The BASI course finished on Friday, so that makes 10 new race coaches ready to get out there and change the world for the better. Really nice group actually, well done to them.
Saturday saw the first ever indoor session run under the banner of the development centre, or tdc. The participants were the Ski club of Manchester, a keen and talented bunch. Most of the slope was being used by kids club or had enormous kickers built on it, but the bit we still had left was good firm snow and i managed to catch up with them enough times to try a few drills and make a few changes. Until Rushup Edge has a decent base of snow again we will be back in the Chillfactore for some more on snow soon.
It was the annual beach rugby tournament in Tignes last Saturday. Wall to wall blue sky and the hot alpine sun made sure there was a real beach atmosphere despite being at 2100m above sea level! Val dâ€™IsÃ¨re won the amateur competition in the morning, conceding only one try in 5 games. Giles and Paul combining nicely to score the winning try in the final.
The pro-competition was to take place in the afternoon and as amateur Champions Val dâ€™IsÃ¨re were asked to join them. Fortunately we were playing touch rugby not full tackling otherwise things could have ended very differently! The motivation to run around for another spell of matches came in the shape of Stade FranÃ§ais. 13 times French champions and Heineken Cup regulars their squad is packed with Internationals and we were to play in their group. This was a warm up for their summer training camp that happens every year in Tignes, for us we were on our last legs, but how often do you get to play against so many legends of the game? A once in a life time opportunity.
Motivation was high as we lined up against a team that were practically all international stars. If you know your rugby these names should mean something to you: Julien Dupuy (Leicester scrum-half last year), Sylvain Marconnet (French prop), Mauro Bergamsaco (Italian back row), Mathieu Basteraud (French centre), Christophe Dominici (ex-French wing), Sergio Parisse (Italian back row), Roncero Rodrigez (Aregntinian prop), Dimitri Szarzewski (French hooker). They all played and we even managed to score two tries against them! Lewis and Garner are still waiting for a call from the Stade FranÃ§ais coach such was their performance on the day.
We made itâ€¦but to a man we have decided that we never ever want or need to ride up the Mont Ventoux again; it is a monster, quite rightly revered as the hardest climb in France; the true Giant of Provence!
It was dawn as we rode the 9kms to the start line, joined at every turn by more and more riders. What a buzz in Montelimar as we awaited the start; there was a mixture of nervous tension and excited anticipation amongst the 9000 competitors; this was going to be some experience. The first thing that struck me as we rolled through the streets of the capital of â€˜Nougatâ€™ was the pleasure of riding on closed roads. I felt like a real pro whistling along in the slip stream of hundreds of cyclists, riding either side of roundabouts and on both sides of the road. It was amazing how fast we could ride with relatively little effort just because of the wind shadow provided by everyone around you.
This had always been billed as a beautiful ride and as we made our way through Provence the scenery did not disappoint. From lavender fields to olive groves and craggy mountain passes dry and arid, the landscape was constantly changing and inspiring. The first descent came as a bit of a surprise as the peleton hadnâ€™t quite worked out the over-taking etiquette required when riding with so many. Victims were scattered along the road, lying on the verge and in the ditches, receiving medical attention from a team of doctors who would be busy all day. They were in good hands but it was nevertheless a sobering sight as we sped past.
Soon the riders started to stretch out as groups riding at similar intensities started to form. Sometimes it was right to drive the pace and do a share on the front but there was more time spent in the slip stream. Catch a ride on the tail of a mini-peleton, make the most of the tow and rest, maybe even take the opportunity to eat and drink. Our fluid and energy plan was a major concern to us all. We had pockets stuffed full of energy bars, flapjacks, gels and bags of isotonic powder for our water bottles. It doesnâ€™t matter how fit you are if you run out of fuel or dehydrate, youâ€™re finished; thereâ€™s no way back from a wibble on a day this big!
We had done a good 70kms before 10am and it was already a hot day when we stopped at the first feed station. It was absolute carnage as thousands of people with their bikes bustled their way to grab bottles of water, bananas and bars. It was a joy to get off and stretch for a minute or too, change position, swing the arms and shake the legs. However, no time to linger, with water bottles recharged along with the revolting yet essential powder it was back to the road.
