We did the Première Manche - the first round - of A Travers riding across France from Dieppe to Marseille in the summer of 2009, and it was the original inspiration for this blog. The plan to put the 'band back together again' for another go in 2013 for the second installment fell on stoney ground, with life just getting in the way for too many of us, much to our disappointment. However, our enthusiasm for the bike remains undimmed, and so I'll keep posting my thoughts on the diverse and beautiful facets of the sport regardless. But there's bound to be another big 'adventure ride' coming soon - quite possibly in Italy - so potentially a name change too: Attraverso l'Italia in Bicicletta anyone?
I know it's got nothing to do with the France ride this summer, but this year's Tirreno - Adriatico race has its penultimate stage going through 'our' village in Sant'Angelo in Pontano before heading off into the Monti Sibillini over the climb of Sasso Tetto. 13.2 km, average 7.3%, maximum 12%? How does that compare to the French climbs? We've just decided that we won't fly out (we're back again in June), so here's hoping it's on Eurosport on the day, and that I've got enough holiday time left over. Please-oh-please-oh-please!
On Stage 6 of the ride from Carombe, over the Ventoux and down to Marseille, we'll be riding past some of my old 'stomping' - that Yatesism again - ground from 1987/88 when I was a member of the ASPTT Aix-en-Provence.
I think it's an ideal opportunity to get in touch with Régis Roqueta - still the DS of the team - and see if we can't all meet up for a group hug. I'm really keen to see if any of my fellow Cat 3/4 riders are still around - Gerard Dosetto, Jean Barbero, Bruno Cargnelutti, Alain St Martin and the Egio brothers.
Above is a pic of me (second from the right, blue Pinarello Treviso, trying so hard to look like a pro), Alain with a very friendly arm around me, James Schlultz (an American student doing a similar thing to me - he's the man-bear in the Rudy Projects in the middle) and the Egios outside Avignon's city walls before the start of the Bi-Énergie Two-Day race in 1988. Like most of my races there I have very little idea of the result, just vague memories of chewing on my handlebar stem for a few unpleasant hours. The standard in France really took me by surprise.
The club seems to also have an additional site here too, so with luck I'll be able to get in touch.
Here's some of the line-up for the ride, although we're yet to all get together due to our intense training commitments and the fact we don't all live in Tunbridge Wells. This photo looks like it was taken in HM Prison Slade. From left to right:
Pete Lester, Paul Barrington-King, Mike James and Trevor Crysell.
Paul and Mike actually look like they are conjoined twins. That'll be interesting on a bike.
They say the camera adds ten pounds ... so was there a whole phalanx of paparazzi there when this snap was taken? Time to get training lads!
(Apologies, naturally, for weight jibes: I'm sure we'll all be affûtés comme des pros by July.)
Here's a pic of Jamesy before (probably) the Surrey League Divisional Road Race Championships ('Divs') in 1988.
That's his much-missed mum on the left, looking on proudly. Actually she's probably fascinated - as I am - by WTF those two shaving-nicks from hell are on Jamesy's chiny-chin-chin. I think it's probably something from the photographic process, but can't be sure: I wasn't there that day. Given that Mike used to regularly race with a either the predictably-missed smear of Cramer Atomic Balm, or worse, the oily outline of a chainring on his calf, I wouldn't be surprised if these are actually on his face.
In the background is Graham Douce, part of the local 'Wembley Road Club - Testers of Edenbridge - Dauphin Sport' mafia, and brother of Steve, a zillion-times UK Cyclo Cross champ. The Wembley was also Roger Hammond's club when he use to ride us all into the ground too. Blimey: we really did used to mix it with the best!
OK, I might work in IT, but there's the rub: I work.
Jamesy, on the other hand, despite a high-powered job in Project Management, two kids and a level of fitness described (in Sean Yates parlance) as 'stomping', still has time to fathom out how to do this: get the Google Earth flythrough of the Ventoux stage into the blog. He tells me it takes ages to get the thing to 'cook' for each stage, but that's good. It'll mean he's got less time for training. Welcome to my world.
Here's the two of us again, this time warming up before one of the Thursday-night Brands Hatch races in 1987, my only racing 'annus mirabilis'. Well, by my standards: got some BCF points.
