So final day in Paris. Back to Blighty in the morning. Really enjoyed today, nothing could be better than lounging around the sights of Paris with a beautiful lady enjoying sorbet and lunch in some amazing scenic places. Makes it difficult to want to come home!
It’s the rider dinner for those who did the mHealth GT in September today. Sadly though due to the security situation Orange has decided to hold off at the moment on allowing their staff to attend which is a huge shame. While I understand how a company has to think on things such as this another part of it does make it feel almost as allowing the terrorists to win through allowing them to alter what you want to do. But out of these issues we can but strive forward and come up with a solition! And thus one crazy nerd with a chat with (the fantastic) Caroline from Orange (as in the one who saved me last month on my London to Paris ride) we hatched up a little solution.
Laptop in toe, Skype all setup and ready to roll. Camera and microphone checked and ready. And cardboard cut outs made of Caroline and Maria (I sadly ran out of strong cardboard to make one of Viet and Liesbeth or I would of made more, ready so they can attend the dinner in cardboard and digital if not in person. I must admit though, getting on a bus, and train carrying cardboard women definatly raises a few eyebrows!
It’s going to be a very memorable birthday (and yes it was a big one) is probably the best way to describe it. The plan, midnight to midnight, Big Ben to Eiffel Tower in under 24hours. 313.3km in total, 1 diabetic, 1 bike, 1 day (I like the use of one’s you might of noticed last time). It all started well enough, rode to the station, train down no real problems. Thinking back though it was probably my first error as lunch was my last proper meal and only snaked for dinner and before the ride. Got to Euston and got utterly lost trying to get to Big Ben. Was having a few issue with the GPS trying to “help” by using alternative routes not the one it was meant to use. In the end I did get there with half an hour spare. Ended up getting bothered by Romanian beggars though which is difficult to cope with.
Once going in central London with even at that time of night a lot of traffic the GPS continued to be a pain until good ol’ turn it off and on again and all sorted. Then made good time escaping the city. It was quiet surprising seeing so many foxes. Counted 9 of them which is so odd when up here I’ve only seen 1 in the last couple of years. The first 50km or so was foggy out of the city, and it proved a very sticky kind of damp and was also quiet hard to cope with the reduced visibility down to under 5m or so.
By the time I reached Lowes I was feeling quiet sickly and ended up vomiting beside the road. I blamed the very rich mix I had chosen to use on my drinks to try and cover the lack of having anywhere to get food stops really and also the strange salted and herb flapjack I had been nibbling. Possibly more the early stages of dehydration as I had only drunk about a litre. I make it into Newhaven just after 5am which wasn’t bad going, at just under 20km/h which is the kind of speed I would need come France so that was good and I was keeping it pretty gentle also.
Stopped at the McDonald’s near the ferry port and got plenty of protein in for breakfast and a couple of water bottles and a nice warm cuppa. Raised a few eyebrows this loony cyclist wondering in at that kind of time. Sat there till about 7am after having a couple more bottles of water before venturing down to the ferry port to see it all closed up and having nothing but two huts for passport checking and not even a waiting room. So utterly pointless that was I went back up to McDonald’s and got another couple bottles of water. Think my dehydration levels were starting to come back I hope although the lack of salt was probably still a problem but salt on the food helped I hope. Eventually left and bought a couple more bottles of water (yes that was 8 bottles!) and pootled down to the ferry port. And waited 2nd in line for them to open. In the process met a nice couple, Andrew and Jill on a tandem going to Paris also but doing it over 4 days. We had a good chat and discussed all kinds of things, D, bikes, and tours.
The ferry seemed to travel faster than I was expecting of it, yet also took a long time to get across the Channel. It was nice though and I got a decent lunch on board, although again in hide sight could of probably done with a lot more food really. I think I managed about an hours sleep and got the GPS and phone recharged which both were very nearly out of juice.
