The ride of the falling leaves Il Lombardia GF 

For the first time and slightly unusually , the day after the pros , we get to do the final 110 km of the last monument on my and many other cyclists bucket list ‘Il Lombardia’. 
The weather was fantastic for the whole weekend with the wind on Fri blowing itself out ; leaving us with the perfect weather to one of the most stunning back drops to a cycle event one could possibly envisage (if Carlsberg did grand fondos)
Saturday we rode the back side of the murro to watch the pros demolish it with the sort of irreverence that illustrates the enormous gap between them and us mere mortals!
And then descended it , which was horrific on the hands and the brake pads/ carbon wheels and rode home via the Ghissallo 
Coming back to a private viewing of the museum that evening 
before dinner which was…. unusual and typically local apparently… we’ll leave it there!!

Sunday 

Up early on race day for the drive to como , We had a Taxi/bus and trailer brilliantly pilot us around the sketchy roads on the lake side to the start in como town center.
Once in our pen i noticed the ONE and only visible portaloo by the start so shinned up the barriers and made a beeline for it … the queue afterwards was epic with many people not making the start on time I’m sure!!
From the gun the pace was mental with scant regard for the gradient changes or the’neutralised’ nature of the first 30km i found myself in the red far more than i would have liked but kept up ….just , and regained many places on the decents luckily

Once on the Ghissallo i got into my pace and gradually clawed back a few more places meeting Marco the brother of Matteo from Passoni/ashmei (small world) and my old friend Mark Bennett from Kingston wheelers who told me the tragic story to their trip involving their organiser Maria dying of a brain anurism 10 days before the trip…. they took a team photo in her honour at the top by the chapel 
I caught Eric (from our group) on the way to the murro and we rode it and the following descent together with me narrowing missing repeating the crash from the pro race the previous day
Along the lake side I did my best to smash it home assuming that como was the end of the race… it was ; just not this time , as no sooner had we entered the town then we were up a horrid hill out of the centre which climbed for 4.5 km causing Eric to ‘spit his dummy’ big time leaving me to climb it solo … it went on and on but eventually I got over it and down the other side on some sketchy roads into town where the organisers , having failed to secure a lane closure for the final route left us to fight our way through the lunchtime traffic… bonkers but strangely exhilarating 

Then boom …it  was over !!!
After a few photos I rode back along the lake to catch the ferry back to belagio
 and back up the foot hills of the ghissallo to finish at the hotel… epic and worth waiting all this time to finally do 

A fantastic place with epic roads and a big day out despite the modest distance…a must 

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http://blog.strava.com/galleries/tour-de-france-2017/

A wonderful synopsis of the event by Jered Gruber ; who along with his wife , Ashley I had the pleasure of spending time with a couple of l’eroicas ago
 . Both take amazing shots and really live the events as you will fully appreciate having read their review above .

I am still struggling with the whole concept of having completed the tour….a sort of dream/nightmare come true but far from feeling a reality…. my legs are so hopeless it’s as if I’d never ridden a bike before… the body and mind are so surprising you think you’ve harnessed them and then they leave the room…. 
Brilliant lol (I May be suffering from a rather  tragic bout of Man flu btw )

Conclusion 

Ok so it’s now Wednesday…. I’ve been back at work for 2 days now .

I Rode there on Tuesday ; the legs felt like lead on the way in and less so on the sunny ride home, in total I rode 55 kms ….or to the first feed stop on some of the tours’ longer days and I felt totally unable to repeat the ride this morning .!!!… what the hell? 

Standing all day is proving very painful as it always does after a break so there’s that to consider but I’ve really struggled to find the energy to do anything else after the day job🤤

As I had imagined I’ve been asked the same sort of questions in a variety of guises and come up with a few different ways of conveying the same answers…. mainly to try and keep my work mates from going mad😂 but at least I’m  in an environment that actively allows me to look back on the past 3 weeks and helps to remind me of what has gone before …….although some of the time lines are already hard to pin down. 

