Monday 21 September 2015

A Bridge too Far.... 3 Days from Frankfurt to Paris

A Bridge too Far.... 3 Days from Frankfurt to Paris

      I looked at the bridge, I looked at the gaping chasm, and I looked back at the team, gradually pulling up to a halt in front of the 'Pont Coupe'. "Well that's a shame" I thought, although the words that came out may have been more expressive. A quick survey of the surroundings offered no solace, and my brain, addled after a hard day of driving from London to Frankfurt, backed up with successive 140 and 145 mile days, was, how should I put it? Well... 'b*ggered' I think is the technical term. More riders arrived, the slower ones straggling up to the pont, and then the back marking leader and the support van. Usually, closed roads can be negotiated by cyclists, as the foot path is often still open, or alternatively a quick shimmy around a couple of bollards will suffice, and a brief walk through a dusty building site, and 'jobs a good 'un' - but today, a large vertical drop from the flyover, mesh fencing and an angry railway line stood between us and the next serviceable piece of tarmac....

 "Lets just cross the railway line!" said one daring individual. Mental images of the 17:10 steaming through cyclists and carbon fibre filled my imagination. "We are NOT crossing the line guys!". I looked at the assembled gallery of cycling finery; Argon, Cervelo, Cipollini, and even a stealth Colnago with classic matt black finish and Di2 electronic gearing. I next turned to my trusty Garmin, which for 285 miles hadn't missed a beat, at first not revealing any alternatives. Ah ha - I spied a minor road running parallel to the train tracks. Lifting my eyes into the real world however, showed nothing more than a couple of slightly worn tracks across a ploughed field. "So - its up to you guys!" it always seems best to me in such circumstances to try and ensure that the team are 'bought in' to the next course of action, rather than enforcing a plan. "You can either retrace and add a further 10km, or you can take this dirt track for 800m? What do you think?". Like a Djokovic return of serve "How rough is the track?" came the response.
 Although I have criss crossed Europe by bicycle more times than I can recall, covering thousands of miles, and more than 25 countries, I didn't recall ever having been down this particular dirt track, so I didn't feel qualified to answer this question. "Look... look... its Mark! Whats he doing?" - as I turned around I could see a lone figure scrambling up the side of a tiny vertical metal ladder to inspect the half built bridge. Doom. Disaster. Judge in red robes and white wig. Cue my imagination again... "Did you honestly do everything in your control to ensure these riders were kept safe? ... You are found guilty of gross negligence... 20 years...." ... Back in the real world again... "Mark - please come back here! We are not on a climbing expedition!" Another synopsis of the options followed, as the 'cross the train tracks option' was firmly and finally dismissed, and 'Team Full Carbon Deep Section Racing Wheels' looked at their bikes dismally. "Well - its up to you - we shall have one leader to return up the road for the long loop - and those who are up for it... follow me - down the dirt track!"
 8 riders bumped down the gentle grade into the field, and I smiled to myself. Mr 'Brand New Colnago C60' was with us, embracing the moment, and getting stuck in to the adventure. If you're going to make an epic journey anywhere, you're going to encounter some excitement. You're going to experience some unpredictability, and some unusual situations. Its part of what makes journies exciting, and from this summer's experiences, its a part of the ride that people remember, and that makes it special. A ride that turns from a straightforward 8 hours into a gargantuan 12. A dry day that delivers a biblical downpour more suited to the Monsoon on the subcontinent. A small backroad that happens to be a 20km long Swedish logging trail, through stunning Nordic countryside. Or a succession of villages with closed up cafes that forces us to beg mercy for a water refill on a Champagne Viticulteur at the roadside, who turns out to be a thoroughly decent chap with a special reserve of Orangina and Coca Cola. Or even the 6 punctures in an hour at the roadside when its p*ssing down. These are the special moments, the experiences that you just don't get when you drive to Westfield, and have your lunch in Pizza Express. Nor do you get them when you go on that all inclusive package holiday in the Dominican Republic. When we set off on a 400 mile pedal across borders, rivers, mountains and forests, we know that some special and unique experiences await. We just don't know what they'll be. It's not detailed in the itinerary. And that's why we love it. If you want certainty, if you want to know how the day is going to shake down, by all means, go the the 'Costa del Boring'. And you'll know what time dinner is going to be. You'll know where lunch is going to be, and you'll know where the toilets are. But if you are seeking something special. Something that will live with you for more than a fortnight in your memory, a story you'll still be recounting at dinner in 5 year's time. Do it. Come on... let's get ready for the next incredible, sometimes bumpy, sometimes arriving after dark, and maybe with a chance of showers ride.
 Incidentally, what happened to the 17 riders at the Pont Coupe? Of course, they made it to the hotel. There had been talk of finding a swanky starred restaurant for eats that evening. But in the correct spirit, with 150 miles and stories collected along the way, the group slouched in the lobby bar in smelly lycra, with pints of ice cold Kronenbourg. At dinner that evening, Mr 'Brand New Colnago C60' turned to me..."its bloody good this food isn't it?" ... after a proper days riding, mostly anything tastes good... another ride anyone?
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Thursday 25 June 2015

