Pro prediction: Bunch sprint: set up for a fast day.

 

A lumpy climby start to the day on legs with two days of Alps saw a very quiet neutralised start…. followed by a 30km gentle descent run off at speed…. by this point both the heat and the headwind had intensified and cycling on my own to FS 3 I certainly felt weary; but a bonus coffee and ice cream stop and getting in a group made the ride through lavender fields and gently rolling Provence fields and rock valleys an enjoyable ride- that was until we hit the flat roads with headwinds in excess of 20km/hour….. but a good day.

Pro’s Prediction: GC

A fantastic iconic Tour stage; with Col de Vars as a leg warmer. I found it a long hard but satisfying day; the only way I can sum it up was a long uphill ascent; and I was rarely able to take any advantage of flat riding….. The Izoard is a fantastic climb and the moonscape on the top is as ethereal as they suggest.

 

Col de Vars

Col d’Izoard

 

Pros: A GC battle; and a super quick descent to the finish line.

 

A deeply satisfying day; albeit long…. the video says it all

This is set up for a pro bunch sprint; wide sweeping roads at the finish preceded by a flattish 50km through the Cotes du Rhone vineyards.

No transfer today; weather forecast to be cloudy/ sunny- as we rolled out from Le Puy what did we get: absolutely lashed it down: no rain cape- wet again but slightly warmer but a nice start up the gentle Cat 3; coffee in a cafe at FS1….. onto a drying rolling road… pastureland, to pine trees…. all at about 1000m… lovely…. FS2 and on to the descent through the Ardeche down to the Rhine and 50km later on a transfer bus into the heart of the Alps…. two big days await us……

 

Start of the descent

Halfway down

River Rhone at the bottom

Pro prediction: one for the breakaway; just enough to escape the bunch.

Wow what a day; starting with a Cat 1 climb; we knew the weather was un-certain and all was ok-ish at the re-group point at the top of that first climb- it had been a 5.15 start/people are tired…..

The next c40km were like being in the UK but that wasn’t only the scenery…. almost Yorkshire-moor style roads and landscape with driving torrential rain at an altitude greater than Yorkshire saw riders roll into the next feedstop frozen to the core; I don’t think I have seen that many cyclists wrapped in blankets…..

As the day progressed the weather got better then worse and better again… un-veiling the most stunning scenery.. along rock lined river valley bottoms leading to the final climb.. with yet another Wall to climb….. …. then just when you think it’s all downhill from there, the Tour throws in a couple of bonus climbs…. anyway a real sense of achievement as I rolled into Le Puy en Velay.

Pro prediction: Bunch sprint

A funny kind of day on the road; the weather plays such a large part in its contribution to the Tour; and we generally think of sunshine- this was just a grey day where the majority of riders had two days of climbs in their legs….. Any other day this may have been a lovely stage flirting with the gorges moving again from the built up towns etc to countryside… for me… the small ring just didn’t work… legs too spinny (if that’s even a word) and the big chain ring brought into use with a relatively quick time…..

Pro- prediction: what a fascinating stage; I will enjoy watching the highlights of this- very difficult to call… the shortest tour stage ever….. a solo attack!!

It is impossible to explain to anyone not riding that this is NOT a holiday; people having buried themselves up to the ski station then awoke at 5.15ish for a two hour transfer to Saint Girons…… everyone was tired…. the first Cat 1 was rode  as a neutralised ascent- job done; the second not straightforward Cat 1 demanded that little bit more and with a draining heat no-one was wholly comfortable…. Feedstop 2 saw a welcome free ice-cream (I am ignoring in my Blog; Neil’s attempt at a cheeky overtake)….

And the final climb up the Mur de Peguere to the Col at the top…… was enough to drive a large number to either stop for breathers or walk…. and it isn’t in a gloating way I rode up the climb…… And I say it because at the end of two days being on the two stages including stops of say in total 19 hours… to climb that wall hurt but in an achieved way… the only sad part was that I had to pedal for about three minutes on the final fast 20km descent to Foix.

I do this to raise money for the William Wates Foundation; the giving details are on our website and on my Twitter profile page…. and after listening last night to a v brief presentation by a charity called Chaos Theory… it is worth supporting this charity. But it does on occasion hurt!!

Pro prediction: Simply put one for Chris Froome… something and everything for the GC but a nice one for the Palmares as he crests the 007 runway.

