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Foreign Ride Reports



 

The Alps Tour 2011
12th - 22nd June

How a col a day kept the wheelers away...

Sunday 12th June

The team’s two vehicles and trailer rendezvoused successfully at Dover docks. Soon we were away from England’s busy roads and were relaxing as we crossed the battlefields of the 1914-18 war and into the Champagne region for our overnight stop. We sampled the fare in Le Pub nearby but when the beer was 8 euros a glass most, but not all, headed for bed. We also witnessed a strange local custom involving a young maid celebrating her last days as a single woman who was offering a small packaged item in a basket for half a euro. What else was involved was never quite clear.....

Monday 13th June

After nearly 1000 miles the convoy arrived in the Maurienne valley in the Savoy region of the French Alps and climbed the 20km to our base for the week at St Jean d’Arves. This is a typical traditional small village at 1400m. It is conveniently located on the climb to the Col de la Croix de Fer (2067m)[6,780ft]. Our chalet was a converted barn sitting amongst the wild meadow flowers. The accommodation was spacious and even had a sauna which came in useful as a drying room after a wet day as well as a welcome relief for Fred’s tired muscles. The only criticism was that the two loos were too phew!

It was a beautiful afternoon as we arrived and it was not long before the bikes and riders were ‘unbent’ after their journey and setting off up the last 11km of the climb to the big col. The fresh air and the freedom from being confined for the day excited a little bit of competition and Steve was reportedly the first to the top. It didn’t seem too difficult a climb, was the general reaction, as we took in the panoramic view over the mountains at the top. The swift and cool descent put us in need of some refreshment in the warmth of the local bar before a welcome hot meal prepared by Gill and Teresa and some wine rounded off a great start to our tour.

Tuesday 14th June The Col de la Madeleine

Clear blue skies greeted us in the morning, promising a great day in the mountains. Breakfast was hastily consumed and in no time we were all making the wonderful descent into the Maurienne valley, some at considerable speed!
Two factors we hadn’t considered in our haste. 1. Blue skies might indicate high temperatures. 2. The wonderful early morning descent would later become an afternoon/evening ascent! Hey ho.

Sensibly, the girls drove down the mountain and immediately launched an attack on the towns large supermarket, a preliminary shop for basics and a few essentials (read alcohol). Half a dozen willing lycra clad helpers then carried these supplies to the car and it wasn’t long before we were all threading our way east along the valley bottom headed to Le Chambre and the beginning of our climb. Somehow we had missed the small country lane that connected the two towns and ended up on a tortuous mainroad not unlike our very own Norway to Devoran route, just ten times as long!

Climbing at different speeds, it wasn’t long before we were well strung out across the mountain, each rider experiencing their own personal hell as it was getting very, very hot! Fortunately there were frequent water taps on route to replenish our bottles. After a short rest at the top, I descended and enjoyed the cool breeze and the excitement of the countless switchbacks, passing first Neil, then Steve and one by one, the others. Rounding a corner I encountered a rather overheated Bernie who on seeing me, collapsed into the ditch. “Call it a day Bernie, it’s way too hot”. “Never!” he defiantly cried, “I’m going to the top”. Thinking that if he did, he and the others might not fancy the 17km climb back up to St d’Arve, I suggested returning home to pick up he Landrover and trailer. A plan was hatched and arrangement made to meet at a small bar shaded by trees at the bottom.

Further down the mountain I met an equally frazzled Rocky who was close on “bonking”. Fortunately I still had a gel with me, one of the countless freebies given at the end of The Cornwall Tor, which went someway to reviving him. I explained I’d met Bernie and that we had a plan so, if he’d had enough, to return down the mountain and find the shade of the bar. I also explained that I was concerned about Gill and Teresa as they clearly hadn’t enjoyed the busy main road section and that I thought I better head back to St Jean de Maurienne to get the car.
Around the next corner I met the girls stoically still climbing and both in surprisingly high spirits. I said I’d seen Rocky only a little way ahead and that it might be sensible to all start heading down soon and then I left them to cycle the 6 or so miles to retrieve the car.

When I returned to the shady bar it had closed! Fortunately we had a car full of booze so I packed a bag with small beers and soft drinks and handed this to Rocky, who had gallantly escorted the girls down, and left him to while away the time waiting for the others whilst we headed back the 30kms and 6000ft climb to the chalet!

This was now feeling like a cross between Mission Impossible and an Anneka Rice Treasure Hunt - we could have certainly done with the helicopter! On getting back to the chalet the girls helped me hook up the trailer to Bernies Landrover and guide me out of the incredibly restricted opening. I was now appreciating why our landlord had suggested not taking the trailer to the chalet. He had been feuding with his neighbour for years, so the neighbour had restricted his access with metal poles and fencing along the already narrow entrance. It was so typically French - I could see the makings of a film, Gerard Depardieu as the neighbour and our landord played by Dustin Hoffman with whom he shared more than a passing resemblance!
My first attempt saw the trailer catch the eaves of a building on the opposite side in an attempt to swing out far enough to miss the steel poles. Gill patiently offered words of encouragement and directions as I gingerly moved to and fro and eventually extricated the trailer and started afresh. I looked at the eaves and the steep drop on the other side of the tight corner. I realigned the vehicle and moved forward. Everything went fine and it looked as if I would clear the eaves easily until a grating sound indicate I had caught something. As I had made the final turn the rear of the four wheeled trailer had swung out and had caught yet again the eves of the adjacent barn breaking off a tiny portion of it. Examining the construction I figured this was but a small mishap. The eaves boards were constructed of lowly shuttering ply and fixed with a series of bent nails. Monsieur Depardieu thought otherwise and as we swung into the entrance once more after a successful rescue of team “Falmouth Wheelers” he scowled and pointed to the damage. He then produced a camera and took a series of photos. Were we worried? Not on your life. After phoning Dustin Hoffman I was assured the building had nothing to do with our neighbour but belonged to Dustins’ brother! Insurance was mentioned but we negotiated a price equivalent to the excess and had a whip round. I believe some were less than happy with this. Maybe they thought it was better to ride home after all!

Wednesday 15th June

He says it must be down here...There were some pretty stretched legs after yesterday’s climb where some of us had suffered with a bit of cramp. But some extra salt in the porridge at breakfast and some of Teresa’s cold polenta cheese nibbles from the night before would, we hoped, solve the problem and give us wings for the next col, the Col du Glandon (1924m)[6,311ft].

It was another beautiful warm day as we made our morning swoop all the way down to St Jean de Maurienne. Few sensations can beat the thrill of descending in the high mountains, leaning the bike over through the hairpins, through the frequent twists and turns, occasionally overtaking a lorry or even a car in a smooth effortless glide.

On reaching the valley floor Robin found a pleasant back road which took us neatly to a café at the foot of the climb to the Glandon. It was 18km to the top. After some refreshing soft drinks (yes, really!) and discussion about the mean gradient of the climb we set off, once Steve had been retrieved from the fast traffic on the old N6. It was hot down in the valley and it got hotter as we slowly slogged our way upwards. Dave was well protected from the sun as he made another appearance as the ‘Falmouth Phantom’. Half way up I found an old bath under the shade of a tree beside the road. Unfortunately the plumbing was no longer connected. Amongst the trees there was not a breath of wind. Slowly the kilometres fell behind us as we climbed, strung out along the road, each governed by his own pace, each struggling to find some sort of rhythm. Richard was the exception. This man knows his gears. Triple on the front and soup plate on the back. He wasn’t quite dancing on the pedals in the style of a Contador but he was envied by a few of us as he spun a nice comfortable gear away from us. The heat however was not on his side. The climb ramped up after the first 10 kilometres and the heat intensified with the effort. The open mountain with its awesome pinnacles and snow-filled gullies began to present a wall in front of us. Where could the top be? Water bottles were reading empty. The final two kilometres ramped up yet again, this time to about 13% over several hundred yards, forcing some of us (names provided upon request!) to walk for a moment or two. The accumulated effort over a long time (or was it the cheese polenta??) proved just a little too much. Finally the last bend was rounded and the top was in sight. The later you arrived the bigger the group was to cheer you in. Rocky and Bernie clasped hands in salute as they reached the col. Everybody agreed – that was hard. But it was pleasantly cooler this high up.

After a much needed rest at a bar with beer and baguettes in the warm sun we set off for our next col. Impressive or what? In fact this was a nice gradual climb of a couple of kilometres to the Col de la Croix de Fer. There we found Gill and Teresa who had just ridden up from the chalet below on the other side. They were feeling pretty pleased at conquering their first alpine col. Rocky kept them company as we all descended, which was just as well because he suffered a blow-out riding Robin’s Coppi on the descent. Luckily he managed to stay upright. After some assistance with the repair he returned to the fold. Meanwhile the rest of us had found a nice little bar in the village to sit outside with a few beers and talk over the day as the sun went down.