Cycling from Stockholm to Copenhagen

  Sweden raced upon us after a flurry of events, and so I had little time to consider, or even read up the country's background. And so we punted off through the old cobbled streets of Gamlastan, taking a spin around the Stockholm waterfront, collecting together our team, and beginning our journey South, on a voyage to ride to Copenhagen, hoping to discover a little more about this enigmatic piece of Scandinavia. The first thing we noticed was the incredible network and infrastructure for cyclists. Dedicated flyovers, wide lanes, well surfaced tracks, and seemingly the whole city covered by cycle routes, this is certainly a bike friendly nation. Riding out from the centre, all the while that we found ourselves on busy roads, we were offered bike lanes, or often completely separate paths to guide us out safely. And once we had fully escaped the capital's clutches, we started to see the wide open, and vibrant green countryside that would be with us all the way to Helsingborg. Around 40km outside the city, the settlements had thinned considerably, the flowers were blooming, and we were blessed with a hot sunny day. Our first coffee stop gave us a chance to explore the middle of Sodertalje, a medium sized town. Of course being Sweden, everything is laid back, and well proportioned. One of the first things that strikes you here is the smiley and open disposition of the people. We nearly jumped out of our skins as we were greeted regularly with "HeyHey!"... The local salutation. Can you imagine it, folks in the street actually say hello to each other. What a welcome and refreshing change.

Onwards, and the road winds through rolling meadows and deep green forests. This landscape remains with us for the next 5 days of riding, and I have to say I didn't tire of it for a moment. As we pedal surrounded by sublime countryside, and beneath glorious blue skies our hearts are lifted, this is good for the soul, the essence of simple rural riding. We spend our overnights in Nykoping (neesherping), then Lingkoping (lingsherping), Jonkoping (Yernsherping) and Markyryd. Each night offers new surprises, one night surrounded by stunning Constable like countryside, another on the shores of majestic Lake Vattern, and even one in a rural conference centre. But each and every night we are met with a broad smile, and fantastic hospitality. The food is excellent, and contrary to urban myth, even the beer is no more expensive than France.
By evening 2 I am warming massively to this country.

Day 2 & 3 see the roads becoming steadily wilder and more remote, the ride leaving Nykoping being a highlight, on a gently undulating and rolling road intermittently offering ride bys of the estuary that we are following. The woodland encloses us, and we notice, not for the last time, the verges erupting to a chorus of wild Lupins, bursting forth in huge crowds. The cotton wool clouds skip across the sky, and I feel oh so lucky to be riding here. We're also treated to a long descent of Vattern, Sweden's second biggest inland lake. With a circumference of some 300km it's a monster, and we are only tackling the South West corner, but nevertheless, it's a long and pleasant ride down to Jonkoping. We ride in to town tired, warm, but with the satisfaction of 3 days and 250 miles in the legs. As we push our bikes into reception, the traditional and imposing water side hotel basks in the warm afternoon glow... But it's the folk in the sunny terrace of the 'Bishops Finger' bar who draw my attention... Time for a quick shower and some soothing refreshment :-)

Day 4 of riding turns out to be the standout adventure riding day. We're faced with a choice between the direct and shorter route, or taking a wild and unknown route into the Store Moss National Park. No prizes for working out that we opted for the quieter roads, and so the adventure began, at first with a quiet, gently climbing ride away from Vattern, into the optimistically named Taberg (mountain village), at just around 250m above sea level, it won't win any prizes for altitude, but it's pretty and breathtakingly pure all the same. A few kilometres further on, one we have all settled into the ride. We turn a corner to see our support vehicle and one rider stopped in their tracks. As we approach, the scrunch beneath our tyres explains why they have paused. Our road has been steadily becoming more remote, and now reaching new levels of rural simplicity, we find tarmac reduced to dirt track forestry road. One of our number is on a 2015 Pinarello Dogma F8... And as I confirm to the group that this is our chosen route, he winces. Indeed we all hold our breaths, and lift up out of the saddles to reduce the risk of punctures. This is one of many rural dirt roads that cross crosses Sweden, and an important part of the road network, but it still comes as a shock to road bikers. however, we soon all captivated by the feeling of being properly 'out there' riding beside lakes and through deep forest cover. The scrunchy gravel isn't quite as bad as it seems, and miraculously we all escape unscathed without a single puncture. And as we pull back on to Tarmac I think there are a few secretly wishing our wild ride was a little longer. Day 4 is a long one, reaching 115 miles, and so despite the sun being still high in the sky at 6pm some of the team opt to shuttle in the support vehicle to get an early(ish) shower. Meanwhile 3 of us pedal on into the evening. Incredibly, at 7pm as we blast down an empty, beautifully surfaced road towards Markyryd, the sun beams down on us from a cloudless sky, and it feels like early afternoon. Having never been this far north in summer, the whole feeling is amazing, wierd and slightly eerie, where the sun seems to never want to go down. We go to bed each evening before darkness, and we see the light return to our bedroom windows in earnest in the small hours of the morning. It certainly makes the reaching of our evening destination easy, and bike lights are certainly not required.


Excitement brims once again on our final day as we make a charge for the port city of Helsingborg, our final Swedish frontier. The riding continues to be fast, and we weave in sometime beautiful excursions into the pristine forests, before we point directly for Helsingborg. Now after 4 and a half days of Swedish riding the team are ready to reach Denmark, and find out what Cooenhagen holds in store. Our ferry crossing to Helsingor is the smoothest and most efficient I can ever remember, and takes little more than half an hour from arrival to departure. As we cross the Oresund Straits, the slender spires and castle battlements draw the eye, along with the brightly painted buildings. Riding the cobbled streets, we see close up the immediate differences across this short stretch of water. Smarter, more bustling, and with an unmistakeable whiff of cosmopolitan Euro-Style, it is different. We spin around the Hamlet Castle, but Copenhagen and our journies end is calling. The 40km ride down the coast takes a surprisingly long time, but this may just be that we aren't keen to bring the ride to its conclusion. An incredible selection of highly manicured Scandinavian houses overlook the sound of Oresund, whilst we keep our wits about us on one of the worlds busiest cycle paths. When we finally hit Copenhagen city limits, we negotiate the backstreets to find the little mermaid for our obligatory celebratory team photo. A fantastic selection of Danish beer follows, and we enjoy the buzz of what is now rated as one of Europes coolest urban destinations, but my cycling heart as stolen by Sweden, with its endless rolling green hills, and lakeside ridebys. Take me back to Sweden... My new cycling wonderspot :-)

