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CCW Pyrenees Tour 2013 - John Gallagher

“Never let the facts get in the way of a good story” - Mark Twain

Thursday 29th August

John G collects the Mercedes van from Stoke mid-morning - there is a slight problem, as each of the co-drivers need to sign the insurance declaration - this is resolved the following morning. All 15 participants meets up at The Vagrants sports-ground to load luggage, 16 bicycles and a spin dryer into the van ...

Friday 30th August

The van departs Crewe at 07:15, with a quick detour via Stoke for signatures and joins the M6 for the charge south to the Eurotunnel terminal. While on the M25, the van occupants see a Fokker Triplane fly past at low altitude. No Red Baron or his Flying Circus though. All quiet on the Western Front ... A 2 hour delay is experienced at the Channel Tunnel terminal - illegal immigrants on the line? The belatedly free coffee had the appearance and taste of water used to wash the locomotives. The van finally gets to hotel at Le Mans for 22:00. The only food available is the world’s most expensive cheese on toast. French cuisine? - pah!

The van departs Le Mans at 09:00 after its occupants consume a plastic breakfast in a plastic hotel. Ymmmmmm. The van travelled along Mulsanne straight at a law-abiding 56mph, the Bentley Boy in the cab was quite relaxed though. By now, the van is exhibiting a prodigious thirst - a pre-requisite for membership of the CCW? More on this later ... The end of the French summer holidays was noted by the presence of massive traffic jams of frustrated motorists trying to head northward towards Paris. The van cruises by at 80mph in the opposite direction. At least the nice bits of France should be a bit emptier when we arrive.

The weather is hot and sunny and the van is pointing south. There is no air conditioning and the occupants have the choice of either open windows or listen to CDs. The mobile greenhouse with the big windscreen travels with the windows open. The van reaches the Argeles Gazost campsite at 18:30, but the owner isn’t happy about it being parked on the petanque court. The French equivalent of “get your tank off my lawn” ensues and we comply in the interests of entente cordiale. More of this later. The remaining cyclists have flown to Toulouse Airport and arrive at the campsite by 19:15; all 15 CCW participants are there.

We have three static caravans, two are three bedroomed and the other has two bedrooms. Brandon and Terry elect to share a double bed in the latter, albeit in sleeping bags. The things a Best Man has to do ... Turkey Mark puts his foot through the bed slats and is quickly tangled in a heap on the floor. Peter and other witnesses are in hysterics.

Steak, duck, pizza, chips and beer are on the menu for supper at the campsite pizzeria. Giraffes and carafes of beer are enjoyed by all. The vegetarians are unimpressed with the brown food. Terry engages a middle-aged American lady in conversation when she joins us with her dog at the supper table. You may feel sorry for the late-middle aged German couple staying in the caravan sandwiched between two of our three mobile-homes. Turkey Mark tries to strike-up conversation with them. The word schadenfreude seems apt - and we weren’t that noisy either ...

Sunday 1st September

Sunshine. This is looking good. The CCW group is now joined by Wayne Patton, who made his own travel and accommodation arrangements. Straight away, there is a deviation from the itinerary. 14 riders decide on a clockwise round-trip through the Pyrenees foothills and up the Toumalet from the eastern side, via the lovely little ski-resort of La Mongie. In reality, it was uglier than its name. After only 400 yards after starting the first ride, Wayne goes for his own bit of trench warfare, to the amusement of the locals. Less amused was Jim, who after Wayne went over the top, became a “blue on blue” casualty. Was Wayne hurt? No, but only because Jim was kept away from him. Ian and John G stick to the plan for an anti-clock-wise round-trip up the Tourmalet and ride the first of three rides up the Gorge de Luz - not a euphemism. Flood damage was much in evidence with large excavators and dumpers working in the river to remove debris and shore-up precarious looking river-banks and buildings.

In Luz St Sauveur, Ian and John G see the start of a mountain running race - and also the start of the Tourmalet, which kicks-off at a friendly 10% from the town square. More flood damage was observed when on the road up the Tourmalet to Bareges - buildings were partly demolished and the road rebuilt in one place. The Tourmalet climb from the west is very scenic, much more than on the eastern side. However, it continually alters re gradient and severity of the hairpins. This is unlike Alpine cols which are more consistently engineered, but it makes for an interesting climb. The soundtrack for the Tour of the Pyrenees is firmly established on the first ride - the mellifluous sound of bells worn around the necks of sheep and cows. Some of them had horns too ...