Thursday 16th June

but the plumbing is not connectedAll good Tour riders deserve a well earned rest day. This was billed by Robin as ours at the team briefing the night before. There were mutterings of ‘that will be the day’.

We fancied watching the prologue of the Tour of Savoy in St Jean de Maurienne which was due to start that day in the town. However, finding out when it started proved impossible so we agreed to meet up with Bernie and the trailer later that afternoon down in the valley. We’d see the prologue and then all come back with the trailer.

Before that we would do a little local col, the Col du Mollard (1638m) [5373ft] followed by an easy descent down into the valley. In preparation for our assault the next day on the Col du Télégraphe and the Col du Galibier, we would also look for a quiet back lane along the valley to avoid the heavy traffic on the main road.

The climb to the Col du Mollard was a delight. This time we rode together up the 8km to the col, passing by the alpine meadows to the accompaniment of cow bells. The descent was exhilarating. We were later told by a local that there were 52 hairpin bends before we reached the valley floor.

At the bottom we started the search for this quiet lane Robin was looking for. The realisation that this might never materialise took longer to dawn on some than others. Despite Robin’s convincing talk that the mystery road would inevitably be found the mutineers began to drop off the group one by one and turn down the valley towards St Jean de M. The road began to climb up the far side of the valley. Still three faithful followers stayed with the ship – Fred, Neil and myself - even after ‘Captain Bligh’ started casting aside their doubts! The road got steeper and narrower. We reached Claret, a tiny hamlet where the weeds were coming up through the tarmac. Robin finally conceded defeat, if only temporarily, and we turned back for St Jean, still struggling to find our way.

The weather was on the turn, the traffic on the main road was unpleasant and I compounded matters with a puncture. Some beers were needed as we met up with the mutineers and Bernie who had brought the trailer down. More bad news. The prologue was not till much later – our dinner time – and now the wind was well up and the rain was tipping down. It took a few more beers to decide on a new plan. An early bath was needed. Once home more bad news. The keys to the trailer were missing. Bernie dashed back down the mountain in the Range Rover ('Discovery' surely? Ed.) to look for them. He dashed back up again. No luck. ‘What’s that in your back pocket, Bernie?’ someone asked. The riddle of the lost keys was happily solved. The riddle of the lost road however continued....and Teresa lost her pole while out walking. (This had absolutely nothing to do with the Poles who had made the roof next door.)

Friday 17th June

A change of plan had some wonderful results today. After our almost restful rest day we decided to tackle Alpe d’Huez (1860m) [6100ft].

Some major stoking of our boilers was required before we set off. A very large cheese omelette was voraciously consumed at breakfast as we looked forward to another great day. We were beginning to feel our climbing legs and our ‘form’ was improving all the time. Fred, Richard, Neil, Robin and I set off via the Col de la Croix de Fer, while Bernie with Dave, Rocky and Steve took the trailer over the col and down to Bourg d’Oisans to the foot of the big Alpe. They then set off up the climb ahead of the rest of us.

Meanwhile the ‘pursuers’ crested the Col de la Croix de Fer and were picking up speed as we rapidly descended for over 25 km. It was a superb descent with long stretches of sweeping, open road to see ahead so you could just let the wheels go and get into the tuck position. On reaching the valley floor the wind had got up and was in our faces. Some hopeless attempts at organising the squad into relaying fizzled out as we pushed along the the valley road, still at an impressive speed. After a quick coffee stop at Bourg d’Oisans we took a deep breath and began the 14km climb of the Big One, what has become known as The Dutch Mountain. It is probably the most famous climb in the Tour de France, with its 21 hairpin bends. Each bend has its number displayed with the name of a famous rider and the year he won this stage.

It was now much cooler with rain threatening. Once more we became strung out as the 8% climb went on. There was no sign of the ‘tête de course’ group yet. Robin had his day made when a man beside the road called out “Allez Coppi!” at the sight of the man in the Bianchi strip. Was it the jersey? Was it the socks? Was it the bike? Was it the style? It wasn’t the back pack!

Unknown to our pursuing group we were also being pursued. For those who had fallen off the pace a little this became apparent sooner than it did for those who had reached the top already. With 2km to go two riders came past me at a quick rate to say the least. They looked a bit useful, I thought. They were in a black strip but nothing much else distinguished them. A few moments later another pair came past at a similar pace, but this time one of them was wearing a top in the German national colours with his name on – Knees. Could he be D. Knees, the pro rider? Another few moments later and a single rider in the British champion’s colours zipped past me accompanied by a large support car with SKY on the side. I then recognised Geraint Thomas. “Allez G!” I blurted out. Wow! The boys from SKY were training on the very same tarmac as the famous Falmouth Wheelers squad! How did they know we would be on the Alpe? As I approached the next bend a photographer was out in the road with his long lens pointing at who? Pointing at me? Yes, he was! I popped out of the saddle to take the bend with a bit more style (well I thought so!) and click, click, the man was saying “Anglais? Take my card!” Was this the talent scout from SKY? Did they need some tips? Could this be start of a new career? My fantasy was interrupted as another rider and another SKY car came past. The style of the rider was immediately recognisable, the quiet upper body, the economy of effort. Yes, it really was Bradley Wiggins. I gasped “Go Brad!” but he was gone. I may not have been lucky in the draw for Olympic tickets but I had joined the ranks of famous Tour riders who had been overtaken by the great man himself, and I was very happy! Only the Sunday before Wiggo had won the prestigious Dauphiné Libéré race in these very mountains, an indicator of good form for the Tour de France in ten days time.

Fred and I finally reached the top of the sprawling ski station that is Alpe d’Huez, cheered on by the others from a café where they were warming themselves with hot drinks. “Did you see him, did you see Bradley?” was the excited talk. The shopkeeper opposite had stopped Bradley to sign a T shirt. Would the Wheelers be getting the post-ride rub down and massage like the SKY boys, we wondered? Could Teresa or Gill be persuaded maybe....?

The heavens opened as we began a long descent to the trailer. There was another route off the Alpe from the village of Huez itself which looked much more interesting. Robin and I were the only takers and it was worth it. The narrow road contoured all the way along with dramatic views of the valley below through the rain. We were very high up. The road then descended round the shoulder of the mountain. The wet conditions on the road were not improved by a recent covering of gravel which the rain had spread even more unevenly. Some of these patches were like riding through sand with all the loss of handling that goes with it. Still, we made it down in one piece and warmed ourselves up with hot coffee and a brandy in the local café while we waited for Bernie and the others to arrive with the trailer.

This is great cycling. Sitting on a bar stool in France, reliving the day’s excitement, as the water gently seeps out of your soggy clothes into a pool on the floor, and the girl behind the bar just dismisses your apology with a lovely smile.

Back up at the chalet a change into dry clothes and another huge meal made by Teresa and Gill with plenty of beer, cider and wine put the team in good spirits as the talk turned to the ‘double big one’ next day – the Col du Télégraphe followed by the Col du Galibier – and whether that mystery quiet back road would be found....

 

Saturday 18th June (run your mouse over the picture)

The Undigested Giblets.

How the famous Galibier came to be referred to as the “Giblets” I forget, but on Saturday, the mountain was no more appetising. Low cloud hung over the valley producing a warm drizzle - not unpleasant conditions for climbing the famous cols’ baby sister, the Col du Telegraph.

The tarmac was smooth and the climbing was gentle, so all in all, things went well. As usual we became strung out on the mountain, this time the early lead being taken by Steve and Neil. I had ambitions of climbing the Galibier regardless of the weather, ambitions that turned out not to be shared by the others. When I did finally reach the summit of the Telegraph, ahead of the others, I added a warm layer and winter gloves and felt ready for the small descent into Valloire. Just as I was heading off, team “Falmouth Wheelers” arrived (so I could only presume team “Sky” were somewhere behind, given that we had now become training partners) . They headed for the café. I shouted to Richard that I was thinking of carrying on, feeling that if I stopped in a warm café, the will to continue might evaporate! “ Bloody cold up there!” Steve advised, recalling his experiences on the Galibier the previous year.

The temperature had already plummeted and on the small descent to Valloire I was feeling perhaps a little too chilled! I started entertaining thoughts of turning around and joining my fellow wheelers who would now be sipping hot coffee, but soon I was picking my way through the village and eventually the long gentle incline that marked the beginning of the brutal journey to the summit.

Now that I was working again I began to warm up and feel comfortable once more, often hopeful of eventually climbing above the cloud base, the sun was tantalisingly close to breaking through on occasions but then the cloud would thicken and it would be gone. Better just keep pedalling, better just keep warm.

One by one I ticked off the kilo markers and eventually reached the snow line. Sadly for me the sun didn’t show and the odd shower now turned to hail. As I got closer to the summit the wind picked up and became ice cold - the snow drifts towering above me on the roadside. Just short of the summit is a tunnel and years ago this marked the end of the climb. Opposite this was a café, now closed, but with a veranda that offered some shelter, something I knew I would need on my return. These days a new road takes you a further kilometre to the real summit. I continued to climb but was now thinking there could be a problem when I started to descend - I was wearing, a now soaking, thermal vest and a cycling jersey, and once I started the descent I would freeze!!

