|Cobbie's Selected Race Results
Raid du Massif Central - 6 days, 562 miles, 16,300m ascent, 46 hrs Report
Aug - Dee Mile, 2000m OW swim. 29:12; 60/301. Report
July - Raid Pyrenean Report
May - Chester Tri West Coast of Scotland Cycling trip ... 300 miles in 3 days. Report
Sep - Scilly Swim Challenge, 11 miles of swimming in 5 stages Report
June - Dee Mile, 2000m OW swim. 29:33; 25/275
March - Gin Pit Marathon; 3:59:26. 14/39
Became a dad
Oct 2011 - Feb 2012
Travelling the world
Nepal - Annapurna Circuit and Chitwan
S. E. Asia and trekking in New Zealand
Trekking the 'Circuito del Dientes de Navarino'; Chilean Tierra del Fuego
Sep - AXTri - Report
June - Chester to John O'Groats cycle ride with the Tri Club; 637 miles in 9 days
Sep - Ö TILL Ö; 14:19; Report
Nov - Pembrokeshire Coast Challenge; 78.6 miles. Day 1 - 5th in 4:39. Day 2 - Retired with ITB injury after 15 miles
Oct 4th - Sandstone Trail 'A' Race; 17 miles, 1750ft 2:19:15; 29/156
Aug 8th - Norseman 14:57; 81=/230 Report No1 & Report No2
June 28th - A Day in the Lakes HIM 5:55:18; 68/309 Report
June 17th - Dee Mile, 2000m OW swim. 29:12; 13/100 Report
May 31st - Pontcysyllte Aqueduct Cyclosportif 107 miles, 3000+m ascent; 7:20:26
March 28th Cheshire Cat Cyclosportif 105 miles; 7:04 Report
March 21st - Chester Tri Runners vs Kayaks; Llangollen Canal 32.4 miles; 5:22 Report
The year I was a fat bast@rd
Atlantic Coast Challenge 78miles; About 18 hrs Report
Norseman 17:05 Report
Etape du Dales 110 miles; 8:40ish with puncture
Nov 17th - Penmaenmawr Fell Race (11 miles, 1500ft); 1:35:23; 50/220
Bala Olympic Tri 2:14:00; 217/773 (AG 61/203) Report
Hathersage Hilly - 1:22:34; 19/169 and AG 4/43 ; Report
July 11th - Dee Mile, 2000m OW swim. 23:16; 15/76
Jan 29th - Tough Guy 1:25:02; 59/3800ish finishers AG 5th Vet ; Report
Jan 22nd - 4 Villages Half Marathon 86:52; 152/1570
Nov 18th - Penmaenmawr Fell Race (11 miles, 1500ft); 1:31:42; 24/237; Report
Oct 8th - Pentland Skyline (16.2 miles, 6,200ft); 3:30:54; 79/150; Report. Blisters
Oct 1st - Sandstone Trail “A” Race (17 miles, 1750ft) 2:15:14; 14/135 3rd V40; Report
Sept 24th – South Shropshire Sprint 1:23; 28/234
July 23rd - TLD Bike Relay 5:52:38; Report
June 7th - Dee Mile, 2000m OW swim. 28:47; 24/97
June 4th - Bala Middle 4:47:39
May 7th - Fred Whitton Challenge 112 miles, 4,150m of ascent, 8:18:52; Report
March 19th - Edale Skyline Fell Race 21.3 miles, 4,620ft; 3:48:25, 100/260
Jan 29th - Tough Guy 92:55; 52/3283 finishers AG 6/521; Report
Jan 22nd - 4 Villages Half Marathon 85:43; 152/1655
Oct 30th - Snowdonia Marathon 3:54:50; 265/961
Oct 2nd - Sandstone Trail “A” Race (16.8 miles, 1750ft) 2:17:41; 29/111
Sep 18th - Bala Olympic Tri 2:20:31; 83/433 (AG 17/100)
Sep 10th - Helvellyn Tri 4:17:38; 43/331
July 24th - The Longest Day 11:00:25; 40/150
June 5th - Bala Middle 4:39:54; 92/318 (AG 25/87)
Mar 15th - Wuthering Hike [31 miles 4400 ft] 5:35
Jan 29th - Tough Guy 93:49; 161/3,500
Jan 22nd - 4 Villages half marathon 90:39; 256/1504
Survival of the Shawangunks - 5:29:45 35/120
Wolverhampton Oly 2:19:50
The year of illness and poor motivation
Powerman UK 3:47
HIM Llanberis 5:09:40
HIM Llanberis 5:38
|All about Cobbie
Joined: 02 Aug 2005
Interests: Red wine and cakes
Sat Oct 20, 2018 6:09 pm Cobbie
Raid Corsica; 1st to 6th October 2018
After finishing the Raid du Massif Central in early June 2017, I only did one ride over 80 miles in the rest of the year. So, my thinking for 2018 was to go on a trip in the autumn. This would keep me motivated and riding all summer in preparation. As it turned out, it was too long a wait, the summer dragging on once the great weather was over.
Still, it did keep me motivated and I’d cycled over 4,000 miles prior to the Raid. I was also a lot fitter, having trained generally harder and shed some weight which improved my climbing. I was reasonably confident of blending into middle-of-the-pack obscurity, even allowing for taking lots of pictures.
A bonus this year was that one of my cycling friends, Alison, was also coming on the trip; we ride together fairly often, so it was good to have company.
For the first time on a Raid, travel to the start was easy. Easyjet fly from Manchester to Bastia where it starts, so it was a simple trip logistically. Unfortunately, baggage handlers somewhere along the line managed to break a couple of the bike box clasps – I took some photos & Ali reckoned that I could get a replacement clip easily enough so I decided to run some running repairs with gaffer tape on the way home and worry about mending the box later. The damage turned out to be worse once the box was opened – a previously dodgy wheel was now properly broken and the corner of the box split at that point. I have to be honest, I unpacked the bike and left the box behind for the week, something to worry about later.
With our bikes built and lunch eaten, we headed off up the local hill for a quick spin. We only rode 11.5 miles in total but climbed nearly 500m to a village, before a steep descent down into Bastia. The weather and views were great; the coast to the north where we’d be heading in the morning, then views down to the port and, looking south, the finish of the Raid, along an isthmus similar in looks to Chesil beech.
Here's the map of the trip, different days being in different colours. Bastia is top right, the red line is day 1, heading north to start. The fact that the ride circumnavigates the island was the main thing that attracted me to it.
Day 1 – Bastia to Calvi; 118.1 miles, 3000m ascent, 8:55 ride time
This was the longest day of riding and as tough a day in the saddle as I’ve ever experienced. The wind, which was blustery heading north, turned nasty near the northern cape, Cap Corse, and we had a massive headwind for most of the afternoon. I expended more calories on this day than on the Coast to Coast in a Day which is 32 miles further and with 500 or so more metres of ascent. My comment on Stava was that it was an “ugly motherf*cker of a day”.
This wasn’t obvious early on though. We set out in formation until I stopped for my first photo and the faster riders disappeared. This was when I realised that my shades were missing – a call to the guides had them scanning the hotel car park with no joy – I worked out later that they’d bounced off the bike on the very bumpy road out of Bastia (when it’s not bright, I tend to stick an arm down the side of my bar top box). Ali and I rode together for a bit but the various photo opportunities of coastal scenery, small villages and martello towers meant we were generally slightly separated. I missed the first validation stamp Macinaggio as I went through my kit looking for a spare set of shades – I hadn’t brought them. Then it was onto Cap Corse and some gusts which nearly blew us off our bikes.
