Sunday 31 August 2008

On the fringe of Edinburgh

Once again we made the trip up to Edinburgh. It was a bit of an impromptu excursion as it was my sister who had the idea of going up. She didn't really know the town so I thought it would be good to hook up with her and see the sights.

Also, with the Fringe taking place, what better time to be there.

This time, in contrast to last year, we decided to take our bikes. I took my faithful 'cross bike. Nice and sturdy, and copes with all weather and road conditions - even after a couple of seasons of being thrown around during the London Cyclo Cross League.

The idea had been to take a trip out to the nearby Pentland Hills. But the very gloomy forecast meant Fred did not take his off-road bike and was only going to try some road stuff - if he felt like it.

I have to say the weather ended up being quite pleasant and we hardly had any rain at all ! We ended up doing a big route around the fringes of central Edinburgh - Marchmont, Morningside, Craigmillar Castle and of course Holyrood Park.
We could see the Pentland Hills out in the distance, but alas we weren't equipped to go out and do some of the rugged stuff over there.
Ah, well maybe next time.

We did get to try some of the local rugged stuff on foot - namely walking up Salisbury Crag and Arthur's Seat. The views from up there are always spectacular.

And of course, we did abit of the Fringe. Some good acts, as always - Otis D Crenshaw, Gamrajobat, Stephen K Amos, and a 75 year-old stripper by the name of Lynne Ruth Miller. Anything goes at the Edinburgh Fringe !

I must admit I feel a bit of a tourist tart - only going to Edinburgh during the month of August, when the Festival and the Fringe are on. One of these days I will go up there when the regular locals are around. We can have a day of riding the local club routes. (Edinburgh has a strong club cycling scene.) Then we'll reward ourselves with a good local brew in a small neighbourhood pub, to wash down an authentic haggis meal. And who knows, we might even spot Scottish people in the streets of Edinburgh !

I look forward to making the trip back up again.

Freddie goes to Eastbourne

One day in August, Fred decided to take on the challenge of riding the South Downs Way within a day. It would involve riding 100miles from Winchester to Eastbourne, completely off-road - rolling over rugged trails, through fields and tracks and of course 4000m of climbing over the South Downs !!

"Rather you than me, mate!" I told him. I did have the kindness of heart to give him logistical (and moral) support, and volunteered to follow a parallel route in the car. I would then meet him at various points along the way as he endured his travails.

So on Saturday morning at about 5am we drove down to Winchester. I dropped him at the train station and he began his long day in the saddle at approximately 6.30.

The day started brightly as the sun was out and the view of the downs was beautiful.

I met Fred first of all at Queen Elizabeth Country Park, where he had a quick sandwich and cake, before he was merrily on his way.

By the next stop in Kithurst Hill car park, around five hours later, the sun had gone in and light drizzle began to fall.

As the wind became stronger, the temperature dropped and everywhere became wetter, I figured that Fred would probably do with something hot on his next stop.

He really appreciated the flask of coffee when we met at Ditchling Beacon. It also looked like the wet weather was dampening his spirits as he had to replace his inner tube, having had 2 punctures while battling through the biting wind.

At least he was now past the half-way mark.

The final meeting point at Firle Beacon was a very brief matter - even if it was somewhat hijacked by the local residents !

I was slightly worried about him though, as the rain was falling heavily and Fred said that the final section would have the steepest hills, as well as very slippery paths to negotiate in the wet conditions.

As Fred was taking more than 2 hours to reach each meeting point, I calculated that he should reach the finish line at Eastbourne at around 6.30pm.
As the minutes ticked by after 6.30pm I became rather anxious and worried that he might have had a fall on one of the slippery chalkey descents along the way.

Finally, Fred appeared at approximately 6.47pm. He was wet and bedraggled, slightly frustrated to have made a wrong turning to Seaford, but he was very relieved to have finished - and so was I !

After drying himself off, we made our way into Eastbourne and had a celebratory meal in a Spanish restaurant.

If you want to do it :
Ride it in good weather. Riding in the rain is not easy ! Not only is it an experience to be endured rather than enjoyed, but it takes longer because the reduced visibility means sign reading becomes more difficult. Consequently, more time is used up by map-reading. And that still doesn't guarantee not getting lost !