I was shivering pretty much as soon as I turned around. I was too cold to stop at the closed café , needing to go further down the mountain in order to warm up on another “mini” ascent. I sprinted back up and dived under the veranda out of the hail, hauling off my wet clothing to put on dry clothes, a thermal layer and a quilted warm jacket. However in that short time my core temperature had dropped and I was unable to stop shivering. I had turned my winter gloves inside out, and being wet there would be no way I could get them back on. The descent to Valloire was not going to be pleasant.

Was I hallucinating or was this really a man walking towards me with a bowl of hot tea? I had been observed by the French occupants of a motor home parked opposite and willingly accepted the tea and also the offer of a ride down the mountain. My bike was stowed and the coffee pot was put on. After 15mins I had stopped shivering and was able to converse, in English, to the wonderful French family who were now my saviours.

As we proceeded down the mountain I couldn’t but feel relieved that I wouldn’t be holding up my fellow wheelers for too long. I later learnt that besides visiting other bars they had killed time in Le Bar California with an Edith Piaf look alike! Sadly Bradley and the boys didn’t show. They had more sense I suppose.

(Alps Tour report to be continued as the report comes in...)

 
Mad Fools and English Men ………..
An account of a Robin's winter ride to Sherkin published in the Sherkin Island Newsletter

 Gill and I brought over a group of cyclists in September from our local club in Falmouth to enjoy a weeks cycling I’d organised in West Cork and Kerry. The trip was a great success - one of the most memorable rides being the day we arrived, managing a loop around Loch Hyne in glorious sunshine, lunch in Castletownsend and pints at Bushe’s afterwards, sitting in the late afternoon sun watching the world go by. That evening we stayed on Sherkin in the hotel and headed off the following Sunday morning via the Mizen Peninsula to spend four nights at The Kenmare Bay Hotel. For this trip I was using my Irish “stead” a green Pinarello Prince, a lightweight road bike I keep on the island. Not having the opportunity to return it to Sherkin when we left Kenmare, the said green cycle followed me home to Cornwall.

I had often toyed with the idea of cycling from Cork Airport to Sherkin and fancied it might be something of an adventure if I put the bike on the plane at Newquay and ride down. I seem to remember the day I booked the flight it was a balmy 10c. The day I arrived, Sunday 5th December, the temperature at Cork airport was minus 2c!

It was a concern to me as to how the bike would be handled on the flight. I had turned the handlebars in and removed the pedals as instructed. I had also removed the chain ( I use a “quick link” so it is very easy ) and the rear derailleur. Reluctantly I let the air from the tyres, a requirement when flying apparently, but a concern to me as I only had a very small pump! I needn’t have worried as to the bike's safety - the bike arrived at Cork on the 'outsize' conveyer belt totally unscathed and fifteen minutes later I had it all assembled. A further ten minutes and I had 90lbs pressure in each of the tyres.

Although we had been in clear blue skies on the approach to the airport, the airport itself was plunged in thick fog. I put on every piece of warm clothing I had with me including ski mittens. These reduce your ability to change gear but that seemed a small price to pay for having warm hands. With flashing lights for and aft I tentatively set off.

The first few miles from the airport were either level or slightly downhill. My confidence grew as minutes later I emerged from the fog and I was satisfied that the early morning sun had melted any ice on the road. Any doubts I had about the sense of making this trip were dispelled and keeping an eye on any traffic that might be behind I allowed my speed to increase. This was easy cycling. Fellow club members would already be well into their Sunday ride, but in Cornwall it is difficult to go anywhere without encountering hills (about 100 feet of climb for every mile for those who might be interested!). This euphoria was fairly short lived. As I swept across the empty Kinsale road taking the turn to Ballinhassig I caught a glimpse of a white road before sliding horizontally uphill for twenty or so feet. By turning just 90 degrees from due south to west the conditions had changed totally. The fall didn’t hurt much, no more than tumbling down a ski slope, as I was well padded! The next fall hurt considerably more. I picked myself up and checked there was no damage to the bike before cautiously remounting. Due to the westerly direction I was taking my side of the road was still frozen, a mixture of frost and black ice, whilst the other side, bathed in warm sun, was relatively ice free. Picking my way on the empty road I made slow progress. I felt I was reading the conditions well and was now riding very cautiously, however, a momentary lapse in concentration saw me hit the ground again, this time much harder. I landed on my wrists, right shoulder and head. My head, protected by my cycle helmet, appeared undamaged ( Given what I was doing Gill reckoned there wasn’t a lot there to harm anyway! ), but my shoulder felt sore and I feared it might curtail my little adventure. I walked the next mile to the main Cork Bandon road. The hard shoulder was frosty and I decided to walk to Halfway but it wasn’t long before I noticed a thin line weaving its way through the frost. This was without doubt the track of a similarly insane cyclist doing his/(her?) Sunday morning ride despite the conditions. Spurred on by this unknown person's defiance I again mounted and slowly carried on the journey.

There were a few occasions where I felt it prudent to dismount but on the whole the rest of the trip to Skibbereen was uneventful and as the day wore on the temperature rose a little melting what little ice remained on the main roads. However, where the road was sheltered from the sun the conditions were entirely different and probably the worst stretch of road in the entire journey was, surprisingly, the stretch from Skib to Old Court, where the black of the road wasn’t grippy tarmac, but treacherous black ice.

Amazingly, given the amount I had walked, the trip to Baltimore still took less than 4 hrs which gave me ample time to get some shopping and sink a pint of Guinness in Bushes before catching the 4 o’clock ferry to Sherkin. As I pulled up at the hotel, Norman was there to shake me by the hand and inform me that much had already been discussed within about my little trip. Over a few more pints of Guinness I recounted the goings on of the day, all the time aware that this would be the closest I will ever get to a hero’s welcome! Robin
(Why, oh why Robin? Ed.)

 

 

“Cyclists Without Bikes” - Irish Tour 2010
click here to see photos in gallery

Apologies for the type bleeding off the right hand side of the page.
We don't know how to fix it. We've tried hard.
Must be a glitch with the website...

The prologue: Our designated towing vehicle, Jono and Jan's Landrover Defender, decided to break down catastrophically the night before departure. It could have been the end of the tour but Bernie leapt to the rescue and lent the team his Discovery which turned out to be somewhat more luxurious than the Defender. (Bernie is now officially our tour hero.  Without him we wouldn't have had a tour.)
The journey to the ferry port at Swansea passed without incident until we stopped for a swift beer at a trendy bar in Swansea and Richard 2 managed to spill a mug of scolding hot coffee over a waitress. She screamed in pain, ran away and we never saw her again. Just two minutes later he spilt a glass of beer over Jono. Then as we got our passports out pre-boarding Admiral discovered his passport photo was that of his charming wife, Jean. Which meant that he had packed the wrong passport. (This is fast becoming a Falmouth Wheeler tour tradition - Parky did likewise on the Pyrenees Tour in 2009.) Consequently, with no other identification, Admiral was smuggled aboard the ferry…

Day 1 Saturday – Arrival and warm up ride.
Having arrived in Cork the next morning Fred drove us and the trailer to Baltimore where we off loaded the bikes and went for a short 28 mile ride along the beautiful coastline road to Castletownsend, sat outside a pub bathed in scorching hot sun and had lunch. Then it was back to Baltimore to sit outside another pub whilst we awaited the ferry to Sherkin Island where we would be spending the first night.

Baltimore is like Coverack out of season, so imagine our, and the locals’, surprise when a coach load of tipsy, giggling girls in high heels and cocktail dresses appeared at the pub. It turned out they were a touring hen party and were staying at the same small hotel as us on Sherkin Island. Imagine our horror. They then proceeded to get rather more tipsy even though we tried in vain to supervise them - young people just don't listen to the voices of experience any more. Indeed they even encouraged us to drink more. Due to our continuing efforts to make sure they were well supervised we all missed the hourly ferry to the island. Twice.

Once on Sherkin we guided the hen party to the hotel and checked in our luggage, then we visited Robin and Gill’s charming beachside holiday home for evening aperitifs as the sun set over an azure sea. Which was nice.

The bar in the small hotel on the island that night was very lively with locals and guests alike partying late into the night. Against all odds, and in spite of some disco dancing, we all kept our dignity and we were all well behaved - though Jono had a tricky moment when he accidentally locked himself out of his room wearing nothing but a small towel at three in the morning. Apparently he was looking for a lavatory.

Day 2 – Sunday – Rain and crab sandwiches.
Thanks to the hen party girls (who had never actually seen our bicycles let alone us actually riding them) we were now known locally as 'The Cyclists Without Bikes' and Robin, who had worked out all the routes and indeed had even pre-ridden them a couple of weeks before, was named 'Green Leader'.
Feeling less than fresh we breakfasted and returned to the mainland to drive the trailer to Skull. A quick pitstop in Lidl's along the way ended up taking so long that it got Green Leader's blood pressure up but once he’d restored discipline, thanks to Admiral’s leadership coaching, everything went smoothly.

