2019 Cogs4Cancer Day 7: Sestriere – Vernante

After the massive effort of the previous day, this was the day we could feel we were getting closer to the coast. Leaving Sestriere we descended the mountain into the valleys of the Pinerolo region.
It was cold but the sun was out, and we rode through beautiful valleys with increasingly granite and wooded slopes that indicated we were making our way South.

This is Giro d’Italia country, with Giro stages traditionally going from Pinerolo to Cuneo or vice-versa
With it’s potholes and shitty roads, triporteurs and tractors, stunning countryside and strong espresso, riding in Italy is always a singular experience.

The group were chatty, animated and swapping leads easily with no real desire to stop. But as much as we loved our lovingly prepared tailgate coffees by Angie we were desperate for real espresso’s.
A bright corner of a cobbled plaza beckoned us for a round of espressos. There was no rush, we knew we were on the home straight and we had some time up our sleeve; the stage was short and flat and we would be in Vernante mid-afternoon.

The support team surprised us again, this time finding a town swimming pool who were happy to have a pile of cyclists turn up and spread themselves over their lawn in the sun. Italians can be the kindest people on earth, always amused (and amusing), nothing is ever a big deal, Tranquillo.

Pushing on we made good time to reach Vernante in the afternoon with time to kick back.

Beers, dinner and bed.

2019 Cogs4Cancer Day 6: Sestriere via Col du Galibier

The big one.

The Col du Galibier is a real cycling mountain, and when riding from St Jean de Maurienne and passing over the Col du Telegraph it gives insight into what phenomenal athletes Tour riders really are. Hearts like hummingbirds and legs like sticks with no lungs.

All riders were briefed on hypothermia, clothing requirements and (of course) supplemental food before leaving. Climbing off was ok, living to fight another day was ok, there are more days to come.
Lunch was going to be a long way away with coffee at the top of the Telegraph but no more. The weather was ominous with potential sleet and freezing temperatures. There was no time to lose.
Finishing in the dark was out of the question due to the hotel being at the top of a 3rd mountain AFTER the Galibier. Our accomodation organiser Ben delighted in placing all hotels at the top of hills and mountains. Cheeky bugger.

The initial climb to the Telegraph is pure Alps; switchbacks, alpine forest and double lanes for logging trucks and snow ploughs. The group was divided into experienced and fatigued groups, allowing for road captains to set differing paces with the different levels of riders.

Coffee at the Telegraph, grab more jackets, go.

The landscape turned from alpine to lunar as we crossed the valley and began climbing again. Headwinds and sleet hit us in the face, riders climbed off, the gradient was unrelenting, the bit between the teeth, staring at the road in front of the wheel.

…And finally… into the tunnel and stopping at the gift shop for hot chocolate, coffee, whatever it was that would warm our hands and legs again before we descended. We were nervous about the cold and early signs of hypothermia were appearing; shaking, glassy-eyes, lethargy.
Receiving word that the support team had found shelter close by we got back on the bikes and rode down the mountain in sleet and punishing wind.

I really don’t know how they did it but each day our support team would find a lunch spot of such divine inspiration I’m sure David had a line straight to the Big Man himself.
The crew had persuaded a closed-for-winter roadside Gite to open up and allow the crew to use the kitchen to rustle up an endless supply of bacon sandwiches and shelter a dozen hypothermique cyclists and staff.
This whole thing is balls-out crazy!

And we kept going. Down through the rain, through the avalanche tunnels, winding down to the valley before climbing up to the ski resort of Sestriere. We were single-purpose machines, we just kept on going. Another corner, another climb, another hairpin, hidden switchbacks, heavy asphalt. But we just kept going. Until we stopped.