Plan to do this earlier in the year - preferably around the Summer Solstice. This doesn't just allow more daylight, but also if the weather forecast is not good the trip can still be deferred by a few weeks without daylight hours being compromised. By doing it in August our options were reduced.

A full suspension bike is much more comfortable when riding in such bumpy conditions.

Take extra clothing in case the weather turns cold and wet.

There are water taps at given points along the way, and one or two shops nearby. However, if you are riding to a time it would be easier to either carry your supplies with you or have a support car.

I am very inspired by what Fred did. Completing it in a shade over 12 hours is pretty impressive given the conditions.
Maybe I could try it next year. Better start saving up for a new bike....

Thursday 28 August 2008

Summer Racing Summary - Part 2

So once I'd got my bit of fun out of the way - Beastway, that is - I resumed my regular activity of racing on the road.

I did the Terry Cronin Circuit at Hillingdon. Not the best of races for me, as I went pop on the very windy back straight and lost the pack about two thirds of the way through the race. I rolled in second last.

The Women's Team Series at Naseby was one of the hottest races I've done - both in terms of the race itself and the conditions. In fact when we arrived it felt a bit silly pulling into the car park in the countryside to don bike gear and race. We should have been putting on bikinis and lounging in deck chairs !

With the temperatures into the high twenties and two 12% climbs to negotiate on each lap this race was not for the faint hearted. Each time we climbed, people were squeezed out of the back. It was a real battle to hold onto the string.
(photo by Dave Humphries -

It was really telling how, for a national level race there was no real bunch to speak of -just splinters of the 45 strong race all along the course. In fact the field began separating out from the gun. I finished 29th.

Ironically that really tough weekend for me paid off - literally. I won £20 as my team, Surrey League finished 2nd in the team competition. (So my dash for the line ahead of the Team Luciano rider was a handy move !)

Also, the day before that I won £12 in a women's omnium track race at Herne Hill. Ok, hardly the stuff that would wake up the tax man, but it's nice to get a reward from time to time.

My other races over the summer were just the usual bread and butter of Herne Hill track league on Mondays or Wednesdays, and Crystal Palace on Tuesdays.

Our last Crystal Palace race of the season was a couple of days ago. It was great to see many people out to "celebrate" our last dose of pain.

At this point I must say a big "Thank you" to the organisers, including Michael Moore, who put on women's racing. For some time, after the loss of women's racing at Hillingdon, it looked like we would have no regular women's racing in London. But the good people at Crystal Palace stepped in and helped out.

So we were able to race from May to late August against other women and quite locally too. Most of the races were won by Charlie Blackman (London Dynamo), and I would usually place in the back end of the field. But hey, I know it's made me stronger.
There's something addictive about that course though. The circuit is so short and changeable that it's like a fairground ride. It's a real adrenaline buzz. Also, the atmosphere is very friendly, and even for those who spectate it was a good place to hang out on a Tuesday evening. Fingers crossed we can still race there next year.

All this racing has helped me get nearer to my goal of earning double my tally of points from last season. Last year I got 43 British Cycling points. This year I would like to earn at least 80. I am currently on 65 points, so if I can keep my momentum going I might just get there.

The new Cycle Centre at Redbridge (aka Hog Hill) is now open, and my next road race will be there. It'll be the London Criterium Championships, and I think it'll be a beast. I thought that I'd finished with the painful stuff when I did my last race at Crystal Palace, but it seems that Hog Hill will be the mother of them all !!
Rendez-vous on 6th September.

Wednesday 13 August 2008

Summer Racing Summary - Part 1

The lack of posts about racing posts I've done will probably make people believe I haven't been racing.

Well, the news is me and my bike have seen some of the fast action over the summer. Actually the action was, as usual, not as fast as I wanted it, and what's this talk of summer. I'm still waiting for it to come to the UK !

