Le Loop 2019: the movie

I have managed to edit together some of the video clips I took while riding around France and have managed to come up with something which I think captures the essence of the event. Hope you enjoy it!

Also, you may remember that back on Stage 7 I mentioned that Babs and I were going on a painting weekend. Well, here are the results:

“Babs has incredible talent”

The comments in the captions are from our tutor, a Fellow of the Royal Society of Arts no less. Who am I to argue with her assessements!

“A wonderful painting style”

My picture is based on a photo I took on Stage 11 (Albi to Tououse) and which features at the end of the movie. Also described as having a certain “naive charm”. I’ll take that!

 

Epilogue

It’s taken me a while to get my thoughts together since coming back from France. So, as the dust begins to settle, let’s start by looking at some statistics:

2019 2017
Distance: 3,525km 3,635km
Climbing: 54,133 metres (6.1 Everests) 48,520 metres (5.5 Everests)
Ride time: 163 hours 161 hours
Average speed: 21.6 kph 22.6 kph
Cumulative Suffer Score: 92.5 97.0
Categorised climbs: 65 53

To the extent that it is relevant for this enthusiastic amateur, I’d say that in terms of overall performance, 2019 was fairly consistent with 2017. There was more climbing but less distance this year, which means that the overall difference of 2 hours is negligible. My time is still about double that of the professionals! Egan Bernal won in 82h57 this year and Chris Froome won in 86h20 in 2017 (though the professional riders lost about 3 hours’ racing this year due to mudslides in the Alps which we were fortunate to avoid). So that’s still slightly less than double their time.

What clearly stood out when I analysed my data in some detail was that I was finishing the day much earlier this time compared with two years ago. On average, by simply being more efficient at the feedstops I was saving myself 45 minutes per day. To put that into practical terms, it meant having far more time before dinner to do all the things that I needed or wanted to do rather than either rush things or be busy late into the evening. With dinner usually at 8pm, getting in before 7pm on 13 out of the 18 occasions when it mattered (time trials and Paris don’t count) rather than 9 out of 18 occasions in 2017 was hugely beneficial. Not only that, but the three times I came in later than 8pm were fairly spread out so there was no cumulative draining effect. This contrasts with three late finishes in a row at the end of 2017 when I had to go straight in to dinner as a sweaty, hungry, feral cyclist whose sole focus was on hoovering up the buffet without the opportunity of becoming human again first.

I mentioned in an earlier post that Steve back at Bigfoot had been analysing my data. Well, what an excellent report he was able to produce on the back of that. The main conclusion would appear to be that I am a machine, not being phased by distance or even by the climbing as such but just taking everything in my stride and, crucially for such hot temperatures, putting plenty of water in the radiator! That was definitely one of the keys to success and which I had identified as something I needed to focus on, so I’m glad I was able to achieve that objective.

Route reflections

It’s probably unfair to try and compare the two Tours since we had a great group of people in 2017 which made that year really special. Some of these are “repeat offenders” and were here again in 2019 of course and there are also quite a few who would have liked to have come back but could not for various reasons. Indeed, such are the bonds among the 2017 crew that we are still in touch, still ride together occasionally and still offer each other mutual encourgement on our respective cycling adventures. In effect, there were others accompanying us on our journey this year that no-one else saw.

So with that qualification, I would say that overall I enjoyed this Tour more than in 2017 for a number of reasons. I touched on some of these on our first rest day in Albi (better weather, better bike and the fact I have survived three weeks before), but in addition to that I loved the route and and had a lot of fun while riding it, including experimenting with taking videos while on the move (climbing La Planche des Belles Filles and the Tourmalet for example) as well as stopping to take photos when I wanted to, rather than just plough on to the finish each day.

The challenge is both physical and mental and I was thinking during the trip that I probably should have had separate scores for those. Had I introduced a “fun factor” for the mental side of things, then I would have scored stages 6, 8 and 21 as Very High (success on the Planche, hailstones day and Babs coming to Paris) and stages 7, 15 and 19 would have been Low (long flat and boring, time pressure, no upper body strength). The rest are evenly split between High and Medium. While the suffer score does not really count as hard scientific evidence, nevertheless a cumulative score of 92.5 was 5% down on 2017 and intrinsically feels about right!

