London to Cannes 2012 - Gordon Russell
A big thank you needed here....to all you Wheelers who gave me such good advice, encouragement, support, enthusiasm and to top it all your belief that I could achieve it......THANK YOU!
I could not have done it without you.
Let me share the experience...
The C2C is an organised event where real estate professionals cycle from London to Cannes in time for MIPIM (international property expo).
The Route 1st March-6th March.
Day 1 - London to Folkestone 111km
Day 2 - Calais to Reims 318km
Day 3 - Reims to Dijon 302km
Day 4 - Dijon to Valence 314km
Day 5 - Valence to Aix en Provence 235km
Day 6 - Aix en Provence to Cannes 172km
I knew straight away, evident from the superb organisation, that I needn't think too much. My role as a participant rider was simply to eat, ride and sleep.
Day 1 - Guess where?
Our start, from City Hall, was an initial gathering of some 80 riders plus support staff comprising management, mechanics, physio's and food (the dozen motorcycle out riders were to join us in France the next day). Anxiety in the anticipation soon began to ease as the friendly atmosphere of smiling faces and warm welcomes underlined an understanding that we were in this together. At 8.15am we were off. The sun was shining and the shirts were blazing.
Our pace was steady. Riding two abreast we must have stretched 200m. I found myself near the front and in conversation with Geoff, an architect from Bath. He was a veteran and riding the C2C for the third time. His top-tips included keeping up the fuel intake i.e. at EVERY opportunity and frequent visits to the saddle cream tub. Our first stop, after 20+km was a pee stop. Quite a sight seeing so many cyclists lined up against a fence bent over against the strained lycra.
Just as well this wasn't someone's back yard!
The weather continued to warm. After so much training through our Scottish winter I felt as though I was experiencing an immediate switch skipping spring mildness into a surreal summer.
The terrain of the South East is gently rolling hills. The architectural vernacular of suburbia had given way to oast houses and pretty cottages. Before I knew it we were at Folkestone and cooling down with a group stretch. The coach took us through the Chunnel and onto our Novotel for our first night.
The grimace says it all (stretching, right).
I found that I had been placed with a roommate, Julian Harbottle (a Savills director from Bristol). Lovely, how cycling can allow us to mix in unfamiliar circles. Julian was/ is a such a lovely chap and, as he was doing the C2C for the first time too, we were able to exchange notes throughout the 6 day's experience.
Wake up call at 4.40am. Breakfast at 5am and on the bike for a 6am start.
This was to be our longest day. The weather was cold and foggy. It is obligatory to ware high-viz when riding in the dark in France so we were duly kitted up and with powerful front/ rear lights, as had been pre-advised, we were soon shining and glowing our way into the French countryside.
I'd never ridden in the dark before. Can't really recommend it as there is nothing much to see except the riders in front. Motorcycle out riders 12 of them. Wow, these guys were pro. They made us feel like pros. Off they powered ahead arresting traffic in advance at junctions and traffic lights. To the rear they slowed approaching vehicles then brought them through with warning sirens blaring and to the side they rode at our pace, often with loud music blaring (like U2's "Beautiful Day") to keep us further protected and spirits uplifted.
Just one of the dozen mc outriders
Northern France is flat, intensively farmed and really rather sleepy. We rolled through village after village stopping every 20 kliks or so for either a piss or protein. Typically, this was the pattern for the duration of the event, 40ish km per leg then food. The day broken into 6 stages (in the middle 4 days). By lunch we had covered 148km then onwards for another 170km in 3 stages. The last leg being night riding.
I've never done such distance in a day before. Towards the end I was into a new zone and knew that something in me had changed. Endurance is personal and I had had to did deep. Certainly it was helped by the other riders and the support team but it was here that I knew that the pain I had undergone throughout the training was the least I could have done. I thought of you chaps and how strong you are in your race preparation. Bravo!
F*cked as I was, I was happy. Especially to roll into the hotel (at 9pm) prep the morning kit, shower, eat and sleep. A deep sleep.
Same starting procedure and feeling surprisingly up-for-it, the ride out of SE Reims began with gentle rolling hills and as the sun rose (7am) through the second day's fog the agricultural landscape had changed with dormant vines spreading geometrically along and away from us.
