For most of the next week…

…I’ll be sat on a bike riding across 700km of beautiful French countryside, including some very big hills, with some of the best people I’m privileged to know. It’s all for charity of course.

To hear a bit more about it and to follow our exploits, take a look at Les Veloistes Gentils blog.

Meet Nuts

He’s going to hate me for this post.

This is Nuts or, to give him his full name, Edward Rikard-Bell. He’s an Aussie but has been living in the UK for decades. I first met him about 15 years ago when I was living in London with a bunch of mates, one of whom played rugby with him.

This photo was taken in May 2008 at my house in France. Nuts had stepped in at very late notice to drive the support vehicle for a London to St Emilion bike ride I’d organised. I never saw him without the Biarritz Olympique rugby club beret during the whole trip. And his relaxed attitude to navigation and meeting at previously-arranged places has become the stuff of legend amongst Les Veloistes Gentils.

I’ll cut a long story short, not least because I don’t have all the details. A few years ago now Nuts was diagnosed with a brain tumour. It’s been up and down since. He’s had a couple of operations and various rounds of radiotherapy and chemotherapy in both the UK and at home in Australia. The cancer’s still there and it probably always will be.

Due to his treatment, Nuts couldn’t join us on the ride across the Pyrenees last year but when I saw him at the end of last summer, he told me that he was absolutely determined to ride out with us on the 2010 trip. Since then, he’s had another course of radiotherapy in Australia and is currently in the middle of a course of chemotherapy in London, to and from which he’s riding 20 miles a day as part of his training. I’m in awe. Just think about that: he’s cycling to and from sessions of chemotherapy to treat a brain tumour.

We’re due to gather a month from today in Geneva, before tackling 700km and 10,000m of climbing in five days. Nuts will be with us, and though I don’t think he’ll ride every kilometre, to ride alongside him will be very special and, frankly, hugely inspirational. I just hope he’s wearing the beret.

Nuts is one of the reasons that I’m raising money for Cancer Research UK this year. For regular readers, you’ll know that one of the other reasons is young Jack, a schoolfriend of my kids who has been undergoing treatment for cancer over recent months.

I’m really pleased to say that Jack went back to school this week. Not full-time, granted, but it’s such a brilliant step for him. He spent about six weeks in hospital in Bordeaux undergoing chemotherapy which seems to have been successful, though clearly it will be years until he knows that he’s all clear. But he’s well on the way to being his previous active self.

One week to the mountains

Click on this for a bigger version

So it’s just a week until 12 members of Les Veloistes Gentils set off on the club’s 2009 adventure, cycling 630km from Perpignan to Biarritz. But as this image shows, it’s less the length of the ride which is a challenge, more the height. The highest point on the ride (weather permitting) will be the Col du Tourmalet at a shade over 2,100m. In all, between sea level by the Med and the same on the Atlantic coast, we’ll be climbing (and descending) more than 9,500m. Which sounds like a lot to me.

In addition to the Tourmalet, we’ll be crossing three famous Tour de France cols, the Col de Portet d’Aspet (1,069m), Col de Peyresourde (1,569m) and the Col d’Aspin (1,489m).  I know for a fact that the latter three cols are clear, and while there’s every chance the Tourmalet will still have a decent amount of snow cover, the invaluable local knowledge provided by Chris from Pyractif gives us hope that we might be able to sneak our way over (if the legs keep going). I’m hoping I’ll be able to thank Chris in person as he may well join us for the leg over the Peyresourde and Aspin.
Final preparations are underway here at Les Chapelles. I bought 96 litres of Vittel this afternoon (it’s the water of champions you know), along with numerous cereal bars, sachets of fruit compote, loads of individually wrapped sponge cakes and a huge amount of Haribo. Should keep us going for a couple of days at least.
Thanks must go to holiday company Pure France which has helped with some sponsorship, and sll those people that have already dipped their hands in their pockets and donated money to our two charities, Action for Children and CHASE. You can still sponsor me of course! You’ll find my Just Giving page here.
I’m hoping to post a few pictures and words here during the ride itself – if I can find wireless access – and also tweeting now and again.

The Tourmalet, take one


All things going well, I should find myself at the top of the Col du Tourmalet in the French Pyrenees twice in 2009. I’ve already ticked off one visit: a couple of weeks ago while skiing with the family. This picture shows the view looking west from the Tourmalet, which is 2,115 metres above sea level. I arrived by chair and button lift.

The second visit will be a tad more difficult, as I’ll be arriving under my own steam by bike. That’s if all the snow has melted by early May, which is absolutely not guaranteed. And that I can actually make it up the damn thing. Plans are well underway for this year’s charity bike ride by Les Veloistes Gentils, which I’ve mentioned a couple of times before. We’re travelling from the Mediterranean coast near Perpignan to the Atlantic coast at Biarritz, starting on May 3rd.

One thing common to both visits will be that the journey down from the top will be significantly more fun than the journey up there!

