Monday 29 June 2015

Thank you!

To our family and friends for all their support, interest and encouragement!

All our cycling buddies who've helped us get the miles in over the past few months.

Alix's dad...chief mechanic and virtual DS (dad, wish you could have shared some of this with us, you would have loved, loved, loved it! And thanks for the block/rear mech switch...lifesaver! I would like my Dura-ace back tho!)

Cycle pro Pete for all the last minute bike checks and changes.

Huw for all the great advice and helping to get us in good shape for this (the black mamba worked a treat!).

Kim for, quite literally, keeping us straightened out and flexible with all the manipulation and stretching.

Pete, Amanda, Matt & Jacob for 'adopting' another child into their family for a week.

Finally, to everyone who kindly sponsored us. We came back to the UK to find that we had received a few more donations and are now very close to our fund-raising target of £2,000. 

Thank you all so much.

It's official!

Our 'Raid' control cards with a complete set of 'stamps'. Verified in Cerbere by an official club representative before the 'Cyclo Club Bearnais' will issue you with a certificate and official finishers medal!

Sunday 28 June 2015

Looking back.....

Memorable/best bits:

Paul - Apart from finishing it?? :) For me, quite literally, reaching the summit of the Tourmalet. The whole climb was memorable in fact - especially with 3km to go when I saw the van a couple of hairpins below me just as I was hallucinating about French bread and jam. Lifesaver! 

Alix - Ooooh, so many it's hard to pick. Ditto to finishing it, obviously! From a riding point of view, definitely the col d'Aspin and the col du Pailhieres. Just stunning!! Of course the mighty Tourmalet too  - although that might equally qualify as my 'bad day out'. It is one 'badass' climb! I did also love the blast down to the coast on Day 5 (Ann, Alex, it was just like being at Hatfield......err, so not!! Lol). 

Things we didn't know, but now we do:

There are two 6 o'clocks in the day (Alix!)
Stretching and rollering is essential torture
You can never apply too much chamois cream
Eating 'real food' is the way to go....especially anything surrounded by chocolate
Suntan cream and sweat is not good for a peachy complexion (but it is good for attracting insects)
Your feet can go up 3 sizes in the heat
Yes, there can be too much 'daube de boeuf' (Paul!)
An extra 6km DOES matter ( Day 3, you were right Tom!)
A 32 sprocket is not there 'just in case you need it'
You shouldn't promise to write a blog every day, then worry everyone by stopping on the 2nd day!

Our fellow 'Raideurs':

This was the first trip we've ever done like this i.e. with a group of people who we didn't know beforehand, but it's been a great experience and the people we met could not have been nicer. It's been a privilege to share the journey with everyone! Lovely to meet.....

Max (Max power? Max speed? intake? Super nice guy....unless you're a snake or a criminal!)
Rod, Alan, Ian & Billy Whizz (aka the Glasgow armchair. Thanks helped us out on more than one occasion!)
Monica ('I'm not a cyclist, honest!'......don't believe a word of it!)
Alex (Stay rubber side down at the Maratone des Dolomites, Alex.....good luck with the ride!)
Stephen ( Mr Retro.....see you at the Eroica next year?)
Marty, John and Tom (the Ozzie hard men. Stay on the right side of the road in Italy - especially after the wine-tasting!)
Jason & Simon (the speed merchants. Only recognisable from the rear to us for most of the week! )

Graham & Debbie/Marmot Tours:

Finally, what can we say about Graham and Debbie? They are just lovely, lovely people who have really looked after all of us this week. Endlessly kind, positive and encouraging - nothing has been too much trouble. They are extremely knowledgable about both the 'Raid' and the area we have been riding through....and they've always been in the right place at the right time when we've needed an M&M fix (Alix) or a hose down (Paul). They've really made the trip for us and have been great fun and great company all week. If you do end up reading this Graham and Debbie, a HUGE thank you again to both of you!

Overall, a brilliantly well organised trip by 'Marmot'. We would definitely go on another adventure with them!

The Ride - Day 5

Day 5 Summary - Prades to Cerberes. 95km. Only 620m of climbing. 3h 30m in the saddle. The weather? Have a guess! We finally make it........

Alix - I am ready for chucking Paul's alarm clock out the window and into the pool when it goes off at 6 am this morning. I've not had the best night's sleep....feeling strangely nervous about today. Just hoping that no disasters strike to scupper our chances when we are so close. Breakfast consumed, Paul and I are actually on the road for half seven today. I think Paul was feeling like me. Whatever we need to do to make sure we get to Cerbere by the 1pm cut off time.

