points or getting bikes lined up in hotel car parks ready to ride. It is a wonderful feeling each morning to have your bike primed and ready to roll with the minimum of effort. A special mention must also go to the signing team who are out on the road before sunrise signing the route so we never have to consult the map. In high viz arrows we trust. 

Our first 40km each day is ridden as a warm up and the group is encouraged to ride with different people and socialise. This approach not only helps the legs spin out the previous day's soreness but has also fostered an inclusive non-clique Tour group. This is particularly important when we have new people joining the Tour for different stages and it is our responsibility as "lifers" to make them welcome and integrated ASAP. 

After 40km we have the first feedstop or second breakfast. On average, I'm burning 7000-10000 calories a day so you can imagine that we all want to eat whenever we get the chance. For the rest of the day we break down into our riding groups, making your selection based on pace, with food/water stops and sign ins every 40km. The Tour support team do a great job at these stops with providing decent nutrition and plenty of motivational chat and music. 

Towards the front of the peleton and the end of the stage, there is a palpable upping of the tempo as we run into the finish. The excitement of finishing another day and reaching the hotel fuels the pedalling. Usually, we start attacking off the front within the last 5km and everything goes crazy. The most memorable example of this was following a flat and tedious stage to St Malo. About 40 riders were amassing at the front with the pace being wound up and up. About 10km from the finish we hit a quaint French fishing town which had a horrible hill to get up and out. The peleton went ballistic up this ramp, everyone fighting to get to the front and into the break with riders being spat out the back one by one. The locals were in shock as these locusts in lycra swarmed their town. A lot of fun and on these occasions our peleton mimics the professional ranks. 

Once at the day's hotel, the mechanics and soigneurs are set up already and waiting. Bikes are taken instantly and worked on if required before being safely stored and I am usually straight onto the massage table. This is then followed by recovery drinks and a careful process of disinfecting the days water bottles, helmet, shoes and gloves, showering, laundry and then elevating the legs wrapped in compression tights to aid recovery. The recovery process is almost as important as the ride itself. Dinner is always at 8pm, with the next day's briefing and the awards for the day presented. Lights out are usually 10pm. 

Then we do it all again. 

Some snaps as usual: life on tour - another day and another hotel to settle into, knackered riders on a 6am transit bus somewhere in France and to show it is not all Ibis stopovers - a night at the chateau for rest day 1. Vive le tour!

Sunday, 7 July 2013

Ventoux virtuosos

Since the Pyrenees the Tour has enjoyed Rest Day 1, ridden to the English Channel arriving in St Malo (France's answer to Bournemouth), time trialled to Mont St Michel in the wind and rain and then headed south again with a number of long rolling (supposedly flat) stages to Lyon. Plenty of miles have been covered this week at some quick paces but everything has felt like a build up to today's stage 15 - the monster 242km, being this year's Tour's longest stage, a ride from Givors, south of Lyon, and finishing on the 1900m summit of Mont Ventoux, aka the Giant of Provence. 

This stage unnerved everyone in the peleton, evidenced last night by the unusual number of bikes awaiting mechanical attention as everyone fretted over their steeds being just right. To tackle Ventoux alone on any given day is a challenge but to wear the legs down with 135 miles beforehand, including four Cat 3 and 4 climbs, and temperatures reaching 35c did not seem doable. This year's Tour organisers have set the route to come up the Bedoin side of the climb meaning you have to circle round the mountain for 13 miles before starting the ascent. This only adds to the mind games as you see her summit's iconic observatory looming up ahead. 

I was determined to ride today with passion, prudence but above all guts. I was buoyed by the fact that Christian, my CEO, and his old friend Jean-Francois, were riding the stage today. Christian has been particularly supportive of my Tour bid and I was delighted that he got a taste of what it was all about. Both men should be whole heartedly congratulated for their exploits today - chapeau. 