 

2019 Cogs4Cancer Day 5: Albertville – St Jean de Maurienne

My knee was still proving difficult, and I made the decision to swap from rider to support and drive a van. I had just finished doing this with the Ride From the Sun and didn’t mind too much the idea of supporting the riders. We had already had a hospitalisation and we were only halfway through the ride, so there was plenty to do.
Winding up from Geneva towards Annecy we were finding ourselves lost again; I had lost contact with the riders and the communication between the support team was cracking, as were tempers – especially mine.

We had covered nearly 700km in extreme conditions, with 700km to go including a traverse over the Alps and I was questioning why we were continuing and what, personally I was achieving and contributing. I took a break near Annecy in a small coffee shop in an industrial estate and switched my phone off to try and collect my thoughts.
Fors and againsts, my sponsors, fundraisers, family at home, train timetables, who to leave the keys with if I go, who was injured, were the organisers coping, were the support staff coping, who will lead, this was my whirlwind of thoughts and feelings I couldn’t resolve from the drivers seat of a support van lost in Annecy.
Winston Churchill once said “Never waste a good crisis” which is what I was in, so I finished my coffee, thanked them for having me and climbed back into the van and drove on to meet the group and figure out next steps.

We had reached the mountains – which is my natural element. I run, ride and ski in the mountains of the Alps Maritime region all year-round and had passed through the region only a few weeks before. I love the area and my mind was appeased to a certain extent seeing the summits and valleys appear. My thoughts turned to those who had donated, who had put time aside to help me and who believed in what the Cogs4Cancer charity stood for.
It had been only a few short weeks since I had stood up in front of the Ride From the Sun riders and asked them to buy armbands to support the ride I was now in the middle of. They believed in what I was doing, so why didn’t I?
For me, the ride had stopped being about raising money for Charity and feeling part of the support for cancer survivors and their families and had become a daily list of injuries, navigation issues and equipment failure. I had lost my way.

This was a turning point, because I could either leave now – or find a knee-brace and strap my leg up and continue on. Which, after talking to James at lunch is what I did.

We finished that day riding to St Jean de Maurienne through the dark valleys chasing the setting sun – our first real glimpse of sunlight since the beginning of the ride.

Reminding us that we were deep in Tour de France territory, and reminding us of how close we were to the Col du Télégraphe and Galibier, our hotel in St Jean de Maurienne was a living museum of cycling and Tour de France history. The 2019 Tour had passed through a few months before, which for me was a real headtrip considering I had been in Brussels to see the start and this was now my 3rd crossing of Europe within 5 months.
I was beginning to feel like each day was Groundhog Day…

Beers, dinner and bed. We were meeting the Col du Télégraphe and Galibier tomorrow.

2019 Cogs4Cancer Day 4: Besanćon – Geneva

Knee pain is the common cold of cyclists, it is always around and if you haven’t had it yet, then it is only a matter of time.
I run the France-based bikefitting service Etude Posturale 06, and have vast experience in cycling all over the world and with thousands of clients.
Riding a bike since the age of 3 I have applied myself to most 2-wheeled disciplines including street, freestyle and dirt-track BMX, Mountain biking, Cyclocross, Road and Time Trial racing and Track cycling amongst others. Bike crashes and motorcycle injuries have left me with compensations and injuries that take daily care with Yoga, training and breathing-exercises.

The night upon arriving in Besanćon I noticed that my right knee was ‘tickling’ me when walking down the stairs to dinner. Letting me know it was there, a little hello. The last few hours in the rain I had had no feeling in my legs and from what I can tell when I clipped in to my pedals after a red-light, puncture or other I caught some wet-weather material from my overshoes that jammed my foot in an inward rotation thereby canting my hips to the right. Hello tendonitis.

Warm and cold treatments followed by strapping and fascial release got me through the mornings ride but a prolonged stop and cold (we love emergency blankets) was the last straw so I climbed off and took up navigating in one of the cars.

The Doubs region is extraordinarily beautiful, butted up close to Switzerland and named so after the Doubs river that winds it way through the gingerbread villages immortalised in the book ‘The Alps and Pyrenees’ by Victor Hugo, who was born in the region.

