Cycling

Tour de France

750 937 Gerard O'Connor

Stage 21 …Cruise into Paris

Well I’ve just completed every single stage and every single inch of the 2017 TDF…. what an amazing feeling and sense of pride.

A mere 60 mile ride into Paris punctuated with stops at Versailles and the Eiffel Tower, Angela,  Charlotte and Jess were waiting at The Eiffel Tower with a chilled bottle of Dom Perignom … absolutely prefect ……then a charge through Paris to a lap of the Champ elysees… the infamous finish to every single TDF…

Absolute elation at the end of nearly 2350 miles and climbing mountain ranges throughout France.

I intend to write a bit more in summary of the whole experience… but for now its more champagne and a cruise down the Seine and try to take in this truly incredible experience.

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Stage 20 Marseille TT 22km

TOUR DE FRANCE

An amateur should think long and hard before attempting one of these stages, 2 would probably necessitate a visit to a doctor, 3 would require a psychiatrist – anymore and you should be checking that person has written a will.
Bernard Hinault, 5 times Tour de France winner

Kind of sums it up really …20 stages complete, 1 gentle ride into Paris tomorrow

Could I really fulfill a lifetimes ambition and complete the 21 stages of the TDF … really ??

Paris is in touching distance…

It wasn’t really a TIme Trial it was a gentle ride around the port of Marseille and a sharp ramp up to the city’s beautiful basilica. It will be a technical ride for the PROS as it winds it way around the streets at the speeds they travel , for us it was a ride to savour , it was an opportunity to just turn the legs ?

Now it’s a TGV ride up to Paris… full of excitement at the thought of this epic  journey coming to an end.

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Embrun to Salons la Provence 233km … Longest stage on the tour

All the riders wanted to do was survive and get through this stage.

At 233km (nearly 150 miles) it was going to be a long day in searing temperatures riding through the French Provences.

The stage started with some lumpy ascents which asked more of the legs than they were perepared for at this stage. In no time at all the sun was high in the sky as the heating had been turned up to maximum.

The weather has been a huge factor in the 3 weeks tour and instead of the warm temperatures I had expected throughout,it has gone from extremely cold , torrential downpours, thunderstorms, gale force winds, to crosswinds and tropical heat .. with no 2 days the same.

Today was all about group riding, finding similar standard riders who could share a 5 minute stint in front and the first half of the ride was eaten up  quickly as I found a group of 8 which shared the load.

The second half of the ride was hard work, temperatures soared and the headwinds / crosswinds were so strong that it started throwing bikes side ways in the road … gusts were estimated at about 40km/h…, after over 100 miles of riding this was proving difficult despite the relatively flat Provence region.

There was 1 final Col (Cat 3) which a group of 5 races up as if it wasn’t there , that is one thing I’ve learnt, my climbing skills now have improved dramatically, a look right saw Mount Ventoux and a final look at the Alps … yep I kicked your ass didn’t I ???.

We finally rolled into Surs la Provence drained with the heat and wind, inside feeling quietly emotional that the work was nearly complete… Could I really complete the TOur de France … perhaps the lifetimes ambition was now becoming a distinct possibility.

Food and another early night … Paris was now in touching distance

 

 

677 920 Gerard O'Connor

Briacon to Briacon 202km Final Alps stage

This was a ride that was feared by a lot of riders and was ‘get round in any shape’ mentality. Follwiing immediately in from yesterday’s gruelling stage 17, the ride included a cat3 climb, cat 1 Col de Vars and the infamous HC climb Col d’Izoard the final col (mountain climb) if the tour.

It was warm from the off as we set out at a gentle pace. I promised myself to set in the main group and try and keep as much energy for the climbing which didn’t start until 120 km.

The scenery was breathtaking, the best all tour, and legs didn’t seem in too much discomfort at the gentle pace.

Huges lakes, gorges,Valleys and treelined mountains this stage wins for pure beauty.

We were able to admire it all as the ride was a mixture of rolling hills and flats,very much easier than what  was ahead.

I spent the most of the ride with Gav who has kept me entertained throughout these last 3 weeks… it’s been a ‘bubble’ existence that quite frankly has flown over from the riding perspective.

The Cols came soon enough,I’m not sure whether it’s because we have have y led so much harder but we glided over first Col and plunged down the mountain heading for the’ easy’ that was Izoard.