Once in Dieppe it was sunny as I got off the ferry but just as I reached the leaving gates it started to drizzle it down. Left my legs out but put my waterproof jacket back on and continued to try and get out of Dieppe. The roads were heavy at coming up to rush hour and it was hard with tailbacks everywhere but cutting through most of it well at a reasonable pace. Once on the quieter roads managed to turn things up a bit and got some distance it. It was nice seeing the signs for Paris though 170, 150, 130, 110km to go nicely coming down and also beginning to recognise the names of places from the mHealth Tour. I’m sure we didn’t go through many of them but I think we we’re in the same region again which was a nice feeling. The weather was getting much worse and I was getting pretty soaked and miserable at this stage so ended up hiding in a telephone box to get changed into more waterproof kit and also make up more energy drink using my two two of the bottles of water I had brought from McDonald’s that morning. Pressing on the distance was coming down nicely and I was still on schedule just about to make the tower in under 24 hours. Even setting off the slow down signs in towns which always gives me a nice grin when they flash “50 Rappel” at me.
I had just left the town of Gisors and was pressing on to Paris. In the middle of nowhere, pitch black, the full moon covered in clouds as the rain hammered it down my rear tyre goes. I get into a side road, which was nothing but a muddle track to avoid the main road and trucks on it which were the majority of transport at this time of night (9pm ish). I can barely see anything and eventually get my helmet light from my rucksack to help see. Couldn’t find anything in the tyre but with so much mud it wasn’t made easy. This was the first time I had changed these tyres which I got from the Tour and were originally fitted by the mechanics on that tour. Wired tyres argh a total fight, changed the tube, inflate it and BOOM, something must be in there still arrrgh!. Had to do it again and then couldn’t get the tyre back on at all! Spent 90mins getting more and more frustrated with it, getting more and more soaked. Getting more and more utterly ticked off at the time this was costing me. Eventually thought sod it and walked me and myself back to Gisors about 2km back now.
Cold, soaked, the only good thing going was my bloods! Walking into town I see a police car so wonder over to have a chat in very broken French. Was there anywhere to find a hotel still open now, no. Is there any 24hr restaurant or anything, no. Would you mind if I come hide and dry out at the station please? No chance! Bloody wonderful! I eventually find a bus shelter with a small plastic canopy roof and a bench in it from where I was able to change my rear tyre again. Seemed to be keeping inflated. I pondered for ages do I press on, don’t I, what do I do! Do I phone a taxi to take me to my hotel in Paris, how much would that cost after midnight?! Would they still be open considering how nowhere in France seems to do 24hr opening. In the end I pulled my legs up next to my chest and wrapped my arms around them and made a small ball of myself to attempt to keep warm as the rain pounded down. I did get a couple hours sleep but woke up frozen. I don’t think I’ve ever been that cold. Shaking violently, teeth chattering, bloods good though! I check the back tyre and it was still inflated. The rain was still pouring down though! Feeling ill again I ran to the local bushed and threw up yet again. Not sure if it was dehydration still or a chill or something with the cold effecting me. Hid back under the shelter for a while but I wasn’t heating that much up and when the rain relented a little thought to hell with it and got back on the bike and pressed onwards!
It started to dry out which helped a little and I was back to setting off speed warnings on the road signs which always made me feel like I was progressing again. The 24hours was well gone now. But I can still get to my train on time though to get home! And then thud thud thud the back tyre again ARGGHHHH!!! Not again. My feeling of let’s get this over with and getting on with things soon becoming utter frustration and annoyance. Luckily it wasn’t a full flat and more a slow puncture so managed to get me to this roadside 24hr pizzeria place (only place I had seen open 24hrs in France!). It was actually a room with a pizza vending machine in it. But it had lights, and it was a dry room if a little chilly. I had half a pizza for breakfast, half as the other half was frozen cold by the time I got to it, and it’s actually pretty difficult to eat a pizza not cut into slices as one giant disc. Sulking and wringing out my clothes weren’t helping. Next door a patisserie was opening up and an hour later I was in a lovely warm place with a mountain of fresh warm bread and croissants (creme croissants mmm NOM) and a good warm brew.
