Tour Blog 2016

Stage 21 – Chantilly to Paris

And so, with the Eiffel Tower as our backdrop, another fantastic Tour de Force comes to an end on the Champs Elysee. With family Champs Elyseewelcoming our riders to the finish line with banners and cheering, it was, as it always is, an emotional place to be. Will any of us ever be the same again? I doubt it. A challenge as big as this rarely leaves one untouched.

And now? Somehow, with the bubble gently burst, it’s time to get back to our lives and work out how to live them. Many of our riders go on to make big changes. They’ve discovered what matters to them most, and just what they’re capable of achieving while out on the roads of France.

For the William Wates Memorial Trust, they are able to award yet more grants as well as continue to provide the support to the charities they are already helping to fund. Their work continues and this year’s ride will raise over £320,000 (and counting) which is a huge achievement. The Trust as well as the entire Tour de Force team would like to thank all the riders and their supporters for their hard work and generosity in making this possible.

And you? Well if you’re reading this and are thinking: “I’d love to do that”, then make sure you have registered your interest to take part in order to sign up on Wednesday this week for the Tour de Force 2017! Next year, don’t just watch it … ride it!

Stage 20 – Megeve to Morzine

If we could design the perfect final day for an epic Tour de Force, it would look like this. No transfers – ride door to door. Clear blue skies andIMG_0997 glorious heat. Massive snow-capped mountains and the most incredible Alpine scenery. A group of road-hardened cyclists all completing the toughest few days, or 3 weeks of cycling they will probably ever do. A hefty dose of associated emotion as they realise they’ve been living the dream … and it’s all about to come to its natural conclusion. Throw in an idyllic French cafe at the first feedstop, 4 of the best Alpine climbs there are and whooping, sweeping descents, a cafe with views where everyone can gather at the top of the final climb with just a descent down to the best hotel of the tour and I think it’s safe to say it doesn’t get any better than this. And then serve tartiflette for dinner.

It was a privilege to ride with our cyclists today and to be at the top of the final climb with many of them was a very special moment. We have cycled 20 stages of what has proven to have been the toughest tour to date. Our riders have come through with dignity, determination and finesse. We couldn’t be more proud of each and every one of you.

IMG_0990With just the glory procession into Paris to come, this is their chance to soak up the reality of what they have achieved. Those continuing to Paris are all our Lifers plus the ‘Half Lifers’ who joined us in Andorra – which seems a lifetime ago now and Mont St Michel, a distant memory.

Paris gets emotional. Family will be joining many riders to help them celebrate. After the short spin into the city from nearby Chantilly, we will group at the Eiffel Tower for photos and do a lap of the Champs Elysee (just the one – the pros get to do several, but then they have closed roads – it’s not a lap most of our riders ever wish to repeat!) and Arc de Triomphe before heading to our nearby hotel. In the evening we’ll all head to the Seine for a river cruise and dinner and a glass of pop! The blog will follow on Monday with a final wrap-up and fundraising tally.

The donations are still coming in. We’re enormously proud of all our riders and grateful to all their supporters. This crazy 3 weeks has been just as much about the kids we are helping, as it has been about the ride. The charities we support never give up on the kids they work with. We’d like to think we never give up on our riders either. Together, we can help change lives. We can help riders and young people achieve things in life that they never thought possible. By bringing those 2 worlds together, the Tour de Force has become a wonderful thing. All our staff who work on this event are enormously proud to be a part of it. So as we draw to the end of this year’s tour, I can only ask one question … who’s for 2017?

Sales open on Wednesday. Don’t just watch it … Ride it!

Stage 19 – Albertville to Megeve

After one of the most glorious days you can imagine on a bike, our photo gallery pretty much tells the story. Fabulous sunshine but not too hot, HUGE climbs that had lungs bursting and legs popping (not least the final climb of the day – a 10km effort after 5 huge climbs already nearly tipped most of us over the edge with the 13% ramps at the start). We’re aching, exhausted and starting to feel elated as the end really is in sight.

Rider of the day went to Tyrese who put in an incredible performance, well supported by lead cyclist Phil, ticking off some of the biggestTyrese and Phil climbs of the day and only calling it quits near home when a puncture caused him to stop. He surpassed all expectations and has a huge smile to show for his efforts. Chapeau Tyrese! Thandi also excelled by giving us a great after-dinner about Westminster House Youth Club, their work, the kids they support and the difference that is made by the support for their Duke of Edinburgh award that is funded by a WWMT grant. He told us ‘we never give up on any of our kids at Westminster House, and Tyrese is an example of just what can happen when they have the support’. We’re incredibly proud of all their efforts today and proud to be supporting the club, making a real difference to the lives of kids like Tyrese.

Tomorrow (stage 20) is our final ‘real’ stage – stage 21 into Paris is the glory ride (watch the pros sipping champagne as they ride!). But we’re not getting let off easily – it’ll be just as huge as today (which was well over 4,252m of ascent over 161km) but the sun will be hotter and the climbs less blissfully shaded as they were all through today. It’s going to be just as tough as today.

But we’re all smiles, because tough as it was, today was an Alpine day on the bike to be treasured – it really doesn’t come much better than this! Check out our gallery of photos, the twitter feed and the riders’ blogs for plentiful views of stunning scenery.

And for tomorrow …

Stage 20 Profile

Stage 18 – Sallanches to Megeve

Having arrived around 10:30 last night, those with the energy managed to grab a quick massage and get kits washed and hung on radiators ready for today’s short time trial stage. Most were just too knackered and fell into their beds in a lovely old Swiss hotel. Given the amount of sopping wet kit hanging about, it was a shame to have to start today again in the rain. But after the wet descent to Sallanches, the weather cleared and we were greeted there by a brass band and parade special for us! … ok – it might have been for Bastille Day.

At least half the riders dived into the cafe at the start for a quick caffeine injection while others just headed on up the 17km climb to get theIMG_0930 job done. Others preferred to stop for a quick coke half way. It didn’t matter what folk chose – today was just a wee spin out on the bikes. But it WAS all up hill (apart from the last 2km) and there were some killer steep sections between 11 and 13% and a nasty short pitch at the end that was surely much more!?

But the route was pretty and quiet and mostly on beautiful new tour tarmac, past idyllic luxury chalets. After yesterday’s final climbs, the knees were definitely feeling it today, but we all completed comfortably and some positively flew up there!