I spent the afternoon as a spectator with the lovely Angie helping navigate and fix tyres and mechanicals, but I was becoming frustrated with the maps, the communication and watching the riders becoming injured and losing their motivation due to endless stops, rerouting and supplemental hours in bad conditions.
We were small boats on a wavey sea.

In Geneva we reviewed the navigation and found that riders were riding with different versions of the GPS maps on their Garmins to the support cars that was leading to delays that cost time and energy. We were covering up to and over 200 kilometres a day with some riders having only ridden around the block the week before…
A late night on the computer with Steve and we had a series of maps that could be distributed to riders and staff to get us on track and in one direction again, together.

2019 Cogs4Cancer Day 3: Nancy – Besanćon

Preparing for the 2019 Cogs4Cancer charity ride meant that the riders were talking to friends and family about cancer, it’s realities and also sharing their family stories that come from this condition.
I come from a troubled family who, like many Australian families had their ‘settler’ story turned upside-down by a returning servicemen from the “War” who really had no means to cope with what they had experienced and thus railed this upon their children and spouses, leaving future generations devastated in their wake.
My story came from my Great-Aunt Pat who, as a chain-smoking alcoholic lost her limbs one-by-one to a cancer that steadily took her life while she bemusedly looked on.
Riding through parts of Belgium, Germany, and then towards Besanćon we were passing through regions and areas that had seen battle, internment camps, occupations and executions that left future generations in many ways fighting cancer daily.

By the 3rd day the riders were becoming tired and many were on pain-killers already. 2 days of 10+ hours on the bike in cold and rain riding through headwinds while becoming repeatedly lost had started to drag down morale. So it was decided to share our own stories of cancers’ impact on our lives and to remember why we were here and what we were trying to achieve.
Ben Cameron, one of the organisers of the 2019 ride had been through cancer himself and was bravely pushing through what was becoming a difficult project to manage both for its scale and human diificulties.

A short moment of sharing before leaving the hotel as the rain poured down around us gave us all the bit to place between our teeth for what would probably be the hardest day of the ride.

James Mitchell, co-organiser and Steve Brannaugh were heroes on this day. Doggedly setting a pace through nondescript country in pouring rain to keep the group moving forward. Becoming lost repeatedly amplified the difficult nature of this ride, meaning we were out in the cold and rain for accumulating hours that wore on new and experienced riders.

Many riders after the lunch break climbed off being very close to hypothermia and who had real need to go on to the hotel to warm up so as to avoid becoming sick.

In the end it was a small group who arrived in Besanćon after a torturous last 2 hours in the with only a support vans headlights to see by.

After every battle a good soldier cleans his rifle before sleep, and we did the same for the bikes. Battered, muddy and forlorn, the hotel provided piped hot water to clean the bikes before we too could shower and eat. This was becoming more and more epic each day.

2019 Cogs4Cancer Day 2: Luxembourg – Nancy

Riding across Europe in nice weather takes calories. Alot of calories. Riding across Europe in bad weather takes more calories. Alot more calories.

If I could run, ride and ski with a food truck driving next to me feeding me sandwiches, smoothies, pizza, coffee and brownies all day I would, no questions asked. I’m naturally thin and can feel cold in summer, so when I undertake this type of thing I pack food and drink into pockets, up sleeves, under my shorts, in bottles and hide food in support cars, vans, backpacks and in the back of ski-doos.

So my breakfast routine during endurance events look like this;
1. Wake up and make green tea and coffee
2. Pack bags and put on base layers
3. First breakfast: Oats, Omelette, Coffee, Baguette with Banana
4. Go up to room, finish getting dressed, bring bags down and check bike
5. Second breakfast: Ham and Cheese croissants/sandwiches, sausage and whatever else takes my fancy
6. Make sandwiches for the road. You never know what will happen out on the road; you may be lost, the support team may be lost, you may have a flat with no help, a crash… anything at all can and does happen. And if you don’t need it someone else will.
– I can’t count the number of times I have handed out food to exhausted teammates, frozen competitors and even injured cyclists on the side of the road.