I received a message off Caroline from the mHealth Tour after posting a picture from the muddle side road with bike in bits. She offered to come pick me up and get me a nice warm shower. Once picked up we drove over the hill from where I was hiding and could see the Eiffel Tower in the distance. I was less than 2 hours from the finish. Dejected, defeated, utterly annoyed at wrong choices and mistakes. It was a hard lesson but learned lots. I never made it to the Tower but did see it. The Tower as a completion I knew that would have to be next time when I do this correctly with the correct equipment. So close
Getting home also proved to be “fun” though. I wasn’t going to meet my train home so tried the website to change the ticket time and it was timing out. So ended up calling them, but the office wasn’t open for another hours arrgh. Eventually get through and ticket changed. Good! I get a nice warm drink, showered and cleaned up at Caroline’s before she gave me a lift to the station before she went to work. I owe her so much for helping me out, a total star! Unfortunately the bike wouldn’t of been able to make the train so I had to get the ticket changed again (thankfully they’ve didn’t charge a fortune for it like last time). The bike nicely get’s scheduled in to be back in London on the same train as me, great!
Back in London and no bike. They had decided to move to the following train! Which then became the train after that one. Now, I had originally planned that I had space for things like this between getting into London and my train home. Unfortunately with the bike delays my tickets home were now also useless. Eventually getting the bike and me to Euston I had this feeling of disaster waiting to happen as it takes usually a days notice to book a bike onto a train. Thankfully though the girl at the station was able to get me and a bike on a train home (ish), but couldn’t refund the ticket. Thus another massive charge! The ish in this being the train only went to either Preston or Glasgow. So Preston it was! My feet were cut to shreds by this time, blisters from the walking in wet cycling shoes I’m sure wasn’t good. I had picked up some blister plasters in the station to try and patch things together as best I can which gave something to do while waiting for the train home. These train fixes ended up costing over twice as much as the original ride was to of cost. Not good at all but getting home was more important really now.
Making it to the home station and getting the bike off I go to lock the bike up and I’ve gone and left my rucksack with helmet attached to it on the train. I get worse! I have a good chat to the folk in the station and they call around and retrieve it in Lockerbie. So a nice warm station and a good chat with the station staff as we watched the delays roll up on the schedules (seems someone was threatening to jump off a bridge so they had to turn the power lines and stop trains in Crewe) which was delaying trains up to 3 hours, or cancelling them out right (guess some people were coming off worse than me). 90mins later though I was reunited with my bag and kit and on my way home to a nice warm comfy bed. I’ve learned loads, and I will complete this next time!
On Thursday 20th August, I received a telephone call from the JDRF enquiring if I would like to do a ride for them. Answering yes without thinking about it, they went on to explain they needed a Type 1 who rode a bicycle for a research project….to ride from Brussels, to Paris and then on to Geneva. A 1500km journey taking in over 22,000m of ascent. Oh and by the way it would be starting in two weeks to the day!
The Tour started at the Triumphal Arch of the Cinquantenaire in Brussels with the riders being escorted by police through the busy city before heading south to Cambrai in France. There was something of military theme to the day as it passed through the 1815 Waterloo battle field before heading to the ‘Western Front’ at Mons, the location of the last fighting on the Western front on 11th November 1918. The day finished with three sections of the famous Paris-Roubaix pavé of Northern France which made it all the more “fun” as it had started lashing down rain which made it feel very much like home! Riding the pavé in the wet bit though, giving me blisters on my hands, and also getting a couple of punctures, rattling off a CO2 can, and braking my drinks holders, and also rattling off my rear light (a very expensive experience), Not an ideal start to a tour really!