There was a team of 7 on the trip who rode together all week (which was great for them but made it hard to get to know them, I never did get to grips with many of their names) – they zoomed past us and Ali decided to tag on. I let them go and met up with a pair of Finnish guys, Tomi & Hannu, who were a similar standard but generally ahead of us as they were more organised at food & coffee stops. We got stuck behind a German coach which took up a lot of the road and was moving very slowly but eventually made it to lunch in St Florent. We’d ridden 63 miles and had only 55 or so left – as we sat down to lunch I said to Alison that we’d be comfortably at the hotel by 5pm, which of course turned out to be the silliest observation of the week.
A burger & frites later and we set off up a 350m climb, straight into the wind. We’d hooked up with Julian on the climb (who couldn’t keep up with his friend Nick) but I’d dropped back taking photos which turned out to be a mistake as we hit a wall of wind over the ridge and I couldn’t catch back up. I fought into the headwind until I felt the horrible thump-thump-thump of a puncture. To be honest, it was a relief to stop. I was behind a tree so had a bit of respite and I knew it was only 3km until a turn inland where the van would be waiting. I was just pumping up the tyre when Nick (different guy, from Guernsey) rode up and stopped. I had thought I was last on the road and it turned out he’d missed a turn after lunch and done an extra 20km in all – he didn’t have a Garmin so was happy to wait for me. With the wheel pumped up enough to get to a track pump on the van, I put everything away but couldn’t find my helmet. I’d put it on the wall against which my bike was leaning; peering over I saw it in a bramble bush about 5m below. To his credit, Nick didn’t laugh and waited whilst I walked round the wall and through a small jungle to retrieve it.
Then it was back into the wind, up a horribly steep and busy road to a left turn away from the traffic by the van. With some food eaten and tyre back up to full pressure, Nick rode up the hill with me (he was a fair bit faster normally). The summit was only 509m but marked the high point of the day, thankfully the wind was off to the side now so much less of a problem. The top was quite isolated with a terrible road surface and Nick didn’t stop. I’d been guzzling water all day so filled up my bottle, had a quick chat with Neil about next stop being the hotel and set off on the last 40km, more or less all downhill.
Thankfully, the road surface soon improved and I quickly dropped down to a sharp bend in a mountain village. To my surprise, Ali & Julian were there with a couple of the gang of 7. One of the latter had trapped their chain and nobody could free it; they’d been in touch with Graham in the front van but couldn’t get hold of Neil. I told them he’d be along in a few minutes but he didn’t turn up. We assumed he’d taken a different route back (actually, his van had suffered a puncture) and after about 20 minutes, Ali, Julian and I set off to make sure help arrived; there wasn’t anything we could do by waiting.
We arrived at the hotel at 6:45 and slowly the story became clearer. The guys with the chain problem managed to fix it after another effort and pedalled in just before dark. Neil had to wait for roadside assistance and made it back just before we went to bed.
All in all, a full on day.
L to R from the top; Ready for the off, Martello tower; Ali climbs to towers at the top of the first climb; typical coastal view; tomb; beach; heading towards the hills; evening sun on the final descent
Day 2 – Calvi to Calacuccia; 94.1 miles, 3280m ascent, 8:12 ride time
Day 2 started with a choice - the very scenic coast road, albeit with a dreadful road surface or a slightly shorter inland route over a 450m col on a newly surfaced road. It had rained during the night so the majority surmised that the holes on the coast road would be full of water and hard to gauge - Ali and I took the inland route without much deliberation, I hate gravel after all. It was quite misty and very pretty in its own right. Back at the coast for a coffee stop, we found we’d done about 10km less and maybe 250m more climbing – we were ahead of those on the coastal route so clearly had taken the easier option.
A short climb brought up the first col selfie (there were very few col signs and no km markers at all), before a quick descent to one of the trip highlights, “Les Calanches de Piana”, an out and back climb through a landscape of rock spires.
I say a short descent but actually it was the scene of a major mechanical for Alison. She’d been saying that something didn’t feel right and thought the bottom bracket might be loose but half way down, her freehub sheared. Graham diagnosed the fault quickly and got Ali onto one of the spare bikes but we lost about 40 minutes by the side of the road. It turned out that the hub was meant to be through axle only but had been sold with a skewer … the mind boggles.
Lunch was at Piana so we pushed on with Julian who’d waited with us. It was a lovely day with decent food on an outdoor terrace. The rock scenery on the climb was spectacular, sadly with lots of tourists to dodge.
The rest of the day was taken up with the longest climb of the trip, the 1477m acent of the Col de Vergio, spread over 33km. We took it steadily and had a quick coke at a village half way up. The mechanical delay meant we were worried about the time so didn’t stop for long. Also, the weather was deteriorating and it got very misty soon after. I dropped back to take some wild goat pictures and because of the curves in the road, very quickly became convinced that I wasn’t keeping up. I caught up with a couple of cyclists with panniers but couldn’t quite pass them, probably a combination of the altitude and them speeding up when they saw me. The woods we were climbing through were ghostly as the mist thickened and it was pretty cold at the top where Graham was waiting; I was only 200m behind so had been keeping up, just out of sight of the others the whole time; we were all tired after two tough days.
I devoured all the remaining fruit cake and got a quick pic of the surroundings before donning warm layers for the 23km descent. It was really cold, I had to constantly flex my fingers to stop them freezing and with a wet road surface, I descended carefully. Finally, at nearly 7pm I got back to the hotel. No doubt the exertions of day 1 had had an impact on the afternoon along with our long morning delay but this was definitely proving tougher than expected.
L-R from the top - the first climb & shot up National Park sign; one of the only col signs … woo hoo; on the way to Piana; Les Calanches de Piana; on the Vergio; 2 pics on the Col
Day 3 – Calacuccia to Santa Maria; 80.6 miles, 2600m ascent; 6:47 ride time
Today was more straightforward, thankfully. 5 cols through the central mountains sounded harder than it turned out, since only two were over 1000m; that compares to 5 cols over 1000m in the Massif Central before lunch on day 3 which was very tough.
It was a great day for weather and the views were spectacular, my only quibble being that they were a bit samey, the variety of the Massif Central certainly wasn’t there for me. That said, it was a tremendous day with nothing to worry us apart from the cycling.
Two early morning cols of about 200m came and went, the second was a little busy but then we turned away from the traffic and onto the longest climb of the day, the 850m climb up the col de Sorba. We caught Tom and James here, a couple of pals from London – Tom was quick and very competitive, James more relaxed and having to work hard to keep up. They were both tired and so we soon moved past. The upper slopes were open, rocky and really lovely after which we rolled down to lunch.
The afternoon flew by, the 1289m col de Verde didn’t leave much impression but we had a lovely ice cream in the village of Zicavo where we had to get our route cards (“carnet” in French) stamped. This type of ink stamp is known as a ‘tampon’, leaving much opportunity for schoolboy humour. You need to get all the stamps to prove you’ve completed the official route; amazingly, I only missed one all week, the very first when I was looking for the non-existent spare pair of sunglasses.
There was one more climb before we rolled down to the village of Santa Maria and a very esoteric hotel. Finally we had an early finish (5:15), a good thing too as I needed to wash some kit.
L-R from top left: descent down first gorge, Ali on the next climb, 2 views from the cols before lunch, another tomb, afternoon view; Julian & Ali
Day 4 – Santa Maria to Sartenne; 97.2 miles, 2554m ascent; 7:36 ride time
Waking up after an easier day was refreshing. The profile looked to be a similar level of difficulty; longer at nearly 100 miles but flatter, under 800m altitude all day and moving from the centre of the island back to the coast. The main concern was the out and back along a busy dual carriageway to the capital city, Ajaccio to get a stamp.
First up was a trip to the mountain village of Bastilica, via a small col. We pedalled past the road to the coast for a stiff little climb up to the village, which had a heroic statue in the square. Our coffee and stamp stop was enlivened by an old geezer regaling us with famous cycling stories – the madame rolled her eyes … “every time” she said.
