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.
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.
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!
Anyone 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?
It’s almost six months since our intrepid little gang of very amateur cyclists set off from Hampton Court on our jaunt down through France to St. Emilion, but I’ve bored you about that before.
Ever since we finished the ride there’s be an appetite to do it all again next year, and after mulling over the potential route for a while, I think I’ve finally settled on it…and it’s something of a cycling classic. While starting in England was nice to do this year, to a man the lads weren’t that bothered about including a UK stage in next year’s ride. The lighter and more respectful traffic along with the better surface of French roads and, frankly, the adventure of being in foreign climes on our bikes has resulted in an agreement to both start and finish in France.
But we still needed a proper ‘journey’, so the one we’re going to try is cycling from the Mediterranean Sea to the Atlantic Ocean. If you click on the little map above you’ll get a clearer view of the proposed route…and those of you who know your geography (or, indeed, your cycling!) will also know that it’s rather hillier than this year’s ride. In fact, it takes in two of the Tour de France’s most historic climbs, the Col du Tourmalet and the Col d’Aubisque.
There’s a lot of excitement amongst the group, plus not a small amount of anxiety. These aren’t small hills! I get particularly nervous when I look at the route profile and the numbers on the left-hand side of it. In this year’s ride, we didn’t get more than 200m above sea level…and 200m doesn’t even appear on the scale of next year’s profile! And given I live in one of France’s flattest regions, training might be an issue…
Still, life’s nothing without challenges. We’re starting the ride on May 3rd 2009, which is four months before my 40th birthday, so this might be a last hurrah before a steady slip into sedentry middle age…
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.