Author Archives: tubs2011


I wake up early to the sound of snoring but also to the sound of rain battering the window.  Not a good start.  I try for a while to get back to sleep but it’s not happening, and shortly my room mates Big J and David are also awake.


The legs were definitely not as fresh as they have been the previous couple of days and the rain certainly didnt set the heart a flutter.  The plan was to get the bags in the van before 7 and then breakfast.  7 comes and there is some activity but maybe not quite the level expected.  Some of the bags are loaded in but it’s a difficult job as you dont want to get soaked before you even start.  So it’s a case of darting in and out of the hotel and chucking stuff in.

I wander into breakfast with my porridge pot and only Ian is there with his cornflakes and we have a chat about the day ahead.  Slowly everyone wanders in and the full compliment is there. Up until now no cooked breakfast is available but the hotel have kindly changed their weekend breakfast time to accommodate us and is would be rude not to take the hospitality.  The popular option seems to be beans on toast, still erring on the side of health.  Although this choice has it’s drawbacks..

The enthusiasm levels are high  but no one really like to start cycling when it’s wet, it’s doesn’t seems as bad when you are already going but with 100 miles to get through the call goes up to get moving.

First thing to do, get the wet weather gear on.  Jackets, hats and overshoes to keep the feet dry.  David who in his own words ‘can make anything’ is put to the test as he has forgotten his overshoes and decides to build some out of bin bags and sellotape.  Mmmm time will tell if they will take off in the shops.

In all good sport shops soon!

Finally, the van is packed.  There is no real system, more dog eat dog to obtain the best space for accessing your stuff when you need it.  However, no matter how carefully you put something in, somebody is likely to chuck it to the bag and steal your prime spot.

Grab your sport

At about 0830 we eventually roll out of the hotel and onto the road heading toward and through Bristol.  Unfortunately, the biggest hill of the day comes in the first 5 miles.  Not big by Alpine standards, but big enough to push my heart rate way up and give my leg a workout.  Is this an omen for the day ahead or just not enough of a warm up?

The miles start to roll by and we head into Bristol, it’s quiet but the lights are a pain.  It’s stop/start and you are constantly clicking in and out of your shoes.  One of my shoes has a problem clipping in, and it’s always a job to get good start at the lights without holding up the cars.  Moving through Bristol we hit our first puncture of the holiday, David back tyre instantly deflating.  The team are quickly on the job though with Gio and Sammy leading the way.  Not exactly a Formula 1 change but pretty good one the less.  We don’t even have to blow the tyre up, instead we use a Co2 canister which takes all of 2 seconds.  Handy!

One cook

Too many cooks?

Off we go again, through Bristol with Mark  trying to get some action shots.

And smile…

Soon though we leave Bristol but we are not in the idyllic countryside but on a major road with the rain still persisting it down but we are making progress.  25 miles in and the support van makes it’s first appearance of the day. It’s a welcome sight but there is a cloud on the horizon.  The cakes kindly made by Mrs Sammy are running low and wont last the day, one of the highlights of the trip so far will be no more.  There was almost an argument the previous day over someone slipping an extra slice into the back pocket.

Unfortunately, as soon we leave the support van, we get another puncture, Mark this time.   Not good.  27 miles in and it’s nearly 11:00.  Our next arranged stop is Chicester 25 miles in.  Time to get the heads down.

To get us moving along, we resort to a long line of 7, each taking a shot of 0,5 miles at the front taking the wind before going to the back of the line and awaiting their next spell.  The time passes quickly with this method and for me it’s all about calculating how many spells at the front before Chichester.  7 spells does not seem to be a large number of goes on the front so makes it my mind more manageable.  Not sure how the others cope but for me breaking things into sections seems to lessen the trepidation of a long journey.  We hit Chichester and as per usual get lost within the city streets and have to dig out all our various technological devices to find the right route..

Which way is up?

It’s nearly 12:30 in Chichester but we decide to plough on a bit longer and make the afternoon shorter.  We have sent the van on to scout out somewhere for lunch and about another 10 miles on we spot them parked beside a nice country pub.

The pub is nice but whether it’s our appearance or the numbers but we are shunted into a marquee in the back, which looks as if a wedding had been held their the previous night.  But we are happy, lots of space to move around.  The food on offer today is a carvery which is remarkable value at only £5.95 and everyone gets wired in piling plates high with the serve your own Dauphinoise potatoes and veggies. All very nice but it’s going to be hard to get going again.

Eventually we do get going, and fall into the same pattern as before.  Ticking of the miles, the roads getting quieter as we head into the country, the pace is good but not crazy fast and we soon meet up with the support van for our afternoon check in.  The final pieces of home made cake are handed out and we wonder how we will survive.  Gio then discovers a puncture just as we are about to leave and this sets us back.  The original plan was to swap out wheels if this happened but the spare wheel is somewhere in the back of the van so we decide just to fix it.

We roll out again for the final 20 miles and it’s a gently uphill most of the way.  We roll into Ludlow shortly at 17:00 and through the town to the hotel.  We go down a 25% hill which we are going to have to go back up in the morning. Ouch.

