Thursday, July 18, 2013

Week 4, and one day more!

The final week of Le Cycle Tour de France continued to dish up delights on a daily basis.  And, some pretty hard days.

I left Le Bourg d'Oisans on a stage route from this year's tour - one which I look forward to watching with friends on telly tomorrow night.  I'll be interested to see how the peloton fares, because I suffered like a dog!  

I was surprised to see the profile of the Col du Glandon after the fact, because my impression of it must have been affected by the effort up Alpe d'Huez the night before.  It had what seemed to be some ungodly steep sections, and a couple of descents which were surely screwing up the average uphill gradient.  Unlike the pros, I took a short detour to summit the Col de la Croix de Fer, before dropping back down to cross the Glandon.  

Before tackling the Col de la Madeleine, another side trip beckoned - this time to the first few kilometres of the Col du Chaussy climb (google images it!).  The Madeleine itself felt like less of a slog than the Glandon, perhaps due to the more constant gradient.  I met fellow Wellingtonian Silas Cullen near the bottom of the descent, and we rode together over the next col, before heading to his place.  I very much enjoyed staying there with his family, and conversations with them, and their dinner guests Sarah and Brendan, really had me hankering for home.

The next day I rode the Annecy-Semnoz stage of this year's tour on a whim.  It was a very hot day, and even without my gear felt pretty gruelling, particularly the hilltop finish on Semnoz.  It was good to get out though, and will be much more fun to watch the race coverage now!

Silas and I rolled out the following morning, and resumed the Le Grand Bornand stage with the  cat 1 Col de l'Epine before he left me to my own devices on the Col de la Croix Fry into Le Grand Bornand.  It was wet, and pretty cold up top.  I stripped down on the main street of Le Grand Bornand to put an undershirt on, before getting underway again.  I was bound for Morzine, and got there via the second half of the stage on which Floyd Landis went ballistic before being stripped of his victory:  first the cat 1 Col de la Colombiere, then a couple of "minor" bumps - which never seem to feel minor - before the HC Col du Joux Plane.  The descent of the latter sucked - the rain was very heavy and I in turn was heavily on the brakes the whole way down.

The next morning was another social highlight, and I had the pleasure of coffee with more Wellingtonians:  Steve and Nessa, and Mike the Hippy.  Following that, I had a cruisy ride through to Geneva, where I replaced my very square looking rear tyre, and then another couple of hours on the bike - and my fourth unmollested border crossing - to Bellegarde-sur-Valserine.  There, as my brother cleverly suggested, I got some Valserine intensive care, including a haircut from the most particular barber I've ever watched.

The following day's stage I'd been looking forward to all trip - a reverse of the 2012 stage from Macon - featuring the dramatic Col de la Grand Colombier.  Unfortunately, the road itself looks much better from a helicopter, but the views over the surrounding countryside well and truly made up for that.  I had a bit of a mare finding accommodation in Macon, but got something sorted before losing my rag.

The next morning I decided to take a short cut.  Instead of riding 35km to Bourg-en-Bresse, I rode 10km north of Macon, hooking into the stage about 30km in, thereby saving myself 55km riding, and ensuring I got to Semur-en-Auxois in time to see Chris Froome let loose on Ax-3-Domaines, an ascent I'd made myself a earlier in the trip (at about half the speed).  It was worth the sacrifice of "completing" the stage of the day.

I'd been unable to find anything to get me close to a stage town near Paris, so rode a route of my own design the next day.  It was a Sunday, and I got totally screwed over by the French tendency to shut up shop at midday.  Dinner added about 20km of riding (on top of about an hour's walk) to the day which was a drag, but ensured I cracked the 4,800km mark for the trip!  

The final assault on Paris, on the other hand, was about as good as I could've hoped for.  The only minor glitch was a road disappearing under a railway line through a tunnel in which bikes were "Interdit".  I wasn't prepared to run the gauntlet, but after a few minutes of hunting around found a pedestrian underpass prepared to share...

I was all set to unleash up the Champs-Elysees, (or at least try to), but both the traffic, and regular traffic lights (which strangely I'd never noticed in the tour coverage) put paid to that before my weary legs had a chance to!  I was fortunate some British tourists were on hand to prevent my celebratory photo being of my bike!

I spent the next day trying in vain to find some decent cycling-related souvenirs, before making my way out to the airport.  Four flights later, I was being welcomed home by my beautiful daughter, parents, brother, and friends Simon (with extra hug on behalf of Oli) and Ash!  That was a week ago, and while the fingers on my left hand are still numb, it's not the only thing that's followed me home.  So too has my awesome mood, and long may that last...

 * * * * *

I've got plenty of tales to tell that haven't made these short versions, nor feature in the photos on Facebook.  I'm not sure what form that might take.  At the very least, I'd like to do a quick blog with some fun stats from the trip - once I've compiled them.  Also, I'm thinking of putting together a slide show which might entertain a few friends one cold, winter's eve.

Trip of a lifetime?  CHECK.

Sunday, June 30, 2013

Week 3, oui!

My third road week started with breakfast surrounded by Russian teenagers, on a school trip to Nimes and the surrounding area, I'd guess.

As with the previous day, today I'd just be cycle touring, and didn't actually have that far to cover. I was looking forward to seeing the Pont du Gard, an old Roman aqueduct, and was a bit surprised when my GPS bleated that I'd missed a turn.

The nice country lane turned into a rough driveway, which just stopped! Instead of doing the sensible thing and retracing my strokes, I walked and carried my bike for the next half an hour. A few minutes of bushbashing were needed to pick up some sweet singletrack, which of course I couldn't enjoy!

The bridge itself was stunning, and a real highlight of the non-riding side of the trip.

I got into Carpentras early, so hit up a laundromat, giving my kit its third wash of the trip. Between that and the rest, I felt like a new man when I rolled out the next morning.

I'd been nervous about this ride. I hadn't felt super in the Pyrenees, so three Cat 2 climbs followed by a Cat 4 one and then Mont Ventoux were intimidating. I barely gave a thought to the battle between Armstrong and Pantani on the same route 13 years earlier, and instead enjoyed one of my favourite days on the bike. The scenery was a bit less lush than I'd seen, and the Giant of Provence was often visible.

The main climb was long, about 1.40, but beautiful. Reaching the top at the end of a hilly 150km was satisfying, but no rest for the wicked and I had another 50km to ride to bed! At least a lot of it was downhill!

The next day was a 2013 stage, from Vaison-la-Romaine to Gap, which I very much look forward to watching them race when I get home.

This day too was beautiful, but in the more classical sense. The route passed through a stunning gorge, enhanced only slightly by the topless sunbather!!

The geology of this edge of the Alpes is absolutely amazing, with twisted, layered rock abound. After a long false flat, 40km worth, I had a steep descent into Gap, only to immediately leave town for a lap over Col de Manse. On the way down my rear gave an almighty squirm, causing my insides to do the same, on account of my first puncture since the outskirts of Paris, some 2950km ago!

The next day, I packed my bags and was off to Italy. Another stunning day scenery-wise, and while my legs had felt obviously jaded the day before, they seemed to have recovered somewhat.

The ride to Briancon was pretty easy, but things got steep after that with a Cat 2 climb into Italy, followed by the Cat 1 Sestrieres, and a nasty Cat 2 shortcut into Pinerolo. A highlight of the descent was recognising the carport Thomas Voeckler ended up in on that stage in 2011, and then finding a youtube clip of that same incident at the hotel after a shower!

I had what felt like an appropriately Italian dinner: pasta entree, pizza main course (which had me reeling not much more than half way through) followed by tiramisu!!! I was really busting at the seams on the short walk back to the hotel, but figured overeating would stand me in good stead for the next day's monster stage.

It all started well, and I was 40km in before I knew it. I got a bit reflective for a while. A feature of this trip has been a complete absence of symptoms of depression, and I got a bit freaked out at the looming transition back to real life. Kind of like getting out of jail, I guess!! The analogy isn't quite right in that I'm having an absolutely amazing time here, which I wouldn't expect in prison. But, things here are also arduous, and relatively unidimensional.

I convinced myself it would be what it would be, and resumed focus on forward momentum. And stopping every other minute to take a photo! I stopped at a village market for fruit, and only just managed to avoid getting taken home by a lovely old Signora.