The final 2km is a descent on which, Phil tells us, the pros are expected to hit speeds of up to 100km per hour. 55km per hour felt more than fast enough to us!

IMG_0929The rest of the day has been spent washing clothes, eating, watching the tour battle it out on Ventoux and relaxing. But the best news is that after 2 soggy cold days, we are to be treated to 2 more absolutely glorious days in the Alps, with sunshine forecast and temperatures at a very comfortable mid 20s. Perfect!

This evening we were joined by the lovely Thandi and Tyrese from the Westminster House Youth Club. Tyrese told us about his involvement IMG_0931with the Duke of Edinburgh award that is funded by WWMT – his ambitions to gain his gold D of E award were applauded by us all – I have no doubt he’ll achieve it! He and Thandi will ride some of the stage with us tomorrow and there are plenty of our cyclists eager to lend them support. Should be a great experience!

Tomorrow is set to be another hard day of riding with 2 x Cat 1 climbs, a Cat 2 and a monster HC. But the distance is mercifully shorter so hopefully folk will arrive back at the hotel in good time for dinner. If we get the sunshine we’ve been told to expect, we should have some absolutely gorgeous views and lots of photos to share – which will make a pleasant change after the last few days!

Stage 19 profile

Stage 17 – Berne to Finhaut-Emosson

Today looked pretty tough on paper with almost 4,000 metres of ascent over 183km (which was nearer 193km after we’d made it from our hotel to the stage 17 route start). Add to that heavy rain, freezing temperatures and even hail and you know it’s going to be a really tough, long day in the saddle.

Feed stop 1. Peter and DarraghAfter an easy start in the dry and a lovely, very Swiss first feed stop, we headed in to the first Cat 3 climb and the rain started. A long, slow drag, we hauled up it to the 2nd feedstop where we shivvered over our cups of tea and coffee (what a god send) and piled on every single item of clothing we had in our day bags. Then a descent followed by a long hard slog up the 2nd Cat 3 climb to a ski area before a 22km descent in terrible weather and bitterly cold temperatures (we’d been told it was a mere 1 degree on the top!). A descent like this in these conditions is a dodgy business – the risk of sliding and crashing is always there, so good concentration was needed, even when the shivvering started to effect the handling of the bike.

Once again Sarah pulled a rabbit out of the hat and persuaded a winery to open up and let us have our feedstop inside in the dry and relative warmth. We could even purchase a bottle of said wine! Wrapped in our removals blankets, the uncontrollable shivvering made it difficult to perform the simplest of tasks, such as crossing your name off the register and trying to hold a plate of food – which led to much hilarity which, it was noted, doesn’t half warm you up!

Rejuvenated, we headed back out into a much warmer, sunnier day for the run along the valley bottom towards the serious climbs of the day – View from Forclas climb down to Martignya Cat 1 climb up the Col de la Forclas, followed by the HC climb to our finish at Finhaut-Emosson dam. The first was a straining 13km climb leaving us utterly sapped of energy and daunted by the prospect of an even tougher (though shorted by 1 whole 3km) climb to the finish. For some it was 3 hours or more of climbing in ever-worsening conditions of cold rain and eventually hail and snow.

It was a bunch of very relieved riders who pulled into the mountain-top cafe for showers followed by an excellent feed of chicken and chips before the transfer to Megève. This transfer at the end of a very long and incredibly tough day has been worth everything, because it means we are now in one lovely Alpine hotel for THREE NIGHTS! This is unheard of on the Tour – we’ve never had more than 2 nights in any one place. It does mean a short transfer to the stage start on Friday but the luxury of not having to pack bags every day is too good to miss.

Tomorrow, mercifully, we have a late start at 10am to freewheel down the hill in order to complete the 17km uphill time trial. Sarah assures us there are cafes at the start, at at least 3 locations on the climb and the whole of Megève to go at on the finish line … we’re not anticipating any speed records to be broken tomorrow. And at least we’ll have some time to wash and try to dry the sopping clothes that are currently decorating every bedroom in the hotel!

Bon nuit

Stage 18 profile: Lifers, TT7 & TT8

Stage 16 – Moirans en Montagne to Berne

After all that heat, the shock news of today was the rain. We got a thorough soaking after a nice dry start which caught some folk out without any wet weather gear to hand. Some sought sanctuary in a hotel over a coffee but the rain wasn’t going to ease off. Back on the road and Sarah pulled one of her rabbits out of the hat by finding a school gym to provide us with shelter to eat lunch. We dried off, warmed up and headed out again and enjoyed a much warmer, sunnier afternoon. So lovely in fact that Sarah pulled her 2nd rabbit out of the hat with a scheduled ice cream stop. She must have been getting giddy about the prospect of the 2nd day off – spoiling us already!

And so we swooped into Berne along an agricultural valley bottom, admiring the folk floating down the river Aare in rubber dinghies (an KM's bikeactivity amusingly called Aarefahrt – extra points for any riders who have a go on their rest day – the most creative ice bath ever?). Everyone’s feeling a bit demob-happy. There to meet us (surprise!!) were a couple of TDF Alumni – Mark and Katrine-Mari. Katrine-Mari – a Lifer from 2014 and 2015 (yep – our only female to have been a Lifer more than once) who left Norway on her touring bike a few weeks ago and is heading towards Montenegro where she will be a marshall for the Trans-Continental race before climbing back on her bike and heading back home to Norway. Seeing her fully-laden bike made us all look at our super-light racing bikes in a new light. Go Katrine-Mari!

It’s all smiles now as we settle into the glorious thing that is a rest day in Berne. So – you know the drill – laundry, bike tinkering, sleeping and eating. We won’t be blogging tomorrow – enjoy the break (there’s only so many photos of drying shorts on balconies that we can take)! We’ll be back on Wednesday evening after what promises to be a good chunky 114 miler in the Alps. Mountains? Yep – a few of them, including a couple of Cat 3s, a Cat 1 and a super finish on a HC climb (the final sting in the tail). Sun? Maybe not! But hopefully not rain. It looks like this (hey, we’ve seen much worse, right?):

Stage 17 profile

Stage 15 – Bourg en Bresse to Culoz

As predicted, things got a little messy out there today – the first vaguely flat bit of pedaling didn’t arrive until 133kms in, only 30km from the View from Grand Colombierend! An early 7.30am start meant it was at least cool when we headed out, but the temperature built quickly and we were soon battling it out in the heat of the sun. Several riders made use of the village spring to cool down their legs. Mountain after crippling mountain until we reached ‘the big one’ – the Grand Colombier. It’s a 7 mile climb and there was no avoiding hitting it in fullest heat of the day. Incredible to think the pros are just one week behind us and are battling horrific rain and hail in the Pyrenees while we roast out bits off. Which would you prefer? Rain storms or heat? Both present their own potentially dangerous problems.

