Report from Steve “Bone Shaker” Rush Roubaix Challenge, 8/6/14

When a man who rides 100 miles in under 4 hours tells you the event you’re thinking of entering is the toughest day he’s ever had on a bike, the sensible thing to do would be to listen, consider, and not enter. Duncan Schwier, Graeme York, Matt Johnston and I decided that Stephen Campbell was over-exaggerating, and entered the Paris Roubaix Challenge anyway. What could possibly go wrong? Well…
The run-up to the event had been fairly inauspicious. I’d broken a wheel on our final week-before-the-event gear check ride over the extreme stress test environment of…Cobham, so that meant a new set of wheels whose first ride would be 210km over the pavé. Graeme had finally beaten a recalcitrant shop into submission and was riding a whole new bike whose first ride would be 210km over the pavé. Matt had just decided he wanted a new bike and bought one whose…you get the idea. Dunc simply broke out the ‘crosser (note to self – take note).
I’ve occasionally pondered an equation for faff; and my thoughts were clarified over this last weekend. I think it’s this:
F = t x {(n-d) + m} , where
F is total faff time;
t is average faff time per rider;
n is number of riders;
d is number of days old of newest piece of cycle equipment;
m is distance from front door in miles.
Suffice it to say we left the gite a little late, although Strava rejoices in the fact that of the 12 riders ever to cycle from the gite in the arse-end of nowhere in Northern France to the start line in the arse-end of nowhere in Northern France, I am the 4th least slow.
There’s no ride that provokes equipment debate like the Paris Roubaix and in particular, tyre choice is a hot topic. My puncture 200m before the start line then did not inspire me with confidence. To be fair, I had a bit of a strop. To be fair, also, the team pulled me through (read – got into the queue for the one toilet and left me to fix it, swear and flap my arms about a bit like it would make a difference). And then we were off! For 200m. At which point Matt realised he had left one of his gloves in his rucksack. He went back to the start to find the other member of the Michael Jackson Remembrance CC while the rest of us did what we did best and urinated into a gutter. Inauspicious is with two “s”s, right? And then we were off! For real! A slight moment at the first junction until we spotted the yellow “PR” stencil spray painted on the road and then it was Follow The Yelllow Brick Road all the way to Roubaix. If I Only Had A Heart (that went above 175bpm).
Anyway, you don’t want to hear about the gently rolling countryside that’s less flat than you think but affords a most pleasant prospect, you don’t want to hear about the beautiful rays of sunlight bursting through the retreating clouds, and you don’t want to hear about the WW2 cemeteries that put a hard bicycle ride into perspective. You want to hear about the cobbles. The first sector comes at 22km (tip – change computer to km so you know when the stones are coming. Not that you’ll care after a while) and even in the muddy early morning after a night-time thunderstorm, it’s bloody brilliant. We’re all laughing and giggling and making motorbike noises (or was that just me?). The second sector pops up and the form starts to show. Matt goes into mountain bike mode, puts his head down and is gone. Dunc employs his cyclocross buttocks (so he tells us) and is also gone. Graeme, as ever, just gets on with it. I’m finding the novelty has worn off quicker than my seatpack strap which has just given up. I stop, stick it in a non-existent space in a jersey pocket, and crack on. 3rd sector. Novelty gone. Wet, muddy, minimal traction, other riders, sketchy. I’m being overtaken by riders in the small chainring so I change down. I’m no more comfortable; just going slower. We regroup at the end of the next sector – while Graeme and I try to unclog our frames with sticks, Dunc shows off his bloody elbow; acquired after Matt stopped to take a photo on a corner and told him to put the power down. He did – just a bit too far down. I’d laugh if I weren’t so rattled by all this.
We crack on and settle into a rhythm – hit the pavé; regroup at the end. It’s beginning to take its toll and 50k in I start to feel the effects. Hmmm – only a quarter of the way through. Luckily there’s the first feed stop with lots of sort of mouthwash-style mint energy drink (the French riders lap it up). We poke bikes with sticks, load up on bananas and move on. More of same. Smooth; rough; smooth; very rough. I slowly realise my forearms, wrists and fingers are beginning to hurt. My solution is to get right on the back of the saddle and let the front of the bike float over the top as much as it can. Graeme appears to be having similar issues but has a much simpler solution – he simply rides the whole sector with his hands off the bars like a Shoreditch fixie hipster in rush hour. I decide that’s a great idea and try it for about 30 metres before careering towards the gutter, swearing. Hands back on then. At least it’s dry up top – I can’t imagine what it’s like in the proper wet.
Second feed. More mouthwash for les locales. Matt has selflessly dropped back to look after his mate Alex who has decided this will be a suitably gentle introduction to continental riding. We don’t see them again until the end. Stevie C had told me to carry extra chain lube and I’d ignored him because I know best, obviously. So it was that despite the double dose of Juice Lube Wet in the morning, all three of us are running dry. Luckily, monsieur le neutral service has a bottle of some evil concoction which he applies liberally to chains, chainrings, jockey wheels, cleats, bolts, frames (I think he might, just, possibly have had just one small pastis first thing, just as a digestif you know, it’s good for the health, oh OK, just one more small one, I have to go and do some intricate work with sharp implements and drive in the middle of 1700 cyclists so a third would be foolish oh go on then etc). I don’t know what the evil fluid was – it was an absolute bastard to clean off but it got us through to the end of the ride so fair play. Dunc had, in a moment of madness, stripped his seatclamp bolt mid faff (see equation above) and so was riding with the saddle nose in the air within 50m of the start of each sector of pavé. Monsieur le neutral service was sadly unable to resolve the issue which means the cobbles become even more challenging for Duncan as the ride goes on. Graeme makes the English language even more rich by telling me that he has “sticked” my bike and got the mud off.
And then after some fairly non-descript residential roads we see a gap in a dark forest and a lot of people milling about. Was someone hurt? Not yet, but this was the start of the infamous Tranchée D’Arenberg. It does  have an atmosphere about it, this place – it’s dark, damp, and narrow, and in the rain in a race it must be just horrible. The cobbles are the hardest yet and my recently-full bottle flies out of its cage. Luckily I had listened to Stevie C about the metal bottle cages, bend them a bit tighter still, and crack on. Meanwhile, Alex and Matt have their own mechanical issues. Alex was wondering why he was getting steadily slower, and he’d pulled in at the second feed to find that he’d broken a spoke and taco’d his rear wheel. Monsieur le neutral service is only able to help so much (!) as he doesn’t have any spare spokes, so they get the wheel so it doesn’t rub and ride on. They ride through the Arenberg, offering people hard cash for wheels or spokes, but no joy. They eventually find a group of Dutch riders who had brought their own support crew with them (I’m guessing people who’ve ridden P-R once and are therefore never, ever riding it again), including a well-stocked spares kit. They blag a spoke. But there’s no cassette removal tool so our intrepid pair ride back to the second feed with the spoke where monsieur le neutral service is able to fit it. So Matt gets to ride the Arenberg again, the lucky boy.
Back up the road we’ve got into a nice rhythm, Graeme, Dunc and I, which is only disrupted by the most outrageous instance of wheel sucking I’ve ever seen. The three of us are sharing the work well, when we’re joined by a rider who is quite content to sit on the back while we take turns. Fair enough – he’ll do his turn I think. No he won’t. For a good 30 minutes he sits there. We even try to drop back and force him to the front but he just rolls into the middle of the road, sits up and takes a swig from his bottle. My own racial prejudice rears its ugly head – he doesn’t utter a word and he’s wearing plain kit but he’s behaving like an arse and he’s not wearing Dynamo kit so therefore he must be French. Eventually he flies past on the next section of pave and pisses off down the gutter. Good riddance.


Another feed stop. Salami. Oooh. Funny how your body tells you when it’s had enough sugar. Two thirds of the way through – about 45 miles to go. Struggling now – whether I put my hands on the tops, hoods or drops it’s hurting so I resort to steering the bike through will and hips alone. I really have had enough now and Dunc and Graeme wait for me at the end of each sector, partly because they’re gentlemen and partly because they’re enjoying seeing my pain. I’d give them a piece of my mind if only I could catch them. A rider has a blowout and hits the cobbles hard right in front of us – he has his clubmates with him and looks in pain but flesh wound only. Dunc stops, allegedly to make sure the rider’s OK, but I suspect to a) have a rest and b) stop his saddle from sterilising him.