The second days ride was taking us to Nancy via canal towpaths, forest and open countryside. We were getting used to the rain and cold and all sorts of dishwashing gloves, bin bags (my favourite) and such were showing up. The previous days cold and fatigue was already starting to show in painful knees and chapped thighs, which is a bad sign so early in.

Rain generally equals flat tyres, and as the rain falls and scatters glass, sand and rocks onto roads and pathways, inner-tubes and tyres become a form of prison currency. We had been provided spares by a sponsor who had also tuned and serviced the bikes but had obviously handed the job of creating a spares kit to a summer student because every valve on the tubes was a good 1 – 2 centimetres too short for the rims… and we were flatting non-stop. Time for a stow-away sandwich.

The ride towards Metz along the canals was impressive, and coming from the South of France it is easy to forget that alot of the planet still relies on coal and fossil fuels for warmth and energy. It is an industrial landscape, reminiscent of post-war industry and the economic strength of fossil-fuel industry.

Our support team proved their legend status again by finding an empty covered market to set up a hot lunch for the riders. Some more flat tyres to fix and we were on our way.

We ambled into Nancy with music blaring from Angies’ 4×4 in the early evening after another solid 10 hours on the road. Showers, dinner, dry out the kit and go again.

 

2019 Cogs4Cancer Day 1: Maastricht – Luxembourg

Planning, training, bikefitting, testing, repairing and fundraising throughout 2019, the Cogs4Cancer group finally parked their boats, slipped on some Lycra and clipped in to ride the 1400km South from Holland to Antibes over 8 days passing through 8 countries as they did so.

The Cogs4Cancer charity has a history that began in 2013 with a small group of cyclists from the Yacht Industry raising money for Cancer Charities after one of their number, Adrien Long was diagnosed with cancer. Under the stewardship of Ben Young the charity grew as did the distance ridden by riders each year. Stars and celebrities lent their support, and I would imagine that the Captains were pretty quick to ask their star guests to buy a band or make a donation 😉

Over the 6 years leading up to the 2019 edition nearly 1,000,000€ had been raised and the goal was to keep the momentum up and raise more, while pushing the limits of what was possible for riders of all levels.

Arriving from all corners of Europe the group met at the Teaching Hotel Bethlehem, Maastricht for a meet-and-greet before the off. It’s quite a hotel, and for me having come fresh off a 10-day, 1200km cycling tour going North from Antibes to Northern France I had barely unpacked one set of bags and cycling kit in time to pack the next.

We woke to dark, cold and rain – our companions for the next 7 days – and made haste to get moving. With over 200km on the menu and a diverse group of rider ability and untested equipment, as one of the captains on the road I urged haste with concern we would hit trouble and be on the road for longer than expected.
The weather may have been low, but spirits were high. We were dry, primed and riding South through the forests and country roads of Holland and Belgium.

Riders who had never ridden more than round the block and had never used gears before found themselves on a ride that even experienced professionals would find rough. Learning how to spit the manure and mud slush that flicked from the forward riders was a game to play, and waving to incredulous drivers was poke-you-in-the-eye cavalry. We were here, we were riding and we were doing it together.

The day wore on and the technical nature of navigating small forest roads and cow paths with drowning Garmins was unforgiving. Eating and drinking to keep up with the ever present cold and rain was a task that needed constant attention – not easy when spitting the mud out of your bidon nozzle or holding the bars with one hand looking for a gel.
We were blessed by the presence of our meal crew David, Lorenzo and Adriana who had traveled from Italy and Sicily to be present and support the riders. Their constant diligence and talent at finding roadside areas to prepare warm meals for us was vital to the ride, and contributed massively to the overall success of the project. Riders climbing off their bikes after 7 hours of riding for the lunch meal before climbing back on for another 5-6 hours are so grateful for the small kindnesses that warmth and food bring.

