Sport can offer no greater backdrop than the giant climbs of the Alps or Pyrenees, and the mountain stages of the Tour de France are typically the most memorable. Here are the stats in our latest infographic from our partners at RoadCyclingUK.
Hoarwithy Toll House
Simple pleasures. Maybe it’s because I’m getting on a bit now, but some of the things I most enjoy about cycling are the simple pleasures – sunshine on your face, birds in the air, rolling green vistas, chatting on the wheel with your cycling buddies. That’s not to say that I don’t enjoy, say, a thundering downhill headlong charge, setting a PB on my steepest Strava segment (KoM is just never going to happen, unless I create one that goes through our house) or getting that tricky rock garden just right on the mountain bike – I do, I love them and all the myriad experiences a cyclist goes through on a good day just as much as I ever have. It’s just that, over time, I’ve gained an appreciation of the less-adrenalin-filled aspects of the sport. Maybe it’s not about getting old, as such – more a matter of growing up.
Whatever it is, I think I may have found the perfect outlet, if Sunday’s adventure in the Hoarwithy 100 was anything to go by. As part of our continuing exploration of the world of cycling, three members of the nondescript, half-baked, semi-imaginary cycling outfit that is NTG RCC dipped a first, timid toe into the welcoming waters of the Audax over the bank holiday weekend, with Jon, Luke and I assembling at a very reasonable 9:00am to get signed in. A small event, we never saw more than about twenty or so riders even for the depart (although there were more doing the 200km event), so signing on was simplicity itself, just a matter of finding the village hall and getting our brevet cards. After a pleasingly brief briefing, the keener types rolled merrily on their way, whilst NTG collectively thought they’d better ask if they needed to get their cards stamped at the start (a pointless question, in hindsight – we had arrived and collected the cards, why would they need to be stamped?). Thus, by the time we saddled up, everyone else was long gone.
Which meant that we only went about three hundred yards before the first navigational mishap, Jon and Luke’s Garmins unable to indicate “left a bit” when the road split. Somewhat worse, as we made our way over the Severn vie picturesque Hawbridge was the awareness that three had become two just a couple of miles in – Jon had gone missing, and as we got to him, the back wheel was coming out of his Genesis. A flat – that same tyre had been flat and a new tube fitted when they’d arrived barely half an hour before. This was not good.
Although the tube had gone in the same place as the one he’d changed earlier, there was absolutely no sign of the cause of the puncture – fortunately, there was a spare tyre back in the car, so I took a gentle spin back with the dead one over my shoulder, and within a couple of minutes of my return, we were on our way. It might not have been the brightest start, but we were thankfully untroubled by the puncture pixies for the remainder of the day.
And what a day. The sun was out, but there was just a smidge of cloud and the merest hint of a breeze to take the temperature out of the air, really perfect cycling conditions. As if that wasn’t enough, the route rolled us through the loveliest Gloucestershire countryside, all quiet lanes and green fields and coppices and villages – there was the occasional transit section on busier roads between lanes, but they were brief, rare and far between.
All, however, was not well. As Jon and I span merrily along, Luke was not feeling well – acid indigestion was bad, but worse he couldn’t eat and this was going to be a long day for us. Long before we hit Littledean, we were looking for shops as a source of Gaviscon but we’d clocked 26 miles before we found anywhere. After a brief respite to neck some tablets, we were all set for the off – however, if I’d known what was awaiting, I might have rested a little longer…
Right from the off, there was a stiff climb out of the village, and it sneakily went on further than you thought, straight runs to corners that hint at a flattened section for some respite, that then raise themselves to another long, straight drag with an evil laugh. What goes up, however…. The descent the other side down St White’s Road was adequate recompense, and served as a kind of gateway to the Forest of Dean. It had been all about the green and pleasant fields – now it was all about the trees.
But we needed more drama before we really got stuck into the woods. An ambulance had already come blaring past shortly before we reached Speech House, and as we crested the climb our hearts sank – a police car had evidently just pulled up, and diversion signs were in evidence. Trying not to think about what might have happened, and hoping it hadn’t happened to another cyclist, Captain Jon took out his map, but the omens weren’t good – already behind schedule, none of the obvious diversions were anything short of lengthy, but when Jon sought advice from the police officer deploying signs, she very kindly advised us to go through the section that had been closed; there was debris on the roads, so we were to take care, but we would be able to get through. It was very good of her – it would have been just as easy (easier, maybe) to tell us we had to go around, but she didn’t. Thank you ma’am!