By this point on tour we are all feeling desensitised to the long distances on each stage. 100 miles just feels like a warm up and we seem to be hitting this distance at around the five hour point most days now. I rode at the front today which was an organised and efficient group. Arriving at the base of Ventoux, the legs felt in good order. Getting onto the 15 mile climb it quickly became apparent why the pros fear it. The lower slopes were an oven and the gradient rarely fell below 10%. I continued to douse myself in water to cool down. As you got higher the air cooled but the all too familiar pain cave beckoned. Once entry had been granted, I pulled up a chair next to the hearth as the torture continued with each pedal stroke. At the top I was completely empty and emotionally drained, but ecstatic to have finished. It had been a strong ride and I was pleased to be the fourth man of the day to roll over the finish line. Probably the single most epic day for me riding my bike. What's more, I now feel like a proper cyclist having summited this legendary HC beast. Despite the sufferfest, I made sure I removed my hat as I went past Tommy Simpson's memorial in the moonscape part of the climb. Simpson, a maverick British mountain rider, died on Ventoux during the 1967 Tour, his last infamous words supposedly being "put me back on my bike".

With this gruesome stage behind us, we only have the Alps left to conquer before Paris beckons. There is still much to do but reaching Rest Day 2 tomorrow is another significant milestone. Most importantly we are into the final week. In general, the group looks tired and the rest is much needed. I am dealing with a typical bit of Tour sickness but will hopefully shake it off tomorrow. Nothing unusual there after thrashing my body for 15 days now. 

As usual to finish, the snaps: Christian and I looking fresh at the start of today, not so fresh with J-F after the ride and me at the top of Ventoux. 

Monday, 1 July 2013

The Pyrenean Pain Cave

I have made it to Rest Day 1 and safely through the first nine stages of 21 of Le Tour. Whilst the legs are sore and we are all fatigued, everything seems to be in working order thankfully. Rest Day 1 is a decent milestone and we can now look forward to some flatter days in Brittany following the raid into the Pyrenees over the last two days. 

For Stage 8 we rode 90 miles before facing 30 miles consisting of the HC Col de Pailhères (2001m) followed by a summit finish on the Cat 1 climb to the ski station at Ax 3 Domaines (1350m). The Tour categorises its climbs based on the length of the climb and the average gradient, Cat 4 being the easiest through to Cat 1 and then to HC (hors catergorie, directly translated as "outside category" or English slang, "huge climb") being the hardest. To give you some idea of the criteria for HC climbs the Col de Pailhères was a nine mile climb into the snow line above 2000m with an average gradient of 8%. I found it a difficult stage with wooden legs and a fragile stomach on the Pailhères but managed a strong final push up to Ax 3 Domaines. The next day, stage 9 saw us ride over four Cat 1 and one Cat 2 climbs. It was an incredible day of dramatic riding with beautiful weather and scenery in the mountains. Like a Wiggle express delivery, my climbing legs arrived and going uphill started proving fairly straightforward. However, the fifth and final climb of the day saw me take a visit to the pain cave. This is a dark and unpleasant place where the mind must overcome the voices from your legs begging you to stop driving upwards. I suspect my next visit to this foreboding spot will be on Mt Ventoux at the end of Stage 15 - Christian, I hope you are ready to make the visit with me!

Coming to the summit of La Hourquette d'Ancizan, with its breathtaking views and knowing that the Pyrenean stages were complete was an incredible feeling. It also inspired belief that making it to Paris was possible. As I sit here on the eight hour coach transfer up to Brittany (some rest day!), that self belief grows even stronger. Thank you to all that have been following this blog and sending messages of support for helping fuel that fire.

Looking forward and having learnt so much about managing my efforts in the past nine days, the plan is to ride the coming flat stages mid pack and look to conserve as much energy as possible as we build towards Ventoux and the Alps. A strong showing in the final week would be a great result. 

As usual here are a few snaps to reflect events since the last blog...

View coming down the descent of Col de Val Louron-Azet

The beautiful and moving memorial to Fabio Casttelli on the descent of the Col de Portet-d'Aspet, an Italian professional rider who crashed and died at this spot when racing Le Tour in 1995...

Your correspondent looking louche and moody prior to Stage 8...

And of course the promised pro tan shot from Rest Day 1... coming on nicely 


Thursday, 27 June 2013


Bonjour tout le monde. Je suis revenu en France propre. 

And what a transition it has been. Having boarded the overnight ferry from Bastia and embraced the Euro disco in the hull, we arrived in Nice at 7.30am for the team time trial. Like any hard working sailor I was met by my beautiful woman on the quayside. Em made the trip out on Monday night and we had a good day on the beach once the TTT had been seen off on Tuesday. Speedy it wasn't due to traffic and lights, but nonetheless the 25km stage was completed. 