100 miles done, spirits still good, no huffs lasting more than 5 minutes.  Cant ask for more.

140 miles tomorrow, will we say the same then?


For Want of a Nail (Part one)

For Want of a Nail

For want of a nail the shoe was lost.
For want of a shoe the horse was lost.
For want of a horse the rider was lost.
For want of a rider the message was lost.
For want of a message the battle was lost.
For want of a battle the kingdom was lost.
And all for the want of a horseshoe nail.

The original plan (well the current original plan which was one of many but don’t let that complicate the story) was simple.  Me, Sammy and David would be meet Ian and John in Coniston at 0930 and start riding soon after.  However, since it was raining (pretty hard) John decided a new jacket was required and Keswick was the place to get it, prompting a change in the start of the ride to Keswick, a place we were due pass through on our ride.  Same ride, different start point……..

The background to this is the weekend just passed was supposed to be the pre-lejog, big 2 hard days in a row cycle to ensure that everyone felt what it was like to get up 2 days in a row and cycle.

Driving down, the call came in from Ian ‘John wants to buy a jacket, going to Keswick for it’, ‘Ok, we will just come there and save a bit of time and start the trip there’ we respond.    Our response is paraphrased, the real response would have involved word like selfish, unprepared, **** (insert swear word here) etc…..  It’s not like rain wasn’t forecast.  However, at the time it seemed like an ok plan.

As we drive into Keswick we spot a bike shop and John’s car.  Ian’s bike is strapped to the back unsecured, we think about taking it to teach him a lesson but think better of it.  Ian’s view of security gets even stranger as he padlocks his carton of milk  to the fridge in the youth hostel for fear of theft.

The rest of us troop into the shop and find John trying on various jackets, posing as if he was on a bike to ensure the sleeves are long enough, this is not a quick process but eventually a jacket is settled upon.  Everyone then has to take a shot of the shops toilet and we are ready to go.  Well nearly, there is a job of driving round Keswick trying to find a non paying parking spot, but eventually we end back in the centre of town at the Pay and Display.  Of course no one has any change for it, but luckily you can phone a number and pay by card.  Great, but seemingly the computerised system doesn’t do ‘Scottish’ and it’s off to the newsagent to buy a packet of mints to get some change.  Nearly there, just the weekly discussion about how many layers to wear, which gloves to use, overshoes or not….  Given that it had been raining for 3 straight days, pretty much meant everything was going to be worn.

We eventually set off about 11:15 and immediately find out that however bad a road is in a car, it’s 10 times worse on a bike.  The roads are in a terrible state, flooding everywhere and rocks and scree all over the road.  We cycle gingerly, not knowing what’s around the corner.  There are no land speed records getting set this weekend.

The 112 mile route we had planned to do has 9 big hills, but although we have the route mapped in Ian and Sammy’s Garmin gps no one is quite sure when the hills are coming.  After about 10 miles Sammy thinks there is a hill coming and having put too many layers on, everyone is already sweating and it’s time for some to come off to help us the hill.  Suitable ready, off we go.  Now what we were expecting was a hill, not a wall that had slightly subsided.  This hill was near vertical, the 25% signs suddenly appearing in view, the recrimination of the route owners began.  ‘You didn’t say it ramped up so quiclky, ya ****’ ‘Is this one of the big ones’ ‘ How long does it go on for’ are the shouts heard.  Nobody knew and quickly no one could speak as everyone used all their energy to keep moving, this hill was tough and it went on for miles.  Some decided that weaving all over the road from side to side lessened the gradient, others decided that nearly falling into a ditch at the side of the road was the way to go.  However, in the end everyone made it up to the top without stopping.  I think it was one of those situations where had one stopped, everyone else would have quickly followed, but no one did, pride forcing everyone onwards.  At the top we re-gathered and had a chat about the experience.  But not for long, it was cold, jackets back on and then down.  Brakes stuck on, this was not an easy descent, windy thin roads with debris everywhere, cramp in your hands as you grip too tightly. But soon we were down and back onto the flat in a group. But not for long.

Onto hill number 2, again no real idea of what to expect, the expression ‘Fail to plan, plan to fail’ comes to mind.  This hill is hard but not too hard and has a nicer feel to it, it is semi enjoyable.  We come to the top, stop and take in the view and then quickly get going again.  This descent is better, smoother roads, wider turns and we bundle down and eventually it bottoms out.  However, there are only 4 of us now.  Ian is not with us.  We remember him putting his jacket on but surely it doesn’t take that long. We look back up the hill to try and spot but it’s a long hill and hard to see in the rain.  Eventually a lady in a car stops and tells us that Ian has a puncture.  It’s a relief that we know what’s wrong but know that there could be a wait as Ian wont be in the Guinness book of records anytime soon for the fastest time to change a puncture. And then we wait, and wait, it’s getting cold and eventually the decision is taken to start going back up the hill to help.  We go about half way back up and find Ian.  The puncture has been changed but the valve on tube keeps coming off when getting pumped up.  We get Sammy on the job, he is known as the ‘Mavic man’ after the yellow cars that follow the Tour de France to provide mechanical help.  After a bit of toing and froing it is fixed and we are on our way.  Not for long, we manage another couple of miles and psstt…… Ian’s tyre is down again.  This is not going well.  Another new inner tube, another check of the tyre, it is pumped up and off we go again, all the way back down to the bottom and ready for hill number 3.