I’ve spoken to the bike shop ‘ on your bike ‘ and they’ve agreed to hold the Pin until Mon and do a mini service on her (paid for obviously) by way of a thank you for the free storage. I’ve filled in the questionnaire that Kate asked us to do and I’ve been very clear to anyone who asks that NO i won’t be doing it again. 🤣🤣🤣

The other  favourite question which at this point I have no answer to is ‘ what are you going to do next… you can’t loose the fitness now ….surely ; etc ‘ 

The Tour of Lombardy is what I’d  really like to do but so far thingy is quite clear that isn’t on the agenda so we’ll  put that into the ‘work in progress’ category and hope I can change her mind…. I’m so indebted to her good nature already I feel that this might be the proverbial ‘straw'(as in camels back) so it needs very careful planning….. Any positve suggestions greatly received btw 😉

Watching the tour highlights tonight brought back some vivid memories of the epic climbs towards the end of the tour and I think if I’m correct that I descended marginally quicker than the pros did although I might have had a bit of wind assistance 🚴‍♀️🌬🌬🌬 😁

Lastly thank you all for persevering with this mindless missive it’s been very interesting to do on many levels and more than a wee bit of a challenge at times…. as I’m sure reading it has been too 

I greatly appreciate the comments and thank you for those although I never did work out how to reply to them… so sorry about that and finally thank you for working through what , to be honest , is a 50/50 split between the phones spell checker and my terrible spelling and grammar you’ve all been brilliant🤗🤗🤗🤗🤗

For the final time ..  regarding this epic event at least  ; I wish you adieu 

Neil x #lifertourdeforce2017

The final push

For the first time on this tour I arrived at breakfast in ‘civies’ and not cycling kit…. all felt a bit weird (another example of how institutionalised we have all become without realising) 🤤not the best , but by far from the worst showing food wise ; I managed to employ my marmite sachets effectively much to the envy of many of the other TDF ers 😁

The tour stage begins where the first tour started ….we begin a little further away and do a very different route as we’re ‘only’ doing one full circuit of the the champs Elise (most are disappointed at this news but having done it before i know it’s a shit fest and one that most will find more than a little alarming!!!

We stop for our normal (not needed today) food stop and then ride to Versaiilles for the first chance for the friends and family to connect with the group. We are early but most are there including Andrew’s wife Penny with champagne and cannapes…fabulous:-)

Then we ride into Paris proper which is a lot quieter than usual as a result of it being the bank holiday weekend after Bastille day ,which is a blessing😏 

more family and photos at the tour Eiffel and then up the champs Elise for pictures at the L’arc de triomphe ….a select few, me included….obviously , 

then went hell for leather on a single circuit with the traffic which made it a mental critirium ride smashing massive efforts then stopping for lights then smashing it again … brilliant and even over the cobbles the pin never missed a beat … it’s behaved perfectly throughout … the perfect companion …merci pinerello finally je t’aime 🙂

Having worked relatively well the WiFi or my ability to master it has vanished so I’m stuck in visual limbo with pictures I want to upload freezing the screen…. nothing else for it I’m afraid than to write more…. sorry folks😄

The final evening was spent aboard a bataux mouche which I’ve never done and as we drew up to the quay i felt an ominous sense of just why that was… however having semi boarded the wrong boat we did eventually embark on our rivet cruise with champagne and a warm evening which meant we were above deck drinking to our collective achievement. 

Many of the family and friends that had appeared during the day were with us and the evident tenseness indelibly etched into our faces was easing along with our  general demeanour which could only mean the journey was very nearly at an end. 

Round tables… strangely a rarity on this trip (The second appearance I think) were the order of the evening and somehow despite feeling that I had managed to irritate many of the riders with my incessant need to win I was in the unique position of having places reserved on 2 separate tables…. not without its potential issues. I plumped for the non ‘Andrew and Penny’ table as I will see them next weekend for his 50 th birthday celebrations . the food and service were also better than expected with the added entertainment of pouring your own Leffe(strong Belgian beer that requires the glass to be cooled prior to pouring so that you don’t end up with a head and no beer)….we were given plastic glasses and no cooling mechanism….. it was frothy man!!!

Rick Wates gave a thank you speech which was very polished managing to touch all aspects of the tour despite only being present at the start and finish….a practised art me thinks😏.Alarmingly he chose to quote a lengthy passage from my blog mid speech which came out of the blue and to ram the sense of embarrassment home he even attributed it to me🤤🤤🤤😉

A series of mini thank you speeches followed ; all well received and then the fantastic ‘Travis’ stood(as best he could with his knackered achillies) and presented by far the most enigmatic speech of the evening , culminating in our collective presentation of cards and wine to the full time staff who have made this odessey possible . just as we thought he’d finished he, as only he could, he causally dropped in that he had arranged signed tour de france team shirts from AG2R (Romain Bardets’ team ; who is a podium contender) for each of them…a real money can’t buy gift…. the man just gets more awesome the longer you’re around him😊😊😊

After our ‘ lifers ‘ plaque presentation it was out on deck to  take in the full beauty of Paris at night (clearly the captain is extremely adept at hovering in just the right place on the river long enough to enable us all to capture the essence of ‘le joie de vie’…. Parisian style🗼🗼🗼🗼

On deck I met a variety of wives and girlfriends, which was lovely and helped ’round the circle’ of some of the riders personalities I’d come to know so well over the previous month. 