During a steady descent towards St Marie de Campan, a monument to where Eugene Christope broke his forks in the 1913 tour is observed. The other 14 CCW riders were seen shortly afterwards, working hard ascending the less picturesque side of the mountain. There are some things that are plainly wrong to any right-thinking Englishman, despite Johnny Foreigner persisting with his bad habits for decades, nay centuries. Traffic Officer Dave demonstrates the folly of their ways by cycling from St Marie de Campan toward the Tourmalet for several hundred yards (none of those new-fangled metres here) on the left hand side of the road before admitting that even though the majority of Europeans may be morally wrong, he had better comply with their local traffic regulations and cycle sur le droit.

Back to doing things correctly: Ian and John G have lunch at St Marie de Campan - the first of many jambon et fromage baguettes. Ian and John G met other Brit cyclists at the same café - a group from Belfast, another from Bromley /Bristol and a chap touring alone on an exquisite bird-cage framed Moulton.

The climb up the Aspin was pleasant and gentle. John G met up with one of the Belfast blokes on the roadside as his left-hand crank had fallen off. We found the bolt and got him going again. A little maintenance goes a long way ... Ian and John G descended the Aspin on the same side as they climbed, then rode through Bagneres de Bigorre before turning west for Lourdes. Nuns in Lourdes apparently cross the road using faith alone - they certainly don’t seem to use their eyes and must rely on good Catholic drivers to hit the brakes. However they don’t take kindly to a loud shout of “Oi !!!” as John G (C of E) misses them by about 6 inches.

The main road between Lourdes and Argeles Gazost really is a motorway. This didn’t stop the two intrepid cyclists from CCW riding along it - and they weren’t the last ones to do so either. Quell horreur! The campsite pizzeria is closed on Sunday evenings - and so are all other restaurants in town, apparently. One carload sneaks off and craftily finds a restaurant which is open - but doesn’t share their good fortune; everyone else has tinned macaroni cheese and other similar delicacies to feast upon. More brown food.

Monday 2nd September

Sunshine again. The weather is getting warmer. Another ride up the slightly-less-lovely Gorge de Luz to Luz St Sauveur and onward toward Luz Ardiden. The road to the top is wide, well-engineered and at a nice, steady gradient - of 8%. The group soon strings-out but it’s a pleasant ride through the trees with some great views into the valley. Toward the top and above the tree-line, the road then reveals a fantastic series of hairpin bends – best seen from the summit. At the climb summit, the Luz Ardiden resort is completely closed-down, so no chance of a coffee or another jambon et fromage baguette.

Turkey Mark and Les successfully ride to the top of Luz Ardiden, with the expletives deleted from this account to protect the innocent. Mark decides to lie down on the tarmac and leaves an impressive sweat-stain on the car-park, with other organic by-products left by the sheep. ‘Tis a pity tourists won’t flock to see the cycling equivalent of the Turin Shroud. A superb descent to Luz St Sauveur enjoyed by all, Peter overcomes his demons to make good progress downhill.

A leisurely lunch was enjoyed outside on the terrace of a hotel in Luz St Sauveur, overlooking a gently burbling river which had been a raging torrent a few days before, Turkey Mark takes his shirt off and scares a small boy - mummy wasn’t too impressed either, for all sorts of reasons. After 15 minutes, hotel staff appear and offer Mark an unidentified container of white gelatinous liquid, which they assured was moisturiser. It could have been mayonnaise for all he knew ...

About half of the group decides not to climb the Hautacam and head back to the campsite. In the blazing sun and scorching heat, the other half intrepidly (?) slog their way to the top in what is by now blistering heat. Mad dogs and Englishmen ... Jim increases the load of a tractor & trailer struggling up the Hautacam road by grabbing onto a handrail and overtaking all of the cyclists. Diesel fumes never tasted so good ...

Meanwhile at the campsite, the swimming pool appeals to some individuals. However, when trying to get admitted to the pool wearing swimming shorts, they are turned away and firmly told “Non”. De Gaulle would have been proud. They need to wear Speedos or similar budgie-smuggling trunks. Undaunted, our group of wannabe swimmers changed back into boxer shorts of dubious merit and were duly allowed to dip their toes in the water.