For mere mortals a stage that was a lions stage dressed in lions clothing; the saving grace from my perspective being a fairly flat (it’s all relative) and quick first 100km with the climbing starting after that Col de Ares a gentle introduction; Cold de Mente less so…. and into Port de Bales….. there are often km signs on the climb giving you the average gradient for the next km; on Port de Bales… you would get a sign for 5% gradient and the road would go to 1 or 2% and you would immediately know you were in for a 12/13% section… so much for averages….. and then finally up the climb to Col de Peyragudes… the quick descent and the final climb up to the ski station…. the scenery is stunning; the mountains they invite you in…. relatively I was an early finisher but a 12.5 hour including stops made for a long demanding time….

But still the scenery; the majesty of the mountains-snow covered in places wins out….

Pro’s will eat this route for lunch and spit it out fairly shortly thereafter: bunch sprint. 

 The Pyrenees are here; as you approach Pau they line the skyline waiting to ensnare the unsuspecting cyclists who would dismiss them…. but more of that tomorrow….. 

 … I am hard pressed to tell you of an interesting fact or view on today’s route; it was hard unrelenting cycling into a hot headwind; the good news was again my legs were working and I finished within the first few…. a real novelty for me giving me time to go and buy strawberries for a treat and even because I know this now will be news another packet of Haribos- so then unusual culinary events of the tours  – trip to McDonald’s in Vesoul and buying Haribos!

 

Pro prediction this will be a bunch sprint; but as I sit typing Sagan has just been dq’ed and Cav is out!

 

What a fantastic route; absolutely a sprinters race- this for the pro’s overall will be run off in a super fast time and I mean fast! But as a route it has everything caves, rock formations, stunning little villages and grand chateaus- truly stunning route…

 

And we had unending blue skies with the benefit of trees to shade parts of the route; this is the second time I have done the Tour and all of the stages this was by far the quickest and that was including the opening 40km of neutralised riding…. a good day on the tour

The word on the street is that we have in the last nine days done half (distance wise of the whole Tour).

So then Pro prediction:

7 bunch sprint

1 GC day

1 Tour winner

 

The last three days have seen (stages 7 and 8) some of the most brutal weather imaginable with a rolling stage into St Nuits run off into a brutal headwind with torrential rain but with an underlying warmth that made the whole day manageable; my day had been impacted by a puncture at the first feedstop discovered as I came to leave leaving me with that sense of chasing on into the wind; pedalling like fury on the downhills but day done.

 

The following morning saw an early transfer to Dole; we knew the weather wasn’t going to be good but in broad terms at feedstop 1 I added two more layers at feedstop 3 I changed clothes and ending up with 7 layers; the combination of wind and rain and cold saw a number of riders in severe difficulties. As a route and on the right day; pure Tour magic and potentially stunningly beautiful… but just difficult.. I found gaining braking adhesion on the technical descents increasingly difficult and slightly troubling… it is a known fact I like going downhill… final descent of day saw me roll into the final feedstop with a barely inflated front tyre…. resulting in new inner tube and tyre with glass embedded in the tyre; three punctures and two tyres in seven days. The final Cat 1 was uneventful…..

 

Stage 9 another early transfer into wet and murky cold conditions; early climb followed by a technical and sketchy descent….. long and short of it… a loss of confidence and at first feedstop… decision taken ( which has left me feeling v flat) to miss the descents off the Biche and Grand Columbiere)…. I know it was the right decision mentally, having completed every km in 2015… to miss two of the top climbs of the Tour is gutting…. lots of lessons to be learnt… Mont du Chat is a tough climb…. sadly I can’t say about the others…. anyway Tour goes on and I am typing this on the coach as we transfer across the width of France….

Pro prediction: Nailed on sprint day but if the wind blows then De Gendt from the breakaway- long day even for pros.

 

Story of the day: wind rain hail and every feed stop at least half of us made the wrong clothing prediction from winter jackets to sun cream to gilets and as a consequence a long day of 225km including the ride to the hotel.

Pro Prediction… a classic GC stage off the back of a tough climb that the commentators will talk about the final ramp but where the real mischief is in the early kilometres…. a GC contender.

 

Forecast was for rain and thunderstorms; fortunately the rain held off until we were on the coach to Vesoul for tomorrow’s stage

 

A lovely but tough stage in the Vosges…. the Cat 3 was one of those climbs that kept giving or is it taking even after it was past the marked section…. tired tonight!

Pro prediction: one has to think it’s a bunch sprint; but some interesting cross wind opportunities just before the Cat 4 climb.

 

Weather has been v mixed today; not an awful lot of photo opportunities and v much a transitional Kms under the belt.

