mHealth Grant Tour – Brussels to Paris to Geneva

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 :stuck_out_tongue: 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.

A little ride around Yorkshire! (Tour de France Stage 1)

Been a little quiet, but thought I would bring everyone up to date with the infamous Tour ride.

Well, the night before I have no idea what was going on with me, sky high levels all night. I had acquired a CGM for the ride off my DSN (CDE) and the alarm was driving me up the wall every hour waking me up. Ran corrections all night long and even changed my infusion set. Took till 5am to get them down to 162 (in US money)…but for most the night was over 280, very annoyed but all I could guess was it was nerves. Just what I didn’t need!

Only went for a light small breakfast and did a full bolus for it, not the normal reduction due to the bus to the start taking an hour and a half. Didn’t help though, by the time I reached the start was over 300 in the bloods. Wonderful way to begin (and yes before anyone states I know doing any kind of exercise at this kind of level is dangerous, but there was no way in hell I was going to be delayed) and the doctor accompanying the team wasn’t happy at all about my levels, but she kind of just grinned and muttered and left me too it thankfully.

Start of the ride we kept a nice steady pace in the low 20’s mph and we kept nailing in the miles. We began losing a few from the group and were soon left with just four of us. Bloods kept on coming down over the first 65miles nicely and got to a bit more respectable 160 by the time we got to the first major hill. You have to wonder about our bodies at times like this, surely a lovely big hill would send me lower, but nope. Got to love our random diabetic bodies when the liver decides to kick in and sends be back up to 250 grr. Not a happy bunny about it at all.

Temperature was getting up now and we broke 30C (86f) in the sun and I decided it was best to let the two leading riders go and focus more on getting my levels to play better. I began riding with the doc again after a break at a feed station and she was still muttering her concerns about my bloods, and I did a half correction dose to see what that would do. We kept on riding together until the next climb where I and left her in the hopes of catching the lead two riders. But to no real avail and as such I pretty much carried on for the next 20 or so miles on my own with the only minor entertainment coming from me riding to close to the edge of the roadside and getting a nettle sting across my fingers.

Approaching what was said to be the big climb of the day ” Côte de Buttertubs” I came across other JDRF riders who I kept with until the foot of the climb. We had been warned the bottom part was meant to be the hardest up to the first cattle grid, then a steady climb to the second and a small dip and steep rise again to the third and the summit. Climbing rapidly the others dropped off and I saw others in front approaching the first cattle grid and some even walking. Think I must of seriously annoyed them how fast they got dispatched, one after another over the climb, mid way up slipping into the big ring and disappearing up to the summit and catching many other groups, and dispatching them equally as fast. Discovered at this point that I seemed oddly good at hill climbs, much to the surprise of everyone else on the road and they pushed their bikes up, or painfully ground on up collapsed over the handlebars as some lunatic diabetic took off past them like he had an engine attached (later GPS logs showed I passed the steepest part with the majority of the walkers at 11mph and took the summit at 22mph).

The descent had a few sharp corners, and high hedges so tried to be cagey on it as I didn’t know the road at all so only got to 42mph on the downhill. Chatting to one of the local riders he had seen people clock nearly 60 on the downhill. At the foot of the hill we got our lunch stop finally, and my bloods were finally playing ball as well (might also of explained why the climb went so well) reading in at 110. As I started my lunch the leaders were leaving, so got a little annoyed and it was a good 15-20mins till I was back on the road after them. And again on my own.

The next 15 or so miles was just beautiful rolling hills, the occasional waterfall, and beautiful little villages. Soon I was on the final hill of the day, the “Côte de Grinton Moor”. This was a much more challenging climb I found. Nothing really where I could build up a lot of speed but more one just to keep on piling in the power over the climb. It was a very open area over the moorland with only the sheep for company and seeing a rider in the distance to give a goal to chase down. Eventually I caught him at what appeared to be the summit. Looking down at the road it said 1km to summit. I guess there’s more. And sure enough, around enough corner more hill came into view. This hide and seek of where more hill is hiding became quite the constant with this climb.

Approaching the top I see a small group of JDRF riders. The leaders and a few from shorter distance groups. Finally! I pulled up just as they set off and waved hi. Grabbed a quick drink and dropped my visor on my helmet for the first time that day. Went flat on the bars and pointed downhill.

Soon catching the group and fly past the first half of them and am fast approaching the front of them when BANG. My front inner tube explodes and blows my front tyre off my wheel. Not a good thing to occur at any speed, let alone on a downhill section when some lunatic was really on one at the time.

As the group disappeared I sat there changing my inner tube and checking the bike over for damage. Luckily none, but still annoying though. I cruised down from the Moor wearing my destroyed inner tube as a trophy wrapped around me, and rode quiet gingerly trying to avoid anything which could burst my tyres now. I latched onto a couple of other riders and rode with them till the final food stop. My bloods where now down to 63 so time to hit the supplies at the stop. The group I arrived with hung on a bit at the stop so I followed out another rider for the final 25 miles to the end.

I met the fourth member of the starting breakaway from the beginning of the ride and rode in with him to Harrogate. It surprised me the way many of the cars waved us through on the roundabouts on the major roads as we came in. Really was great! Coming into the town centre and nearing the finish I stop at a red light and wait. Setting off again I don’t clip in, crank spins around and whack…a huge swollen lump on my leg, bruise and blood to match. A great ending! I ride over the finish line and feel oddly good. Bloods are now on 80 so overall not to bad a ride.

There was a large group of riders at the finish, as well as the JDRF reps and dignitaries, family and the likes. Really did enjoy meeting everyone. A little bit of a shame that our of all the riders only five where actually diabetics, and there was only one crazy one who did the entire Stage 1 course. But everyone had a connection though. Really enjoyed meeting everyone, all are total stars!

So stats for the ride: 131 miles ride, 2470m climbed, max heart 198bpm, max bg 18.4, min 3.5, 23 finger blood tests, 3470 calories burnt, 398g carbs consumed, on 4.03u Novorapid.