Supper in the campsite pizzeria again, more steak, duck and pizza. More giraffes and carafes of beer too. The vegetarians remain unimpressed with the brown food. Terry again engages in polite conversation with the same middle-aged American lady (plus dog) we met a couple of evenings ago at the dinner table. Bonzo is less impressed when Terry’s size 9 gently alights on his tail. 

Afterwards, she was invited back to one of our caravans for more genteel conversation and coffee with 6 of the CCW group, but instantly takes flight back to her tent at Johnny W’s carefully dropped bomb-shell reference to a “glory-hole”: merely a term for an untidy bedroom, or something like that. The group in the caravan are somewhat bemused.

Tuesday 3rd September

More lovely sunshine. The weather forecaster on television uses the word “scorchio”. Imagine the scene: it’s market day in Argeles Gazost and the town square is barriered-off. There are many market stalls laden with an abundance of fresh produce and locals are going about their peaceful business buying provisions for the week. The Crewe Clarion enters stage-left and generally gets in the way, but thankfully no cyclists collide with any pedestrian before the road to Col du Soulor and Col d’Aubisque is reached. The road to the Soulor gradually ramps-up through some charming countryside with the ever-present jagged peaks as a backdrop up to the village of Arrens Marsous, where the gradient becomes steeper and hairpin bends make an appearance.

At the Soulor Café at the summit, drinks, cake and ice-cream is consumed. Jason gets harassed by a sheep (or was it the other way around?), at one point she puts her front hooves on his shoulders and gets quite friendly - it’s nice to see entente-cordiale remains at the forefront of Jason’s mind. After scoffing about half of his cake, the ewe is persuaded to go away by nothing more threatening than Jason vigorously ringing its bell - at least he didn’t wring its neck. We observers were most amused. It is reassuring that the café owners apparently didn’t understand basic Anglo-Saxon - but neither did the sheep.

The descent from the Soulor before the Aubisque was simply breath-taking. The scenery was superb as the road clung to the side of a cliff, as it made its way around the Cirque du Litor. Cycling just doesn’t get better than this. There were a couple of comedy interludes as various grazing animals decided to stand in the middle of the road: horses, sheep, cows and a couple of pigs. A little further on, a flock of sheep adopted best eco-warrior protest tactics and lay down in the middle of the road, regardless of the cars, motorbikes, etc. queuing-up behind. Honing tactics used earlier in the Argeles Gazost market place, intrepid CCW cyclists weaved around the sheep, but in some instances a sharp tap on the backside with the front wheel was required to get a recalcitrant animal out of the way.

The café at the Aubisque summit provided another opportunity for refreshment and to regroup. This was much busier than the Soulor as many motorcyclists and motor homes were present. The descent to Laruns was superb, the scenery phenomenal and changing constantly. While stopping to admire the view at one place, Peter kindly informed an Aussie cyclist gamefully ascending the route with a fully-laden touring bike “it’s 13% just up there”. “Thanks mate” came the reply “I’ll cheer you up one day too”.

An excellent lunch was enjoyed outside a restaurant in Laruns town square, a public information dot-matrix sign informed us the weather was 32°C and 58% humidity. Scorchio indeed. From Laruns, we head north on a back-road and see a group of gypsies camping on a wide grass verge, but their horses happened to be in the middle of the road. These gypsies were very tidy, as there were no partly dismantled Ford Escorts or stockpiles of tarmacadam anywhere to be seen. Once heading east towards Lourdes, the scenery becomes gently rolling. Part of the group accelerates away and decided to ascend the Col du Soulour again, from the north. This was also a very pleasant route, but the phrase “mad dogs and Englishmen” again springs to mind. The remainder of the group splits into three and independently head to Lourdes to ride along the main thoroughfare, where no further instances of upsetting Nuns was recorded. The first two groups managed to independently find their way onto the motorway to Argeles Gazost, each thinking “this is OK, there’s other cyclists a hundred yards in front / behind” (delete as applicable). French motorists weren’t quite as forgiving, as there was much hooting – they didn’t like it.

Having avoided the motorway (and learned that lesson on Sunday), John G’s cohort rode to Argeles Gazost on a superb cycle track, built along the route of a disused railway. Turkey Mark and Les rode back with just each other for company and got hopelessly lost in Lourdes. An hour and 30 minutes later ... they too found themselves riding on the motorway to Argeles Gazost.

Supper was eaten at a restaurant in Argeles Gazost, it was on a hillside overlooking the valley and had a superb view to Hautacam. Unfortunately, the nights were fairly drawing in and this panorama was wasted on us. Ian fell asleep at the supper table.