Anyhow, a brief run-down :


After my Alpine break I slowly got back into the swing of things by doing a warm-up competitive event in the shape of the Beastway race at Hainault Country Park. As I'm not really a mountain biker I find these events quite refreshing as given that I'm pretty poor off road I have no pressure or expectations. In fact the last and only other time I did a Beastway race was about 4 years ago on the old Eastway circuit. From the gun I was off the pace, lost in a cloud of dry soil and dust as the herd disappeared away from me. Having been left on my own I had to fathom my way around the course with no one nearby to chase down. Unfortunately, the windy conditions had blown away some of the course tape and when I arrived at a particular crossroads I came to a halt not knowing which way to turn. I quickly plumped for the left hand trail, thinking that was the direction of the course. However, these mountain bike race courses tend to be very convoluted and don't necessary follow the "logical" direction. So within a minute the sight of the herd careering towards me made me realise I'd gone the wrong away.
I was able to duck out of danger. Unfortunately being in the thick of a race does not lend itself to stopping people to ask directions. So I once again I was left just as confused as I was before this incident. And with no marshall nearby, I figured it wasn't worth my while to traipse around losing "precious" time to ask the way. Feeling fed up and hopeless I put me and my bike on the area I felt more at home - on the tarmac, and then rode back to the car. That was my Beastway.

Since those days though, a few seasons of cyclo cross and a few mini mountain bike outings had toughened me up for Beastway races so I decided to give it another go. Fred was there with his club marshalling at the race, so he would be able to point me in the right direction if I got lost again !

Things didn't go too badly in the end. The course wasn't especially technical, there was one energy sapping hill, which played to my advantage given my newly found mountain legs, and most importantly I didn't get lost ! I finished 5th out of 8 women, and this was accompanied by the usual jeers of "how do you expect to do any better on a bike that's had it !" from my London Phoenix mountain bike friends. But hey, it's all good preparation for when I get that all singing all dancing bells and whistles full suss, lightweight dream machine some time............

Run down to be continued.....

Silver Lady !

More Olympic Success !

Big Congrats to Emma Pooley on taking the SILVER MEDAL in the Women's time trial, which was won by Kristin Armstrong (USA) with podium completed by Karin Thurig (Switzerland).

Glad that to see you have your day in the sun.

Monday 11 August 2008

Golden Girl !

After all those years of missing out on the top spot in a major championship, Nicole Cooke finally got the star prize.

She battled appalling conditions, and with the help of team mates Emma Pooley and Sharon Laws, managed to outsprint Emma Johansson (Sweden) and Tatiana Guderzo (Italy) to the chequered flag.

Well done Nicole - truly inspiring.

Thursday 7 August 2008

Wanna do La Vaujany ?

The Vaujany Cyclosportive is the first event in the week-long series known as the Trophee de l'Oisans. It takes place on the Sunday before La Marmotte (usually at the end of June).

It is a lower key event than La Marmotte and tends to get a little overlooked, and also underestimated.

At 173km and 3,800m climbing, including a passage along Alpe d'Huez and a summit finish at Vaujany ski station, this is not an easy event.
There is a shorter route that alot of people ride - about 109km. You can change your mind about which route to take during the ride.

The field is around 700 riders, with a large proportion of the riders being French. This is in contrast to La Marmotte where a good 70% of the riders are from outside of France.

This is another event that has very few flat sections. It's mainly either up or down. The toughest part of the course is the stretch from Allemont through Villard Reculas, up to Alpe d'Huez and across to the col de Sarenne. It's pretty much 15 miles of climbing.

The descent from col de Sarenne doesn't give much respite as this is quite technical and very bumpy, along a stony road with cobbled drainage gulleys running across the width of the road.

The summit finish up to Vaujany may be only 3 miles long, but it's significantly steeper than the climb up to Alpe d'Huez.

Probably because of the relatively small numbers that take part in this cyclosportive there is a very local feel and a more personal dimension to it than the large cyclosportive events. Some people prefer the Vaujany to La Marmotte for that reason.

Nevertheless, at the finish line there is still the same amount of fanfare as in La Marmotte - a stage with compere presenting prizes, music, tables set out for a post race meal etc.

Like La Marmotte, this event will take entries in advance (via the Sportcommunication website). It may be possible to enter the day before as well, though check on the website.

This is a good event for finding your climbing legs - as long as you take it easy during the ride (or do the shorter distance) you should be still ok to do the big one the following Saturday if you so wish.

Also, by doing La Vaujany and La Marmotte you end up doing the main climbs in the area. You will definitely know those hills !