 

Torrential downpours and early rain diminished the photo opportunities; but Frank Schleck joining us for Breakfast (see below) and the Tour de Force appearing on Luxembourg TV brought a different feel (watch the video here: http://www.rtl.lu/sport/1050826.html)

 

Frank Schleck – Luxembourg professional cyclist, 5 times national champion, Amstel Gold Race winner, multiple grand tour stage winner and third place overall in the 2011 Tour de France

 

Wow what a stage; I posted last night on Twitter; my Garmins analysis of c3000m of climbing- a strongman’s day in the Tour; and really difficult to call but I’d put money on a GC contender being caught out- these first three days are far from giveaways.

 

So a 5.30 start; 6.30 transfer from Liege to Verviers… cool and moisture in the air but sun later. This evening saw most riders supporting the most amazingly precise tan lines- it was at times incredibly hot!

 

Let’s say from my perspective a day of mixed blessings; including a surprisingly safe blowout on a reasonably quick descent- fortunately no snaking of the back wheel but it did impact my time out riding (or not as the case might be)!

 

The pros have on occasion have to stay in rubbish hotels and after relative luxury in Liege; tonight’s accommodation makes Düsseldorf’s look positively palatial- but it wouldn’t be the Tour otherwise; and by Tuesday night, we will have covered over 650km- not sure what that equates too- three days of the Coast to Coast back to back (for the avoidance of doubt- that is full Coast to Coast in one day x3)

Pictures:

Summit of the Cote de Wiltz – preparations for the Tour underway

 

 

Town of Esch-sur-Sure, at the foot of the Category 3 Cote d’Eschdorf

There is no doubt that Germans have a sense of humour; I haven’t always understood it (but that is more a reflection of my strange sense of humour- possibly). But I have to wonder why a roundabout is put in on a long straight flat road…. is it the fact that the crosswinds will play havoc in Germany on the flat and the introduction of a seemingly insignificant roundabout creates a major opportunity for echelons. And the roundabout just makes the humorous point!!

 

On a day everyone thinks will be a sprint – a day for a classics rider or echelons tearing the race apart with an unlikely GC candidate emerging.

 

So then the story of the day is a double whammy of fresh legs and strong winds; what was going to be a day of easing myself into the tour; riding conservatively was dictated too by the conditions, not helped by fresh legs pushing too hard on more than one occasion and as a consequence every emotion under the clouds has passed through my mind from bad to good…but 202km under the belt; the Belgian cat 4 climb was a proper gentle climb; and some of the uncategorised digs were on occasion more of a question.

But talking of Belgium approaching the Ardennes was fab; I have a real soft spot for the country and wouldn’t think twice if circumstances allowed; the views are subtle but amazing; some of the houses are stunning architectural creations but sit so comfortably in the landscape so nice to be back (Will I still be extolling the virtues of The Belgian hills tomorrow I have been to Spa on a bike before……. So job done; kit washed, and other than a niggly quad; what is this European fascination (and I include the UK in this for traffic lights- accelerating from light after light gets a little irritating)!

 

Oh and finally a big shout out to the Belgian village of Olne; who despite having a fair in the village closing the Tour route for the day not only allowed us through but stopped me and asked what we were doing and offered encouragement for the coming days!

 

 

I walked some of the course this morning; the cross wind off the open expanse of the Rhine could cause havoc next Saturday; there is no such thing as a giveaway on the Tour- even the easiest (!) stages can cause a surprise.

 

So then, Düsseldorf and the tour 2017; would like to say I am not apprehensive but I am! The last month’s training was swamped by work commitments but everyone is keen to say they’ll be slowest; and from experience this is about me using my “matches” when I need to….

 

Having said that a slightly surreal hour spent going round the TT course; German law prevented us riding over one of the bridges so it was done via the cycle track; but by the same bizarre logic, a moving bike peloton is treated as one vehicle so provided we nosed through a light on green everyone was able to ride on through red!!

 

But it is good to be started; the drizzle in the air made you wonder whether it will be wetter than expected tomorrow but having ridden nervous energy has been damped; and after the last month I am hopeful my body will again understand the difference between aerobic and anaerobic exercise. It is surprising how the majority of riders were expressing a need for food- funny what 13km can do to the body!

 

The important thing is that we are riding for others; this charity deserves support… and to pinch the Storey RT hashtag #bestversionofyou (me)

 

A tenuous connection perhaps; but two things that amaze me…. The crowds in Yorkshire supporting the pro races (mens and womens) and the crowds of people out in Mallorca watching 6500 amateur cyclists doing a sportive around the Island …. Cheering and applauding until late in the evening… with feed stops in Lloseta and Arta… seeming to involve the whole town having a party…. And I can understand why the Pros love riding in Yorkshire because anyone cheering you on gives you a silent boost; everyone cheering you on gives you a fantastic boost.