Sammy kicks off first, followed by myself and then the other 3 are a bit slow in getting going.  Sammy is setting a good pace but I am keeping him in sight, I check back a couple of times and can see John’s new yellow jacket.  All present and correct.  As the hill ramps up, you start to concentrate to keep going, a steady rhythm is required.  My technique is counting down from 10 to 1, that’s easy, only 10 to do and then start again.  I havent looked back in a while but when I do I dont see anyone but there are a few corners so they might be round one of them.  I keep going.  Eventually I stop just short of the top and decide to wait.  Nothing.  I eventually phone David and find out the bad news, Ian’s tyre is down again.  So I wait and wait.  Eventually, Sammy comes down from the top and we decide to roll back down to help and it’s nearly to the bottom.  It is again fixed, but this is not a good sign, however there is a bike shop at the top of the hill and we will take it in there.  Off we go again, my legs not enjoying the hill the second time around.

We reach the top, where the bike shop and a cafe are situated and Ian goes off to get help.  John and I browse the shop and John decided to purchase another set of gloves to supplement the 3 pairs he is already carrying. ‘Super Waterproof’ or so they claim, they need to be.  Sammy has replanned our route for the rest of the day, taking in most of the big hills but less of the flat in between.  Ian’s tyre has been checked and been given the all clear and we decide to stop for lunch although we barely deserve it.  The standard of lunch is reasonable for a forest cafe but the prices resemble a 3 star Michelin place.  2 soups, 1 baguette, 2 cakes and a drink, £20!

Lunch duly eaten, we set off once again.  The descent is treacherous, water is pouring off the hills making handling tricky, stones everywhere.  We make it to the bottom and guess what?  Ian’s tyre is down again.  This is turning into a nightmare.  We try and work out what to do.  One school of thought is a couple of us to go back and get the cars, but the quickest way is back over the hill we came.  This is rejected due to the danger.  So we decide on fixing Ian’s tyre once again and heading back to the cars a different way involving hill number 2 and hoping for the best.  The trip back to car is fairly uneventfull although hill number 2 seems decidedly harder, although not for David who romps up and over in double quick time.

We make it back to Keswick at 17:32 just in time for the bike shop closing.  Great! No new tyre. And only 45 miles done.

Quickly, we were locked and loaded and off to the Youth hostel.  I think most of us would have preferred the luxury of a B and B and a nice comfy twin room but due to many events in the area, this was all the accomodation we could find.  How bad could it be?  Well in reality, not too bad at all.  We had one room for the five of us, while not exactly Ritz standard was clean and tidy.  The showers were hot and the setting was fantastic.  Life was ok.  Deoderant was sprayed on and we were ready to go out.

On the way out we chatted briefly to a hen party waiting on their lift.  It turned out their lift was the hen herself who didnt drink and who would be taking 2 lots of her friends to the village for her night out.  Sounds great for the hen!

The nearest town is Ambleside, a lovely spot with may fine restaurants.  We decide on the ‘Jade Garden’ for rice and noodles to fuel us for the next day.  It turns out to be a perfunctory by the book Chinese restaurant that wont be winning any awards anytime soon.  However, the chat is good and everyone has enjoyed it so far even given the mishaps that has happened.  It’s all about the journey.

We get back to the Hostel at 22:30 and Ian and David go for a drink as it too early for bed.  The rest of hit the hay and dream of a better second day……TBC

Taking the Johnstone express. All aboard.

Saturday saw the introduction of Ian and David to the sportive world.   John and then Mark were meant to join us but were unable to do so for various reasons.  A sportive (French) is an organised event where a marked/ signed route has been put in place and cyclists are timed round the course.  There are normally different distances of routes (commonly 100 miles and 100km) put in place to suit differing levels of ability.  Also, food stops are normally provided, and this is part of the fun for some but for others the thought of stopping would send them into a cold sweat.

For Ian and David, this was a placeholder in the diary as a mid term aim before LeJog.  For me and originally John it was to be a tune up for the Etape Caledonia (a closed road sportive in Pitlochry with 5000 others) the following week.

This particular sportive was the ‘Drumlanrig Challenge’, so named as it started/ ended at Drumlanrig Castle in Dumfries and Country.  This is a beautifully maintained castle set within a country park with adventure playground, forest walks and mountain biking trails.  I was so taken with place after last year’s event that I came down the next day with the family for a picnic.