Final feed. Surely a feed stop only 30km from the end is overkill? Nope, more salami, oranges and lots of water. We don’t stop for long – that won’t help the pain. We know what’s coming and want to get it done. We hit the Pavé Gilbert Duclos-Lassale – the name rings a bell with me and I wonder out loud why one of the early French aviators has a sector named after him – perhaps he was born here? No-one answers – all too tired. And then we hit 5 km of almost constant pave beginning with the aptly-named Pavé de la Justice and moving through the Carrefour de l’Arbre. I’ve had it now. I’d pig-headedly decided that I was riding all the crown and was not bailing out into the gutter, no matter what happened. I have one of those existential crisis moments where I ask myself what’s the point of it all. I could just get into the gutter and it would all be so much easier. I slow to 8km/h as that seems to be the only speed that my hands and fingers will tolerate. I consider stepping off the bike and then see two grinning idiots at the side of the road up ahead, offering what sounds like a mixture of encouragement and abuse. It turns out to be just that, for it is of course Dunc and Graeme, armed with camera, recording my suffering for posterity. I can’t even force a smile but at least don’t get off. The Pavé de Hem is the last one and in terms of condition it’s the worst of the lot – bloody great big potholes and big sharp-edged cobbles. We get through it and pick the pace up a bit for the final drag into Roubaix.

I do find myself with a lump in my throat as we cross the start line into the velodrome and receive the bell. Some attack the banking with vigour; I’m just content to cruise round and take it all in. I am not in the habit of taking a camera phone into the showers but I make an exception today. I’m just beaten to Merckx’s changing cubicle by Graeme so I sulkily find the nearest free one which turns out to be… Duclos-Lassale (earlier on I was of course thinking of Santos-Dumant, French aviation history fans).

All in all that was definitely my hardest ever day on the bike – Mr Campbell had it right – A week later I still have blisters on my palms like a one-night subscriber to one of the higher-numbered Sky channels. Having now ridden it, it is impossible not to be in total awe of the pros who race it at top speed in foul conditions – there’s no amount of specialist equipment and training that will really prepare you for it.

Time is a funny thing – a week ago I was saying “never, ever again”. As I write this I find myself wondering what to do to the bike to make the front end more comfortable. Almost as if I’m considering doing it again. Someone stop me please.

Dunc’s Flickr feed here:

This also from Dunc:

Dearly beloved, we are gathered here today, in the sight of God and this company, to 
witness and celebrate one of life’s greatest moments. The marriage of this rider and the cobbles of Paris Roubaix.
Paris Roubaix is an institution ordained of God, and it is not to be 
entered into lightly or unadvisedly, but reverently, deliberately, and only after much 
consideration. You are committing yourselves 
exclusively, the one to the other, for as long as you both shall live. 



Fred Whitton Challenge 2014

Four of us made the trip to the Lake District for the Fred Whitton Challenge. James Blackburn, Graeme York, Stephen Rush and I.

111 miles, 11,000 feet of climbing over some of the most beautiful scenery in England, and some savage climbs of over all the Lakeland Passes: 30% up Hardknott and Wrynose Passes. Newlands, Whinlatter, Kirkstone, Cold fell and the rest.

Usual anxiety about weather and what to wear. Up at 5am to start by 6.15.

We set off together, but Graeme, Steve and I think it “wise” not to try and stay with James having “helped” him up the first climb up Kirkstone Pass!
I last saw him heading over the top, and then with a beer in one hand and a baby in the other cheering us in at the finish line with his wife. The Three Musketeers were then thankfully left to ride our own race and get to the finish with body and soul almost intact!

Showers and wind for most of the morning, but the heavy rain didn’t really hit us mercifully until the last 10 miles after Wrynose climb. The family von Rush cheered us up the Whinlatter Pass, as did every other person by the roadside, in cars or walking the Fells. Very heart warming and generous.

Brilliantly organised and a real test of man and machine, especially up Hardknott. It is just the steepest thing I’ve ever been up, and the descent afterwards is not for the faint of heart.

Graeme, Steve and I all came in a little over 8 hours, James about 50 mins quicker, but that was after a scary blowout on the way down Wrynose to repair and having stopped to help a crash victim somewhere earlier.

Left Grasmere about 4pm with Graeme to drive back. Stopped at every single service station on the M6 and M40 to get coffee, food, use the loo, more coffee, crisps……any excuse to stay awake and swap driving, but in the end we made it back after an epic weekend.

Halfway up Hardknott when I remembered how the bottom section is tough, and it just gets tougher, I promised myself this would be the last time I ever try and ride up this beast. Never again. Roll on next year.





fred 3


steve wrynose?

British Cycling Guide to technique, training, equipment, nutrition and more…

British Cycling Guide to technique, training, equipment, nutrition and more…

Welcome to British Cycling’s new ‘Insight Zone’

However you ride your bike and whatever your ability, you will find comprehensive advice to help improve your riding.  Whether you need tips on how to warm up like Wiggo, a little understanding on good training food or the ins and outs of riding in a group, British Cycling can help.

The zone has the very latest advice from coaches and technical staff at British Cycling.  Members have full access to the Insight Zone, including their nine month sportive training plans and comprehensive technique videos.

For more detailed advice, tailored training plans or to find out about club coaching sessions please contact your British Cycling Level 3 Road & Time Trial Coach, Chris Sellings:


Granola Bars for Winter rides and summer Sportives

So, many people have asked for the recipe for these bars after a taster at one event or other. I have made and eaten them for several years and always found them to be tastier and far more nutritious than the things you buy in the store…especially those oxymoronic low-calorie energy bars(?) Go figger.

This recipe contains enough to keep pretty much all your systems going in all but the hardest of events (where you may need a higher ratio of sugars) and has both quick release sugars, slow carbs, nuts for protein and micro nutrients, dried fruit and salt for electrolytes and loads of roughage to make you a, er, regular racer. The bars taste delicious and with a bit of attention you will get the consistency just right so they do not crumble but can be torn off into a chunk easily for consumption while riding.

Some history: I got the recipe from a racer in New Jersey who had in turn been passed the recipe when he was inducted into the League of Red Headed Cyclists in the far west. The recipe was not supposed to be passed on and he has, since he passed it on to me, passed on.

However, there is more good to be served here by a serving of granola than bad to be had by hiding the formula, and so it follows.

Measurements in US cups can be roughly translated based on 1 Cup=.675 regular Mug

——————-Wheel Energy Granola Bars——————-
…………….Goodness in races for miles and miles and miles…………

Recipe ingredients.

5 cups oats
1.5 cup wheat germ
1 cup flax seed
1 cup sunflower seeds
1 cup pumpkin seeds
1 cup peanuts or almonds, crushed a little if you like to.
1.5 cup brown sugar or 500g Jaggery (Cane sugar extract found in all Asian stores and loaded with things your body likes)
1 cup honey
1 stick butter
4 tsp vanilla extract
1 tsp sea salt
1lb Raisins or cranberries or goji berries or all 3.

Other stuff:
Baking tray 20″ x 10″ x .75”
Wax paper
Large stiff bread board or cutting board bigger than the baking tray.
Long sharp knife
Clingfilm wrap

Make the Binding caramel: Put the brown sugar (or Jaggery), honey, butter, vanilla, and salt into a saucepan and bring to a simmer, stirring constantly.

Keep this mixture on a low heat for 20 minutes boiling all the time. The longer this mix cooks the harder and firmer the bars will be. Keep careful tabs. Too soft and bars will melt in your pocket on a hot day, too hard and they will be tough to break and chew while riding.

You can test the mix by putting a teaspoon on a cold plate and placing in freezer for a few minutes. You want it so it is firm but not so it is hard. You will have to test and adjust the caramel to get this consistency as it varies depending on ingredients. The key is more sugar means firmer mix, more butter means looser. Adjust if you need to based on testing.

Roast the mix:

Start by roasting only the oats and wheat germ for 15min and make sure to turn every minute or two so they do not burn. You do not want them even browning.