The temperatures were now in the high 30s and climb gavea scent of pine as we cycled up through the pine tree lined roads. The road then became exposed to the full heat and almost a desert like landscape and elevations ofup to 12%… but it was my day … the final 5 km of the averaged 10%but became I had ridden gently early on I seemed to cruise up the top without difficulty and the raced down the20 km descent with a great deal of satisfaction.

TheAlps are over … it’s been amazing first time experience riding these mountains,one that will live in the mind for years to come.

Early start in the morning as we head South for the longest stage of the tour … it’s not all over yet !!!!

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La Mure to Serre Chevelier 202km The Alps

One of the toughest stages of the whole tour as we made our way back to the Alps.

2 HC climbs (uncategorised) a Cat1 and a cat3 meant this day had over 18000 feet of climbing in one day …that’s well on the way to climbing Everest!!

warm conditions at the start of the day for the Cat 1 climb as the beauty of the Alps became apparent as light clouds lay in the valley as we cycled above the clouds.

All very scenic but there was setious work to be done over the day, Colde Fer, col de telegraph and the Galibier are well renowned climbs in the tour over the years and together meant we had in excess of 40 km of ascending at some gradients of 12%.

This stage on its own would prove difficult,with now nearly 2000 miles in the legs it was proving all of that as we are into the climbs, when the climbs are so long and steep you end up riding on your own as you’re able to ride at your own rythem and pace. as the day wore on the temperatures rose which made climbing extremely hot and sweaty, and I was desperate for any slight cloud cover or shaded area by trees as we climbed.

This time I really couldn’t take in the breathtaking views, I needed all my focus to grind a tempo to get me to the top.

The reward 30 km of downhill with a tail wind .. exhilarating and scary as I sped through the switch backs and eventually onto straight roads at break kneck speeds … the hard work was worth it …

Day 1 of 2 in the Alps … tomorrow sees another big day with huge climbs … Focus on completing that stage and the light is certainly there to see for Paris… however not too complacent… there is more work to be done.

Another bit of good news .. 2 nights in the same hotel .. result ..

food and rooms are perfect ??

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Le Puy en Velay to Romans sur isere 168km

Today was all about getting through the day and conserving as much energy as possible for the demanding next 2 stages in the Alps. Stages that stand between me completing the Tour de France. Following stages are difficult (one in length) but by reputation alone the Alps will prove a huge challeng.The rest day was gratefully received and a bit to early start, 8am we rolled out of the lovely  Le Puy en Velay in glorious sunshine., within 20 minutes  the weather changed again and we were caught in another torrential downpour, a permanent feature of this years tour.

A couple of catergorised climbs in the first half of the ride didn’t cause too many issues as we nipped along at a fair pace.

The reward for the morning part of the ride was a very long descent on wide open roads and great tarmac and we are into the miles through the Ardeche area of France.

The final 50km ran alongside the Rhone and in the distance the group could see what was ahead in the distance, the Alps… the do look huge …totally different, obviously, to my skiing experiences when the snow capped mountains are replaced by lush greenery, I may not feel the same about their beauty over the few days.

Group riding got us to the finish all in tact and fairly generally fresh, amazing to think that riding over 100 miles in day is now part of the recovery process….

16 stages complete … dare not look to far ahead, but a sense of achievement to be this far …. the next days will no doubt shape the outcome.

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Laissac Severac L’eglise to Le Puy en Velay 192km

 A short transfer to our next stage start. Today looked like a challenging stage with Category climbs including 2 Cat 1s. It turned out to be my hardest day …. started physically tired and with heavy legs , I made hard work of the first Cat 1 climb and although the climbing wasn’t brutal with 1500 miles in the legs they were made to feel much harder. Technical issues on the bike made the morning ride difficult to say the least , though they were resolved at the first feedstation by mechanics.

The weather then had its say (again), thunderstorms and torrential rain seemed to have followed us on this tour and many riders including myself were caught out without the right clothing as we cycled through the moors in atrocious conditions. We made it to the next feed station were we able to warm up in blankets and foil before heading off again, some riders decided it was tooo much and called it a day !!

The architecture changed over the following miles as we rolled through beautiful French towns all of which seemed to have wonderful churches and chateauxs and the occasional castle !!

Legs were feeling a little stronger as we started the final Cat 1 of the day Col de Peyra, just over 8 km rising to 19% toward the end of the climb.