A lunch stop followed soon after, about 1300m into the climb of Colle dell' Agnello. It got steep after lunch, with one section signposted as 14%. I was surprised that it felt significantly more manageable than similar gradients in the Pyrenees had. I have various theories, including legs not being thrashed from 250km days, potential weight loss, and training benefits!

The climb was stunning and I made regular photos stops. The border back into France was at the very top, but it was hard to enjoy on account of a very cold wind. I even busted out some of my evening wear for the descent, and was in better shape at the bottom as a result.

By the time I'd got over the next HC climb, the Col d'Izoard, and in to Briancon, the day had moved on. It was not only the 175km covered, and the roughly 4000vm climbed, but also the hundred photos, and multiple stops to pack and unpack suitable clothing.

The sun was low in the sky, and off the roads, and I decided I'd enjoy the final climb of the stage, the Galibier, another day!

The receptionist at the hotel had spent three months in Taupo, and convinced me Briancon would be a better place to rest up than Le Bourg-d'Oisans, my next destination, so I committed to two nights.

On Saturday morning I went for a short walk around the old part of town, and then put my feet up and watched the opening stage of the 100th Tour de France, commentated in French, by Cedric Vasseur and colleagues. I felt a bit bad seeing people ride past out the window, in what is a glorious sunny afternoon, but the rest was doing me good, and the significance of Saturday was more to them than me.

The next morning dawned with beautiful clear skies, and enjoyed the relatively mellow climb of the Galibier in mostly warm conditions. After a long descent to Le Bourg-d'Oisans, I ditched all but my coat, beanie, one bottle, pump, tube and patch kit, and gave the climb to Alpe d'Huez a good nudge with a bike that felt unfamiliarly light. It was cool to make the top within the hour. I then did an impromptu lap over Col de Sarenne, as per this year's tour.

I've now got 3495km on the clock after three weeks of riding (and a little bit of TV watching)! I'm feeling great both physically and mentally. My body's almost at 100%, with only the finger numbness to grizzle about.

Its hard to believe I'll be at Paris airport in a little over a week. Some sweet riding between here and there, no doubt!

Monday, June 24, 2013

Week 2, phew!

I made the last post at the end of my first week in France, and subsequently forgot. So this brings me through to the end of the second week of riding.

My first mountain stage was a beauty! It featured the hors categorie Col de Soudet, which had a really uneven gradient, and had stretches well over 10% which had me wishing for a triple chainset.

Col de Marie Blanque, which followed, had me really struggling, and I had to stop for a few minutes before tackling the final 2km which ascended 250vm. Ouch! What goes up, must come down though, and I enjoyed a nice fast run into Pau.

The next stage was to Lourdes. It started with a nice loop in the countryside, during which I was glad for my commuter instincts at a roundabout in Lacq. After a couple of small climbs, I really enjoyed the Col d'Aubisque. It took me ages, mostly on account of all the photo stops!

I spent that night in Lourdes, and the next morning set off with minimal gear. I was riding a loop west to Bagneres de Luchon, before coming back via four massive climbs. The rain started at the top of the first, the Col de Peyresourde, and by the top of the Col d'Aspin, the thunder had started. While the Col du Tourmalet was closed to cars, I'd been told it was possible to get a bike through. Nonetheless, yet through, and chilly after a long descent, I decided a thunderstorm was not the time to take on this beast, and dropped back to Lourdes via Bagneres de Bigorre.

The next day was wet, but I decided to give the Tourmalet another chance, this time from the other side.

I headed up the valley to Luz St Saveur, but by the time I got there, I knew Tourmalet was out of the question. The river was up, and the cold air riding it down was intense. I'd misses Luz Ardiden the previous day, too, and despite that being a lesser climb, I ruled that out too.

Just as well. I got out of the gorge below Luz less than an hour before the road flooded. By the time I got back to Lourdes it was clear all hell was breaking loose, and before long they were in a state of emergency.

The next day I moved west to St Gaudens. The weather was better, but I couldn't access the base of the Port de Bales climb. The next valley along, that of La Garonne, was seriously affected by the heavy rain and late snow melt.

I went to see La Grande Boucle, a French comedy about a bike shop assistant's lap of France. I didn't understand all of it, but enjoyed it nonetheless.

The next day was tough. It started on the Col de Portet d'Aspet and went up and up from there! I met a friend of some friends at the Fabio Casartelli memorial which was a hoot. It also offset my shock to realise he'd died on the very last corner of the descent.

By the time the sixth climb of the day came around, my legs were toast, but I pushed on up to Plateau de Beille. I should really have left my gear at the bottom, but I was nervous about losing it, so hauled it up the 1200vm climb.

The next morning was the reverse of a 2013 stage. I had to ride up to Ax-3-Domaines first of all to being the stage from the hilltop finish.

The Port de Pailheres was a lovely climb. I started behind a tour group, and rode through almost the entire bunch. I also saw a Garmin rider coming down, followed by a Garmin van. Hesjedal perhaps?

I got very cold on the long descent, and the afternoon's ride to Castres dragged on as a result. I think I lose a lot of energy when it's cold.

Yesterday was Castres to Montpellier, another stage in the reverse direction. I really enjoyed the climbs, and thought I had the pick of them. It was cool to see various road closure notifications. The Tour's coming back to town!

Today was a tiki tour in the Camargue. I've given myself two days to get to Carpentras for the Ventoux stage. I saw a wonderful fortified town soon after the pretty gross seaside resort, La Grande Motte. Despite expecting to see thousands of flamingos, after a 40km side trip, I was happy to see a flock of 20 or so. 

The headwind into Nimes more than made up for one of those two HC climbs I missed out on in the Pyrenees!

In total I've covered 2532km since leaving Paris two weeks ago! All's well, upstairs and downstairs!

Saturday, June 15, 2013

Week 1, done!

I've had a great first week in France. My bike missed the London connection, and so didn't arrive until Saturday evening. By that stage, the travel agent was closed, and so I couldn't leave my bike bag there until Monday morning. So, a day in Paris on Sunday!

I decided against going to Le Mans. Instead, I headed south from Chartres, doing the 2012 final TT stage in reverse. Very cool to see the Wiggo encouragement painted on the road. Bonneval was closed, so I pushed on to Chateaudun for the night.

After 200km the previous day, 295km to Poitiers was hard work. The first 190 was into a headwind, but at least I found accommodation without too much hassle. And, I'd made up the two day delay.

The ride to Bordeaux got longer than intended, with poor mapping and hotel difficulties. Not only did I spend 3 times the usual rate, but was north of town, heading south the next day.

Which, was wet!!! But dead flat. Dax was a welcome sight, but earlier than the previous days, by virtue of only covering 180km vs a 250km average.

Today, I cruised out to Biarritz on the coast, and then rode an hour towards the hills, and Cambo-les-Bains, where I currently sit. I have 1050km on the clock, but only a tiny amount of climbing.

My gear's been great, though I might buy some eye-drops yet. Two fingers on my left hand are numb, but all else is fine. Mood-wise, I feel decidedly normal, in the other person's normal sense. Cool!

If you want to be in on the regular photo action, befriend John Randal on facebook, temporarily is fine.

Into the mountains tomorrow. Will be interesting to see how that goes!!!!

Friday, May 24, 2013

Le Cycle-Tour de France

I'm not much of a forward thinker, and though I've had my fair share of excellent adventures (most documented on this blog), it is rare that I've sat down and wondered what I'd like to do...

A long sequence of bad months through 2012 made me think very carefully about the winter of 2013.  I didn't want to endure a long, dark winter again, and felt that something to look forward to would both provide an excellent experience in its own right, but which would also literally give me something to look forward to, brightening the months in between.

I've long thought I'd make a pilgrimage to the home of cycling, Europe, when Kaitlyn started slamming doors and screaming "I hate you Dad" - a rite of passage of all teenagers, surely?!   Whether or not this ever actually happens remains to be seen, of course.

Nonetheless, towards the end of 2012, I found myself in the shape of my life, and figured that while waiting for another 6 years for Kaitlyn to finish college would make some sense, the riding opportunities I currently have might not exist then.  In the space of a few hours, tossing and turning in bed, I came up with the basic framework which still defines my upcoming trip.