For 2011 this event will take place on 26th June at 6.00am. Start is from the hydroelectric dam at Le Verney (about 5 miles west of Le Bourg d'Oisans).

Wednesday 6 August 2008

Wanna do La Marmotte ?

La Marmotte cyclosportive takes place on the first Saturday of July and is the flagship event of the week-long Trophee de L'Oisans series.

With 174km, 5,000m climbing and a summit finish La Marmotte is one of the toughest cyclosportive events you could do.

However, that's not to say that it's impossible. The really fast guys will do it in around 6 hours. The slowest riders will take around 13hours.

Proceedings kick off at 7am, and a the cut off is to be at the foot of the Alpe d'Huez climb by 6.15pm. So you've got 11hrs 15mins to cover the first 160km.

It's all about managing your energy - start off slowly (don't be phased by lots of people overtaking you) and keep in mind that from St Michel de Maurienne (KM75) to the col de Galibier you've got more than 30km of almost continuous climbing on difficult terrain.

Take care on the descents. Coming down from the col de Glandon in particular, can be quite tricky. In recent times the organisers have taken to neutralising this section of the ride for safety reasons.

If you don't manage to make the cut-off, or if the lure of your cosy flat in Le Bourg d'Oisans is too good resist, you can still get a certificate for having completed La Marmottan.

Don't forget to eat and drink. The first feedstation, at col de Glandon, can be quite congested, so it may be worth taking your own food along so as to avoid queueing. Don't miss out on fluids though.

Note that the really fast riders will have their own support arranged so they don't need to get tangled up with us lesser mortals at the feed stations !

Crowd support at the col de Glandon and the col de Galibier is amazing. Makes you feel special.

Also with 7,000 riders taking part in this event you are not alone, and other riders around you can be really motivational.

The start is now done in 3 waves in numerical order of your race number - the first one at 7am, the last one at 7.50am. Race numbers are issued in order of when you entered the race. The earlier you enter, the lower your number.

Accommodation options are not particularly difficult. There are hotels in Le Bourg d'Oisans and Alpe d'Huez. You can also book apartments. Check out the tourist office websites for these two towns. If you can't stay in either of these towns there are a number of small vilages in the vicinity of this area - La Paute, Allemont, Le Freney d'Oisans, Oz en Oisans, Rochetaille. There are also around 4 campsites in Le Bourg d'Oisans. Booking before by the end of March if you want to get more choice.

We flew into Lyon (with BA) and hired a car. It was a 2hr drive from there to Bourg d'Oisans. It's also possible to fly into Grenoble (with Ryanair) - a 1hr drive. Geneva (BA/Easyjet) is about 3hrs from Bourg d'Oisans.
If you drive all the way it's around 9 hours from Calais.

Entering the event is fairly easy. Just go to the website and click on Grand Trophee. You can then enter the event on-line. And don't forget to send either a copy of your racing licence or a medical certificate - either by snail mail or a scanned image. If you aren't able to produce either of these documents you can still start but you will be classed as a "randonneur", meaning that you won't be given a timing chip or time standards.

Just remember to enjoy the day and take in the scenery - not the sort of thing you see every day. Well, not while in a busy office at Westminster !
And everyone who crosses the finish line is a winner !

For 2011 La Marmotte will take place on Saturday 2nd July at 6am. Start is from the centre of Le Bourg d'Oisans.
La Mi-Marmotte (76km) starts at 9am from Valloire
La Rando des Marmottes (174km over 2 days) starts on Friday 1st July at 8am from Bourg d'Oisans Tourist Office, and Saturday 2nd from Valloire

Other Grande Trophee events that week:
La Vaujany (174km) - Sunday 26th June at 6am. Start is from the Hydroelectric dam, near Allemont (5miles from Le Bourg d'Oisans)
Prix des Rousses (40km) - Wednesday 29th June at 9am. Start is in Bourg d'Oisans at the foot of Alpe d'Huez
La Grimpee de L'Alpe (13km) - Sunday 3rd July at 9am. Start is in Bourg d'Oisans at the foot of Alpe d'Huez.

Tuesday 5 August 2008

Alpine Challenge - La Marmotte


Once I'd recovered from the exertions of La Vaujany I decided I would rest up a bit in preparation for the big one the following Saturday. Fat Chance !