Relieved to complete the climb,again in a thunderstorm, the remaining 30 km was mainly downhill thank goodness and on a  fairly quick riding day we  arrived at Le Puy en Velay, where we get to spend 2 nights in the same hotel and our second rest rest day.

That is an absolute treat ….. weary body and legs that is exactly what is needed !!?

 

750 652 Gerard O'Connor

Blagnac to Rodez 181km – Flat

There are some days just worth waiting for ….and this was one of them.

2 category 3 climbs (you should all know what they are by now !) were all that stood between us completing a gentle stage after days of gruelling mountain challenges.

Most of the riders took the opportunity of using the day as a recovery ride,if you can class 181km as recovery.

Despite everyone’s thinking to ride gently the pace was steady throughout as we racked up kilometre after kilometre, overcast and warm meant riding conditions were perfect.

No major incidents today, landscape was flat and picturesque and all riders seems to get through the ride unscathed.

A couple of climbs towards the end didn’t deter the good spirits of everyone in the group, and I’ve had the pleasure of riding with Gavin for a few days now, an ex Durham Uni graduate, who is quite frankly the funniest guy I’ve met, you can hear him before you see him and his banter has keep the peloton amused throughout.

We rolled into a quaint French town Rodez and  to a very ‘French ‘ hotel … tomorrow holds a bigger challenge, but a gentle day and rested legs tonight and I’m sure we will all give it go again in the mountains.

750 689 Gerard O'Connor

Saint Girons to Foix 105km

Don’t be fooled by th shorter distance of today’s stage. 3 Cateegory 1 climbs the last ramps up to 20% in places and really isn’t what you want to hear in the briefing on the 2 hour transfer to the start.

Tired legs and minds as we all tried to grab some shut eye on the bus knowing although a short stage was going to be tough once again.

We are now at Stage 13  so nearly 2/3 rds through the tour… has it been as I expected .. No it’s far harder  The lack of sleep early  or late transfers and the fact you e got to cycle 100 mile plus each day means your body is physically drained meaning you’re cycling on reserves and generally on a permanently tired basis… but hey that’s what I signed up for so just get on with it ..Whinger !!

Red hot from the off , after coffee in a local cafe in Saint Girons , which must of wondered what hit it as over 100 cyclists descend on it at 8M !! Remembering to take on plenty of fluids today (as usual) , these mountains were exposed so you were in direct sunlight most of the day, you were soaking riding up those climbs.

Today was about getting through it , legs were really heavy and I saw a number of guys pushing up the final Cat 1 … be strong dont get off or you won’t get back on !!…

The top of the climb had its reward …14miles of pure downhill … exhilarating and great fun .. racking up great speeds as we rolled into Foix.

Here we go again,, another 2 coach transfer to the hotel for tomorrow’s stage.

The next 2 days are a little gentler in terms of climbing … The Pyrenees has certainly shown it has a bite … Ouch !!

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Pau to Peregudus 222km Welcome to the Pyrenees

Today was always going to be a real test, a combination of 6 catergorised climbs and 1 HC climb ( you know how difficult that is if you’ve been paying attention) and  total mileage of in excess of 135miles.

The first 60 miles was a little uneventful thankfully, as we skirted around the foothills of the Pyrenees occasionally daring to look up at what was ahead of us.

The second half of the day was a brute, as the warm conditions and miles started to its tole, we were welcomed to the Pyrenees with some hugely difficult climbs.

They were long steep but bizarrely attractive mainly tree lined until you popped out onto a hairpin to see spectacular views of the mountains.

The day was peppered with one climb after another and it became a mental challenge as well as physical as the day wore on.

There was stories of riders calling it a day further back as conditions and climbs proved to much.

After 10 hours the longest I’ve ever been on a bike I arrived weary at the ski resort of Peregudus. All the ski resorts in the past I’ve arrived on a  bus … much easier!!

Quick massage shower then dinner then you try and get some sleep for the next day… whatcha starts with a 2 hour coach trip to Saint Girons.

Talk about heros … I certainly felt a great sense of achievement, they seem to rack up one after the other, however I learnt that some riders were out until 11pm … now that is committed  Just as a footnote ..we climbed nearly 17000 feet today … that’s nearly 2/3rds of Mount Everest in a day …Not bad eh ?.