I decided I'd head to France, and do a cycle-tour with a few differences.  Spurred by the riding I've most loved over the last few years, I conjured up a one-man Brevet.  A pre-defined route and schedule, over which I'd travel light and fast, just the way I like it.  Being time-poor (work, parenting, volunteer work at Makara Peak, riding, and, of course, depression), I decided not to research and design the route from scratch.  Instead, my investigations would focus on pulling together old race routes to form a single loop through France.  And, not just any old race routes - I'd draw from the most prominent race of all, and connect historical (and a few future) stages from the Tour de France.  The next day, I started planning.  Off to the internet...!

Le Cycle-Tour de France was born.

The official Tour de France website made a good first-port-of-call, and I started by taking notes of the 2012 race.  The first sheet in my Google-Docs spreadsheet featured stage number, length, notable details, and a link to the official webpage.  I was thorough with the 2012 race, but by the time I'd done the same for the 2011 event, I realised how much data I was compiling, how repetitive it already was, and how daunting my task would be if I continued!  I quickly started taking short-cuts, and summarising and linking only the mountain stages.

That weekend, Kaitlyn and I went off to Whitcoulls and got a pair of (double-sided) maps of France.  I'd been trying to ignore the huge box Simon and my tandem had arrived in, but realised it would make an awesome pin board.  That evening I mounted the maps on the board, and started adding coloured pins to it: a flag denoted the start of a stage, and a standard pin (of the same colour) the end.

That too quickly got out of control, but it was a good way of getting the lie of the the land, and to start narrowing down some options.

There's hills in amongst those pins!
 In the meantime, I'd had a chat to the boss, and had noted the 5 weeks free of teaching between Saturday 8 June and Sunday 14 July.  That was my window of opportunity.

The Pyrenees and Alps are the highlights of any Tour de France, and so should they be the highlights of this tour.  I also thought it would be cool to visit the Atlantic and Mediterranean coasts, and maybe cross a border or two.  A common feature of the race is long transfers, but since I'd have no team support, I was keen to keep transitions to a minimum.  In short, I was looking for a big loop, with as few (and as small) gaps as possible.

As with planning for any rogaine, a basic route quickly started to crystalise - anticlockwise, leaving Paris to the south-west, a 1000km blast down the Atlantic coast, the Pyrenees, across to the Alps via Mont Ventoux, a few days in the Alps, and then, north-west back into Paris.  After nailing that down, the individual days started to come together too. 

Aside from the official Tour site, was a great resource, as became, which had a very convenient database of start and finish locations and was well worth setting up an account for. That gem was complemented nicely by the similarly excellent database of climbs on  I also made heavy use of and a bit later in the process, when I wanted to see what I was really up for,, which has a rating system which takes into account the vertical gain of a climb, its distance and overall elevation, to construct a measure of difficulty which roughly accords with ASO's Tour de France categorisations.  Of course, these were only really relevant for the few stages I'd be doing in reverse.

As the weeks ticked by, there weren't many in which I didn't make one change or another.  I enjoyed telling people what I was planning, and researching whatever suggestions they made.  One of the best questions was from Fraser MacMaster one Friday evening at Revolution Bicycles.  While most people had asked "will you see the Tour?" to which I would typically begin "they're starting on Corsica this year..." before getting into a lengthy defence of my choice not to watch a tour stage, Fraser asked "will you see any of the Dauphiné?  Or Tour de Suisse?"

I rushed home, excited to have realised (or to have had it brought to my attention) that the Tour de France is not the only major cycling event in Europe in June and July.  As it turned out, the Critérium du Dauphiné was too early for my purposes, overlapping with the last week of the university trimester.  Tour de Suisse was more of a possibility, but would require complete reworking of my route.

Instead, I looked around for a further alternative.  One race that seemed to fit in with my existing plan was La Route du Sud, a four-day race given a 2.1 rating by the UCI.  As Inner Ring explains, the "2" designates a stage race, while the ".1" indicates it is a third-tier race, below World Tour (Pro Teams + wildcards) and HC (max 70% Pro Teams).  A quick look at the team list, and there were a few that I recognised immediately from a few years of late-night Tour de France spectating: AG2R, BigMat, Cofidis, Europcar, FDJ, Movistar, Sojasun, Sky, plus an almost equal number of teams I'd not heard of.

The dates of this tour, 13-16 June, would have me in roughly the same area, and though the specifics of the course were not yet available, I made a diary note to check back in April.  In between then and then, I made one major tweak to my route, after realising that I was rushing things a little in the Pyrenees, but there were plenty of minor changes...

Version 1, already with updated Pyrenees stages

Version 2:  2013 stage to Gap

Version 3:  ditching Melun to finish
The release of the Route du Sud stage details necessitated final tweaks - the queen stage was on the 15th, and I'd be two days away in Version 3.  So, I decided to forgo my visit to Marennes (which would have equalled the number of times the Tour had visited there) and also to combine two monster stages into one to get me into Bagneres-de-Luchon in time to watch the cavalry pass through.

Version 4 (and final?):  overhaul of the Pyrenees, and inclusion of my TV highlight of 2012 - going  the wrong way to Mâcon.

All the while, assorted logistical tasks have been falling into place.  I booked a spot for my bike bag in Paris with the Blue Marble Travel, and finally got a christmas gift from my sister Millie and her man Lyle loaded up on my GPS unit:  Garmin's City Navigator Europe ("more than 10 million km of road coverage...") (Thanks guys!)

Just recently, Oli's thrown a compact crankset onto my Colnago (50-34 to replace the existing 53-39) and double-taped the handlebars, hopefully a simple yet effective way of keeping my hands and arms in good shape through roughly 200 hours of road riding in the space of a month.

A few things will go down to the wire.  When I booked my flights back in November, I requested an upgrade on the Auckland-Heathrow Qantas flight (necessitating a slightly higher fare than the lowest available).  I'll find out whether or not that raffle ticket was worthwhile at check-in.  Hopefully I get handed a Premium Economy boarding pass and get to ride on the top deck of the snazzy Airbus...  I hope to hit the ground "running"...

Here's the plan...

1: From Paris to the Pyrenees

The focus of the first week is to get myself down to the Pyrenees to watch the pros and their entourage scale a high mountain.  

The final stage of the 2013 Tour de France leaves from Versailles, and I'd originally planned to ride that route in reverse.  This, and a couple of other 2013 stages, are a nuisance in the sense that the routes aren't available much in advance (i.e. certainly not yet!).  Some of the dates on the cyclingnews pages from last year suggested the detailed maps for the latter stages might not be available online until during the race, so cutting this one was a relief.

The clincher in this matter was a comment by my good friend Tim Mulliner, along the lines of "have you read Chasing the Chimney Sweep?"  I hadn't, and nor had I heard of it, but I soon learned that it documented a Kiwi foursome's re-enactment of the inaugural Tour de France.  Which began... 

... outside an obscure restaurant in the outskirts of Paris.  

Prologue:  Paris to Versailles

Screw 2013.21 (2013, Stage 21), I'm getting to Versailles via the Hotel Reveil Matin (and will be praying that in real life, it's not an assault on the senses like the website is)!  There are at least a couple of plaques I'll be looking out for:  the 50th anniversary one described in Chasing the Chimney Sweep, and the centenary one, as seen in Judith Swallow's photo...

I'm due into Charles de-Gaulle airport at 1pm, and if I'm to make the race (spectating is a serious business), I need to make the most of that first afternoon.  Metro to Blue Marble, unpack and assemble the bike, and hit the road.  With the detour to Montgeron, I have about 50km to ride to my first night's accommodation in Versailles.

Hopefully a good dose of active recovery, and a solid sleep will be a good substitute for resting after flying half way around the world.  

Stage 1:  Versailles to Le Mans

My first road stage will replicate the fourth stage of the 1975 Tour de France, from Versailles to Le Mans.  A bizarre choice, but one of necessity!  This is the oldest stage in my collection, with the next oldest being from the '89 Tour, but it gets me out of Paris nicely and hooks me in to a much more recent stage.

Hopefully the three-hour spin of the evening before will have loosened my legs up nicely, as I'll have 228km to contend with.  On the other hand, apart from admiring the French countryside, and the odd stop for bread and water, I have nothing on my agenda but riding.  This should fill the day nicely, no?!

