Wednesday, 27 June 2012

London to Paris - Day 2

Calais to Amiens

If there's one thing that ruins a cyclists day, it's bad weather.  After my techno music filled night and little sleep, I drew back the curtains to see a blustery day outside.  Not just wind, but big gusts.  I'd just about dried out my shoes from the day before with the hair dryer in the room and got mentally prepared for a hard day at the office - and it was.

Day two is slightly peculiar.  You're not setting off (like day one) or heading to the finish (day three), you're in the middle bit, it feels like no mans land.  Arriving at the warehouse where the bikes were stored, I gave my Onix RH Pro a clean with some baby wipes I'd packed and nipped out to the Mavic service van for some more oil on the chain.

A Very Filthy Onix RH Pro after Day 2

Just a few of the L2P bikes stacked up
Not long after, we were called and assembled for the depart.  As soon as we got out in the open, all those lads running 50mm deep section wheels soon knew about it.  The wind was gusting around 50kmh and catching their rims like wind sails - precarious.  Then the rain started and it promised to be a miserable days riding.

There were some tired people after the previous hundred miles, so the peloton eased out slowly, waking peoples legs up. After about ten miles, I moved up to the front with the ride captain to give him some company and take some wind for the group behind.

The tempo was quite slow, for obvious reasons, and the group still wasn't riding that smartly with lots of riders chasing up the outside of the peloton only to bounce back down again as soon as we hit a hill.  There were gaps in the group too as riders nervously held back from riding too close.

The route profile was quite hard going, I think it was the harder of the three days all considered, so the weather conditions just amplified everything.

Hero of the day was Eurosport commentator - David Harmon - who came back to G6 to help out some of the back markers.  I've never seen one man push so many people up hills and he was recognised by the ride captains with a special award at the gala dinner for his work.

King of the Mountains

Riding on the front of the group, after around 35km we reached the climbing stage that group one and two raced up.  Competition was intensifying with some of the riders in group six and a few of us fancied the climb and sprint stage as a little competition.

As I was on the front, I saw the flag coming, put it in a big gear and put an effort down to sprint off the front of the group.  I got the jump on everyone and created a gap of around 50m as I then settled in to a tempo up the climb.

Looking over my shoulder, three riders had come after me and one caught me half way up.  I looked at him and he was blowing hard, took a glance at my heart rate monitor and I had about another 20bpm capacity so I put the hammer down and accelerated away to the crest.

I punched the air as I went over, being 90kg I'm not exactly gods greatest gravity defying rider, however I felt that my totalcyclingperformance strength training gave me that extra something on the day and I went for it -  polka dot here we come.

My ride companion and I  had been debating whether to change groups that morning, we both were capable to ride Group four by all accounts.  We'd set the lunch stop as our decision point to move and the ride captain overhearing our chat asked us if we wouldn't mind stopping in group six and helping out, he'd seen we were perhaps a little more capable.

With the challenging conditions we'd been able to help out quite a bit with long tows on the front and encouragement for others.  We concluded that we would stay, both of us agreeing that we wanted to see the group succeed all the way to Paris, we'd begun to bond with many of the riders and the banter and camaraderie was building nicely.

Baguette Sir?

Lunch couldn't have come sooner.  Everyone was finding it hard, relentless wind and rain had battered us for hours and lunch was at the 110km point, every corner you turned, you hoped to see the stop.  I rolled in, hung my bike, booked straight on the massage service and grabbed my lunch.

I've never enjoyed a cheese and ham baguette more in my life!  There were also some delicious french pastries - I posted them, I don't think I chewed any of it.  Seeing my fellow group six compatriots, I could see the same.  A gentle nod of acknowledgment and a smile spoke a thousand words that day, we'd earned our stripes.

Shortly after, I jumped on the massage table for a quick leg rub down.  Then it was over to my bag, fresh pair of socks, more food for the pockets and we were off again.

Day Two Route

One brilliant thing about this event is that people come from all over the world to ride it.  In our group, we had people from Australia, New Zealand and a team of nine riders from Hong Kong.

Road cycling is booming there and they were all riding very expensive bikes, $10,000 and more.  One rider - Robin - told me he'd bought no less than five road bikes in the last year, totalling $50,000 - wow! They were all very nice chaps, although they did significantly shorter distances on their rides, normally 100 miles took them five days, so a few of them were in and out of the support van taking a rest.

Incident City

We had a couple of small incidents en route.  One where a rider dropped a bottle and slammed on the brakes, the following rider went straight into the back of him and then over the top.  I was just behind them, so avoided the crash.  Later on, someones Garmin flipped off, so I pulled over to get it for him (he'd stopped too) and then paced him back to the group. 

There were some heroic efforts on the day.  Riders who were really having it tough, grinding out the hills and showing gritty determination, special mentions to Kellie and Claire who both showed some real metal.

Claire deservedly picked up our ride captains award for effort at the gala dinner on Saturday evening.  We had a seventy year old rider - Gio from Spain - too, who we all warmed too and helped out, as he was finding the going tough.

The Longest Day

All in, group six was out for eleven hours.  Ride time was just over eight hours, but with all the stops, crashes and pulling over for faster groups, we had a long long day on the road. I'd done my fair amount of pushing riders up hills, pacing and wind riding, so I was shattered when we reached the hotel.  I say reached the hotel as we weren't sure we were going to get there!  Our coach driver got a little lost and the transfer took forty-five minutes, cutting into our precious resting and prep times.

A Long Day with Plenty of Breaks - not breakaways!
A cold bath for muscle recovery, some scoff, a couple of pints and a few laughs later, it was back to the room, dry the kit off, get tomorrows kit out and try and get some sleep.  It was the worst conditions the event had seen in the nine or so years it had been running, so day three was going to be unpredictable.  Would we all wake up?  Would our legs work?  Would we make it to Paris?  Tomorrow would be the big one, lights off - night night.

To be continued....

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