The sportive had been organized by the Dumfries section of a charity called Tearfund who ‘work globally to end poverty and injustice, and to restore dignity and hope in some of the world’s poorest communities’.  One of the reasons for wanting to do this sportive again was the superb organization and friendliness of the volunteers helping out.  With the entry form I had sent a note about why we taking part in the event and about our LeJog expedition and received a very nice reply back when we were given our entry acceptance.  Some of the big sportives can seem very corporate but this one you genuinely feel that they care more than just about your donation. The other reason I wanted to return you will see evidence of at the end.

Ian in his wisdom had decided to cycle down and stay with his mother who lived relatively nearby (90 miles from Glasgow) on the Friday. I had suggested I would give him a lift down and he could cycle back, but he was adamant and who could blame him, the extra miles would do him good in the long run.  For me, my offer of a lift was part selfish to ensure his legs were fresh for the sportive.

For David and I, the journey began early on Saturday morning.  I picked David up shortly after 7am from Uddingston and hit the motorway.  Google maps duly printed out and an estimated journey time of 1hr 20min.  The motorway was quiet for a holiday weekend and we took it easy with 2 bikes on top of the car not exactly helping the aerodynamics.  Google maps had us turning off at junction 13 which I thought was a junction earlier from the last time I was here but we took it any way and headed towards Leadhills.  There was not a cloud in the sky and since the temperature outside was nearing zero there was a remarkable clarity of light as we travelled through the hills.  As we went down past Wanlockhead and the extremely long hill that featured in one of today’s sportive routes, David recalled having camped down this way before.  He also recalled having invented a new Olympic sport which was like skiing without skis down the scree off the side of the hill.  There also had been a name attached to this sport which I cant quite recall at the moment.  But then earlier than expected, we had arrived, met with the sight of the castle in the distance up the long drive way.

We were efficiently directed towards a space in the grass car park, there was already plenty of cars there and a nice atmosphere starting to build.  It was cold, but the sun was shining and all the signs were good for the day ahead.  First job to was to register and get the numbers for the front of the bike.  On the way we phoned Ian, no answer.  He had threatened to cycle from his mum’s (30 miles) and that was possibly why he was not answering but at that point we were in the dark.  Numbers duly received, we spot Ian driving in and wander back to the car to get kitted out and get the bikes ready.

Just before 9 we joined the queue of riders to be let loose on the road.  To avoid disruption out on the road, you are normally let out in groups of approx. 15 a time.  We took time out for a quick photocall and then after a few instructions on road conditions(a bit like the roll call from Hill Street Blues ‘ Be careful out there’) we were off.

We set out last in our group, and initially kept rolling with the same people we started with.  It was a chance to get the legs warmed up and get a feel for group riding.  After a couple of miles, we decided to start moving up, it has been a while since I had seen the guys but it looked like the Majorca trip had worked wonders.  We upped the pace and joined another group further up, things were going well.  Soon enough though, we had a short, really steep hill.  It was terribly potholed and very thin.  There were bodies everywhere, some riders were still riding two abreast, not giving much room for maneuver.  On a hill like this you really want to go at your own pace, and I had to jink through a couple of riders to break free and I pushed on up to the top of the hill and waited on David and Ian.  They had got stuck behind a couple of guys and also watched the as a rider got a backwheel stuck in a pothole and had fallen over.

We then headed down a equally steep and potholed hill, it was a very dangerous descent and I went down not exactly slow but not exactly fast, however  I was still passed by someone I thought was going dangerously fast.  Maybe he was a local..

Soon enough, we were back together and had picked up a rider from Ayr Cycling Club, she was down herself and was in training for a time  trial the following week.  We continued as a group for a while, passing others and not being passed, it was going well.  At some points, I pushed my heart rate up and went ahead, testing myself to see what the legs would take and then drawing back together.  Then quickly we were getting swarmed by yellow jerseys, I indicated to Ian and David that it would be a good idea to get on the back of this group and let them do the work.  We duly joined the group and so it seemed did a few others, there was at least 40 riders together.  The yellow jerseys belonged to the Johnstone Wheelers and they seemed to have the group in control, moving their riders around at the front to take the wind and giving instructions to the group of the dangers ahead.  Within a tightly bunched group, you cant see the what’s ahead and rely upon shouts or hand signals.  We were flying along, upper twenties mph but with about half the effort, one of the reasons why you do these events.  David and Ian were loving it and so was I, sometimes you had to push to keep on the back if you let your mind wander but it was worth it.  The other side of this coin was the danger in riding in close proximity to others.  As were cruising along, I heard the sound of bikes colliding and shouting, and looked round to see David wavering from side to side.  I dont know how many sits up he has been doing because it took a lot of core stability to pull it back from the brink and not go over.  Apologies given from the guy behind and we kept on rolling.

We soon then hit a big long hill and the group starting to string out, I pushed on hard to keep up with the Johnstone Wheelers, I knew it’s what I would need to do in the following event to get a good time.  In my concerted effort I had lost touch with David and Ian but I had decided to stay with the Wheelers for a further bit and give myself a test.  I rolled along for another few miles and then stopped at the last feed station to wait for  David and Ian.  I indulged in a bit of fruit loaf while I waited and chatted with the volunteers and it was difficult not overindulge, given the quality of baked goods on show.  However, there was still around 16 miles to go and I didn’t want to be weighed down.  The cakes could wait.