Wednesday 4th September

I’m pleased that the Meteo France website continues to honour my advance booking for superb weather for the week once again - today’s weather was tremendous. The group has decided to split into two factions - one group having a rest-day, either at the campsite or by driving in the cars to accompany the second group: 7 cyclists who ride to the highest road in the French Pyrenees: the Port de Boucharo, 2270m elevation (7447 feet, in old money). Once again, the ride commences with a climb up the Gorge de Luz, which is by now losing its appeal. Beyond Luz St Sauveur is the Pont du Napoleon, built to span a limestone gorge approx. 100m deep. Napoleon wasn’t very tall, as the handrails were quite low. Peter buys a raspberry beret from a souvenir shop by the bridge, within moments this is being worn by Brandon as he loudly offers French-accented encouragement from one of our cars to the cyclists.

The road to Gavarnie is smooth, wide and well-engineered, progress to the village is reasonably quick. Our group of 5 cyclists is caught by Gerard and Jim, who ride with us to the village. The 5 of us decide to stop for an early lunch in the village square, outside a restaurant - all very civilised, except it is jambon et fromage baguette again. Gerard and Jim continue to the summit.

The car occupants decide to hike up to the Cirque de Gavarnie, a UNESCO World Heritage site. Johnny is given quizzical looks for wearing sandals on the footpath and not hiking boots. From Gavarnie, the road soon steepens and becomes more challenging for the cyclists. At one point the road traverses beneath ominously overhanging cliff - but no bits of stone fell off. Sheep are again present on the upper parts of the road, surprisingly there are a couple of new-born lambs with the ewes.

The end of the road is just short of the Spanish border, but there is a km post marked “D923F”, where F means “Fin”. The views of the mountains and exposed structural geology in the cliff faces are superb. It’s a shame there is a car-park and 100+ cars there, but at least that means motorised traffic is kept in one place. Most of those who rode to Port de Boucharo decided to ride straight back to the campsite, however Gerard and Jim, plus a few from the cars decided to cycle into Lourdes for the afternoon.

Supper in the campsite pizzeria once again, more steak, duck and pizza. More giraffes and carafes of beer enjoyed by all. The vegetarians continue to be unimpressed with the brown food. Bags are then packed, ready for the transfer day to Bagneres de Luchon tomorrow.

Thursday 5th September

Once again, the weather gods are benign and are smiling down upon us. Wayne departs for home, via an emporium in southern England which delights in the name of “Choccywoccydoodah”. This is something to do with chocolate, apparently. Your scribe had to look at their website to see if it wasn’t a leg-pull and to ensure the correct spelling, for the record. The high cost of dentistry precludes a visit, as I don’t want to experience the extraction of a large cheque. The van was packed with luggage and a few bikes, 7 CCW riders are in the vehicles and the remaining 8 decide to ride to Bagneres de Luchon. Of the riders, some decide to ascend the Tourmalet from the better, more scenic western side, followed by the Aspin and Peyresourde and the remainder ride northward toward the foothills to avoid the Tourmalet. Jason, Dave and Ian travel in the Seat and get to Bagneres de Luchon for a leisurely lunch. 

The start of their journey didn’t look too good as they drove on the left-hand side of the road to and through the campsite gate. Les rides shotgun with John G in the van, Peter accompanies Turkey Mark in the VW. The motorway toll machine does not accept cash, only credit cards. Turkey Mark gets into a flap and frustrates the queue of motorists behind him. Less entente cordiale, more like Up yours, Delores. The van and VW arrive at the Bagneres de Luchon campsite at 12:30, only to fall foul of the traditional leisurely French lunch: “Non. C’est ferme. Ouvre a 14:00 monsieur”. Not even a proffered credit card could persuade the proprietor to change his mind.

Les, Turkey Mark, Peter and John G proceed to the town centre to get lunch, Turkey Mark driving the VW and requiring help / additional instructions from his passengers as the satnav becomes confused, apparently. A very pleasant lunch was consumed in the town square, by one of the many churches. This was amusing due to the bell tolling every quarter hour - it sounded like someone hitting a girder with a hammer. Also noteworthy was watching motorists negotiate a massive speed bump - at least half the car crunched or scraped the tarmac. One would have thought the combined efforts of French motorists over the last couple of years would have eroded this to a pimple by now.