Back at the hotel it all got a bit crazy as we ‘locust like’ hoovered all the available alcohol in the bar …. I managed a sublimely timed exit only to hear and witness (at breakfast the following morning) in the faces of some of those who were left behind how festivities continued well after 04:00 with singing and dancing taking over from drinking as there really wasn’t any drink left to consume….. an apt way to complete the marathon that is by far and away the most demanding physical and mental episode I’ve ever voluntarily taken part in . 

Uber was the next challenge , Zoe uses it all the time so I’ve never needed to sign up but now seemed as good a time as any….. first uber and it’s in Paris , in French what could possibly go wrong? 

I picked a shared ride(when I say picked I mean I blundered into that option) so my trip to gare de nord went via the hospital to pick up a heavily pregnant black woman who it turned out wasn’t going any where near the station but we got there eventually via some back streets i never need to visit again😨

Last time I was at the gare de nord was after I’d  ridden to Paris over night (london/paris24) and had mistakenly  packed my passport away with my bike which the organisers shipped home in a truck… leaving me watching the wonderful Mark Cavendish winning  on the champs Elise with the mayor but no clear idea of how I was going to get back to blighty….i did , thanks to a very statuesque black French girl at Eurostar first class who walked me through the whole process about 20 mins faster  than my mate who had his documentation. 

Spurred on by this experience I assumed the air of business traveller and went  unchallenged through the first class section leap frogging (pun intended) the poor heaving mass of humanity all queuing and paying miserably for being English in France… oh did anyone mention brexit????

Final leg now … the terminably slow section of the train journey from Dover to St Pancras. 

 

Bastille day stage 19 233km

After the last 2 days we were all looking forward to an easy stage flat, down hill and gentle….quel surprise it was really none of the above so by the time the first feed stop came up we’d done 2 categorised climbs and had 55 km under our belts.

My legs were somewhere having a  ‘lie in’ so being the neutralized section suited them just fine. Soon after the break they cane to life and I pulled Gerrard Rich Mark and Quintus(yes that really is his name) along at white a lick….i love to do this for Gerrard as he genuinely gets a kick out of it which somehow makes it all worth while

Second feed station and I’ve had words with one of our tour taster riders who wears earphones , rides in the middle of the road and is generally a liability to all about this behaviour… rather fell on deaf ears and i was told to ride with others if i didn’t like it….proverbial red rag 😠😠😠

So after the stop I could see said rider in the distance(on his own) and rode at a measured distance long enough to get a feel for his strengths and weaknesses before passing him… he then tried to latch on to my wheel which given his previous comments wasn’t on…red mist time 

I rode the rest of the stage like I was a Bastille day firework missing both the following feed stops and smashing it home nearly an hour ahead of the next rider home. The wind was bonkers with me doing over 300 watts into it at one stage and getting 19kmh in return…. worse than the £/€ exchange rate lol

I grabbed water at a fountain in one of the town squares before making the effort to turn to see the magnificent mount ventoux ‘rising like and empress above the seranghetee’.(no idea how to spell that!)… oh no hang on wrong mountain , wrong song sorry…. the wind and 38° will do that to you!!!

Having a beer with Gavin whilst he sits for dinner… he doesn’t do waiting so this was quite a unique occasion !!! He said he thought I was the strongest , most consistant all round cyclist at the event which made me feel a great sense of pride and it was a little more elegantly put than my Aussie mates comments earlier in the event lol

With at least half of the field still out there the fact I’ve been back for 3 and half hrs isn’t sitting well with everyone…….😏

Time trial (of sorts)in Marseille ;-)

The wind whistled around our campagnille  hotel all night making sleep a bit of an anathema , plus the heat exhaustion and sunburn meant we all turned up for ought bus transition looking decidedly perky…. of course it could have been the celebratory beers…….

Sarah had ordered a 60 person coach….. in typical French indifference the driver arrived with a 48 seater …. first issue of the day for Sarah to  handle… which in true form became a non issue immediately; any misgivings i might have had prior to the trip regarding logistics were more than answered with her cool efficiency… chapeau ; as we are now all very used to saying 😎

An hour or so on the coach to the port of Marseilles where the time trial is scheduled to take place. 

The orange velodrome is quite something and is the venue for the start and finish. 