Reading through Steve’s analysis on my performance, it would seem that I may have thought of certain stages as being harder than they actually were for me in practice. So it was interesting to then read an article in Cycling Weekly which comments that working on the psychological can improve our physiological performance. So maybe I’m on to something and should have a suffer score that reflects external factors such as poor weather or roads and a fun factor that records how much I’ve enjoyed the day for various reasons! That would perhaps stop the mind thinking that I should be suffering just because it looks like a tough day and maybe help me to tap in to those extra physiological resources that I have but are maybe denied just because my brain says they should be so denied.

What next?

I’m making no plans! For now I’m happy being back on the local roads and have taken an opportunity to put my Tour form to good use on hills that I’ve climbed many times. I smashed my PB on Ide Hill (4 mins 58 compared with 5 mins 48) and on Polhill I beat a time that had stood as my best since 2011. All meaningless really, but fun nevertheless. Give me a few more weeks and I won’t get near those times again!

Back with Bigfoot

My main goal on returning was to be reintegrated into polite society! The buffets were a bit of a scrum in the mornings – not quite survival of the fittest but you had to take your chances when presented with them! When we had them, the evening buffets tended to be more civilised, but again we were taking (and eating) far more than would be normal. I estimate that I was consuming up to 4,000 calories per day – all of which I would have burned off as my weight did not change during the period.

There are quite a few mountains that I’ve climbed many times now, so I probably ought to do something different. My current league table is Galibier 5, Glandon/Croix de Fer 4, Izoard 4, Planche des Belles Filles 4, Telegraph 3, Alpe d’Huez 3, Mont Ventoux 3, Tourmalet 3, Peyresourde 3, Ballon d’Alsace 3 not to mention those that I’ve climbed once or twice. All in France, though I have ridden a little in Spanish and Italian mountain ranges. 

Final thoughts

It’s been a huge privilege to be able to take part in Le Loop again and to play my part in raising funds to support local charities that give young people opportunities they may not otherwise have. In doing so, we were blessed once again by a fantastic team that made sure we had all that we needed during the three weeks and also by good weather. It truly has been the “Sunshine Tour de France”.

Thanks again to all those who have supported me. As I have written before, the Tour is now over but not so the work of those charities. It’s not too late to add your support if you wish to and you can find my fundraising page at http://www.virginmoneygiving.com/johngriffiths5.

Vive Le Tour. Vive Le Loop. Vive Le Sunshine Tour de France!

 

 

 

Stage 21: Rambouillet to Paris Champs-Élysées

Cycling summary

Breakfast: 04:30. Transfer: 6h15. Start time: 12:58. Distance: 127km. Terrain: flat (632 metres climbing). Climbs: two Cat 4. Finish: 18:03. Time in saddle: 3h41. Temp: 29C. Drinks: water, champagne, beer, champagne, wine.

Hugs and kisses from Babs: at least three, probably more!

Man-hugs: loads! Special time.

Suffer scores: non-existent today.

Local lowdown

Rambouillet is the lucky winner of the annual battle to secure the rights to host the start of the final stage into Paris. Our route will likely diverge from the pro route simply because for them it’s just a short hop to Paris where they will then tear up and down the Champs-Élysées eight times. We will have a gentle meander through the Parisian suburbs before doing just one lap on a busy Sunday afternoon thank you very much! Then time to open the champagne, if any has survived from Épernay or Reims!

My favourite photo from the Tour

Tale from the Tour

On Stage 15 we had a four hour transfer before riding and today we set off at 5:30am from a hotel at Lyon airport in order to be able to start riding by 1pm! At least today’s stage wasn’t going to be difficult. The race distance is 127km, but with time pressure and a few extra km in the bank from previous stages, 85km was plenty for us and meant that we at least mostly followed the official route into Paris.

After lots of dozing on the coach, we had a relaxed roll-out from Rambouillet, going through pretty forests again as if we were still in the middle of France somewhere. The smell of the pine forest was lovely – much more so than the scent of the cyclists’ shoes in front of me. I’m probably just as guilty of contributing to that! A reminder that all my kit needs a good wash!

We had lunch after 35km, from which point it was time to make our way to the Eiffel Tower. I loved this part of the ride because I knew that at the end of this section I would see Babs waiting for me. Her arrival made the day and the Tour as a whole something really special and when we met the sense of fulfilment was so much more complete than when I rode this event in 2017. Plenty of sweaty hugs and kisses!

We hung around until all the riders made it to the Eiffel Tower and there was quite a throng of family and friends there to meet them. Then of course it was time for the obligatory group photo.

I’m the one in the blue and white kit

Enterprising vendors were hawking cold beer, champagne and wine to those in the mood to celebrate, which of course most of us were – but only to a limited degree as we still had a lap of the Champs Élysées to complete before reaching our final destination.