Wednesday 25 March 2015

The Grand Tour of Somerset 2015

So, the 22nd of March kind of snuck up on me. I knew it was coming, but I just put it to the back of my mind, and hoped that my carried over fitness might see me through. Obviously I knew that running and swimming is not the same as spinning the pedals, but somehow, life just takes over, and before you know it, you're on the start line staring down the barrel of 105 miles with three chunky hill climbs! The funny thing with a longer day that I have found out, in 25 years of endurance challenges is that its never the first 60 miles that is the problem, its what follows that is the unknown. It's how you're going to feel in the final 45 miles that really matters. And, furthermore, if you're wondering how you're going to feel in miles 60 - 105, you're probably not quite prepared enough! That was definitely me at 08:15 on Sunday morning!

Happily - the weather was dry, and the roads were typically 'Somerset' quiet on a Sunday morning. So off the group went. As is usual, myself, Mark and Dan pushed off a few minutes later, having ensured that the support crew were all prepped and ready to roll. With a rush of adrenaline, and explaining to Dan and Mark how I had considered the importance for today of trying to calculate an expected average effort - and trying not to go way over that in the early stages of the ride, we set off in a blaze of whirring cranks, trying to catch the lead peleton. 
As we crossed the bridge at Burrowbridge there was no sign. And it took another few miles, past Othery, until we began to reel them back in. At Pedwell Hill, we latched on to the group, and mercifully got amongst the group for the first climb. 
However, it didn't take long, and my enthusiasm had got the better of me, and the lovely twisting sweeping corners down through Shapwick saw me accelerating again, swinging leads with Mark as we charged towards the nature reserve, and then Westbury Sub Mendip. Crossing towards Easton, the Mendips loom large, and dominate the eyeline, and the group begins to settle itself, ready for the day's first big challenge, Kites Croft Climb, a nasty, characterful narrow lane that ascends right to the top of the Mendips in double quick time. 700 feet of climbing at 8% soon splits the group. Knowing that I was in less than peak riding fitness I slid immediately to the back of the group, not wishing to have the ignominy of being passed by everyone. But by halfway up the hill, I noticed that the handful of riders ahead weren't pulling away. Taking gulps of air, and just pushing slightly harder, I eased past a handful of riders, and by the top of the hill I was feeling pretty damned pleased. I can't take any credit, I'm convinced my all new carbon Ridley was the main reason for this great climb. And as we crested the hills, and joined the descent down through Cheddar Gorge, I suddenly felt very thankful to my new bike. We had bonded on Kites Croft. 
The descent of Cheddar felt smooth, and taking care at the Narrows and Horseshoe Bend Buttress not to swing too wide. Passing through Cheddar in a flash, we ploughed on down across the levels to Wedmore, where the feedstation, Jason, and Sam were awaiting our arrival. We waited for support vehicle 2 to arrive, whilst making sure that all items at the feed station would be safe for riders to consume :-) Duly, Si and Andy rolled up in Support Van 2 - ready to supervise the doughnuts, meaning that stage 2 was underway for us. We took off again at high speed, thankfully enjoying a tailwind across to Mark, and Woolavington before the descent down into Bridgwater, and the prospect of the Quantocks, 
A High Vis. jacket greeted us on the edge of Bridgwater, as we quickly skirted the town, and out past Durleigh reservoir. The climb up Enmore Hill is a long steady one, and this time I opted for a much slower approach, taking time to chat with Mark, until we reached the final steeper section. We made short work of the top of the Quantocks, before dropping down the high speed Cothelstone Hill descent, down into Bishops Lydeard, and the second feed... 
At this point, the ride splits, and the sensible short coursers, pedalled off down towards Bradford on Tone, with just one climb remaining. We however knew very well what lay in wait. The infamous Elworthy and Raleighs Cross Road that heads towards Exmoor, is a challenging ride on any day. But with already 65 miles in the legs, it is at this point that I needed a good talking to. The climb up to Willett Tower is steady, and on any normal day suits me nicely, but the road then shelves steeply down to Elworthy Cross, and the punishing climb up to Raleighs Cross begins. Given 670 feet of ascent and an average of 10.2% by our friends at Strava - it doesn't sound too bad, but it really is... its a real leg cruncher, and so tough midway through a big ride. Its like this whole ride - it doesn't sound too tricky - but somehow, in the flesh it's tougher than you'd imagine. Anyhow, we hold it together until the top of the hill, and we push on across the top of Exmoor. I'm praying for the descent into Wiveliscombe, as an opportunity to recover. And sure enough, after a short dark spell across the hill tops, I perk up as we speed down off Exmoor, 
The flat fast ride to Milverton and Hillcommon is gone in a flash, and so too the short stretch to Bradford on Tone, and so we hit the last climb. Small voices are in my head - telling me its the last one. This is never a good sign. "Just get this climb done, and you're as good as home..." - well the climb through West Buckland passes, with moderate discomfort, and we're waving good bye to one of our team who is heading back to Exeter via Cullompton, as we turn towards Staple Fitzpaine. For me, this was the darkest time of the ride, when despite my best efforts at eating, my blood sugar levels plummeted. With heavy legs, and  forward speed decreasing by the minute, a slightly lightheaded feeling, I reached into my backpocket. The Chocolate Ride Bar that was waiting for me was just what my legs needed. That last injection of sugar was just what the doctor ordered, and suddenly I felt like I was back in the room. We whizzed along the final lanes in the afternoon sunshine, scooting under the A358, and back into North Curry to a wonderful warm cup of tea, and a change of clothes. 
Next time - more winter training required. Although I seem to remember saying that last year?