The next day was rather epic. 141 miles over rolling terrain in the heat and Mistral winds from Nice to Marseille. One of our mechanics, Pete, lives in a village, Lourges, which lies on the route of stage 5. Pete organised his local velo club to come ride the route with us, whilst their wives prepared a fantastic lunch in the village square. Three highlights for me included practising my pigeon French on the local riders in the peleton, many of whom couldn't understand a word I said, meeting the Mayor of Lourges and making the local press, and the Madames' home made quiche Lorraine. Despite eight hours in the saddle, it was a wonderful day and topped off by Lourges Velo Club's donation of 300 Euros to the WWMT at dinner. The Tour de Force at its best. 

Today started with a 5.30am rise before transferring to Aix en Provence for the 110 mile burn up to Montpellier. Our lead rider, Phil Dekker, suggested that this flat day should be a recovery ride but the front group were having none of it. Our logic being the sooner we arrived in Montpellier, the quicker we can start to recover. Flat it may have been but the Mistral blew hard. Fortunately we had a motivated and well organised group  working today, putting in big pulls at the front against the wind. Had it not been for the neutralised zone at the start, today would have been my first 100 miles under five hours. We were moving at pace and my body is starting to perform feats I did not think possible.  

In general things are going well on Tour. The legs certainly feel tired after the last two days and the pace in Corsica is catching up with me. We head into the Pyrenees for the next three days before the first rest day and a transfer up to Brittany. Tomorrow is foothills with two big Pyrenean stages coming back to back the following days. I am dominating the massage table at the moment and working hard to keep eating to ensure the petrol remains topped up. Banter is at an all time high at the front and I am settling in there well. The pro tan is coming along nicely and stay tuned for pictures on the first rest day. The most difficult part is sleeping as the heart rate remains high helping the blood flush out the day's toxins. A new hotel and different roomies every night (I've lost Morten to his single supplememts) are also things to adapt to. It will come a point where the need for sleep overrides all this and a pass out ensues. 

A couple of snaps to finish... Members of the Lourges Velo Club looking dubious in their questionable orange lycra, Simon aka Lars Boom looking delicious in pink ahead of the chic Nice TTT and the Colnago in all her glory on Tour... 

Sunday, 23 June 2013

Corsican carnage

Although a relatively short hop away it was a long day on Friday travelling to Porto Vecchio. A lot of us arrived late for our Tour briefings as the plane left Nice late. Not a great start but the experience of flying in a propeller job is always great value. Landing was like a roller-coaster ride. 

The first thing that struck me on arrival is just how organised the Tour is. There are a crack team of mechanics, physios, doctors and soigneurs dealing with 80 riders at the moment. Nothing is too much bother. It is a military operation, but definitely assisted by the great attitudes and friendliness of the riders. We room share on Tour and it is a good way to get to know your with team mates. Having been to British boarding schools growing up I am well versed at mucking in and getting on with it. I'd say that formative experience has also prepared me well if I ever end up in prison. That's a tale for another day. My roomies Andy and then Morten the Dane have been spot on. 

The second thing that struck me is just how good some of the riders are here and how much I am enjoying getting in the mix with them. It's a real test. Stage 1 saw us cover off 130 relatively flat miles at a roasting 19.5mph average along the coast road to Bastia. Cooking on gas. Stage 2 today, was a 105 mile test through the Corsican mountains in 34c. I tried to stick with the climbers on the first climb but backed off on the 1200m second peak. Even still, I was hurting by the end, probably paying for yesterday's efforts and not yet having found my alpine legs. It will come, patience being the key. 

Tomorrow is our last Corsican stage before we board the overnight ferry to Nice. We roll off the boat in Nice earlyon Monday for the 25km time trial (fashion parade) before having the rest of the day to ourselves. I've enjoyed Corsica - it's a beautiful place - but I'll be pleased to get back to the mainland. For the Tour, it feels like a bit of a sideshow with the main event really getting started in Nice. One to come back to for a proper holiday, whatever they are!

Here's a few snaps to give you a flavour... a nice view to wake up to this morning, yours truly sporting the Italian fluro look and the main guys I've been riding with at today's finish...Elton (John), Phil and Simon. Top lads. 

Thursday, 20 June 2013

Bon voyage

Goodbye Angleterre for three weeks. Let the journey begin. Considering what lies ahead and the insane amount of carbon offsetting I am committing to, I thought a taxi to Clapham Junction for the airport train was acceptable. Thank you to everyone at EDF ER for a wonderful send off yesterday evening - I am perusing my Rapha Tour journal in the back of the cab for that last bit of inspiration. No udder cream applied just yet. 