Then add all the nuts, roast another 3-5 minutes with turning: Nuts singe very easily, you must keep turning and watch every minute or so or you will burn your nuts. 🙂

Add the raisins last and roast for 1 min, remove from heat. Leave to cool.

Prepare a non stick baking tray 20″ x 10″ x .75” approx. Butter the surface. If it is not a non-stick tray, line it with buttered wax paper.
Have another sheet of wax paper slightly larger than the tray buttered on one side and ready.

In a large mixing bowl pour the roasted mix and make a pit into which you pour the caramel mixing very thoroughly making sure there are no dry spots. This can take several minutes of mixing and you need to really dig down and turn it all over to avoid pockets of dry.

You can add flavours here. I use about 1 tbsp Cinnamon and 1 tsp Cardamom if you like these tastes. They make the bars very interesting. You can also add some Pomegranate sauce (several tablespoons) to give a little zip and lift the taste. Lots of good electrolytes in this also.

Once mixed thoroughly, spoon the mixture evenly across the prepared tray, spread it out and then press flat with a spoon. This layer should be about .25 inch higher than the try lip.

Place the second layer of waxed paper on top of mix butter-side down.

Place the large firm bread board on the tray, place tray on the floor and then stand on the bread board several times and move your feet all around the board around to compress the mixture to an even layer.

Make sure to do this across the whole area of the tray and several times. This will create a packed cake of granola that will set up as a slab.

Now leave to cool.

Remove the whole “cake” of granola from the tray when cool by turning upside down and dropping onto a clean surface you can cut on.

Peel off the wax paper (from the bottom which is now top) if you used it. If it is sticking, take a dish towel and soak in V hot water and then rest on the wax paper a while, this will melt the butter and caramel underneath just enough to release the paper.

Slice this “cake” up. It should make 16-18 bars about 5″ long.

Wrap in Saran wrap and store dry for consumption. The bars do not need refrigeration and will keep a long time.

Label with date and ingredients as you may share with people who and may have food allergies and they need to know what they are eating.

Depending on ingredients, a bar of 5″ by 2″ by .75″ is about 300-400 cals and should be good for 30+ easy miles or a great recovery snack after a race. Good for all sorts of other things to.

I have wondered if a man could live on 4 bars a day for a week….if you want to try it let me know and I will supply the bars.

This may not need to be said but: when eating some bar during hard exercise, be sure to bite off a chunk and store it in a cheek so you can continue to breathe. Then let it slowly dissolve and chew it a piece at a time very thoroughly to break down the outer shells on the grains and release the starches and goodness. You cannot go wrong.


“In Velo, Veritas”

Mike J

TCC 2012 Sportive Challenge Final Results


We are very pleased to announce the FINAL results for the 2012 Sportive challenge.
After much debate, tabulation, emails, heated words, tears, more emails, and of course much fiddling around with Excel, you can see the results yourself below.
Overall winner on distance ridden, the measurement which accounts for prizes, is Dave Kahn for his impressive 20 events which total over 6,000km, far and away the leader in turning the pedals over those long rides. Notable here is the fact that Dave is the ONLY Gold winner, which may indicate some of us were just not trying hard enough given that Dave would have won gold almost 4 times, were that possible.
Many Congtratulations on your Gold (1000 miles+) win Dave, very well deserved!
Following Dave we have in Silver (1000kM+):
James Levey & Mike Miach for their single minded completion of the brutal Haute Route which included farce and tragedy.
Eleanor Brewer, the first woman to place for Silver and who earned some of it riding around a huge freezing lake in some far away place near the arctic.
Kevin Bird who quietly rode almost every major event that came up this year.
Well done Silver winners!
And finally in Bronze (500kM+):
Claire Miller, Stephen Rush, Graeme York, Mac, Sol Findlay, Jason Harris & Daniel Goldsmith
I have classed the remaining riders as “Ferrum” indicating that this year they were forged as Sportive riders and next year they will be transformed via the alchemy of competitivness to precious metals. (Bear with me here)
Special note: We began tabulating metres ascended starting in June and calculating the Ratio of Ascent number based on June+ KM ridden and June+ Metres ascended. You can see a second table on the right showing the same data sorted by Metres ascended totals, the column on the very far right.
On this basis, many Kudos (but no prizes) to James Levey & Mike Miach (again) and also to Jason Harris for putting in some big numbers on the Cols of Italy and France. Note that if you did not send numbers after June, the June+ columns will be empty.
Special recognition to Lisa West who, although just missing the Bronze category, rode a huge number of vertical metres and so scored a mighty impressive 39 RA, the highest RA number this year. What does this mean? It means Lisa only does the hardest of hard events. That will be a hard number to beat next year.
If you want to know more about riding Sportives, especially the really big ones, have a look at the Sportive page on the site (Activites->Sportives) where you will be treated to a great array of ride reports and photos of our gallant riders tackling some of the hugest climbs in the world on their bikes. Many thanks to Daniel, Stephen, Tim, James and Bill who have all contributed to this collection. If you would like to be published (in a small way) here is your chance. Send me your story with a photo of you in Kit and, it may be published 🙂
You should also feel free to email me or to reach out and ask around for clubmates who have ridden specific events for some background. There is now a wealth of information for you to tap into.
My thanks to all who have helped put this together, ridden on, fallen off and got back on, and written for; this great compettition. 
I look forward to the ceremony to follow were you (Gold Silver and Bronze) will be given your just rewards 🙂
  TCC-SPORTIVE-CHALLENGE: Dec 1 2011 – Sept 30 2012   TOTAL kM RIDDEN 20,072     Sorted by Ascent      
  Bronze – 500km   TOTAL M CLIMBED 181,472            
  Silver – 1000km                      
  Gold – 1000miles                      
  Awarded Certificate & Benefits                      
  Highest Mileage – Trophy                      
# Rider Km Totals KM – June+ Ascent June+ STATUS Ratio of Ascent   #   Km Totals KM – June+ Ascent June+
1 Dave Kahn 6,227 1,755 14,050 GOLD 8.0   1 James Levey 1,455 1,206 25,354
2 James Levey 1,455 1,206 25,354 SILVER 21.0   2 Mike Miach 1,155 1,045 21,000
3 Mike Joseph 1,287 765 15,319 SILVER 20.0   3 Jason Harris 547 954 18,501
4 Mike Miach 1,155 1,045 21,000 SILVER 20.1   4 Mike Joseph 1,287 765 15,319
5 Eleanor Brewer 1,056 713 5,704 SILVER 8.0   5 Dave Kahn 6,227 1,755 14,050
6 Kevin Bird 1,022 412 9,549 SILVER 23.2   6 Lisa West 431 314 12,342
7 Claire Miller 833 496 4,483 BRONZE 9.0   7 Kevin Bird 1,022 412 9,549
8 Stephen Rush 824 378 8,217 BRONZE 21.8   8 Stephen Rush 824 378 8,217
9 Graeme York 647 351 5,788 BRONZE 16.5   9 Sol Findlay 560 443 7,317
10 Mac 573 427 5,788 BRONZE 13.6   10 Graeme York 647 351 5,788
11 Sol Findlay 560 443 7,317 BRONZE 16.5   11 Mac 573 427 5,788
12 Jason Harris 547 954 18,501 BRONZE 19.4   12 Eleanor Brewer 1,056 713 5,704
13 Daniel Goldsmith 510 416 5,177 BRONZE 12.4   13 Daniel Goldsmith 510 416 5,177
14 Kate Balchin 487 0   FERRUM 0   14 Emma Towers 333 173 4,867
15 Bill Henry 440 146 2,438 FERRUM 16.7   15 Claire Miller 833 496 4,483
16 Lisa West 431 314 12,342 FERRUM 39.3   16 Togo Keynes 268   3,668
17 Duncan Schwier 366 80 1,541 FERRUM 19.3   17 Denis Bidinost 319 169 3,050
18 Briand Beausoleil 342 128 1,829 FERRUM 14.3   18 Kay Thomson 169 169 3,050
19 Emma Towers 333 173 4,867 FERRUM 28.1   19 Bill Henry 440 146 2,438
20 Denis Bidinost 319 169 3,050 FERRUM 18.0   20 Martin Murray 221 146 2,438
21 Togo Keynes 268   3,668 FERRUM     21 Briand Beausoleil 342 128 1,829
22 Martin Murray 221 146 2,438 FERRUM 16.7   22 Duncan Schwier 366 80 1,541
23 Kay Thomson 169 169 3,050 FERRUM 18.0   23 Stephen Campbell 115 115 1,206
24 John Lakin 117 0 0 FERRUM     24 John Lakin 117 0 0
25 Stephen Campbell 115 115 1,206 FERRUM 10.5   25 Denise Quinlan 101 0 0
26 Denise Quinlan 101 0 0 FERRUM     26 Steven Thorpe 100 0 0
27 Steven Thorpe 100  


2012 Etape ride report by Stephen Rush

Although the event started from Pau, our tour company had us staying in Lourdes. For the uninitiated, Lourdes has been a place of Catholic pilgrimage since a local girl claimed to have seen the Virgin Mary appear to her in a rock face in 1858. A number of subsequent claimed miracles have resulted in it being a destination for people seeking miracle cures for various medical conditions.