The first day totaled 12 hours of time on the bikes with the group arriving to the hotel in Luxembourg well after dark. This was the beginning of the Sleep, Eat, Ride, Repeat process the group would come to know as second nature.

2019 Cogs4Cancer Day 8: Vernante – Monaco

Human physiology is an amazing thing, and we are each and every one of us full of surprises.
For example lets take one of the riders who has never ridden a road bike much before, hasn’t really trained and then challenge them to ride across Europe for a charity that changes lives and watch what happens:
1: They break. Their body has no idea what is happening as digestion, tendons, ligaments, muscles and bones go into a type of shock.
2: They tire. The shock of this process sends them into a fatigue that can only be overcome with either rest or an immune system reaction – for some it is illness and for others it is sweating and fevers.
3: They lose weight. Their metabolism speeds up even as their body is in shock and they start using their reserves. This helps them as the reduced weight reduces the physical effort of riding a bike.
4. They adapt. With no time to stop and heal, their body adapts – heart rate drops, muscle mass increases, tendons and ligaments thicken and their lung capacity increases. Appetite increases as does intestinal activity and muscle mitochondria volume. Bike speed increases because of this.
5. They forget. After a week of effort they can no longer remember having doing anything else and cannot imagine ever stopping.

This was a group who had ridden beside boat motors, on boat decks, inside cycling gyms and on the road throughout the year so as to achieve an enormous goal that will forever define the Cos4Cancer charity as the hardest and most unforgettable edition hands-down.

On the road we had become a homogenous, single-minded group who shifted to the side, lined up, spread out or sped up and down with just a gesture or word from someone within the group.
Climbing onto the bike was an automatic gesture, clipping in was instant, and there was no need for a ‘warmup’; everyone in the group could now ride straight up a mountain after breakfast without batting an eyelid.

We had been joined by sponsors Aquila and representatives from the Cancer Charity UK who were fresh and primed, but there is nothing quite like the speed of riders who had now ridden over 1000km together in a week. The uphill speed to the Tende tunnel was a thing of beauty (see Step 4 above) and testament to the human body.

The final kilometers were a blur; Tende, Roya and Sospel merged into one last effort as the miles counted down. From Sospel to Castellar and our first view of the sea! We had done it, the joy was pure as organisers Ben and James took us down into Menton, along the promenade and into Monaco.

Such a massive effort, such a massive relief. Everyone had lived a hundred lives in those 1000km, was fit, lean and proud. Good job guys 🙂

More beers, more dinner and more sleep.

 

Watching the Tour des Alpes Maritimes

Cyclists on the French Riviera are blessed with many things; sun, sun, sun and more sun – plus some beautiful mountains, dazzling sea, French food and dark, aromatic coffee (just over the border in Italy though).
A number of times each year we find ourselves invaded by much faster cyclists who delight in taking our hard-earned KOM and QOM titles (unless Kong Fùfù got there first). Paris-Nice and Tour des Alpes Maritimes among them. Enjoy the photos!

Nairo Quintana Tour des Alpes Maritimes 2020


Paris Nice 2019


Afternoon rides of La Madone

Afternoon rides of La Madone

Traffic on the French Riviera is a part of life here. With 13,000,000 travelers each year vying for their patch of sunlight and peace it can be tricky to find the ‘real’ French Riviera by bike.
I pride myself on alternate routes of the classic climbs like La Madone, Col d’Eze and the Col de Braus and place the emphasis on avoiding traffic and cars.

The climb of La Madone can be approached in many ways and a cheeky afternoon ride of La Madone can be taken from Peille, a small village known as one of the most ‘curious’ in France. Why I’m not sure but it is stunningly placed with the local coffee shop inside a cave. To be experienced at least once in your life!