And so it began, for most of us at an ungodly hour, before the sun had risen. We went through the requisite period of faffing about, preparing bikes, getting changed, eating, discussing the route, complaining about the route, determining saddles were wrong, tightening pedals, pumping tyres, and generally taking roughly twice as long as necessary for most tasks.
Which, if you are a regular cyclist, you will recognise as standard operating procedure.
Thanks to traffic issues, roadworks and other miscellaneous excuses, the planned comfortable half day, largely flat, introductory ride instead became almost 70km with 1100m of climbing.
Not bad for a full day with the Mediterranean sun close to 30° for much of the afternoon.
My tandem partner for this year’s Langdon Velo is member Marc Butcher, who did a sterling job on the substantial hills today – his first real experience of this type of riding.
Tomorrow, we cycle from Grasse to La Martre, with 1922m of climbing over 84km. A good chunk tougher than today, but at least we have the whole day for it. On the fundraising front, we’re close to £75,000 but we’d love to get it well over £80,000, and ideally to £90,000.
Day 2 – Trois cols
Today we had the pleasure of climbing three cols – mountain passes – Col du Pilon, Col du Ferrier and Col du Beine. We covered 84km and climbed 1922m.
I have been trying to find a way to put this in context. A regular Sunday ride for many would be 80-90km. It would take about 3 hours and, in Hertfordshire, likely include up to 800m of ascent – i.e. less than half of what we achieved today.
But that doesn’t really tell the story. How about this? The combination of me, Marc and the bike weighs a touch over 200kg – a fifth of a tonne. Using only our legs, we raised this mass a vertical distance of 1922m, almost 2 km.
There are no hills in the United Kingdom of this size – Ben Nevis is 1345m. 1922m is 2.3 times the height of the Burj Khalifa, the world’s tallest building (828m). So, over a period of 6 hours, Marc and I used our bodily strength to raise a fifth of a tonne the entire height of the world’s tallest building.
Then we did it again. And then we hopped up just to the 55th floor (there are 160), for good measure. All of which might just explain why we are quite tired. Anyway, enough grumbling. It was an excellent day’s riding, and everyone was really pleased to have achieved it.
Day 3 – OMG
The day started well, with lovely riding through a beautiful, warm, valley but then it all took a turn for the worse. Marc and I climbed the world’s tallest building 2.3 times, again. Meh, you might say. Bah, you did that yesterday, what’s the big deal? Yesterday, we had several significant climbs that added up to the total distance. Today, we finished with one huge climb, the Col D’Allos, standing at 2250m. The climb was 22km, the first half of which was relatively gentle, but the second half was a proper gradient – 7, 8, 9, 10%. This, however, was not the problem.
It was raining and not just some light, warm, Mediterranean drizzle, but proper rain. Sometimes torrential, sometimes light, mostly just rain. And we got cold. I admit, at 5km before the summit, as we hit the steepest gradients, I was ready to give up. However, Marc was having none of it. His heart was absolutely set on making it over the top. So, we persevered.
You’ll notice in the picture, Marc is wearing an Arsenal shirt. For most of you, that may not be noteworthy, however as a diehard Spurs fan, and a season ticket holder for many years, this was an extremely distasteful experience for him. He did it to raise sponsorship for Langdon – and has raised around £800.
Day 4 – The Unexpected
After the last two days of incredibly intense cycling experience, the expectation of today was yet tougher. A 22km climb at an average of 7% but alas, it was not to be. When we woke this morning, the forecast for the top of Col du Bonnette was thunderstorms – the worst weather ever seen in June.
On a more positive note, we had our official awards dinner this evening. Special mention for Simon Showman who was our top fundraiser at £20,000. Absolutely amazing. Which brings me onto the overall result. The estimate from our fantastic leader and organiser, Daniel Robey, is that we have raised around £120,000. Wow.
Day 5 – The Finale
Today’s cycling was a melange of terrain. The first few kilometres were technical, descending – steep, with tight hairpins. It was chilly, but dry. The main problem with these descents is that I had to restrain that fifth of a tonne from getting out of control, which meant more-or-less permanently gripping both brakes!
Lunch was truncated – just 20 minutes to throw down a few sandwiches and a couple of cups of orange juice. I could see that it was the end of the road for Marc. He had put everything he had into the final hill in the morning, adding an astonishing 1000m of climbing to the rest of the week’s achievement. The sun had obviously got to him, he was looking hot and tired, and desperately in need of some air-conditioned rest on a van. Well earned. The mutual support amongst the riders has been great: Clive Nathan entertained Marc and I with football quizzes for long periods (name all 11 football clubs in the top four English divisions whose last names are unique). Congratulations to everyone. This has been an absolutely phenomenal trip. See you next year!