Not much sleep last night as the adrenalin started kicking in and I packed, re-packed, re-re packed in a vain attempt to distil the kit bag contents. I still reckon I am tipping the scales and unlikely to need half the toot in there. 

The next post will be from Corsica, but for now have great Fridays. Bonne journee!

Tuesday, 18 June 2013

Use the Force...

In the pre-tour preparation whirlwind, just a short post to thank Force 9 Energy Limited for becoming my single biggest sponsor to date with a quick fire £500.00 pledge yesterday. Force 9 offered to support within twenty minutes of my shameless plug.

In its own words, Force 9 is a successful UK based wind farm development company which was formed in 2002. The company is “passionate about the need to utilise the natural environment and onshore wind capacity to deliver the country’s energy needs from renewable resources”.

Thank you to David Butterworth, CEO, and his team for their support and encouragement – it is great to have Force 9 behind the TdF.

For more information on Force 9, please visit their website here


Tuesday, 11 June 2013

I got 99 problems...but my bike ain't one

So here we are. Just over a week until I trust an efficient yet rustic combo of Air Norway and Corsica to deliver me to Le Grand Depart.

The training is done. The steed is sparkling and chomping at the bit. She cruised along effortlessly on Sunday's final long ride. The drive train purred and the new saddle is now perfectly broken in. I will be dropping her off on Sunday for collection into the Corsica bound van. It will be an emotional week apart but our joyous reunion in the Med will be the stuff of fairy tales.

Work on the other hand is far from done. That is where the focus lies from now until next Thursday evening. I should think there are not many bosses out there who will nonchalantly sign off on one of his charge's three week holiday requests and I was lucky to be granted my leave stress free. However with this award comes a certain degree of responsibility to not leave your team mates in a world of pain whilst you pootle around France on your bike. The decks need to be cleared and the usual sources of work flow mitigated.

My CEO was kind enough to give me a platform to speak about the TdF at our summer company event last week. It has been a bit of a poisoned chalice. A great opportunity to promote the TdF and I got as close as I'll ever get (I think) to being a stripper with the kind donations colleagues chucked in my direction after the performance. However, it also put my colleagues on notice of my prolonged absence and work traffic is up significantly this week as they rush to get their matters seen to. Quid pro quos all round. All in all, work have been very interested and supportive of the TdF so no complaints.

In this last week to lift off, it is hard not to think about what lays ahead and reflect on what lays behind. A few thousand kilometres of tarmac in both directions. Current fad seems to be an obsession with hygiene and meds on the Tour. I have gone a little over the top in Boots at lunch. Hopefully all this will stay in the holdall and not see the light of day. Perhaps it is a good thing to be solely concentrating on work this week - it may save me from burning all my money on pointless pharmaceuticals.

Knights of the Round Table... the Tour of Wessex

Just like the pros at last week's Criterium du Dauphine, my pre-TdF shoot-out was at the Tour of Wessex over the last May bank holiday weekend.

What a cracking weekend it turned out to be… once I actually got there. Turns out I had been given a major part in the Friday night's stately half term traffic procession down the A303. Rolling onto a thermarest at midnight, having gorged on service station sausage rolls, is not exactly the ideal preparation for a weekend of hard riding.

Even before a crank was spun in anger, there were two excellent side benefits to taking part in the ToW. Most importantly I got to ride with my old pal Ben for the first time in a long time. Ben and I know each other from our days living in Cambridge. We both caught the roadie bug and an insatiable desire for lycra at the same time. A load of UK sportives and triathlons later, and a baptism of fire at the Marmotte, Ben decided to swan off to New Zealand for 18 months. I was bitter but more than that gutted at my riding buddy’s departure. The ToW was a chance to get over it and stop dropping his abandonment into every other conversation. Secondly, I had hired a Transit to act as our bike store, workshop, kitchen and tent failure mitigation strategy. Forget your top end sports cars, there is no better feeling on the road than flooring a Transit, Yorkie bar in the glove box, Daily Sport on the dash and a precious cargo of carbon fibre in the back.

The positives at the ToW just kept coming. Clear cold nights and sunny warm days, fantastic scenery, fast moving peletons and all round decent clientele. It was certainly one of the best organised and most friendly events I have attended – a real festival of cycling.