The thing is, when you're out there nestled among the majestic mountains that make up the beauty of the Massif des Ecrins and the peaks of the Grandes Rousses - when you step out of your flat and you see loads of cyclists from all around Europe and beyond zooming down the car friendly roads, or sitting on sun-kissed cafe terraces, you really want to be part of all that. There's a real urge to explore as much of the area as possible and take in the spectacular sights.

So with that in mind, I didn't do much resting at all ! I rode every day - mostly uphill ! But it was fun.
Being based in Le Bourg d'Oisans meant that we could get to the surrounding valleys very easily.

Naturally by the time the day came to ride La Marmotte I had definitely found my climbing legs - unfortunately, they were a little tired.

Fortunately, for us the start line for La Marmotte was at the end of the lane where we were staying. Very convenient indeed.

We started promptly at 7.50am. Again, as is customary, the pace was very brisk from the gun. The straight flat, slightly downhill N91 leant itself to road racing pelotons forming. Rolling road closures meant that we had the road to ourselves and there was no worry about vehicles in our way. Once at Allemont, the readings began to show on the altimetre, and the paced slowed.

I rode slowly the whole time. Given that I would've had no warm-up ride to get to the start, I found it difficult to set off at a blistering pace. I didn't feel bad though on the climbs. I was happy to trundle along.


The first significant climb, the col du Glandon was very long - about 25km. The gradient wasn't too difficult though, and as we were still bunched together, the company of others meant that you still felt motivated. I was passed by alot of riders - many from the UK, who greeted me as they went past. It was almost like a home from home !

I continued to spin up the hill at a slow pace and enjoy the landscape. The area of the Barrage de Grande Maison was very pretty and many riders stopped to take photos.

Near the summit of the Glandon I bumped into a girl from CC Giro. She'd been at the Vaujany and the Trophee des Grandes Rousses sportives. It was good to bump into her again. I also got chatting to French woman who was asking me if I'd be interested in doing the Tour of Guadeloupe (French West Indies) later that year. Hang on, let me get through this challenge first ! I replied.

The first feed station at the summit of the col de Glandon was a little chaotic as literally thousands of hungry riders tried to get their fill of bananas, cake, savouries, energy drinks and water. As I wasn't after a time (or a medal) I took my time to eat and stock up on food for later.

The first few km's of the descent were steep and technical. It was reassuring to have marshalls waving flags to signal the more tricky descents - a measure that was probably necessary to prevent repetitions of the serious accidents that have occurred on this stretch in previous years.

This is one of my favourite alpine descents. It's long and twisty, and not so high up so you don't get uncomfortably cold on your way down. In fact it was warm and sunny on the way down.

Once at the bottom I stayed in a group as we ploughed along the main road through the Maurienne valley. This was my least favourite part of the ride.


Once in St Michel de Maurienne the road began to climb again as we started our second climb of the day - col du Telegraph.
This is the "easiest" climb of the day - 12km long and average gradient of 7%. In fact this climb was so easy that when I bumped into Lisa from Agisko Viner we rode together chatting about life and the universe, as well as our racing. We still managed to overtake a few people at the same time !

It was at this time though that I overtook a few people who had sailed past me on the col du Glandon earlier in the day. The col du Telegraph was beginning to take it out of people - not because it was so difficult, but mainly because by this time people would have been riding for 5 hours. The short descent to the ski resort of Valloire would provide little respite before tackling the big beast - Galibier.


By the time we reached the early part of the main course of the day - the col du Galibier - some people were really beginning to fall apart. Many people had to stop and walk, some had to stretch off their legs. It was lucky that there were cafes along the way.

I continued to spin my way up, and felt ok. But with 18km and 2 hours of uphill ahead of me, I was getting rather bored. The sun had gone in, and the sky was gloomy. The large expanse of rocky snow covered peaks made the area and the task feel formidable. I preferred not to look to high up above me. The sight of hundreds of riders on the hairpins above was enough to test the resolve of the most committed of riders.

In general on these type of climbs people are quiet as each and every one of us fights our own personal battles to reach the top. But on this climb, in the face of desperation people break their silence to give words of encouragement to those who appear to be worse off than them. And no matter how bad you might be feeling, there always seems to be someone faring worse than you.

