Tue 10 March 2015, 3:03 pm
Three crashes today – but thankfully, none are serious.
A truck nearly runs us over on a bridge on stage one, barrelling through the peloton when there isn't space for both. It only stops when its driver sees cars coming in the other direction. It clips the rearview mirror of one of our outriders.
Also a black Peugeot tries to overtake the peloton and fails, swerving into the middle of the pack on encountering a bus coming the other way. Lots of fruity language and clanking of gear changes, but no harm.
I thought we were in the land of cycling bliss, where everyone on two wheels is greeted with joy?
We climb and climb today, a little less or a little more than 2,000ft for each of my three stages. John Forbes is patient beyond the breaking point of most, urging and encouraging. On stage four we reach the walled hill village of Bonnieux, on top of one of the Luberon hills, dating back to Roman times with 800-year-old buildings, constructed on top of caves and older structures. There are just incredible, fabulous views across the valley to the Monts de Vaucluse and Mont Ventoux – but that’s a challenge for some other time or some other rider...
I get a lot of the climb to myself, between the main peloton ahead and a small group behind. Baking sun and the smell of pine. A bar in the village makes me think how wonderful it would be to stop, have a pizza and a cold beer, soak up the overpowering atmosphere of this old, old place, and then glide gently down the other side... But it's not to be. I catch the peloton as it stops in the middle of the village to let a removals van manoeuvre; I'm too late for "that" picture, the one of the riders climbing through the cobbled village, which adorns a lot of the Cycle To MIPIM promotional material. That was the picture that grabbed my imagination when I first started considering taking part, and I missed it last year being too scared of the climb to attempt that stage. Ah well - a reason to do it again.
A last climb out of the village sees me slip off the peloton again, but then there is a 20km descent, the first part through a forested gorge with a river scampering beside, and David Hutt pulling a train of 10 or so riders in his wake. Brendon is sitting out this section with a brave face but when we finish we can tell how disappointed he is; it’s not easy to have to pull back and this is universally acknowledged as the best stage of the event.
Meanwhile, David Lunts says: "Stay on the bike as long as it’s enjoyable, and get off the moment it’s not." Sage stuff. Define enjoyable, then? He’s not saying anything but he's still smiling.
Then there are smiles all round, as J-J Lorraine rises from the dead. The renowned architect and original 2006 rider got sick on day two and, ever since, has been lying on the back seat of the bus under a blanket. We've been deprived of J-J’s friendly smile and comradeship until today.
(Health warning – the next three paragraphs may be distasteful to some readers: feel free to skip ahead to...)
Passing the time on the flatter sections, the chat between riders throws up (sorry) some interesting theories as to the cause of J-J’s illness. One of the snacks offered to us in the feeding (refuelling) frenzy between each stage is peanuts, almost the only food that isn't a banana and usually served in a big plastic tub.
Between stages it is not uncommon for riders to leg it to the bus for their day bag, in which many have stashed their chamois cream. Liberal applications ensue, after which riders hustle to their second priority: the food tables. (Unless they are Matt McMillan, in which case the next thing they do is run around looking for their sunglasses.) A hand is plunged into the peanuts, a hand that might not necessarily have been washed...
Best picture of the ride? Chris Tredget, *#ss artist...
Another exciting theory involves a bike travelling at speed along a country lane surrounded by farms. Cows cross the road, the road isn't necessarily cleaned, bike travels through cow deposits, open-spouted water bottle close to the ground, thirsty rider takes a glug...
(...here) Meanwhile, back in the gorge, I played tag with Peter de Soissons of Reed Midem (in Team Savills), overtaking each other (always with great care and attention, captain) with cries of "wheeeee" and "whoooo" around hairpin bends for several miles. Will check top speed on return but it will be over 30mph. Boys.
I exploit my advantage: I have saturated fats on my side.
George Georgiou from Elliott Wood (riding in the AHR team), Scott Gardner of Alpha Real Capital (Team Elliott Wood) and I have had an on-off contest for the pork pie and pint award, to be awarded to the slowest rider uphill. I'm winning – George says he's a strong contender but he's playing like Paul Newman in The Hustler, while Scott is riding every stage of everty day AND beating me uphill.
Jelly babies. As any fule kno, jelly babies are a cyclist's best friend, providing an easily portable, intense little burst of sugar energy to help haul a body up a hill, or as a reward for reaching the top. Their presence at such emotional times can make the relationship between cyclist and jelly baby quite intense. Today I spent 15 minutes or so agreeing with the rider alongside me on a strong preference for the green ones - though not to the extent of separating them out from a kilo bag of assorted jelly babies, as he confesses to having done. He also brings up the topic of Basset's vs Barratt. I am thrown into confusion: Basset's surely are the maker? The originals, yes, he agrees, but Barratt also make a fine jelly baby, using more natural sugars that lend a crystalline texture to the jelly of the baby, so to speak. He hands me a couple and they're delicious, so now I have yet another cycling-related matter to be snobbish about.
(Incidentally, if you've ever wondered whether each colour of jelly baby has its own name, wonder no more: http://www.pilgrim.demon.co.uk/alex/jelybaby.htm (sic))
So that's another three stages down, four for Lucy, and Matthew has one more day to complete – he almost looks bored now that he knows he can do it. Sun shining and sun cream slapped on. We can’t feel it in the wind at all but, by the end of the day, we’re glowing from the sun and being blasted by the wind. My cold has turned into a hacking cough that only comes on downhill and at the end of the day.
Hope tonight’s facilities are functioning after last night. In Valence we had a shower with almost no water – certainly no hot water – and no hand towels. But the food was good and the first pint of the tour tasted mighty fine. Tonight we get an emotional speech from Dr Carol Homden CBE, the CEO of Coram, at the final dinner in Aix. £253,000 raised so far this year, beating last year and topping £2 million over 10 years. Dr Homden says the event has helped 17,000 orphans over the decade, and tells the story of Stanley, abandoned at five days old and this week, thanks to us, placed with a family who said: “The moment we saw Stanley, we fell in love, we knew he was our son.” Some tears in the audience. I'm tired enough to let this pun slip by quality control: we're giving endorphins for orphans.
Thinking of Stanley is going to help us get up the last hills tomorrow – more climbing per mile than any other day. So is the expectation of a welcoming bottle of London Pride from the Sitematch crew when we arrive, and then some steins in the Savills tent, if we can still stand. Happy days.
Over dinner we're given a preview of the video the film crew have put together over the last few days, to the soundtrack from Knight Rider. And a fellow rider provides this anecdote from Day One: "I was with a rider from our Huntingdon office going past St Paul's cathedral on Day One and, looking up and admiring it, he asked: 'Where are we?'” I'll cap that: I've been calling the excellent and attentive photographer Chris all week. Today I remember that his name is Matt.
All's well that ends well. Tonight, the shower was superb.
Toby, with John Forbes (right): ”He got me up the hills, a very patient man."
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