On both days that I rode, I felt good form and more improvements. The sun helped as did the quality of the riders taking part. It was great to be working on the limit for a lot of the time. On day one, Ben and I managed to latch onto the back of a London Phoenix group and we were hanging on for dear life. To be consistently moving that fast in an organised group is an exhilarating experience. The whirring of chains and the hum of tyres on tarmac was our soundtrack to fiercely focussing on not losing that back wheel.  The day had everything, tight Ardennes style lanes, a stunning climb through the Cheddar Gorge, technical descents and chocolate box villages dappled with sunshine. 108 pleasurable miles.

After tucking into Ben’s recovery nosh and getting a half decent night’s tented sleep, day two started well. Inspired by my new Italian fluro look and getting the white pumps out for the first time this spring, everything felt good. I bottled out of latching onto the London Phoenix train at mile 7 thinking the pace was too hot. Softly softly catch that monkey. That was a mistake. Losing Ben early on due to his non-existent training miles, I found myself riding on my own for a lot of the time in the first 40 miles. Serves you right for starting last and not jumping on the train. Fortunately by the time we had reached the Dorset coast at mile 50 and gone over the major climbs, there were plenty of groups to get stuck into. All was looking good until mile 105 when the back wheel went pop and my ambition deflated with it. Punctures are a pain but a fact of velo-life. Some are shoulder-shruggers others infuriating. This was an “infuriator”. Twenty minutes later after a swearing match with a CO2 canister and having dealt with my tantrum, I re-mounted and limped home. C’est la vie.

And again, just like the majority of pros withdrawing from the last stage of the Dauphine, keeping one eye on Le Tour, Ben and I decided enough was enough – day three would not be required. Instead we packed up, fully serviced the bikes, headed home for some recovery and a local ride on the holiday Monday. Mine involved taking the Transit down B&Q to collect some garden furniture, but like I've said before, it's tough trying to live like a pro.

Great weekend – cheers mate.

Thursday, 30 May 2013

It's getting hot in here...

Despite all of today's modern sports science, the old adage that to get cycle fit you have to put miles into the legs still rings true. There is no escaping it - time spent in the saddle,  and using that time effectively, eventually equates to better performance.

However, there are certainly benefits to supplementing your training with different activities, particularly ones that will compliment your main event. This is called "cross-training", the theory being that it helps your usual activity muscles recover and freshens you up without sitting around idly, risking the loss of those hard fought gains.

My bit of extra-curricular activity has been the introduction of Bikram Yoga into the regime. Bikram (or "hot yoga") takes the form of 26 postures and two breathing exercises, carried out in the same order over a 90 minute session. What's more, this is done in a room heated up to around 40c. Getting a sweat on is guaranteed. The idea of the heat is to induce the sweat, helping to flush out toxins, but also create an environment for your muscles to be at optimum temperature for stretching.

I was reluctant at first to try out Bikram, worrying about my lack of flexibility, wasted time which could be spent on the bike and, frankly, outright emasculation. However, once I had taken the plunge these fears quickly evaporated. In the studio I visit (Hot Bikram at London Bridge), men and women of all shapes and sizes, and varying degrees of flexibility, attend. Despite being able to turn my hand to most sports, I was surprised how challenging I found the exercises, as well as getting to grips with the heat. However, the environment at the studio is supportive, with patient instructors who even encourage having a lie down during the session if you are finding it hard going. They also put up with the horrible postures I am putting together at the moment and offer top tips to improve. I'll get there.

In terms of the TdF, I am sure Bikram will help my flexibility and core strength in the saddle, making sure I do not put overbearing strain on my lumber region day after day. However, most importantly it is helping me improve my focus and getting to grips with the heat I'll be facing during July in south France. The variation from the monotony of turning the cranks and the challenge of improving my postures has been a good motivator.

If you want to give Bikram yoga a try in London then I would check out the Hot Bikram Yoga studios Olga and her team have been particularly supportive of my TdF endeavours and, from what I've seen, apply the same principle to new and advanced yogis alike.


Monday, 20 May 2013

Yorkshire Dales - domestique's delight

I have not felt this good the day after a bike ride for some time. Yes, the legs feel like they did a ton and ground out 3,000m of climbing, but this morning I don't feel like someone slipped a sedative in my recovery shake. Maybe some more good signs of efficient recovery and Tour readiness? Or maybe I am just riding the wave of euphoria that is Champions League football at the Emirates next season, whilst our "noisy neighbours" enjoy the Europa League and mid-week appearances on Channel 5.