As I'd been on these slopes just a couple of days before, I knew what to expect and that helped me to manage the situation. I was glad to reach the summit. The feedstation here was more subdued as riders were strung out and were probably not in a rush to get back on their bikes so soon after the ordeal of the col du Galibier.

Once I was fed, watered, and wrapped up for the very chilly descent, I made my way homewards. We were graced with an even longer descent - from the summit all the way down, via col du Lautaret to La Grave. The section from then on was either flat or downhill as far as the foot of the Alpe d'Huez climb. Lovely. By now, the sun had re-emerged and the area looked glorious once again. I pegged myself to the wheel of 2 Spanish guys. They were happy to drag me along while they chatted away. Spanish are so talkative - neither a 70km/h descent nor a 20% climb will shut them up !


Alpe d'Huez for me, was just a case of get up it any which way you can. I had eaten quite alot all day so didn't need to stock up on anymore energy. It was just a case of keeping hydrated and keeping it steady. 14km of climbing didn't seem that far compared to the other climbs I'd done, but riding this after 160km, and with some 10%stretches thrown in, would not be easy.

As with the Galibier, many people had to stop at one or more hairpins to stretch off their legs or just to have a breather. I stopped twice to take phone calls from Fred (who had finished a couple of hours earlier) asking what was keeping me !

As this was the third time that week that I was riding up Alpe d'Huez, I knew exactly what to expect and was able to put on a final spurt in the last couple of kilometres. I crossed the line with two guys from Northern France that I'd ridden over col de Galibier with. It was good to cross the line with familiar folks.


Fred, who had taken a few photos of me suffering on the later hairpins had managed to zoom across the ski resort to meet me at the finish line. It was nice to see him there so soon after I finished.

He said it was good that I came in so long after him as he'd been feeling really rough when he finished and couldn't eat or drink or do anything for the first 45 minutes after crossing the finish line. He was just glad to find a corner to collapse in first before doing anything else !

Once I finished we were very quickly given our post race meal and found somewhere to sit. Who should we bump into but John from Surrey League. Such a small world ! Sadly, I couldn't say much to him as it was at that point that I realised how fatigued I really was, as the exertions of the day, and that week took their toll on me. I was only just about able to lift my fork and knife ! Thankfully, John was just as tired too though.

The fact is, La Marmotte is the toughest cyclosportive in Europe. There are only 4 peaks to climb, but each one is very testing, and the summit finish makes it a beast of an event. However, the landscape, the organisation and the company of thousands of cyclists plus locals makes it a great day out.

Monday 4 August 2008

Alpine Challenge - La Vaujany

So Fred and I headed over to Heathrow and jumped on a flight to Lyon where we hired a car and drove over to our base for the week, Bourg d'Oisans.

I was immediately struck by the heat. So far this year I hadn't experienced anything above 23 degrees celsius. In fact, because we'd left London in the early morning cold air, we were extremely overdressed by the time we reached the Rhone-Alpes region. You can only imagine therefore how sweltering we were in our pullovers as the mercury rose to over 35 degrees. We couldn't get the air conditioning working quick enough !

Without much ado we got ourselves ready for the first challenge of the week - La Vaujany. I didn't know what the course would be like, but at least we knew how it would end - a 3mile climb at a relentless gradient, up to the finish line.

Sunday was an early start, as we drove through the early morning mist to reach the Barrage at Le Verney. We then parked up and made our way to the startline.

From the gun there was a mad dash through the lanes to get through Allemont and then down the main road towards Sechilienne. This was a real fairground ride - being whooshed along in a big group at around 35km/h. After 16km we then began the first climb of the day - Alpe de Grande Serre. This was pleasant, even if it was 12km long. But it went through the trees and conditions were nice and cool. I kept in with a group of around 15 riders and it was nice to have company all the way up to the summit.

The summit, known as col de la Morte gave way to a lovely sweeping descent, before we then began the second climb - the col d'Ornon.

Col d'Ornon was not very steep - only about 6% on average. However, because of it's length it was quite energy sapping as people rode it at quite a fast pace. It was possible to do alot of this in the big ring if you were so inclined.