We're both in Old Portlians colours, a club I've been in since 1982, Mike James from 1983, Paul Barrington-King from 1988 for a few years, and Dave Hickman since, well, our research suggests from some time in the Cretaceous Period.
Sadly these races are no more, but I did read that the circuit is going to be used as an official 2012 Olympic Training Circuit. Funny: we always used to say that the Tuesday-night crit races at Crystal Palace were much harder. "If you can stay in at the Palace, you can stay in anywhere", as a wise old man used to put it to us.
Well, here we are: Mike James (on the left) and Mike Curtis (right), in front on the Stèle Simpson at the top of the Ventoux, in July 1989. We'd stayed in Carpentras and decided to ride up together in the late afternoon, although predicatably this meant we were half-wheeling each other all the way up.
Jamesy wore his La Vie Claire jersey, hoping it would give him Jean-Francois Bernard-shaped wings, whereas I'm wearing my ASPTT Aix-en-Provence jersey from my stint riding with them in 1987-88 during my academic year at the Faculté de Lettres in Aix.
I was hampered by my aching back all the way up, and shortly after this photo was taken Jamesy went a bit doolaley himself (heat, bonk, altitude, fear of losing). So I eased off, waited, offering little pushes up this last kilometre. What a berk: when we got to the steep final right-hander he miraculously found his legs again, sprinting away to reach the top with arms raised proclaiming 'Yes, yes!', as if he'd been dreaming of this moment for years. I'm sure he had.
No, I haven't blown the trip budget with a pointless bit of advertising on the side of a bus; Kelda directed me to to a one-trick site that can generate these types of things for, err, a laugh. It came about after atheists here in the UK had paid to run rather excellent adverts on the sides of buses, leading to some Christian bus drivers refusing to drive them.
I mentioned to her at lunchtime that I'd been reading 'Cycling Weekly' in the newsagents (rather than actually buying it - I'm saving up for the trip, so need to be tight where I can), and she pointed out that this was an apt description of how my training is going.
The following video has little to do with our trip across France this summer per se, but there really is something about it I love that makes me want to get out on my bike as soon as possible.
First found it on one of my fave sitesand sent it to Mike James, insisting that he watch it with headphones on. It's the sound that makes it so good: the strictly non-partisan commentary in Italian, the unbridaled passion, the crowd roaring around the Varese Worlds circuit when 'Balla' launches his attack with 3km to go. Goosebumps.
Additionally I'd met Ballan and the rest of the Lampre-Fondital squad (as it was then) when I was a chaperone for them in London at the 2007 Tour de France Team Presentation. No doubt acted like an awkward awe-struck overgrown schoolboy on Jim'll Fix It, but I've considered myself a Lampre fan ever since. Forza gli atleti blu-fucsia!!
I make no apologies here for focussing on the Ventoux at this stage of the blog, since it does have a special place in all our hearts. It'll (hopefully) be the final major obstacle on our ride to Marseille ... unless of course the CGT have organised wild-cat strikes on the outskirts of the town and blocked the road. We might have to get a bit 'punchy' in that case, à la Hinault.
I'll post some stuff about the other zillions of climbs we're doing in the Massif Central later, but for the moment here's another bit of evocative footage, from a recon ride for the Etape which takes place a few days after we've whizzed up it. I can see us all staying together as real comrades, until that final corner where each of us unleashes what we hope will be a devastating sprint to cross the top first. It happened in 1989.
Well, thanks to the snow, I've finally had a chance to spend some guilt-free time getting to grips with putting this blog together for our Coast-to-Coast ride in July, and get all the necessary bits and pieces linked together: Twitter updates, a Facebook group and all that. Next will be some kind of advertorial for the hotels we stay in, in return for some huge discount, natch.
Enough about business; here's some motivation: Pantani 'pips' Armstrong on the Ventoux in July 2000 at the Tour. And several of us doing the ride this July were there on that day, on the corner by Chalet Renard at the beginning of the clip, just as Pantani gets back on to the Armstrong group. Awesome.
The ride will include the Ventoux - pictured top right - which Mikes James and Curtis rode twenty years ago in 1989. I wonder how quickly we'll be riding up it this time? What has twenty years hard drinking done to our bodies?