Wednesday 25 February 2015

Las Sierras of Anadulcia.... mmmmm

 Las Sierras of Andalucia

So - not so much need to waffle on here today. We returned yesterday from a sublime ride in Southern Spain - from just north of Malaga - in an arc heading amongst epic mountainscapes, and beneath blue skies (mainly!) to reach Granada and the Sierra Nevada.

Lone Rider tackling a perfect and quiet climb through the mountains

Of course the roads were smooth. Of course, the sky was blue. Oh, but of course the climbs were tough, and the descents were winding and rollercoaster like. What we don't always consider when we head off to the continent is the whole wonder package that comes with the experience.

The Climb to Boquete de Zaffaraya steepens a touch

The tiny bar on night 1, where we treated ourselves to a small beer, and the old fellas were going in hard on the dominoes. The waiter who directed us to sit in front of the welcoming open fire at lunch on a cold winters day. And the impecable dinner in the old city of Granada at the Agua Restaurant, only reachable by windy narrow cobbled staircases. All in all it is this wonderful combination of rich experiences that keeps us, year after year, coming back for more. 

Wide open switchbacks... and dry smooth roads

Its the way that the team are buzzing each evening after we pack the bikes, get showered and reconvene in the bar for a small but perfectly formed Estrella :-) "What a day!" , "Amazing roads..." "So looking forward to dinner" "What a fantasic landscape to ride through".... the feel good factor is palpable....

Dave continues up the 700m ascent - first thing after breakfast :-)

For one rider its the descent down towards the Embalse de los Bermejales, for another its the wild combination of olive groves and the scent of fresh pine trees, and for another its the incredible melee of an annual carnival that we meet head on in the village of Alhama de Granada. For me - there's no doubt, the moment of the ride is the amazing notch through the mountains that issues into the incredible descent of the Boquete del Zaffaraya... breathtaking, and beautifully fast.... 

Stretching the legs halfway up the climb....

The pics here are our first batch... more to follow soon.... Adventure Cafe rides on :-) 

Tuesday 23 December 2014

London to Paris - Tour de France 2014

It’s 08:00 am on Thursday 23rd July. The sun has just come up across Canary Wharf and the City is starting to come to life. As the lights of One, Canada Square are still twinkling, workers from all across London are on their way into work, with their best suits on and coffee in hand, discussing what is to come from the days trading – just another weekday in London.
But today is different for one set of city folks. The morning meeting is taking place overlooking the city, at Greenwich Observatory. The meeting is not about stocks, shares, current accounts or financial products. This meeting is about a grand 280 mile journey to Paris by bike, to watch the final of the Tour de France on the cobbled streets of Champs Elysees in just 4 days time. Suits have been replaced by their best cycling lycra and the only drinks that can be seen here are isotonic Nuun tablets.  After 6 months of preparation its time to ride out Paris bound on this Adventure Café Corporate London to Paris Tour de France Ride.

Day 1: Greenwich to Dover – 75miles

As we depart Greenwich Park and turn left onto Shooters Hill Road you can sense the excitement in the air amongst the team. For many, cycling is an individual sport, as we get used to those training rides where usually, we are the small speck on the horizon for drivers - but not today. As we head towards the first note of interest on the gradient profile, Shooters Hill, its clear to see that today cyclists are taking back the roads. Our peloton is not met with hostility from local motorists or the general public but instead intrigue and wonder. As the group slowly gets spread out along the road, split by pace of different riders and the ebb and flow of traffic lights, there are many conversations breaking out between motorists and cyclists at red lights…  

“So where are you lot off to?”


“Paris – France??”

“that’s the one!”

“wow… good luck to you….. I would get the train!”

With each encounter you can see the pride sweep across peoples faces with distinct broad smiles.

In no time at all, powered by excitement and adrenalin, and with many dreaming that its their own mini Tour De France (I know I certainly am!) the 60 strong peloton sweeps out of London and crosses over the M25. From here on out, the traffic eases and the scenery becomes far more green. We pass Dartford and Gravesend, with many open straight roads in front of us, bound for the historic town of Rochester and the crossing over the Medway.

Rochester is our designated coffee stop on this ride, and as I arrive in at Simply Italian on the high street, some may be mistaken in thinking we had already arrived in France. The sun is shining, the bunting that is hanging across the high street is fluttering, and everyone is outside the Café, espresso in hand, smiling and joking about the mornings’ ride. It’s these moments that you can’t help but think life is good! Inside the café, our host, the eccentric Giuseppe, is entertaining everyone. Giuseppe epitomises everything that is great about this type of ride - everyone comes for the roads and the challenge, but it is always these small encounters that will continue to make us smile at the end of the day. 

Fresh from the mornings caffeine fix the next stage of this ride takes us from Rochester to Staplestreet, via Sittingbourne and Faversham. Continuing to pass through the beautiful Kent countryside, we can’t help but feel that the gods are smiling on us; the roads are dry, the skies are blue, the sun is beating down and there is not a breath of wind. Perfect conditions for cultivating those tan lines (Rule 7). We settle down and clock through the mileage. Talk is of “If only Chris Froome had had it this easy during the tour, what might have been?” After no time at all, we are greeted by the support vehicle and the welcome sight of the Three Horseshoes Pub at Staplestreet. Once again they have done us proud with a great lunch buffet. On such a lovely summers’ lunchtime it would be easy to think about a cold shandy, but with another 27 miles to go we continue with our Nuun Tablets and rehydrate.