And did I need it….any boost was a good thing!

Mallorca 312 was conceived as a day ride around the island on open roads (ie Traffic as well); it is is now a closed road event and follows the mountain range from Pollensa in the North down to Andratax and back in the foothills to Campanet before turning through the old roads to Manacor/Arta and back to the finish- a total distance of 312 kms (194 miles or the equivalent of Newcastle to Wetherby (and back) with c 15000ft of climbing thrown in!)

So the day begins at 5.. banana and Weetabix (eaten out of a cup- I’d manage to smash the bowl I’d borrowed from breakfast the previous night)… a 15km ride pre-dawn to the start… the 45 minute wait to start.. and your off…. The mountains were lovely (to look at) but not to climb… the roads are good and that helps… descending is more akin to kamikaze stunts – I don’t hang around descending but some of the Spanish guys were simply mental….50mph plus!

You climb through the mountains… across to Andratax.. you climb again… you do some descending.. and your at halfway…  legs ok but road quality not as good… you get to the point where people doing the Mallorca 225 turn for home and you carry on..legs ok-ish but the mind goes a bit suddenly the group of 15 becomes 2.. the roads are narrower, you’re not sure where you are, the landmarks aren’t as familiar…. You arrive in Manacor ( I thought I was in Arta- and ready for final straight)- you go back onto the decent roads and do the drag into Arta… Arta at last and then my garmin dies… no time indication/speed etc…

I loved the final 10k whether it was frustration or whatever… the roads are at a gradient that suits me including the lumpy ups and downs… I put it in the big ring and went for it… so exhilarating so go down the final straight at speed…… it was a long hard day in the saddle, I was disappointed with my time…I had lost an hour or so based on my expectations… but to finish 1073 out of 1701 finishers I’ll take that….

And then I cycled back to the hotel… my first 200 mile day!!

A quick look on the BBC weather app for the week ahead, revealed rain/poor weather in the North East of England for Easter weekend; by comparison, the weather in Mallorca – basically sun (and a little bit of cloud) and a good 10° warmer – so within 24 hours – a quick burst of training was organised (in spite (or is it despite?)) of the fact, I was due in Mallorca at the end of the month for Mallorca 312.

 

Mallorca and cycling to me are synonymous; and I love being on the island; it has my favourite climb – being Lluc (the wiggly side) (not sure, I like the idea of it being called the Garage Climb)!

 

And with my quick training break, I get to visit some of my favourite haunts:

i) Petra (and the town square) – where it is obligatory (under all circumstances) to stay for coffee;

ii) Col de Soller;

iii) Sa Calobra;

iv) Randa; and as a first for me;

v) San Salvador – but now I can’t work out why it took so long to find the climb (see picture).

 

But one of the many things, I enjoyed was scrolling back through the memories of my first cycling camp in Mallorca (2009).

 

If I said I was heavy that would be an understatement; before I left home in 2009 I marked out a 3% gradient and thought I could do that (not realising that it was an average and cycling just doesn’t work like that)!!

 

So random memories:-

 

  1. Having my bike pushed (with me on it!!) on the incline between Llubi and Sineu by Tim Lawson (@Secret Training).

 

Mind Secret Training is still giving me the push I need; and absolutely loving their new juice bars and the banoffee tasting banana recovery training drink!

 

  1. Being raced up Lluc by Denise (Lawson); no race it took me hours (and I didn’t see her after the first bend!).

 

  1. Climbing Col de Soller with Andy Cook (@Andy Cook Cycling) and deciding to stay on the training camp for 4 more days.

 

I love climbing; I wish I was lighter (even now), faster at it and generally better.

 

  1. The first time up the Randa Monastery climb……..

 

And when I compare those memories to the current training rides; I now get, how and I’ll use Tim as an example he could cycle to San Salvador; and then do Lluc (wiggly side) as a dessert for the day….. (a ride I’d now recommend)!

 

So I’ll follow up with the story when it has happened of Mallorca 312 – roll on the 29th.

If you are going to do the Tour (one week ahead); then (in my head) you do a training camp (or two) to get the miles before the Tour itself.

So in the midst of a little bit of comment – such as “Not another holiday”, it seemed like a good idea to go and do a little altitude training week in Tenerife (well we can always pretend).

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