by 3Fox Team Mon 9 March 2015, 11:44 am
A few hardy, intrepid and determined souls grit their teeth and head to the bus to put some hard miles in, while the aesthetes on the ride take their bikes for a dawn spin through Champagne. The coach really smells. We need a good reason to sit in it. It's minus-seven degrees outside - that'll do it.
As the riders roll into the pit stop we hear tales of sweat drops freezing on Garmins, beards with icicles and water bottles frozen solid. As they prepare to leave, it's still minus-three degrees. Back to the coach! The terrain so far has given us precious little shelter, with crosswinds causing the peloton to break up. We're in the part of Champagne that borders Burgundy, so hopefully, the countryside will soon begin to be more varied and less open.
Deep freeze: Broadgate Estates' Steve Whyman prepares to ride, flanked by Willmott Dixon's David Hutt and Chris Tredget
Eventually, for stage three, I'm forced out to take part in our mandatory stage, but by this time the temperature has reached bearable levels. We'll warm up, anyway - this stage ends in three lumps climbing up to Essoyes, where we'll be fed and where I'll find Matthew's glasses for him.
Essoyes is a supposedly unspoilt village, half way between Troyes and Dijon, where Renoir had his summer home. But it's fairly spoilt after lunch when Chris Tredget of Willmott Dixon pulls something weird out of the river. Should he have left it there? Answers on a postcard to Hounslow or Ealing at the London Stand, MIPIM.
Look what Chris Tredget dragged from the River Ource
Team Sitematch London loses a rider for a while, as Lucy Taylor goes off to join all the other women, who lead the peloton during stage four.
Lucy, right, is taking 100 miles a day in her stride
I have to do stage six today: two big climbs and then a cold, dark descent into Dijon followed by a mad scramble across the city to our hotel on the other side. At least that's how I remember it from last year, and sure enough, it's an almost identical experience. Too cold and tired to really enjoy the road closures, particularly given a slight sense of panic that those outriders can only hold the traffic back for so long, lending more urgency to the battle to stay with the peloton.
So which extra stage to do? Straight after lunch, a slightly boring and very short (36km) stage four or a longer (47km) lumpier (all climb, with two significant hills) stage five? Feeling strong, I opt for the latter. I'll regret it later: I should have done both; this is the day when all the work from the cycling so far starts to build strength in the legs, and given a relatively easy stage it's worth getting the miles under the belt: I could have got almost to 100 miles a day with a couple of extra stages. Oh dear, I've left a challenge to tempt me into another go.
But that's hindsight: at this point, I'm nervous about tackling two stages in a row.
We reach Moloy, where a lot of riders will finish for the day. A herd piles into the closest thing I've seen to a village pub on the edge of a scenic square. Pints are being poured, into glasses and throats, when event organiser Nick Hanmer walks in and says: "bus in five minutes". Phil Coffey has just got a beer. He borrows the key from the owner, locks the front door and declares a lock-in.
Nick is hammering on the window and manages to point out that the driver only has a limited driving time left; if he runs over time everyone is stuck, so the mutiny is glugged down quick and the door opened...
This is all hearsay - I'm riding:
Lucy Taylor, Brendon Walsh and I prepare to leave Moloy: high viz, lights, thick gloves and jelly babies...
Today was a big day – first big hills, a few injuries, sicknesses, and lots of mechanicals. But Lucy Taylor has managed her 100 miles, I got my three stages in, Brendon Walsh and David Lunts tackled four and Matthew McMillan remains on course to complete the ride. At the half way stage, Team Sitematch London rocks.
And I'm a real cyclist at last! Some weak bit of flesh between thigh and calf is feeling the strain so the physio wants to strap me up (the physios are a joy: one of the highest of highlights of taking part in this ride is getting your name down on the list for 15 minutes of brutilisation at the end of each day: pain that makes you laugh, simultaneous hurt and relief. Weird business.) The physio insists on shaving half my left leg before applying the strapping. First time I've seen some of that skin since I was about 10. Right leg remains untouched though - if proper cyclists are right, that shaving provides a significant improvement in aerodynamics, presumably I'll be riding in circles...
A word on that final hill before Dijon: this was one of my two dark moments last year, needing Pat Hayes' gentle nudging to get me over the top. This time I managed it alone, albeit with the eventually quite frank urging of John Forbes and Jason Hunter. Moustache, the lead outrider, is alongside me towards the end and offers his shoulder. Non, merci! I really want to get through this one alone this time.
(Bikers and cyclists are usually a world apart. But Christian Coy, commonly known as "Moustache", is one of the most recognisable motorbike outriders and a big character on the event, who has ridden Cycle To MIPIMs since it began. His birthday always falls during this week, yet he never ages.)
In that case, Moustache says, music! It's dark, we're in a forest, on hairpins at 7% gradients and more. I'm knackered. Three hundred metres ahead, the blinking red lights of the peloton's rear, always edging slightly further away and always depressingly higher up, behind a train of vans and coaches, presumably quite keen to get to the hotel and dinner. And here's me, puffing MAMIL, with the moto and its leatherclad rider alongside, booming out eurodisco beats (I haven't the energy to ask for "London Calling") and yelling: "Encore, allez, allez, magnifique, formidable, allez, encore..."
I got there in the end. How to turn pain and desperation into fun.
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