The final climb today was in fact a repeat of the Colombier – heading back up, though by a different route and to a lower point. Mentally, this proved too cruel for some and not everyone managed the 2nd ascent. No one should feel disappointed by their performance today. Stage 15 was always going to be murder. Add to that the unbearable heat and we have a recipe for torture. Anyone who thought they had this tour in the bag will have realised today that everything is still to play for. It was a battle weary bunch of cyclists that limped (limply) the final kms to the finish hotel in Culoz this evening. They’re exhausted – utterly spent. And they still have another mountain stage to complete before they get that precious 2nd day off in Bern on Tuesday. They can barely bring themselves to look at what lies in store for their broken bodies tomorrow:

Stage 16 profile: Lifers & TT7

Now – compared to today, that doesn’t look anything like as bad on the surface. But it’s still tipping over 200km so it’s a hell of a long way, and it’s definitely not flat. So given the condition that most of us are in tonight, that’s still not a straight forward day. Bern cannot come soon enough …

Stage 14 – Montelimar to Villars-Les-Dombes

So it’s like this – today was pretty (think ‘sunflowers’) but blummin’ hot and blummin’ windy = blummin’ hard work. Dealing with hydration and general fatigue is now becoming the main order of the day. Sunbathing is for fools – we have to keep cool and hydrated and this is true back at the hotel as much as on the road – it’s crucial to good recovery. Yesterday’s ‘rest’ Time Trial helped, but today was another one of those days that is really all about tomorrow! Explain? Tomorrow is huge. I mean, it’s really huge. It’s possibly the toughest day of the tour. Having ridden today as the final transition towards the Alps, tomorrow we hit the big boys and it’s going to get messy.

We will start the day with a Cat 1 climb which isn’t all that high, but is an absolute killer of a climb to justify that high a Cat rating. Be afraid – be very afraid. This is then followed by a few other lumps and bumps (oh how we laugh in the face of 1 x Cat 2 and 2 x Cat 3 climbs) before the biggest baddest boy on the block – the Grand Colombier – an HC colossus: so monstrous it is without category (hors categorie). Yes, there is an absolutely glorious descent as a reward, but what goes down … must then go back up the final killing Cat 1 climb of the day. So while 160km doesn’t sound that far anymore, you can guarantee that there is going to be nothing left in the tank after tomorrow.

We will have some riders arriving pretty late at the hotel we suspect. But it’s days like this that make the Tour de France/Force the enormous challenge that it is. Some riders have got the nerve to be counting the days to Paris. Too early my friends! Have patience and bide your time. Enjoy living in the moment because while all-too-soon this adventure will be over, you’ve got some serious cycling to do first. So even with another rest day ahead on Tuesday and a time trial on Thursday, only a fool would underestimate how much work is still to be done out there.

While we tackle this tomorrow, the infamous Etape du Tour is taking place on the route of Stage 20 tomorrow (it’s a closed road event run by ASO for over 15,000 amateurs to complete one stage of Le Tour – considered an absolute right of passage for most roadies). We won’t hit that until next Saturday, but we wish all those riding it enormous bon chance, while also hinting that it’s ‘only’ one stage of the tour – so come and ride a few more with us next year and show us what you’re really made of!

Stage 15 profile

Stage 13 – Bourg St Andeol to Pont d’Arc

In the aftermath of the might challenge of Mont Ventoux – the ‘Bald Mountain’ – there have been some very moving blogs posted that describeVentoux sunset the blood, sweat and tears produced by our riders and so rather than try and tell you each story, please do check out the riders’ blogs pages of our website and read for yourself (we’ve also posted loads more photos to our gallery for Stage 12). Top blog of the day has to go to Andrew Steel who reduced us to tears. This has happened before on Ventoux in 2013 when a similarly moving piece was written by Neill Kemp who surely retains the yellow jersey for the most tear-inducing blog entry in the history of the Tour de Force. Just remembering it makes me well-up!

I’ve been waiting all tour for a rider to blog on the food he/she has consumed in one day. At last, Piers Wates has obliged:

Breakfast: 2 pan au chocolat, 2 croissant, 2 bowls of musli
Feed 1: 1 banana, handful of peanuts, handful of raisins, 1 slice of fruit tart
Feed 2: 2 peanut butter-jelly sandwiches, 1 ham and cheese sandwich, 1 plum
Lunch: plate of spicy noodles and tuna pasta, prawn crackers, 2 slices of watermelon, 1 custard rice pudding.
Feed 4: 3 brownies, 1 banana, 1 ham and cheese brioche
On Mont Ventoux: 1 banana, 1 ham and cheese brioche
Dinner: 2 chicken thighs, Cous-cous, salad, 2 slices of baguette and cheese, 1 ham and cheese brioche, 1 slice of apple tart.

You can’t go wrong with a ham and cheese brioche eh Piers? Again, I’m reminded of Neil Kemp’s immortal blog back in 2013 listing the food he consumed on stage 5. I hope he never deletes that blog – I never tire of re-reading it.

And so after the late night transfer to Montelimar that saw us dodging drunken and deliriously happy French football supporters, we all enjoyed a lie in before heading off to ride the time trial. Beautiful scenery combined with plenty of rest time has made today a perfect recovery day after the trials of Stage 12.

Rejuvenated, we look now to stage 14 as we start to head towards the Alps for the next meaty chunk of the tour. Those hills aren’t too big, but they’re leg-sappingly tiring in their constantly rolling fashion. If the wind is against us and the heat is still on, we’ll suffer tomorrow. Lessons were learned on Mont Ventoux and so we should all be better hydrated from now on.

Stage 14 profile: Lifers & TT7

We’ve been abandoned by the huge group of riders who joined us for the Pyrenees and for the next few days we will be just the Lifers and half-Lifers for the 2nd half of the tour. Our next batch of riders doesn’t arrive until Stage 17, arriving on the evening of our next rest day on Tuesday. We’ve loved being part of a bigger group, but we’ll also enjoy being a tight-knit group for the coming stages. Our riders are well and truly ‘in the bubble’ and for those daring (prematurely!) to think about Paris, they will already be realising how hard it will be to come out of this bubble and re-enter normal life. But like I said – such ideas are premature – we’ve got a hell of a long way to go yet and just a few mountains in our way. One step at a time my friends … one step at a time.