The Etap Du Dales was a glorious ride yesterday. Predominantly dry roads, no wind, some sunshine and spectacular scenery. What's more my misguided and disparaging opinion on the self-righteousness of Yorkshire men was put in the bin. You could not have wished for a more friendly and welcoming bunch to ride with. Shame on me.

I took it upon myself to serve as a domestique to my group yesterday. In cycling parlance, the domestique is the rider who sits at the front slicing the air, ferries bottles and clothing to their team mates, gives up their chances of victory to advance their leaders' prospects. A noble and selfless existence. Those sentiments aside, if I were a pro-rider, this is what I would want to be good at. Every team has them, diligently protecting their lead riders. When you serve long enough with little thanks, and manage to be on the winning team, you earn the "super-domestique" status. Now, we didn't have a team car to get back to yesterday but I did find myself on the front driving the pace a lot of the time for the first 75 miles and setting tempo on the kinder gradients. You know full well that if you are going to play this dangerous game that, as a weekend rider, you risk blowing up. This is what started to happen, the dreaded crack on a nasty climb at mile 75. That's it, race done, limp to the finish. However, that was not the case, recovering on the way back down, the strength returned. By this time it was too late to hop back on my group, they were long gone, but the legs came back to life and gave it everything for the best part of 30 miles to the finish. This sort of surge will come in very handy in France and more good signs that things are coming together. Very pleasing and not a big deficit to the group at the finishing line. They scraped a gold time and I settled for silver by seven minutes. Noble and selfless? Possibly, but my inability to wrench the cassette lock ring tight enough the night before leading to a number of unnecessary pit stops ultimately cost me.

The best part of the day... hitting 50 mph (80 km/h) coming off the top of the Dales and screeching down the tight lanes. Pure exhilaration.   

Friday, 17 May 2013

Training like Wiggo's Giro

Could of, should of, would of. Much like this grammar, training for Le Tour has been awful since May began. In the next two weeks, I am on a mission to ensure that phrase is not ticker-taping through my mind as my body starts crying out for mercy on the slopes of Mont Ventoux in July.

To offset my birthday indulgences (I've hit my thirties and the best years for winning a grand tour!) and inability to hit target miles, I am giving the Etap Du Dales (112 miles of slog round the Yorkshire Dales) a good go this weekend. I then spend three days back-to-back in the saddle at the Tour of Wessex over the Whitsun long weekend, before finishing the build phase with 320 kms in 24 hours on 7 June. That will hopefully do the trick.

Training, and the lack of it, has become so serious that, to my disgust, the turbo trainer has been dusted off and brought back out of the cupboard. Much like the British winter, that magnetic flywheel has not quite been shaken off. Wednesday evening saw me take on Sufferfest's "The Hunted". I beat Gesink up some Swiss climb to win the stage and noticed some good signs on the computer. Despite starting the session at 9pm and feeling fatigued, my heart rate was a lot more stable during the workout than compared to a month ago and noticed that "beats per minute" were coming down quickly after finishing tough parts of the course. When you are starting to recover quickly from bursts of hard effort, then you know good conditioning is around the corner. Unfortunately I have not indulged in a power meter, so for all I know my efforts may only have been powering an energy efficient light bulb. In my mind I was a nuclear generator.

What's more the weighing scales are reading as they should. I started the year at 70kgs, came down to 69kgs at the end of March and now at 67.5kgs. With the intense schedule coming up, I am hoping that May will see me finish on 66kgs - a healthy and useful fighting weight for France. An overdue haircut will play its part as well.

So, whilst best laid training plans have stayed just that, there are some silver linings. Sometimes you just have to accept that whilst you may be about to ride the TdF, you ain't no pro and have to live accordingly.Difficult to accept as the event approaches and you feel you should be doing more to prepare. Real life just takes precedence. I take some perverse solace in that Messrs Wiggins, Cavendish and Froome wouldn't be able to compete with me doing my day job either.

Sticking to that sphere of relativity, nothing can be going as badly as Sir Brad's Giro D'Italia. When luck leaves you in cycling, it really does leave you. As a Wiggo fan, it has been painful viewing, although his withdrawal today will add some extra spice to the Team Sky politics at the TdF. As for the Giro, Nibali's to lose, but let's get behind the swashbuckling, best named rider in the peleton, Rigoberto Uran, to bring it home for Sky. The Colombian mullet monstered the final climb of Stage 10 to take the stage win, demonstrating his class and igniting his campaign. More of that please Bert. 

