Velo rider and Langdon Vice Chairman Ben Miller keeps us up to speed with the events of this year’s cycle challenge…

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Day 5 – Thursday 14th June 2018

The Finale
Auron to Nice
Distance 120km with 1,000 metres of ascent

Today’s cycling was a melange of terrain. The first few km were technical descending – steep, with tight hairpins (switchbacks to my American readers). It was chilly, but dry. The main problem with these descents is that I have to restrain that fifth of a tonne from getting out of control, which means more-or-less permanently gripping both brakes and often fighting off mild cramps in my hands.  After that, we had the perfect tandem conditions. About 40km of 1-3% downhill, on straight, wide roads. Marc and I flew along, averaging over 40kph.

You know of course that such things cannot last – and if you were paying attention yesterday, you’ll know that we had 1000m of climbing in store for us today. The first climb was actually very nice.  400m of ascent (that’s about half the Burj Khalifa), but at a nearly pleasant 5-6% in the warmth. We chatted, we enjoyed the stunning views and we took this picture of Marc and me close to the top – look for the road in the background.

 

 

We then dropped down a few hundred metres, before hitting the second climb with an abrupt shock. From sharp descent to sharp ascent, and I mean sharp, 12%, the change was almost instantaneous. This second hill was another kettle of fish. Averaging around 8-9%, with plenty of sections well over 10%, it was a darn sight harder, even though it was considerably shorter. By this time the sun was really at its peak, and my bike computer registered 32°C. However, it wasn’t the longest climb in the world, and we made it to the top with a decent effort.

A relatively short descent was then followed by the really nasty part of the day. I’m pretty sure this last climb, around 400m of ascent, averaged well over 10%, there were many sections at 12, 13, 14%, and certainly one section at 17%. I have to admit that that this is the point that defeated Marc and me. The road turned the corner and kicked sharply upwards, and the tandem simply stopped. Marc and I got off and pushed, probably for about 500m, and then we remounted and soldiered on for the last few km, finally cresting the hill in a short tunnel before rolling down to lunch. Nigel and Ted did a phenomenal job on the other tandem on today’s hills, as did Mark Nadler on a single bike – another excellent effort from the team.

The timing of the day meant that lunch was truncated for Marc and me – just 20 minutes to throw down a few sandwiches and a couple of cups of orange juice. At this point, I could see that it was the end of the road the for Marc. He had put everything he had into the final hill, adding an astonishing 1000m of climbing to the rest of the week’s achievement. The sun had obviously got to him, he was looking hot and tired, and desperately in need of some air-conditioned rest on a van. Well earned.  The picture is of the entire group at lunch, wearing our matching shirts for this year.

 

 

However, the tandem still to get back to the airport, and James Manton stepped into the breach. Another of our Langdon Members, who had spent most of the week on his own bike, but loves the tandem. He accompanied me for the final 40km, which should have been a straightforward swooping ride along the valley, descending at 2-3%. The plan was to finish at the famous Café des Cyclistes in Nice, where food and showers were arranged. We were nixed. By roadworks. Our road was closed for an hour while wire netting was being fitted on the cliffs above, to keep the rocks falling on drivers and cyclists. The good news is that the view was beautiful by the river. I borrowed a blanket from one of the Skedaddle vehicles, and lay in the road dozing. By the time we finally got going, and temporarily mislaid a couple of riders on the final section, Café des Cyclistes was no longer an option, and it was all we could do to struggle through the Nice traffic to get to the airport on time. You therefore find me sitting on my flight, not having showered, providing you this entertainment.

With all the struggles I have reported, I maybe haven’t given a sense of just how magnificent this terrain is. The views throughout have been amazing, whether that is coming down a valley with the river rushing alongside us, climbing the hills, cycling above the tree line, riding under the sad-looking ski lifts, or any other time (except the last 10km into Nice). It was truly beautiful and I recommend it to anyone. The mutual support among the riders has been great. Clive Nathan entertained Marc and I with football quizzes for long periods (name all 11 football clubs in the top four English divisions whose last names are unique). I was going to list all the others who helped – but it was really everybody, and I would be mortified if I missed anybody out. So thank you to everyone.

This has been an absolutely phenomenal trip. Really well organised, very good atmosphere amongst the riders, and, crucially, very successful fundraising. Congratulations and thank you to everybody involved.

I leave you with a video of both tandems riding together in the final section.

See you next year!

As ever, this blog is available here.

Day 4 – Wednesday 13th June 2018

The Unexpected
Barcelonette to Auron via the Col de Bonnette

After the last two days of incredibly intense cycling experience, the expectation of today was yet tougher. A 22km climb at an average of 7%. This is a classic alpine climb, of the sort that we have conquered before on multiple Langdon rides, but never after three days of riding like we have experienced on this occasion. And, alas, it was not to be.