It’s sad enough to see throngs of poor people in wheelchairs with terminaStephen climbs the Telegraphl illnesses trying to find a miracle cure with their last throw of the dice. But it’s utterly depressing to see huge numbers of vultures preying on them in the form of shops selling everything from Pope soap-on-a-rope to empty holy water bottles with a picture of the crucifixation tastefully depicted in pink glitter. I promise you I am not making this up.

The place is summed up by the monument overlooking the town – a 50ft-high cross in blue neon. It truly is Catholic Vegas. Another reason the town didn’t endear itself to me was the fact that as soon as the wheelchair users go to bed, their carers go out on the tear. Every night, til about 4am. Not ideal when you’re trying to get some sleep before an early start. But after putting the bike together in a grand-scale faff, it did feel good to be riding the 25 miles to Pau as a warm-up on the Saturday. And here was the first indication that we were in France – the drivers. Our tour party was in a group of 250, and even with the best will in the world and some judicious kerb-hugging single-filing, there were times when we were impeding the traffic.

And we did get a few horns. Except instead of the expected 2-fingered gestures, the horns were accompanied by waves and “Allez!”s. Cool. So after a couple of hours of signing on, storing the bikes, eating, drinking coffee, browsing the trade stands and drinking more coffee, we were on the coach back to Lourdes. Event day dawned and after another night of trying to get some sleep despite the wheelchair-pushing revellers, we were up for a 4am breakfast. It really wasn’t very pretty, but needs must, and by 4.45 we were in the coach, in the pitch black, trying to avoid the wheelchair-pushers on the way back from the bars. We picked up the bikes in Pau, did whatever last-minute prep we had to do, and rode to the start area.

The bike lock-up was 2 miles from the start area, so inevitably, yes, we got lost. 15 minutes, lots of swearing, some futile map consultation and some pidgin French later, we were in the pens ready to go. I was shaking with nerves at this stage, but the early morning cloud looked like it was burning off, and the glimpse of the mountains in the distance helped to focus the mind. Apart from the tannoy giving us last-minute instructions, there was silence. 10,000 people making no noise at all is an eerie sound. And then it was 7am and we were off. I say “we”, I mean the lucky ones with low bib numbers. Us peasants up in the 5,000s had to wait for 20 minutes or so (the 9,000s waited for nearer 40), and then this was it, going over the start mat and there I was, riding the Etape. Très cool.

Within literally 50 metres of the start I saw the first of many punctures, the victim desperately trying to get the air in while we flew past and he dropped several hundred places. You did something bad in a former life, didn’t you mate? It was all a bit nervous in the first few miles with a lot of riders in close proximity and some tight corners but nothing too untoward happened.

The closest I saw to an international incident was a French rider cutting up an Aussie, causing some rapid braking and a Franco-Antipodean comparison of hand gestures. My suggestion to Oz that he use the Mark Renshaw cranial line-clearing technique was not best received. The first climb of the day was the Cote De Renoir which was rolling rather than steep, so a nice little leg-loosener really. And yet already there were one or two walking – going to be a long day for you I’m afraid.

My first minor mechanical was on a flat section after about 25 miles where a small section of the front tyre bead popped off the rim for no appparent reason. Eh? Oh well, better resign myself to getting off and fixing it while I drop several hundred places. I must have done something bad in a former life. Hope I wasn’t Charles Manson. Or even worse, Wagner. Fix it, get back on it and prepare to face the Marie Blanque. Although the shortest of the three major climbs on the stage, it is the steepest and consequently has a reputation for catching out those who underestimate the top section in particular. Cast your mind back to O Level/GCSE/8th Grade math(s). Remember x=y squared? This should jog your memory:

Quite an eventful climb, this one. On the middle 7% section I saw the first of the two heart attack victims on the day being carried off in the “cardio” wagon. But I was feeling good. I was riding within myself – keeping the heart rate below 150bpm, spinning a low gear, and quietly moving up a good few places despite the increasing heat. And then on the top (11%) section it all went a bit wrong for an awful lot of people. At this stage the road was maybe 6 riders wide, and forcing 10,000 riders up it was always going to cause trouble. Somewhere a few rows up the hill, someone wobbled and fell off. The riders in close proximity unclipped instinctively and put their feet down, the action was replicated down the hill like a lycra-clad set of dominos, and suddenly we were all walking. For the remaining 2km of the climb. Not happy about that – it added about 30 mins to my time.

But then there we were, at the top, and at the feed station. It did resemble feeding time at the zoo, but a few judicious elbows got me what I needed (including some devilish French almond energy bar concoction that was basically marzipan in a wrapper – I got through quite a few of those as it happens) and I was on my way again. The descent was fantastic – closed roads allow you to apex the bends at daft speeds and 50mph looked possible until I approached a hairpin and saw someone who’d obviously thought the same as me, overcooked it, and ridden straight into a stone wall. The ambulance team was pumping him into a kind of bubblewrap stretcher. Time to back it off a bit maybe. Then into the lovely rural rolling section in the run up to the Soulor. The support up until this stage from the locals had been enthusiastic but nothing too out of the ordinary.

At this point though it all started to get a bit Royston Vasey. We rounded a corner in a beautiful wooded hamlet to the accompaniment of a man in a beret with an accordion. Not sure if he was playing for us or his pigs. Best press on. (NB: American readers – for Royston Vasey and an accordion substitute Deliverance and a banjo to get the idea. Leave the pigs though). And then the valley began to echo to the strains of what sounded like an alpenhorn. I could hear it bouncing off the surrounding cliffs and its siren call seemed to draw me further along the road.

And the illusion was shattered in an instant when I saw the source of the noise – a man over the other side of the valley on his balcony “playing” a vuvuzela. Blue, it was, with “France” written on the side of it. Most incongruous. I’d been worrying a bit about the Soulor, not because it was the longest (it wasn’t) or the steepest (ditto), but because it was the middle one. Like a three-lap Richmond Park session writ large, the second lap’s always the slowest – you haven’t got the adrenalin of just starting off, and you haven’t got the comfort of knowing that the pain’s going to be soon over. All you’ve got is the knowledge that it’s going to hurt, and it’s going to do so for the foreseeable. Here’s what it looks like:

So 10k of essentially false flat and then a lot of x=2y. To be honest it dragged a bit, this one, and the increasing heat didn’t help. Again, peg the heart rate below 150 and spin. Look at the drop-dead gorgeous scenery and don’t get offended when the locals cheer the French riders louder than they cheer you. I have to say though, the support from here on in was fantastic – they don’t know you from Adam so they key off your jersey – “Allez Twicken’am”, “Allez Tay Say Say”. Brilliant. The few Brits supporting made a bit more noise when they saw one of their own and they all got an RAF-style goggle salute in return. Minor mechanical number two happened around halfway up the Soulor – my headset began to develop a nasty creak that developed into an even more nasty cracking noise. Hmmm – better sort that out at the top. Don’t fancy the front wheel leaving the rest of the bike at 45mph.

