Ride Across Britain - 5th – 13th September 2015

Philip Mann and Kate Gannon embarked on the Deloitte’s Ride Across Britain having heard such great things from riders who had done it previously. It is a ‘softer’ way to do LeJoG as it is fully supported, allowing us to focus solely on the joy of the ride. It took a mere 9 days to ride 1,000 miles up hill and down dale (50,000ft +) across stunning scenery that changed with each county we passed. We pedaled our way from Lands’ End to Okehampton to Bath to Ludlow to Haydock to Penrith to Hamilton to Fort William to Kyle of Sutherland and finally to John O Groats. Each day we covered a distance {had a mileage} of around 110 miles which takes some doing day after day after day. The 150 strong back up crew were incredible. Nothing was too much trouble and the organization is literally flawless – tents were set up and packed up for us each day, unbelievable amounts of home cooked food at each stage, chaperones to cheer you along (although we seemed to cheer them along), banter, signs at every junction along the LeJoG route, hot showers, fresh towels, a drying room and Halfords on call to fix any bicycle issues. Indeed the Halfords team provided invaluable support to Philip, who had declared before the ride that his part worn 23mm tyres would be perfectly fine for the ride, whilst I had insisted upon new 25mm Grand Prix 4000s’. After 3 punctures, they replaced his split 23mm with a new 25mm Gatorskin at their mobile workshop in the shadow of Ben Nevis. I said nothing.

If you were tired, or just in need of a pamper, a very good deep tissue massage was available every other day. Seriously nothing was too much trouble – If I was to grumble it would be to say that at times it felt we had accidentally gate crashed a corporate event, even pace setting for Deloitte clients on more than one occasion, but that also meant that I met and rode with Olympic gold medalist Nicole Cook and Paralympic gold medalist Helena Lucas.

We were all treated equally, including being woken at 5:30 am to motivational music for a 7am departure – it is blimin’ cold and dark at 5:30am! Not good for a contact lens novice. We had trained hard for the event and this paid dividends, as soon as we hit any hills –the inevitable peloton that had quietly formed behind us would go from 20 to none in an instant! The first two days out of Devon and Cornwall were tough – up and down all the way (although nothing compared to the Tour of the Peak which we did earlier in the year, and which will forever be the benchmark of a truly grueling ride.) After that the body adjusted and we just hopped on our bikes and rode. The adjustment to eating breakfast at 5:45 took a while longer.

We didn’t manage to find a group to ride with as the serious boys were on their way before we made the start, and we were faster than most of the rest, but that meant we had time relax at feed stations in the sunshine and take photos en-route. We even stopped in Kendal for an hour long rendez-vous with my Aunt Mo, after which, and fuelled with more coffee and cake, we headed up Shap Fell. This was a glorious climb, but not a patch upon the Glencoe Pass, the huge expanse and wild mountains, which were a personal highlight.

On the final day we were greeted with a massive head wind all the way to John O Groats – it would have been nice to have coasted in, savouring the last few miles, but we had to fight our way right to the end. It was really quite emotional to ride under the banner and receive my medal at the finish, but hugely satisfying and rewarding. I’d recommend anyone do it as, with a bit of training, it is easily achievable. There were a surprising number of people who hadn’t trained much and they suffered as a result. There were an awful lot of legs taped with the ever popular Rock Tape by the end. Pretty much everyone got there in the end but for us it was good to finish strong and not too exhausted. That said, we were both glad to get out of the saddle and were looking forward to a proper bed.

