Stage 6 – A bit draughty

One of the cycling skills that you need to learn to be efficient is drafting. This is when you sit behind another rider in a line, taking turns to take the wind before swapping off to let somebody else share the load.

Stormy weather

This saves a significant amount of energy as you are not always riding into the wind. I have been honing these skills on the long flatter stages that we have been riding. Today was no different with a 224km ride across more of France.

To do this effectively you need to have a bunch of people willing to work together and also a certain amount of discipline. To take maximum advantage you need to keep a stready pace and be close to the wheel in front of you. Ultimately you have to trust the rider whose wheel you are a few cm’s from and the smoother and more stable they are the easier it is for you to follow them. In return you need to do exactly the same for the rider behind you.

Looking like the pros in the Champagne region

This allows the collective bunch to move faster with less amount of effort than riding alone. If you factor in windy conditions, as we have been experiencing, then it can really save a lot of time and energy given we were riding for nearly 9 hours.

It’s also  social thing and a great way to get to know people. As we passed through the Champagne region today we all commented how nice it would be to stop and sample the local wears. But we had a job to do and a stage to complete, so we decided to share a glass or two when we arrive in Paris.


Stage 5 – Exam Time

At our first feedstop today the chatter and general demeanour was likened to being outside the exam hall. Lots of nervous people, waiting with anticipation for our first real climb of the tour. Had we done enough training, how would we feel and would we be able to pass the test?

There was no cheating the final climb of the day up the La Planche Des Belles Filles. After cycling 152km it is a 5.8km climb with an average of 8.7% gradient with the final couple of hundred meters at around 20%.

Still smiling at the end of the day

It was tough but I felt surprisingly good. I am cycling OK and rode well within myself as I am still not sure how things will play out into the coming weeks.

I take confidence I that I can comfortably sit in with most of the riders on tour. At the end of the day it’s about getting around and making sure that the people on tour with you do the same.

The biggest cheers were for the final riders who were finishing on top of the hill. As they rode the final hundred meters home up the final ramp they were supported all the way. We were all delighted to see everyone achieve what they set out to do.

That’s what the Tour De Force is all about.

The final 20% ramp!


Stage 4 – Water

Tonight we are staying just outside Vittel. Famous for the water that is supplied around the world.


I know this because people have told me. Normally I like to plan, to understand what is ahead of me and to control as much as I can. On tour I have decided to just play what is in front of me. I know I am in France, not sure exactly where at any given time, and all I focus on is the days riding ahead of me. This gives me a certain sense of freedom and permission to ignore what the remaining weeks have in store.

We have covered 630km in the last 3 days. Plenty of time riding and lots of time to think as we battle the elements. Yesterday was hot, today we encountered our first real rain. A cloudburst that has the socks and shoes wet in an instantt. Any cyclist will tell you that once the socks give way and become soaking wet  it is not actually that bad. As long as you are relatively warm then everything just keeps going.

Wheat field in France

The rain hit us as we were on a long straight road with wheat fields either side. I had a flashback to the last time I was in a similar situation when we were touring around Europe in a VW van some 25 years ago.

That time we had been stopped by the local police, in the middle of nowhere, who wanted to check us out. As one of them took the van apart, the other stood outside smoking a cigarette. When the rain really started to come down and we tried to shelter against the side of the van, they finally gave up when the policemans cigarette was so wet it broke in half.

We thought this was the funniest thing we had seen and laughed about it for the rest of the holiday. Riding along in the pouring rain, and thinking about this I found myself laughing outloud again.

I’m not sure if it was the fatigue, the long forgotten memory or just the plain silliness of what we are doing but it really made my day.

Stage 3 – Food Glorious Food

They say an “army marches on its stomach”, well a peloton rides on calories and as many as you can stuff in and as frequently as possible.

Lunch stop, somewhere in Luxembourg

After breakfast there are four food stops positioned throughout the day, with a variety of foods to keep you fuelled and on the road. On Tour we also eat together as a group at 8pm every night in the hotel restaurant.

Dinner, somewhere in France

Today was a bit different as the hotel couldn’t feed us so we got to experience and all you can eat Chinese buffet, in France. What a meal it was, one of the best Chinese meals I have had in a long time, bravo!

The food was plentiful and after 219km ride and nearly 2,800 meters of climbing it was well deserved. I have been reliably informed that we went through three countries today, starting off in Belgium, crossing into Luxembourg and then finishing in France.

Some beautiful scenery along the way, good weather, some challenging climbs and great company should make the day memorable. But with many similar days to come I think my Chinese meal in France is what I will remember the most.

Stages 1 and 2 – Germany and Belgium

Today was the first real day of the tour.

Yesterday we had a ceremonial ride in the traffic around Düsseldorf to kick us off.

A slow trip around Düsseldorf

It took us an hour to get around the time trial course which will take the professional minutes. Obviously the roads were not closed for us and with a peloton of 50+ people it would have made an interesting and potentially annoying spectacle for pedestrians and traffic alike as we crept around.

The general mood of the bunch was relief to get out and some frustration at not have a proper ride. That was all fixed today as we rode 200 km to Liege in Belgium.