Monday, 29 April 2013

The power of the ride... and the Lakes

This weekend saw me head to the Lake District in the north-west of the UK to get in some serious mileage and climbing with my friends Matt and Allan.

Although the actual event is not until the second week of May, we decided to take on the route of the Fred Whitton Challenge ( This is a stunning tour of the Lake District, taking in all the main passes and postcard vistas. It is also a challenging day in the saddle. 116 miles later, 3,500 metres climbed and 8 hours 30 minutes having passed, we made it back to our B&B.

It is not until you are changed and showered after your ride that you really start to appreciate what you have just done. It must be part of the recovery process - a post-ride creep of endorphins to wipe away memories of suffering up those 30% gradients. What amplifies this feeling further is that on a day like Saturday, this was a shared experience. To spend so long with your friends doing the same thing and supporting each other through such a physically and mentally demanding activity builds strong bonds. Regardless of where you find yourself in life, the bike is a powerful leveler and a shared bike ride brings you together. That and a truck load of juvenile toilet talk.

Never underestimate the power of the velo.

There is no truer statement when it comes to my friend Simon Evans. He spent 18 months cycling around the world with his mate Fearghal O’ Nuallain between November 2008 and May 2010. Check out their story here Simon is now a bicycle designer ( hoping to change the face of children's bikes forever.

So, in summary, a great weekend had. After Matt and Allan departed, I got in another 35 miles (in the Sunday wind and rain) to reach Oxenholme station. I felt I had earned my weekend first class upgrade back to London. Without doubt the TdF training has upped a gear. So far it's all looking good for the May build phase and hopefully the perfect peak for the start of the TdF on 22 June.

Thursday, 25 April 2013

Presenting... the Italian stallion...sort of

Granted, the post title may be a bit mis-leading (there is not much Italian engineering going on here, it's more Taiwanese carbon and Japanese components than Tifosi steel) but there is no denying the Colnago name, "Ace of Clubs" mark and understated geometry gives it that Milano flair. God bless Ernesto and his wonderful bicycling vision of 1954.

I found this beauty by chance whilst on a trip to northern Italy last October, ironically for some mountain bike action. There she was sitting in the local bike shop's basement, second hand and unloved. I've never owned a full carbon frame until now and was fairly sceptical about making my first entry into the market with a pre-owned machine in a foregin land. The problem with carbon is that unless you know the history of the bike, it is difficult to spot compromises in the frame.

The bike shop owner gave me the low down on its history - one owner, a doctor, decided after 300 kms use that he wanted to spend 7000 Euros on a super-velo. My layman eye could not spot any cracks or dings. Too good to be true? Maybe, but we all love a holiday impulse buy and this was going for a song. Luigi let me test ride it. Love at first pedal - light, racy, stiff and transmitting all my power into forward drive. With one eye on riding the 2013 Tour, the deal was sealed.

Later and suffering a touch of buyer's remorse, I was relieved to hear that the northern Italians trade their bikes as often as footballers their WAGs. They are a fashion conscious lot, obsessed with their velos and looking their best on the Sunday club ride (or Tuesday in the middle of the day when I was there!). Usually they'll part exchange their bike for the latest model at the end of the season, meaning that there are some lovely second hand bikes kicking around. Shop owners want to do quick sales at good prices to clear the shop space. If you are on the look out for a new pre-owned top end bike, you could do worse than heading to San Remo for La Primavera and shopping around.

So here she is - the bicycle that is going to roll me to TdF glory. Full carbon frame, Dura Ace components all over. Light as a feather. Wheel upgrade, some proper pedals, a pro-fertility saddle and we are good to get on Tour.

Wednesday, 24 April 2013


Day 1 of blogging. Brave new world. Follow my build up to riding the 2013 Tour de France for the William Wates Memorial Trust ( and then enjoy reports from the Tour. Loosely based cycling topics and rip roaring articles on  three weeks in lycra guaranteed. You may get to see raw athletic talent from the pros but you won't get anywhere near the prattle you'll read here. I have already dusted off the libel books.

In the meantime, feel free to get on board the fundraising train and help the WWMT by sponsoring my Tour efforts here