Back down the hill we met the van at the turn and headed for the coast via a beautiful, but very rough, road that contoured round the hillside, past a dammed lake and great views of the rocky landscape, with frequent villages hugging the hillside and then views down to the sea as we set off on a long, pretty descent. Suddenly, it all ended and we on the dual carriageway into the capital. Julian led most of the way as we TTed along, to be honest I was too scared to pull out to get to the front. It was a long, unpleasant 10km to the filling station that marked the first business with a stamp. Here we met with the faster riders and the van and agreed to ride the 10km back to the coast road in formation. After a quick fanta and some fruit from the van, 13 of us set off back the way we’d come, single file along the hard shoulder. The gang of 7 arrived as we left, a couple of their team were struggling with the effort of the Raid so far but they were determined to stay together.
The 10km back went more smoothly, the wind was now behind us and the faster riders pulled us along. Leaving the dual carriageway, we fiddled round a few roundabouts and quickly stopped at a Boulagerie to buy food for a picnic lunch atop the next climb. First though we had 20km of flat road round the coast – Suzanne stayed with us for this section; a decent rider on the flat, we had only seen her briefly on the climbs, her power to weight was stunning and she’d be out of sight almost as soon as she passed us. I led much of the way here which probably tired me out for later on but it was quite fun.
After cycling round a long crescent shaped beach, we headed back inland up the Coti Chaivari, memorable for statuesque trees with peeling bark on the lower slopes. At the top the vans were parked up with a great view over the village church and coast in the distance. A wide wall to sit on completed the scene, perfect for our lunch. The weather was great and we only had 55km left so took our time.
The descent was undulating and unremarkable, followed by a long flat section where the highlights were an old style pontoon bridge and a very low, wide rainbow above flat fields. The finale was a 300m climb up to the walled town of Sartene. Julian’s friend Nick rode back to join us at the bottom and paced us up. Ali stayed glued to his wheel and after dropping back a bit I decided to up the effort and re-joined them by the hotel, leaving poor Julian to slog up a couple of hundred metres behind. We ate in a restaurant in the town that evening, the walls and old buildings were cleverly lit, highlighting its medieval appearance.
L-R from top: collapsed barn; beautiful riding; the heroic statue; the dammed lake; rock scenery; views on the morning descent; Church from lunch stop; rainbow
Day 5 – Sartene to Aleria; 115.7 miles, 2552m ascent; 8:45 ride time
Another long day, with an unusual altitude profile, all the significant climbing being up the 1218m Col de Bavella in the middle of the day, the remainder being made up of undulating roads. We were expecting some rain but the day started off bright enough, though with the steepest climb so far out of Sartene – one of those where you go round a bend and suddenly the gradient goes up exponentially. After that, we had 50km to Bonifacio at the southern tip of the island and teamed up with the Finns for a very pleasant couple of hours, with the great coastal views we’d come to expect. At Bonifiacio, we had a coffee and got to admire the large yachts of the super wealthy in the harbour. Then it was back to reality and another fast 30km to the town of Porto-vecchio where the big climb of the day began.
Once again we bought food for a picnic lunch and were promised spectacular scenery on the plateau at 950m and on the col itself. All was well for the first half of the climb, then it started to spit and, as we gained altitude, it turned to proper full-on rain. Closing in on the first col, it was getting very wet indeed and Graham made the decision to take the van down and provide us all with warmer clothes. Already soaked, I struggled into lightweight cag and winter gloves before pushing on up to the intermediate col.
The scene was chaotic as all 20 cyclists were trying to get out of the rain a little and find their own wet weather kit. I pulled on a base layer and my goretex before setting off alone on a slightly downhill 25km to the mountain village of Zonza. I can’t recall the last time I was this wet and, at over 900m altitude, it was pretty cold too. The rain was everywhere, most notably running down my arms and into my gloves; regular squeezing was necessary to keep fingers from squelching too much. The scenery was probably better than I saw, woodland and rocky outcrops passed in a haze as I concentrated on not shivering and keeping moving at a decent pace.
Finally, Zonza arrived and I dripped into the café. The owners were surprisingly accommodating of about 10 cyclists leaving pools of water across the floor. Ali got me a hot chocolate which was lovely and, as the rain finally eased a little, I retrieved my pizza slice from the van and had a decent munch, then managed to get the ends of my gloves inside my cuffs (with help it has to be said), not that it made much difference to how wet my hands got. In the chaos Ali and I then set off without Julian – it was raining again – and pedalled up the remaining 400m to the proper col. We look like very cold, drowned rats in the photos that I insisted on.
The descent was 25km, and the roads were soaked so I took it very steadily. Julian had rejoined us by now – he and Ali are both better at descending than me so I made no effort to keep up as I cornered very carefully. I passed Nick who’d had a puncture and then as we got lower, the rain eased and incredible rock spires started to appear out of the mist. I stopped a few times to try and get some pictures; pretty much everyone came past whilst I did so, presumably thinking I must be mad – thankfully I got a few worthwhile ones which highlight the conditions as well as the beauty.
At the bottom, I caught up with everyone in a big layby by the coast. And when I say everyone, all 20 cyclists were there at the same time. Anyone who’s been on one of these trips will realise how unusual this is. Certainly the conditions played a part but it also highlights that the standard here was pretty decent. We knew that we had 25 flattish miles to go so were quite surprised when everyone else disappeared, leaving the three of us with our last bits of kit adjustment. We rode back as a three up, taking 2km turns, along a long, straight, fairly busy road (it was rush hour after all). We worked together well and bombed along at 20mph, no mean feat for day 5 of a Raid (for me at least), with 90 miles already ridden. At the hotel, Julian tore a strip off Nick for not waiting and it turned out that there’d been some conflict with the gang of 7 not wanting to work with other people. I steered clear of all that, pleased to still be riding strongly, especially given the challenges of the week. With one easier and much shorter day to come, I went to bed thinking it was in the bag … as if …
L-R from the top: Early morning coastline; Bonifacio; starting up the Col de Bavella in the dry; at the col (note Italian naming on the sign); two views of rock peaks on the descent
Day 6 – Aleria to Bastia; 84.2 miles, 2209m ascent; 6:34 ride time
It was a relief to see decent weather in the morning. With just 3 cols, a maximum altitude of 819m and 133km to ride, this was set up to be a relatively relaxing day. We were told to expect narrow mountain roads and I’d been told by someone who did the Raid in 2017 that the steepest col of the trip was on the final day so relaxing was clearly a relative term!
We set out through the first vineyards we’d seen, with lovely views of mountains in the distance. After a few flat miles, we started a gentle climb up to the first col. It was a really beautiful 20km, never steep and with great views of villages perched in unlikely locations. We had to be careful though as yesterday’s rain had washed a lot of debris onto the road. On the next climb Ali had pulled ahead a bit when Julian had a puncture. He was right next to the support van for another group of cyclists so I sped on the catch Ali and then soft pedalled to the first spot with a good view to wait. Ali was nowhere to be seen and had in fact turned round so I sat in the sun for 20 minutes waving at the rest of the team as they went by, along with the cyclists from the other group.
Back together, the three of us pedalled up to the high point of the day, the col de Arcarotta. Once again, we were treated to beautiful views and several encounters with local livestock; cows, goats & pigs were a regular feature of the trip and added considerably to the local ambience. Over the top we stopped in the small village of Piedicroce for lunch. There was a beautiful terrace but the restaurant owner insisted we eat inside. With just one col to go, the gang of 7 were having wine, Julian and I opted for our own bit of decadence by having steak.