Of the eight who opted to ride from Argeles-Gazost to Bagneres de Luchon, John F, Mark N, Brandon and Terry decided to follow Sunday morning’s route to St. Marie de Campan to avoid the climb of the Tourmalet and then climbed the Aspin before descending to Arreau for lunch. Although perhaps less demanding than the Tourmalet, this route is still difficult, and more than stands comparison with the Horseshoe Pass or the Cat and Fiddle.

Johnny, Gerard, Jim and Andy left a little later to cross the Tourmalet. (Johnny refers to the western

climb of the Tourmalet as “the Tart’s side”, mainly to wind-up John G and Ian who had climbed it on

Sunday. It is certainly less severe than the eastern climb, but nevertheless an Hors Category col in its own right). A brisk pace was set up the Gorge de Luz to Luz St. Sauveur, as it had been advertised that the Tourmalet would be closed for one and a half hours a third of the way up at Bareges from 10:30. Turning on to the climb at Luz St. Sauveur, we were met with long queues of traffic and a series of temporary traffic lights, all of which was dealt with in time-honoured fashion. 

At one point Jim had to stare-down a giant earth moving vehicle which was vying for road space. One-nil to Jim. Bareges was reached before the road was closed, and after a quick ‘phone call to those in the cars to advise against following this route, we set off again. Johnny quickly skipped away, (as is his habit), not to be seen again until the top. Jim, Gerard, and Andy ascended steadily, sometimes together, sometimes 300 metres apart, before coming together on the final hairpin to reach the summit in team formation. Jim and Johnny led the head-long plunge into the valley below, closely followed by Gerard, with Andy a distant lantern rouge. Down through Le Mongie, to St. Marie de Campan where we stopped for water (in and out), before joining the route taken by the others over the Aspin. After a gentle ride along the valley floor, the road climbs at about 6% through the woods for the last 7km or so. A truce was called on this climb and we rode up together. After enjoying the views from the top, and finding a pair of sun-glasses which looked remarkably like those belonging to Mark N, we descended the Aspin in the same order as before. This descent was probably one of the most picturesque of the week.

At the foot of the Aspin we met with John F, Mark N, Brandon, and Terry at a pizzeria, where we stopped for lunch. Mark was duly re-united with his sun-glasses - it’s the little things like this that sometimes make all the difference. They then set off for the Peyresourde, not to be seen again until Bagneres de Luchon.

After some lunch, Johnny, Jim, Gerard and Andy set off for the Peyresourde, which, like the Aspin

consisted of a longish gentle climb through the valley before rearing up, albeit more severely than the Aspin. Johnny (naturally) reached the col first, with Gerard in second place. Jim just pipped Andy for third. The traditional pecking order was observed on the long swooping descent into Bagneres de Luchon, where we then went in search of the others. Much to our surprise, we found then camped outside a bar sampling the local brew. Whilst this is most unlike Crewe Clarion members, we thought it would be impolite not to join them, so pulled up a chair. After checking-in to the second campsite après 14:00, John G was given the keys to a bunkhouse - spartan but meeting our requirements. Ian and John G then rode the Hors category climb to Superbagneres, the road was superbly engineered and a pleasure to ride on, the views again spectacular. Flood damage was again evident, with the road washed away in a couple of instances on the lower parts of the climb. A large 19th century hotel at the summit was an apt venue for coffee on the terrace, although from a distance it loomed on the horizon like Colditz Castle. The climb to the Col du Portillon on the Spanish border seemed to have lost its appeal, next time perhaps. 

In the evening, the CCW riders who cycled from Argeles Gazost and all of the others had congregated outside a restaurant in Bagneres de Luchon for pre-dinner drinks and supper. Bikes parked against shop fronts and the rising volume of English voices soon led Ian and John G to where the rest of the CCW party were encamped. A good meal and an immoderate quantity of beer later, people’s behaviour starts to change. Terry became excited and started rushing up and down the main boulevard for no reason - apparently. A manic bike ride ensues to the campsite after the meal and in darkness, much to the amusement of an Italian party at the restaurant who may have been taking odds on who would or wouldn’t make it back. It helps to have lights ... Terry fell off, apparently. Courtesy of Mark N’s sound system, an impromptu party started at the campsite and continued until about 3 a.m. The neighbours weren’t impressed, more Germans perhaps?