David and Ian arrived shortly after and for Ian it was like being given a free pass to Greggs (the nations favourite baker) and he worked the table like a pro, sampling everything and anything.  David and I eventually pulled him out and reminded him that they also did food at the end of the race.  After a quick chat with the guys I decided to push home alone, I needed to dig deep to see what I had, and off I went.  I passed a few more cyclist and the average was sitting at 18.2 mph and I wanted to keep it above 18mph.  After failing to do so in a group ride a few weeks previous, I was looking for redemption.  I was feeling good and then I hit a hill that I had forgotten about 18.2, 18.1, 18.0, 17.9, 17.8.  The average goes down a lot quicker than it goes up.  Hill over, the fun began.  3 miles to find 0.2mph.  I tried to watch the road, keeping the body still, not wasting energy, pushing hard, ‘breath and push’ ‘ breath and push’.  I hit 18.0 average and am on the road back to the end, I can relax now.  Not really, there is a hill ahead, my speed drops to 16, is that going to blow the average, I push again, legs sore.  The finish line comes into view, I hit the line, slam on the brakes and stop the clock.  An 18mph average achieved.

I sit down at the side of the road, still high with the adrenaline.  David and Ian then appear and I catch them coming over the line, all smiles.

We roll back through the castle grounds to the cars and stand and chat about the day.  It’s been a great success and everybody has enjoyed it.  Recovery drinks taken, we wander over to the food tent, firstly stopping to chat to the Johnstone Wheelers and thank them for their effort.  We joke with them about not taking a short of the front because we dont know their system but they are not daft but not exactly worried either.  They are soon off to Italy for a sportive in the Dolomites and it sounds a little bit hard. Gran Fondo Nove Colli – translated 9 hills.

We hit the food tent, first the sandwiches, tuna, ham, cheese, cheese and pickle, cheese and jam.  I go tuna and then ham, one eye on the cake stand.  The second reason that I wanted to come back to this sportive, many sportives promise home baking but few deliver like this.  It was time our efforts were rewarded.  First the tablet, then the caramel shortbread and to finish some chocolate shortbread combo.  Volunteers thanked, it was back to the cars and off home.

David and I hit the road, leisurely wandering back up and shooting the breeze.  A nice end to a good day.

You going to Nice? That’s Nice.

The French Riviera, a place I first visited over 20 years ago during an Inter-railing holiday with John.  After spending most of our 3 weeks in a 2 man tent in camp-sites on the edge of major cities we hit some accommodation good fortune.   Luckily for us, but perhaps not for the family, Carol (John’s girlfriend now wife) was working as an au-pair in Eze, a hilltop town just along the road from Nice.  The family kindly let John and I stay for a couple of days and we experienced a different side of life.  Real food, not just rottisseire chicken that we have been surviving on up until that point and having a private swimming pool at our disposal.  That was the life.  The downside to this was of course, me becoming a goosberry.  I had met Stephanie (my girfriend and future wife) earlier that year and we hadn’t spend much time apart.  Before, we left for interailing Stephanie had been in Egypt for 3 weeks and apart from a brief passing moment in London as our holidays overlapped we were going to be apart for 6 weeks.  So, at night I would retreat with my Sony Walkman and the mix tape Stephanie had given me but I could never get passed track 3 Spandau Ballet’s ‘Through the Barricades’…..

You might ask, what has this got to do with cycling?  Well, I am back in Nice this week on a holiday and with most plans these days, there has got to be some sort of cycling interest in there.  With my optimism around Lejog varying from day to day, a week of eating pizza and baguettes was never going to increase that significantly so a cycle was put into the mix to keep the fitness up.  The Nice area is quite popular with professional cyclists due to the favourable climate and the access to some great mountains as Nice is at the end of the Maritime-Alpes.  This was where Lance Armstrong made his winter base for a number of years and specifically tested himself on a mountain by the name of the ‘Col de Madone’.  He felt this mountain gave him a good test and he was always knew where he stood in terms of fitness by how he performed there. 32 minutes was his record. This mountain also became the name of TREK manufactures who sponsor Lance Armstrong range of road bikes.

With this is mind I organised a trip and bike hire with a local company specializing in tours of the area, all booked through the internet and e-mail. The company is run by a former Commonwealth games cyclist and since I didn’t know the area it would keep me from getting lost.  This would also keep Stephanie happy as my last cycle trip abroad I decided to go up a different mountain at the last minute and didnt tell anyone!

With my big ride not due until the Wednesday I thought it might be wise to get the legs moving before tempting out to the mountains.  This however, proved to be probably the most brutal ride I have undertaken this year.  With a bike duly rented from the local beach front store and extra seat duly attached I set out along the Promenade D’Anglais, the famous sea side walkway.