When we woke this morning, the forecast for the top of Col du Bonnette was thunderstorms. Given the challenges yesterday of getting everybody up, and down, Col d’Allos, it simply wasn’t sensible to consider today’s ride. Bonnette is 800m higher than Allos, and therefore would be approximately 8° colder – close to freezing. Therefore, with heavy heart, we had to cancel the riding, and instead Skedaddle had the logistical challenge of transporting all of us and bikes over the pass in order to get to our final hotel.  This was done in two different shuttles. The second time over, the temperature was around 5°, it was raining heavily, and visibility was almost zero. This definitely validated the decision to cancel the riding, although there was huge disappointment throughout.  (One of the local hoteliers told us that this is the worst weather they have ever seen in June.)

For those of you who are disappointed with your intrepid fundraising friends, I refer you back to the last two days’ blogs and beg your forgiveness. I am also pleased to let you know that tomorrow, our last day, which is typically an easy, short ride, is 135km with over 1200m climbing – no small feat in itself.  Adding this to the first three days, the total distance and climbing may well exceed previous Langdon rides with all days included. Lastly, to give you a sense of the conditions we enjoyed yesterday, have a look at this picture of Marc and I descending in the evening cloud.

 

 

This evening, we had our official awards dinner, which included some words about the fantastic work Langdon does, particularly with respect to employment, interviews with each of our members, and awards for a number of riders. I will particularly mention Simon Showman who was our top fundraiser with £20,000. Absolutely amazing. Which brings me onto the overall result. The scores on the doors have not been thoroughly totalled, but the estimate from our fantastic leader and organiser, Daniel Robey, is that we have raised around £120,000.  We are of course, still very happy to receive further donations. Don’t be shy 🙂 And if you have already donated – I suspect most of my readers have – let me say once again THANK YOU, both as a rider, a friend of Langdon and in my official capacity as a trustee.

If you’d like to get a little more understanding of what Langdon does, please click here for the video from the fundraising dinner last month.

I’ll leave you with a picture of tonight’s dinner, with our five members, Marc, Mark, Ted, James and Richard receiving their awards for achieving the ride brilliantly.

 

 

And remember, you can always read this blog here.

Day 3 – Tuesday 12th June 2018

OMG!
Castellane to Barcelonette
Distance 95km with 1,700 metres of ascent

The day started well, with lovely riding through a beautiful, warm, valley.  We crossed a lovely dam and rode along the lake for some while. See pictures.

 

 

 

But then it all took a turn for the worse.  I wasn’t going to dwell cycling today, after yesterday’s extended explanation. But, I can’t help myself. Today, Marc and I climbed the world’s tallest building 2.3 times, again.  Meh, you might say. Bah, you did that yesterday, what’s the big deal? On the one hand, we had an advantage: for some significant sections, Tim, one of the magnificent Skedaddle team, gave us a helping push, over some tough gradients that we might not have conquered alone. We therefore wimped out you might think.  However, the story goes deeper, and you can be assured that we have earned every penny of your sponsorship today, possibly substantially more.

Yesterday, we had several significant climbs that added up to the total distance. Today, we finished with one huge climb, the Col D’Allos, standing at 2250m.  The climb was 22km, the first half of which was relatively gentle, but the second half was a proper gradient – 7, 8, 9, 10%.  This, however, was not the problem. The problem was that it was raining. Not just some light, warm, Mediterranean drizzle, but proper rain.  Sometimes torrential, sometimes light, mostly just rain. And we got cold. I admit, at 5km before the summit, as we hit the steepest gradients, I was ready to give up. I asked Tim to call one of the vans to come and collect us.  However, Marc was having none of it.  His heart was absolutely set on making it over the top.  So, due to a combination of his stubbornness, and the fact that Tim could not contact any of the van drivers, we persevered.

We finally crested, as you can see in the picture, past 6:30pm, in weather which would normally be suited to London in November (or worse).  As we were taking this photo, a train of around a dozen Lotus’s drove up – it was obviously a day for scaling the odd col.  They paused to take pictures at the same spot, although it wasn’t like they had really made any effort.

 

 

You’ll notice that in the picture, Marc is wearing an Arsenal shirt. For most of you, that may not be noteworthy, however as a diehard Spurs fan, and a season ticket holder for many years, this was an extremely distasteful experience for him.  He did it to raise sponsorship for Langdon – and has raised around €800. Excellent. Anybody who wants to sponsor him, please let me know.

Normally, after a hard climb, you can look forward to the descent.  In this part of the world, a warm, flowing descent is the norm.  It was not to be. It was incredibly cold, and rolling down at 30, 40 or 50kph, amplified that.  The tandem weighs about a fifth of a tonne (have I mentioned that before?) and manoeuvres about as well as an oil tanker. The road was wet, and to cap it all, we were shrouded in cloud, with visibility occasionally down to 10m.  My nice, warm, long fingered gloves were smuggled cosily in my suitcase, 20km away.  Therefore we had to navigate our way in the freezing cold, with fingers cramping from clutching the brakes solidly throughout the descent.

Interestingly, our tandem has an extra brake lever which allows you to partially apply the back brakes consistently without holding the levers. This makes it much easier to keep the machine under control on a fast descent. For the last 4 km of the ride, we were riding on the flat, so had to pedal again. I urged Marc to make a real effort as he was obviously exhausted and not pushing. A few minutes later, I realised Mark’s work rate was absolutely fine, but I still had the brake applied, and most of our energy was being diverted unhelpfully. Sorry Marc!