We were soon riding the scenic coastal route via Goleen and to Crookhaven (now known locally as 'Crackhaven' due to a failed £10 million drug run). Soon the weather turned nasty and the predicted rain was tipping down but despite this Gill and Theresa, the only ladies in our party, were determined to swim in the sea everyday and therefore went for a shorter ride to enable them to fit in some hard core breast stroking before finally joining us for lunch in Crookhaven where the bar was welcoming and the fresh crab sandwiches and pints of Guinness were superb. Then we had a very wet ride back to Skull and our suffering was compounded when Green Leader snapped his chain in the last 5 miles. This had certain members saying 'just like the club’s Tapas run tour’ where the rain was so bad in Northern Spain that houses were actually swept away.

Having made it back to the trailer we quickly stowed the bikes and headed for Kenmare where Green Leader had done an extraordinary £20 a night deal with a luxury hotel including use of a pool, jacuzzi, steam room and sauna and an all-you-can-eat buffet breakfast. This was far too good to be true for £20 a head, let alone for mere cyclists.
We had taken over two hotel houses in the grounds so we would be self catering in the evenings, but not on the first night. After sampling the Tribute and Proper Job Ales that Admiral had brought along on tour (very nice too) we wandered into town, had an Indian which Admiral declared his ‘best ever’, and then went on to a traditional music bar where Gill and Theresa danced with the locals.


Day 3 Monday - 'Ring of Kerry tour' - A 62 mile ride around the peninsula with three serious mountain climbs and three seasons in one day.
At the start, which was in the middle of nowhere, we met a man from Mawnan Smith - as you do. It was sunny, and after a lovely ride and long climb with stunning views we descended to Waterville and stopped at a café called 'Peter’s Place'. The chap who served us, presumably ‘Peter’, was a very odd character. He appeared to be highly agitated and was not at all comfortable around people. He pretty much insisted that we sit outside and wasn't at all keen that we actually enter his café. Maybe it was the Lycra tightly hugging our highly toned bodies that offended him because we weren’t sweaty, smelly or wet.
After taking our order and getting it wrong three times he then stood in dog poo which didn’t amuse him but much amused us. Then, after soup and sandwiches we ordered more grub, including some very nice carrot cake, but this seemed to wind him up even more. The whole experience was weird.

From there it was a relaxed slow climb along a quiet road back to the mountains followed by a challenging climb up Knocknagapple and then down into a fantastic mountain valley and along to Ballaghbeama Gap. Along the way we enjoyed amazing scenery, minimal amount of traffic and long, long downhill descents.
Nearly back at base we stopped at a very welcoming hostelry for a pint or two of the black stuff. Why are the pubs here so friendly? Or is it our UK ones aren't? Anyway, continuing on the way down to the bike trailer the rain started in earnest, Admiral got a puncture and Green Leader almost collided with a tractor.

When we eventually got to the trailer the rain was monsoon-like and so we all got in for some shelter - which was cosy. Green Leader then proceeded to cycle back to the hotel in the atrocious weather because he was enjoying it so much. Nutter. (He claims he was just keeping warm.)

Day 4 Tuesday - 'The Bear Peninsula' - A 51 mile, mainly coastal ride with undulating roads interspersed with hard, short nips.
The sun was hot today but the sea breeze helped keep us cool. (At the start of the week the weather forecast was rain all week so obviously we were delighted that the Irish met office was proving to be rubbish at predicting the weather.) By now we were getting pretty good at cruising along at 17-18 mph in a tightly packed peleton and the miles positively flew by.

At the end of the peninsula, again with wonderful views along the way, we stopped at Allihies, a lovely coastal village where all the houses were painted bright, vivid colours. 'Veronica's Café' was the lunch stop and Veronica was charming.
After soup and sandwiches we continuing along the coast and encountered some harsh gradients, but at least they were fairly short.
Towards the last 12 miles Green Leader persuaded the weaker willed and easier led amongst us to put in an extra 10 mile loop whilst the more sensible ones, JB, Admiral and Jono, continued on along the flatter, more direct route to selflessly make sure the Guinness was ready and waiting at the bar located next to where our trailer was parked.

When Green Leader’s gang finally arrived back they were knackered due to some ‘team time trialling’ along the way. Richard2, one of our stronger riders, promptly lay down on the floor of the pub which startled the locals and we learned that Green Leader had almost bonked enroute! The pints went down well and the locals were friendly. A perfect end to a perfect day.

Day 5 - 'Molls Gap and the Gap of Dunloe'  - A 52 mile figure of eight ride through the mountains.
During the night we had heavy rain and it was still raining when we awoke. The day didn't look at all promising and there was even talk of doing a shorter ride than planned.
Anyway, in trepidation we set off expecting the worst but as we climbed up into the mountains the clouds cleared and out came the sun again.
We threaded our way through yet another stunningly beautiful mountain valley, climbed Molls Gap and stopped for tea and cakes at the top and then headed down along a beautiful wooded winding road to Killarney for lunch.

Killarney seemed big and noisy and we weren’t yet hungry so we scuttled away back into the mountains and had lunch (a picnic made by the Gill and Theresa) on a bridge in a valley on the way to the Gap of Dunloe. It was possibly one of the best picnic lunches in the world in one of the most beautiful settings in the world.
Then it was up through the Gap of Dunloe and along another mountain valley and up to Molls Gap again, and then a long, long descent (race for some) back down to Kenmare for more black stuff and more evening festivities. Ireland is such a brilliant place to ride.

Day 6 - Durrus to Sheep’s Head and back – a nice, easy ‘10 o’clock ride’ of 30 miles.
Green Leader, Scalatchi, Rocky and Richard2 formed an advance party and added another 35 miles to the route by riding (at pace) to the start, the rest of us, the sensible ones, were looking forward to a more relaxed day because the daily challenges of climbing mountain passes were taking their toll on nether regions.

We towed the bike trailer to Durrus without a map and so got lost for half an hour, but at least it was scenic. Eventually meeting Green Leader and his team on the quay at Durrus we departed for Eilleen’s pub at Kilcrohane where Green Leader assured us that food and drink of exceptional quality awaited us, as this was a pre-booked lunch stop.
The road was flat and we followed the coast – just right for delicate heads and bums. Horror awaited us. Eilleen’s pub was locked and shuttered.
It must have been the only pub in Ireland that was locked up at lunchtime but a mere 100 yards away Tootsie’s pub (the Bay Inn) was open and we each had a ‘toastie special’, a ham, cheese, onion and tomato triple layer toasted sandwich. (‘Toastie special’ sandwiches are a popular delicacy amongst the Irish.)

After lunch it was a short ride to Sheep’s Head which was shrouded in low cloud and then it was a 17 mile sprint back to the start. And suddenly that was the end of the tour. We caught the ferry back to the UK later that evening and even managed to smuggle Admiral back into the UK without passport or photo ID.

Thanks to Robin for plotting the wonderful rides, booking the ferries and the excellent accommodation, Gill and Theresa for the lovely evening meals and civilizing influence, Fred for driving, Admiral for the beer, Clive Mitchell Cycles for supplying spares, and last but not least Bernie, for lending us his tow vehicle without which we couldn’t have gone on tour.

 Oft heard on tour:

“Its all downhill from here”

“When you want to go foraging you got to go foraging”

" It's only 4km"

“There is no money in the kitty”

“Almost there”

“**** look at that!”

“Thank goodness for Bernie”

“Pothole!”

“Sheep!”

 

Bikes and people:

Green Leader – Pinarello
JB – Cannondale
Scalatchi – Canondale
Fred – Dawes Titantium
Admiral – Bianchi
Jono – Focus Cyclocross Disc
Richard2 – Giant
Gill – Trek
Theresa – Trek
Rocky – Specialized

 

 

Fred 'n' Carol’s Grand Tour in 'Heidi' Hymer - 2009

 2nd September – caught Brittany Ferries “Amorique” to Roscoff.  Trip bit bumpy but OK, arrived in Roscoff at 3.30 in the afternoon and drove towards Carnac – our intention had been to stop in Benodet  and meander through Brittany for a week or so, but as it was raining (would it be frogs & snails in France) very hard we decided to travel onwards.  There is an excellent Aire (free camping stop) in Carnac, but unfortunately by the time we got there at 6.00pm it was completely full, we backtracked a few kilometres to the town of Erdeban and stopped in the Aire there – and good heavens did it rain that night.  The next day however was full of blue sky and sun and so we went into Carnac for a look round and also to look at “Les Alignments” – I had not realised just how many of them there were, for some reason I was thinking more of a Stonehenge granite boulder type layout, rather than granite boulders stretching onwards in straight lines as far as the eye could see.