The final 25 miles are by far, my favorite section of the day. The route take us out of Staplestreet via Canterbury and then alongside the Kent Downs. This section of road is truly beautiful as you make your way through beautiful Kent villages, and small roads in the heart of the countryside, until you finally make the long descent into Dover.

Arriving at the port of Dover, we were greeted by a number of other cycle tour providers, and what seemed like an army of cyclists, ready to invade France. The port of Dover knew we were coming, so had made us wait at the gates of the port with the other cycling teams, to wait for a lead car to take us through customs to the ferry holding area. We patiently waited for this car to emerge, but more and more groups were being escorted through in front of us and still no car! “Right that’s it” Lead by our fearless leader Richard, enough was enough “These groups that are going through in front of us, have been following florescent arrows from London so need guiding through – We are cycle leaders… we know our way to the ferry!” and so the Grand Tour Cycling assault on the port of Dover began!! Within minutes, we were through customs and ready to board the ferry who’s passenger manifest must have been made up of at least 90% cyclists.

After a smooth crossing, it was a short ride to the hotel, a shower and a glass of French red wine. 3 More Days to go!

Day 2: Calais to Abbeville – 78miles
Departing Calais early, it’s very clear that from here to Paris the riding will be very different. The peloton again departed our hotel, Hotel - Calais de la Plage, riding out along the promenade with the warm sea breeze in our hair. Again we had been greeted by another blue bird day – perfect! Our route today was very simple keep the sea on the right. We follow the D940 through the Nord Pas de Calais National Park - on quiet, rolling, coastal roads never loosing sight of the sea. Either side of us, we pass beautiful green fields and it is hard to imagine that there was ever a time when this coastline was not tranquil. Looming never too far away though, is the history of this coastline. The war museums, with old WW1 tanks outside and the abandoned gun turrets are nearby, reminding you of a sadder time.  

 Our target for this morning is the beautiful fishing town of Boulogne, and more espresso, opposite the harbor. The roads are good and we all make steady pace. This enjoyment is only briefly interrupted with the rumor of a looming Strava segment – suddenly the mere thought focuses the mind and narrows the vision – apparently our city riders are competitive!!

After our morning coffee, and a brief rest to again work on our tan lines, we continued toward Etaples and lunch. This section again flashes by as we make use of good cycle paths, and continue to pass wartime relics, the most poignant being the Etaples cemetery on the outskirts of town, where we pull over to pay our respects. After a short ride into Etaples, we are greeted by Ian and our lunch stop on large park area outside a marina. Typically lunches on these cycle trips are a buffet style with French baguettes, ham, cheese as well as many other finger snacks. They are always well received and a great chance to kick back and relax. The only real cause of great stress and debate was between two Grand Tour Cycling Leaders Rich “tabouleh” McLaughlin and Rob “the gherkin” Lucas over which is the best cycling superfood – I’m pleased to report the winner was my ham, cheese and rocket sandwich, as I was too hungry to listen to the outcome of the debate.
After lunch and fuelled by whichever super food you settled upon, we continue south to Abbeville. The route changes significantly from the morning’s riding as we head inland. We move away from the coastal roads and find ourselves winding our way through pine forests, as we head towards the Somme Valley and the market town of Abbeville, our evening stopover. After a warm shower, we all departed for our evening meal where it was clear that moral was high. The lead leader of our illustrious group from Grand Tour Cycling was to bear the ‘brunt’ of the mood; 5 or 6 times we tried to offer the briefing for the following days riding, what people had ordered, the weather or even just tried to stand up to visit the bathroom, each time to be greeted with rowdy jeers! As the wine seeped in, the volume increased. Clearly everyone was having a great time. Tomorrow Beauvais.

Day 3: Abbeville to Beauvais – 65miles 

Day 3 is always a great days riding. Motivated by the thought of only 65 miles riding, and after celebrating our first proper days riding in France the night before, the peloton set off flying. The ride from Abbeville to Beauvais takes you up onto a high plateau, with French countryside spread out before you. We wind our way from one farming village to another, and it is clear to see we are in the heart of Northern France, and it is easy to think that in many ways this region is very similar to the UK.

 This day really allows people to stretch their legs. We are predominantly riding on smaller roads and using the support vehicles and cycle leaders, we can really allow the group to flow through junctions at their own pace. Today, more than any other day, the group feels that they are cycle touring. The routine is set, pace is steady, and the team can really sit back and enjoy the ride. The day passes smoothly. Lunch is taken in the charming village of Brombos, on the village green, next to a lovely little pond. As the group is lying on the village green, eating lunch, laughing and joking, it is evident that they have settled into life in the saddle. Again blessed by another beautiful day, we allow ourselves a bit of an extended break, before making the final push towards Beauvais and its magnificent Cathedral. 

Over dinner that evening, it soon became clear that the tide had turned. After three days successful days riding, with a Grand Tour Cycling Leader at the head of the peleton, a splinter breakaway was forming. An eager alter-leader was shaping a new counter challenging team. The plan: to deliver their leader and hopeful sprint champion in prime position, for a prestigious stage finish at a small abandoned garage some 20km into tomorrow’s ride. Declaring to put their Superfood differences to one side, the Gherkin and a third Grand Tour Leader, Pime aka Owen Wilson, had vowed to do the same for team GTC. Talk of this battle filled the evening and many performance enhancing drinks were offered to aid the team domestiques, and lead out riders, but what would tomorrow bring…??

