raa1200_end.jpg At the turn of the year I had been scouting the internet to try and find a long distance event to aim for as a motivation to see me through the cold winter months on the bike.
I have been to France a few times and really like cycling there but I like to travel new roads rather than going to the same place all the time. Seeing the event in Bordeaux really piqued my interest, I had never been down in the south west of France before and the route would take in some of the Pyrenean climbs so that was it I was sold on it and the entry was fired off in January.

Next step get the miles in, as we all know the weather for the first part of the year was pretty awful culminating in the “beast from the east” quickly followed by the “beast from the east 2” giving us some rather unprecedented snow fall and severely curtailing the cycling. Worrying times for my training schedule but all worked out as we were blessed with the best summer weather in over 40 years.

Thankfully our hot weather prepared me somewhat for the even hotter weather I was to experience in the south of France (peaking out at 34 Deg ).
I arrived a few days before the event started allowing me to get the bike built back up after a rather painless flight from Glasgow. Event registration and bike check followed and then a short shake down ride along part of the route just to get a feel for what was to come. Boy was it hot, I only went 25 miles but drank two full bottles – I was going to have to think hard about how I was going to ride this event or else I was going to crash and burn for sure.

The event was due to start on the Sunday evening so after checking out of the hotel I spent most of the rest of the day at the event HQ dozing and keeping out of the sun. With just over 150 riders starting that evening I had met up with a couple of riders from England (Richard Evans and David Bradshaw) and we kind of informally agreed to start at the back of the field and ride steady and see how it went.

After all the hanging around it was eventually time for the off, the first part of the route was mostly on cycle paths as we negotiated our way out of the north side of Bordeaux and eventually headed in to the Dordogne region. Even when the sun went down around 10pm the temperature was still high, eventually I rode through the whole night in short sleeves and shorts and no feeling of being cool at all.

The terrain was rolling with little to distract you once it got dark so just a case of keeping a steady pace and rolling along as best we could. Finding water during the night required a stop off at a local cemetery where a water tap is provided as standard in France (just in case you ever need to know).

Just before dawn we reached the first manned control at Vaunac (167km) and a welcome break and some real food and warm coffee to perk you up. I was feeling ok at this point and not that tired so things were looking good so far. Richard had been suffering from the heat before the start of the event and had limped along most of the night, he decided to rest here for a while before heading on. Two of us now got back on the road after about 40mins and rolling along as the sun started to rise and with it the heat began to build.

On a normal long distance event I would ride through the first night and sleep the second usually covering about 600(ish)km in that time. However as the day wore on and the heat continued to build that target was looking less and less realistic, my mental calculations changing as the day progressed. A little later we passed one of the event riders who was being treated by paramedics at the roadside, seems he had been struck by a vehicle and had to be helicoptered to hospital in Bordeaux (the latest info. I have is that he is in an induced coma with significant injuries – so thoughts are with him and his family).

By late afternoon I had reached the control point at Nerac (430km) in a pretty hot and stressed state and thoughts of calling it quits were entering my head. I was still riding with David and he was feeling pretty much the same. After some discussion we decided to head to the next control get some sleep and then see how we feel about things. So rather reluctantly it was back on the bikes and out into the blazing afternoon sun. By that time I had lost count of the number of bottles I had drunk during the day but it was still hard to quench my thirst.

The next control took us south towards the Pyrenees and with that the road was more up than down so it was a slow grind over the next 70km to reach our sleep stop at Le Houga (500km), well down on my normal pace for sure. Just as we arrived an ambulance was outside the control on entering the building another rider was being treated for heat stroke and was eventually carted off to hospital. So it was not just me who was feeling the heat then. Some food and drink to revive the body followed by a quick shower and a change of shorts had the required restorative affect, then upstairs for a few hours’ sleep on a matt laid out on the floor surrounded by a few dozen snoring cyclist – living the dream or what!

After a few hours’ sleep it was up and get some more food before heading back out around 4am into the dark countryside. Just as we were about to leave Richard arrived at the control, feeling a bit better and just plugging away a tough nut for sure ( you can read about his round the world trip on a recumbent “Laid Back Around the world in 180 days” available on Amazon).
The previous evenings thoughts of calling it quits were now banished as we climbed steadily towards the next control at Soumoulou (568km) arriving there just after dawn for another food stop and another 10minute power nap to fight off the dozies which had been affecting me in the run-in to the control. It’s amazing what a short nap can do, so back on the road refreshed and ready for the day ahead.

The next section took us to a place called Asson, located between Pau and Lourdes, this was followed by an out and back section from there which would take us to the top of the Col du Soulor and retrace back to Asson. This was the penultimate climb on the last mountain day of this year’s TdF, but none of them had a trusty saddle bag with them as they crested that climb so I’ll claim a moral victory for that one . The climb was a real blast all thoughts of tiredness and sore legs disappeared as I made my way up the 12km accent, before the quick turn around and back down making sure to avoid the cattle and sheep at the roadside.

After the climb the route then headed west towards the coast, after some flat(ish) terrain the road started to climb up and down as we cut across the valleys on our journey to the coast. By mid-afternoon we had reached the next control stop at Sauveterre de Bearn (726km). The control being an open marquee in a rather picturesque town square which was all rather civilised. No real time to enjoy this setting before the call of the road had us off and turning the wheels again.

Next stop was Hendaye on the Atlantic coast just over 90kms away, more ups and downs as the day wore on and the heat began to press down on us again. This called for a stop at a local shop for a cool drink and something to eat and a break from the baking sun. As evening approached the roads grew quieter and then I remembered why, France were playing Belgium in the semi-final of the world cup. There is a world outside of this cycling bubble I have been in for the last few days!! As darkness began to fall a roar was heard in the distance, France had scored I assume.