This stage was not a defining one of the 1975 Tour.  It was won by Frenchman, Jacques Esclassan - his first Tour de France stage win at the time, though he would go on to win a total of five stages across seven races.  Francesco Moser was in yellow at the time, and he finished safely in the bunch, all but seven of which finished on the same time as Esclassan.  

Stage 2:  Le Mans to Châteauroux

As with much of this first week, it was borne of necessity, and this stage from the 2011 tour (stage 7) continues my southward trend.  Though, I'll be undoing a lot of west on this 218km stage.  That said, I still will end up 268km riding south of Versailles in the first two stages, so not too much is lost!

Quite unlike the 1974 Stage, there's an abundance of information about this day's predecessor, including an easily followed map, and a blow-by-blow account of the race.  I very much doubt I'll recognise any of it, although I certainly watched parts of it in real-time, and perhaps others at some souped-up "let's get to the interesting part" speed on the big screen at home.
This stage was won by Briton, Mark Cavendish, three years after taking his first stage win in the same town.  Future maillot jaune and winner, Bradley Wiggins, crashed out ending his hopes for a strong showing in the race.  Thor Hushovd was in yellow - a jersey won in the team time trial in stage two, and held in exciting fashion until stage 9. 

Here's a 45 minute highlight reel, where you'll see all that, and more...

Transfer:  Châteauroux to Poitiers

One of the things I was looking for when I designed the overall route, was to have a "short" day every three or four.  My plan, such as it can be when decided upon in the comfort of my home in NZ, is to knock out a relatively short ride, and follow that up with a visit to the  laundromat.  I'll have only one set of riding kit with me, and while I'm anticipating being able to keep it in reasonable state by rinsing it each night and hopefully drying it off in my room, I think it will be essential to give it a proper wash (with laundry powder etc) every few days.  I don't want to get too feral!

Originally I'd planned to go out to Marennes on the Atlantic Coast from Le Blanc (60km from Châteauroux, via 1997.6), but the Route du Sud connect called for slightly better progress, and cutting that and the next stage out saved me a day and 100km.  I'll visit the ocean in a few days time (or in a few years...).

Stage 3:  Poitiers to Bordeaux

This, my longest day (distance-wise), replicates 1989.7 - another for the sprinters before the race hits the Pyrenees.  I expect I'll be faced with the same sense of trepidation as those power-houses might, but have no idea whether the mountains will be close enough for me to see as I make my way south.

These old routes were a bit of a drag to find details on, but I found a rather nice youtube clip of this stage (see below) with which to try to piece together exactly which way the peloton rode. In any case, the default google maps (driving) route suggestion is only 8km short of the massive 258km stage length. 
There were certain features of the race I hope not to contend with!  It was described as one of the wettest stages of the '89 race, and one in which riders "had to battle into a headwind for most of their level run south-west to the Atlantic Coast".  The field averaged only 29km/h, something to aim for, I guess!  (I'd better not count my lunch and photo stops!)
Remarkably, there's a video of the stage online, from which I hope to deduce some of the actual route in the next week or so.  

Stage 4:  Bordeaux to Dax

The mountains will be on the horizon today for sure.  The route - from 2006.9 - sits to the west of the main road between these two towns, getting to within a few kilometres of the Atlantic Ocean as the day's ride passes through Mimizan, and St-Girons.  

Even though the stage is relatively short, at only 169.5km, very flat (at least on a New Zealand scale), a 10km detour to dip my toes (figuratively or otherwise) in the ocean is probably not a good idea.  I've got a race to get to.

The stage was described by cyclingnews reporter as "billiard table flat", which hopefully bodes well for both my jet-lag-recovery and make-up-for-lousy-training-through-May programmes.  The 2006 stage was won by Oscar Freire from Australian Robbie McEwen.  Kiwi lead-out specialist Julian Dean made the dispatches, though his team's timing hadn't been great and his sprinter, Thor Hushovd, didn't feature prominently in the sprint. 

There'll be no time to rest once I get to Dax, and I'll be following that ride up with an 80km commute across to Cambo-les-Bains.  Legs permitting, I'll manage to stick to the plan and pop out to the beach at Biarritz before finding somewhere to collapse in anticipation of hitting the hills.>

Paris to the Pyrenees summary

Phase 1 will be complete, and all going to plan, will have looked something like this:
  • 7 June:  arrive, unpack, hit the road to Versailles; 47km
  • 8 June:  Versailles to Le Mans; 1975.4; 223km
  • 9 June:  Le Mans to Chateauroux; 2011.7; 218km
  • 10 June:  Châteauroux to Poitiers; 115km
  • 11 June:  Poitiers to Bordeaux; 1989.7; 258km
  • 12 June:  Bordeaux to Dax; 2006.9; 170km; Dax to Cambo-les-Bains; 80km
  • Total:  6 days; 1111km; 0 HC climbs

2:  The Pyrenees

The next "week" takes me east across the French side of the Pyrenees.  On the agenda are six Hors catégorie climbs (French, for "big bastards") - the same number of these in the 2010, 2012 and 2013 editions of the entire Tour.  I expect to spend much more time on my bike than in week 1, and distance will be hard come by (at least on the way up).

Stage 5:  Cambo-les-Bains to Pau

Back in 2006,the peloton were driven from Dax to Cambo-les-Bains, before setting off the next day to Pau, via 2006.10.

The stage route is far from direct, and warms up with a category (cat) 3 climb up Col d'Osquich.  A few hours after leaving that summit, I should be atop the Col de Soudet, which, according to wikipedia, was first used as an HC climb in 1987.  At 30km and 1323vm, it will make the local Wellington climbs seem puny, and should be a nice test. For comparison, the biggest sealed climb (and the only HC one) in New Zealand is the Turoa Ski-field Road, which ascends 1000vm over 17km.  That takes me just over an hour at a decent clip.

Next up comes the Col de Marie-Blanque, cat 1 on race day, and a little over half the size of the Soudet.  By the time my speedo reads 190.5km, and I'm showered and with my feet up, I'll have a much better idea of how the remainder of this thing is going to play out.

The stage was won by Juan Miguel Mercado - his second win.  Ominously, he described it as "very mountainous", adding "I was right to ask our mechanic to give me a compact chainset for these really tough climbs".  Sounds awesome!

  Stage 6:  Pau to Bagnères-de-Luchon

No rest for the wicked, and the three big climbs of the day before get well and truly trumped by a Pyrenean classic, 2012.16, or, 2010.16 in reverse.

The days starts with an ascent of Col d'Aubisque, given 5 stars by Kristian Bauer in Ride a Stage of the Tour de France:  the legendary climbs and how to ride them, and described as "one of the most beautiful Pyrenean passes".  His description is in the opposite (2010) direction, and the "fast descent from the Col du Solour" en route to the summit will presumably be a bit of a grovel for me interrupting my ride down!  

After the Col d'Aubisque comes the Col du Tourmalet, a feature of over half the Tours de France to date (, though Bauer cites 20 extra climbs over wikipedia's 54, and he's backed up by Inner Ring in his article on the climb - to be fair, wikipedia only lists those as HC climbs, so perhaps the other times they were given a lesser categorisation).  

And, as if the Col d'Aubisque and the Tourmalet aren't enough, the "run" to Bagnères-de-Luchon features the cat 1 climbs, Col d'Aspin and Col de Peyresourde, at roughly 650vm apiece. 

cyclingnews described this as a "legendary Pyrenean parcours", referring to the quartet as the "Circle of Death" - by fatigue, presumably.  It was a great race to watch, with a massive breakaway group out in front early on (providing stage winner, Frenchman, Thomas Voeckler - not a guy I love watching on a bike, but an amazing rider nonetheless) and then GC players Wiggins, Froome, and Nibali duking it out and catching many of the early leaders.  

Czech it.

Bagnères-de-Luchon to Saint-Gaudens

Race day!  All the rush in Week 1 was about setting up for this day, featuring Stage 3 of the Route du Sud.  If I play my cards right, I'll be able to watch the pros blast through Bagnères-de-Luchon itself (them en route to the Peyresourde), before riding up Port de Bales (HC, 1125vm over 20km) and hopefully far enough over the other side to watch the peloton, blown to bits!  