Day 4: Beauvais to Paris – 56 miles The Big One

Knowing that today was the big day the group set off riding early and made good time passing through Meru for our daily espresso, (you are probably now noticing a theme), and powering towards Cergy Pontoise where we had lunch next to the Seine river. Although the legs by this point are starting to feel the previous days mileage, teams are always given a second wind, because as you make your way down into Pontoise, the skyline of Paris can start to be seen on the horizon – not far now! We finished lunch and re-instated the peloton for the remaining 20 miles, we would ride in together. The mileage ticks by with out you noticing, and our approach quickly sneaks us into the suburbs alongside the Seine and via the back roads, towards the capital. All around the buildings are getting bigger and bigger, the traffic gets busier and you can feel the buzz of the city growing. Keeping the group moving together using the un-crowded bus lanes in the city, and with cycle leaders buzzing around like ranchers keeping everyone safe and on the right route, the excitement grows. Shouts of “go” at traffic lights and the emergence of typical Parisian cafes with people sat outside, only continues to build the anticipation. The architecture is changing also as you pass by. Gone are the glass and steel of the business district instead you are greeted by the older buildings that are so typically French. Almost unaware of how close you are, we swept around one last corner and up a final climb, with the Arc de Triomphe standing on the crest – wow this is Paris! Horns are beeping and there is traffic everywhere, but similar to the Red Sea, the traffic seems to part for us to enter into the Arch de Triomphe for the mandatory laps around this most famous land mark – and to think in less than 24 hours the Tour de France riders will be riding on the same hallowed cobbles! Its always great to see how respectful and tolerant Parisian drivers are to cycle groups. Cycling does seem to be part of the French DNA.  From here it’s just a question of cycling to the Trocadero and the iconic Eiffel Tower to let the celebrations begin. We’ve made It!!
After 20 minutes and many many photos with bikes aloft with the famous Paris backdrop its time to depart but the fun has not finished yet. We still have a few more miles back to our hotel past the where’s where on the Paris Monopoly board, before we are finishing for the evening. Right on cue, the Red Bull Girls turn up in their little Red Bull Mini, and started to hand out cold cans of Red Bull for the final push – that should see us home. Again riding as a peloton we depart the Trocadero and head back towards the Arc de Triomphe where we turn right and cycle down the most famous road in cycling history the Champs Elysees. As we ride down these famous cobbled streets, which have already been prepared for the Tour’s final stage you can’t help but get caught up in the history of the grandest of Tours. It is also hard to not feel the excitement and anticipation of the event as you cycle over these cobbles – the whole city is waiting. It in these moments the achievement of what the team have just completed is clearly setting in.
A shower and a few beers later its time to reflect on a what has been a great 4 days. The speeches passed without any renditions of Happy Birthday and we all settled down for dinner and a small glass of wine in a great little Parisian restaurant…. The perfect way to finish a grand ride.


Day 5: the Tour de France

            My choice was an early start to make the most of the day. For others, a later start was the option of choice, after a later evening. Paris is a fantastic city and for any cycle leader, after a grand 280 miles, the way of exploring the French capital was only ever going to be by one form of transport – the bike! We took to our Hidalgo Bikes. I can only imagine this is what they would be called… We have Boris Johnson they have their Parisian Lady Mayor Anne Hidalgo. After 4 days on Road bikes we were overjoyed to be back on these street cruisers; fat tyres, low gears, buckled wheels. This was living the dream J. We took in the sights of Notre Dame, Montmartre, The Eiffel Tower from below and Stella Artois, the only thing we needed to complete this perfect day was a Team Sky British win. As we waited by the side of the Champs Elysees, the overriding sense was of how much the French, and now the world, love their cycling. The buzz was amazing, and then it was the moment we had been waiting for. As the riders got closer we could see the helicopter in the sky approaching as the wall of sound got nearer. And then the peloton zipped by in a nano-second followed by their entourage. There were multiple leaders in the multiple laps, Jens Voight was there, as was Geraint Thomas but both faded into the distance. For a long time it seemed that Richie Porte may just hold off the chasing pack, but ultimately it was Marcel Kittal who stole the show. What an experience, the speeds and closeness in proximity of the rides was amazing. An unforgettable ride. A huge thank you to the Team who made this an unforgettable ride.
If you fancy joining this fantastic mélange of sporting masterpiece and 4 beautiful and fun days in the saddle. Then visit or – or just pick up the phone and call us on 01460 249191…. Rides available throughout Europe all year round….

Tuesday 25 November 2014

My name is Richard and I am a recovering Bikeaholic....