Rolling steadily down the deserted road, you did wonder what we were going to find – a sharp, downhill right-hand bend, was the immediate answer, with the verge torn up on the outside, and a small hatchback upside down on the other side of the road. Fortunately, judging by the lack of urgency in the movements of the emergency services in attendance, and the slightly-shocked looking group of people who we presumed were giving statements, it didn’t seem likely that any serious injury had occurred, but it must have been a very lively few moments while it was all in progress.
It wasn’t long after that before we reached Symond’s Yat and the halfway mark checkpoint, signing in with minutes to spare before we ran out of time. Taking a break in the sun and getting some proper food down our necks (Luke still couldn’t eat, so I did my best to make up for him), our options were fairly limited – Luke felt ok to carry on, although understandably lacking zip, but the shortest way back was pretty much on the course, there were no train stations to hand so the only other bailout plan was to get someone to drive down and pick him up. Pluckily, Luke decided to just crack on, so after a very nice chat with the gentleman on the checkpoint, we re-kitted and headed on. Let me tell you, the vertiginous descent from Yat Rock down through Riddings Wood is quite the perfect post-lunch warm up, raising your heart rate without stressing your legs.
Once north of the A40, we were back into rolling fields territory, where even the most testing inclines ran out of steam before too long, the sun beaming down as the afternoon drew on, bouncing diamonds of light off the surface of the Wye. The second and final checkpoint was at Much Marcle, where we paused for a final brew and a chocolate biscuit at a control in front of an immaculate, curved-roof garage straight out of the Fifites and wonderfully still showing signs of everyday use – recent trophies sparkled in the front windows, whilst on the walls hung prints of Graham Hill and Jack Brabham, and the maestro, Fangio, four-wheel-drifting his Maserati through Rouen’s high-speed curves.
With Luke still unable to eat, we made our way steadily over the last fifteen miles or so into a sneaky little headwind that started off gently then began to build – taking turns on the front, by the time we drew close to Apperly the novelty of the breeze had started to wear off, so it was with an element of glee that we turned off into the village itself, another drag up a hill but sheltered, and all the better for knowing there wasn’t far to go. Rolling up to the final checkpoint invoked the sense of accomplishment that makes it all worthwhile, and we got to have a nice chat with both organisers and fellow participants. You don’t always get that at a sportive.
It had been a really good day, although I was glad I wasn’t Luke – I can’t imagine how tired he must have been feeling. The pace had necessarily been gentle given how under the weather he had been feeling, so we must have been pretty much the last back, but the whole ethos of the Audax seemed entirely non-competitive – if ever there was an event that stressed that the spirit of competition is with yourself, rather than externally, with any other person, this seemed to be it. Everyone we met had been very friendly, open and chatty, and probably the biggest surprise to me was how small the attendance was – there are just 27 finishers listed for the 100km, and 40 for the 200km. On the one hand, I’m staggered that such a well-organised, well-routed event should attract such little interest. On the other, I suspect that’s part of why they’re so great…
For more information on the Hoarwithy 100 and other Audax events visit: www.aukweb.net
This weekend, professional cycling brothers, Dean and Russell Downing, will host “Out of the Saddle – An Evening with the Downing Brothers” on Saturday 20th October 2012 at the Carlton Park Hotel in Rotherham.
Last year’s event saw numerous stars from the cycling world join the Downing brothers, and this year is no different. Team Sky rider Ben Swift and new teammate, as of next season Cycling Shorts very own Jon Tiernan-Locke, the overall winner of the Tour of Britain are amongst the stars.
A number of Dean Downing’s teammates from Rapha Condor Sharp will also be there on the evening, including the winner of the Tour of Britain mountains classification, Kristian House, Olympic Gold Medalist Ed Clancy and Directeur Sportif John Herety.
David Harmon, the voice of cycling, will be the MC for the night, interviewing guests as well as announcing the raffle and charity auction. All proceeds from the charity action will be going to support Brothers on Bikes (http://www.brothersonbikes.org.uk). Sam (aged 15) and Ollie (aged 14) have recently completed the John O’Groats to Land’s End ride in memory of their Uncle Malcolm, who passed away with cancer in November 2011, and will be in attendance along with their father Andy Turner.