Friday 6th September

The weather shows signs of breaking - only so many sacrifices can be accepted on the high alter of the Meteo France website. The day dawns with patchy cloud, it was clear and sunny for a couple of hours, but cloud thickens in the afternoon. Thunder storms commenced mid-evening and continue overnight. Again the CCW riders split into two groups. Most riders opt for a shorter ride to Mauleon Barousse and over Port de Bales before returning to the campsite, Ian and John G opt for the full day ride over both the Col de Peyresourde and Port de Bales. Of the remainder, twelve riders left Bagneres de Luchon to tackle the Port de Bales, Terry stayed in bed nursing a hang-over. We rode north along the valley in a fast moving line, before turning left to go in search of the climb. After a brief stop, we set off again in dribs and drabs. It was a long wooded climb, into increasingly misty / foggy conditions, more reminiscent of North Wales than the south of France. Johnny set off last, but of course, reached the top before everyone else. John F was second and Peter was a very creditable third.

Last man up was Turkey, whose substantial frame emerged from the fog like a galleon. He celebrated with his usual chorus of Anglo- Saxon, which chimed beautifully with the Alpine bells sported by the cattle at the summit. A long and at times quite tricky descent followed back to Bagneres de Luchon, which was reached just before the first rain of the week arrived. Peter descended particularly well having clearly overcome his hesitant start to the week. The climb up to the Col de Peyresourde for Ian and John G is well engineered and scenic, once the environs of Bagneres de Luchon were left behind. The ramparts for the final few hairpins were impressive, when viewed from below. The amusingly named villages of Oo and Germ were noted. The village of Borderes Louron has recently had a festival, numerous strings of paper roses are suspended above the river and they look very appealing.

Coffee and Coissants in Arreau is very pleasant, but the experience marred by the owner of a gift shop that takes too long gift-wrapping bits & pieces. Time appears to move slowly and another geological epoch commences ... Back on the bikes, progress is rapid northward to La Barthe de Neste, where a turn eastward is made before lunch at Montrejeau. The bridge leading to Mauleon Barousse and Port de Bales had been washed-out by storms, so Ian and John G had to proceed further south before turning north west and commencing the climb. There were plenty of banners and bunting in the villages at the lower slopes of Port de Bales, as the Vuelta was due to climb it in the same direction two days later. Climbing up Port de Bales, two things became obvious. Firstly, the lack of any real gradient in the first few miles brings to mind the phrase “I’ll pay for this later”. Secondly, the weather was becoming gloomier and sure enough the road entered low cloud. Not only did this obscure any views of the mountains above the tree-line, it also reduced both visibility and temperature quite rapidly. Water vapour condensed onto both cycle and cyclist, hair on arms being covered by a myriad of small droplets.

The sign for one km posts an average gradient of 10%. It certainly wasn’t that steep by the sign and the Michelin map of the area shows a triple-arrow and the annotation 14% at one point ...

At the top of the climb, a pair of workmen had commenced constructing temporary shelters, etc. in preparation for the Vuelta. The only other works undertaken had been to tarmac-over a cattle grid and spray-painted exclamation marks on the road at various difficult bends and other hazards. The decent was unremarkable, but it was nice to get back onto the Peyresourde road and have a properly engineered highway to cycle on back to the campsite.

The last evening beckons and all are limbering-up for a momentous night on the town. John G pays heed to the television weather forecast, notes absence of the word “scorchio” and the presence of lightening symbols, decides to drive the van into Bagneres de Luchon. The rain duly commenced mid-evening, incidentally the thunderstorm itself arrived during the night. The Aussie bar is the location of choice to have a swift half and most of the cohort decides to go and eat after an hour or so. At the restaurant, heavy rain prevents eating outside, but nevertheless the atmosphere is convivial. Meanwhile, the remainder decide to spend the evening in the Aussie bar. The owner is quite a formidable lady, a Glaswegian would describe her as a “nippy sweetie” - attractive but with a sharp tongue. Her technique for selling some CCW members more beer or shots, must be modelled on the technique for selling sands to Arabs or coals to Newcastle. She would sidle-up to the customer with a nearly empty glass, stroke their arm and purr “another drink boys?” into the poor, unsuspecting mug-punter’s ear. The phrase “putty in her hands” doesn’t do this justice, it was too easy and more like witnessing Mrs Praying Mantis inviting Mr Praying Mantis for a bit of rumpy-pumpy. The end result in Bagneres de Luchon was far messier ...