So more places lost but equal parts Allen key waggling and swearing and I was back on the horse. Suspect I might well have been Wagner after all. The descent of the Soulor was one of the highlights for me – brakes off, aero tuck on, 47mph on the straights, try not to paste yourself into the walls on the bends, apex tight. Top drawer. At this stage the knees were giving me a lot of grief. I’d stupidly bought new shoes and pedal cleats a month before the event and I clearly hadn’t set them up properly beacuse my knees were grumbling from the first ride. Throughout the day the grumble developed into a shout and then a roar that no amount of Ibuprofen seemed to have much effect on. The video clips on the Etape website show someone who seems to have developed a unique ability to limp while pedalling.

Not so much turning circles as squares with one leg and rhombuses with the other. Horrible, horrible, horrible. There was a bit of a headwind at this point, and I managed to get myself into a group of 7 or so. I have to say we worked pretty well together, encouraging each other and generally contributing to the entente cordiale. And then we rounded a bend on the flat to see a rider on the side of the road, covered in blood. He was standing up, swearing, but seemed to be more angry than hurt. We all looked at him and in doing so I managed to lock handlebars with someone. By the time we’d extricated ourselves from that little mess, we were too far down the road to stop. Hope the bloody rider’s OK. If not, I’m sure we’ll be making Zombieland 2 shortly. We’ll be looking for extras.

Our tour company had set up a feed station at about 95 miles and I have to say it was very welcome – ham baguettes and cold Coke has never tasted so good – man cannot live by marzipan alone. The run up to the final climb was very pretty indeed – a steep gorge filled with a tumbling glacial river with the road going through tunnels in the rock. My roommate passed through here a little later and told me that he’d seen a bizarre sight – rows and rows of riders lying down alongside their bikes, desperately trying to cool down in the shade, trying to escape the heat. It must have looked like some sort of two-wheeled suicide cult. I looked down at my computer and it ticked over to 100 miles. Quick status check – all good, feeling fine. Bit tired and knee hurting but nothing a quick marzipan bar and more Ibuprofen wouldn’t sort out. And then I saw the sign – 18km to the Tourmalet, and I passed over the timing mat at the start of the climb in 7 hours 25 mins. 18km – that’s less than my commute. No traffic lights so I should be done in around 40 mins, right? Might even sneak a sub-8 if I get a shove on.

1 hour and 55 minutes later I crossed the finish line, having been given a damn good humbling by the Tourmalet. It is two hours that I will carry with me to my grave. It’s not so much the gradient – 8s, 9s, a cheeky 10 in the last km – it’s the fact that it’s just relentless. Nowhere to hide from the gradient or the sun. A few bends, but basically a straight road that just goes up, and up, and up.  Like this:

It’s rare that the Etape and the Tour proper are so close to each other in the calendar, so since the pro riders were hitting this stage the Thursday after, every available parking space and vaguely flat piece of land was already filled with camper vans full of Tour spectators. They were well-prepared with solar generators, TVs linked to video cameras so you could see yourself suffering as you approached them, tables, chairs, barbeques. They got us as bonus entertainment, but they made us feel like we really were in the Tour. We were all suffering in the heat, but endless bottles of ice-cold stream water poured over the head by enthusiastic supporters helped enormously. Personally I think the guy who got his garden hose out was taking it too far but I wasn’t in a position to argue. And the mobile entertainer belting out French rock’n’roll needed a good punching (I assume he was a mobile entertainer but maybe, this being France, his band had gone on strike in a dispute over working hours and pension terms).

He’d managed to inflict pain on the only part of my body that so far hadn’t been hurting – my ears. Take that Jonny ‘alliday. Or at least you would if I only had the strength to lift my right arm off the bars. I had wondered why the organisers had put a water stop with only 8k to go but now it all made sense – the (by now 36C) heat had meant that I’d got through my two bottles in the last 10k so a refill was not just welcome but a necessity. Resist the temptation to have a breather and crack on. Carnage at this point – riders walking, puking, lying down, sticking heads in streams to cool down, crying. The Norwegian fans, however, were out in force on the upper mountain for Hushovd and Boasson Hagen, covering entire hillsides with Norwegian flags and generally taking over the place.

And God love’em, they’d built a bar. Not just a trestle table and a few cans of lager, but a proper one with wood, nails, a keg and even a pub sign – The Little Viking it was called. They were offering free beer to riders but to be honest I suspect once you’re in that little vortex you’re not going to get out in a hurry, so I pressed on. This was probably the low point for me. Not just passing up free beer (although that hurt, obviously), but seeing the summit for the first time and wondering how the hell I was going to get up to it. I was struggling to get my heart rate above 135, a sure sign that I was cooking up, so I had to rein it in and try to keep spinning. I have never seen km markers pass so slowly. With nothing left to give, the temptation to step off the bike was enormous, and in fact many did just that.

But I tried to remember that I was here by choice, had spent a lot of time, money and effort on the way, and when it was about to get too much I tried to look over the side at the stunning scenery. That helped a bit, but the final km was a bit of a blur. The spectators were trying to help, but clearly didn’t have much of a collective sense of distance – I got “seulement cinquante metres!”, “a hundred meters to go!” and “deux cent metres!” in short order. Either I’m going backwards (which, to be fair, I kind of was) or you lot don’t know a tape measure from a hole in the ground. So a final effort and there I was, over the line. Done.

Someone had helpfully puked right on the line, and in my borderline delirious state I remember thinking “Apple chunks. You see, it just goes to show, always wash your fruit in mineral water when abroad”. I got off the bike and out of the way and then thought it would be a good idea to get a photo of me with the Tourmalet sign. The only problem was that it was on top of a wall, and after two attempts it was clear I didn’t have the strength to climb up it. A French guy, who was 70 if he was a day, reached down, grabbed my arm and pulled me up as if I was a small child. I was about to give him a hug but realised I was drenched so reverted to a handshake and profuse thanks. So I got my photo, dropped down the wall, tried to keep the wobbly lower lip in check and set off down the hill to the finish village. The rest is a blur of carbohydrate.

As the official website rather archly puts it: “6888 riders finished this legendary stage before the time limit. A lot of participants were eliminated during the Tourmalet climbing, most of them were not enough prepared and trained”. Miaow. Luckily I wasn’t one of them. I got round in 9 hours,19 minutes, 3436th of 10,000 starters. And I had been feeling fairly satisfied with that, until I saw Andy Schleck do it on Thursday in 5 hours 3 minutes (shakes head).

So that’s that. Obviously I’ll be doing it or something similar again next year – just need to pick my moment (like in about 6 months time, after having made multiple large deposits in the relationship bank) to discuss with mission control.

2012 Fred Whitton Report by Stephen Rush

For those unaware of this event, “the Fred” is a 112 mile sportive that takes in most of the major Lake District passes in its 3950m of climbing. In short, it’s a bit of a beast.


The day started pretty well. Graeme and I met up at the Coniston event village at 6.45am having gone through a couple of formalities (him signing on; me buying tubes and a multitool after having left my seatpack on the other bike at home – doh!). Emma had told us she was going for a start as close to 6am as possible and was with some slower riders so we assumed we’d see her en route. The faffing was surprisingly minimal and we got going within a few minutes of our aim time. My plan was simple – ride within myself and keep something in reserve for the Hardknott Pass that defeated me last time. I’d driven through Coniston the day before and reminded myself of the 12% Hawkshead Hill within a mile of the start. No way was I working hard this early in the day so Graeme and I stuck it in the bottom gear, span up and chatted. It was looking like a good day was on the cards – the sun was out, I was riding with a clubmate and the countryside was gorgeous. That feeling lasted all of 20 minutes until the front end started to wobble about a bit and I looked down to see that familiar and unwelcome spread of rubber on tarmac. A p******* this early? Come on. Graeme offered to wait but I had a horrible feeling this might not be the last of it and I had everything I needed so I told him to get on with his ride and maybe I’d see him en route. Just about everyone that passed me while I fixed the flat asked if