So I just got a new bike... Another one, yes. But I'm not a bike-a-holic. It's under control. The financial controller said that I didn't have 'sign off' for the purchase... But to a biker on the edge of a dangerous addiction it seemed obvious... £500 off, it was obviously a sign from a higher power; "buy, buy!"
All of Ridley's bikes are tested on the cobbles to make sure they meet the brand's own durability standards
Of course, it's not like I don't have an all purpose go anywhere road bike. It's not as if I don't have an aero bike, ideal for time trialling. And of course, in the stable at Adventure Cafe we have endless hybrids, and back up Genesis machines when we need them. And then, gathering dust in the dark recesses of the garage are the poor, almost fore gotten mountain bikes, both fully rigid and front sus.
So the obvious question is "why did I need another bike?" And the answer comes in many forms. In my mind it is because I didn't have an out and out hill climbing machine. But in reality, the reason I splashed out on another new bike is probably because the bike industry is so clever at reinventing itself. For a machine that purports to be so simple, it really is something to behold the way the humble bicycle has evolved, metamorphosised and regenerated more times than Doctor Who or Madonna. Kids street bikes, BMX's, folding bikes, touring bikes, recumbents, mountain bikes, DH, XC, TT, Aero, Triathlon, Cyclocross, Fixed Gear, it is just bonkers how the bike has splintered into a million subspecies.
But the question is how to select the right bike for you. Which breed are you going to pick. We'll assume for arguments sake that you are one of the legion of road bikers now multiplying on our roads, looking for a machine that will go anywhere as long as it is good quality tarmac, and looking to cover the miles with ease. But within the gamut of road bikes, we need to consider the range of types on offer, and of course for that, we need to know what the bike is to be used for. The first way to weed out a whole chunk of bikes is to confirm that the rider is not partaking in TIme Trialling or Triathlon. This being the case, forget anything with the words aero featuring. These machines are amazing, lightning fast,  pieces of engineering wizardry, but their geometry is designed for one off shorter spurts of effort and certainly not for climbing hills or mountains or all day enjoyment.
Next there are the cyclocross, and old school touring machines. If you are bound for some serious multi week tours, or travel on suspect roads or even semi off road, then these machines with their design to accommodate wider gauge tyres and hi durability could be just the thing you are looking for. But be careful, and consider who you're going to be riding with, as these bikes will sacrifice a lot in terms of extra weight, and acceleration won't be startling! If you want to keep up with friends on road bikes, then a cyclo-X machine won't be the one for you.
So now we're getting to the nitty gritty of things and we have a range of road bikes still to choose from, still with varying geometries and frame materials, at a dizzying array if price points from around £600 up to around £10k. And here I think comes the next key question. Which is the most important item for you, out and out acceleration / hill climbing ability / or price. If you are on a budget (£1200 or less) then you are now narrowed down to an aluminium entry level road bike - potential candidates that we see often on the road would be Giant Defy range, Specialised Allez or similar, or Genesis Volant. These will all be available at around £600- £900 and will feature good quality Shimano groupsets that will offer an entry into the world of roadbiking.
If however, you have more extravagant plans, then the world of Carbon, the material of choice for the whole of the Pro Peleton, is open to you. These frames can blend lightness, stiffness and comfort in incredible ways, defying traditional logic in certain instances (yes frames can be stiff in some areas and shock absorbing in others!)... So now it is a question of homing in on your frame of choice by reading, speaking with vendors, and checking size very very carefully. Clearly all the above discussions will become completely pointless if you end up with an incorrectly sized frame. Especially if you are about to embark upon an expensive purchase... get measured accurately... get a bike fit. For a small percentage of the price of the bike, you can ensure it works optimally for you, maximising your physiological and mechanical attributes.

Each type of frame will lean slightly further to one of the above qualities mentioned (price, stiffness, comfort, and weight)** ...
Me personally, being as I happened to have winter riding, and time trial riding sewn up, I was looking towards a machine that would help me on mountain / hill climb stages, ie a superstiff, superlight carbon machine. It probably is time to mention that another key factor in bike selection is the rider's personality. Traditionalist , leading edge early adopter of technology, easy going, ultra competitive, understated; whichever describes the rider, will also dictate the nature of the bike purchase. It just happens that I am painfully competitive, and hence I opted for a machine that was the closest I could manage to the wonder bike I ride last year in Mallorca; the beautiful Cannondale Supersix Evo. This machine had changed dramatically the complexion of my climb on Sa Calobra, allowing me to zip past a fleet of other riders all on the mountain that day.
The Ridley Helium is a stiff, fast and lightweight bike designed for climbing
My final choice, significantly influenced by a £500 extra special discount for last years model, was the Ridley Helium. At first sight it seems to be exactly what I was hoping, light, fast, zippy, and beautiful. Equipped with Ultegra, and Fulcrum F4 wheels and a dream frame, it gives a great ride on flat and undulating, but adds real sparkle to the hills, positively itching to be let loose on short sharp hits. I am happy again on the road, and I have another motivation to get out and train (to live up to the potential of my new wheels). And finally it seems my stable is complete. For the time being :-) - Let your bike loose on the best roads in Europe...

Monday 24 March 2014

Cycling Through the Ages....

When I was a nipper... I rode on a beaten up old Raleigh Shopper. I used to build ramps, do jumps, pull wheelies, generally try and pretend I had a BMX (which I was not rich enough to own). Unsurprisingly it broke, after a particularly daring and over ambitious leap through the air that Danny Mcaskill would have been proud of.
Next I graduated to a Dawes Lightning, which was a beaut' ! I rode it to and from school, initially very proud of the GT extensions, and the twin Suntour shifters on the downtube. It even allowed me to start exploring the countryroads around where I lived, and gave me transport to town when I needed it. It walked home with me from school with mates, it even helped me in my early abortive attempts to woo the ladies on the way to and from school. But eventually it too was overtaken. Scratched to pieces, and with buckled wheels, and rusty from haven been left out in the rain one too many times, my heart was stolen away by my first glimpse of a Dawes Ranger in the playground. Furious plotting and planning followed. That bike, or at least something very similar, would be mine...

I got a part time job, and I saved like a Scotsman on a budget. I reviewed every bike available. Friends bought their first mountain bikes, and paraded them around sixth form college proudly. I MUST GET ONE! I dreamt every night of having my own off road vehicle. And eventually, at a princely sum of £279.99 I ordered last year's Specialized Rock Hopper in glorious technicolour yellow. I assembled it in a flash, and tore off to the hills by myself to see what it could do. I bumped and careered along the upland trails, plunged down terrifying descents, with no technical skills, and crashed three times, the final one seeing my front wheel plant in a muddy stream at 20mph and launch me clean over the handlebars sprawling in an ignominious heap. I limped home afterwards, utterly exhilarated.