The rest of the ride towards our daunting final ascent was beautiful, hard work but great fun. By now we had all split up, riding at our own pace, making our way towards The Giant. The route took us on an almost full circuit of the mountain before we were allowed to start the climb. It was infuriating to be so close without being able to start the final effort. All we seemed to be doing was frittering away precious energy and sweating profusely!
When we finally hit the lower slopes of the Ventoux it was in the region of 35 degrees and what awaited us was harder than our worst fears! The slope was wickedly steep and the trees provided no shade. The roadside was littered with walking cyclists, destroyed by the gradient and the heat but also, perhaps, by an over exuberant first 150kms. It was all we could do to keep moving as the gruelling road wove its way up the mountain; no respite, no let-up, no hairpins to sneak a few metres worth of rest, just relentless, interminable climbing in the eerie silence of the forest. The spectators cheered but got little reaction from the riders as they looked on at the macabre procession of slow suffering and pain.
Eventually we climbed clear of the tree line and approached the refuge of Chalet Reynaud, the final feed station and a huge psychological hurdle sitting above the half way point on the climb. The rest of the ride was a blur of exhaustion; clawing our way up through the characteristic, heat magnifying white rocks of the Ventoux, eyes stinging from the sweat, aching shoulders, numb toes, throbbing head, driven on only by the promise of respite at the top. Finally it came, the observatory and the finish line.
The last time the Etape came up the Ventoux it had to be abandoned in mid-summer because of a blizzard but this year the sun continued to beat down until we were long gone. What an adventure and what a conquest. Well done to the tdc boys and to the other guys and girls we rode with and met along the way. Next year weâ€™ll know what to expect and maybe, just maybe we might do a little better.
Only 2 days to go now and the excitement is mounting. The boys have been frantically shopping for energy drinks and gels and bars and anything else that might help get us to the end of the ride! The forecast is for hot sunny weather so dehydration is one of the biggest fears – the beers will have to wait until after the race.
Training has been mixed, each of us with different reasons for not having prepared perfectly. Giles has just become a Father again so isn’t sleeping so well. Nicko has done most of his riding in the UK, not that hot and not that many huge mountains but he’ll be OK. Dougie had his bike stolen and is now riding on a trusty old (heavy) stead that has started making a lot of noise since he cleaned it! I am not sure what my reason is, I guess lack of training is a good excuse to have up your sleeve for wibbling!
There will be a full report of the big day (Monday) so watch this space.
On the 12 July the mighty Col dâ€™Iserane was closed to motor vehicles from Val dâ€™Isere up to the Col itself at 2770. For a glorious few hours the road cyclists of the higher Tarentaise Valley were able to dance, spin, grind or toil their way to the summit of the highest road pass in western Europe.
Hundreds of people made the special effort to ride to the top and the conditions were generally favourable with a tailwind on long sections of the ascent. Amateur cyclists should be happy with any time under the hour, recorded form the tourist office round about to the summit (G. Lewis mildly happy with 58.15 mins). Like a lot of the famous cols in the Savoie region, the Iseran has a timing set up on it so that tourists can measure themselves against the clock.
Conditions at the top were sunny and not only could the cyclists see down in to the remote Haute Maurienne, but could also check out the summer skiing on the Pissaillas glacier, running again through the val dâ€™isere lift company.
The closing of the D902 was all part of Val dâ€™isereâ€™s effort to entice tourists to the resort in the summer. As well as this they stage fetes de musique, expositions, and the complete range of sports for the whole family. I was lucky to play for the Rugby team in the val dâ€™isere annual football tournament. The rugby boys came dead last. Hey ho.
On 20th July 2009 Dougie, Nicko, Paul and Giles are taking part in the 17th Etape du Tour www.letapedutour.com/2009/ETDT/presentation/us/index.htm
The Etape is a stage of the Tour de France that is open to the public, the roads are closed and around 8000 people take part in the event. The Tour itself will be riding the exact same route five days later in the penultimate and deciding day of the â€œGrande Boucleâ€.
It is going to hurt, 170km on a bicycle with the final 20 kms climbing more than a vertical mileâ€¦ouch! You can follow their training and race performance on the tdc Twitter account www.twitter.com/tdcski