I had everything I needed – it’s that sort of ride. I reminded myself of this every time I passed other riders who’d suffered the same inconvenience and repaid the compliment. They were all prepared so all good. So back on the horse and up the Kirkstone Pass. About halfway up it I got the front-end wobble again. Yep, another p*******. You’ve got to be kidding me. I pulled over and just about managed to restrain myself from throwing the bike over a dry-stone wall when a white van pulled into the layby. Now, being a London cycle commuter, I’m used to getting grief off white vans and was subconsciously tooling up for a discussion about “road tax” and red lights. So what a pleasant surprise it was when a man with an almost impenetrable Lancashire accent asked if I was OK. Yes thanks mate. Would I like a new inner tube? Yes please, I would. Would I like him and his team to replace it for me? Too right I would. Turns out I’d been visited by the p******* faeries aka the Saddleback Neutral Service vehicle, who were just extraordinarily nice, helpful people. A credit to the event. Here’s what they went through in what must have been a very long day for them (although the clip’s only 6 mins):

I was still cursing my luck but the Saddleback guys told me about a “rider-on-rider” crash 200m from the start that put at least one rider in hospital with suspected cranial fractures. That put two p*******s into perspective. This turned out to be the last of my mechanicals so with only about 20 mins or so lost it was back on the horse again and up over the Kirkstone. The descent off here is fabulous – I got up to 47mph before it all went a bit “She canna take it cap’n” and I backed off just in time to see a TCC rider walking back up the hill. Except it wasn’t Graeme or Emma. Turns out this was the “a bit”. Graeme and I had bumped into a TCC jersey-wearing rider on the start line but we didn’t recognize him. He introduced himself as Stephen and described himself as a lapsed member having moved to York 4 years ago. This is him:

Anyone know him? The results don’t list him so I guess the Kirkstone was the end of his day.

After about 30 miles the ride down the A66 to Keswick is usually some of the fastest riding of the day – downhill on wide roads. Not this time though – toady it was straight into a headwind (according to weather channel, 21mph with gusts of up to 46mph) that needed the inner ring on slight inclines. I did anyway. This headwind would be with us for the next 55 miles and so made a big difference.

It was about this point that I started to develop the neck and shoulder pain that would stay with me for the rest of the ride and would ramp up from a dull ache to get-off-the-bike-and-stretch-it-out painful throughout the day. At this point though it was manageable so I got on with the business in hand, namely the Honister Pass. I really quite like this climb. It’s steep (up to 25%) and it goes on a bit but there’s a real sense of height gained – you go from the Borrowdale valley floor to the clouds in a very short space of time. The view is spectacular as well, which helps you forget the pain. About half way up I saw a rider leaning on his bike in a layby. He had (how shall I put this?) a fairly low centre of gravity and was breathing like a mare giving birth. He was wearing abut a grand’s worth of Assos and leaning on 8 grand’s worth of R5. I felt really quite smug. For about 10 seconds. At which point I was passed at speed by an old boy with a thousand yard stare on a bottom-end Spesh Allez. That’ll learn me. And that’s the thing about cycling, isn’t it? You can chuck all the money in the world at it, but if you’re not putting the work in, it’s all for nought. It is truly not about the bike. Dammit.

The very steep descent of the Honister was taken easily as the head-on gusts were making me nervous but the Buttermere feed stop at 52 miles was a welcome opportunity to stretch out the back. I’d learned to take their advice about not overeating here seriously (the Newlands pass starts about 400m later) so filled my pockets full of sarnies and cracked on. The ascent of the Newlands was fairly uneventful (apart from the consumption of my own bodyweight in cheese sarnies at the top) but the descent was fun, fun, fun. Wide open enough so that you can see what’s coming but twisty enough to keep you on your toes. As a Honister 92 rider found to his cost as he flew past me at about 50mph straight into the path of an oncoming car – they avoided the collision but he was wobbling in the verge at speed for what felt like an eternity. But I seem to remember that little incident didn’t stop me making “neeeeooooowwww!” noises down the rest of it. It’s that kind of descent, and I have an emotional age of 12.

The Whinlatter’s always fun, and this time proved no exception. There are plenty of parking places and a caff, so the supporters line the route. The cheering and the cowbells increase in volume as you get near the summit and I know it shouldn’t make a difference to your perception of how difficult the climb is, but it does. In fact the support all the way round was tremendous – some of them were obviously friends and family of riders but a lot of them were locals out for the day or cheering from their front gardens. You can tell which are the locals – the accent is thick as soup and they smile like this . And then straight over the top into the wind. Pedalling hard downhill when you know you should be spinning out is not fun. I knew this section would be hard. It’s basically a way to add some miles on between the Whinlatter and the Kardknott. In still conditions it’s my least favourite part of the route anyway (definite Richmond Park second-lap syndrome here); into a headwind it was miserable. At 70 miles I was passed by Rob Jebb (who posted the fastest time of the day – 5:59) hauling a group of 10 or so round. And when I say hauling, I do mean hauling. Unbelievable speed into a big wind. I had a big sulk at this point, which was only slightly put into perspective by seeing a rider on the side of the road who, head in hands, told me his dropout had broken and his day was over. I thought about suggesting he go singlespeed, but looking at his face and remembering what was to come (!), I thought better of it. I stopped to stretch out the back, spreading arms wide to relieve the pain. A Honister 92 rider (they were numerous) rode past and cheerfully told me he’d thought I was a scarecrow. That didn’t help the sulk. Neither did going up Cold Fell into the teeth of the gale. This was my personal nadir, only improved slightly by the spectacular and ominously beautiful view of Sellafield from the top of the fell overlooking the sea. The second feed stop was a welcome respite for the back and a good chance to get more sarnies on board. And possibly a clotted cream scone. And oh go on then just one more they’re not very big are they but I’ll have to have a cup of tea to go with it yes two sugars please.

And then the final stretch. I remember last time being defeated by the view of the Hardknott before I’d even set tyre on it. I wasn’t letting that happen again. As I said to one rider at this point, it’s only a piece of (expletive deleted) rock – how difficult can it be (!)? I took it very easy here and tried not to let Irton Pike (a printer’s ink smudge on the elevation profile but after a hard century, demoralising) get to me. One last stretch of the back and a caffeine gel (which tasted like sick had been sick – never again), and there it was, the 30% sign:

Or, to paraphrase Dante, “Abandon hope all ye who pedal here”. Debate rages about how steep it actually is. The sign obviously has it at 30%. Most riders talk about the top switchback as being at 33%. I’m not sure. But what I do know is that this man:

Regretted going for the 1.4 litre diesel eco-conscious frugal option. Not for nothing do locals call it the Hard**** (for those wanting the unexpurgated version, read Chaucer or speak to Tom K). Back at the bottom, I was up over a cattle grid and straight into the first 25% section. Grind it up but try to keep some in reserve. Don’t change up in the middle 15% section. Spin. I say spin but of course I don’t mean in the Tuesday night Mac-driven 140rpm turbage sense of the word. I mean a marginal increase in cadence over glacial. About 50rpm, but feels like Rollapaluza after what’s gone before. And then here it is, the switchback I fell off last time. Get out of the saddle, heave on the bars and crank like life depended on it. I got to the top and almost fell off when someone stuck a camera right in my face. I think I’m glad that image seems to be lost in the bowels of the internet. That was it – I’d cracked the Hardknott, which was really the main thing I’d come here to do. And yet even the top 15% section wasn’t without its hazards – a rider ahead of me was zig-zagging across the road, trying to reduce the gradient and in doing so missed my front wheel by millimetres. Think Ferrari/Cav on stage 3 of this year’s Giro, but in super slo-mo (or even pause). I advised him of my presence, he suggested I reproduce elsewhere. I left him in my wake (have some of that, sweary…). At this point I looked behind to try to get a view of the beautiful Eskdale, but that would have meant getting off the bike, and there was no way I was doing that. So straight into the descent. Hairy. Awful surface, steep, off camber, back spasms. But down without incident and then into the last signature climb of the day. It was now payback time for 50 miles of headwind, and the tailwind here felt like the breath of God (trying to dissuade me from my atheism). Hard, but not Hardknott hard. The rest was a bit more up and down with just enough left in the tank for a burn-up back to Coniston. And that was it. Across the finish line and into the arms of my kids (missus not having any of it – far too sweaty. Me, obviously…). And then into the queue for the post-ride meal, which was as if I’d been asked to design the menu. Pasty, mushy peas, tea and proper caramel shortbread. Recovery shake my ar5e.