Thinking we were going to have a relaxing afternoon, we set of on the remainder of the descent but, on the hairpins out of the village, I went over a piece of debris that was obviously very sharp and punctured. No bother I thought and quickly changed the tube. Ali and I both had a CO2 canister and both failed dismally as the valve jammed. My little hand pump wasn’t working either and a couple of the gang of 7 stopped to help. After a couple of minutes, I got the valve to work and sufficient air into the tube to continue carefully until Graham passed us with a track pump. Cornering was really challenging and I was pleased the roads were so quiet as I regularly couldn’t stay on the right. Finally, the van passed but more disaster struck as, with the last stroke of the pump, the inner tube exploded. That was both my long stem tubes gone but luckily Ali had one and Graham took over to pump it up. Setting off again, I still had a problem – bump, bump, bump, every wheel revolution. I stopped and checked the outside of the tyre carefully, and found a huge split that had caused a big flat spot. Poor old Graham took over again and changed the tyre, luckily there was no damage to the inner tube.
With a hour lost, we were now at the bottom of the final col in mid afternoon, some easy day. Given that this was the last one, it wasn’t hard to work out that it must be steep … and boy was it steep. Ali went for it and I followed; after the first couple of turns I looked back but Julian was already out of sight (it turned out he’d lost his chain). We worked hard all the way up to the top of the Col de St Agostino, more like a day ride at home than day 6 of a Raid. The gradient eased higher up but it was a decent challenge. Graham was at the top, no doubt relieved that all was well and he took a couple of ‘final col’ shots of us before Julian arrived.
The final col is always a moment to savour but it was past 3pm and we still had 50km to ride; a 15km descent and 35km back along the isthmus to Bastia. Back at sea level we found Nick waiting for us, no doubt stung by Julian’s words the night before. I was impressed, he’d left the lunch stop well before us and so must have been waiting in the café for nearly an hour and a half. Any hope of an easy tow went out of the window as he was such a strong rider, even when backing off to our level. I’d been looking forward to great sea views on this last section but actually it was incredible dull, only once did the road run alongside a beach, the rest of the time it was just head down and pedal.
By the time we got to the outskirts of Bastia I was blown and fell back on a climb along the very busy main road. After catching up we worked our way into the old port for an ice cream and the final stamp (we’d started just north of Bastia so didn’t get this one at the start). The ice cream shop didn’t have a stamp so we walked over to the bar next door and had a beer instead. It was time to reflect on what had been a memorable week, not always for the best of reasons. Ali’s freehub had broken, Nick had sheared two of the large cogs on his cassette and I’d had 3 punctures after only suffering one previously all year. Julian’s single puncture, normally about as bad as it gets, paled into insignificance. We’d had dreadful weather on the two longest days as well, all of which added up to this being a very tough trip. I suspect that in ‘normal’ conditions this Raid would be much more relaxing.
With beers drunk, we rode the final couple of km back to the hotel where it all began. The traditional champagne was quaffed & bikes packed before our final meal and of course, plenty of wine. I managed to drag myself to bed at 11 before getting too sloshed which made the return journey much less horrible.
L-R from the top: 2 early morning views; livestock; village; on the way up to the second col; goats; Ali & I on the final col
Overall, I’m still not entirely sure how much I enjoyed the trip. No doubt I preferred the scenery and variety of the Massif Central but of course that’s a very personal view. I think it boils down to the fact that the week was so relentless, it never felt like we could just relax. This was odd as, for the first time on a Raid, I was never in any doubt that I’d finish. Even two weeks later, as I write these final words, I’m struggling to put the trip into context. Perhaps I just need to accept that it’s an outlier, a one-off set of circumstances that made a challenging but not overly difficult trip, into something an order of magnitude more intense.
As always our guides, Neil and Graham, were incredible. To say that they had their work cut out this week is a massive understatement. As always, they handled everything thrown at them with good grace and a smile. Ali and Julian made great riding companions and never complained about my constant photo stops and careful descending; we kept each other smiling all week which was great.
46 hours, 49 minutes ride time
16,477m of ascent
Resting HR increased by +7bpm over the trip. Last year it was +13 bpm over the same number of days. In 2016 it was +13 bpm as well, but with 1.5 fewer riding days.
So, basically, I’m fitter now!
Almost back to being an athlete in 2016
Thu Jul 19, 2018 8:10 pm Cobbie
The past 3 months have seen a big change as I’ve gone back into a permanent job after 11 years of freelancing. I’m based in Widnes most days and have been commuting on the winter bike about twice a week. I’ve invested in fold up panniers rather than a rucksack in anticipation of doing some lightweight multi day cycling in 2019.
So, I’m cycling about the same in terms of volume but now it’s 18-19 miles each way on the commute and a weekend ride if we’re not busy. Doing fewer long rides doesn’t seem to be affecting my stamina and riding the much heavier bike is helping my strength. I had worried that doing the same ride repeatedly would get boring very quickly but actually it’s been fine. Just need to psych up for some winter commuting now!
I’ve had a couple of good outings in the past month. First, the Coast to Coast in a Day was on the longest weekend. Six of us from the tri club rode together (with the usual separations and regrouping). This was my longest ever ride at 150 miles and pretty hilly at c3700m. I’d not been over Hardknott and Wrynose since 2006 (when I did the Fred) and was quite nervous, especially for what I remembered about the descents. There was a bit of walking on Hardknott but Wrynose was fine and to my surprise, both descents were very straightforward, makes me realise how much I’ve developed over the years. In fact, some of the single track descents in NE Wales are much harder and I do those regularly.
There’s a big climb out of Kendall after the first feed station (the food on this ride is superb BTW) and you hit 2000m of climbing very early on. Then it’s mostly very fast until the North York moors where there are 3 or 4 nasty climbs in the final 20 miles, one of which required a bit of walking – my right knee had got very sore by this point as I probably pushed a bit harder during the day than I should have. The finish in Whitby was superb and this is an event that I’d thoroughly recommend. The logistics are complicated but the route is very beautiful.
Overall, I averaged about 15mph, 10 hours ride time, with about 2 hrs pottering about in feed stations.
Selfie at the bottom of the Wrynose descent; group pic at the finish; with my hero Captain James Cook
Then last weekend I hiked from Ogwen to Conwy across the Carneddau with one of my old climbing mates, Woody. It’s about 18 miles over 7 of the 15 Snowdonia peaks above 3000ft in altitude – we then extended it to over 20 with a side trip to Yr Elen which adds a fair bit of effort but is worth it for spectacular views. The walk is very remote, I suspect that the half way point is pretty much the furthest from human dwellings that you can get in England and Wales; there are no roads that cross the range so it’s proper wilderness. The weather was gorgeous, too hot really and we were certainly footsore by the time we dropped off Conwy mountain. Even then we had a long round trip to pick up the car from the start so the evening curry was very tasty indeed.
Woody looking majestic on the summit of Carnedd Dafydd or Llewellyn (I forget which); selfie, the beautiful summit of Yr Elen; on the long descent with views to die for
So, now I have a couple of months before my trip to Corsica for the Raid which I’m really looking forward to. Henry is just finishing his reception year at school and is turning into a great kid, being a dad can be tough at times but it's the best job in the world really.
Almost back to being an athlete in 2016
Fitbit Update and Q1 2018
Tue Apr 17, 2018 11:16 am Cobbie
I did a review last year about how helpful I'd found wearing a Fitbit:
Now I have over 2 years of data I've been doing a review of longer term trends. The thing I was most interested in was resting HR variability because mine seems to go up and down like a yo-yo. Here's the graph of my resting HR by date with 2016 / 2017 and Q1 2018 overlaid on each other.
As I was fitter in 2017, I had expected to see a drop but this didn't happen, in fact, my average resting HR was almost identical to 2016:
2016 - 54.2
2017 - 54.6
2018 - 53.8 (first 100 days)
I am still a little surprised that the variability is as high as 10-15% but a quick search didn't reveal any data on what's normal and since I've been pretty healthy over the period, I guess it's to be expected.