What I had not reckoned on was the gale force winds that were buffeting the coast which was making a struggle to move in my 7 speed dream machine.In the easiest gear, I was barely moving and was glad my Garmin was not attached, reporting a 5 mph average would not have done my street cred much good.  A couple of miles up the coast and enough was enough, not sure the wee man was really enjoying it and I certainly wasnt and decision to turn round was taken.  What a difference, without barely a turn of the pedal I was getting blown back along at a fair old pace.

On the way back we decided to hire a car a do a further recce but only ended in getting more lost in Nice’s one way system and going round in circles.

With my ride day quickly approaching, it was time to pick up my hire bike.  It was a 10 minute walk from the apartment further into Nice, a new area for me, I am guessing where the professional people stay, judging by the Marks and Spencer’s express style MONOP shop and fancy coffee shops that abounded. I reached my pick up point and met who was going to be my guide for the trip, Mike.  Mike who is  Australian, currently over for the wedding of the owner of the tour company and spending some covering while the owner was on honeymoon.  With the pleasantries out the way, my bike for the day was wheeled.  A custom built ‘ Harry Hall’ carbon bike with top of the range Shimano ‘Dura Ace’ groupset, things are looking good.  I hadn’t heard of this particular make but research later showed this to be a make of great repute.  I then enquired about the gears on the bike, and was told it was a double set up.  For those without knowledge (me included), the double means having 2 chain rings(the part where the pedals attach) with sizes of 53 and 39 (the number refers to the number of teeth) respectively, the bigger the number the harder it is to push but potentially faster.  Given this was to be a hilly ride this was not the best news.  What about at the back I ask?  That’s a 25/12 I am told, the bigger number on the back makes it easier, 25 was not that big a number.  At home I have a 50/34 on the front and a newly installed 28/12 on the back, giving me about 4 easier gears than I was getting on this ride and given I am famous for always keeping my easiest gear in reserve ‘just in case’ this was a worry.  However, I smile manfully and say ‘sounds great’ and continued with the bike set up.  Mike did a great job of setting me up after I advised him of some calf problems I was having and off I rode home into night.  The bike felt great on the 5 minute journey and what was the point of worrying, it wouldnt do the legs any harm to work a bit harder.  Although, John’s text after I told him about the bike set up was not exactly encouraging ‘ Enjoy the walk’ he said!

With my kit and food all duly laid out, I retire to bed but instead of going to sleep watch 3 episodes of ‘Sons of Anarchy’ with Stephanie, the adventures of an outlaw biker gang in California, top rated holiday entertainment.  I am excited about the ride tomorrow and struggle to sleep but eventually dropped off.

With trip day finally here I was up and atom early and had my porridge and berries and was ready to go.  It was 08:15 as I rolled out the door into the streets of Nice and my meeting point on the Promenade d’Anglais.  Mike was there to meet me and also there was Daniel, a Columbian student studying in Nice who was going to be doing some guiding during his summer recess.  A couple of photographs later and we were off.

The route today was going to be 2 major climbs.  The Col de Eze (0 to 600m) back down to the sea and then the aforementioned Col de Madone (0 to 950m).  We started slowly on the cycle path avoiding the traffic lights on the road proper, firstly round to the port where we join the road , less than a mile from the start and then we start climbing.  I am already in the easiest gear , maybe it’s the good bike or the warm weather but it doesn’t feel too bad.  The route planned takes in a road called the Grand Corniche and climbs up and along the coast.  There are fantastic views as we climb and then look down on the sparkling blue water.

Mike was doing a good job on keeping a good but not blistering pace.  I am known for knocking myself out early and leaving nothing for the end plus I am holiday and it’s nice to sometimes smell the roses along the way.  We reach Eze and I look down on the village to try and recall where the house was I stayed but nothing is coming to mind and then we turn a corner and we can see the snow capped mountains of the Alps in the distance.  Then it’s time to come down, a super long descent to the town of Menton, it’s a beautiful sweeping road and any car drivers are being patient as we  speed along.  Soon enough, we are in Menton and the real fun is about to begin.

We take a left turn off the main road, and immediately we begin climbing.  It’s a bit different from the alpine (ski type) climbs I have done as the scenery at this point is a bit more industrial/residential.  Fences abound at the side of the road and the grasses and ground are dried and rutted rather than rich from the snow run off.

The road however is definitely a different beast from the Col De Eze, I am standing more often as the turns are sharper.  The distance to the summit is 10km.  The town of St Agnes sits half way up hidden behind a rock and that is the immediate target.  My heart rate isn’t too high, about 160 when some climbs have brought it as high as 180.  The views back to sea are still fantastic though and also some of the houses that we pass.  Infinity pools seem to be popular, cant see them taking off in Burnside though.  We pass our first group of cyclists, only 1 road bike in there but an overtakes is an overtake so I am happy.  As the we come into St Agnes we hear the sound of play time at the local school.