Courtesy of Andrew Rice:

The Etape du Tour is an organised event somewhat like a British sportive except that it has far more entrants - about 15000 and goes to a different location in France every year.  That place being a selected stage of the year's Tour de France.  This year it was Stage 19 and it was a lumpy one!  Whilst the mileage wasn't huge, about 86 miles the height climbed was a staggering 4600m and given the heat during the day staggering is no exaggeration for many riders.  Hazel Davies and Andrew Rice booked onto the event via Sports Tours International which meant that apart from booking a flight everything else, including getting the bikes to the event, was taken care of for us which makes for a very relaxing experience.  Now, having entered months ahead of the event you would have thought that there was plenty of time to develop a training programme and be fully prepared for all those metres of climbing.  However, apart from a couple of evening rides on top of the normal Club runs and some mountain biking we found ourselves preparing for the Etape by cycling the Croix de Fer two days before the event.  The weather forecast wasn't that great either so it was with some trepidation we went to bed early the night before the usual 5.00am start.  A generous portion of porridge, fruit and hard boiled eggs set us up for the 10 mile roll down the hill to St Jean de Maurienne with jersey pockets stuff with spare clothing and bars to cover all eventualities!  With 15000 riders to get through the start it takes a lot of organisation so there were cohorts of 1000 riders spread around the main drag waiting to be called forward in number order - we were in the 6000 number group and got away at 7.58.  The start of the route was mostly downhill but it didn't last long before we hit the the ascent of the Cat 2 Col du Chaussy a 15K ride to a height of 1533m.  The descent that followed was a mixture of technical cycling and walking as obstacles and crashes caused severe bunching but soon the road opened out and there was a great descent out onto the valley floor and 25k of mostly flat riding - the only flat road on the whole route.  Even though it was flat we were still held up for some time due to an accident needing a helicopter evacuation from the road.  It was whilst waiting we came across Craig Stewart who told us Jon Sutcliffe was also on the route somewhere.  It didn't seem long before the flat was over and the 25k climb to the Col du Glandon and the Col de la Croix de Fer (Hors Cat climb) just beyond started.  By this time it was clear that the forecast rain wasn't going to happen and it was going to be a long hot ride!  It is hard enough to drink enough when cycling at 5mph but when surrounded by hundreds of riders barely a wheel apart you dare not take a hand off the brakes!  The result was cyclists keeling over all the way up to the Col.  There was at least a water station halfway that served as a break; here we met another VCC member - Mike Burr.  The last half of the climb was a long hard, hot road.  However, we managed to keep hydrated by actually stopping and drinking then cycling some more until after 3 hours (from the bottom) we reached the feed station at the Glandon.  A bit of a scrum to say the least!  Suitably refreshed the 3k to the summit of the Col de la Croix de Fer didn't seem to hard so there was no hesitation in going straight over the top and making up some time on the descent.  It is amazing no matter how good you feel on the descent the next climb is  still a 5mph struggle against gravity; in this case the Col du Mollard, a Cat 2 climb.  More liquid intake then another even more technical descent into St Jean de Maurienne and the last feed station before the 19k climb to the finish at La Toussuire.  By this time we were just inside the cut-off time and it looked like we would do it if we could just keep going - easier said than done!  With a steady pace, another water stop and some small relief on a downhill section the final flat straight appeared after a couple of hours and it was time to show the Frenchman on my wheel what a sprint to the line was.  So that was it, all over after 11 hours from the start.  A mix of tiredness, relief and satisfaction of having completed a major ride that we were far from sure we would manage!  Later we checked the results for  the others and found that Mike Burr had completed the ride as well but both Craig and Jon retired due to heat and hydration problems but will be back to complete 'some unfinished business on the mountain'.

Jared Millar completed the Pyrenees edition of the Haute Route. Billed as the toughest and highest sportives in the world, the Haute Route events are 7-day stage races through the Pyrenees, Alps and Dolomites and provide an experience similar to a pro tour; moving from town-to-town, with police escorts, media bikes and Mavic support vehicles. The Pyrenees event covered over 800km, ascended more than 20,000m, included a hill-climb time trial and featured the famous cols of Tourmalet, Peyresourde, Aubisque, Aspin, Soulor and Hautacam. Jared finished 42nd, placing him in the top 10% of participants. At this point, he has no interest in signing up for next year's edition due to the still raw memories of intense pain and suffering!