Today was windy but dry. The first 40km or so to the first feed stop is a social affair as we ride in smaller groups and everybody waits until we all arrive before we head of for the rest of the day. It’s a great concept as you get to chat and meet your fellow riders mixing the varies abilities.

One of the four feed stops during the day

After the feedstop it’s game on. We are all here to ride our bikes and the goal is to complete what we have set out to do. The challenge is to do this and to also enjoy yourself along the way. The other challenge is that when you put a bunch of bike riders together, naturally the pace can go up. Taking turns on the front and rolling through allows you to cover more ground quicker than if you are on your own. It’s fun, makes sense and can also mean that you are so focused on the wheel in front you can easily miss what is around you.

A Lycra glad backside, a carbon fibre bike and a bit of tarmac can look the same wherever you are in the world. Though I must say the roads are superb as they are ready for the professionals.

So as we chewed up the kilometers today, there were times when I did wonder if I should just sit up, drop off the back of the bunch and enjoy the surroundings. Tough call to make on day one when you really want to get it done and back to the hotel to prepare for day two.

Fortunately we were forced to slow down when we had to dismount to make our way through a village fair. The entire village was out and the narrow streets were packed, we walked our bikes through the festivities to many bemused looks.

As I passed a stall selling sausages cooked over charcoal the natural instinct was to stop, put my feet up and have a beer to go with the deliciously smelling sausage that would have been well earned after 180km. There was a brief moment of debate amongst a few of us about being here to enjoy ourselves and one beer wouldn’t do any harm, but sense prevailed and we got back on our bikes and rode the final 20km into Liege.

The wind made today tough and given that it’s the first time most of us have actually met and ridden together there is already great camoradary. We all know it’s not a race, the trick is going to be finding the balance between riding hard to get the job done and taking time to experience the countryside and villages that we will travel through. As the days build on each other and we clock up the KM my sense is that we will be so knackered we won’t have much of a choice but to take our time.

Lycra behinds in Liege

Posted in TDF

Ready, steady, go…

I have ridden 63,915KM since I first got on a pushbike 6 years ago. If I was a car you might start to think about trading me in for something with fewer KM’s.

It doesn’t matter where I have ridden or what I have ridden up, the next 3 weeks will undoubtably be the most challenging KM’s I have ever covered.

Having had a few days back in England to get ready for my big ride I have had some time to reflect about what lies ahead of me. So here are a few observations that I have made about the coming weeks.

Walking on Sunshine

Riding in the sunshine makes everything easier. For the last week back in England, there has been a “heatwave”. I know this because the recent spell of warm weather has been mentioned along with the, “hottest summer of 1976“, which I actually remember as a kid. Compared to what I am now used to, it is just a nice summers day. Being on your bike connects you to the world around you, in the sunshine this is amplified.The smells, sounds and vistas of the countryside make you appreciate the beauty of the world we live in. If you want to experience a country, then go for a ride on a sunny day.


In all honesty it makes no sense to ride in anything other than sunshine. There is no logical reason to go out in the rain on your skinny little tyres and your thin Lycra to ride your bike if there is an alternative source of transport available. A friend remarked, after I bailed on a ride in the rain in Sydney, that “It does rain in France.” For all of us riding the TdF the weather is one variable we can’t control.

It doesn’t matter how much you have spent on wet weather gear, if you spend hours outside in the rain your going to get wet. Once you accept it and embrace it, the ride can take on a different challenge. Battling nature can be stimulating and most rewarding. It can also be a pain in the very wet arse. So fingers crossed for the next 3 weeks, maybe not for a heatwave but for some long sunny days.

Just Can’t Get Enough

Show me a bike rider who has ridden enough, bought enough, or thought about their bike enough and I would suggest they are a part-time wannabe. For the seriously inflicted there is always something else on the horizon.

This year I have ridden close to 8,000km to get ready for France and I still feel a little unprepared. This is partly due the nerves about what lies ahead and the challenge of riding every day for the next three weeks.

The duration and scale of being a lifer is actually what appealed to me in the first place, the challenge of doing something that was so physically demanding that no amount of training is going to give you the same experience. Sure you can do a long ride and then back up for a few days but you can’t replicate the whole 21 days. In all honesty I did think about giving it a go but work and other day to day priorities got in the way.

So the advice from previous lifers is to, focus on today, make sure you look up and enjoy it, let tomorrow take care of itself. Some very welcome and calming advice.

I’m on my way

A recurring theme in all of my jottings is how good I feel when I ride my bike, both physically and mentally. Imagine how good it will feel after 3 weeks!

I am very aware that what I am about to do is very indulgent. There is nothing at risk, no real hardship to be faced, just a chance to completely immerse myself into something I love to do.

Sitting on your backside pedalling for all those KM gives you lots of time to think, to see beyond the blinkers of everyday life and to get a different perspective. It makes you appreciate what you have, who you have and how fortunate I am to even have the chance to take on this adventure. Having Robyn join me half way around makes it even better.

Its nice to think that in France over the next few weeks my odometer will continue to click over as I rack up a few more KM’s. Once I arrive in Paris I’ll see if anything needs to be traded in.

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Posted in TDF