I know it may come as a surprise given what we signed up for, but I am not a big lover of climbing. Nice, rolling terrain where I can find a decent gear and push along is what I love the most. I'd therefore looked at the profile for this last day with some joy! I wasn't disappointed. It was very, very fast.....40kmh without even noticing. Glass- cranking as my dad would say! I was careful to keep Paul on my wheel, but he too seemed to be relishing the change in terrain. We almost made it all the way to the coast before the 'Commonwealth Train' caught us. Paul was happy for me to jump on the back and I enjoyed a few kms riding with the Ozzies, Canadians and Simon and Jason from the UK. 

I was going to wait for Paul at the van meet point, but mysteriously it wasn't there so I dropped back to wait for Paul anyway.  Few clicks further on and I had a puncture. Couldn't quite believe I'd gone 700km and had a blowout in the last 20km! More sweating at the roadside with the mini-pump, constantly looking up to see if the van was going to come round the corner and save us the effort. It didn't. We got underway again and rounded the headland into Collioure  - a beautiful little fishing port - where the rest of the Commonwealth had stopped for some 'refreshment'! It was there that we learned Alex had come off his bike only 3-4 km from the hotel....hence the missing van earlier on! He was thankfully OK, but his clothing was destroyed, he had some nice road rash and was a bit shaken up. Graham and Debbie had gently persuaded him to carry on though, knowing that however bad he was feeling it would be nothing to how disappointed he would be to get in the van so close to the finish!

The last 20km or so we're lumpy as we rode along the coastal 'corniche' road, but by this time both Paul and I were feeling pretty OK and, with amazing views to enjoy, the last few inclines didn't seem to trouble us too much. Rounding the final bend into Cerbere was amazing and as we came into the finish there were loads of people there to greet us, bands playing (several in fact....seems we'd arrived on Cerbere party weekend!) and a nice glass of chilled fizz! It was lovely to see everyone congratulating each other as well - clapping and hugging and generally just being elated at having finished. Last man in was Alex. Battered and bruised he made it with 3 minutes to spare and his own hazard light flashing support vehicle! Graham said it was one of the closest arrivals he's had!

So, with everyone 'home' safely it was time for the ceremonial dipping of the toes in the Mediterreanean sea and the final group photo. An amazing achievement for everyone, but especially for Paul. I am so, so proud of him. It's a big ask of anyone to undertake this challenge, but more so for him. I knew he would do it.....and he did! Hoping that Graham got the shot of Paul and I arriving together hand in hand as it summed up our week really!

L-R: Marty, Alex, Monica, Alan, Stephen, Paul, Alix, Tom, Billy, Ian, Max, Rod, John, Simon, Jason.

The Ride - Day 4

Day 4 Summary
 - Massat to Prades. 150km. 3,420m of climbing. 9h 30m in the saddle. Absolutely stinking hot (quelle surprise!). Nearly there now......

Alix - Another 6am alarm call. Those of you who know me well, will know that I am SO not a morning person, but on this trip I've been amazingly good at getting out of bed and being ready on time. I don't know if it's the fear of being left behind or just of not having enough time to shovel down as many croissants and as much bread and cereal as you to get the carbs in! The previous evening I'd had a stretching/rollering session with Monica on the landing of the hotel and the makeshift ice-packs for my knees seemed to have worked so the legs were not feeling too bad. 

We rolled out of Massat and immediately hit the first col of the day, the col de Port. The cooler early morning temperatures are such a pleasure to ride in and we spun our legs out up the steady gradient of the climb. Another swooping, long descent to the valley bottom was followed by a long drag on a very busy road up the valley to Ax les Thermes. Paul was feeling the cumulative effects of several days of hard riding and it was a struggle to stay sitting in the 'Glasgow armchair' for the 27km run to our next col, the col du Pailhieres, which is the longest climb of the whole 'Raid'. With the mercury steadily rising it was a relief to pull in and meet the van at the designated stop point, another boulangerie where we bought lunch to eat at the top of the climb. We both managed to grab some cake as well...the best coffee eclair I have ever eaten!