Soon after, with mates we would push the boundaries, visiting countries far and wide, and in the late teenage years, more than happy to camp, sleep on floors, and even better in exotic destinations - we explored the backpacker network on 2 wheels.

Cycling had revolutionised, and indelibly changed my life. Bikes came and went, and upgrades were purchased as money allowed. At one point we even managed to score a slightly surreal sponsorship deal from Saracen Cycles, for an epic ride across Asia. This slightly more professional arrangement happened to co-incide with my mid to late 20's, I guess a time when I was gradually working out what I wanted from life. Bicycles. Lots of them. And Cycling kit. Lots of it. Parcels and packages and boxes arrived by the truckload. Very cool.

We rode for 519 days this time. And after 28 000 km of bicycling, I kind of found that I had had enough. I even found one day whilst showering that my backside seemed to have changed shape. Its contours had taken on a saddle like form. So I dallied with other forms of activity for a while. I rowed, I ran, I swam, I even climbed and caved. But somewhere, there was a voice calling. "What
about me?" called the 2 wheeled steed of my youth.

At work by now we had started organising trips, and even though I knew so much more about cycle touring, it was still well and truly on the backburner. We organised mainly hill walking, scrambling and canoeing adventures. But folks were starting to ask for 2 wheeled trips. So of course, we obliged.

We took people on trips from London to Paris, and I stuck resolutely to my guns about what cycling meant to me. "You need a good simple, reliable bike" I would instruct people. "Good tyres, no to suspension, but yes, mountain bikes are fine". And folks did ride their MTBs. But things started to change. The tyres got skinnier, the wheels bigger. The handlebars stayed flat, but not for long. We saw the brief rise of the sports hybrid - which brought me across from Mountain Bikes, and on to the tarmac.

For me, the advent of the Sports Hybrid and skinny 700c wheels coincided with young children in my household. This time of my life meant that I wasn't realistically able to drop everything and disappear to the mountains for a long weekend. But slipping out on a summer's evening for a couple of hours was a regular possibility. These training rides quite quickly showed up what road riding can become. I kept watching the speedo. I kept looking at my average speed. And the riding became quite a different experience. It became much more of a pursuit of speed. And once that happened, the flat handlebars were living on borrowed time. My Giant FCR2 - despite the lovely carbon forks, and despite the perfectly adequate Shimano 105, just couldn't cut it. I upgraded to my Genesis Aether 20. And I got my head down, literally, to some more serious riding.

In the meanwhile, the arms race was continuing out on the trips. And riders were starting to venture further afield, joining us on rides from Paris to Munich, and Munich to Venice, and across Italy, and into the Alps. All these journies combined with comfortable digs at the end of the day, and with excellent food, and maybe the odd glass of wine thrown in for good luck. The riding was just as intense, but life after the ride was certainly looking more comfortable, more middle aged some might even say :-(

Carbon fibre machines started to appear on our rides. And at first we scoffed. And then we saw more and more coming, and of course, we became quite envious. The shiny paintwork, the zippy performance, and the downright stylishness of it all got under our skin too. Fortunately we have some good relationships in the cycling industry, and so I was able to negotiate a good deal on my next dream machine. Complete with deep section wheels, I am still somewhat ashamed of the price tag (I always said £600 was enough to buy a really good bike) - but my Cervelo S1 with carbon wheels and 105 throughout doesn't quite fit in that price bracket. But my god was it quick. I had been content with 13-15mph on my old touring adventure mountain bike, then we had progressed to 18 or so with the sports hybrid, and 19 or 20 with the Aether. But the Cervelo, and a good stretch of road, feeling good can get up to 24-25 happily.

The thing is, this bike only gets taken out when it is safe to do so. And it certainly isn't permitted in the hold of a plane, 'she' can only go where I can see her!

And so, last week, I found myself on the perfectly smooth roads of Majorca, in March, in the sunshine. Blitzing along, with the peloton in tow, the sea shimmering away on our right, dancing from one wonderful hotel and restaurant to the next, with quiet clean and beautiful roads in between.

 Here, unlike some of my explorations in India, Cambodia or Indonesia, where it has been necessary to wade through thick fumes, endure clouds of dust, and skilfully avoid dangerous driving, the enjoyment is not something one has to wait a few weeks to look back upon. It is very, very immediate. It is cycling Nirvana. And to cap it off, my journies through the march of bicycle technology reached a place I never expected to go. My steed for this wonderful 4 days in the Balaerics, was a Cannondale Supersix Evo Di2. Electronic gears, married with the lightest productions frame available. The bike was hired I hasten to add. And all in the name of research and cycling knowledge. The electronic gears were precise, efficient, and incredible. But not for me. But when I gave this wonder machine a proper shake down on the wonderous mountain climb of Sa Calobra, I can honestly say I have never encountered a bike like it. Epic performance, in an incredible location, on perfect tarmac. To date, this has been the pinnacle of my cycling. Not withstanding the mountain passes of the Himalayas, or the deserts of Iran and Pakistan, or the rice paddies of Cambodia and Indonesia, this day of riding was simply sublime. But what made it so special, was that it was the right ride, at the right time of my life. And riding has always been like that. It as changed so many times over the years. It gives so many options, so many styles, so many facets, and so much to enjoy. Vive le Velo! To 2 wheels that keep on giving...