The stats geek in me made me do some further analysis which showed a standard deviation of 2.2 bpm. This means if things are well controlled, there should be barely any readings below 48 (lowest is 49) or above 61. Here there are 14 data points but they are all associated with an assignable cause (my one period of significant lurgy in Feb 2016 and both of my multi-day cycling RAIDS). So, stats geek can go back in his cage .
One last thing I looked at was more useful, this being to take out some noise by averaging by month and quarter as shown in this graph:
Here you can see that there was an initial drop as I started back on the road to reasonable fitness, a climb to a peak around my second RAID in June 2017 and a gradual drop since then. Since the gradual climb was from 53 to 55 bpm and the subsequent drop has been back to 53.5, the effect is obviously very small. My take is that I spent a year and a half building up strength and have probably been recovering more quickly since then for the volume / intensity of cycling that I'm doing.
My main measure is still calories burnt and this remains encouraging as my enthusiasm for cycling has stayed high. Focusing a little more on performance since last summer has helped to get me a little trimmer, along with the training benefit of having a heavier winter bike.
Enough on Fitbit then, still loving mine and the data it gives me.
Q1 has been pretty dreadful weather-wise but I've managed to get out a lot and am averaging 111 miles a week to date, well above my 100 mile target.
My fairly ambitious target of 100km vertical ascent is a little behind but as the weather improves I'm catching back up with more hilly rides into Wales. Currently I'm averaging 1894m/week against the target of 1923.
My first century ride of the year was at the Forest of Bowland epic sportif on Sunday. I perhaps shouldn't have given blood on the Friday evening but was still happy with 7hrs 24 mins given a very strong headwind for the first half of the ride. It's a very pretty ride with several long and surprisingly steep hills in an area that I don't really know - there were no stand-out views so that probably explains it, especially with the Peak / Lake Districts and Snowdonia as alternatives.
Being back on the summer bike now I can really see an improvement since last year. My priority is to focus on enjoyment but it's reassuring to see myself getting a bit faster.
I also managed to get out for a hike with Darryl (Daz) as we don't live very far apart nowadays - as we both have young kids, it's all a lot more fun than in the 'old' days.
Snowy Mc Snowface & Muddy McMudface
Daz in the snow, hiking in Shropshire
The sun comes out on the tough climb up to the Llangollen panorama
2 months now until Coast to Coast in a day, plan to put in another couple of hilly century rides before then.
Almost back to being an athlete in 2016
2017 Review & Plans for 2018
Mon Feb 12, 2018 8:21 pm Cobbie
2017 was a record year for me since I started in multisport.
Record high bike mileage – 5241 miles, just under 101 miles per week
Record low run mileage - 35 miles over 11 runs
Record low swim mileage - I think about 3000m (not counting splashing with Henry)
Bike stats in more detail (includes turbos):
146 rides; 2.8 / week
84500m of ascent; 1625m / week
350 hours in the saddle; just under 7 hrs / week
The bike target was 100 miles a week and I was very happy to hit that, mainly down to getting onto the turbo in the hotel when I was working away these past few months. The Raid du Massif Central was a real high point in my cycling life but, with the benefit of hindsight, doing my one big event at the end of May led to a very low key second half of the year. I was up to 3000 miles after 5 months and only did one ride of over 80 miles after that. Still, the main thing was that I enjoyed it all and so long as I can keep on doing that, life will be relatively un-heavy, which is the ultimate aim.
I expected to mix up my summer activity with swimming but never felt the love. After my first 2km river swim when I got back from France, I got back in the following week but turned back half way and that was the end of that. There will come a point when I want to swim again, it’s just not now.
Running has been underwhelming. I ran in 2 blocks during the year, 6 runs in Jan/Feb and 5 in September, all under 4 miles. I keep hoping that things will suddenly get a bit easier but once I get over 3 miles, the ankle starts to hurt and any attempt to run twice in a week results in more pain than I want to deal with. I suspect that I could push through this if I really want to – when I first started running after my accident, I would be barely able to walk for 1-2 days after a race or hard training run. In comparison, the pain and stiffness now is very mild but the determination is just not there. Little things like giving Henry a piggyback up or down stairs become difficult when the ankle hurts and I worry about falling and him getting hurt, so it just seems easier to give it a miss.
So, basically, I’m a cyclist for now. The secret for me has been to vary my routes as much as possible, whilst maintaining some continuity in order to see myself progressing as I’ve got fitter. When I look back to my tri training, I had a very limited range of routes which I think reflects that cycling was very much my least favourite discipline. I think 2009 was a previous high point and I added up the total distance to about 3,500 miles – however, what I’d never appreciated fully was that once Norseman was over in early August I only cycled a couple of hundred miles in the remainder of the year.
I avoided Strava for a long while but signed up in a very low key way during the summer and have to say it’s been well worth it. Whilst some of the data is a bit naff, I can see where on rides I could work harder and have made things a bit more structured as a consequence. Seeing other peoples’ training has also given me ideas to keep my own routes fresh. All in all, helpful for the type of pedalling I do now.
For 2018, my main target is to beat my 5241 miles cycled in 2017. I’m also going to try and hit 100km of ascent. The first 6 weeks have gone well so far and motivation is high – long may it continue.
I have signed up for Raid Corsica at the end of September, which should keep me motivated all summer – it’s a bit less hilly than my previous two trips but distance per day is further, 1000km in 6 days! Going further always seems harder for me than more ascent so I expect this to be a decent challenge.
I’ve also signed up for Coast-to-Coast in a day which at c150 miles will be my longest ever ride. Quite a few from Chester Tri are doing it so should be a good day out. Also on the list is the 100 mile Forest of Bowland sportif as a warm-up and I might do the 103 mile Peak District epic as well.
All in all, should be a busy year.
Almost back to being an athlete in 2016
Walking the Nantlle Ridge
Sun Jun 18, 2017 10:23 pm Cobbie
The Nantlle Ridge is known as an unsung gem of Snowdonia with many rating it the best ridge walk in the National Park, no small praise when the world renowned Snowdon Horseshoe is literally one valley across. Of course, that probably explains it’s relative lack of traffic and notoriety; that and the fact that it’s a bit tucked away, doesn’t have any 3000ft (914m) peaks and being end to end, requires a fair degree of planning. It has been on my to-do list for close on 30 years but for various reasons I’d never got round to it … until now that is.
My friend Woody (Ian) moved up from Wiltshire to Abergele last year and we started talking about doing it. Then Woody broke his foot and what with winter and his recovery it was only last month that we seriously started looking for a date. Thankfully, once we got serious, that didn’t take long.
Our friend Trev drove up from Coventry and the three of us shared a few beers the evening before driving over with a target to start walking before 10. Woody directed us through the small village of Nebo down a single track road and practically the end of the final descent at the western end of the ridge – result. With my car dumped we drove north, then east through Nantlle village and a spectacular valley that I’d never visited before. We were aiming for Rhyd Ddu, a village I know well, lying as it does on the Snowdon marathon route and the old Llanberis half ironman bike route. In the end we found a layby about a km before the village which was the perfect place to set off from.
The first hill is one of several Y Garn’s in the area. At 633m, about 450m above the valley floor, it is the lowest peak on the ridge but being the first, involves the most climbing.
Y Garn - From the start of the walk; on a rocky section, just before the summit plateau
First impressions showed it to be shapely and with the hint of a path snaking up its flank. The fact that, from below, it was all green, with no sign of serious erosion of flagstones was a clear indication of the lack of traffic. We set off earlier than we’d hoped, at 9:35 and showed our combined years of experience by taking it very steadily – a pace that feels slow but you know you can keep it up without having to rest. There were foot holes in places and exposed rock on steeper sections but in the main it was never too taxing. Higher up we curved round and hit some scree before reaching the summit plateau and great views north and west.