The massage tent was queued out so my kids took great delight in walking (read jumping/running) up and down my back. The screams were pitiful.

Graeme and Emma will regale you with their tales of woe and elation from the same event, but in the meantime, the internet has provided these:

Team Unintentional Irony also had a few riders out.

Here’s TUI rider #1:

Yes, that is a heavyweight rider in a Lightweight jersey.

Here’s TUI rider #2:

Yes – great joy – another heavyweight rider in a Lightweight jersey (Irony Cycles must have had a sale on XXXLs).

And I suppose after that unprovoked abuse of people who I’ve never met and I’m sure are actually lovely, I have to take this one on the chin and show you TUI rider #3:

A man called Rush riding in a manner that suggests he’s in anything but.


2012 Haute Route Ride Report by James Levey


It started, as so many of these things do, with an alcoholic haze. In a moment of unguarded weakness I simply said the word “yes”.  The next morning, I realised what I had actually said “yes” to……Haute Route – billed as the most challenging sportive in the world (well, they all say that, don’t they!).  Funnily enough, upon investigation, it turned out that this time they might have been telling the truth. 780km, 19 categorised climbs involving over 21,000 metres of vertical ascent over 7 days.  I read it all and thought, how hard can that be?! After all, I have done my 92 mile, 9 hill challenge with Mike on the Sunday rides and bombed around Surrey Hills for a few years. There was the small matter of me never having ridden in the Alps (or on any mountains at all), but surely this was doable……? Well, it was, but my god it was the single most toughest physical thing I have ever done – but also one of the most satisfying and rewarding. I loved every single kilometre ridden and metre climbed. I would think that out of the 780km ridden, well over 400km would have been spent climbing.  I did things on a bike I have never done before and learnt so much about cycling and my abilities. The camaraderie and relationships you develop on the shared experiences of a ride like this were superb – I wanted to sign up for next year immediately afterwards.

 Day -2 to -1 – a long, long drive down to Geneva via Dijon. Sat in a cramped car (albeit branded and looking great! We had 2 support cars following us although they were not allowed to provide any assistance during the ride – they simply collected us off the floor at the end of each stage and transported us to our hotels and carried our luggage….and spares, of which we needed a lot!) for 2 days is the perfect preparation for 7 days of riding. I would highly recommend it to anyone who really wants to improve performance. Seemed never ending! We registered in the village on the shores of Lake Geneva on the Saturday and crammed our stomachs with as much pasta as we could possibly hold – it was about now that training/preparation/hydration/carbing up/tapering all started to come to our minds…..if only we had thought of this weeks ago!

 Day 1: Geneva to Megeve (120km. 2 X category 2 hills: Col de Romme (1,297m) and Col de la Colombiere (1,615m) & 1 X category 3 hill: Col de Aravis (1,486m))  – well, that was a surprise. Found out that Emma Pooley and the Kenyan national team were riding as well as BMC “works” team and a load of other ex-pros and whippet like racing snakes! This might be harder than I first thought. Still, head down, drink a lot and pedal hard. And gosh was it hard!  Turns out that riding in 35 degree heat makes you more thirsty. Who knew? The ride started well enough – a fast roll out of Geneva at 7.30am. A bit of an annoying French guy trying to whip us into a frenzy before the off with some ‘80’s dance music and stupid comments – most of us had the good sense to ignore him – it took him about 6 days before he realised and thankfully gave up. Pretty soon we were into the first climb – think it was about 25km long and gave us a taste for what was to come…..that would be either climbing or descending. There was a time limit cut off each day (based on a speed of 15kph from the time the last person crossed over the first timing mat – there was anything from a 10km to 30km “neutralised” zone, prior to the first timing mat, always situated at the beginning of the first climb – we usually finished on the top of a hill and therefore had to cycle down each day from the start to get to the first climb of the day where the timing would begin). If you didn’t make the cut off, you were not placed overall. You could still ride the stages but wouldn’t be considered a “finisher”.  Out of the 600 people who started the ride, 474 actually finished and were given places……and yes, I did make the cut off each day and finished 424th – not so bad for a first timer, but would definitely look to improve this next time.  With hindsight, I tried to keep my heart rate under 150 for as much of the time as possible as I didn’t want to blow up and not finish a stage – I did this and never once suffered from cramp or anything else so think that I could/should have pushed harder. It was my first time so I wasn’t 100% sure what to do or what I could do each day – I was always thinking about the hills and distance the next day, coming up! Might not have been the right strategy but it worked for me! 

 Day 2: Megeve to Courcheval (105km. 1 X category 2 hill: Col de Saisies (1,650m) & 1 X category 1 hill: Montee de Courcheval (1,850m)) – at the briefing the night before this stage, the organiser apologised as it included a 25km flat bit to get from one climb to the next – they had tried all sorts of different routes to prevent this but couldn’t make it work. Still, at least it was very windy so it felt like we were still working – god forbid we would have had it easy….although I did manage to bridge up to a larger group after the 1st descent so sheltered as we took pulls at the front.  Good day’s riding and stunning scenery with a 25km climb to the finish…..

 Day 3: Courcheval to Alp D’huez (136km. 2 X category 1 hills: Col de la Madelaine (1,993m) & Col du Glandon (1,924m) and 1 X category 2 hill: L’Alpe d’Huez (1,860m)) –  This was the biggest day with 4,700m of climbing in total and those of you who have done these hills will know what gradients they throw at you (especially Glandon for the last 3km!).  Was the toughest day’s riding I have ever experienced in my life (with the other 6 days coming close behind!). Long, hot and very, very hilly. No respite – you just had to grind it out.

 Day 4: L’Alpe D’huez TT (14km. 1 X category 1 hill: L’Alpe d’Huez (1,860m)) – this was amazingly billed as a rest day as it didn’t have any time cut off. You could take as long as you like. We did the traditional route from Borg D’Osions (but the timing mat was actually at the very bottom of the ascent) – I did it in 1:18 and loved it for being everything I had anticipated and seen on telly. Iconic and sent shivers down my spine. I sprinted for the last couple of km (I can prove this on my Garmin!) and wish I had gone faster earlier, but hey, next time……Had a lovely lunch on the course in Huez and watched the leaders come in later on as they started much, much later than me! Emma Pooley – honestly, there is nothing of her!

 Day 5: L’Alpe D’huez to Rissoul (136km. 2 X category 1 hills: Col d’Izoard (2,361m) & Montee de Risoul (1,850m), 1 X category 3 hill: Col de Sarenne (1,999m) and 1 X category 2 hill: Col du Lautaret (2,058m)) – For some reason, despite taking a bit easy on the TT the day before and getting rest and fed, I felt lousy on this stage. Tough, legs heavy, tired and the 23km climb up Izoard wasn’t much fun – especially the last 9km. It was hot…….

 Day 6: Risoul to Auron (98km. 1 X category 1 hill: Cime de la Bonette (2,802m), 1 X category 2 hill: Col de Vars (2,109m) & 1 X category 3 hill: Montee d’Auron (1,600m)) – Today I felt great – loved every km ridden and every metre climbed. La Bonette is the highest passable road in Europe and my god it’s a long, long tough climb – you have to dig deep and enjoy the ride and the top looks a little like the moon (not quite Ventoux, but similar in a way). The gradient isn’t particularly regular so you have some respite on the way up, along with the usual 8 and 9%. The run into Auron is short at 6km, but all at 8%.

 Day 7: Auron to Nice (171km. 1 X category 1 hill: Col de la Couillole (1,678m) & 2 X category 3 hills: Col de St Raphael (876m) & Col de Vence (962m)) – this was our last day and contained the last big climb. Beautiful scenery – although to be honest, every day was stunning…it might just have been that I noticed it more today! The race actually finished at the top of Col de Vence and then the whole peloton rode into Nice along the Promeande des Anglias which was amazing! Mind you, I got my one and only puncture of the whole ride (I had no mechanical problems at all) as we were leaving Vence and I got a police escort back up to the peloton – wrong side of the road, wrong way round roundabouts – most exciting part!

