David cycled a relay sportive from Nancy to Geneva back in September.
I am a 52 year old estate agent, who sits behind a desk most of the day and I haven’t sat on a bike for 10 years.
So with just 8 weeks to prepare, obviously I thought it was a good idea to join a team, cycling
500miles in 3 days through the Swiss alps to Lake Geneva for charity. Here is my story…
500 miles. 160 cyclists. 40 teams. 1 amazing adventure.
Day 1 – 22nd September 2016.
I set off with 3 complete strangers in a big yellow minibus, for a 500 mile charity bike ride from Nancy in France through the Alps to Montreux on the banks of Lake Geneva.
Despite the long drive, we arrive in Nancy in high spirits, full of anticipation, a little nervous, but very excited about the next 3 day’s cycling. Dinner and safety briefing that evening, and much encouragement from other riders who have done the route previously, what a friendly bunch. Long time spent drinking beer and chatting with the friendlies. Oh dear.
Day 2 – 23rd September 2016
My head is pounding. Up early for breakfast, I am first out for my team at 7.30am. Too many beers. Big mistake. It’s still dark and very cold. I head out of Nancy, the first several miles are busy main roads with trucks. Lots of trucks. Eventually the route takes us off the main roads and into some pretty countryside. I do the first 20 miles. Pleased to see big yellow bus up ahead for our first rider change, and feel good to have got some miles under my belt.
My first big climb. I set off on my next leg. 20 miles with 668m climb. First 10 miles are flat and fast. The early morning mist has lifted and it is a beautiful day. Here comes the climb, I can see it up ahead, and I am feeling a little anxious. I don’t know if my legs can get me to the top or not. So I settle in to a rhythm, just stick it in a low gear, and keep my legs turning. After a while, I start to enjoy it. I feel OK. I pass a few other riders. Legs feel fine, breathing is steady, heart beat steady. Still got some low gears left. Turning, turning, turning. Team cars by the side of the road shouting encouragement, and then what looks like the top. So I ask, is this the top? I am told yes, this is the top. Such an amazing feeling, as a novice, never had the chance to test what I could do physically on a bike, and here I am, I’ve just cycled up a mountain! There are bigger mountains and steeper climbs I am sure. But this first big climb for me actually bought a tear to my eye! Such a good feeling. And the views from the top, just incredible. Happy to see the big yellow bus up ahead for our next changeover.
Incidentally, the big yellow bus is a big hit with the other teams, it becomes like the mascot for the whole trip, everyone greets us with a big smile and a wave, we feel so popular!
I join two of my team mates for the last fast run into Mulhouse. About 20 miles, and flat. We do some drafting, which is fun. Nice to be riding with the others, as we have been riding on our own so far. Check into the hotel, get changed, and downstairs for dinner. No beer tonight.
Day 3 – 24th September 2016
Lexie is first up today, we drive on ahead to the 20 mile point , and set Leroy off for his leg, and then wait for Lexie to catch us up. Cold again in the early morning mist.
I set off for my first leg mid morning, which starts with a 7 mile decent. And I am freezing. No base layer. No arm warmers. Bib shorts. The sun hasn’t reached this side of the valley yet, and with the speed of the decent, I am shaking so much I can barely control the bike. Eventually I reach the bottom, and then a 700m climb. No longer apprehensive, I just find my rhythm and reach the top feeling good. I did this yesterday, I can do it again today. Great views once again.
We sit outside and have a quick lunch and a beer in the sunshine – nice! Feeling a bit sleepy for my next leg, but soon shake that off with my second ride of the day. 22 miles, 693m of climb. The sun is shining and it is hot. By now I have put a base layer on, and arm warmers. Far too hot now. Remove some layers and carry on. Epic scenery again, and I am really enjoying it now.
I hook up with Lexie, planning to ride the next 20 miles together, and then hand over to Leroy and Elaine for the home stretch, another 20 miles. Another team car pulls alongside us as we are riding, with the disturbing news that the brakes have failed on the big yellow bus, and we must finish the route without a further rider change with still another 40 miles or so. Lexie has already done 50 miles and a lot of climbing, and doesn’t think she can make it so flags down one of the other team cars and manages to get a lift back to the hotel. The rest of the route is fairly flat so I get my head down, find my biggest gear, and peddle like fury. A long lonely ride with fading light, but I feel so good when I reach the hotel. Eighty two miles today and around 1600m of climb, I’m feeling quite pleased with myself. Fabulous day in the saddle.
Our problem now is that we no longer have a vehicle to get us to Montreux. A temporary repair has been carried out on the big yellow bus, but we do not feel confident in it to take us further through the Alps to Montreux. We decide to hire another vehicle for the journey to Montreux and back. Arrange to collect it from Basel airport first thing tomorrow. Lexie and Leroy hook up with another team for the morning, while Elaine and I go to pick up the hire car.
Day 4 – 25th September 2016
Leroy and Lexie set off with another team, while Elaine and I get a taxi to Basel airport and collect our hire car, a VW Touran. We catch up with the teams around lunch time. Nobody smiles or waves at us anymore, we have become invisible in our hire car!
I am itching to get back in the saddle now, and it’s gone 1pm by the time we catch up with Leroy and Lexie. So I hook up with Lexie and Will, from one of the other teams, and we enjoy a short but super-fast 16km ride to our next rider change. I’ve got fresher legs so I take the lead. The speed is exhilarating and we make quick progress to our next stop.
This is our last ride, about 20 miles into Montreux with about 500m of climb, followed by a long descent. I’m riding with Lexie and Will again. I love riding with the others. We are quiet on the climbs with no energy left for banter, we just focus on pedalling and breathing. As we approach the top Lexie thinks she can beat me to the summit, I’m not having that, so I find those last reserves of energy for a sprint finish to the top.
And then, spread out in front of us is the most amazing view of Lake Geneva and Montreux below us, and it is breath-taking. I stop for a selfie on the way down. Wish I was wearing my GoPro. It is very hard to describe how amazing the scenery is, or the incredible feeling of achievement. If you have done something similar, you will know how it feels.
We ride into Montreux together as a team. We are no longer a group of strangers but friends for life. Applause when we reach the hotel, hugs and high fives, selfies, happy to have made it but sad that it is all over.
Day 5 – 26th September 2016
Long drive home. Out before dawn to return the hire car, collect the big yellow bus, and then nurse it home with no breaks. An exhausting 15 hours later and we are home. Tired but happy. Already planning our next trip.
This was the most incredible experience. It put me well outside of my comfort zone – until I got there, and then I discovered that I am capable of more than I realised. I saw some of the most beautiful scenery on the planet, I raised some money for charity, I made some really good friends, I had a lot of fun, I found a new sport which I enjoy, and I got fit in the process. I also discovered it is best not to borrow a big yellow mini bus!
Thank you for reading.