Cycle lanes have been installed on the Champs which made that circuit far less harrowing than it could have been (though the Arc de Triomphe roundabout is always a special challenge). So, down the Champs, under the tunnel and back up past the official finish line before getting to the hotel.

Shower, change and then some non-sweaty hugs and kisses!

Party time! Two coach loads of riders, friends and family taken to a Bâteaux Mouche for a celebratory dinner on the Seine. Much mutual congratulation in evidence, but I think we’ve earned the right to do that.

It’s been a special time with special people, with some of whom I have ridden this twice now. What a fabulous opportunity we have had and I hope that what we have done (raising £335,000 for the William Wates Memorial Trust) will really help to provide opportunities for those in not such a privileged position.

Stage 20: Albertville to Val Thorens

Cycling summary

Breakfast: 05:45. Transfer: before 1h30, after 2h00. Start time: 08:24. Distance: 131km. Terrain: mountain (4,148 metres climbing). Climbs: one HC (Val Thorens), one Cat 1, one Cat 3. Finish: 18:01. Time in saddle: 8h34. Temp: 18-38C. Drinks: 6 litres (plus 1 litre beer at the end!).

Tarte Tatin: 1 (last night)

Magnum (almond): 1

Suffer scores: John 8/10. Wim 8/10 (probably).

Local lowdown

Albertville, home of the Winter Olympics in 1992. One of the great climbs from here is the Col de la Madelaine but we are not doing that this year. In fact, we rode up a different Col de la Madelaine yesterday. Confusing! Yesterday’s Madeleine was a mere Cat 3 rather than what would have been at least a Cat 1 if not a HC climb, so I’m happy that today we “only” have Val Thorens to conquer – the last of seven visits to the rarefied air above 2,000 metres.

The power of the almond Magnum!

Tale from the Tour

What a fabulous day to (almost) end on. Last night I ate well and slept well. Even though we first had another early start and a coach transfer, I was riding at 8:24am and soon realised that I was on a good day.

Leaving Tignes this morning

The first climb up Cormet de Roseland was a long one at 20km but a truly beautiful one. On the descent after that I realised that I was smiling while riding my bike again – the effort and concentration levels have been so high these past two days that they should be classified as Type 2 fun (i.e. in retrospect) rather than the Type 1 fun of today (i.e. in the moment).

Yesterday I was feeling weak and was slumped over my bike for good parts of the day, whereas today I was feeling strong. Indeed, the team were still setting up the final feedstop as I arrived at it – that has never happened to me before so it was a sign that I was going well.

On the way up the Cormet de Roseland

I’m not sure whether it’s the Tarte Tatin that I had last night that made the difference, or the almond Magnum I had at lunchtime. Probably a bit of both!

Of today’s 130km, 60km comprised categorised climbs, so that’s quite a day to finish the Alpine section. The final feedstop came and although the end was in sight and we might use the expression “and it was all downhill from there”, in reality the last 33km were all uphill to the finish at Val Thorens!

The climb itself was not too bad in that the gradient was typically between 6-8%. It was never really higher than that except for the odd brief dig and occasionally the gradient was lower than that – with even a few bits of downhill. But 33km is a long way.

Halfway up I stopped to refill my water bottles at a fountain, but otherwise kept on going. Temperature varied from 38C at the bottom of that climb to 18C at the top.

High on the hill was this lonely goatherd
Lay ee odl lay ee odl lay hee hoo

Waiting for me was a massage for tired legs, beer which barely touched the sides as it slid down and a really good meaty dinner. Before then, I had estimated that I comprised 50% bread, 35% chicken and 15% lasagne, so this has redressed the balance a little!

The amount of climbing still made this a hard day, but mentally I was in a good place, so I’m scoring this less than the two previous stages but a bit more than other ones where I have not had to work quite so hard. Wim arrived just after me, having managed to miss the last feedstop though he was able to have a Coke at a bar halfway up the final climb. I think we had similar days, but I’m writing this on the coach on the way to our hotel in Lyon (ready for a 05:30 transfer to Paris tomorrow morning) and I’m too tired to go and ask him!

Stage 19: Saint-Jean-de-Maurienne to Tignes

Cycling summary

Breakfast: 07:00. Transfer: none. Start time: 08:15. Distance: 123m. Terrain: mountain (3,308 metres climbing). Climbs: one HC (Col de l’Iseran), one Cat 1 (Tignes, but also above 2,000 metres), one Cat 2, two Cat 3. Finish: 17:25. Time in saddle: 8h04. Temp 28C (15C at altitude). Drinks: 4 litres.