 It was beyond fantastic – something like 600 people started the ride and I think 474 qualified at the finish –  I think about 10 people retired hurt either through heat exhaustion or broken collar bones etc. Really sadly, one guy died on the last day – he was on the descent of the last Cat 1 climb and didn’t make it round a right hand bend. Don’t know the circumstances or the cause but of course this greatly saddened everyone on the ride – we were told at the final evening meal. We held a minutes silence and then dispersed.  

Tour of the Cotswolds report by Daniel Goldsmith


David Ryan, was a talented cyclist, rower and physicist.  He was tragically killed in 2004 by a speeding motorist whilst out training near his home in upstate New York.  The Circuit of the Cotswolds Sportive commemorates his life.  This would be my first 100 mile ride and there were 2,500 meters of climbing.  Riders are encouraged to raise money for the Helen and Douglas House, which provides hospice care for children and young adults with very serious illnesses, and thanks to the generosity of my friends and family I had raised over £800.


On the day of the Sportive my alarm went off at 4am.  Although I had gone to bed at 8pm, I felt as if I had slept for less than an hour.  After changing into my cycling kit, and eating breakfast, I ran through the checklist I had prepared the night before.  There would be no support cars following to give us new wheels or even bicycles in seconds.  I had packed tyre levers, a puncture repair kit, a multi tool, rubber gloves, coins and two spare inner tubes, one of which was taped to the frame.  I wasn’t leaving anything to chance.


I carefully wrapped a few snacks in tin foil.  The human body did not have enough glycogen stores to last for a 100 mile cycle ride.  If I didn’t eat on the ride I probably wouldn’t make it.  Once, as a 14 year old, I had arrived home after a long cycle ride weak, hungry and irritable.   My father, a pharmacist, had diagnosed low blood sugar and my mother had given me a meal which I had eaten in seconds.  Today I packed two bananas, three flapjacks, two almond slices, two caramel slices, and enough supplies to make three bottles of energy drink.  That should be enough.


In the briefing we learnt that there would only be one traffic light on the route.  With a volley of clicks we cleated in ready for the ride, and then, at last, we were off through the Oxfordshire countryside.  The air smelt of damp earth.  We rode silently through quiet country roads, bordered by hedgerows and occasionally passed through deserted villages of honey coloured stone.


I soon found myself in a large group of riders, making good speed. Suddenly I heard a crunch, and a scream.  I glanced behind and saw there had been a crash.  If I stopped I would not be able catch this group again, but this was not a race, and I was less concerned about my time than finishing.  I headed back to see if I could help.


A lady was lying on the ground unable to move.  Worried that she had broken her neck I gently held her head, whilst another rider stretched her cramping leg, careful not to move her.  After a while we learnt that she had landed on her shoulder, not her head, as she went over the top of another rider who had fallen in front of her.  Her neck was not broken and we were able to move her to the side of the road.  When her husband, who was riding with her, did not return I left her with her friend and went on to the feed station to summon help.


As we rode on the hills become steeper and higher.  After 60 miles we arrived at Cleeve Hill which has a gradient of 25%, far steeper than any hill I had ever trained on.  I slowed to walking pace.  I was worried that I might come to a complete stop, and topple over, unable to un-cleat myself in time.  About a third of the way up I admitted defeat and dismounted to push.  I was surprised to find that I was going quicker walking than two riders who were still cycling!


After 75 miles I found unexpected reserves of energy, and I joined a group of three other riders and we rode together to the finish.  We gave each other high fives after we crossed the finishing line, and I felt relieved and absolutely delighted to have finished.


The New York Century – ride report by Tim Bamford

The New York Century –  Sunday 9th September

It had seemed like a good idea at the time.  Like all half-forgotten conversations having taken place months before suddenly I was confronted with the reality of going to New York to ride a bike round the city for 100 miles in the 23rd edition of the New York Century organised by Transportation Alternatives, a not for profit organisation set up to promote cycling in the city.  Air miles and an offer of a bike loan had tipped the balance so I packed my white TCC ‘foreign excursions’ jersey and was on my way.

Saturday in Manhattan was not looking good.  Early grey skies and light rain had given way to sunshine and humidity pushing the temperature into the 90s.  As I sweatily made my way back from Soho to my hotel close to Central Park (chosen for its location to the start of the ride) Andy Murray was fighting a battle of his own in the US Open semis as much with the increasingly windy conditions as with his opponent.   By early evening weather warnings appeared on the local TV stations warning of tornadoes and heavy rain in Brooklyn and other areas of the city.  It was looking worse still.

Darkness and rain fell at about the same time as I made my way to the Upper East Side to have dinner with my riding companions and family.  Carbs loaded and loan bike set up adjusted I made my way back through the rain to my hotel having been reassured that by the time we met again the weather would have broken.  Given we were due to meet in about 6 hours time, I was less than convinced.   When we met again outside the same Upper East Side apartment I had eaten dinner a few hours ago it had indeed stopped raining.  It was warm.  It was dark.  We rolled around to the start in the middle of Central Park to join several thousand other riders many of whom had also signed up for the full 100 miles.  Like the nearby zoo, a number of familiar species of rider could be observed.  Mostly male, there were herds of MAMILS flanked by more dedicated looking club riders with a sprinkling of couriers, hipsters, fashionistas (it was NY Fashion Week) and the plain bicycle curious.

On the stroke of 6am we headed out under the cover of darkness in to midtown Manhattan.  For the city that never sleeps it was doing a pretty good impression of having slipped into a coma as we moved along a deserted 11th Avenue downtown.  By the time we reached the Village the field had already begun to break up and our small group were cheered by some young locals who I assumed were on their way home from the night before rather than having bravely made the effort to line the street to cheer us on.

When crossing Brooklyn Bridge the day was beginning to break with cloud clearing and the promise of blue skies ahead.  It was looking better.  Brooklyn is a large suburban sprawl which extends way beyond the hipsters of Williamsburg.  The roads were still quiet as we rode further into Sunday morning.  A long stretch of good road before the first food stop gave us the opportunity to establish a pecking order in our little group and after a short but sustained burst of speed TCC emerged ahead of the pack (there were no hills to speak of but with what climbing their was your correspondent would have bagged the KoM jersey as well…).   There were no further challenges along the way.

Brooklyn gave way to a section along the waterfront with stunning views across the water to Staten Island (the one borough not visited by the route) and a reminder of how much water surrounds New York.  The slightly grittier and more ethnically diverse but still determinedly suburban Queens was the next section.  Bagels and coffee were taken on board for further fortification for what was now becoming an increasingly sunny and warm day.   The next section (I think in the Forest Hills area) was more bucolic with the route following trails through extensive parkland.  Large amounts of leaves, twigs and other debris on the path were evidence of the high winds from the night before and some large puddles from the rain gave the course an unexpected (and for some a plainly unwelcome) cyclo-cross aspect.

As I was on a borrowed bike I could at least comfort myself with the thought that someone else was going to have to clean it…   As the day and the ride wore on we eventually entered the Bronx. Urban and full of grit.  The contrast with the Upper East Side could not have been more marked but there was a vibrancy and energy about the area and the people living in it (most of whom seemed to be engaged in one big street party) that made it the highlight of the ride (but MAMILS are probably better off not roaming around there after dark).   The route then brought us back to the top end of Manhattan and the fringes of Harlem before finally counting down the cross-street numbers to reach the end point in what was now a light and sunny Central Park.  It was looking a lot better.

We had been in the saddle for 9 hours which is apparently par for the course with food stops and endless careful crossing of junctions which soaked up a lot of time and meant there were no prolonged stretches of steady riding.  The stop and start also made it tiring even though the average speed was quite low and the terrain could not be said to be challenging in a Sunday Hill Ride kind of way.  It also helped having an experienced guide with us who could pick up the direction signs spray painted on to the road surface (less easy to tamper with than the usual sportive signs).  There was a good atmosphere all day and the relationship between city (and drivers) and cyclist was pretty good although we did witness the odd exchange of views between driver and rider as you might expect.

That said, it was a unique and very enjoyable way to see one of the world’s great cities and I know I will soon be confronted by that half-forgotten conversation with my host as I prepared to head for the airport in which I said I would be back again next year….