Re: Winter 2013/14 - Page 36

collecting more cash for the charities at airports as a consequence. Cards were printed with the weblinks for the charities so that we could hand those out, thanks to Sussex Print Management. As chaps largely of mature years we did have some contacts that we could call on and we used those as far as we could. If we did not have relevant contacts we blagged. One consequence of that was that we were sent a set of 12 helmets from Hardnutz to complete the team kit. In addition Zipvit not only gave us a huge discount on protein and gel products but also sent us small useful bits of kit like waterproof plastic wallets. Most encouraging though was the extent to which family, friends and colleagues got behind us and not only sponsored us but also offered encouragement. Yes, it is true that most people probably felt that we were mad and many told us so, but I think they could also see that we were committed to doing everything that we could to achieve the goal and that the charities would benefit. Much of this was fun and we had a huge amount of anticipation for the trip both as individuals, but especially whenever any of us got together as a group. However, that still left the small matter of the challenge itself, which meant training. There is nowhere in Sussex that you can replicate the extent of the climb we were facing. There are simply no hills long enough. The gradient can be matched, and in some places exceeded, but only for short distances. One of the 34 challenges for Ventoux is the extent of the gradient, the incline is not physically impossible by any means, but it just keeps going and going and going – that is why in the Tour de France it is classed as “HC”, i.e. “beyond category” The nearest we could get to was at the start of September when we rode Sompting Hill for 10 repetitions having got to it over the steeper Bostel Road from Steyning. But even that effectively builds in recovery on the downhills that we were not going to get in Provence. Personally I also faced the challenge of not being a “real cyclist”. I had followed the Tours for years as a fan, done countless hours of spin sessions for general fitness and even used my bike in sprint tri races. But I had agreed to what I saw as a physical challenge because of the combination of timing of my birthday, doing some fundraising personally and wanting a target to make sure I kept working on my fitness. Some of these other guys though actually knew what they were doing! With that in mind I had to work on my general fitness levels, learn how to ride my bike properly (especially for the downhill) and learn how to take it apart and put it together. One thing we had not blagged was a team mechanic in a back-up car – though we did manage a back-up car thanks to my colleague Fiona Dodd’s father Malcolm who had thoughtfully retired to the area in Provence a few years before our expedition. So some of the preparation was fun planning the logistics, and receiving encouragement along the way, but some of it was pure slog that simply had to be done. As departure date approached I remember being asked several times if I was ready. “Was I as fit as I could possibly be”, I replied, “probably not. But I was as fit and ready as was possible taking into account that I still had a family to see and a job to do”. The families duly despatched us to Gatwick Airport at an unholy hour on 14th September and we were underway. With our bikes disassembled and placed in hired boxes, and us in our team hoodies we set off on our adventure. We had started out as Legs Eleven, but had acquired a 12th rider once the charity sites were set up and named. But the perversity of being called “11” when there were 12 of us appealed so we stuck with it. Easyjet got us to Marseilles, in more comfort than I had expected, and from there we traversed via an airport shuttle to the train to Avignon. You probably don’t want to share an airport shuttle with 12 guys plus cases and bike boxes, I would not recommend it – but hopefully we did not put diplomatic relations too far back. We tried to be as friendly as possible all through the trip, and smiling does still seem to be an international language.