Suffer scores: John 8/10. Wim 7/10.

Local lowdown

Saint-Jean-de-Maurienne is often visited by cyclists, in part due to its placement on the route of the Marmotte ride as it is the gateway to the Télégraphe and Galibier climbs (the latter we descended yesterday). That ride is a beast, being 174km long and featuring 5,000 metres of climbing, though that almost seems like a routine ride these days. Almost! Today we reach the highest point of the Tour at 2,770 metres and will end up in Tignes, which some may know as a popular skiing resort although apparently the original settlement here was flooded due to the construction of a dam in 1952. This is something that I saw in Spain last year too when we stayed in Riaño, which had been rebuilt in 1980s due to the old town being submerged for a similar reason.

Tale from the Tour

To begin with, I took the opportunity in my “unicorn” speech to defend the Bath Rugby jersey and to pour shame on Windy who had nominated me! Bit of fun really and we had some banter about it on the ride afterwards. I awarded the unicorn to someone who had dared to wear a yellow Tour de France leader’s jersey, which is an absolute no no and a breach of the unofficial rules of cycling (Velominati rule 16 if you are interested!).

A short day, but a tough day. The holiday is well and truly over and we really are at the business end of this Tour now. I first appreciated this yesterday, when it seemed to me that people were riding conservatively as we contemplated the big days to come.

Today we had as our main focus the highest paved road in the Alps – the Col de l’Iseran at 2,770 metres.

On the way to the Iseran
Halfway up and looking back down

The first few categorised climbs before the Iseran were not especially taxing – I think that might not have been the case at the start of the Tour when we noticed all the smaller climbs a lot more. But after many days in the saddle, these days it’s sometimes hard to know what’s a Cat 3 or 4 and what is just an undulation. I’m sure more of the roads we ride on could be categorised if the ASO wanted to do that.

The Iseran wasn’t too bad a climb. Although it goes high, the start point was already high at around 1,800 metres. It had snowed here last week while we were in the Pyrenees but the roads were clear even though there was still some snow around. Contributed to a nice cooling breeze as we climbed up.

By contrast, the descent to the bottom of the final climb was truly horrid. Lots of tunnels to go through and the road surface was poor, so it was a relief to turn off and start the final climb to Tignes, where we are staying tonight.

There is another tough day tomorrow which means that there can be no let up in concentration. When I did this in 2017, the penultimate ride was a 20km time trial (aka cafe ride) around Marseille before boarding a train to Paris. Will be very different this year – details to follow!

I scored this a 9 despite the ride being shorter than yesterday and with less climbing. That’s because I was physically exhausted, not sitting very straight on the bike (no upper body strength) and also because of that descent which pushed the suffering up to 9 rather than 8. Wim is finishing strongly.

Stage 18: Embrun to Valloire

Cycling summary

Breakfast: 05:30. Transfer: 0h45. Start time: 07:40. Distance: 207km. Terrain: mountain (4,660 metres climbing). Climbs: two HC, both above 2,000 metres (Col d’Izoard, Col du Galibier), one Cat 1 (Col de Vars, but also above 2,000 metres), one Cat 3. Finish: 20:20. Time in saddle: 11h21. Temp: 30C (10-15C at altitude). Drinks: 6 litres.

Suffer scores: John 9/10. Wim 7/10.

Local lowdown

Could today be a tale of redemption? A good part of today’s route featured on Stage 18 of the 2017 Tour too and is memorable for me because I did not enjoy it nearly as much as I should have done. Essentially, I think I was just getting tired and this was the last of the mountain stages that time, rather than the first of three back-to-back big climbing days. The climbing starts early today and we rise to over 2,000 metres three times, so the trip to Valloire should be quite a different story this time round and hopefully will not be a time for tiredness and grumpiness!

Tale from the Tour

Well the good news is that redemption was achieved! I enjoyed today, even though it was by far the toughest physically. Mentally I was in a good place too and overall this scored a 9 rather than a 10 because compared to Stage 15 I got home in the light and in time for dinner!

Pleasure boat-bobbing lake
I met some old friends today!

After an initial ride along the lakeside, today was all about climbing and descending. I don’t remember the Col de Vars from two years ago, but Strava shows I’ve been there so that’s good enough for me!