We’re raising money for two charities this year: Action for Children (the new name for NCH which we supported last year) and CHASE. Both are extremely worthy causes. I’ve set up a Just Giving page here – any donation, however modest, will be very gratefully received.

Wish us luck!

Les Veloistes Gentils

lvgjersey-smallAnyone who has spent any time at all on this blog or, indeed, around me over the past year will know all about The Bike Ride. The result of a drunken chat between me and my old mate Mark (original back story here) it turned into something rather more significant and worthwhile, as ten men good and true raised nearly £12,000 for charity by cycling from London to south-west France. More stuff on the adventure here and here.

As you can see below, we had such a fantastic time (and have clearly forgotten about the tired bits) that we’ve decided to do it all over again in 2009. Slightly tougher route this time though…

One thing that we did decide during the ride this year was that our happy little band needed a name, and that name is ‘Les Veloistes Gentils’. We went for a French one because France plays such an important part of what we get up do and, frankly, it sounds cool.

‘Veloistes’ isn’t actually a real word. The French word for bike is velo and the word for cyclist is cycliste, so we’ve combined the two. Nice, huh? The most literal translation for ‘gentil’ is ‘kind’, but it actually means slightly more than that. ‘Gentil’ is about kindness, sure, but also generosity and respectfulness. All round good stuff. And it certainly describes every member of the little equipe that we formed this year. One member of the team, young Tim, has designed the rather lovely logo that you can see here and which will adorn the jerseys next year. There are even rumours of tattoos…

It’s an exclusive little club and one of which you can only become a member by participating on one of the rides, which I very much hope will be an annual event for many years to come. Les Veloistes Gentils already looks like it will be expanding in 2009 as we’ve had a few more sign up for the ride. Who knows how large it might become in the future?

700km, two punctures, one crash, a lot of Haribo

Supping a cold beer on a sunny Tuesday afternoon in St Emilion…it’s remarkable how the pain and effort of a near 700km bike ride over five days melts away. 

It comes right back the next morning though, I can tell you.

Regular viewers will know that for the past few months I’ve been organising a charity bike ride between London and St. Emilion.  Well, last Friday was the day of reckoning as the ten riders gathered at Hampton Court Palace along with our trusty support vehicle driver Nuts (not his real name…).

To cut a long story short, we all made it to the finish.  We had one crash – spectacular but no serious injury – two punctures, a little bit of rain, plenty of sunshine, a lot of laughs and some extremely sore limbs.  We’re all very aware of where our perineums are and have boosted sales of Sudacream and Haribo to new highs (Haribo soon to be repositioned as the elite athelete’s energy boost of choice).  British drivers are as dangerously impatient with cyclists as French ones are respectful.  A fresh baguette filled with butter, cheese, ham and Dijon mustard is the world’s best lunch, without question.  Vittel is the water of champions (but Chateau d’Yquem ’95 is otherworldly). There are some extraordinarily good and generous people around.  There’s a deeply meditative quality to the sound of ten well-prepared road bikes whirring along an otherwise silent French country road in the sunshine.

I can’t wait until I get the chance to do it again.  And best of all, in addition to having an amazing trip, we raised somewhere in the region of £10,000 for charity. 

Can’t be bad.

It’s been a while

I know, I know.  I’ve been lax.  Reasons have been (1) quite a bit of work on, (2) family holiday to Spain and (3) the impending charity bike ride.

Yes, this time next week I’ll be a few kilometres into the 650 or so that lie between Hampton Court Palace and St-Emilion, wrapped in Lycra resembling that in the picture to the right and accompanied by nine other like-minded middle aged fellas.  Tension will no doubt be high…Lycra’s not designed to stretch quite that much after all…but I’ll actually just be relieved to get on the road.

I’m a relatively organised fella, but organising the ride has been quite a logistical challenge.  It sounded easy enough – ten blokes on bikes, a van in support, a ferry crossing and a few hotels en route – but the details…oh the details.  I won’t bore you.

I was in London last weekend and managed to get some training in.  I picked up a new bike from Condor on Gray’s Inn Road, met friend and fellow-rider Mark at his office near St Paul’s and then followed him home to Wimbledon.

Excuse my blasphemy, but Christ on a bike!  And even he’d have filled his nut-hugging shorts.  I haven’t cycled through London traffic in years and doing so during Friday rush hour on a brand new bike was one of the hairiest things I’ve attempted for a while.  Still, we arrive safely and met up with a few of the other lads for a training ride around Surrey last Saturday.  Great fun, and everyone seems to be getting quite excited about the ride.

I’ll be looking forward to landing on French shores next Saturday morning and finding some quiet country roads where motorists respect your passion for cycling rather than resent it.

As I’ve mentioned before (and the eagle-eyed out there will see the logo on the jersey above) we’re doing the ride in aid of NCH, one of the worthiest charities I know.  You’ve still got time to sponsor me – you can do so here.  I’m not far off my target…

I’m hoping to find the time (and the internet connection) to blog a couple of times on the way, and I’ll also try to send the odd tweet.  You can follow me on Twitter here.