A brief (less than a minute) stop ensues and a quick photograph ens.  The road then starts to change at this point, it gets a lot thinner and the surface is markedly poorer, also there is a lot of rock fall from the side of the road to watch for.

But the other side of the coin is that it is also slightly easier and at points I have moved out of the easiest gear.  We go through a few tunnels and any car coming down give a few toots to warn you of their arrival, not that this is a busy road, it’s mainly cyclists.  We reach the top and it;s definitely not the horror show I thought it might be, did I do it in 30 minutes like Lance Armstrong?  Not quite, but that’s not the point.  We pause for a few minutes at the top and take in the views, the sea one side, the snow capped mountains the other way.  The sign denoting the top of the mountain has been stolen but you can see the posts where it stood.

Then we are off again, swooping down the hillside.  The road is better this side of the mountain but you still have to be careful.  It would not be wise to go off the side, there is also a few hairpin turns to undertake which takes the speed down.  We soon get onto a bigger road and I indicate to Mike that my legs are feeling reasonably fresh and he can put the boot down if he wants.  The next bit although downhill is not greatly so and wind is starting to freshen.  We are haring along and I tend to lose a bit of momentum on the corners and need to learn to keep pedalling but it’s still a fair old pace.  We have a quick coffee stop in La Turbie and then we are off again, a slight incline to get us started and then the coastal road again for a bit.  The wind is definetely up and it;s feeling a wee bit like hard work but it doesnt last and then we are on some steep stuff again.  We go a different route back  into Nice, round the back way and I manage to hit 42 mph on a clear bit of road, then quickly we are back into civilizaion.  The pace slows as we dodge through trams, one way streets and traffic lights which takes us back to the sea where we started.  I thank Mike and Daniel, they have been good company and clearly good cyclists although not sure they would last the pace in Scotland.  Mike still had his winter gear on and Daniel has shaved his legs!! Back at the apartment I downloaded the Garmin and looked at what I had done.  Nice!

As these things go, once you have done something once, you want to do it again.  So utilising the course feature of the Garmin I headed out again at 0630 the next day for a near non stop trip.  This time there was no stopping on the way up the Col de Madone.  Couple of hairy moments on the way back down as I locked the brakes to avoiding hitting cars slowing down in front of me but apart from that just the same great views but not the same great conversations.  The Garmin output seemed a bit strange though but I had a slightly faster moving average which was good.

Round and Round

With the LeJOG team in various parts of the world, a solo ride was on the cards for me on Sunday.  My normal solo ride would normally involve the Eaglesham moor at some point but I have a tendency when cycling alone to let my mind switch off up until the point where someone in flip flops and a basket on the front of their bike passes me which only then spurs me back into action.  Also, having unfortunately had to work on Saturday, a long day in the saddle wasn’t going to happen.  In the end, I opted for a short sharp shock where concentration would be essential, 2 circuits of the Lennoxtown loop which takes in the mighty Tak Ma Doon and Crow Road hills.  26 miles each time round.

Pre cycle preparation

However, no matter what preparation is done there is always something forgotten.  It’s not like riding a bike as a child, when you jumped on your bike and went. This time I find my Garmin is not charged so no on the road output for me, it might be a good thing, at least I won’t worry about my average.

Last week might have brought out the  summer bike with me but it was back on with the winter clothing.  As I arrived at Lennoxtown, the temperature gauge on the car was showing 0 degrees!

Cold outside

I load up ‘Map my ride’ on my phone as an alternative to the Garmin but can’t watch while in the saddle, so all I need to worry about is riding.

Round 1

Off I go, the roads are quiet and it’s a beautiful day all round, no worries about ice on the road even though it’s a low temperature.  I am feeling good, don’t know that my heart rate is or speed is but it’s all going well – old school – just riding for fun.  Couple of miles before the Tak ma doon, I pop my first gel of the day.  Not my usual brand, but it was all they had in Asda but goes down well.  I turn into the Tak Ma Doon rood but soon find out it is not the Tak Ma Doon road but the wee side street 5 yards before, the car coming out the junction put me off!  So I U turn and up I go up the right one.  This is a hill that used to hold a lot of fear, but doing it myself on the new bike it feels ok, possibly because I am not watching the G-train shoot up in front of me and feeling the need to try and catch up.  I pass Kilysth golf course, it’s a golf course I have played and my minds starts debating about how I am going to squeeze in any golf this year.  Golf and Cycling, the  2 hobbies that require the most time out of the diary.  I push on and upwards and stop at the car park at the top, where I usually see the rest of the guys waiting on me but there is not a soul today.  I take a picture of the horizon and set off again.

Round 1, Top of the Tak

Straight downhill, which is always marred by having to slow down for the ford at the bottom and never being in the right gear when going up the wee hill at the other side.