TJ the Dutchman (right)
We were cutting quite a dash at an av. 30kmph with little effort. Slight tail wind and a peloton which was settling into a comfortable format. The grouping was tighter and as we started to "through and off" fresh conversations with new faces allowed the mind to expand into socio/ economic/ cultural exchanges. One particularly good exchange for me was with a CBRE consultant nick named TJ. He was Dutch, living in Rotterdam, particularly bike fit and looking every part the pro rider.
We talked a lot about our industry and when the topic of lawyers arrived we both broke out and accelerated towards the front as our shared experience of this profession expressed itself in some frustration. At one point while exclaiming "crooks in suits" TJ nearly fell off his bike (sorry to any lawyers out there). Hopefully we will have TJ on a GWCC ride before the year is out as he would love to come over.
The weather remained cold and foggy throughout the day. Foggy too was my head as we pulled into the hotel that night.
Now settling into routine.
The previous evenings ride had finished with a 300m climb and so our first leg was an easy descent.
We were encouraged to stretch as much as possible so, while the legs had been stiffening up, I was easing off at every opportunity.
This day was a hilly day. At least 4 X 400m climbs.
While etiquette required we ride together as one we were briefed today that we could "go our own pace" up hill. Of course we broke up. I found myself consistently at the tail end of the front third and won the title of "Gordon, The Flying Scotsman" from those I would overtake on the ascent.
A very bright character I engaged with today was Daniel Bent. He had been a primary school teacher (now another consultant with CBRE) and last year cycled to India. He had taken a northerly route via former USSR states and before he set off one of his pupils commented "This time you have gone too far Sir!".
Danny put his experience into a book and it has now become a double best seller (over 100,000 copies sold). Note to self - get a copy.
Bromance with Danny Bent (below)
A long lie in today. 7am start.
Steady climbs out of Valence as we move towards Haute Provence and through the Luberon. Lovely villages with houses built of random stone, village squares and cafes dotting every corner.
The wind is 40-50mph today. Mostly from the rear so very fast cycling but also gusting across our left which is very disconcerting. Clear skies.
A varied diet!
Fantastic experience with a puncture today. On a long descent, bedded near the front of the peloton I felt the rear tyre go. I slowed and one of the ride leaders (there were always three experienced riders who had done the trip before with the group) passed me calling "what's up Gordon?" as he passed. I shouted "puncture". "Front or rear?" came back his reply. While pulling away I saw him radio to the mechanics to our rear and as the peloton passed I pulled over. The mechanics van immediately pulled up with the side door sliding open. In a flash the mechanic was out. I lifted the bikes rear end and he whipped off my back wheel and quickly replaced it with a new one. He shoved me off and I had my head down, stamping on the pedals pursuing the peloton. As I neared, one of the ride leaders dropped back to get me. I tucked in behind him and we chased down the group where I was put into bed at the rear. The whole thing took 90 seconds. My best puncture ever.
Blue skies and vines...
The final day.
Setting off in full GWCC kit we began a flat exit from Aix en Provence for 10km before climbing into the hills. We saw 1000m+ of hills today but with the legs working fine, the sun shining and with the prospect of a welcome beer at the end the outlook was all good.
GWCC make a presence
One mention not yet recounted was the wonderful condition of the road surfaces in France. I have become used to our Scottish broken surfaces and experienced such a difference here that, particularly on the descents, rather than anxious concentration on the surface ahead, I was able to relax and absorb the landscape, flora, fauna etc. It made for a profoundly enjoyable experience.
By about 1pm we made our final ascent. We stopped at the top and took stock of the view....we could see the sea! The Mediterranean! From here on it was downhill and along the south coast. The mood was high and we chatted excitedly as we sensed the proximity of our goal.
Across the line
Azure! Not only the coast of but also the colour of the sea and an abstract expression of our spirits. Here we go, this is it, we've arrived!
The local rag reports.
Bustle and rush, photographs, hugs and handshakes. The fuzz of realisation that all the training, all the suffering, the blancmange that the ride had become combined with all the riders into a new fraternity bonded further by the award of medals confirming in emblem the achievement we had all made together.
Beer and plenty of it. We retired to a hospitality bar, still clad in lycra, slapped each other's backs and related anecdotes from along the way with laughter.
In the bar
Natasha, my wife, flew in and met the mad bunch we had then become. Over the next three days, as I mingled with the international property set, I continued to wear my medal as a badge of honour. Cyclists do it and we do it better. Life on and off the road.
Thank you once again to the GWCC for help and inspiration.
I look forward to catching up with you.