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.

Fear and predictions

Today was a completely different kind of day. A beautiful sunny morning, even if I was expected to get hit by some rain later according to the radar. The b&b I found in Alness was brilliant. A lovely friendly couple, and a nice large room. And breakfast was great, a nice choice of cereals, main courses, fry ups, drinks. Just what you wanted. Meet a nice trio of walkers on their way up from Lands End. Comical bunch but seem to be enjoying their trip.

Waving each other off I venture off up Route 1. When it leaves the main roads it actually can if you do choose avoid the minor back roads and actually take it into the forests and fields. Ohh what fun, it was just single track, but very much like the first part of Whinlatter’s blue trail. Great fun, even got a little air over one yump. Think I scared the daylights out of the guy with the GoPro on his helmet coming the other way. Sadly though it didn’t last and I was soon back on the road grinding my way up hills towards Inverness.

It rained, it stopped. It went cold, it went scorching. It did it over and over. I think I changed my kit about 7 times before giving up and just going with what I had on. Sadly though LM want in the happiest of moods. It may of been the single track action, but all she did on the grind up to Inverness was groan, rattle, clank, and generally lots of not usually very good sounds from a trusty steed. A pitstop for a good check over, oil everything, tighten a few things up. And we were back in track and running along smoothly and silently.

Inverness was a mess. Bike track after bike track was closed for maintenance. Went round and round looking for alternatives which made slow head way… And then there it was. The Kessock bridge. And Mr Vertigo here want having any of it. Was chatting to some local bikers who helped me through the mess of the local bike tracks, but the flew over the bridge. The low side, and riding along it was too much for me. In the end I got off and walked the thing against the inside barrier looking over the road at the cars. Took forever but made it eventually. Over the bridge, the bike track again was closed, so had to take more random routes though some oil depots before rejoining and getting on again, only to have yet another rule closed, thus needing a trip into the centre of the city on a busy Sunday just to get around the closed area. Eventually I manned to escape though. But the slow downs by this point where already hurting my progress.

My blood levels weren’t playing ball either. The morning they were great, almost perfect but come lunchtime, although the fear and panic over the bridge might of played a part, they are sky rocketing. Never feel good when high so not helping making up time either.

Loch Ness was well… Hidden. For the most part anyhow behind trees. I enjoyed the trip, but it was sadly barely visible for most of the afternoon. A couple of fire engines, coast guard and mountain rescue all flew part down the road at one point. Which turned out to be a young girl had got talked down the Foyers Falls. She was alright though.

Leaving the Loch I continued on,  but by Whitebridge my levels had gone though the floor. I parked up, raided my chocolate stash, and took some snaps of the amazing bridge. Read the history board. And the village notice board. You know, they have a roadside egg drop off. Someone (I couldn’t tell who) puts fresh free range eggs in this old ammo box for anyone to take off they leave the cash in the box. Amazing trust just leaving the box of eggs/cash on the roadside.

And then came the hill. Talk about a climb, mile after mile of slog. And then the descent down into Fort Augustus. The shimmering Lochs as I came down. They looked fantastic.

Fort Augustus was probably the most touristy place I’ve seen so far. Bag pipes being played. Lots of shops and people everywhere. Every nationality going, getting pics with the piper. And then this ship came, and the lock slowly flex with water and the main road spun around. Made a great sight as I got a proper meal finally from a nearby cafe. The bread pudding was so thick, I originally mistook it for flapjack. But wow was it awesome.

Time was skipping on, and after looking for rooms in Fort William, then trying all the towns closer, in the end I gave up and settled for a place in Fort Augustus. Not the range I wanted to get in today. But with the hills I am quite pleased. Tomorrow I do the Caledonian way, and head south again. Legs are still feeling great and want to put in the miles which is good. But I need to smooth my levels a bit more really and up my speed and cut out all the slow down stops. But that’s for tomorrow.

And so it begins

Waking up in the early morning with the usual swings and roundabouts of a 3.3 (59) after a lovely crash back down after my stonking high off the Coke. A quick rummage through my food bag soon fixed that though. Outside dawn was just breaking and it was a beautiful sunrise coming up over Stroma. The red and orange’s looked fantastic. With breakfast still over three hours away I went back to bed.

