Friday, 24 July 2015

TdF Stage 21 Sevres to Paris

The final stage started with a 9 hour coach journey at 5:30am, which meant that we spent far too little time in our lovely hotel in Alpe D'Huez (self inflicted - no sympathy expected!)

When we eventually reached the start point for our final ride, the TdF crew had arranged for coffee and cakes before we started riding - a nice setting as well.

Ok, this is a bit more like it - back to my sort of territory - flattish! Now get me to Paris, I have a date with Tish to get to

We regrouped in Versaille, very nice, and very popular with the tourists - the Japanese were taking pictures of us like we were heroes

Louis XIV - he was kinda a big thing around here in his day

And so onto the main event, the Eiffel tower, just a few more miles to safely navigate. I was lucky, but unfortunately due to some dodgy road furniture we had 3 riders go down on the run in, 2 with roadrash, but Andrew Wates took a heavy fall and was taken off to hospital for x-rays...get well soon Andrew!
Finally we arrived at the Eiffel Tower, it was great to see Tish there waiting for me, having been away for over 3 weeks.
Luckily, I'd texted ahead to make sure we had some liquid refreshment waiting when we arrived - Simon seemed pleased! 
Lots of photo's were taken with new friends, it was great to see Jolyon so pleased for everyone despite his own misfortune.
"Lifers" Team Photo - well done to every one of ya - a fantastic achievement!

Sums up my trip really... Bike, views and liquid refreshment  

We headed up the Champs-Elysees for a quick spin around the Arc de Triomphe

Its getting closer!
And then after completing a few mental laps of the Arc...with traffic everywhere, no lanes, no rules - just make some eye contact with drivers and go for it! (I think the daily commute across London helped me to prepare for it - some riders decided not to bother taking the risk, and were just happy to be there) 

He's only gone and done it!!!!!
And so onto the evening entertainment, the TdF team had hired a Seine riverboat for our exclusive use, a lovely 4 course meal followed by a very eloquent speech by Rick Wates thanking all of the staff for their hard work, especially Sarah and Phil (hear, hear!). And the great news that we had now reached the amazing total of over £355,000 for the William Wates Memorial Trust....just WOW!
Thank you to everyone who has sponsored me, it means so much to me, the charity, and the great causes they support.
After the speeches, it was time for the presentation and "Lifer" awards for everyone
And here I am with mine...V chuffed with myself!
To top the evening off, we went past the Eiffel Tower again just after it had been lit up...Bootiful!

And then the evening ended just as we started the event 21 stages ago, with a bottle in our hand 
Thanks to Si for putting up with me for 3 weeks, to all of the other riders for their support, banter and generally allowing me to suck their wheels all across France. To the support team, your enthusiasm is superb - the hours those guys put in is amazing, they are up before we are, and finish well after the evening meal everyday, yet they are always happy, smiling and there to look after a tired riders needs....Chapeau to you all!!!
And finally to Tish, thankyou for being a cycling widow for the last 6 months, I couldn't have managed any of this without your support - I love you  xxx

TdF Stage 20 Modane to Alpe D'Huez

The final Alpine stage, and a short one too - "only" 110kms, but with 2 HC climbs. Our old favourite the Col de la Croix de Fer, and then the final push up to the top of the classic Alpe D'Huez.

We were treated to a later start, an extra half an hour in bed - we are being spoilt aren't we?!

The 1st 25kms were on a quick valley road, and I set off at quite a pace accompanied by a few other idiots. The pace was getting quicker and quicker before I came to my senses and backed off, what was I thinking - its the penultimate day and no-one wants to have an off at this stage of the event. Fortunately everyone stayed upright as we reached the 1st water stop in record time, then we started the long drag up to the top of the Croix de Fer using some of the same roads we had descended down during the previous day.
I never get tired of these views, I hope you don't either?!

A panoramic view from the top of the Croix de Fer

The lake on the descent of the Col du Glandon into Allemont
I was ahead of Simon as we descended the Glandon due to various picture stops, we met up again about halfway down, in a small village after a short climb and headed off to finish the descent. We weren't hanging around, when 2 Dutch lads in their teens came flying past us like we were standing still - when I tell you that I managed to get 52mph on this descent it shows you the speed they must have been going, I get the feeling it wasn't the 1st time they had been down the Glandon! Not to be outdone, Simon and I caught them in Allemont.
We then went along the valley catching up with Chris and Annabel before stopping for a well deserved ice cream in Bourg D'Oisans and then heading up the Alpe.