The col du Pailhieres has perhaps been my favourite climb of the whole week. Maybe it's because I was coffee eclair fuelled, but it put a huge smile on my face to be riding up the lower slopes, through pine trees, blue skies above and the sound of a mountain river at the side of me. Beautiful....even the belligerent cows who tried to nudge you as you rode past! The road and the scenery then started to open up and with no shade at all it got very hot again.....I was almost grateful for the cooling headwind even though it was making the twisty hairpins very hard work! The summit of the Pailhieres is simply stunning. I can't quite describe what it was like reaching the top. A herd of the most beautiful tan haired, blonde maned horses and foals greeted us. The views were stunning and we got our first view of the Mediterranean Sea in the far distance......tantalisingly close. Eating my ham and cheese baguette I did wonder if this wasn't perhaps the best picnic spot in the world?

The descent off the Pailhieres is a classic. It looks like how a child might draw a road going up a mountain if asked...twisty and windy like a snake. Slightly bonkers! It's been used many times in the Tour and the one car wide tarmac road is a sea of writing and paint daubings urging the pro peloton along. It's a very technical descent as well. Overtaking campervans at nearly 40mph downhill with the smell of their brakes in your nostrils....bit scary!

The next section of route can only be described as slow and hot, very hot....road melting hot. It almost felt like the tar was reaching up off the road and trying to grab our if we weren't going slow enough! Thankfully, I had Monica for company and we chatted our way to the next van stop where we fell on the boxes of crisps, peanuts and M&Ms and replenished bottles ready for the col du Jau, our next and final climb of the day.

After a bit of a tug up the initial part, the col du Jau developed into another shady, windy climb following a mountain stream to the summit. I was riding on my own at this point and I felt quite mixed emotions as the top got nearer. This was the last significant climb of the 'Raid' and mentally, the point at which you begin to feel (barring any last day disasters) you've made it. The worst is behind you, but it also means that a great trip is coming close to an end and whilst my legs were probably rejoicing, I was genuinely quite sad about that!

After waiting for Paul to crest the top - he'd found the mountain stream too tempting and had stopped for a head dunk! - we had a last col photo and then descended down to Mosset where we found Rod and Ian (1/2 the Glasow contingency!) already on the celebratory beers in a tiny bar with a spectacular view down the valley. It would have been rude not to stop, right? Monica joined us and then we all bombed down to Prades to our hotel for the evening. It was a very 'relaxed' descent shall we say!

A dip in the lovely pool at the hotel (good cold water leg recovery!), more food, more stretching, kit laid out and ready for the morning then time to hit the sack. The final day is almost upon us........

The Ride - Day 3

Day 3 Summary - Bagneres de Bigorre to Massat.  176km. 3,110m of climbing. 9h 48m in the saddle. Absolutely stinking hot (again!). A very long day today.......

Alix - I was so depleted after the 'Tourmalet torment' that as I was laid in bed last night I was wondering how I was going to get through today let alone the rest of the 'Raid'. But, some great food, a bit of stretching and a few hours of kip make a big difference and I awoke feeling maybe not quite 'up for it', but certainly more chipper than I had been at the end of the previous day!

It was a beautiful, fresh beginning to the day in Bagneres and another early morning start saw us head back up the valley we'd come down the night before to our first climb of the day, the col d'Aspin. Maybe it's because at that time of day it's 20 degrees cooler, but this was such a lovely climb. Blue skies, green pastures, cows with bells, steady gradient, great road surface....perfect Pyrenean pedalling! The amazing views at the top just finished it off nicely. Paul punctured on the gravelly descent, but we regrouped at the bottom of the climb and headed off next to the Col du Peyresourde. 

Unfortunately, the promised lunch stop at the top of the col had been swept away in an avalanche (over winter!) so lunchtime omelette and frites was off the menu! After a bit of a chat with some French cycling locals, the obligatory 'top of the col' picture and some Scooby snacks from the back of the support van we were soon on our way again speeding down an amazing descent into Luchon where a well placed boulangerie provided lunch. When it's very hot and you're really putting some effort in, it can often be hard to keep yourself sufficiently fuelled up. I felt like I had to really force half a sandwich down......and a donut, that seemed like a good idea in the bakery, ended up in my back pocket!

We were then back in the Glasgow armchair down the valley (thanks boys!). It was tough going into a headwind, but taking turns we arrived at the relatively gentle col d'Ares. A quick cafe stop at the top in the shade set us up for the last col of the day, the col de Portet d'Aspet - a 10km consistently/relentlessly steep climb. Unfortunately, Paul had his second puncture of the day on the Ares descent. Debbie went back to him in the van and saved him some unnecessary sweating with a mini-pump at the road-side whilst I waited at the foot of the col and ate my squashed donut, but by this time we were disconnected from the rest of the group. Paul and I settled in for what we knew would be a 2-up effort for the ride up the col and onto the evenings digs....only 70k to go.