Other professional cyclists of note include James McCallum, Graham Briggs and Pete Williams. Endura Racing team manager, Brian Smith will also be there on the night, along with Matt Stephens, former pro cyclist, now cycling television presenter.
Dean Downing said: “It’s great that our friends in the cycling world come and support our event. It makes it even better that most of them are current or ex team mates of mine and Russ’s, so I know it’s going to be a bit of a party.”
There will be a charity auction on the night with some very special prizes. Amongst the items on offer are various cycling jerseys including Jon Tiernan-Locke’s signed Tour of Britain gold overall winners jersey, Kristian House’s KOM winners jersey, Chris Froome’s signed Vuelta jersey, and Ed Clancy’s signed Olympic kit. Also up for auction is a signed Olympic photomontage of Tour de France winning Bradley Wiggins and a Jeff Banks bespoke suit. A raffle will also take place on the night, with the first prize being a pair of Festina ladies and men’s watches from Festina UK.
Tickets to the event are now sold out for the event itself but you can show your support by purchasing from the Out of The Saddle range at: www.outofthesaddle.org.uk
While the wind and rain are lashing the UK we are preparing to switch our collective attention away from our sinking Noah’s Ark to mainland Europe for the greatest cycling race in the world…. with the pavé of the Champs Elyse looming in the distance. Some riders will just hope to make it round the last few bone shaking kilometres in one piece while a hardy few who suffered at the back through the mountains will be licking their lips with relish at attempting to take the glorious final stage at an astonishing pace (one particular Manxman springs to mind).
…But lets not get ahead of ourselves, before the cobbles comes an array of stages from the pan flat to the ridiculously steep and impossible mountains that us mere mortals get breathless just gawping at before we attempt to slowly plod up. Most wouldn’t even consider clipping their feet to a bike frame for a pain filled single effort to the cloud covered peaks.
I’m getting prepared to immerse myself in the epic vistas that will appear before my eyes. I’ve treated myself to the new limited edition howies KOM T-Shirt and placed an order for the rest of the set so I can celebrate each stage profile in style. I’m resigned to the fact that I’m never going to win my own yellow, spotty or green jersey… it’s ok really, I’m over it. ;D
So I feel it would be wrong to buy a replica jersey to wear, I’m not keen on being one of those people that buys their favourite teams statically charged ill fitting replica shirt, at least my T-shirt won’t look odd when I’m out and about, it can be worn any time of the year… And as you may have noticed the shopaholic in me is justifying the purchase, my partner would normally respond to such a justification… “I’m sure it was a bargain too!”. I’m comfortable just celebrating the greatness of the tour with my new t-shirt (which was a bargain!), turbo trainer and friends. I like to get some miles in while I’m glued to the action (when time allows), I don’t like the idea of just slobbing while watching TV, I never have, it seems so wrong particularly during a bike race. I get restless legs. I have to ride, and since I’m still not sure if I’ll make it over for some of this years stages I thought I’d get organised, fingers crossed I will be there, I have my bag ready! For some of the weekend stages we’ll gather the gang together for a Tour celebration of food and festivities.
Us Brits are feeling nervously excited as this year could be Wiggo’s, there are so many variables in the Tour de France and I wouldn’t want to jinx it for him but we are quietly confident that he can step on to the podium and hopefully take the top step. We have great pride in Cav’s Rainbow Jersey too which he’ll be sporting in this years Tour, it’s been 46 years since a British rider has done this so it’s turning out to be a fabulous few years for GB riders. It’s been a long time in the making though with a huge amount of blood sweat and tears from the guys. They seem to have adapted well from the huge success of their track days and some of that training and discipline seems to have been brought into their road training.
Obviously we all have our favourite riders and teams from around the world but in the true cycling spirit I get behind all the riders. Friends of mine who don’t watch or take part in cycling really don’t understand this but it’s the way the cycling community is. So good luck all!
Back to my tour preparations… what are your plans this tour?
Le Tour will be available to view on terrestrial TV in the UK on ITV4 daily with Ned Boulting, Chris Boardman, Phil Liggett & Paul Sherwen: www.itv.com/Sport/tourdefrance/
Keep an eye out on iTunes for the ITV4 Tour de France Podcast presented by Matt Rendell, Ned Boulting & Chris Boardman and guests.
For more information on Le Tour visit the official website: www.letour.com/
BBC Radio 5Live for audio coverage: www.bbc.co.uk/5live
I will add more online viewing options and other TV stations from around the world when I stumble across them.