Stage 3 of La Route du Sud, lifted from their Facebook page, with thanks

That's the plan anyway.  The media guide seems to suggest just over 3.5 hours for the riders, with the "caravan" passing over Port de Bales just under 3 hours after the riders hit Bagnères-de-Luchon.  I love it when a plan comes together, and really hope this one does (and I'm not stymied by road closures).  With luck, my lack of fluent French won't stop me from getting feedback on my plan the previous evening!

After watching the field ride through, I intend to retrace some of their route, deviating only at the end to pop into Saint-Gaudens for the night.  Hopefully, the short day will do me good, but not without the 66km ride featuring some action!  And, I'll be armed with some timely advice from Inner Ring.

Stage 7:  Saint-Gaudens to Plateau de Beille

The pros are starting off in Saint-Gaudens soon after midday.  On the plus side, I might cross paths with some on their morning spin, though I dare say accommodation might be harder to find - perhaps not at my end of the market though.  

With the 168.5km of 2011.14 ahead of me, I'm not likely to hang around and wait for them to roll out, but it would be cool to experience the buzz of a race-village before I get on the road.  

I expect a sobering start to the day, and the first climb will pass the site of one of the few fatalities of the Tour; that of Fabio Casartelli on the Col de Portet d'Aspet.  Aside from the lump in my throat, the stage profile is lumpy too:  that cat 2 climb will be followed by a couple of cat 1s, a cat 2, and a cat 3, before the HC Plateau de Beille, one of the many dead-end climbs up to a ski-station that tend to feature at the end of stages in the Pyrenees.   Those main climbs add up to about 4000vm (within 10vm of the previous stage's main climbs too), so I wouldn't be surprised if it was a 5000vm+ day.  

If I can be bothered throwing my arms in the air at the summit, my next act will be to throw a jacket on (or more) and descend, notching up another 40km before I reach my day's destination, Ax-les-Thermes.  Accommodation and my legs will determine whether or not I tackle the cat 1 ascent of Ax-3-Domaines that evening, or the following morning.  If the latter, I might be able to leave my gear down in Ax-les-Thermes and enjoy the climb relatively unladen! Having written that, it would be crazy not to, innit?!

This was yet another Thomas Voeckler victory, though from the previous year to the previous stage!  He didn't win the stage, but rode very well to hold the maillot jaune.  Jelle Vanendert won, after a solid attack on the last climb. 

Check out the hightlights below, or watch the whole damn stage!

Stage 8:  Ax-3-Domaines to Castres

I was somewhat deliberate in including this stage, despite it being a bit of a pain in the butt.  Bauer writes of the Col de Pailhères, whose summit sits at 2001m asl:
Perhaps the most beautiful pass of the Tour...  one should definitely not omit it... what the pass is lacking in historical significance it makes up for with an impressive and lightly used road.
Sounds perfect, though I will be doing in the opposite direction, both to the advice Bauer gives, and to its use in the Tour, this stage, from 2013.8, in all its 194km back-to-front glory.

Once I'm at the top, my hard work will be done for a while, and, aside from a couple of 100-200vm climbs, it should be mostly downhill to Castres.

The exact details of the route aren't available yet, but hopefully I can get the details before I leave Wellington, or I'll just make it up based on the checkpoints shown in the stage profile (which is online already):  Quillan, Limoux, Castelnaudry and the Cote de Saint-Ferreol before finishing in Castres. 

I look forward to getting back to New Zealand and watching Chris Froome et al duking it out over this one...!

Pyrenees summary

Stage 8 brings phase 2 to a close, and I'm now officially out of the Pyrenees.  The summary:
  • 13 June:  Cambo-les-Bains to Pau; 2006.10; 191km
  • 14 June:  Pau to Bagneres-de-Luchon; 2012.16; 197km
  • 15 June:  spectate at Route du Sud, stage 3, on Port de Bales; 66km
  • 16 June:  St-Gaudens to Plateau de Beille; 2011.14; 169km; plus 30km to Ax-les-Thermes
  • 17 June:  ascend to Ax-3-Domaines; 10km; then to Castres; 2013.8R; 194km
  • Total: 5 days, 856km; 6 HC climbs (Soudet, d'Aubisque, Tourmalet, Bales, Plateau de Beille, Pailheres).  
  • Running total:  11 days; 1967km; 6 HC climbs

3:  Pyrenees to the Alps

The third phase of the trip is to get across to the Alps, and should be a nice mix of easy riding and hard riding, during which I actually intend to make like a more traditional cycle tourist for a couple of days!

Stage 9:  Castres to Montpellier

More back-tracking, this time by way of 2007.12.  In its original format, from Montpellier to Castres, it featured three cat 4 climbs and a cat 2, and while I doubt starting at 175m asl will make much difference to these, I might get a slightly easier run in the opposite direction. 

As I think back to an amazing few days in the Pyrenees, I'll no doubt have a lot more insight into how the Tour de France peloton would have been feeling as they rode towards the mountains near the end of their second week of racing.  However tough I think those guys are now, I expect to have new insight by the time I leave Castres.

It's around the wrong way, but here are the highlights...

Transfer:  Montpellier to Carpentras

I'd originally pencilled in the 231km stage 1994.15 before realising that particular monster included the fearsome Mont Ventoux before finishing back down in Carpentras.  1970.15 shaved almost 100km off that, and would have been a nice shortie.  But, the difficulty of working out exactly which 144km they rode, and realising that the area has some pretty cool sights, made me ditch that too, and go with a bit of free riding.

Montpellier sits just west of the Carmague - Western Europe's largest river delta.  Wikipedia lists its animal highlights as mosquito and flamingo.  Hopefully I can enjoy the latter without losing too much weight to the former.  I'll try to make myself as inhospitable as possible by riding for a couple of weeks in the same gear...

After getting my fill of the Parc naturel régional de Carmague (at the risk of repetition, hopefully without those mozzies getting their fill of me), I'll swing through Arles en route to Nîmes.  All the while, I'll aim to max out my "seeing old shit" quota - something which shouldn't be too hard to do while passing through towns that have been around in excess of two millenia apiece!

Just to make sure I push myself over the edge (I've done this before, and it's a great strategy - a dozen Deep Cove donuts in one afternoon stopped me pining for them forever after...) I'm going to go see the Pont du Gard, an ancient Roman aqueduct bridge harking back to the first century AD!  Mint!

From there, Avignon lies between me and Carpentras...

Stage 10:  Carpentras to Mont Ventoux

This was one of the original must-do stages for me, and replicates the 149km stage 2000.12, a race famously won by Marco Pantani over Lance Armstrong.  While I kind of lost interest in that particular sporting achievement around the time of the January 2013 Lance Armstrong (with Oprah Winfrey) interviews, the stage has remained in place.  And, at its end, sits one of the most famous summits in cycling. I recommend you read Inner Ring's article on it.

While I don't have a stage map, the height profile gives some solid clues about how the peloton approached Mont Ventoux, a 1600vm climb over 23km.  However, if I'm not feeling great, or if the weather isn't too flash, I might bail on the extras, and replicate the 1987.18 ITT.  It was won in just under 1:20 for an average speed of 27.5km/h.  Given the 1000vm ascent of Turoa takes me 1h05 at a sustainable pace, I'd be happy to cover this particular climb at half that speed!

While I'll climb up the "standard" way from Bedoin, I'll descend to Malaucene, making a nice loop of it.  I originally planned to return to Carpentras, which would give me the bonus of sleeping two nights in the same bed, and riding without gear.  However, the appeal of another 2013 stage, and a nicer overnight location, should see me hang a right at the bottom of the hill and heading to Vaison-la-Romaine (at least, that's the plan!).

Stage 11:  Vaison-la-Romaine to Gap

I'd originally intended to replicate an old stage from Carpentras to Gap (1965.15), but then got all excited when I realised how close to Carpentras the 2013 start town of Vaison-la-Romaine is.  So, the swing was about as dramatic as I could get, and I leapt 48 years into the future, and committed to 2013.16.

The notable hills in the 1965 route were about enough to piece together the likely route.  Instead, I now have a nervous wait for A.S.O. (the owners of the Tour de France) to release the route of this year's stage.  For now, I know it will be flattish, and that it will be 168km long!  (Oh, and where it starts from, and where it ends.)