That afternoon saw us heading to Quiberon, there is another Aire at the end of the isthmus but it was very very windy and exposed so we completed the circumnavigation and headed off to Nourmoutier.  Unfortunately we couldn’t stop there either because it was full!!  Honestly – the site could not squeeze another motorhome in, and quite how some of the people managed to open their doors was beyond me.  In the end we stopped at the municipal site in La Rochelle (oh, and we also had the first of – believe it or not – only two “wherethefucarwe” arguments).  The following day was spent cycling around La Rochelle, it was sunny, but unfortunately still very windy and became virtually impossible to cycle in straight lines along the “corniche”.  We stopped along the harbourside for the obligatory coffee drunk whilst watching the world go by and decided our next stop would be Ile d’Oleron.

Arriving on Oleron we then discovered the French phenomenon – the long lunch break.  It always takes us about a week to remember and naturally we couldn’t find an open site, they all closed between 12 noon and 4.30pm.  We parked up at a convenient place, got down the bikes and set off for a short tour around the area.  Later on we booked in at a very cheap (but also rather basic) site, however as we only planned to spend a couple of days cheap was good.  Next day saw us breakfasting outdoors in the sun trying to decide on a “bike/walk/sit in sun” day.  In the end we opted for walking through the forest to the beach – or rather, walking round and round in circles in the forest until eventually and more by luck ending up at the beach.  Needless to say we managed to find a much more direct route on the way back.

 The end of our first week saw us on the ferry from Royan to Verdon sur Mer, travelling down to Montalivet les Bains and enjoying the sun, sand and surf of a lovely campsite next to the beach.

This is an area of France I really like, not only is it relatively flat for cycling but also has a magic mix of small villages and towns inhabited by slightly mad residents – one village square has huge papier mache  figures on a different theme each year – one year it was the Olympics, another Man on the Moon.  Its quite surreal cycling around a corner and being confronted by a giant astronaut, or downhill skier or similar. 

We cycled most days, some days only a short trip to the shops or into town and on others 35 miles or so.  One memorable day being when, for some reason, I didn’t take enough care putting on the cycling shorts.  We did 35 miles with no stops and when we got back to the site I had an overwhelming need to carry on past the van and straight onto the pool where I wanted to throw myself into the water – certain parts of my anatomy really needing a cool down (girls I am sure you will know what I mean).  We spend a week at Montalivet and then moved on “down the road” to meet up with friends at Lacaneau Ocean which was supposed to be a surfing hot spot – only trouble was – no surf!!

After a couple of days we travelled into the Pyrenees and stopped at Argeles Gazost, only a short hop from Lourdes.  Naturally we just had to cycle along the path into Lourdes (well, one trip just isn’t enough!).  Believe it or not the neighbour of a friend had requested that if we went there we bought her back a plastic Madonna!  We did manage to see more of the town that the touristy bit although we did notice that the emerald palace was just the same and just a crowded as when we were there earlier in the year.

Fred was really keen to drive the Cols of Soulouc and Aubisque – and so we did.  The road to Soulouc was steep and bendy but wide enough not to cause Carol to close her eyes too often.  We stopped at the top to take a few pictures and then continued to the Aubisque.  The road was narrow and the drop steep, fortunately we did not meet many vehicles coming from the opposite but we did meet one French motorhome whose driver was frowning and pointing at his watch (idiot!).  When we reached the top of the Aubisque we found out why – there was a big sign stating that you could only drive from Soulouc in the morning and in the afternoon you could drive from the Aubisque to Soulouc, we must have left Soulouc about 12.55 – oh well, we are English after all!

 When we went down to Lauruns we discovered that the Hymer was too wide to get to the supermarket fuel pumps and so had to set off back towards the Aubisque to find a normal sized fuel station! 

We were now heading towards Spain.  We stopped just over the border in the Formigel ski area which looked really good, although the actual town was a long bus ride away from the ski lifts, there was a huge car park by the cable car so we marked this down as a possibility of skiing/motorhoming.  We trundled onwards – had decided to overnight at Boldana which looked to be about halfway across Spain on route to our next destination – 30km south of Tarragona.  At first the roads were much better than we expected, but suddenly the roads sort of stopped and the last 100km were mainly potholes, bumpy, pitted and narrow – in fact everything we thought they might be! 

The next day we set off again and discovered after a few kilometres that the roads reverted to being wide flat tarmac – bliss.  In fact it was a very picturesque route along rivers and lakes. 

 

We spent two weeks at the Temple du Sol site which had its own beach and was a really good site.  Bikes were dusted off again and we explored the area, cycling one day to Camp Roig, another to Cambrils and Fred did a few exploratory trips into the “hills”. 

One day we took the train into Barcelona.  Train travel in Spain is amazingly cheap – only 14 euros for the hour and a half journey into Barcelona.  Once in the city we decided to splash out on tickets for the tourist bus – in fact there are three routes around the city, its suburbs and beaches and the ticket allows you to use all three routes and just get on and off where you want.  It’s a good way of seeing lots.  We did all the tourist bits, walking up Les Ramblas, visiting the castle, the Sagrada Familia and many other sites – a good, if very long, day.

After a couple of weeks relaxing in the sun we decided to move onto the Picos du Europa in northern Spain.  We had a really interesting drive through the centre – there was nothing and nobody, and, nowhere to stay to we stopped on what must have been a municipal gravel and dirt dump, fortunately no one came along at 5am with their JCB to load up.

 

We stayed at Potes in the Picos, the site was only 2km outside the town, but those 2km were straight uphill!!  Fred got very excited at the thought of walking and/or cycling in the mountains and bought loads of guide books.  We did one walk which took about 5 hours – that is, 4 going up and 1 coming down!  We visited the Fuente De cable car and took a trip up to the top – Fred did mention that we could walk back down, having seen the narrow goat track zig zagging its was back down the mountain I opted for the cable car back down! By now we had been away almost 5 weeks and I was beginning to feel that I was ready for home, mind you, it was still hot and sunny.  For the last couple of days we headed back to northern Spain’s beaches. Practically all the camp sites close at the end of September and many of the car parks had large signs warning that it was AGAINST THE LAW to stay overnight in your motorhome.  We did find a field above a beach which for a vast sum (compared to what was on offer) it was possible to stay overnight.  Much to our amusement when we looked around at the other occupants we realised that we had managed to treble the average age of the overnighters – full of surfing dudes man.  Still the beach was stunning and the sun still shone.

 

 We caught the ferry back from Santander, and in common with the day we arrived, the day we left was as wet as it was possible to be.  We had planned to have a look round Santander but it was so wet we just had a short peddle around and then went and sat in the motorhome and read – only problem was that as the departure time was getting nearer – there was no ferry!  It arrived very late, took ages to unload and ages to load again and it was absolutely full. 

We later discovered that the ferry had left from Portsmouth and there had been a full scale alert for a missing canoeist off the Isle of Wight.  Being in the area the ferry had diverted to help in the search, after a fruitless 3 hours searching they were told by the Coastguard the search had been a hoax call and they could stand down and be on their way. Arriving back in Plymouth in the drizzle and looking at the sour, white faces I decided that actually I wasn’t ready to be home yet, and could we go away again please!

 What’s on for next year? – well we have to decide between cycling the Danube, Croatia, Portugal and Morocco – life’s never easy is it! Fred & Carol

 

 

PYRENEES 2009

A tale of 17 Falmouth Wheelers,3big mountainslots of bread, cheese and wine. And yes, there are a couple of pictures of us actually cycling.

Please note; the guilty have been protected and the innocent exposed. This is just a brief summary of some of what went on because, as everyone knows, "what goes on tour stays on tour!"

Day 1

After an 11 hour drive, for some, down through France, suffering flash floods and speed traps en route we arrived at Villa Tamerza nuzzled in the Pyranean foothills just outside the village of Pouzac full of enthusiasm for the scenic, but no doubt challenging, rides in the week ahead.  Parky had mapped out various routes which went from easy to ‘oh…my…God, even Lance might struggle on this one’ - utilizing wonderful Google Earth in all it’s glory.

Fred had miraculously loaded all the bikes sardine fashion in his

van helped by some clever hi-tec support bar engineering and by removing wheels, pedals, handlebars and wheels etc - so the first task upon arrival was to rebuild all the bikes whilst the ladies prepared gin and tonics to slake the bike builders’ thirsts. Unfortunately there was no ice readily available in the villa but Donald and Sue had a surfeit of ice in their luxurious motor home’s freezer which saved the day.

 

(Oh yes, did I mention that Parky arrived at Plymouth ferry port with Hilary’s passport but not his own? Let’s just say there was a certain amount of nervous tension as Hilary made a mad dash with the missing passport to rendevouz with Parky and driver Bernie halfway between home and Plymouth. The passport was handed over and Parky and Bernie managed to return in time to board the ferry.)