Come the following morning my rear tyre was flat again, and after a lot of poking around a small bit of flint was found. In far too much a hurry which resulted in me pinching the tube which promptly exploded waking up a load of the other riders, it didn’t make for a good following morning. After the mornings medical tests and questionnaires (research project remember!) It was off to Reims, the heart of the champagne region of France. Continuing the military theme as the route roughly followed the line of the Western Front past St Quentin and the River Aisne and pausing at the American Somme Graveyard. It is actually one of those places which is hard to put into words due to the sheer scale and numbers (over 50,000 graves), and this was just one of such graveyards in the area. The numbers of graves can’t really be put into words without seeing such memorials. The tour moved on along mainly quite rural roads and open ‘rolling’ countryside. Wind turbines blowing in the wind highlighted the windy conditions as the tour headed into the champagne vineyards! Sadly though no free samples much to the disappointment of all the riders.
From Reims it was on to Paris. Or would have been if not for waking to yet another puncture. This time on the front though! Riding once more through the region’s vineyards roughly following La Marne River which meets La Seine in Paris. There wasn’t any really significant climbs but the day was far from flat as it made it’s way to Paris following more quiet country roads and then into the city using a combination of quiet country roads and cycle paths along the canal which had a rather pungent aroma to it although is very beautiful to look at (definitely not to smell though). The hotel in Paris was nice, although just to add a bit more fun they had forgotten to book me a room. Lots of room shuffling later I was sharing with the Dexcom representative who was a really nice guy.
The next day was the only rest day of the Tour. A nice day in Paris to see the sights. Visiting the Eiffel Tower, ride around the Arc d’Triumph and down the Champs-Élysées. To watch it on the television doesn’t do just how cobbled and bumpy the road is! But it was one of those places which has to be ridden when in Paris. The Arc d’Triumph was total craziness with cars everywhere. and once on the centre it is best described as some weird velodrome crossed with a spinning top. Round and round you ride trapped in by the layers of cars around you until you find a gap and off you go flying off down one of the side roads.
Heading east from Paris along the Marne River using quiet roads and cycle paths again, and once past the Bastille, these allowed us to avoid the worst of the traffic from the Monday morning rush hour. Clear of Paris it was on to Coulommiers the home of Brie cheese, before going onto Provins which is a beautiful fortified medieval town and a world heritage site. Then heading onto Troyes which is described in the Lonely Planet guide as “one of the finest ensembles of half-timbered houses and Gothic churches in France”, or very much like parts of Cheshire in my book The amazing old forts and Roman fortifications where quite staggering.
Troyes to Langres was possibly the quietest days riding in France! The area was very pretty with a mix of lakes, forests, open countryside and sleepy villages. Charles de Galle came from the area and the Viaduct at Chaumont is an impressive three story railway bridge with over 50 arches and spanning 600 metres. And then yet again it happened, another puncture! This time right in the middle of Chaumont and right after avoiding an anti-mayor protest by the localsn (protests in France? who would of thought it!). There wasn’t many of them but they had a good group of instruments playing as they protested the town hall. The locals were very interested in what was going on with the ride and in my very broken French was able to get across most of what they were doing with the ride to Geneva before getting underway again. Most though just loved the chance to get close to NF (all my bikes have named btw) and asked lots of questions about her. Langres is an old fortified hill top town which made for a grinding 650m at 15% into the castle at the top of the hill an epic finish for the day. And a great place for the town inside the walls on the top of the hill. Amazing place and very beautiful!
With the Tour occupied every hotel and guest house inside the town, the following morning ate the town dry. A thing to note about cycling like this is that we are burning over 6000 calories a day, and we eat like crazy things. A bare minimum of 150g+ for breakfast with most on around 200g with a mix of cereal, breads, eggs, meats, cheeses, and fruits. The first sitting cleaned out the lunch room so much so the chef almost had a stroke and went off on a rant about how much we were eating. Was a scene right out of fawlty towers it was so funny as he sent the staff off around town to raid the bakers as fast as possible to get more supplies. As Langres is a hill fort the day started with a lovely downhill. But this was going into also the longest day of the tour at over 190km and also had the first big climbs involved. Starting with the Col De Croix and then onto the Col du Ballon d’Alsace which was also first official climb of the Tour de France in 1905 and has been included in the Tour de France no less than 20 times. To climb something this large after you’ve already ridden over 100 miles was something which reminded your legs of what you were doing in the Tour. A amazing climb and one where I paired up with my climbing partner for the majority of the rides to come meeting up with Annemarie from Team Novo Nordisk. It was an incredible experience to ride something so relentless and unforgiving, or so I thought until the next day! The 30km long descent into Belfort made a great end to the very long day and also made for some frozen solid knees and feet. Any footage from that speed camera of someone in JDRF colours on a black and white bike is just coincidental though even if they were 18km over the speed limit whistles innocently.
