Right, where was I? Oh yeah, the CP1 hotel. Ultan and Mike were dozing in the lobby when I arrived. I got my brevet card stamped and decided to eat some stuff from the hotel and get some sleep so checked in. If I had’ve left then, I would’ve been 4th rider on the road. Next time, Gadget, next time. I’d set my alarm arbitrarily for 2hrs. I can’t remember but probably showered and did some undercarriage maintenance (based on my now infamous hotel scissors tweet!).
For some strange reason I woke after only an hour – I guess the race mentality does strange things to your brain/sleep patterns. So, I was up and out and heading for the required parcours – the climb of Col de Ceyssat. It was damp. In fact, it was raining, so I stopped in a bus shelter and put on my new silver RAB rain jacket (thanks again skinny!). I don’t remember any issues with the climb, just tapped it out on mostly gentle gradient I think. I took photos of some columns at the back of the carpark as instructed by Mike – this would act as proof I’d done the climb in case my tracker wasn’t working properly.
Headed back down and got breakfast at some cafe/bakery. Judging by my tweets at the time, the croque was a little bit on the hot side.
Cruising north east now heading towards CP2 in Switzerland. From memory I quite liked these roads. Nice scenery, little bit of rolling terrain, cooler weather and a feeling of progress. I passed someone filling bottles and lifted the pace to get a gap on them. Of course it was the last town for miles and I then ran out of water because I’m an idiot.
Charolles, Burgundy – my first dot watchers! By complete accident (I missed a turn in a town) I rode down a different route parallel to my plan and on the corner someone was waving me down. It was James Hayden’s father and sister! They were dot watching and had come out to meet riders. How awesome!
I don’t remember much of this section of the route. I do recall some rerouting on meeting some more gravel roads and some long rolling sections that were quite enjoyable if a bit lumpy for a fat man. Finding food and drink in France on a Sunday (or was it Monday?) was a pain – stopped at a food van and they couldn’t even do a cold baguette because it was going to take 30min to cook/heat a baguette loaf! So, basically junk food consumed all day. I was saved for the evening section when I stumbled on a pizza shop window in a small French town – the baker used to work in west London! Saved half in a bag for later. Various bits reminded me of other countries but it was cornfields like you’d see in movies from the USA that stood out.
I dropped some coins and my glasses on the road just to keep myself occupied. Now the altitudes started ramping up while the temps went down (down to at least 5 deg C according to the Garmin). I don’t recall when, but probably in the early hours, I attempted to bivvy in a sort of field near to some shops, beside the road. It was kind of a hardware store sector. It failed – just like my UK bivvy attempts I was shivering very soon after lying down but unlike my UK attempts I didn’t bother hanging around to force sleep, I just packed straight up and got back on the bike before things got really cold. It was maybe 500m of altitude but it was foggy and clammy and I was wearing most of my available layers as I trudged onwards. I was in Crotenay, France apparently but not much else was being given up. I knew the terrain continued to rise because I could see lights above me and it was only when a truck went past that it illuminated a tunnel of tall trees alongside the road. I find the French name “Ardon” amusing as I find even lower gears on this silly but practical 32T cassette.
“Hard to find water at night in rural France when your entire world is a 20 metre semi-circle of light.“
“Late night CCTV footage from unmanned service stations across France is me with my hands down my shorts.“
“Last night sucked. Cold pizza, no drink for hours. Then find every shop open. Lots of kit changes, everything chaffs different!“
The sun rises and I dive into any open establishment to refuel. I find a hotel and they agree to sell me some breakfast. I think for maybe 3EU I get a coffee, some water and a pastry or two. Later down the road I pull over and head into a tabac where I buy up a load of sweets and softdrinks. Steerer bung and/or headset is loose again. It has been torqued correctly a couple of times prior to the race so it’s not a wrenching error – I don’t think the bung grips the steerer well enough.
Switzerland! I’m clearly riding where the Tour de France went this year as there’s TdF graffiti all over the roads. Flying downhill is great!
What’s not so great is realising at the bottom of the massive hill your route is some craptastic off-road creek-side path that ends after 200m. Bollocks.
I have a £30 (or whatever the Swiss Francs equivalent was) coffee and wander around lost for a while until I climb the silly 13% road out of the valley back up to a main road. This is all ad hoc navigation based on looking at zoomed out Garmin maps – I would do this a lot during the 12 days of my race.
“Saddle tearing me to pieces. Have to change position every few strokes like a bmx“
I’m hurting and already looking for a bike shop so I can buy a new saddle or a gel cover. Although I ordered the bike in March, due to various issues it wasn’t built until 2-3 weeks before the race. So I’d thrown on a saddle I’d used for PBP but one that I knew hurt me. It was hurting me now!
After lots of small field lanes I found a kebab van and stopped for chips and drinks. It was quite warm now. Further down the road, maybe after Neuchatel lakeside I stop at another cafe.
“Stopped for more food. That’s code for using a cafés toilet. Met Swiss guy (no, not in the bog!) who knew about TCR. He knew rider #146.“
Met another family of dot watchers. I think they gave me a coke or something. It was cool to have random people cheering you on!
Keep riding through the day and struggle all the way with the ISM PN1.1 that’s ‘tearing me a new arsehole’, literally. I’m quite comfortable on other ISM saddles but I think the extra padding on this model is really damaging me. I pass Interlaken – it’s beautiful but quite different to when I was last here in 2005 – after it had suffered pretty devastating floods along with the rest of Europe. As I get closer to CP2 Grindelwald I conduct an on-road interview with Leo and some others in a media van where I detail my undercarriage woes. I’m sure they lap it up (gross, not like THAT!). The climbing up here is hard work, the scenery really beautiful but most of it is lost on me as all my concentration is taken up trying to fight the pain.
I finally arrive at the Grindelwald hotel and conduct further interviewage (yeah, that’s a word, trust me) and enjoy sitting on a different seat. Ultan arrives a little bit later. I’m broken and since it’s the Swiss National Day and none of the bike shops are open I decide to book a room and go to bed here. Mistake. The hotel turns out to be shit – they don’t do food without pre-booking (dafuq?!), they don’t have curtains in the tiny room and it’s the afternoon so I can’t sleep. I ride into town and grab some junk food. Shower and wash my knicks and find a busted thread which might’ve contributed to my issues. Are there any restaurants nearby? No, you have to ride back into town. Screw that! I finish my bag of peanut M&Ms and try to sleep, preparing to find a bike shop tomorrow. I feel guilty about letting Ultan go and sleeping when I don’t need to so my alarm goes from 8am to 6am to 4am to 3:30am. After night falls, I eventually fall asleep.
“CP2. Regret checking in. Shit hotel but need to shower to test second skin solution to arse blisters. Ultan carried on.“
“Daylight in room. No hotel food! 4 Franc for bottle water. Fail. Shoulda kept going until night. Race over. Will try to buy saddle 2moro.“
“Trains passing too! No food, no darkness. Dumb move on my part.“
“If I leave at night, food is scarce. May as well get a full night, tackle big climbs tomorrow. Brain and legs feel good too. Damn.“