View north west from the summit
All the subsequent peaks had their summits in the mist and it was rolling over the ridge, clearing briefly and then rolling in again as we had a bite to eat. The next peak, Mynydd Drws-y-coed is the most impressive to look at, with its sheer north face. The third, Trum y Ddysgl was hidden behind it slightly but we did get occasional views of the monolith on top of the next, Mynydd Tal-y-mignedd.
Mynydd Drws-y-coed, you can see the monolith on the far right of the picture
This in turn hides the fifth and final peak on the official ridge, Craig Cwm Silyn which is also the highest at 734m. We were intending to carry on to Garnedd-goch, which comes before the descent path and if time allowed, to Mynedd Graig Goch which would extend the route a fair bit.
The map here and a detailed altitude profile and route description are from this weblink:
Mynydd Drws-y-coed is approached via a wide, flat ridge which soon narrows and steepens into rough scrambling, not hard but requiring a little care to pick a good line.
Scrambling up Mynydd Drws-y-coed
The climb is short, only about 50m of ascent but even so, we were in the cloud at the summit, needing to drop down a little to see the fantastic ridge leading up to Trum y Ddysgl, essentially the a second high point on the same northward facing cwm.
Trum y Ddysgl; looking back at Mynydd Drws-y-coed and Y Garn
It’s easy walking to get there before a longer descent to a col and the short climb to the monolith. The col is a fairly narrow tongue, quite impressive to look at but with the mist I didn’t really get a good picture. It’s easy enough to negotiate before an easy climb up to Mynydd Tal-y-mignedd and more great views out west.
Happy Cobbie; Woody; the misty tongue at the col beneath Mynydd Tal-y-mignedd
The climb up Mynydd Tal-y-mignedd; Trev at the monolith on the summit
Up to now, the walking had been really very easy but the climb to Craig Cwm Silyn was longer and harder. Woody stuck to the ridge all the way, whilst Trev and I started out on a lower path, to avoid an outcrop, only then realising that this larger path avoided the lower section of the ridge entirely, ho hum.
Craig Cwm Silyn; the slog up to the ridge
It was a bit of a slog up the hillside and back to the ridge about half way up where we waited for Woody.
Great shot of Woody on the ridge
From here on we were properly in the cloud almost the whole time. Cwm Sliyn has a couple of decent crags on its north-west flank but it was foolhardy to try and get a peek at them with such poor visibility. The descent was actually quite rocky and being damp required our concentration. After things flattened out, we ran up against the top of an outcrop and took a bearing to make sure we were on the right track, it was a pretty featureless plateau.
The climb to Garnedd-goch was along a very gently sloping saddle, a mix of tufty grass and shattered rocks until we hit a dry stone wall which we followed to the summit cairn.
The summit of Gernedd-goch in the mist
From here it was a gentle descent to the path which took us down northwest. We bumped into some chatty blokes and an old man of the mountains who regaled us with tales of his obsessive peak bagging, all based on different definitions of how much vertical ascent was required for a peak to be called a peak. Marilyns, Hewitts and Nuttalls; I had no idea there were so many different ways of classifying them. I’m relieved, obviously that I have no interest in such trivia, in fact we had been laughing earlier on the walk about how I’d refused to walk over the newest of the Welsh 3000ers because it wasn’t a real peak, just a bump on a ridge.
Anyway, Trev had slightly twisted his knee and was finding the going harder and I needed to get home for a date night so we struck off downhill on what was a surprisingly small path but well marked with cairns. Once down onto the gentle ridge that you can see middle right in the final picture, we ambled along a faint path, past cotton grass and then the dam wall of the reservoir in the picture. All in all a lovely day out, recommended. Total walking time for us was 4 hours, including stops.
Almost back to being an athlete in 2016
Sat Jun 10, 2017 3:19 pm Cobbie
Raid Massif Central; 28th May to 2nd June 2017
After completing the 100 Hour Raid Pyrenean last summer, I was keen for more. Knowing that I needed a challenge to keep motivated for fitness, Lynn was amenable so I looked at my options. I was keen to do a logical point-to-point journey akin to the Raid Pyrenean, travelling as it does from Atlantic to Mediterranean, but wanted something a bit more varied in nature. Two options stood out, these being the Raid Corsica (which circumnavigates the island) and the Raid Massif Central which traverses several regions in south-central France, from Lyons down to the edge of the Pyrenees. In the end the choice was made for me as none of the Raid Corsica dates were feasible.
I was a lot fitter for this, having ridden through the winter for the first time, typically 2 rides a week, increasing to 3 from March; I wasn’t much lighter but was a lot stronger. This trip was a step up so I needed to be; 6 days instead of 4½ on the bike and hilly all the way. In total, I cycled about 1000 miles more than pre-Raid in 2016.
Travelling out from the north of England was just as awkward as in 2016, not helped by Flybe cancelling suitable flights from first Manchester and then Birmingham. In the end I flew both ways with BA via Heathrow and decided to travel out a day early and spend a morning sightseeing in Lyon before a lunchtime transfer to the start in Roanne. It wasn’t ideal but turned out to be a good choice due to the BA baggage system failure which meant 3 cyclists arrived a day late.
Once at the hotel, with bike built, there was plenty of time to get to know a few people. Some were clearly very strong, others like me more interested in having an experience on a bike. A very pleasant evening saw us all getting along well and it was a happy group of cyclists who lined up for the team photo in the morning. It was clearly going to be a hot first couple of days so I made sure I slapped on plenty of cream.
Here is the altitude profile for the trip. This is the original profile before the route was modified so it's not quite what we did in the last couple of days but it gives a pretty good idea of what the trip is all about:
Note that photos with the Marmot logo were taken by our excellent guides, Gavin and Tim
Day 1 – Roanne to Issoire; 96 miles, 2900m ascent, 7:40 ride time
The first day had a tough first half; 2000m of climbing in the first 50 miles and 4 cols, rising to the Col du Beal at 1390m. The weather was lovely and we passed through vinyards and open countryside on our way up the first climb, the Col du Bouchet (752m). As we got higher, we moved into the trees which provided some shade as the temperature hit 30°C before lunch (and touched 40°C in the afternoon!). Things opened out at the top of the Col de la Loge and Col du Beal but in a very pastoral way; this was very much an aperitif through the foothills. I made sure I kept a lid on my power after going a bit too hard on day 1 in 2016. The gradients were very steady, 5 to 7% mostly and only once did I see anything over 8% on my Garmin all day.
Left to Right - Ready for the off, fields early on, one of the early climbs
War memorial, castle, high point of the day,
My main memories are of the lovely villages we pedalled through and I made sure I captured a selection with my phone; I was a lot more organised for photos this year, keeping the phone in my bar-top box made for much quicker snaps. The afternoon was mostly downhill, with our first proper ‘control’ in the small village of St Dier d’Auvergne. All the shops were shut but the guides managed to find an old lady at a filling station who stamped out carnets in her front room. After one last small climb, we reached our hotel in Issoire which was great. There were a few classic British red faces, arms and legs on show but everyone seemed very happy.
Two more rural views; riding with Andy & Say
Day 2 – Issoire to Salers; 105 miles, 3100m ascent, 8:30 ride time
Day 2 started with a long, steady climb to the Col de la croix St-Robert, at 1426m, our high point of the day. This was actually the only significant col, the large amount of climbing being made up of many small ups and downs. It was hot again and I pedalled with Andy and Say. We’d been joined by 3 more cyclists who’d arrived late because of the BA baggage problems so there were now 12 of us. The pattern of riders on the road was also now clear. There was a group of 4 at the front (Ian, Jem, Simon and Aidan), followed by David and Lucy who would set off later than everybody else and overtake all bar these. Diane, Ian’s wife, was very strong on the climbs and would move forward and back through the group depending on how often she stopped. The remaining 5 of us (myself, Andy, Say, a second Ian and James) and Diane would generally see each other multiple times depending on how we were feeling. With all bar one having been on a Marmot trip before, we all knew the drill with van and café stops so they were much more efficient than I remembered from 2016.