Heading south from Belfort, and crossing the Jura mountains and into Switzerland for the first time. This had quite a fair amount of climbing for the day, although the highest peak was only just over 1100m or ascent. The town of La Chaux-de-Fonds is another World Heritage site and also a center of the Swiss watch making industry. The town is referred to by Karl Marx in Das Kapital and was birthplace of the architect Le Corbusier, who is to blame for dreaming up the tower block which is probably why the town is one of the ugliest Swiss towns ridden through on the Tour (yes, it is full of nothing but concrete blocks). From here the Tour headed down into the spa town of Yverdon-Les-Bains. or so was the plan. With less than 30km to go and arriving at the final food stop of the day my blood sugars were getting high (cooked my insulin off). Taking plenty of water and having a discussion about it I pressed on up the final climb before the long descent to the hotel. 6km in I started vomiting due to my high levels which continued to raise out of control so decided the best action would be to ride back to the food stop for a change of insulin. Unfortunately the insulin had already been moved on to the hotel which resulted in my retirement from that days ride much to my utter annoyance and immense frustration (even the jokers of the group the physio’s saw how big a mood I was in at losing to D and kept out of my way). Once back at the hotel with insulin changed things were soon back to normal I was not a happy bunny all night. I almost went out and rode the final climb again but got a telling off for even contemplating it from the organisers. While it did feel like losing I was going to get revenge on something!
The following day we rode on through Montreaux and into the Alps. There was two options for the day, an ‘easy’ option to ride directly to the hotel in Morzine, or for the climbers there was the opportunity to add the Avoriaz climb (big ski slope) onto the route when we arrived in Morzine. This added a further 30 km (14km long climb) to the day. This climb had also been a stage finish of the Tour de France with a record set by Bernard Hinault of 33 minutes to the top! After the disaster at the end of the previous day, Avoriaz was something which was like a huge flashing beacon that had to be done if only to make sure the annoyance of diabetes could be put firmly back into it’s box for the problems it had caused the day before! It was something which had to be defeated and after getting back to the hotel in pretty good time with Annemarie again it was one of those things they both had plans to do, and with just enough time to spare to get back to the hotel for the evenings medical tests before dinner!
The next day started off with the famous Col De Jeux Plane. Moving on to the Col De La Ramaz (quiet a famous TdF mountain involving he who can’t be named) with some incredible views looking onto Mount Blanc with it’s fantastic glacier. Next after that was the Col de la Croisette and finally Le Saleve. And just to add a bit more fun it was against the clock as the riders had to meet the Swiss police for the escort which was waiting for them at the border outpost. The final descent which had 48, 28% corner ramps on it which was made even more treacherous thanks to a thunderstorm which started. The nature of the descent and the weather resulted in four minor falls with grazes, another resulting in a dislocated shoulder blade, and one where they ran into the back of the peloton and caused massive damage to one of the bikes. Quiet a messy final descent really!
Eventually making it to the escort and riding through the storm to meet the Mayor beside the Lake. It was a shame the weather decided to become as nasty as it did but even the storm couldn’t damped the spirits of the riders after the Tour. The support provided by all the sponsors and staff along the Tour was truly a fantastic experience, and hopefully the research done over the Tour will prove beneficial in years to come. Lead sponsor Orange Healthcare who along with the other sponsors Dexcom, Samsung, GSMA, Intel, and TapCheck where brilliant throughout and thanks for their support.