Stage 12 – Montpellier to Mont Ventoux

It’s been a long and very hot day through the sizzling flat lands of Southern France, taking in gorgeous historic towns and villages along the way, dousing ourselves with cooling water at every opportunity to keep the heat at bay. All this in preparation for the mighty Mont Ventoux that loomed on the horizon for most of the day, beckoning us tauntingly. For any keen rider, Mont Ventoux is a mecca and a big cycling box to tick. For some it’s been a long-awaited ambition to climb it and today was their day.

There have been no blogs from any of our riders today – they came off Ventoux, straight into a delicious dinner before boarding a bus to Montelimar. Why transfer now? Well tomorrow is our first time trial day and a mere 37 km of easy riding – which by now, is hardly worth climbing on the bike for! Most will consider it a rest day that includes a little spin to keep the legs moving. We won’t be able to race it like the pros because we don’t have the luxury of closed roads. Some will no doubt stop for ice creams en route! But by transferring tonight, it means we can all get a lie in tomorrow and have a late start. Luxury! It then also means a full day with no transfers – it really is a rest day by another name.

However, it does mean that after a long day in the saddle our riders are sitting on a coach tonight without wifi (and mostly sleeping), soDinner tomorrow’s daily blog will include more tales from today’s stage when we catch up with the riders properly and find out how they fared on Mont Ventoux.

Bon nuit!

Stage 13 Profile

Stage 11 – Carcassone to Montepellier

Beware the ‘easy day’. Most riders did find today to be a relatively easy day – much shorter at only 165km (and only 3 feed stops), which meant most reached the hotel in time to watch the pros tackling stage 5 of the tour on the telly. We’ve cycled through quintessentially south French scenery today – the sunflower fields almost in flower and a never ending vista of vineyards. This is certainly wine country.  We even spotted the Med!

There have also been cafe stops today – a sure sign that we’re not beasting ourselves against the clock in the mountains anymore. But we are challenged by the heat which almost touched 40 degrees today. For those who really don’t like hot sun on their heads, today proved to be more energy-sapping than necessary and some concerted rehydration is now taking place. Thankfully a tail wind still made it a pretty fast day for everyone, giving us the opportunity to roll a bit, allowing our bodies as much time to recover as possible, because today was all about tomorrow…

We are joined for a couple of stages by the next generation of the Wates Family. Young Poppy, Harry and Fred (Will’s nieces and nephews)Wates children helping with feed stops have come to ride part of 2 stages with us – helping out our support crew when not on their bikes. Today they were responsible for providing the gloriously thirst-quenching and cooling watermelons at our feed stop. They’re super-excited to be riding with us (not for the first time) and there has been chat about one day riding as Lifers. We can’t wait!

Stage 12 is the big one – we are taking on the mighty Mont Ventoux – the stuff of cycling legend, not least because Tom Simpson, top British cyclist died there during the Tour de France. For obvious reasons, we’ll not linger on that fact – but you all have youtube if you want to find out more. The Ventoux comes at the end of the stage and we’ve all enjoyed lead cyclist Phil’s briefing this evening (a veteran of over 60 climbs of Mont Ventoux – what he doesn’t know about climbing it, ain’t worth knowing). It’s taken until today for a rider to post a photo of one of Phil’s infamous briefing maps that he produces daily for our briefings – but at last … here it is:Phil's briefing map for tomorrow. Ventoux

So it will be a prompt start tomorrow, though no early morning transfer to contend with. It’s all to play for in the latter part of the day as you can see:

Stage 12 profile: Lifers, TT5, TT6 and TT7

Stage 10 – Andorra Ancolis to Revel

Today, Stage 10, was summed up brilliantly by the briefing team – and recounted in Andrew Steel’s blog:

1. Turn left out of your hotel and climb for 26km.

2. Reach an altitude of over 2400 metres over the highest paved road in the area.

3. Cross into another country.

4. Descend for the next 60km or so.

Mechanic Ian and Dr Julian

Mechanic Ian and Dr Julian

Sounds straight forward enough? Well it is really. And yes – that is a rude awakening to hit straight into a long slow climb but also yes, that really does say 60km of descent! You can’t complain about that, right? This is going to be a fast stage for the pros, and it was a great stage for our riders to ensure they got in before dinner (bit of a treat for some after the past few days of long long hours on the road). OH! And our brilliant Ian (mechanic and barrista extraordinaire) got his chance to ride today – and if his smiles are anything to go by, he loved it! There were a few cafe stops too as the riders spotted a shorter day as an opportunity to cruise a bit and enjoy some treats.

A rest day means that no one smells quite so bad any more (it’s clear that not everyone is as good at hand washing kit, so the launderette got good business from us today), bikes have been tinkered with and cleaned, calories have been consumed, admin got on top of and sleep topped up. So the Lifers and those who joined us in Pau have had a boost from the rest a well as us being joined by our next batch of fresh-legged riders who are riding with us as far as Mont Ventoux on Thursday. It’s a good band of riders and they were rewarded with a super hotel this evening, full of atmosphere and a real sense of being in France.

Hotel stage 10

Our beautiful Abbey hotel tonight

Very much a transition stage from the mountains, we are now into the relatively ‘flat’ lands of Southern France (flat yes, but prone to winds too – so group riding is key here for the next couple of days). The days ahead are iconic and if we don’t cycle past lavender fields and sunflower fields as we approach the iconic colossus of Mont Ventoux, there will be some disappointed riders. But the Tour de France rarely disappoints, so keep your eye out for those photos. We can already feel the temperatures rising and our biggest challenge tomorrow is likely to be the heat. It looks like this – flat, right?:

Stage 11 profile: Lifers, TT5 & TT6

Stage 9 – Vielha Val d’Aran to Andorra Arcalis

As an indication of just how long and tough today has been, lead cyclist Phil Deeker has just sent this (at 12:45pm Andorra time):

“after shivering on a wet, freezing descent off the Tourmalet yesterday, today we sizzled in 30°C, stubbornly dealing with a 20km Spanish climb (that came after a 17km stage-opener !).