 

Villa Tamerza was ideal but a slight bummer was that the promised wi-fi didn’t want to talk to our laptops so updating the club website at the end of each day was not going to be possible. Later that evening Roger arrived fresh from the Royal Cornwall Show via Pau airport and a jolly wine-soaked evening ensued. The weather forecast for the morrow wasn’t good, but we were from Cornwall, so naturally a little bit of rain wasn’t going to bother us.

 

Lessons learnt: 1.Always check you’ve got YOUR passport before travelling abroad. 2. Bernie’s car goes very fast. 3. The bloody WiFi doesn’t work at Villa Tamerza.

 

Day 2
All 17 of us made out for Cherolet on a beautiful sunny morning. Birds were singing and we were surrounded by picturesque foothills and steep tree-covered mountains. This was to be an easy ride, and so far it was. Several cyclists and cycling teams passed us along the way as they returned from their early morning training runs. Our pace was good and cars were kind to us. So much for the glory of Google Earth. The scenic tarmac road we wanted to go on turned out to be a gravel track which was rough in places. Half of us, the macho types, decided to go for it and carry on up the rough road, the other half, the sensible types, took an alternative tarmac route and we would all meet up at the head of the valley.

Unfortunately in all the excitement we lost Bernie and as his phone was on answer phone and not being answered we all assumed that he was now laying somewhere dying in a ditch. Search parties were sent out back down the road, all to no avail. Eventually we all met up at the top of the valley, to find Bernie sitting outside a nice restaurant/bar supping a cold one. Bernie had gone on to the pre-agreed meeting place thinking he was behind everyone else when he was actually in front. One of the breakaway groups was convinced he was behind them and sent out search parties. So, when you mix that in with non working mobiles, chaos quickly follows.

On the downhill run back to base we stopped to purchase several loafs of bread only to find that Jan, Sue M and Carol (they had wisely returned before reaching the group split into two) had just bought several loafs too, so we had 12 loafs for lunch. Mad eh? Anyway, we had a lovely picnic followed by a tennis tournament, which was nice.

 
Lessons learnt today: 1. Listen to the locals when one of them says that it isn’t a good idea to cycle up certain roads. 2. The Pyranees are not phone signal friendly. 3. Cold beer is good.
 
 Day 3
From now on we were going to be more professional and Parky’s word on the route was to be final. Fine weather greeted us as we left Pouzac for Col de Aspin. En route we passed the Blacksmith’s that Eugene Christophe made a new front fork in the middle of a stage, that he was winning, in the 1913 Tour de France. With his hastily made DIY forks Eugene managed to finish the race and was hailed as the ‘people’s hero’ but was promptly disqualified because the blacksmith’s boy had pumped the bellows and therefore Eugene had received help during the race. You couldn’t make it up, could you?
 
 The climb up Aspin wasn’t too bad, like the climb out of Gweek to Rame but 7 miles long, and we enjoyed spectacular views from the windy summit, which got very cold after a while. A pretty cyclist arrived on a Scalatchi type Cannondale and we were just getting to know (bore) her when her sulky boyfriend arrived and dragged her away. As if we were a threat!
We then descended at speed passing the same pretty girl now coming back up Aspin from the other side (yes, she was very fit). At the bottom we made our way along the river valley to Sarrencolin for lunch but unfortunately the only eaterie had run out of bread for sandwiches. Improvising, we found a boulangerie with some bread left on the shelves and farmers stall 100 yards away at the side of the road selling local cheese and wine, but alas! we had no corkscrew. Robin, taking a lead from Eugene, quickly unscrewed a screw from a front door (yes, someone’s front door) then drove the borrowed screw into the cork and then, with a pair of pliers, pulled the screw with cork attached out the bottle. After our little picnic by the river Robin returned the screw to the front door.
 
 
The ride home seemed to be a bit harder than the climb up Aspin, with long straights interspersed by long climbs. Upon arriving back at the villa it started to rain but in spite of this a merry evening ensued. Super fit ‘survivalist’ Robin, from now on aka Bare Grills, as in Bear Grylls, was named ‘Idiot of the Day’ for insisting doing the entire ride only using his big (52) cog and Gill Lightfoot was named rider of the day for keeping good pace throughout. Don, Sue M, Charlie and Robin then proceeded to have a tennis tournament and Don damaged his knee. We all hoped he would be okay for the big push up Tourmalet later that week. An enjoyable but challenging day in the saddle. 54 miles. 8,500ft ascent.
 
Lessons learnt today: 1. Carry a corkscrew at all times. 2. Sometimes what looks like a downhill run is actually a climb. 3. Don’t play tennis after imbibing wine.
 
 
Day 4
was a rest day for some, a recreational / exploration day for others but there was still a bit of cycling done. One group cycled to Lourdes, another group pootled around on bikes locally, Jan and Jono cycled to the foothills of the Tourmalet and back and Parky and Robin climbed Aspin again, the other way round, discovering a good picnic spot in the process, clocking up 54 miles and climbing 11,580 ft. In the evening the non-Lourdes visitors amongst us decided who managed to buy the tackiest souvenir from Lourdes for less than 5 Euros, which was very entertaining. Let’s hope He upstairs has a sense of humour. Non regular cyclist Carol was voted Rider of the Day for cycling 40 miles in the heat up some steep, long hills which would have seen most people off.
 
Lessons learnt today: 1. There are VERY tacky souvenirs for sale in Lourdes. 2. Never believe a cyclist when he says it’s mainly flat or it’s not far. 3. Sue R (along with assistant chef Brian) makes a really superb curry. 4. When on holiday don’t phone home to check if everything’s alright.
 
 
Day 5
was THE day. We were going for the Tourmalet.
The heat was intense, there was little shade and everyone suffered their own personal hell on the way up but for this writer the spectacular scenery made up for most of the suffering.
My personal advice for the Tourmalet would be to cycle up a little slower than you are capable of because the last few kilometres are fairly brutal and that’s when you’ll need everything you’ve got!
 
The ‘Queens of the Mountain’ were Gill and Jill who put in so much effort they both felt physically sick. Robin used his small cog at last, Bernie sprinted what he thought were the last few metres which turned out to be 100 metres more than he thought and he nearly died, Brian said it was the hardest thing he’d ever done (he wasn’t the only one to say th at) and Jill said she’d rather give birth to twins than do that again.The sensible non cycling members of the team had driven to the top and were waiting with lunch which went down well and we all then clapped and cheered in the many other cyclists also doing the climb that day as they too arrived at the summit. What a great occasion, it was for everybody.
Fred and Robin went on down the other side, the long route home, whilst everyone else freewheeled several miles back down the way we’d come. Unfortunately the only bars en route were closed (why, oh why, do the French have such weird opening times?) so we had to wait until we got home for cold beers.
 
That evening the winner of the tackiest Lourdes souvenir was judged to be a pen which featured the virgin Mary descending from heaven to reveal herself to Bernadette when the pen was held upside down. Well done to Jonathan for having such bad taste.
 
Lessons learnt: 1. The Tourmalet is a very long climb. 2. It’s amazing what you can do when you put your mind to it. 3. Bernie especially likes blue cheese.

 

Day 6
was (luckily) a rest day because it was raining in the morning and cloudy for the rest of the day. Again, everyone split into groups and did their own things. The group who drove back up to the summit of Tourmalet found it bathed in sunshine above the clouds and met 2 cyclists from Falmouth, Naomi and Andy Cooper who knew Jono and Jan. Another group had an extremely large lunch at a country restaurant which was a) superb in everyway and b) inexpensive. Several wheelers visited a local cave, Grotto de Medous, in which visitors enjoyed an underground boat trip.
 
The weather cleared a bit in the evening and everyone carbo loaded on beer, wine and fine food for another challenging ride on the morrow.
 

Lessons learnt: 1. Frozen potato chips, unfortunately, are not always ‘10 minutes and they’re ready’ oven chips. 2. Normandie bottled cider is good and cheap. 3. Sweetcorn husks are okay, but not quite as good as charcoal, for use as barbeque fuel.

 

Day 7
was Col d’Aubisque day and also, unfortunately, our last day but the weather was perfect.
We drove to, and departed from, Laurans which was seemed exceptionally wonderful, and immediately started climbing. Halfway up Charlie selflessly went a mile and a half back down the mountain for Jonathan’s forgotten water bottle, and Fred, Donald and Robin took a wrong turn and climbed an erroneous road for a while.
 
After everyone finally and triumphantly arrived at the top, we enjoyed cold beers and jambon et fromage baguettes. The Coopers from Falmouth appeared as well and we had a cold beer with them. Charlie and Jill departed back down the way we’d come up to pick up their car and the rest carried on down the otherside. The road down was breathtaking. No one could think of a better road they’d ever cycled along with very spectacular views of snow capped mountains and green wooded valleys far below. Then Bernie’s bike had a hissy fit and managed to jam it’s chain between the rear cassette and the spokes causing Bernie to skid off the road. Luckily he controlled the skid and avoided hospitalisation but the bike was terminated and only halfway down the mountain.
 