The good news is that we made it down safe and sound, which you can tell from fact I am writing this blog. Safe to say, this is undoubtedly the most miserable day I have spent on the bike.

Tomorrow, we climb Col du Bonnette.  The ascent is considerably harder, and the weather is planning to be awful again. Interests of safety and common sense, our Langdon Members are taking a day off. Given the scale of the challenge so far, and what they have achieved, this is more than reasonable. All five of them have been phenomenal, stronger than in previous years.

Please hop to the blog for a video of Mark Nadler at one of our morning breaks.

Day 2 – Monday 11th June 2018

Trois Cols
Grasses to Castellane
Distance 84km with 1,922 metres of ascent

Today we had the pleasure of climbing three cols – mountain passes.  Col du Pilon, Col du Ferrier and Col du Beine.  We covered 84km and climbed 1922m.  I have been trying to find a way to put this in context.  A regular Sunday ride for many would be 80-90km.  It would take about 3 hours and, in Hertfordshire (just north of London), likely include 7-800m of ascent – i.e. less than half of what we achieved today.

But that doesn’t really tell the story.  How about this?  The combination of Marc+Ben+bike weighs a touch over 200kg – a fifth of a tonne.  Using only our legs, we raised this mass a vertical distance of 1922m, almost 2 km.  There are no hills in the United Kingdom of this size – Ben Nevis is 1345m.  1922m is 2.3 times the height of the Burj Khalifa, the world’s tallest building (828m). Therefore, over a period of 6 riding hours, Marc and I used our bodily strength to raise a fifth of a tonne the entire height of the world’s tallest building. Then we did it again. And then we hopped up just to the 55th floor (there are 160), for good measure.  Not to mention the fact that throughout this period of time we were fighting significant rolling resistance, wind resistance and flexible steel tandem which absorbed a significant amount of our energy. All of which might just explain why we are quite tired. Unfortunately, we were informed yesterday that today was a “warm up” for the proper hard days tomorrow and Wednesday!

You’ll be pleased to see Marc and I enjoying the view on our way down from Col du Beine.

 

 

If you are interested in following our trip at all, these are very cool videos, a few seconds each, that show you the route. Have a click.

Day 1  https://www.relive.cc/view/1630749095?r=wa
Day 2  https://www.relive.cc/view/1631864833

Anyway, enough grumbling. It was an excellent day’s riding, and everyone was really pleased to have achieved it. There has been a fantastic level of support for the Langdon Members – there’s always multiple people riding with them, supporting, and encouraging them. The very focus of Langdon is to ensure that everyone can have the same opportunities to succeed – be that in work, or socially, or in any other way. Therefore, the bike rides really value in this respect – as well as raising money (in this case for the employment service), they are also an opportunity for all the riders to get to know the Langdon members, and make friends. And indeed, in some places employ them – many of our riders are themselves Langdon employers.

Day 1 – Sunday 10th June 2018

Nice to Grasse
Distance 60km with 500 metres of ascent

And so it began, for most of us at an ungodly hour, before the sun had risen to travel by easyJet, El Al or BA to the French Riviera.  All arrived safely, including James’s luggage that was left the previous day in London, and we went through the requisite period of faffing about, preparing bikes, getting changed, eating, discussing the route, complaining about the route, determining saddles were wrong, tightening pedals, pumping tyres, and generally taking roughly twice as long as necessary for most tasks.  Which, if you are a regular cyclist, you will recognise as standard operating procedure.

 

 

The wonderful Saddle Skedaddle folks sprang a small surprise on us.  Thanks to traffic issues, roadworks and other miscellaneous excuses, the comfortable half day, largely flat, introductory ride instead became almost 70km with 1100m of climbing.  Itself not bad for a full day, and the Mediterranean sun ensured we were kept toasty warm, close to 30° for much of the afternoon.

Marc Butcher accompanied me on the tandem, see the video, and did a sterling job on the substantial hills – his first real experience of this type of riding.  Ted Morris similarly was excellent riding with Nigel Henry.  In fact the Langdon crew across the board did brilliantly.

James Manton (fortunately with his clothes having arrived), Marc Nadler and Richard Shinwell rode single bikes, and all of them were astonishingly strong compared with my previous recollection, disappearing up hills with panache.  Jonny and Kirsty are the two Langdon staff who have joined us to help the Members; Jonny for his first time and going strong, and Kirsty now a veteran of these, and many other Skedaddle, rides.

 

 

Tomorrow we cycle from Grasse to La Martre, with 1922m of climbing over 84km.  So a good chunk tougher than today, but at least we have the whole day for it.

Fundraising update: altogether, the group is close to £75,000.  We would love to get it well over £80,000, and ideally into the £90,000 range.  If you haven’t sponsored, please do.  If you have, THANK YOU very much.

Above you can see our start of ride photo, and then a shot of the fantastic view we found at the top of the highest climb today.  If you hop to the blog, you can see the same information, along with a video of Mr Butcher early in the day.