After a noisy stretch of busy road through Andorra (are they really going to shut this road next week for the Tour??!!! it will create total chaos!), and a great lunch (eaten at 5.30pm…!) roadside, almost IN the traffic, we were suddenly made to turn right up a 15% wall, that went on far too long, even without the sun-oven we were in ! ‘only’ a 4km climb but hurt more than many three times that length. But the “fun” had only just begun: The Beixalis will be a name few here will ever forget, with it’s first three kms at an average of well over the official 8%: come ON – it was 11-14% for the time it takes 12 lifers to repair ONE puncture…. (a long time!) which just met the HC finale climb at well over 10kms in all.

EPIC , INSANE, AMAZING, BEST DAY ON A BIKE – all these & more filled the air over dinner (buffet from 8.30pm to 11pm !) with more far smiles than frowns : all the riders can be proud of their 9000m of climbing in two days……NO ONE here had EVER done that before……”

That, along with the photos, pretty much sums up the day!

A raft of riders, including our first Half Lifers depart tomorrow and they are enjoying a well-deserved pint. I suspect their blogs won’t appear before mid-morning tomorrow. Which reminds me – if you haven’t already discovered them, several of the riders are blogging and there are links to these on our Riders’ Blogs page. They’re really fun – check them out!

Steep enough for you?

Steep enough for you?

Today has been brutal as Phil has described. After the cold and wet temperatures of the past couple of days, we were rewarded with a shocking temperature change today (steaming heat presents its own challenges) and bright blue skies made for glorious views of the breathtakingly stunning scenery. We’re so glad the riders have had the chance to see the Pyrenees in all their glory, but 5000 metres of ascent is still 5,000 metres of ascent! Too much for some.

Huge chapeau to every one of our riders today – whether you made it to the hotel on 2 wheels or 4, you all deserve a huge pat on the back.

Tomorrow is the long-awaited rest day. Aaaaaand, relaaaaaaax. It’s a day for a long lie-in, laundry and a bit of bike tinkering. Most riders will spend as much time as possible eating if experience is anything to go by. After the days of riding they’ve done, they can stuff themselves silly and it will still not touch the sides. If today’s glorious cloudless skies continue, there will be much loafing about in the sunshine. One or 2 crazy fools will forget that it’s a rest day and still head out on their bikes (remember folks, what goes down …). If you want to see what they’re up to, check out the twitter feed. We’ll be taking a rest too and we’ll resume the blog on Tuesday (stage profile below).

Bon nuit!

Stage 10 profile: Lifers, TT5 & TT6

Stage 8 – Pau to Bagneres de Luchon

Today was the first ‘real’ big mountains day, with 4 stonking great big climbs to tackle. With low cloud in the valley and high cloud on the tops, we were robbed of the spectacular views and forced to be careful on the long descents on slippery roads, but this didn’t detract from the enormous sense of satisfaction of reaching the iconic Tourmalet as our first climb of the day. The tour regularly comes here and if the weather is good, the helicopter shots of the Tour de France can be absolutely breathtaking as they zoom up and over the col (keep an eye out for it one week today!).

Cloud above and below

Cloud above and below

Our neutralised first 40km gave our newbies a chance to quiz our road-worn riders and gather some really sound advice about how to play the day. We’re grateful to our Lifers and half Lifers in particular for being generous with their time and experience. Our wonderful sports therapists and physios have taken to leading group stretches at the first feedstop once bodies have warmed up and we’re loving it. Stretches complete, it was time to tackle the first Col. Tourmalet has been a very emotional place to be on tours in the past: it’s a big bucket list tick for most cyclists and today was of course no exception, even in fog. It’s damned hard work getting up there and the sense of achievement on summiting is something else. Congratulations to all our riders who made it.

3 more huge climbs followed and for those who had chosen the tactic yesterday of riding hard to ensure they got in the first post-ride coach down to our hotel in Pau may have regretted it for their battle-worn legs today! But with tomorrow being another big day, taking it steady today was probably a good move.

We’ve got a broad range of experience and abilities with us for these Pyrenean stages. There was a gap of over 4.5 hours between our first rider in and our last, but on a day of such big climbs this is no surprise. A rolling huge buffet at our super hotel means that everyone has eaten their fill and is already recovering in readiness for tomorrow. Check it out:

Stage 9 profile. Lifers, TT2, TT4 and TT5

The first thing to notice is that the start line isn’t where our hotel is, so it’s another early morning transfer tomorrow. But the 2nd thing to note is that the stage finish is in Andorra – and that means that we’re only one stage away from A REST DAY!!!! Yep! Monday is a rest day and these guys are seriously needing it. The final thing to realise is that we lose all our riders from TT2 and TT4. They’ve been amazing and we’re really going to miss them. Of course, they have to cycle 184km first and it isn’t exactly flat. So … one step/pedal turn at a time folks …

In other news, Cav wears the maillot jaune!!

Stage 7 – L’Isle Jourdain to Lac de Payolle

Our highlight today has been having the wonderful Jonny and his Dad Mike joining us on tour from Brixton BMX club – one of the projects supported by WWMT through ‘Access to Sport’. Jonny is a BMX rider and while he didn’t fancy taking on a road bike, he was super-keen to work with our mechanics all day and he’s had a great time working alongside them, learning as much as he possible can. His Dad jumped on his bike at feed stop 1 and cycled all the way to the finish, gaining all our respect, not least Jonny’s. For Mike, this was a life-long dream, his first mountain and the biggest thing he’s ever done in his life. Lead cyclist Phil stuck with him and got him up that last climb to complete the stage. We’re all incredibly proud of them both and so very delighted that we were able to bring them out on tour with us and experience just what the Tour de Force is all about.

Mike has been able to talk to our riders all about the kids at Brixton BMX and Access to Sport which has been incredibly valuable for our fundraisers. He and Jonny fitted right in and we’re sorry to see them go tomorrow. Our ‘charity visitor’ on tour is a project funded entirely by one of our previous Tour de Forcers who wants to remain involved with both TDF and WWMT. We’re enormously grateful to him for making this project possible. Our 2nd visit from the charities will be in the Alps – so more on that in a week or so! (and photos to follow of Mike and Jonny).

Soggy BrianAt ‘just’ 162.5km, today felt like it was almost a pleasure, with lovely sunny roads, most people had a really great day. Eventually though, the predicted thunder storm rolled in adding appropriate gravity to the big Cat 1 climb at the end of the day, to Col d’Aspin, giving plenty of riders a thorough dousing, limited views in the mist and a chilly descent to Lac de Payolle. This is one of those rare occasions that the stage finish is not at our hotel, and so riders gathered in Le Refuge supping hot chocolates and getting warm again before the transfer bus to Pau.

