Friday, 29 June 2012

London to Paris - Day 3

Somebody must of put something in our dinner, because we rolled out of Amiens a proper peloton.  Nearly everyone was two by two and in a group - a total transformation, things were beginning to click!  Better weather conditions helped, we'd lost the rain and the wind and it was brightening up, spirits were good, we were on our way to Paris.

Day three was all about getting to the lunch stop within a time window.  We had to be at the lunch stop in order to merge with all the other groups, so that a consolidated peloton could ride into Central Paris.  OK, so we know what we had to do.

Stage 3 Route Profile
The fly in the ointment was the fact that the lunch was 125km away.  People were tired from the hard day prior and the road was rolling from the 80km point, just after the climbing stage.   Talking of which, after the previous days success on the climb, there was a lot of banter flying around and the race was definitely on for the King of the Mountains 2.0.

The first 30km people were getting their legs going and it was mostly uphill long drags with a climb, which then fed us into a nice 30km downhill section before it got more rolling.  The pace was good on the downhill section and the group got disciplined again. 

King of the Mountains 2.0?

My Garmin had given up the ghost on the morning of day three, so I had no idea of what distance we'd covered, as we rolled along I was at the back of the group chatting and I saw a load of guys ping off the front in the distance - we'd arrived at the climb.  Bugger!   My position was terrible, I was right at the back with sixty or so riders in front of me, I had no chance.  Nevertheless, I gave chase and moved right through the group.

The funny thing was, my ride buddy - Jonathan Durling of Skoda - had been talking about feeling so so during the day and as I looked ahead, who should be leading the charge but him!  Felt like that time when Lance Armstrong tricked Jan Ullrich :-)

I put a burst in and came within about twenty metres of the front two, but they'd already crossed the line.  It was a great climb with a long drag in, then some steep switchbacks.  I did notice again that I felt strong on the climbs, which was a great feeling.

As we stopped at the top, we waited for the back markers to join us.  We were temporarily held as the group one riders shot up the climb, what a pace.  World Mountain bike champion Karl Platt crested first and took the jersey for the three days - hugely deserved.

The Clock is Ticking

Clicking over the 100km mark, time was against us.  We'd stopped for a pee break and one of the ride captains asked me whether I'd assist in keeping the middle of the group together.  We were fracturing on the climbs and the group was stringing out, the time window was closing and we had to push on or we wouldn't get lunch.

Stage Three -Amiens to Paris
Encouraging people to keep the wheel in front was where it was at.  It wasn't easy, the riders were tired and the terrain was still rolling.  However, we did it.  Rolling in to the lunch stop, we had fifteen minutes to eat, so it was straight to the food table and cram as much in as we could.  No sooner had we necked a baguette, we were being asked to get ready to depart for the big ride in.  Quick replenish of the water bottles, shoes on, zip up - looking good.

Have some of that!

This was the moment everyone had been waiting for, the whole peloton of 465 riders rolling into Paris.  We turned left out of the stop and went straight into a steep climb, probably the second steepest of the day.  Thankfully, the group was moving quite slow as all rider capabilities were at different positions in the peloton.

We took it steady, got up it and enjoyed a great descent.  Morale was great now, we were on the home straight.  Motorbikes zoomed up the peloton, around 40 outriders stopping the traffic on the way in to Paris.  We sat behind Karl Platt, the winner of the climbing jersey and rode in. 

The peloton was moving at a good pace but it did stop and start a bit as roads narrowed or climbs came, comms were good, plenty of shouts of "stopping" or "rolling" fed back from the front.

Crossing the Seine

As we crossed the river, we knew Paris was just a short stretch away.  Gliding through the outskirts of Paris, drivers honked their horns, pedestrians took photo's and people looked on in amazement at the size of the peloton, bigger than anything you'll see in Paris for sure.

There was a real party atmosphere as we rolled onto the fabled cobbles up toward the Arc de Triomphe, which had been totally blocked by the motorbikes - awesome.  As we rolled down towards the Eiffel tower I spotted a Manchester Wheelers rider and tapped him on the back to say hello.  He looked at me and said - "you're not Phil Jones are you?" - it was a reader of the blog, of all the places in the world!

Then we saw the Eifflel tower and we'd made it.  We rolled around the back to the finish line where hundreds of friends and family plus support crew and bystanders had gathered.  To applause, cheers and whistles we rolled in.  That moment was quite emotional as you saw dads see their kids and wives, as I realised that I'd just finished this great event, I got a big lump in my throat.

Giving Jon from Skoda a big hug, we set off to claim our Moet + Chandon and find the other members of the Skoda team who had arrived prior to us, the whole place was buzzing and the sun was shining, what a finish.

Me riding through the French poppyfields

Hand Cyclists

We walked by the amazing hand cyclists from Stoke Mandeville hospital, who'd ground out the distance and hills on their bikes.  They had been an inspiration to all the riders on the trip, if they could do it on handbikes, then no matter what effort it took all riders should man up and get it done, whatever the weather. 

Speaking to one of them, I was amazed at the sheer grit and determination they showed.   They'd had little sleep, long days and poor weather to contend with.  They'd bought the bike that Jimmy Saville rode in the Milk Race to Paris, fully re-furbished as a tribute to the man and all he'd done for their cause.  A real bottom lip wobbler for sure and 100% inspiring.

Stephen Roche

This was the 25th of Stephen Roche winning the Triple Crown (Tour de France, Giro D'Italia and World Championships in 1987).  He was the star attraction at the front of the group riding the same refurbished Bataglin bike he rode in 1987.  Roche was accompanied by Maurizio Fondriest and World Paralympic double world Champion Colin Lynch.  Leading the entire group in were the hand cyclists.

Roche was clearly emotional when he rolled in and subsequently tweeted "Thank you to all and everyone one on - it has been a most amazing experience. Very emotional & could not have been better!"  His Battaglin bike was beautiful, a work of art.

Stephen Roche with his re-furbished 1987 Battaglin Bike

Summing It All Up

I've got a few more posts to come about the gala dinner, the key memories, the best photo's and kit lists if you plan to do it in the future.

For now, l have to say that a few days after the event it feels like there is a bit of a hole.  Some great friendships were forged, some brilliant banter was had, we had all kinds of weather and my own riding has improved no end.  Some particular headlines were: -

  1. I've validated that I can comfortably ride a multi-stage event and at a pace faster than I thought. 
  2. My Onix RH Pro bike performed without missing a beat.
  3. My strength has definitely improved and with that my climbing.
  4. I got a huge kick out of helping others and am so glad that I stayed in group six.
  5. I would love to do it all again next year. 
Finishing L2P - Yes!

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