I push on along the Carron valley, there is a bit of wind coming into the face and I am having to work hard.  I pass a farm giving away ‘free manure’ but decide now is not the time to fill up.  I had forgotten how bad the road surface was along here, soon to be feature on Sky ‘When road surfaces go bad’.  It’s a beautiful scene, no other cyclist at the moment or anyone else.  I finish the bit around the loch and start heading downhill to the start of the Crow road.  The start of the Crow road is the worst, and there is a break and then it’s bad again but after that it’s ok, steady as she goes.  When you see the fir tree with the Christmas decorations you know the worst is over and you can start to look forward to the downhill.  I am starting to see some cyclists now coming up as I am going down, it’s hard to acknowledge when you are going fast but I do my best.  I normally like to check out their bikes as well, but it’s time to concentrate, there is a big bend coming up, not sure I want to hit the ramblers in the car park.  I get down without incident and have a quick stop at the car.  A Nakd bar and a check of the phone, battery has went from 42% to 13% running map my ride, it’s not going to make round 2.

Round 2

Off again, and I think a bit more effort is required.  It’s only 09:30 so things are still pretty quiet.  Newspapers and rolls are being bought for Sunday breakfast as I leave Lennoxtown.  It’s fairly flat so I try and push a big gear.  Nothing much of incident on the way to the Tak Ma Doon round 2, lots of thoughts in my head but have not fallen asleep at the wheel yet.  I hit the Tak Ma Doon again, and I think I can feel it slightly more in the legs, possibly because I pushed harder on the flat.  Up past the golf course, and it’s looking busy now, more debate in the head.  I do love golf, and with the Masters starting this week, that feeling is sure to grow.  Might have to start getting up at 5 rather than 6 every morning to squeeze in enough cycling for LeJog.  Up at the top, I stop again and gaze at the slightly changing horizon, the sheep have woken up and are eating their breakfast, not too exciting by the looks of it, bit like some of the smoothies I have taken to drinking in the quest for cycling domination.

Top the Tak, round 2

So, it’s back down the other side and as I join the main road, a couple of cyclists are going by and I come in behind for a rest, but they are chatting so the pace is not good.  I go past them, but think I go off too fast but it’s no time now to slow down and face the embarrassment of them passing me again.  I give myself a good few minutes before I look back and luckily I can’t see them.  Back along the loch again and things are starting to liven up, I can see a couple of small boats with fisherman with rods looking for a bite.  I pass another couple of cyclists, although I think one is a tourer and the other guy is just having a chat with him.  I say my ‘hello’s’ and move on, swiftly again.  I pop another gel before the Crow Road again and then I see the sign for Lennoxtown as I turn onto the road, 7 miles.  In reality is 3 miles up and then relax, not too bad when you put it like that.  Up ahead, I spot a couple of cyclists up the hill a bit and set myself the task of getting up to them.  This would be an unknown phenomena for me but I see them standing quite a lot as they go so up think they might be struggling.  It’s a good goal to have and I feel myself gaining on them, I get the feeling that comes when you have worked hard for a while and things start to click.  I go by the first cyclist and then have a quick chat with the second, I get the feeling he is not pushing as hard as he could to support his friend but nevertheless an overtake is an overtake and off I go.  I am flying now and looking forward to the last stretch down to the car.  There is a bit of wind in the face, but it feels good to push the pedals downhill fast on the smooth road.  As I enter Lennoxtown, the temporary lights change to green and straight through I go, down to the car.

It’s 11:30 and 52 miles are done.  I put the powder in my spare bottle for my recovery shake, my loss % is only 5%, down 8% from last week and drink it down.  Bike on the car, radio 5 live on  and off home.  Arrive shortly after 12 and next up is the park, to the climbing frame with the wee man who is looking like the new Chris Bonnigton.  Go up Again?  Ok Again 🙂

Tablet – Scotland’s greatest invention

For those unaccustomed to the world of long (or short for me at the moment) distance cycling, there exists a ‘condition’ known as the bonk (or Fringale as the French put it).  Essentially, if you don’t eat properly before the cycle and during the cycle your body can pretty much shut down and it makes it difficult to keep going at any sort of pace.

Unfortunately, I found myself in this position in yesterdays group training run.  This was a momentous occasion anyway as all of the magnificent 7 cyclists for Le Jog turned out (a blog entry in itself).  However, I found myself after 35 miles going along quite happily in the front group talking to Sammy only to find myself quickly staring into his back light (otherwise known as the abyss) which was getting smaller by the second, gallantly counting down from 10 to try and keep my pedals moving.  I am soon caught by the back group who initially think I am being a team player in helping them along but I thought the game was up for me.  I struggled on vainly to Strathblane where the rest of the guys were waiting.  I explained my predicament and out of David’s pocket came a block of tablet.  This peculiarly Scottish delicacy consists of sugar, butter and condensed milk formed into a hard block and if it came from a posh shop maybe a drop of vanilla.  One section was taken and then another and eventually David knew he wasn’t getting any back and the whole bar was gone.  Slowly, we set off again and life started to seep back into my body, and the pedals started to flow again and life was good.  The big nutrition companies will try and convince you that their latest sports gel will keep you going and has been formulated to the max but I think the Scots have known the formula for years….

See link below further about this, it can even happen to the best –  try Lance Armstrong.