Once in Pau, we’re settled into our hotel and, praise be, we have no early morning transfer to contend with. I know what you’re thinking … you’re thinking, “gosh, it’ll be nice for them to have a bit more of a lie-in in the morning. And that’s true – but for our riders this is a colossal treat that might actually bring some of them to tears of gratitude! It’s a really really big deal at this stage of the game when sleep is becoming a commodity of biblical proportions. So yes, a lie in will be bl**dy marvelous!

Of course, it’s not much of a lie in really because we face this bad boy tomorrow:

Stage 8 profile

Now, that first climb – that’s the Col du Tourmalet topping out at 2,115m and yes, it’s our first HC climb (hors categorie – meaning it’ll be murder!). For the non-cyclists reading this, it’s an infamous climb of the Tour de France – a beautiful but seriously tough climb that is on every self-respecting cyclist’s bucket list.  It’s followed by 3 more stiff big climbs as you can see – a Cat 2 and TWO Cat 1s. So yes, if they weren’t already hurting, this is really going to pinch.

We said goodbye to a bunch of riders in the morning after a seriously tough few days on TT3 but we’re also joined on tour tonight by our next bunch of fresh-faced, bouncy and excited riders. Great – you’ll have plenty of riders wanting to draft your fresh legs and enthusiasm! Our numbers will be at an all-time high on the tour, so we’re all going to have our work cut out for us. We need some breaks in the cloud to get those gorgeous views that we know are out there. It’s official – tomorrow is going to be epic!

Stage 6 – Arpagon sur Cere to Montauban

Now this is more like it! Having got stage 5 under our belts, today HAD to be easier … and mercifully it was – it’s time to start having fun againGood to stop and admire the view (to be fair, there’s been a lot of fun in between the dogged determination). With a small amount of climbing at the start, we’ve actually completed lower than we started today, s0 that’s definitely a ‘downhill’ day, right?

We’ve had glorious weather too as we meander towards the South West of France – this beats the rain showers we had earlier in the week and morale is bouncing back for everyone, with time even to stop for coffees and ice creams. We’ve enjoyed some beautiful weather and glorious scenery, which has been perfect for the film crew who arrived last night to produce our new Tour de Force video (watch this space).

bathrobesLast night was a curious chalet-type hotel that was committed to ‘all things local’ (even their coke was a local version!), but it won’t go down as a favourite on this tour, despite serving fantastic filling mountain-food. Today however is a different story – a super hotel, with bathrobes no less! What a difference a day makes. And unlike the previous 2 days, everyone has arrived in time for dinner (some poor souls rolled into the hotel near 9.30pm last night).

The photos from today tell the story – so make sure you check out our gallery for today.

This evening we were joined by young Jonny and his Dad Mike, from one of the charities supported by WWMT. Jonny comes from a BMX project we are helping to fund and although he won’t be riding with us, he’s super-keen to work alongside our mechanics. They’ve been able to talk to our group and share their story with our riders – all helping us to understand the bigger picture of why we are all here!

Tomorrow is an exciting day as we head into the Pyrenees with a final climb up the infamous Col d’Aspin. It’s a Cat 1 climb … so brace yourselves everyone because this is going to hurt!

Stage 7 profile: Lifers, TT2, TT3 and TT4

Stage 6 – Arpagon sur Cere to Montauban

Now this is more like it! Having got stage 5 under our belts, today HAD to be easier … and mercifully it was – it’s time to start having fun againGood to stop and admire the view (to be fair, there’s been a lot of fun in between the dogged determination). With a small amount of climbing at the start, we’ve actually completed lower than we started today, s0 that’s definitely a ‘downhill’ day, right?

We’ve had glorious weather too as we meander towards the South West of France – this beats the rain showers we had earlier in the week and morale is bouncing back for everyone, with time even to stop for coffees and ice creams. We’ve enjoyed some beautiful weather and glorious scenery, which has been perfect for the film crew who arrived last night to produce our new Tour de Force video (watch this space).

bathrobesLast night was a curious chalet-type hotel that was committed to ‘all things local’ (even their coke was a local version!), but it won’t go down as a favourite on this tour, despite serving fantastic filling mountain-food. Today however is a different story – a super hotel, with bathrobes no less! What a difference a day makes. And unlike the previous 2 days, everyone has arrived in time for dinner (some poor souls rolled into the hotel near 9.30pm last night).

The photos from today tell the story – so make sure you check out our gallery for today.

This evening we were joined by young Jonny and his Dad Mike, from one of the charities supported by WWMT. Jonny comes from a BMX project we are helping to fund and although he won’t be riding with us, he’s super-keen to work alongside our mechanics. They’ve been able to talk to our group and share their story with our riders – all helping us to understand the bigger picture of why we are all here!

Tomorrow is an exciting day as we head into the Pyrenees with a final climb up the infamous Col d’Aspin. It’s a Cat 1 climb … so brace yourselves everyone because this is going to hurt!

Stage 7 profile: Lifers, TT2, TT3 and TT4

Stage 5 – Limoges to Le Lioran

I think it’s fair to say that this is proving to be the toughest first week of the tour that we have ever handled. The length of the stages, not helped by 2 days of rain and now, the size of the climbs, all combine to make this a grueling challenge. The camaraderie on the road remains indispensable, with riders helping to cajole each other along, but morale has taken a hit for some and 2 or 3 riders just couldn’t make it to the finish on their saddles today.

This is tough – really tough. Today, at last, we had ideal weather for cycling: warm, dry, overcast and very little wind. But the profile meant weWooded descents headed into the Massif Central and climbed over 4200 metres, finishing around 1200m up at the ski resort of Le Lioran – so it was a still a seriously long day for our riders – some coming in after dinner. That’s a whole lot of climbing on very tired legs, sapped from enormous miles in the 2 previous stages. Of course, we had some fresh legs with us today having arrived in Limoges last night. Today was a pretty sharp wake up call to the rigors of the Tour. As one of our riders has said today:

“I have no idea how the pros do it. As an average cyclist, I’m struggling to finish in daylight!”

Even the landscape became harsh – beautiful tree-lined roads (even descents!) and some gorgeous views throughout the day, but then the big big penultimate climb to reach volcanic scenery.