Pyrenees to Alps summary

Another phase down, with luck, along these lines:
  • 18 June:  Castres to Montpellier; 2007.12R; 179km
  • 19 & 20 June: Montpellier to Carpentras; 165km
  • 21 June: Carpentras to Mont Ventoux; 2000.12; 149km, plus transfer to Vaison-la-Romaine; 31km
  • 22 June:  Vaison-la-Romaine to Gap; 2013.16; 168km
  • Total:  5 days, 692km, 1 HC climb (Mont Ventoux)
  • Running total:  16 days; 2659km; 7 HC climbs

4.  The Alps

Hopefully the relatively cruisy schedule since the Pyrenees (Mont Ventoux aside) will have me looking forward to getting stuck into some major climbs again, rather than dreading them. 

Stage 12:  Gap to Pinerolo

This is a novel stage for me, and one I'm looking forward to - I'll get to ride my bike across a border.  While I've crossed my fair share of international borders, it has generally been by a mode in which it makes absolute sense to me - an aeroplane.  Perhaps it's my heritage showing through, but whatever its origin, this island-dwelling New Zealander is excited about crossing a land border.

The stage is the first of two consecutive ones from the 2011 Tour, namely 2011.17.  It's a hilly one, and features two cat 3 climbs and a cat 2 before the border crossing.  Following that, the cat 1 Sestrieres, which was recently ditched from a stage of the 2013 Giro d'Italia on account of snow, and another cat 2 climb, are on Italian soil. 

Despite being fluent as a youngster (I lived in Rome for almost three years, returning to Wellington permanently as an Italian-speaking five-year-old), today my Italiano is even worse than my Française...  Hopefully I have no trouble getting a room for me and my bike in Pinerolo.  Maybe if my English is no good, my French routine will by now be tried and true.
This is another stage I watched live, and it was very cool to see Norwegian, Eddie Boasson Hagen win in Pinerolo.  Also impressive was Cadel Evan's chase of Contador and Sanchez, dragging the Schleck brothers with him after they'd all been distanced on the last climb.  I too expect to be distanced on the last climb...!

Stage 13:  Pinerolo to Galibier

After one night in Italy, it's time to head back to France, via 2011.18.  This stage includes an inconceivably large climb, and if all goes to plan, will be my second-longest day on the bike (distance wise, at least) - only a few kilometres shorter than the monster day to Bordeaux.

The route heads south out of Pinerolo, and at the 35km mark is about 300m asl.  Then, for the next seventy kilometres, (I have no more formatting options available to me) it climbs, topping out at 2744m on Col Agnel!  Almost a 2500vm climb!  Yikes.  The summit (or thereabouts) is the border crossing back into France, so should be a great highlight of the day.

After the Col d'Izoard, the route drops to Briançon, which the previous day's stage also passed through.  Hopefully I will have scoped out a decent lunch spot (or maybe dinner, based on the climbing that preceded it!

Then, it's a big ol' haul up to the Galibier summit.  Most of this is on the ascent of the Col du Lautaret (itself an HC climb in some editions of the tour).  From there, it'll be a short (distance-wise, at least) climb up to the Galibier, before returning and then rolling down the D902 to Le Bourg d'Oisans, where I'd better choose a good place to stay - I'll have two nights of it, three if I decide to have a rest day and hire a mountain bike...! 

The "commute" home is about 50km, so on top of the 200km stage, it'll be a bloody big day!  I hope I'm up for it...

At least it shouldn't be hard to find a decent pasta meal the night before...

The race was a cracker, but it made for a hard week watching two consecutive stages live into the wee hours of the New Zealand morning.  It was dramatic with Andy Schleck going solo from 60km out, and Cadel Evans mounting a brave chase which eventually pinged Alberto Contador, and made Evans thoroughly deserving of the win in Paris at the end of the Tour.  Judging by the race, in which over half of the 168 riders failed to make the time cut (a fraction of the winner's time), this is going to be a very tough day in the office...

Stage 14:  Le Bourg d'Oisans to L'Alpe d'Huez

This is probably one of the most famous roads in the world today, but as Inner Ring explains, that's only a relatively recent phenomenon.  Nonetheless, it's one I've long wanted to ride, heavily influenced by the stunning photo of my friend Michael that adorns Oli's workshop wall...

Michael Flyger flying the colours on L'Alpe d'Huez

It's only been used once as an ITT course, as 2004.16, and at 15.5km for the day, that's what I'm going to emulate.  I will spare a thought for the 2013 peloton who'll ascend the road twice in one day - they'll be coming north from Gap, and will loop around the back of the mountain via the never-before-used Col de Sarenne.  If the sun is shining, and I'm feeling super enthusiastic, I might make a day of it...  You never know...

The stage featured in the movie Overcoming, focussing on poor Ivan Passo getting passed by Armstrong, juiced to the gills, as we now know (though, to be fair, Basso probably was too).

Here's Kaiser Jan on the second half of the climb (auf Deutsch...)

Stage 15:  Le Bourg d'Oisans to Le Grand Bornand

This day's a monster too, and I'll either have trained myself into the swing of these, or will be cowering in my boots at the thought of it.

If there's one day I make an exception of, and split it into two, this will be the one, on account of: its length (200km), the fact that near the end, it passes by the current domicile of fellow Wellingtonian, Silas Cullen, and that there are a couple of side trips I want to make...

If Silas is going to be home, I'll go with 2004.17, otherwise I'll replicate 2013.19.  The distances are identical, and it's only the penultimate climb that differs.

The day starts with an ascent of the Col du Glandon (cat 1), but I'm mighty tempted to deviate from the route for an out-and-back ascent to the HC Col de la Croix de Fer which is only an extra 4km and a 100vm or so.

After a 30km descent into La Chambre, I have the opportunity to nip off-course again.  This time, at the expense of a few extra kilometres, I get to ride up a stretch of road which I expect to remind me very much of Makara Peak's Varley's track.  Ever since I saw the image below, I've been looking forward to it (perhaps more than any other road in the trip).

Riding to the top of those switchbacks and back to La Chambre might take an hour (or more, even) but I think it'll be worth it!

Back on route, Col de la Madeliene is next, and this will be the final official HC climb of the ex-tour stages.  Following that will be the cat 2 Col de Tamie, followed either by the Col de la Forclaz (from 2004) or the Col de l'Epine (on the 2013 route).  If I go over the Forclaz, it'll be to drop in on Silas, in which case I'll most likely be tempted to crash on his couch.  If that's the case, the cat 1 Col de la Croix-Fry will have to wait until morning!
Back in 2004, it was a win for Armstrong on this stage. 

Transfer:  Le Grand Bornand to Bellegarde-sur-Valserine

Assuming I make it to Le Grand Bornand for the night, I've then got a relatively short day ahead of me.  I'll climb the cat 1 Col de la Colombiere across to Cluses.  Once there, I could hang a left and take a short cut, but my intent is to sneak in one more HC climb: the Col de Joux Plane.  (But wait, there's more!!)

Beyond that is the town of Morzine, and that might make a good (although probably expensive) place to crash for an early night.   It would be a treat to have a couple of short days!

From Morzine, I'll head north, and then turn left and parallel with Lake Geneva, before I'll treat myself to another couple of border crossings - these, in and out of Switzerland.

Lunch will be in Geneva itself, a place I visited with my bro (and Sasha, and Kathryn) back in 1998 (and haven't seen since).  From Geneva, it should be a little over an hour's riding to my next Stage-town, Bellegarde-sur-Valserine.

Stage 16:  Bellegarde-sur-Valserine to Macon

For me (and Alex's lovely dad, Michael Revell - and, no doubt others), the most visually stunning moment of the 2012 Tour de France was the peloton's ascent of Col du Grand Colombiere.  Check out the six-minute mark of this youtube vid (also embedded below) and tell me that it's not something special!

Despite loving that sight so much, I didn't take the time to work out exactly where it was until around the time the Route du Sud course was announced, so within a few weeks of departure.  As soon as I realised it was within coo-ee, 2002.18 was given the flick, and 2012.10R took its place.  Talk about saving the best for last!