I took it easy and got chatting to some guys from Grenoble who were doing La Vaujany as a substitute for their usual club run through the Uriage area and the Vercors areas. They jokingly pitied the fact that I came from London and didn't have the pleasure of such scenery on my doorstep. I laughed along with them before dropping them on the drag up to the summit !

The descent from the col d'Ornon was a real whizz - lovely views of the ridge roads across the valley, and again a tree-lined descent. Finally we hit the main road at La Paute and then crossed over to Allemont.

For me the suffering began from here. The climb up to Villard Reculas, and then on to Huez, at hairpin 6 of the Alpe d'Huez climb was interminable. It was very hot, there were loads of flies and my legs were aching.

At the feedstation in Alpe d'Huez I had to sit and rest for a few minutes just to take on as many savouries as I could. I think with all the heat I was lacking salt. There then followed a long demoralising road over col de Sarenne. Unfortunately for me, a lot of people had made the last minute decision, in the blazing heat to do the shorter 109km ride. I had blindly stuck with the long 173km route. The result was, I found myself alone - in fact, at the back of proceedings !

It was while riding over the col de Sarenne that I was caught by the broom wagon. Aaagh!! Actually, in these events broom wagons do not take on the onerous mantle that they wear in, for example L'Etape du Tour. None of this - you're the weakest link, Goodbye - give me your race number and your timing chip - game over ! The good people that drive the van are just there to make sure you're ok, you've got enough food etc. Of course if you don't wish to continue the event, they'll quite happily take you and your bike out of the race. Afterall, they can clock off from work early !

So after the driver had enquired after my welfare, and I'd signalled that I'd be ok to continue they just trundled behind me as I bounced around over the cobbles and gravel of this "road" that led me back down into the valley. The descent from col de Sarenne is not fun at all. Anyone who wishes to ride this should make sure that their tyres, forks and bike handling skills are up to scratch. It's like doing Paris-Roubaix but downhill !!

By the time I reached the valley, near the Barrage du Chambon the sun had gone in and the sky had turned black. I stopped to take a call from Fred, who had just crossed the finish line. He said that there was a storm in Vaujany and that he recommended I bail out at Bourg d'Oisans so that I don't get caught up in it all.

I wasn't really sure what to say. Granted, I didn't feel particularly good, and I didn't want to ride in the pouring rain. However, I still felt a motivation to continue. As well as all that, the broom wagon was very patiently "escorting" me back to the finish and I would have felt a bit embarrassed bailing out after all the support they'd given me.

I whizzed down the main road and through the numerous tunnels of the N91 all the way back to Bourg d'Oisans. My dodgy moment seemed to have passed and I began to feel energetic. I think it might also have been linked to the fact that the guy in the broom wagon was shouting encouragement through his loud speaker - "allez, allez, courage la miss." He even put through some "motivational" music - Gloria Gaynor "I will Survive" - Michael Jackson "Blame it on the Boogie" - and other well known kitsch sounds. So what was I doing on the N91 ? I should've been at Studio 54 ?!

The rain came as I was leaving Le Bourg d'Oisans. It was actually quite refreshing for me, as I'd felt too hot and the rain helped reduce the mugginess. I was happy to continue riding, and I knew that I would make it to the end, even though I still had a 3 mile slog to negotiate at the end. Somehow knowing that I'd overcome the bad period at Villard Reculas and Alpe d'Huez made me feel confident and energized.

Fred so very kindly drove down to meet me and gave me lots of encouragement as I rode through Allemont and up to the finish line at Vaujany ski station. The organisers were there and were just completing their final presentations. Apparently for all the problems I'd had, and even though I was the Lanterne Rouge I still gained silver standard, and I was the 3rd woman in my category. That gained me a trophy, a bouquet of flowers, plus a T-shirt, sunglasses and a photo opportunity ! The rain had stopped and the sun was out too. So not a bad day afterall.

Fred and I then drove back to our flat in Le Bourg d'Oisans, recuperated and relaxed with a bottle of wine in a garden restaurant.

Hey.....It's been a while !

Well I'm back.

If only I could say I've been too busy to write this blog due to excessive lounging on the beach !

No, just plodding on with the usual drudge of getting up, keeping the wolf from the door and going to sleep.

Oh, and I have done a bit of cycling in between.

Well more of that later. Blogs will resume very soon. I promise !

Bye for now :-)