These riders are starting to seriously need a rest day, but they’re not going to get one until Monday – which seems an awfully long way away, and anyway, there’s the small issue of the Pyrenees in between them and that rest. If you’re a supporter back at home reading this – now is a good time to send an encouraging message to your rider (and why not top up their fundraising while you’re at it!?).

Gorgeous climbsNow a word on Cats, because you’re going to reading a lot about them over the rest of the tour. For the uninitiated, these refer to ‘Categorised’ climbs. They run from Cat 4 to Cat 1 (Cat 4 being the easiest, Cat 1 being the hardest) but there is also an additional Hors Categorie (beyond category) for anything over 4,900 metres. You’ll see these numbers on the route profiles we post each day. In simple terms, Cat 4 is nothing to write home about (in this context), Cat 3 is definitely a climb, but not a scary one. But Cat 2 and 1 are daunting enough for a rider to show some trepidation, while an HC climb is something to fear. In the Alps and Pyrenees, we will face multiple cat climbs in a day.

This helps give some perspective to the fact that today’s stage included one Cat 4 climb, THREE Cat 3s and TWO Cat 2 … gulp. No wonder they’re hurting!

So, slightly nervously now, let’s look at tomorrow’s stage … oh Phew! There’s plenty of descent at the start of the day and overall, it’s downhill, right? AND it’s under 200km – pah! Walk in the park …

Stage 6 profile: Lifers, TT2, TT3 & TT4

Stage 4 – Saumur to Limoges

There comes a point in every tour where most riders have something of an epiphany. It happens when they’re in real trouble – when they’re in pain, exhausted, demoralised and wondering why on earth they signed up to this. And then another rider/s will take the decision to sacrifice their own day in order to support them and stick with them to help them complete the stage – without that help, they probably wouldn’t make it. I’ve been there myself – and I feel a bit over-emotional even now thinking back to it. The rider who helped me remains a friend with a special place in my heart.

But that was not the epiphany.

Jennifer's still going and still smiling - CopyNo – the real moment of clarity comes when we realise that what we’re experiencing is a mere hint of what many of the young people we support face almost daily. Life for these kids can be tough – really tough. The charities we support through the Tour de Force and the William Wates Memorial Trust are like the riders who come to our rescue. They help kids who think they can’t make it. They support them, show them the way, share their own experience and stay by their side until they DO make it. This realisation is humbling. The kids aren’t just on a cycling trip – they’re trying to get through life without any of the advantages we take for granted and it’s hard. Suddenly, it all makes sense: the Tour de Force epitomizes the work of the Trust and so is the perfect, most logical event to be their main fundraiser. Once that penny drops for our riders, the tour becomes something much bigger than their own challenge and discomfort. It turns this from just a bike ride into a potentially life-changing experience (and that’s no exaggeration).

Just to illustrate this – here is the ‘mantra’ that our struggling rider shared with her followers in her blog today. She is indeed a courageousJennifers mantra woman and the message could be shared with any one of the young people we are helping by riding this tour.

2 riders today were the heroes who helped a fellow rider who was really struggling with morale, pain, fatigue and was wondering what on earth she had taken on. I salute you all. In a couple of days we’ll be joined by our first charity visitors (Jonny is heading out with his Dad Mike from a BMX project supported by WWMT) and I think everyone now has a better understanding of what this is all about. We’ll tell you more about our charity visitors in the next day or so.

Stage 4 was the longest stage of the tour and it’s good to have it behind us. The rain that lasted most of the day made it all the tougher and many riders only just made it to the hotel in time to get dinner. It’s been a long old day and there’s more to come tomorrow of course! The one thing we can all rejoice in is that there is no early morning transfer. This is music to our ears! And we’re joined today (in spite of the French strikers who cancelled flights and bunged up Paris with their demonstrations) by the next batch of new riders to refresh us all.

It’s still a long day – 216km, and we face our first ‘proper’ climbs. We’ll explain the numbers you can see below, tomorrow! For now, we’re making the most of a lie in tomorrow – Bon nuit!

Stage 5 profile: Lifers, TT2, TT3 & TT4

Stage 3 – Granville to Angers

You know it’s been a tough day when the twitter activity is quiet and there are no riders blogging before bed time. We’re really getting down to business now with just 40 odd riders (half the number we had on stages 1 and 2). 145 miles today has been our biggest day so far (tomorrow is even bigger!) and was destined to be tough. Add a thorough dosing of rain into the mix and the soggy socks, poor visibility, chilliness and general discomfort made it all the harder – but then, who said they wanted this to be easy?

Tractor drafting

Tractor drafting

What gets our riders through a day like this? Well, a good sense of humour always helps (there are reports of lots of raucous singing along themes of rain and water – unsurprisingly); a change of (dry) clothing in kit bags at feed stops; hot coffee brewed on the roadside by our barrista/mechanic Ian Harding; teamwork out on the road to help get through the long and fairly straight flat roads quicker. The speed of a peloton (and in one case, the drafting capabilities of a tractor!) versus a solo rider is enormous and of course, consequently the morale of the riders is also dramatically higher. And so it was today. Eventually the weather improved and we were treated to the gorgeous towns of Vitré and Fougeres – the reason we called this section ‘France the Beautiful’. Everyone got through it – some taking 9 hours or more to complete the stage, in the full knowledge that they have to get up and do it all again tomorrow (and yes, we have another early morning transfer).

Kit will be rinsed and dried in hotel rooms in readiness for tomorrow. One rider failed to rinse his shorts properly yesterday and gradually built up bubbles as the rain water mixed in with the friction to create great clumps of foam that flew off in his wake into the faces of the following cyclists. Remember – always rinse your shorts well! But it gave the riders lots to laugh about all day long and helped morale no end (if only we had a photo!).

We haven’t yet mentioned our Tour awards – we have an elephant hooter for the rider who does the silliest thing, and the flat cap (used to be a beret, until the fabulous Yorkshire stages in 2014 made us all a bit more patriotic!) for the rider who shows grace and generosity. Today, the winner of the flat cap was John Griffiths who went back to accompany 2 flagging cyclists who’d nipped in to a cafe for a ‘comfort stop’. Unaware, our back van (that takes down the route signs as it follows the last rider) sailed past the cafe and carried on taking down signs. John spotted him, managed to race after him and disaster was averted. A worthy winner of the cap indeed! Tomorrow he gets to award it to the next rider.