I start off with the cat 1 ascent of Col du Richemont (used in that direction in 2002, though cat 3 in the opposite direction a la 2012), before getting stuck in to the Col du Grand Colombiere (an HC descent, but possibly only a cat 1 climb in this direction).  After summitting that, I'll get to ride down that beautiful ridge, hopefully seeing the road laid out before me, like a snake warming itself in the sun.  I can't wait.

One "little bump" sits between there and Mâcon, and from there, it's basically flat all the way to Paris...!

Here's the highlight reel from the stage last year - including another great race by Tommy Voeckler.

Ironically, they skip the best bit.  See the six minute mark in the following clip...

Summary: The Alps

I should be well rooted by the end of all this, and I'm pretty sure a rest day will be necessary, or at least advisable!
  • 23 June:  Gap to Pinerolo; 2011.17; 179km
  • 24 June:  Pinerolo to Galibier; 2011.18; 201km, transfer to Le Bourg d'Oisans; 50km
  • 25 June:  L'Alpe d'Huez ITT; 2004.16; 31km return trip
  • 26 June:  rest day?
  • 27 June:  Le Bourg d'Oisans to Le Grand Bornand; 2013.19; 204km, plus 20km side trips to Col de la Croix de Fer and Col du Chaussy
  • 28 & 29 June:  Le Grand Bornand to Bellegarde-sur-Valserine; 180km
  • 30 June:  Bellegarde-sur-Valserine to Mâcon; 2012.10R; 195km
  • Total: 8 days, 1060km, 7 HC climbs (Agnel, d'Izoard, Galibier, Alpe d'Huez, Croix de Fer, Madeliene, Joux Plane)
  • Running total:  24 days; 3719km; 14 HC climbs

5.  Back to Paris

It takes about three hours (including changes) to get to Paris from Mâcon on the TGV (Train à Grande Vitesse, literally, "very fast train").  I aim to take three days.  

Stage 17:  Bourg-en-Bresse to Semur-en-Auxois

Following a 37km ride from Mâcon, I'll hook into 2007.6, though in the reverse direction to Monsieur Contador and friends, and enjoy a bit of relatively flat riding.  There will be a couple of good descents - namely two cat 4 climbs as tackled by the 2007 peloton.  

Here's the highlight reel.

Transfer:  Semur-en-Auxois to Montereau-Fault-Yonne

It's 160km from between these two stage towns - hosting three stage starts between them, in 2007 for the former, and 2004 and 2009 for the latter.  I think I'll probably aim to knock it out in one day, unless there's a heinous head wind or some such.

Stage 18:  Montereau-Fault-Yonne to Paris, Champs-Élysées

While the stage 2009.21 was 164km, I'll be doing no laps once I get to Paris, so expect to be riding for only 59km.  Hopefully I'll be able to stick to the route fairly closely, and enjoy a somewhat ceremonial ascent of the Champs-Élysées.

If I make it there in one piece, I hope to feel elated, as I bloody well should!  

In any case, I'll look the part, and I'll get to roll into Paris in my custom Roadworks jersey, hot off the press.  What an honour that will be...

Le Cycle-Tour de France, here I come!

Summary:  Back to Paris

A short phase, and the only chunk of the trip that will resemble a more traditional cycle tour!  
  • 1 July:  ride to Bourg-en-Bresse; 37km, then on to Semur-en-Auxois; 2007.6R; 200km 
  • 2 July: Semur-en-Auxois to Montereau-Fault-Yonne; 160km
  • 3 July: Montereau-Fault-Yonne to Paris; 2009.21; 59km
  • Total:  3 days; 456km; 0 HC climbs
  • Grand Total:  27 days; 4175km; 14 HC climbs
It turns out that the total distance is almost exactly the distance from Bluff to Cape Reinga (the southern- and northern-most tips of New Zealand, roughly speaking), and back again.  (When I asked Google Maps for directions, it told me the distance of that route, which "includes a ferry", is 2076km.)  So, twice the length of New Zealand would be a nice milestone. 

My flight home is not booked until 9 July, so I have a full week up my sleeve (assuming I manage to run to schedule).  Even if the riding goes awesomely well, I imagine it'll be nice just to put my feet up for a day, and maybe do some writing, sightseeing, or simply resting.  I'll have no qualms in doing so! The 2013 Tour de France will have started, and while I could jump on a train to see them in the Pyrenees, I'd rather quit the hooning around - I'll be back to France for sure, and will watch some of the race another time.  Daytime television on the other hand is DEFINITELY on the cards!

My good friend Tim has recently moved to Stockholm, and even if all I have is a couple of days in hand before my date with Qantas, I'll aim to ditch the bike with Blue Marble, and catch a cheap flight up there for a night or two. I think it would be the perfect way to ease myself back into more familiar surroundings.

After a month to myself, I imagine arriving home will be a bit of a culture shock, and seeing Tim, Tina and Ana might be the perfect way of softening the blow!

So, there it is - I've no doubt there's a whole lot of incredible riding in there.  I'm less certain that it will be manageable, but I really look forward to finding out.  I'm going to take notes as if there's a book ahead - probably a combination travel and mental-health story - but during the trip I'll probably simply load photos and comments to Facebook.  With a trip of this magnitude (and my somewhat inefficient style), I don't expect to be able to manage regular blogs, but I'd love to keep you posted on where and how I am.  If you want to follow me there, befriend me - and have no qualms about quietly slipping away once I'm home! 

In the mean time, wish me luck!  (I daresay I'm going to need some...) 

Monday, April 29, 2013

There is no back road from Greytown to Featherston

Despite having a PhD and working as a university lecturer, I sometimes wonder if I'm actually a bit stupid.  Case in point, I quickly forget how much I enjoy cycling.  Within days of one great ride or another (whether it be a ride I've done dozens of times before, or something novel), I'll lapse back into stressing about riding, rather than celebrating it.

The thing is, while I am still apparently not able to control my inner voice, with all its "you haven't ridden your bike lately, you're getting fat, and slow, and you'll never be able to do that next ride", nor the one with its "damn this week is carnage, sorry, you've got zero spare time", I am getting better at developing strategies to combat those pricks inside my head.

France.  That's one hell of a carrot, and is now less than six weeks away.  I'm slowly but surely nailing down the details, and I look forward to writing a preview that befits a trip-of-a-lifetime in due course.

My prep through summer perhaps went a little too well, and I feel like the pressure's come off a little bit.  To boot, my last big training ride was foiled by the weather.  Day 1 of a weekend down south was meant to consist of a Southern Alps crossing (and back), but the forecast of snow on Porter's Pass (which did eventuate) put us off, and Tim and I settled for a wet three-hour ride up to Godley's Head and around.  While it hadn't entirely gone to plan, it was still great to catch up with Tim and his family, to talk about book writing, and to notch up a bit of air travel with my Colnago.

The weather forecast for this weekend was much better, and a couple of days out, I made the decision to sneak away for a night in the Wairarapa, and when I commuted into work on Friday morning, my bike was loaded almost like it will be in France.  All that was missing was my Ortleib handle-bar bag, and I didn't bother taking my passport with me (which I must renew - a job for this week perhaps!!!)  Even before I'd left town, I felt I'd gained valuable experience, and I knew that more was yet to come.

I was on the road by 5pm, after a quick visit to Oli, and an even quicker long black at Fidel's.  Nor-westers were forecast, but I fair trucked along SH2, and wondered if the wind was actually from the south.

In any case, I turned off at Silverstream, and notched up my first hour somewhere on Blue Mountains Road.  This climb averages 9% - which is more than the big climbs I'll be tackling in France.  On the other hand, at only 2km long, it is a fraction of the length of 20km monsters I'll face over there...

The evening was surprisingly mild, but I stopped at the top of Blue Mountains to put my wind vest on, and pull up my armwarmers. 

Looking north over Upper Hutt

Travelling light

It was pretty dark by this stage too, and I was interested to see how my helmet light (USB charged, Exposure Joystick) would fare.  According to the specs, it'll serve 2 hours at full power, 6 at medium, and 12 at low.  Though I was happy enough riding at 40km/h at medium power in the dark countryside, I'm hoping not to need the light at all in France, but it seems like an essential precaution...

The Whiteman's Valley section is one hell of a dog leg when seen on the map, and added about 15km to my trip, but it was good to get the extra climb in, and also very nice to be on virtually car-less roads. 