Comparing Turkey Mark’s thirst that evening to the Mercedes van is a trifle unfair to Mercedes ... At the end of the evening, Turkey Mark decides to visit the gents - which is in the basement and accessed via a spiral staircase. Johnny W does a very good rendition of the classic Laurel and Hardy film of moving a piano up a long flight of steps ... he had his shoulder dug into Mark’s backside, trying to propel him back up the spiral staircase, when gravity, beer and lack of comprehension were doing the opposite. It does the soul good to see Johnny having to work hard going uphill on those rare occasions.

The first van ride home was a sober-sided affair and mention won’t be made of Ian falling off the wheel-arch due to a heavy brake application as the van overshot the campsite entrance. The second van ride home for the Aussie bar customers victims was an entirely livelier occasion. It is fair to report a reasonable degree of high-jinks occurred in the van, a by-product of which was the van was very difficult to drive in a straight line. A second effect was a less than ideal journey for Turkey Mark. Rumours of a leak in the van roof were baseless ... Demonstrating a willingness to make as much noise as the thunderstorm, another party kicks-off in the house. Turkey Mark involuntarily decides his purchases made at the Aussie bar weren’t so good after-all and decides to divest himself of his investment as rapidly as possible ... twice.

Saturday 7th September

On the final morning, the thunderstorm and heavy rain continues. This makes for a tricky drive northward towards Le Mans, with several considerate French drivers showing us where the road was slippery beforehand. Back to the same plastic hotel in Le Mans - not only did Andy, John F and John G have the same room, but they had the same beds. Hope the sheets had been changed in the intervening week. A celebratory meal was had in the ancient Plantaganet city of Le Mans - but sadly this was in the plastic pizzeria next door to the plastic hotel. More brown food for the vegetarian ...

Sunday 8th September

An early start on Sunday morning saw the van get on the road at 04:45. Unlike UK motorways, the French autoroutes were deserted for the first hour or so. A disadvantage of the early start was the cold air the van now had to push out of the way. At one point, the indicated average fuel consumption reduced to 20.9mpg. Arriving at the Channel Tunnel at 09:00, the service this time ran very well. A quick trip along the M20, M25, M40 and M6 saw the van arrive at The Vagrants sports-ground at 14:30, where various items of luggage, 16 bicycles and the spin-dryer were reunited with their respective owners.

In Summary

· Nobody undertook each and every ride described in the itinerary, but it is very creditable to note that CCW cyclists ascended the following cols. Most of these are Hors Category, a few are 1st Category: Tourmalet (both sides), Aspin, Luz Ardiden, Hautacam, Soulor (two sides), Aubisque, Port de Bucharo, Superbagneres, Peyresourde (both sides) and Port de Bales. 

· The western side of the Col du Tourmalet is definitely the best side to ride up, despite Johnny W’s loudly-voiced opinions.

· Despite the best efforts of Traffic Officer Dave, the French persist in driving on the wrong side of the road.

· Tractors may be required to ascend part of the Hautacam.

· The tour of the Soulor and Aubisque was probably the best day of cycling most of us will have.

· Sheep like Jason.

· The first campsite was great, we were well received and well looked-after.

· Giraffes and carafes are most enjoyable.

· Dodgy boxer shorts can be used to go swimming.

· The second campsite was more basic, but met our requirements very well.

· German campers don’t like British cyclists as neighbours.

· CCW can be louder than a thunderstorm.

· The vegetarians got fed-up with brown food.

· The rest of us got fed-up with jambon et fromage baguettes.

· Nuns don’t know about the Green Cross Code.

· British cyclists really shouldn’t ride along motorways.

· Americans can’t contemplate glory-holes.

· Beware of female Aussie bar owners.

· The weather was superb throughout, mostly.

· Everyone got on really well.

· 15 happy cyclists, 1 happy organiser.

· What happens on tour stays on tour.

And finally ...

· Nobody was invited to join Audlem.

Dolgellau - April 2012


 Dolgellau to Nantwich / Crewe. 29th April 2012. An account of the ride home from the annual Crewe Clarion trip to Dolgellau where the weather Gods conspired against the riders every step of the way.

On Saturday 28th April 2012, twenty cyclists set off from Nantwich, accompanied by a support car, carrying overnight bags, with racks for two bikes. Support car driven by Pete, with his bike on top. Pete swapped with Les at Corwen, and rode the second half while Les drove. All riders reached Dolgellau by 4.15pm. Weather had been good. A dry day after several days of showers. Even some pleasant warm sunshine in the hills above Coed y Brenin Forest. Later, Dan joined us after being driven out to Bala and then riding in. So, 22 in all, sleeping overnight. Curry and beer in the evening. Bed, a bit late for one or two, and then up 7.30, on Sunday 29th.