And so with kit drying on radiators in our hotel (a pretty nice one!), dinner consumed, bags prepared for another early start and ear plugs in place, we all settle down for as many hours of kip as we can get before being dragged from our slumbers to embark the bus once more and take on tomorrow’s BIGGER stage. It looks like this:

Stage 4 profile: Lifers and TT2

Stage 2 – Saint Lo to Cherbourg

Already we are saying a fond good bye to a large group of riders who came out to ride the first 2 stages of the tour from Mont St Michel toJob done Alitex. Safe and sound, if sore. Cherbourg. The group includes 3 significant teams: the fabulous Alitex guys who build beautiful conservatories by day and ride bikes, occasionally when they can; the bulk of the excellent ICF Team, headed up by 2015 rider Nick Bozeat (back this year as a Lifer!) and the jovial rabble that are the Old Radleians – friends of Will Wates’ brother and Tour de Force Director Rick Wates (mostly rugby players, but we’ll forgive them for that!). All these guys have contributed so much to the Tour already and more than one rider remaining on tour will miss their support tomorrow.

We’ve had probably the best first 2 days of any tour (although Yorkshire was great, of course!) – riding on perfect ‘Tour Tarmac’ (that’s actually an official term), enjoying the fabulously eccentric and bizarre Tour de France decorations (keep your eye out for the pedaling cow firing a bow and arrow on the telly a week today!), lovely coastal views and historic WW2 landing beaches. Faced, as predicted, with almost constant head winds (yes – even on a circuitous route!), the riders have quickly learned the value of riding together to help each other get through the tour tarmaclong mileage. Instead of battling on alone, groups have easily formed to make it possible to ride at a pretty high pace to get to the stage finish. Which is not to say that today wasn’t tough enough for plenty of our riders – 2 long days in a row is a big ask for anyone, but everyone made it and there have been some well-deserved beers tonight!

The first finishers trophies have been awarded. We’re particularly proud of these as they’re made for us by a wonderful little ‘not for profit’ workshop in the Scottish Highland town of Aberfeldy where young kids with plenty of problems and challenges in life, are given an opportunity to learn a trade and skills. This sits perfectly with the work of the William Wates Memorial Trust and the gargantuan fundraising efforts made by all our riders and we absolutely love supporting them in this way.

It’s also been wonderful to have the support of Will Wates’ parents Andrew and Sarah, as well as his Will's parents and brother with John Griffithsbrother Rick on tour with us for these first couple of days. Our riders have had the opportunity to talk to them about the work of the Trust and to appreciate just how important and valuable their work is. One can’t fail to be humbled by their remarkable attitude towards the tragedy of losing Will and both the Trust and the Tour de Force are a credit to his memory. We’re all (organisers and riders alike) enormously grateful for their tireless support.

For the next 2 days our numbers on the road are almost halved – just those riding the entire tour and the first half of the tour continue until more join us on Tuesday night in Limoges – around 40 riders plus staff. It will no doubt be a quieter bus transfer to the stage start tomorrow morning as we start to learn what it means to grab every possible opportunity for sleep! Early starts of around 5am to be ready in time for a 6/6.30am transfer bus make sleep time a very precious commodity. And so we are settling into the routine of life on tour.

Tomorrow we face this:

Stage 3 profile: Lifers & TT2

Stage 1 – Mont St Michel to Utah Beach

As first stages go, today was an absolute corker! Beautiful weather (a few got caught in a rain shower, but not enough to dampen the mood), an iconic back drop with Mont St Michel, beautiful coastal roads with glorious views, great camaraderie already on the road and the history of the Normandy beaches as we passed Omaha beach and ended the stage at Utah beach. The monuments to those who died on these beaches gave us all the opportunity to appreciate the sacrifice they made. With our international line up, we had French, German, Dutch, American, British and Canadian riders standing shoulder to shoulder on the beaches: a poignant moment that was not lost on anyone.

Today was a chance for riders to meet each other and make friends, for teams to ride out in glory together (looking very smart Alitex!) and for nerves to be calmed a little by getting those first pedal turns in. Most riders were up around 6am to breakfast and sort themselves out for an 8am start time. They will soon discover that this was a very relaxed morning on the tour: no early morning transfers to contend with and none of the build up of fatigue that soon enough will have them surgically attached to their mattresses when the alarm goes off.

Radley crew at end of stage Omaha beach  Lest we forget

We start each stage with a ‘neutralised’ first 40km to the first feed stop – ie, no one can leave that feed stop until the last rider is in. This forces a more relaxed pace to the start of the day, giving riders the opportunity to chat to others they may not see again later in the day and to warm up the legs sensibly, without busting a gut too soon in the day. It’s a time to chat, to share stories and it helps to set the tone for the event: this is not a race! The feedstops break the day up perfectly with the rewards of food. Each feed stop offers something a bit different – the first is usually nuts, dried fruit and the like. The 2nd feedstop features more bread (jam and peanut butter) plus fruit. The 3rd feedstop is ‘lunch’, but at around 120km in, this can be a bit later in the day than normal and then the final feedstop (unless it’s a huge day, demanding a 5th feedstop) has crisps, chocolate and fizzy drinks – whether they need sweet or savoury at this stage is a personal thing – but this is the food to get them to the hotel. One or 2 mistook feedstop 2 today for lunch – they’ll be better prepared tomorrow.The other thing our riders didn’t fail to notice was that while the professional riders finish at the precise stage end, we still need to cycle to wherever our hotel is! Usually this isn’t far at all, but occasionally, after an already long day in the saddle, it can be a rude extra 10km or more further. Mentally, this can be somewhat demoralising, but it’s all par for the course.

If there was a challenge today, it was the wind. Sometimes a side wind, often a head wind, all too rarely a tail wind. It was great to see riders already working together in groups to reduce the impact of the wind and to take turns at the front taking the brunt of it. On relatively flat days like today, this is how to get the job done as quickly and efficiently as possible. This is perfect practice for those continuing South towards the Pyrenees.

Dinner and the briefing for tomorrow’s route, blogging for those who do and bed for those who don’t. This will be our routine for the next 23 days on tour. It’s been a great first stage. In the words of one of our Lifers, Nick Bozeat (and leader of Team ICF):

“If tomorrow in anywhere near as good as today it will be great”.

This is what tomorrow looks like:

Stage 2 profile: Lifers, TT1 & TT2