Only 14kms to the top - that's the good news, the bad news was that it was now 40+c again. just the 21 hairpins to go then.
Me struggling up the lower hairpins, being coached by Chris - "Keep pedalling" apparently...No sh*t Sherlock?!
Not too many Dutch at #7 just yet, im guessing next Saturday will be as mental as always #lovedutchcorner
Eventually we reached the top, 4 of us crossing the line together, arms linked up like Team Sky when they won the tour, just a bit wobblier.
....And then the celebrations began!
We took over a bar back in town just a couple of turns from the finish line, and cheered the other riders as they went past, many veered across the road towards us thinking they had finished, only to be re-directed by us to finish it off properly.
 Anyway to cut a long story short, 800euro were dropped in this bar in about 3 hours, it was a v.wobbly ride for us back to the hotel for dinner.

TdF Stage 19 St Jean de Maurienne to La Toussiure

Todays route takes us in 120km loop before the final climb of the day up to La tempting was it to just do the last climb? Not at all - im loving it, despite all of the aches and pains!
Just the 4 climbs today, but they are of the LARGE variety, we start with a Cat 1 straight from the start, then up the Col du Glandon (again) and onto the Croix de Fer - an HC climb, then a shorter climb up the Mollard ( a measly Cat 2), and then a final ascent up to La Toussuire Cat 1. Another tough day in the office ahead me thinks!
Not a bad view to start the day eh?

 As we headed up the Col du Chaussy, the road got narrower and was cut into the rockface, some may have been riding a little further to the left than they normally would...with good reason
 This was the view from over the side - there's no coming back if you went over the edge
Me and the Guv'nr (Phil) at the top of the Col du Chaussy 
 Oh come on, surely you don't even need to ask now? yep that's where we are heading!
 I was struggling for pace today, I think I might have had a bit too much sun yesterday, and my legs didn't feel great. Simon was great in nursing me around all day making sure I was drinking regularly, getting into shade when I could etc. I was glad of the support - You are a top banana Si!

 We went back up the Col du Glandon that we descended yesterday (the more difficult side in my opinion), and then on to the little extra bit (3kms) to the top of the Col de la Croix de Fer.
They love their cycling round here - we were offered cold water by people camped at the side of the road 1 week ahead of the pro's going past - it was great to have some support
Talking of support, Mum and Dad Yates have been busy over the last few days, as there were plenty of these messages written on the roads in the Alps, in support of the Brits Adam, and Simon Yates.

The summit of the Croix de Fer, looking back down towards the summit of the Glandon 

North Bucks Road Club "on le Tour"
On the descent of the Croix de Fer, we came across some other Brits. Having got past them on the descent (they were slow!) they passed us on the climb up to the Col du Mollard. Not wanting them to think we were rubbish riders, I struck up a conversation with one of them. "How far have you been today?" I asked, "oh only about 10kms, how about you?" Well, it depends if you mean just today, or overall...we call this Stage 19 and we started in Utrecht nearly 3 weeks ago "Oh" was the reply, with the previously cocky rider now feeling a little bit inadequate - good luck with your Etape ride gents!
The final climb of the day up to La Toussiure was on a road that was really busy (mainly due to the fact that the "Tour etape" was being held on this stage in just a couple of days time, and c15k cyclists were descending into the area. The views weren't great on the way up, and I wondered why the ASO had decided to use this climb as the pinnacle of this stage. Then as we neared the summit, the reasons started to become clearer as we were treated to some spectacular views across the valley below

The finish line for the "Etape" in a couple of days time, our accommodation was just round the corner (I cant call it a hotel, cos they had all been taken by the Etaper's - we stayed in what can only be described as "Basic" accommodation...4 to a room, bunk beds a plenty and no towels provided - oh good?!)

Just as I finished, a shout went up from the nearby bar "Andy" - it was only Tim, who had ridden with us on a few of the earlier stages. He was out there to take part in the Etape with a group of mates, it was good to see him again and we agreed to meet up for a couple of cheeky ones later so we could tell him how bad/dangerous/steep/hot it would be..ha ha

TdF Stage 18 Gap to Saint-Jean-de-Maurienne

Todays profile, lots of "official" climbs... its gonna be a tough day
Do you even need to ask? of course we are heading that way

The mountain of death - some people have a poor sense of humour!
Im pleased to say that my Trek madone was in slightly better nick than this "bike"

The waterfall heading up the Glandon seemed so inviting, temps had reached high 30s again, and additional water stops were essential to get through the day.