After passing cars and bikes informed those waiting at the bottom of the predicament, Robin went back up and split the chain which meant that Bernie could freewheel down rather than carry the bike. After many unsuccessful mobile phone calls Charlie was eventually contacted and came to pick Bernie and his bike up.
 

 

A dramatic end to a wonderful day. The Aubisque climb and descent, as well as the ride back to base after, was described as “the best day’s ride ever” by several. Charlie, Robin and Bernie were joint riders of the day, Charlie and Robin for selflessly assisting other members of the group and Bernie for climbing Aubisque at a very respectable speed, avoiding a nasty crash and staying in good humour even though his bike was knackered.

 

Special mention must be made for Fred who did most of the organising of the trip including packing and carrying all the bikes in his van and Parky who not only did the pathfinding, route sheets and map print-outs but was always there helping out whenever help was needed.
 

Lessons learnt: 1. God must be a cyclist because He made the the Pyranees. 2. It’s easy to underestimate how much booze 17 people will drink in a week. 3. It’s easy to underestimate how much loo paper 17 people will use in a week.

 

Crashes: 2.5 Jonathan, Carol and a controlled skid by Bernie. 

Mechanicals: 1 Bernie

Punctures: 1 Fred (non Armadillo)

Driver Road Rage: None

LRI (Lance Related Incidents): None  

Heard from the saddle: “I am not the villain here.” “Oh she’ll be alright. Women have babies for Godsake…” “Same shit, different day.”

 

 
 
 _______________________________________________________________
 
 
 
THE TAPAS RUN 2008 - Santander to Roscoff
 
Overview
Six wheelers and a support driver (Jan) decided to cycle from Santander in Spain to Roscoff in France, a distance of between approx 875-950 miles over the Easter break.
 
 
Riding Dates
Leaving Plymouth on Easter Sunday (23rd March) and then returning Sunday 6th April with the Wheelers who come over for a Brittany Spring break, Sunday 6th April.
   
Sponsors
 We have been very fortunate to have financial sponsorship from Hine Downing one of Falmouth's major solicitors. Funds are being used to purchase sponsored kit, fuel for the support vehicle and contribute towards the clubs website.


 
 
                                    

Cyclelogic of Helston kindly agreed to supply a wide range of support kit and
bike repair equipment on a 'use it & pay for it' scheme + the generous offer of a spare
Specialized Tricross in case of any serious bike failure 
 
 
  Riders

 
Hilary (not pictured) - (rider of the year 2005 & 2006) Bike - Specialized Sequoia
Jono -   (joint rider of the year 2007)   Bike - Nigel Dean (built in '88 restored in '07)
Paul -   (joint rider of the year 2007)    Bike - Specialized Tricross 
and then the non award winning riff raff
 
Roger -     Bike - Giant SCR Alliance
Don -        Bike - Specialized Roubaix Tricross....
Jonathan - Bike - Claude Butler Levante
 
 
STOP PRESS.....
Due to a back injury Hilary is unable to cycle but is hoping to come along as support wine taster and energy bar administrator....


Ride Plan
 
The intention was to ride approx 75 miles a day over a 12 day period. 
 
Accommodation was pre-booked as we've were lead to believe it was very
 
early in the French holiday calendar and not all places will be open.
 
 
   

                                                    Ride Diary
      We took a laptop to update the website as and when possible... 

 
Sunday 23rd March

Team Tapas left the Norway Inn, Perranarworthal @ 12.30 - outside MFI, Truro, Devon & Cornwall Constabulary stopped Jono to wish him all the best (something to do with too many bikes on the back.....) First domestic at the ferryport when Jono realised that the support vehicle's filler cap was back at the Esso Garage on Dracena Avenue.  To quote Jan "Your're l ucky these other people are here..."
The team spent most of the ferry trip to Santander in the piano bar as the 'Shameless'/ 'Phoenix nights' rerun at the other end of the ship didn't appeal.
  
Monday 24th March
Santander - Laredo

 

 
 
Monday 24th March 
Santander - Laredo
Hearty breakfast (bit more than the average wheeler pays, but what the hell, it was good) boat docking on time but it was wet and windy and looked like good
Cornish weather. Unloaded the bikes, team photo and then we were off.  Roger decided to go off the rails within 200 metres (Mrs H if your reading this he's alright...) Ever ridden a bike on a motorway? Team Tapas have and we thought all the Spanish motorists were hooting to wish us well.
 
Once we got on the right route it was good excellent roads, quiet and fast - Jono's top speed along the flat was 34 mph.  One big hill two mile climb and wet & windy at the top.  Arrived in Laredo and Jono decided to get to know the locals really well. Livestock not looking when they cross are clearly a nuisance, at least the bikes ok even if Jono's knee is bloodied.  Hotel good but receptionist must be related to Franco (or Basil fawlty).  Now waiting for dinner at 9.00 and counting... 
 
Tuesday 25th March
Laredo-Gernika
Heavy rain started the day and to quell Jono's demons after hitting Spanish livestock, we took an unplanned tour of Laredo trying to find the way out.  With 'The rain in Spain staying mainly on the cyclists' we followed a hilly, coastal route and could imagine on a sunny day it would be stunning. Jonathan had the first puncture of the tour and Don lost a tooth and so did his bike. Fourteen eagles (or were they vultures...?) spotted by Parky.  Into Bilbao where we ended up in the Spanish equivalent of Old Hill, luckily the Police came along and escorted us to safety. Good fast road out of town except for all the trucks whizzing past. Arrived in Gernika and found a very friendly bike shop who spent half an hour sorting out Don's bike for just four Euros.  Team photo in the shop and found hotel eventually - yes they have a Tapas bar (great olives, peppers & anchovies...) Now waiting to sample traditional, Gernika fayre. 
Food Update - Great meal and wine followed by a nightcap.   
Wednesday 26th March
Gernika- San Sebastian
 
Rain, rain go away.... 
Another day another adventure, left Gernika in teeming rain - soaked to the skin within minutes. Undulating ride to start and then a four mile climb during which Parky wanted a rest and so ensured his chain snapped.  Half hour to sort it out and then onwards and upwards with a glimpse of sun at the summit. Great views and superb ride thru' pine forests (imagine leaving Gweek towards the Lizard for 10 miles).  Long descent into Lekeitio a large fishing port - we hissed at all the Spanish trawlers for nicking our mackerel.  Superb coast hugging road that dropped into seaside ports before winding its way along 600 foot cliffs. Parky said he felt unwell but still rode faster than the rest of us. Eventually he succumbed and as it was still 45k to go the support vehicle sprang into action & medi-vac'd him to the hotel.
Without our tourleader/navigator we got horribly lost at the 'Roundabout From Hell' (wish Don Gunner had come...).  Rescued by two passing cyclists out on a training run we were escorted into San Sebastian - still chucking it down and sense of humour evaporating quickly.  However great shower quick kip and a San Miguel cures most fatigue.  Praying for Parky's recovery (keep off the Spanish H2o...). Post trip update - it was a nasty stomach bug.
 
Thursday 27th March
San Sebastian - Moilets-Et-Mars
Awoke with rain tipping down. Parky has been as sick as a dog throughout the night and unfortunately will not be cycling today. Jonathan has stomach cramps but will try to see how far he can go. After 10 miles we entered France, the heavy rain turned atrocious and we entered a storm. After 20 miles Jonathan had a puncture which was extremly difficult to mend in gale force winds and driving rain! With the temperature dropping to 6C we were very cold and mild hypothermia was just around the corner. Stopped at a supermarket and recovered a bit with food and drink. Another 15 miles and the rain became merely heavy. The gale force winds subsided and we warmed up again - thank goodness. Made it to Moilets-Et-Mars and Jonathan retired to bed to try and recover. He hardly ate anything all day because of severe stomach cramps. Parky is nearly recovered and should be able to cycle tomorrow. This trip is no picnic!
 
Friday 28th March
Moilets-Et-Mars - Bisccarrosse Le Plage
Hooray its dry (we count damp as dry). Paul rejoined the ride and as usual led from the front and for once it was easy riding through miles of pine forests on straight, undulating roads. Roger swears he saw the sun when we stopped at a Velo shop for brake pads - several of our pads were worn away on long descents in N. Spain.  Jonathan had his daily puncture (actually two today).  Stopped at a Patisserie and Jonathan found his back tyre was trashed and needed a replacement. Made it to the hotel before the rain came in and we even felt a little civilized as we picnic'd under an awning. After showering Team Tapas went off and explored the local sand dunes (biggest in Europe) and then found a good bar & restaurant with a cracking waitress - food was ok as well. Just to make our day (but not Jan's) the cycling was on Eurosport when we got back to the hotel and Chris Hoy got a medal.
 