Going up the col de Portet d'Aspet was pretty heavy going. Paul was feeling very tired and it also felt like every single biting insect in the area had come out to welcome us! Not sure how fast you have to go to shake 'em off, but we weren't managing it! Still, it made the decision as to where to go to get our official 'Raid' card stamped in the next town of St. Girons very easy......local pharmacy. One stamp, one tube of insect bite cream please!

A couple of our group had waited in the town for us (thanks Monica & Alex), but we somehow missed them and continued on our way up the valley to Massat on our own. Now, I've done a few time trials on the bike where you end up counting down the distance, but those last few miles to the hotel were a bit torturous! Everything hurt....especially my feet, which had taken a bit of a punishing in the blowtorch heat the day before. Every bump was felt along the way.

Literally counting down the meters, we arrived at our hotel in Massat to a big cheer from the rest of the guys. I think 12.5hrs out on the road is a record for me! We ate splendidly that evening in a very 'quirky' French family run hotel where we tucked into soup, salad, 'daube de boeuf', chips and apple pie.....probably still with calories to spare from the days efforts. A couple of carrier bags of ice cubes for my poor knees and it was off to bed for both of us. 

Today was very, very long....mental toughness as well as physical was required, but we did it! Paul rode brilliantly and dug deep when it mattered. Very proud of him. Day 4 awaits us. According to our guide, Graham, tomorrow is reputedly one of the hardest days. After the Tourmalet I find it hard to conceive of anything tougher.....maybe tonight's sleep won't be quite so restful!

Wednesday 24 June 2015

The Ride - Day 2

Day 2 Summary - Lurbe St Christau to Bagneres to Bigorre. 144km. 3,562m of climbing. 8h 30m in the saddle. Absolutely stinking hot! A very tough day......

Paul - in short, the hardest day I've ever had on a bike! 146 kms, over 3 major cols - including the  Tourmalet and the Aubisque. In the saddle for just over 8 hours 30 mins! However, it was the heat which caused us to suffer most, 30 degrees, full sun, little shade. We burned 6,000+ calories during the day and no amount of jelly babies, energy bars or gels can satisfy that expenditure......

We set off at 7.30am and reached the foot of the Aubisque after about 35kms. The climb is 18kms long with some serious ramps the heat! Got to the top after an hour and a half climb, soaked with sweat, bright red and hallucinating about French bread and jam. Alix, on the other hand, climbed well and finished strong and fragrant. Enjoyed an Aubisque omelette at the summit cafe - it disappeared in seconds. 

Great descent, then a long drag up the valley road to the foot of the Tourmalet. A 22 kms climb, Alix and I rode together and it took us 2 hours 30 mins to get to the summit.

This was a killer! This was in the middle of the afternoon and the weather really took its toll, there are some pretty steep ramps and with the heat bouncing up off the road, I was just dripping sweat in rivulets constantly. Alix stayed with me, even when we'd slowed to about 7kms per hour, so I was well looked after.

There was a sting in the tail, as the steepest part of the climb is right at the end. The last 2 kms are horrific and when you've done 160 kms on the previous day and climbed two big cols already, this was hard...beyond hard!

The descent off the Tourmalet was also a shocker. By the time we'd had a Coke in the summit cafe, some cloud had rolled in and we had to put warm clothes on to make the descent. So weird.....30 minutes previously we were praying for a bit of shade, then we're freezing on the descent, with numb fingers and bikes shaking as we tried to control them through the shivers we were suffering.

Anyway, back at our next hotel now. Early night again because, guess what, we've got 176 kms to do tomorrow and have 5 mountains to climb! 

So, I know we're painting a picture of toil and pain and discomfort, which is all true (and then some...) but, I have to say, the scenery is stunning, the route is amazing with the iconic climbs and towns we've heard about, the organisation is brilliant and the people we're with are a good bunch.

So it's not all bad!!!

More tomorrow.

Alix - epic ride today. Too tired to write very much, but needless to say, day 2 lived up to expectations. Punishing climbing, dramatic scenery. Aubisque was lovely, but it got very, very hot climbing the Tourmalet (my feet especially. Had to stop and take out my insoles!). Maybe didn't eat enough so had a few 'spacey' moments near the summit, but the feeling when we finally got there was incredible! An amazing descent straight into the hotel car park!