Moving into volcano territory; cows
The scenery up to the Col de la croix St-Robert was beautiful and we got our first views of snowy peaks and rocky cliffs. I was generally slightly behind Andy and Say due to the photos I was taking but we were always close and I discovered over the col that I was somewhat faster on the descents. We re-grouped at the bottom and turned into the town of Le Mont-Dore to buy food for a picnic lunch. Lumpy riding took us to a small village where a café was open; they were happy enough for us to buy drinks to have with our food and the guides laid out some fruit. It was pretty hot by now and we still had a lot of riding to do but we definitely all lingered in what was a very pleasant spot.
View on the long climb; on the Col de la Croix St-Robert
Back on the road, there was only one significant high point, the Col de la Basseyre which we made soon after lunch; the sign was in a shale bank, listing and looking somewhat forlorn. After that I just remember lumpy riding until a left turn with 15km to go put us onto a nasty climb with 200m steep ascent, followed by a more gradual 200m ascent. I think we all found this tiring so late in the day and once at the top I just spun my way back the final few miles to the rather lovely village of Salers, where we were staying.
Sculpture; Farm building, the unloved Col de la Basseyre sign; Salers town square
Day 3 – Salers to Aumond-Aubrac; 89.3 miles, 3200m ascent; 7:55 ride time
This was undoubtedly the hardest day of the trip, with 5 cols over 1000m, all before lunch! The weather had changed too, being overcast and threatening as we set off and with thunderstorms forecast.
The first col (Col de Neronne) was a 300m climb, nice and gentle, with ever improving views. Until now, the colour palette of the trip had been predominantly green, today it changed to feature more and more yellow gorse. The terrain reminded me a lot of North East Wales (although with longer climbs!); a feeling of being slightly remote from the modern world, small communities in a fairly harsh landscape.
After a short descent, we were onto the Pas de Peyrol, without doubt the toughest climb of the trip, a 400m climb over just 5km. I fiddled about at the bottom to video the climb which started easily enough but then reared up for a very steep final 2km at 13%. I put a foot down a few times to prevent myself overheating as it was pretty muggy, even this early in the day and I was definitely feeling fatigued from the cycling I’d already done. It was one of those climbs where you glimpse the road ahead, high above and note how little distance there is between where you are now and where you have to go! Initially in the trees, we soon pulled out onto barren terrain, made ethereal by mist blowing in over the col. The fast boys overtook me, mostly stomping away out of the saddle and certainly making it look easier than I was. However, it wasn’t that long a climb and soon enough I was at the summit.
2 views of the Col de Neronne; at the bottom of the Col du Pas de Payrol;
Approaching the Col; At the col
After a quick photo and carnet stamp, I headed off down into a misty valley, made interesting by a herd of cows heading up to their summer pasture. The old dude leading them was as crusty a traditional picture of French peasantry as you could hope to see. That brief interlude aside, we were soon down in the valley where a left turn led onto the next climb, the Col de Perthus, about 400m ascent. An old French cyclist stopped and told us that the climb was steep but not too long and he was right.
Setting off up the climb there were 8 of us together, though not for long as the fast boys pulled away. I started to find the going tough and dropped back a bit, regaining contact at the summit where the van was a welcome sight.
The volcano Puy Mary pokes out on the descent; cows heading up to pasture; two views of the steep climb to the Col de Perthus
The sun had come out on the climb but now the sky darkened and it started to spit on the descent, turning into a full scale rainstorm by the time we reached a lessening in gradient and a left turn onto a main road. I took my glasses off but the rain was stinging my eyes so much that I had to put them back on again. Finally resigned to the fact that this was going to last, I stopped in a lay-by and pulled of my cagoule. After 5 minutes of fighting with the zip, it stopped raining and the sun came out – I took the cag off again without having pedalled a single revolution. Several of the team had passed by this time and I might have been bringing up the rear so I got going again, keen to make it to the restaurant on top of the 5th and final col of the morning, the Col de Prat de Boc, which at just under 1400m was the second highest of the day. The climb was10km long, 500m ascent at mainly 6-8%; it was pretty steady all told and less humid after the rain. A pretty village low down was followed by open meadow as we moved back into more pastoral scenery. I remember chatting with the younger of the two Ian’s who was always splendidly turned out but there’s no doubt that I was in real need of a decent lunch. My col selfie is definitely more of a grimace than a smile but a decent burger and frites soon had me going again.
3 increasingly tired col selfies!
I remember very little about the afternoon, the few photos I took just show green fields akin to the scenery on days 1 & 2. There was a long 40km descent, followed by a very gentle 30km climb where I started to get a lot of foot pain. Andy & Say kindly waited whilst I took my shoes off to stretch; I think this was a combination of feet swelling in the heat, pushing hard on the pedals during the climbs and general fatigue - I kept the tension on the dials lower from then on which helped. We made it to the pilgrimage town of Aumond-Aubrac in good time, well before my target of 6pm at least and were rewarded by the sight of hikers in a variety of garb on their way to Santiago, some in traditional brown robes. I had time to wash some kit and it was an early night all round; I wasn’t the only one who felt whacked.
Day 4 – Aumond-Aubrac to Mayrueis; 101 miles, 3000m ascent; 8:25 ride time
One of the best few days I’ve ever had on a bike, the scenery was so stunning that I took about 90 photographs and my Garmin shows that I was not moving for almost an hour all told. I started out on my own in misty conditions past several short climbs, through small villages and a combination of forest and cow pasture, the cow bells clanging away merrily. Before too long, there was a descent into the sizeable town of Mende where we had to navigate our way through roadworks and past an impressive cathedral. Straight after, there was the very stiff climb up the Cote de la Criox-Neuve, 2km at 12-15%. I was feeling much better after a good night’s sleep but even so, I was surprised to make it up without stopping. Annoyingly, there was no col sign, just the cross that I presume gives the climb its name.
Church in the mist; gorse and woods; bottom and top of the Croix-Neuve
The descent here was very steep, with a particularly nasty sharp right hander that was very easy to miss. I tend to put my Garmin on map view for the descents so I saw it coming but apparently someone did crash on the first Marmot trip last year – not nice.
At the bottom, it was straight into the 1200m Col de la Loubiere, a nice steady climb through the trees, with another cross at the top. Tim caught me on film with a couple of good shots on this climb (thanks ) – Gav was my normal contact in the rear van but I was going strongly enough this morning to see more of Tim.
Two views of the Col de la Loubiere
The main col of the day was now upon me, the 1541m Col de Finiels, around 600m of ascent up to a high upland plateau. It was beautifully bleak towards the top and then an amazing descent down through a rocky landscape, reminiscent of Dartmoor, to Le Pont-de-Montvert for lunch. Here we landed at the slowest restaurant I can remember (outside of Argentina obviously). The madame visited our table several times without taking our order, despite us being quite pushy after a while. Eventually I did get some chicken and tagliatelle and very nice it was too before setting off into the Gorges du Tarn.
Ruins, steep section low down on the climb; at the col; on the descent
The last 70km of the ride were spectacular all the way with superb rock scenery down the gorge for about 40km before a left turn over the bridge at Saint Enimie took us onto the Col de Coperlac.
The Gorge du Tarn, turning onto the Col de Coperlac
This was one of those climbs that you can see contouring along the hillside ahead with spectacular views in all directions. The views back down into the gorge were particularly good and only improved as we got higher so we were all pretty happy when we met the van at the top. It was only 907m but a perfect late afternoon climb.