Looking down on the lake from 3/4 of the way up the Glandon - simply spectacular views!

That's where we came up earlier...and will be gong back down it again on stage 20!

Finally, at the summit "Ant and Dec" (as we have been nicknamed) celebrate! It was a swift descent down to the valley - I've ridden it before, so was fairly confident going into the corners - I managed to get to a fairly controlled c50mph.
Then it was onto the "Hollywood" climb of the stage - only 4km long, but 18 hairpins, from a distance you look like you are riding up a wall

You want a road with hairpins? I give to you the lacets de Montvernier

It might have only been a short climb, but coming towards the end of the stage and the 7th, YES 7th categorised climb of the day I was pleased to see this sign at the top as we entered the village.
A descent, and then flatish run in to the end of the stage was all that we had left to do, and then get showered and start the recovery process...or so we thought!
Sarah told us that the luggage van had been stopped by Inspector Clouseau and his mates, and they had been taken off to the nearest weighbridge where they were given the good news that they were gong to be fined and about 30bags needed to be unloaded and taken on a different trip. wanna take a guess who's bag might have been one of the 30? Yep, yours truly - Sarah was obviously feeling sorry for both me and Si, as she then produced 2 "team management" T shirts for us to change into while we waited for our bags (which arrived at 10pm!). All of a sudden we had been elevated to "management" - did we milk it? you bet we did!

Thursday, 16 July 2015

TdF Stage 17 Dignes-les-Bains to Pra-Loup

Today was gonna be a long stage. Not necessarily due to the distance we were riding (although it was still over 100 miles), but we needed to have a coach transfer to the start line over an hour away from the hotel. Then we were to be riding on a busy road for the 1st section, so it was a controlled start - setting off in smaller groups and keeping a steady pace until the 1st feed stop c25miles.
It was going to be a lumpy day, Phil had warned us of this during the briefing the day before - but he didn't really need to cos wherever you look out from the hotel, all you can see are mountains- we are definitely in the Alps!
The view from the 1st climb of the day, a small Cat3 climb just to get the legs working

On one side of the road, a beautiful looking lake, on the other side....

...One of the biggest dams ive ever seen, there were a few people not wanting to look down!

 Starting the descent of the Col des Leques

Another great view - I don't get tired of taking these pictures...we started down there at the bottom of the valley if you were wondering

Looking ahead, the news didn't look good - there's only one way out of this valley, and its gonna be up! That lump you can see in the distance is the Col d'Allos the highest point in this years TdF - topping out at 2250 metres (for some comparison, Ben Nevis the highest point in the UK at just 1344metres)

Moi, posing at the need to breathe in anymore, ive lost loads of weight - but im still heavy in comparison to most (anyone remember the Scotch advert? "Re-record, not fade away?" that's what most of the people on this trip look like!)

A great view from the top of the Col d'Allos...spoilt by some bloke wearing his club colours

The descent off the d'Allos was quite technical (read: Crap yourself at every sharp corner). There were no run offs on this descent, get it wrong and you were going straight over the side and down the sheer drop..and I mean sheer drop! (I've taken some video, and when I've had a chance to edit it, i'll add it here...a white knuckle ride!) 

At the top of Pra-Loup, the final climb of the day - ive got no idea what the flower arrangement was supposed to signify, but it looked ok
Onto the evenings awards ceremony, each day there are 3 awards. Lead rider Phil presents a laminated stage map to the rider he deems has tried the hardest to get to the end of the day...some guys are out on the road until nearly darkness each day leaving no time for recovery, then they get up and do it all over again!
Then theres the "Pink Horn" which has to be worn on your bike if you win it - this is for someone who has basically had a bad day at the office - they've either stacked it at some point, and had an off. Or lesser misdemeanours include, very dodgy cycling outfits, and forgetting your water bottles before setting off from a feedstop - an essential item when the temps have been as hot as we have seen.
Then theres the "Chapeau" award, this is given to the person/people who have been recognised for going over and above to help others out when they are in need, and making an extra effort to support others. I was amazed when Jolyon gave both me and Simon (or Ant and Dec as we have been named) the award - I mentioned the other day that Jolyon had a bad crash and broke his collar bone - his tour is now over, but he is staying on and cheering the others on - he really is a top bloke!
Moi, avec le Chapeau Beret
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