I'd half expected rain - showers had been forecast - but apart from a bit of spitting occasionally I had no need for my coat.

The climb to Kaitoke passed quickly, as did the ride up the Rimutakas.  I didn't stop at the summit, lest I cool down too much, and was quickly barrelling down the Wairarapa side.  I put my light on full beam, but wasn't super comfortable with its position and about half way down I stopped to tip it back a bit - that was a good move, and I appreciated the extra road I was now illuminating.  The wind was helluva gusty, and was shunting me around a bit which was not pleasant.

When trying to work out distances etc, Google had served up a back road route from Featherston to Greytown, but I didn't fancy trying an unfamiliar route in the dark, and stuck with SH2.  I arrived in Greytown almost exactly 3 hours after leaving Fidel's, and with 90km under my belt.

The Greytown Hotel was as welcoming as it had been a few months earlier when Dave and I had arrived, wet and bedraggled, and I was soon showered (and wearing just about every other garment I had with me).  Skin leggings, shorts, t-shirt, Baked Alaska, Mont Bell jacket, beanie and I put my cycling shoes back on over some clean socks and then rolled back down the main drag to find some dinner.  I'd already sculled some chocolate milk and eaten a date scone, and I probably went a bit easy on it, eating only a $4 eggburger, a piece of fish and a corn fritter.  One "goreng" or another probably would have been a better choice in hindsight.

With some hot food in my belly, and back indoors, I quickly had to strip off.   The evening was cool, but probably not a stern test for my gear - I'd be surprised if I didn't strike colder weather in France in June - but nonetheless, it was good to know I was too hot as soon as I had some hot food in me.  (Check!)

By the time I got back into my room, my light was fully charged, so I swapped that out for the GPS unit, which in turn made way for the cell phone when I called it quits for the night.

The next morning I made a relatively leisurely start, but not leisurely enough to catch the cafe at the south end of town.  Luckily I'd already eaten a tin of fruit salad and a date scone, and washed those down with an instant coffee.   A little flustered, I decided to head straight for Featherston rather than scour around for an alternative breakfast venue (and one that opened before 10am on a Saturday).  It took me a little while to hook into the road out to Woodside Station. 

Beautiful, apart from the wind...

Getting out there was an absolute battle into a head wind, and I struggled to hold 20km/h.  At this rate it was going to be a long day.  Immediately after crossing the railway line the road turned to gravel, and I was soon at a T-intersection marked with "No Exit" signs in both directions.  I returned to the station, and got busy with my various technologies.  My GPS unit showed Underhill Road coming to an abrupt end, but I knew I'd seen a through-route on google maps.  I fired that up on my phone, and while the driving option would only go back through Greytown (only 5km away, despite feeling like I'd just ridden 15km), a walking route went straight along Underhill Road into Featherston.  Sweet...!

My selfies need work, eh Oli and Dave?!  Kashi, on the other hand, might think this is perfect!

Even after a 90-degree turn, the wind wasn't a lot better, and although it was now coming from the side, my low speed on the gravel was such that occasionally I got pushed into the loose stuff, and once I was glad not to go down.  After battling along, the road all of a sudden looked much less like a typical kiwi back-country gravel road, and much more like a 4WD track.

Where'd the road go?!

I continued tentatively, and soon was at a heavy steel gate.

A heavy steel gate (well, two gates, side by side)

It had a stile next to it, so I figured it was there to be clambered over.  30 seconds later, I was standing at the Tauherenikau River, looking at my cell phone in bemusement - it displayed Underhill Road cutting across the river and continuing on its merry way to Featherston.

The Tauherenikau River

I was now about 10km from Greytown, which in turn was another 10-or-so kilometres from Featherston.  Alternatively, just across the river, I'd have a mere 6km to ride... 

I had a careful look at the river level, and contemplated the merits of wet shoes.  I also thought a lot about the wind, and adventures, and finally decided to try crossing it.  The water was at knee level by the time I thought about my not-so-smart-phone sitting unshielded in my pocket, and while the thought of drowning it had some appeal, I was keen not to fall over for a myriad of reasons, including the financial repercussions.  I could see the water wasn't going to get much deeper though, and by the time I was across the main current, my cycling shorts were only damp at the very bottom. 

Back on dry ground, I glanced back at the river, and noticed for the first time the rail bridge about 100m down-stream of where I'd crossed.  I'm kind of glad I hadn't noticed it before, as no matter how inadvisable it is to carry a loaded road bike across a river, trespassing on a rail bridge is surely worse...

 An old guy walking his dog didn't seem overly surprised to see me (which surprised me!), and reassured me that I'd be on Underhill Road just beyond the concrete blocks around the corner.  From there it was a pretty easy ride into Featherston.

I had a highly naughty breakfast, after being told there was a 25-minute wait on orders from the kitchen - not often I let myself have a mince and cheese pie, nor an almond croissant, let alone the combination.  In any case, they slipped down very well.  The heat from those and the americano helped me forget my shoes and socks were wet.

After a nice sit-down, I could procrastinate no longer, and it was off to brush my teeth.  Then, time to tackle the Rimutakas again.  I was a bit nervous about the wind, but it wasn't as bad as I was expecting, and I made it to the top without being blown into the sometimes substantial gutter. 


I hadn't worked up too much of a lather on the climb, so descended without putting my vest on.  The wind seemed to be mostly in my face, and I was still looking forward to my legs perking up.  As the Te Marua Lakes lookout loomed, I remembered the nasty bridge soon after, and did a lovely job of bunny hopping both seams (if I do say so myself) - the first time I've been prepared!

At Brown Owl, I got stuck in to an OSM bar, hoping that perhaps it would engage my legs.  The climb up to the Akatarawas Saddle was nice, despite the headwind.  I was pleased that I hadn't succumbed to the not inconsiderable temptation to head straight down SH2 back to Wellington.  I'd been a little shocked at how few kilometres were on the clock, but I don't want shortcuts to be an option in France (on the contrary, there might be a few side trips) so good not to get in the habit so close to home. 

I never feel entirely comfortable on the Kapiti side of the Akas due to its narrowness, and the way cars tend to appear out of nowhere.  With luck and perhaps some good management, I managed to avoid the three oncoming cars, and was glad I wasn't in the car that had left the summit just behind me. 

I filled my water bottle at the tap opposite the dairy, then headed north on SH1 for lunch at New World.  A big scone slipped down well, chased by an apple and a long black.  Then, it was time to head home, with the benefit of a bit of a tail wind (finally)! 

The resealed section north of the Otaihanga turn off was sweet (at least compared to the former abomination of cheap and rough roading), the gravel descent on Waterfall Road passed without incident, and I particularly enjoyed the new, wide and smooth shoulder leading into Paekakariki.  My legs didn't feel great on the Paekak Hill climb, but they seemed to come to life on the descent, and I enjoyed watching my average speed since Waikanae creep up to the 30km/h mark by Battle Hill, which is where I clocked up the hour. 

Always a lovely view from the Paekak Hill lookout

I decided to plug on at Pauatahanui rather than stop for yet another coffee.  The Haywards climb passed quickly, and I felt quite at home on the fast descent.  The Colnago is beautiful to ride loaded up, and the wheels Oli built especially for the job, while obviously sluggish compared to my race wheels, roll beautifully. 

Legs, bike, wind, tarmac and gearing all seemed to come together along SH2, and I found a sweet spot at between 40.2 and 40.7km/h which I held for most of the ride back to Ngauranga.  I popped into work to grab some stuff I'd left in the office, and then successfully rebooted into commute mode for the final few kilometres to home.

I was surprised to make it home around about the same time I'd left Oli's the previous evening.  So, in 24 hours, I'd covered just over 240km, in a little under 9 hours riding (including a bit of clambering across a river).  I hadn't felt super for much of it, but had been effective enough!  I'm glad I've got a compact crankset under my bed, but strangely it's the 53 I'm most looking forward to getting rid of, rather than swapping the 39 for a 34.  While I'll surely appreciate the latter when I'm on the various two-plus-hour climbs I'll tackle in France, I'm glad right now I won't be able to blow my legs to bits going too hard on the flatter riding. 

A couple of other valuable lessons:  carbs (and lots of them) are good, and, there is no back road from Greytown to Featherston.