Gorges du Tarn from high up; at the col
It took me a while to get my col photo so I was alone by the time I set off, along a very straight road across a plateau bordered by poppies, a total contrast to what we’d just seen but equally lovely. I was slowly catching those in front but another small climb took me to the top of the Gorges de la Jonte and more spectacular rock architecture – I stopped and took more photos. Whizzing down the gorge to our hotel was simply amazing, a lovely way to end a fantastic day.
Poppies; two views of the Gorges de la Jonte
Day 5 – Meyrueis to Lodeve; 88 miles, 2400m ascent; 7:05 ride time
The day started in lovely bright conditions and as is often the case I was the first to be ready to go. Setting off though, my Garmin went against the route description. I carried on for a bit, past a roundabout signposted to Mt Aigoual but it didn’t reset itself so I went back. After some discussion we all agreed that the directions were not quite right so most of us set out together in the opposite direction, placating the Garmins, back the way we had come to the edge of town, past a wicker horse sculpture and onto a different start of the climb to Mt Aigoual.
One of the features of this trip was that, despite a lot of total climbing, most climbs were 400-600m rather than the longer 1000m+ climbs in the mountains. In fact, only the Col de la Croix-St-Robert on day 2 had been over 1000m ascent. This climb was about 900m so the second biggest of the trip. It was very steady, never above 7-8% and with a little plateau half way up. There were a number of subsidiary cols marked on the route but none were really worthy of note. Instead we were treated to a lovely varied climb, first contouring round the hillside with views of the Gorges de la Jonte, then through woods before breaking out onto a barren plateau for the last couple of km to a proper summit, just off the main road, with a small castle on the top. It was too misty for any great views (apparently you can see Ventoux on a clear day) but still worthy of clambering up the metal steps to the turret viewpoint.
Leaving Mayrueis; two views low on Mt Aigoual; at the summit; the castle turret
It was quite windy so after a few minutes I clambered back down and found the café for the carnet stamp before heading off. It wasn’t long before I was back in the forest, nearly missing a sharp left turn. The descent was a bit tricky so I didn’t rush and James came past although having done so, he didn’t pull away. I always find it easier to follow someone but in this case it was quite gravelly so I’m sure he was being careful too.
Descent from Mt Aigoual
It was straight into the next climb at the bottom, a 300m ascent which had hairpins at the bottom and then opened out beautifully. David and Lucy came past at the bottom and I saw some of the others below me as the road came round in a large loop near the top. Then it was a short descent into St Jean du Bruel for lunch – my first omelette/frites of the trip in a lovely café courtyard. Everyone was having a good day I think so it was a very relaxed atmosphere.
The route worked it’s way from gorge to gorge (2 pics); viaduct
After lunch we went through more gorges on very minor roads, under an impressive viaduct at one stage before climbing up through what looked to me like parts of the Yorkshire Dales; small cliffs with a narrow road snaking beneath.
The climb to reach the cirque (heading up and left); on the way to the cirque
As the road climbed I was treated to ever more impressive views before a short flat section which led to the Cirque de Navacelles. This very impressive gorge has an unusual feature, this being a dried-up, ox-bow lake (they normally form on much flatter terrain, I’ve never heard of one in a gorge before), it’s bright green surface standing out against the stark background. The descent into the Cirque was via many very tight hairpins.
The spectacular viw down into the cirque with the climb out behind; at the top of the climb looking back down
I passed Diane who was being careful as usual and who of course then breezed past me on the climb back out. This looked steep from the way down and so it proved to be; 11-12% for about 1.5km but incredibly spectacular. At the top it was mostly flat for nearly 20km but into a headwind and I really suffered. The younger Ian, resplendent in a very bright Namibia jersey came storming past but I couldn’t hang onto his wheel. My foot pain was back as well so I made the decision to slacken off the tension as much as possible and just took it easy. Soon enough I was onto the 15km descent into Lodeve and our hotel beside a river.
Day 6 – Lodeve to Mazamet; 82 miles, 2200m ascent; 6:28 ride time
One thing I’ve not yet mentioned is that the Marmot trip is longer and harder than the Raid requirements, making it more of a balanced and challenging route. This final day was the shortest and least hilly of the trip – a change from the original route tested in 2016 which was 50km longer! I think we all agreed that finishing earlier on the final day was a sensible move.
My backside had been sore since day 3 and at times I’d been finding it hard to find a comfortable riding position. After doing almost all the climbs in the Pyrenees seated last year, I’d come to the conclusion that I needed to get out of the saddle more to use different muscle groups and this strategy worked really well in the Massif Central. However, settling back into the saddle was sometimes losing me any additional momentum I’d built, day 3 being particularly bad. Having ridden into the climbing on days 4 and 5, things were a lot better but I was definitely ready to stop pedalling.
Setting off on the final morning; on the Col de la Baraque de Bral
The day dawned bright and cool again and we went straight into the 400m ascent of the Col de la Baraque de Bral. The first climb of the day had typically been lovely but this was probably the best, full of the scent of wild flowers and over too quickly really. The main climb of the day followed 20km later after one small climb and some quiet rural roads.
The Col de l’Espinouse was just about 900m of ascent, spread over 20km and for me the best climb of the trip. Periods through forest were interspersed with beautifully open climbing, with great views of craggy rocks and gorse strewn upland. The climb worked its way up into a small forest on a subsidiary peak before descending to the final few km to the top. I was just behind James lower down, a tiny bit faster but with my photo stops, not catching him until he had a longer van stop. It was a very satisfied Cobbie at the top, barring a couple of 100 to 200m climbs, it was now downhill to the finish.
4 views of the Col de l'Espinouse
The last col sign was the Col de Fontfoide, just 100m of climbing and then a descent into Le Salvetat at 85km for lunch. The café was in the middle of a road remodelling scheme so we had to walk the bikes there and then watch a completely overwhelmed waitress trying to cope with more than one customer. The poor woman looked new to it all and was obviously struggling – in the end the cook came over to take our order whilst she got her head round the fast boys paying separately when she’d added up the bill for the whole table. After a lovely omelette & salad leaves I set off, planning to ride gently and savour the last 50km. James whizzed by soon after, clearly keener than me to get to the end and soon after David and Lucy.
A profusion of gorse; village cross
I passed by a large lake, about the only one I can recall from the trip and then was onto the last col (Col de la Tranchee), where some guys out on a club ride came by. They were resting at the rather underwhelming summit as I came past, after which there was just one more short climb before a 20km descent to the finish in Mazamet. The traffic there was awful and I had someone overtake me pointlessly, on the outside, on a roundabout where I was turning left (the 3rd exit when riding on the right!). As safely as possible, I made my way gently uphill to the finish which was just on the pavement outside the hotel and celebrated with the obligatory glass of bubbly.
David and Lucy had just finished so we did some photos and savoured the moment. A quick shower and I was down just as Andy and Say were finishing before another glass and then the usual flummox to pack the bike, buy Henry a present and finally sit down for a beer. It was a lovely final evening and to our surprise, the great and good from the Mazamet Cycling club turned up to present us all with a medal and certificate. I drank far too much but did at least stop and go to bed before things got too ugly.
Overall, the trip distance is 562 miles / 905km with 16,300m of climbing in 6 days - harder than the Raid Pyrenean so it was a good thing that I was fitter and stronger. I think at last year’s fitness levels, this would have been quite a struggle. Having a great group of people to cycle and socialise with also helped a lot, it really was a very friendly bunch.
I have nothing but good things to say about Marmot, there’s a real concern about good customer service in general and the guides are great, giving support when needed and leaving you alone when not. With 3 people left behind in the UK due to the BA baggage handling problems, the owner of the company rang round to find alternative flights and help get them out to France the next day. Our guides, Gavin and Tim were excellent and great company.
A final word, this trip is a wonderful journey across one of the lesser known parts of France and whilst it lacks the grandeur of the big mountains, the variety is tremendous. It deserves more attention.
Almost back to being an athlete in 2016