We head off following the now ubiquitous arrows until Mark and I miss one and do an extra trip along the corniche…. no matter as it’s not being timed due to the roads being open. 

A stop for coffee and a few photos and then the climb to the citadel….. holy hilly hell…. straight up then straight up again then down then straight up again… all over 18% … Lord knows how the  pros will manage it on a TT bike ad the descent is just as technical…. worth watching as the normal winners may well come unstuck here!!!

Back to the velodrome a striptease in the car park so as not to travel in sweaty lycra and then on the metro for lunch before the train to Paris…. superb food and beer with Ian , Chris and Roland(who very kindly paid the bill) and then the very hot and semi torcherous TGV to Paris 

once At the terminus we got on a coach eventually… The diver wasn’t clear as to where we had to meet him so Sarah marched us around holding a cycling helmet aloft….hysterical (clearly any ability to think for ourselves has been removed over the past 4 weeks)

The bus driver continued the theme by over shooting the turning to out Novotel and them having to reverse up the dual carriageway to rectify his mistake whist remonstrating with Sarah as to how this wasn’t his error…a pattern forming I feel!

Room to myself…. it feels rather odd  but the Wi-Fi works Rik Wates had returned and all is right with the world. Tmrw we ride the final leg of what i can scarcely believe has been my life for the past month and then it will be a memory; one that in many ways i will treasure forever as the less glamorous aspects recede and the sense of achievement begins to form but for now there’s still another 100kms to ride …..so lead on mcduff and try and remember ‘you’ve got to cross the finish line to finish’

Dinner ; with a strange air of it being the end of something…. there is a tangible sense of panic beginning to form in my fellow riders ‘ eyes as the reality of being told where to go , when and for how long is shortly and seemingly very abruptly about to come to an end.

Sarah has that look of a woman very close to the edge, who can almost taste the last drop of responsibility leaving her glass….. it’s almost gone unnoticed just how many times and in how many ways she has apparently effortlessly kept the levitation that is this enormously disperate group of semi like minded individuals from going astray and instead forming a peculiar bond that is very hard to describe 

Many of our preconceptions have been proved wrong , some very right , but the diversity of ages, professions, financial status and general outlook not to mention ethnic diversity has surprised all of us. (In a good way)….people are remarkable and what we’ve done individually and as a collective is one of the most remarkable things I’ve ever experienced. 

With the end so close you can almost stick your tongue out and taste it a time for reflection needs to be made … not to mention I have to figure out a way of communicating this to a variety of interested and less interested people at work and at home hhhmmm …. back to my poor work mates who regardless of how many ways I devise to tell the stories they will get very bored of hearing them ; very quickly…. sorry in advanceguys😣😣😣😣….inevitable I’m
 afraid but you’ve had a month of peace and quite so it’s swings and roundabouts 😂…. nice tan lines😎😎😎😎😎

A bientot 

Turn turn turn …travis 

Massive day of climbing with a brilliant 20k descent to finish… I’d done the climbs before during the marmotte as John reminded me by text as I rode up the first climb:-) 

Knowing your foe is a big part of conquering them so I was in a good position to do well on this stage. 

The usual suspects headed off from feed stop 1 and I found a small group and got into a sort of groove although the up and down nature of the Croix de fer/glandon didn’t allow for much of that metronomic climbing that is the only solution I have to getting up these monsters so progress was slow. 
Eric the ghost rider is doing the same route as us but independently with just his dad as back up, they are very friendly and he’s a great rider so we see him periodically during the day ; today I finally got my picture with him and his dad at the top of the Croix de fer which was brilliant. 
After a horrid flat bit we started the telegraphe passing a totally burnt out Graham (The triguy) which had the effect of spurring us all on a bit …further up the climb I caught Ian and missed reaching the top first being beaten by Martin who’s a great climber..chapeau mate
After lunch Ian , Rich and I headed off to the galibier Rich is 27 and a half lifer  so he doesn’t count in our daily tally …needless to say he romped away from us early on and that was that 
Ian and I played a bit of cat and mouse but after his massive  excerions the previous day I had the legs on him today so left him and climbed alone to the top….a tough climb to do solo but the views are exceptional as is the descent which was lengthened due to accommodation issues…. I managed 80 plus kmh which was fun although the wind was very unpredictable😨😨  all in all a 9 hrs day and a very satisfying one to boot 😁😁😁😁😁

Ear worm fairly self explanatory although it was vying for first choice with sister hazel’s ‘all for you’ for some strange reason …. need more sleep