Saturday 29th March
Bisccarrosse Le Plage - Hourtin
We woke to wall to wall, blue sky (how's the weather back home???) and at ten miles out stopped to play sandcastles on the dunes - amazing height. More pine forests than you can shake a stick at and fast pedalling @ 18-20 mph helped crack the miles out. Spotted storks circling (see later...) and a Red Kite. Stopped for a roll and a cake at a typical French patisserie, sure the assistant must be related to our lovely waitress last night. She was certainly not a WC Rowe girl.
 
Onto excellent cycle paths that stretched for over 10 miles in a straight line. At one point there was debate at a junction and Jono was overjoyed at being able to dig out his trusty pocket compass, at last, and check we're still heading north - stories of Jono being lost on Bodmin Moor 'compassless' abound. Back onto the road - 13k straights and time to wind it up again, wanted to see if we could average 15 mph for this day's 75 mile run.  By now a certain wheeler's 'Davina McCalls' were suffering - if only we'd listened to Redleader tip 'Don't forget the Savlon' luckily Jono had some nappy rash cream that he generously shared with the sufferrer. Arrived at hotel @ 4.30 to be greeted by a cold beer and a real picnic in the sun. Roger discovered that he is now a Great Uncle Bulgaria so we toasted baby Erin and yawned our way throu' dinner. Looking forward to tomorrow - even though more flippin' rain is forecast.
   
Sunday 30th March
Hourtin - Rochefort
Obviously one good sunny day was all we were allocated - back to the norm, grey skys threatening rain, although seeing Jono put on suntan lotion for the bits he burnt yesterday was a bit hopeful. 15 miles down the road Jonathan realised he hadn't paid his hotel bill - visions of being press ganged into the Foreign Legion were quickly quelled with a quick phonecall to Jan & Hilary who were still at the hotel.  We covered 55k in two & half hours to rendevous with the girls and the ferry to Royan.  On the way bumped into a cyclist from Bristol heading south to Bilbao and was cursing the head winds.  Leaving the ferry we were faced with heavy rain and wind (whats new?) Ten miles out Jan had found a place to shelter and we enjoyed an el fresco lunch on the loading dock of a wine company on an industrial estate (it was Sunday so no one was about).  On the way to our destination we intended to go via an old transporter bridge that was very impressive but unfortunately closed.  Into Rochefort, nice town, very clean - how come French towns have no litter? Found a good brassiere where we encamped for the night - wine, few women and a bit of song - but remember what goes on tour stays on tour....
 

Monday 31st March

Rochefort - Telmont St.Hilaire 

Grey overcast day as we changed ride plans and headed to La Rochelle.  Found a good cycle route that went a little bit around the houses and villages of Charente, unfortunately the cycle route signs disappeared 10 miles from La Rochelle and Jono choose the local village idiot riding a bike to ask directions - one for KK to take under his wing...
 
Beautiful weather in La Rochelle, lunch on the quay with Hilary showing early signs of the lurgie. On the way out tried our favourite trick of using the the motorway and ended up walking back to the intended road - stil ended up as a 9k detour.  Up to now it had been quite a nice day but we now had 50 miles to ride and a head wind blowing force 6-7 (no joke...). It was totally flat, no Cornish hedges to hid behind, and we were in what became known as the 'Head wind from hell'. The force of the wind could not be exaggerated. It was flat but we all had to stand on the pedals. Everyone was suffering, even Paul was running on empty but after a coke and chocolate stop in a tin sheet bus shelter - we made a final push and arrived at the farmhouse where we were staying, five hours later at 6.35pm having covered 83 miles. A total of 7:59 in the saddle !

 

Quick shower and then genuine French hospitality with the Farmer, Gilles and his wife Annie in their farmhouse. All the food was home grown/raised, the wine flowed  and we headed for bed at 9.30 ish exhausted. 

 

Tuesday 1st April

Telmont St.Hilaire - Pornic  

Being April Fools day, Paul over breakfast with a very straight face, told Jonathan he had a puncture in his front Armidallo to sort out – ha bloody ha….

 

Left in light rain – (we hear it’s nice in Cornwall…) easy cycling on a very nice cycle route to St Jean de Monts, a seaside town. We picnic’d on the promenade with fog rolling in. From here we had a 40 mile run hopping through villages and towns every 10k with a slight headwind all the way. No mechanical or emotional failures (apart from the support driver who got lost in Pornic and turned to the men-in-blue for help).   Despite the hotel losing our reservations(!) we managed to book in and enjoyed a great shower.   Amorous Frenchmen down the corridor really should learn to close the door when you’re waiting for the lift - that's all we'll say.   Pornic is a great port and J & J found a great little restaurant behind the Casino, although what fish Don & Jonathan ate was questionable – Paul thought it was either a Gobi or a Wrasse.   73 miles covered today (5 hours in the saddle) Tomorrow like Cockleshell Hero’s we face the bridge @ St.Nazaire & our biggest planned mileage of the tour.  Post trip update - the 'questionable' fish dish was Roti de Lotte, a monk fish.
 

Wednesday 2nd April

Pornic – Auray

Day started slightly misty but we knew it would burn off. 20 kilometres to the bridge @ St Nazaire on a busy A30 type road. Team pics at the foot hills with the Sherpas – Paul & Roger checking the route over the bridge. Saw the U boat pens in their original state – pleased I watched ‘Das Boot’ a fortnight ago. Easy ride thru’ St. Nazaire into beautiful  Brittany countryside.   The day was warming up and finally our rain jackets came off.  

 

Great lunch at Arzal (Cornish for Argal) and then continued on in bright sunshine with only 40 miles to base camp. After travelling thru’ more beautiful countryside and idyllic villages we entered Vannes, unfortunately the French railways tracks took their toll on the Wheelers – Jonathan took a spectacular tumble and joined Roger & Jono in the Road Ska Club – pleased to say bike was ok.   Continued on without incident to Auray after 83 miles on the saddle. Wandered down to the cobbled harbour of St. Goustan and enjoyed the best evening meal yet – with 2 days to go we finally we feel we are on holiday!  
 
Thursday 3rd April
Auray – Huelgoat

S

tarted the day with a small incident in the car park – the support vehicle managed to destroy a flower pot much to the amusement of on-looking hotel guests.
 

Discovered a place called St.Anne d’ Auray where supposedly in 1623a farm labour saw the Virgin Mary’s mother (as if….). Imagine Budock with its own Cathedral, a Convent, Monestary & visitor’s center – and you get the picture. Cycled thru’ undulating countryside – picture postcard Brittany.    Enjoyed a baguette unch (next to a bar) in Plouray.

 

This was supposedly going to be an easy day (only 60ish miles) however the hotel we had planned to stay in decided differently and had given our pre-booked rooms away! An extra 16 miles along increasingly hilly terrain meant aches and pains started to show with the culmination being a climb over Col Toulmaine at 288 metres. Fast downhill runs with Jono recording the top speed of the trip at 45.3 mph and Roger pedalling furiously trying to catch him.   (Roger is now planning to get drops & clips-ins). Support crew had done a great job booking a new hotel overlooking the lake @ Huelgoat. Whilst enjoying a beer in the evening sun and a great crispy pizza we all looked forward to cycling just 40 miles tomorrow, to the legendary Martin Patisserie cake shop in Morlaix followed by our final destination, Roscoff, and a fine celebratory lunch.
 
 
Friday 4th April 
Huelgoat - Roscoff
 
 

The final push - a beautiful still,  chilly day greeted us for our last 40 miles. Very cold down in the valleys and a couple of long climbs.

The final push - a beautiful still,  chilly day greeted us for our last 40 miles. Very cold down in the valleys and a couple of long climbs lasting over 4k each before we launched ourselves on a fast 10k, downhill run into Morlaix.

Visited the Gourmet cake stop of the Wheelers, the fantastic Martin Patiserrie that Hilary and Paul were raving about - Jono has already decided that the Wheelers Gourmet Guide is going international and this will certainly be included.

Left Morlaix along the coast road but decided to go up over the hills when we saw cold mist  cloud rolling in from the sea. An easy last 20 miles before we met up with the support vehicle for obligatory team photo at the Roscoff town sign (see below). Then into Centre Villa to a good restaurant Paul knew for a celebratory lunch of Moules & Frites - how good it tasted compared to a Go Bar & energy drink.

 

 

 

 

Up to St. Pol-de-Leon mid afternoon where we plan to celebrate Hilary's birthday with champagne. Sunshine, champagne and a feeling of great achievement (or is it relief????), was this the best trip ever? - ask us after the scars & backsides heal. Who's for the next challenge in 2009? 

 

 

 

 

 
 

 

Summary
Miles: Approx 800 miles
Hours in Saddle: 62 hours : 09 mins
Average Speed: 12.4 mph
Accidents/ Falling Off: 3
Motorway Cycling: 2 (almost 3)
Lurgy Victims: 3
Punctures: 4
Brake Blocks: 6
New Tyres: 2
Bike fixing: 2
Police Escorts: 1
Bike Escorts: 1
Flower Pots destroyed: 1


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