Izoard was next up and this is now the third time I’ve climbed it from this side. Given that we were aiming to finish the ride by 9pm so that we could get dinner, taking more photos of the same thing seemed less important, though I still managed a few. Oh, and I beat my best time up there by 3 minutes (58 minutes total), so that’s pretty good going after the Tour we’ve had so far.

Then it was time for the Lauteret. This is the second time I’ve climbed it, but this time into a strong headwind, so unsurprisingly the 24km climb took longer than before – a lot longer (20 minutes)! Never mind, a quick pit stop for an espresso, a full fat Coke and a Mars bar and I went well up the last 8km to the top of the Galibier. After that, it was just a 20km descent into Valloire for shower, food and bed.

One final thing. On tour, as well as the “rider of the day” award given out by our lead rider Emily, there are two other awards that are decided by the riders currently holding them. So the chapeau is awarded for noble acts while the unicorn (an annoying squeaky toy that has thankfully lost its squeak) is awarded for stuff such as acts of stupidity or bringing cycling into disrepute. Last night the unicorn was passed to me on the basis that I had been wearing a Bath Rubgy cycling jersey! The logic for it made no sense to me so I shall exact my revenge when I pass on the unicorn, which couldn’t be tonight as we are using more than one hotel and people are coming in late. I should explain that the person who gave me the unicorn was awarded it because of the horrific nature of his own Bath Rugby kit while mine had attracted a lot of positive comments when I wore it in Pau!

Anyway, you decide:

Horrific, never to be repeated.
Stylish. No nasty shorts or garish yellow

Regardless, I have taken it on the chin and sported the unicorn on the back of the bike all day!

That’s the end of the long stages though not of the mountains. Two 130km stages to go in the Alps before we can dare dream of Paris.

Stage 17: Pont du Gard to Gap

Cycling summary

Breakfast: 05:45. Transfer: 0h30. Start time: 07:24. Distance: 206km. Terrain: hilly (2,275 metres climbing). Climbs: one Cat 3, one Cat 4. Finish: 16:54. Time in saddle: 8h01. Temp: 36C. Drinks: 6 litres.

Suffer scores: John 2/10. Wim 6/10.

Local lowdown

The Pont du Gard is just a stunning place to be – Babs and I were here last year during a week’s holiday to Avignon. The aqueduct is 2,000 years old and was built to supply water to nearby Nîmes. We will spend the day skirting Mont Ventoux – a shame in its way but we do have a lot of climbing to do over the next three days once we get to Gap, a gateway to the Alps, and meanwhile we can enjoy the best of Provence, including the towns of Orange and Vaison-la-Romaine.

Tale from the Tour

We started near Pont du Gard, but without crossing it again. Then, as ever, it was a case of rolling through to the first feedstop to regroup before setting off at our own pace. The stop was in Orange, but this time round I did not see the all the Roman remains that are to be seen there – the route did not pass by it.

Today, rather than being dropped by the group I typically ride with, I decided to play “hare” to their “greyhound” and set off as quickly as I could from the feedstops. This meant that they would catch me part way between feedstops, which was fine as it allowed me to take photos without disrupting the group and then when they caught me I could join in the rotation to get us to the next stop.

Another lovely ride today, as we crossed from Provence to the Haute Alpes region. The scenery varied from lavender fields to craggy rocks to orchards. The orchards are mostly covered with nets, so that it seemed to me like they formed a sea, or at least a series of lakes.

Craggy rocks and lavender

Mont Ventoux brooded over us for most of the morning as we skirted round it. The mountain seemed to be taunting us. “Why aren’t you coming up here today?” The answer’s simple – it’s not on the Tour route.

“Lakes” of apple trees

All sorts of other beautiful scenes too:

To end the day we had a Cat 3 climb, which I probably rode harder than I needed to given what is coming up, but I was feeling good so why not. The descent featured a couple of inclines and then, once at the finish in Gap, we had a short but unwelcome climb to our hotel (the “Mur de Hotel” as I have just heard it be called)! No harm done though, I was kind of expecting it when I saw Gap unfold in front of me, and there was a bad smell of blocked drains or something in town, so I’m glad to be up the hill a bit!

Pretty much a 1/10 ride, but I’ve scored it 2 because of the effort required for the final bit of climbing – and I was hoping for another Magnum, but could see nowhere to get one on the final run in. Oh well! the mental side of things made this a tough day for Wim.

Nice outdoor dinner tonight

Now for three days in the Alps, with tomorrow the “Queen Stage”.