The control was to be found at the top of what seemed like a very long climb, or was that just the day taking its toll on my legs?? So just after midnight we had arrived, that’s 818km down only 400km to go. Time for some food and sleep, unfortunately there was not much food on offer at this control, a couple of crepes and a coffee was not what I was hoping for at all. So off to sleep another floor and another matt (this time a thicker one which was nice and comfy), out like a light for three hours what luxury.

Back on the road still in the dark so no real idea of what Hendaye looked like, I’m sure it’s very nice but I never got a chance to see it. As we headed away from Hendaye we passed through Saint Jean de Luz just as it was getting light and it did look a very pretty place indeed. The route would now be following the Atlantic coast for the rest of the day with the next stop being Saint Pierre d’Irube (869km) on the southern outskirts of Bayonne. I had a bag drop arranged for here so it was a nice shower and some fresh clothing before yet more food to start off a new day ( which day was it - I was struggling to remember by now).

As we left the control almost fully restored, the route took us through Bayonne just as the morning work traffic was building. A bit of a shock to the system after so many quiet roads but it did not last too long before the quiet roads returned. This section was just under a 100km and was generally heading in a northerly direction and unfortunately into the wind, although not too strong. Oh well can’t have it all your own way. A lot of this section was on good quality cycle paths that were busy with holiday makers enjoying the many campsites and holiday parks dotted along the route so plenty to occupy the mind as the kilometres ticked by.

Yet again the temperature climbed as the day wore on and by the time the control at Mimizan (965km) was reached in the early afternoon I was baked to a crisp. Cooling down required, first step head under a tap and run the cold water followed by feet up in the sink (shoes still on) and run more cold water over them …ahhh such bliss. Squelching over to the marquee where the food was being served and enjoying some conversation in broken English/French helped restore my brain to normal working (well sort of). The next control a further 70km up the road was a free control, so it was a case of sort it out yourself. From the conversation with the locals it seemed it was a very small place with only one hotel which they assured us was open, so back out in to the hot sun for more baking.

This section had long straight stretches of road with little change of scenery so it turned out to be a bit harder than expected. Thankfully with two of us it did help to share the load into the wind but it was still a grind. Eventually we reached Le Muret (1011km – yeah into the 1000’s now) only to find the restaurant closed and not opening for another hour and a half!!! We decided to take a photo of proof that we had indeed been here then asked a very kind local to fill our empty water bottles before grudgingly moving on again. A few kilometres out and I checked my pocket to make sure my phone was there only to find it was missing (Arghhhhhh) I must have left it at the last place so turned round and headed back to Le Muret on my own. When I arrived back at the hotel where I had taken the picture I could not see it anywhere obvious – stop think - then I found it in a plant pot next to where I had taken the photo , relief. Now back on the bike as I retraced my route and hoped to catch up with my riding companion (David – just so as you know he is not my imaginary friend). After close to an hour of riding and no sign of anyone up the road I kind of gave up and accepted I was on my own for the rest of the ride. As I passed through a small town low and behold sleeping in a bus stop was David (he had decided to wait up for me and took advantage of the time to grab a power nap). So we were a team again and headed off for next control.

We arrived early evening at Andernos les Bains (1064km) and yet a again I was a bit hot and frazzled, so after something to eat and drink I went for a quick 10 minute power nap, this time a matt in a corridor next to the loo  so not quite up to the standards I had experienced so far. I was awoken by a roar from a single voice, David was celebrating England scoring a goal against Croatia (that bubble again versus the outside world). Time to move on again with just under 200km to go we had decided to just carry on riding through the night again and take advantage of the cooler nights and hopefully finish early the next morning if all went to plan.

The next control point was just an information control at Lacanau Ocean (1102km) and we reached there just as it was beginning to get dark. There was not much to see on this section as we were surrounded by trees on either side of the road so spent time chatting to while away the kms. After a while we started to head east up through a forest with a closed road so no worries of cars as dark descended upon us. We just had to be wary of the wildlife.

Not long after midnight we reached the penultimate control at Lesparre Medoc (1152km) where we were given a warm welcome by the volunteers. We both decided to take a 30 minute nap before heading back out on the road so that we would finish in the daylight. It’s amazing how quickly you can fall asleep when tired.
After a little bit of faffing it was back on the road to ride at a steady pace, enjoying the star filled sky and reflecting on a very challenging few days on the bike that was almost over. Eventually the distant glow of civilisation came in to view as the light pollution from Bordeaux began to light up the sky. Slowly but surely we entered the outskirts of the finishing town.
Just as we’d hoped, the sun was rising as daylight approached and we rolled through the traffic lights, roundabouts and junctions that had been so rare during most of the ride. We rolled up to the finish just before 6am, a welcome thought of not having to cycle for a few days at least.

A great welcome from the helpers at the control, many looked just as tired as we did and they still had many more hours to go as well. Now for some food and a sleep on, you’ve guessed it, a matt on the floor – what luxury.

A great big thank you to all who helped to organise and support this event. As some of you may know, organising and helping can at time seem like a thankless task but without them events would never happen.

Part way through the event I was not enjoying it at all, pretty much all down to the heat, It was still a pretty challenging ride as can be seen by my finishing time of 81Hrs 20mins which is over 6hrs slower than my slowest PBP.

On reflection it was a really enjoyable cycle event that I’m glad I made the effort to take part in. Any day on a bike is a good day.