It’s Raining!Sunrise over John O’Groats

Waking up properly this time, and my blood back where it should be I packed up and made my way to breakfast. It was now pouring down and you could now only just see jut over the road. Nothing to fancy for breakfast, I did my usual of stacking up on milk for the protein and muscle repair though. Seems there was quite a few in about to set off. A large group of six guys from down south, and also a guy I bumped into at the train station in Thurso who was having problems finding his orientation on his map. Guess it’s typical for a large group of blokes but the southerners were annoyingly loud.

Loading up LM as the group in all their team kits, half Sky and the rest random teams loaded all their kit into a van, with two guys in support crew shirts. Turns out they are taking turns in the van when one starts flagging. I got chatting to one and we chuckled a bit about the sheer amount of kit I was packing but guess we’ll see on that in the long run. There they were, all dressed in team stuff, no bags and race bikes. And me loaded to the hilt, buried under waterproofs carrying everything including the kitchen sink. But I was off down to the harbour.

I trundled around a bit looking for the sign to but no avail before asking this lass at the fish stall. The sign was actually right behind me it turned out but there is a bit of local trouble going on about it. Seems that the old guy who owns it has taken to taking off the name arrows as he was annoyed at people turning up at all hours. The locals got fed up with this so built a new sign, not an arrow pointy one but a big sign anyhow saying the Last Sign in Scotland. We laughed about it, and how it all sounds all too familiar before I made my way off into the murk waving goodbye to the group and the guy from the station who were just arriving.

John O’Groats SignAlternative Sign

It was pretty slow going at first, until my legs warmed up. But it was nice to be under way. I pulled off the road to have one of my routine stops for drinks and blood checking on this drive by some farm buildings overlooking the North Sea. This guy comes out, broad Scottish as you would expect and introduced himself. It all turned out he’s a stone cutter, and was in the process of making an archway. It was great seeing the work going into carving up these stone blocks to make these arches which seemed very church window size and shape. Before I set off he gave me his own weather prediction which actually differed from the weather radar… His turned out to be correct!

On I went and as I climbed this lovely big hill, came across a group of Royal Marines going the other direction. We cheered each other on, and they shook their heads at my packs, with them carrying nothing but some lightweight race bikes and I must say, a very nifty looking Royal Marines race kit.

Then came the first big climb, a long 13% grind after a high bridge which my vertigo wasn’t too happy about, even more so with the cross wind. On the way up I passed two students pushing their bikes up, both also fairly loaded. I made my way to the top and got changed from my waterproofs as I was cooking after the climb and chatted with the two of them as we continued on. It all turns out Tommy and his friend who I’ve sadly forgotten her name, had just finished Uni. in Preston and had decided to do something different. They had already decided against the full route, and instead were heading back to Preston, but 30 or 40 miles in on the first day and they were already looking for the nearest train station. Hope they kept going and stuck at it though.

View over the North SeaThis was possibly not quiet as fresh as I was hoping…

Then in lay-by who do I find, the group with a van. No idea where they passed me though, think they have been on a different route. I keep on going, wave to them and head on to Helmsdeep, as I renamed Helmsdale anyhow in the way that I do. Had lunch, and looked at the very impressive war memorial on the hillside. The number of memorials around here is amazing. Right along the coast, large graveyards, and some very intricate detail on them all. Most from the 1st World War, which seems to of hit the area incredibly badly.

Stopping again for bloods and a drink the group of southerners overtake. And so it kicked off. They were nailing it, but I kept catching them between blood stops. In the end my brain decided it was best to leave them for now and head to one of the towns I looked at staying at and turned off to follow a close road against the sea to Dornoch. Pausing again for bloods, they had now dropped to the low 2′s (40′s) once more so I looked around for some more supplies and felt a bar of something in my jacket pocket. Handy! a Snickers bar, it looked a bit battered but it would do. A quick bite into it and crunch…rather solid. Not like that’ll stop me, so it soon disappeared before bothering to read the best before date of 05/12. Oopsy, a bit late now.

View over the North SeaThis was possibly not quiet as fresh as I was hoping…

It was turning 4pm and my legs felt great, so I decided to plough on. And who do I find unloading their van in the village? Yep the group of southerners making camp at one of the bed and breakfasts in town. I waved and was definitely going further tonight now!

I crossed the Dornoch Firth bridge, cross winds battering me, focused on the white line to keep my vertigo at bay. And I go on to Alness where I find a nice place for the night. A pretty good first day really. Bloods weren’t too bad thanks to my constant drinking of carbs throughout the ride. Mileage for the day wasn’t to bad at just over 100 miles, and carb intake at 640g for 9.2u TDD (total daily dose). But it would be the recharge which could be interesting for the night and the following day.