On Sunday we all took part in a day’s cycling that will live with us for the rest of our lives. A weather system blew in just as we were setting off. It was caused by low pressure lying to the south of Britain which dragged rain and strong winds across England and Wales, and caused the temperature to drop close to freezing at sea level. Gusts of wind were reported above 60 mph across North Wales, even as high as 90 mph on the peaks of Snowdonia. Over 2 inches of rain fell on North Wales, and the temperature above 300 metres dropped below freezing. Trees were reported down across the region and there was widespread flooding. A gale blew hard from an east, north easterly direction all day, and it rained incessantly for almost 9 hours from 8.30am to 5.30pm. Our journey of 95 miles would involve pedalling in an east, north easterly direction for 9 hours, from 9.00am to 6.00pm, and climbing to nearly 500 metres as we crossed the infamous Bwlch y Groes pass over to Lake Vyrnwy and on into England, back towards Nantwich and Crewe.

A group of eight riders left just after 8.30. These riders had the sense to abandon the ride, and trains were caught from Machynlleth (2 riders) and Welshpool (6 riders). It was a very tough ride to reach these stations, and most were not home until mid afternoon. A second group of twelve riders set off at 9.00am. Youngest 18, oldest 64. Most in 40’s and 50’s. None were wearing winter kit. Arm warmers and leg warmers were standard and waterproof tops of varying quality were being worn. 

What follows is one person’s account of the ride....

“We few, we band of brothers”

“This journey beggared our language: no words could express its horror”

Johnny W group departed just before 9.00am. 12 riders and the support car, with Les driving and Brandon as passenger. Light rain. Very grey sky. Strong wind blowing from the east. Cold! Steady climb out of Dolgellau on A470. Relatively normal conditions until halfway up the climb of Cross Foxes. Then wind gusting dangerously from our left, snatching at front wheels; riders leaning oddly to their left. Slow going. As the road gradually turns in a more easterly direction, the climb becomes very hard. Wind almost stopping us. At last, the top. Les and Brandon in the layby. We all dive for shelter behind the side of the Volvo. Phew, that was desperate! We wait for the others to come up. 

What are we going to do? We can’t go over “the Bwlch” in this. Johnny sets his jaw. We are going over. Nobody speaks. Nobody agrees. I say, “It’ll be desperate up there. It may be difficult to walk over it.” Johnny argues it will be safer over the Bwlch than going down the Welshpool road. The wind is bashing us into the road. The Welshpool road will be busy. Better on the Bwlch with no traffic. Still no one agrees. We are not sure. Is it foolhardy? Johnny changes tactic. Tells us all to go and join Audlem. Shakes his head. Swears at us. Ok! We’ll go over it. He’s right. There is no relief from this weather. Better on the Bwlch than fighting the traffic on the A road. Last man is up the climb. Let’s go. Back out, and the road starts to drop. Everything is grey. First the bends to negotiate. Jesus that wind is frightening. Braking. Why am I braking? Daren’t let it go. Through

the bends. Now straight. Let it go. Jesus, whack, the wind thrashes into us! What is wrong with my bike? Whack. Hold tight. Sit deep. Front wheel wobbling weirdly. It wont stop. I’m going to come off. Braking – on the straight. The wind hits again - whack. Nearly stopped. Now off again. Still descending. Still wobbling. F**k it! Just hold it. Down at last. Better when pedalling. Gust after gust. 

Christ, a tree, right across the road. Must have just come down. Have to ride over the top few twigs, and on we go. Dinas Mawddwy. We stop at the junction. Tell the others to go on, we’ll wait for the rest to come up. Where are Steve and John? We wait 5, maybe 6 minutes for them to finally arrive. John has been blown off his bike. He’s ok, but shaken. Steve not happy. “I’m not going up there”. You’ve got to Steve. We have to stay together. Come on we’re going. Steve and John follow. Better in the valley. Just! Debris on the road, but wind less mental. Still horribly strong but not impossible. Forgotten how far it is to the climb. Takes ages. Steve and John off the back. They are following aren’t they? This is it. The bridge, now the climb. Johnny says, “Well, put it in bottom, and that’s that”. Bottom is 39, 27. Will it be enough? I know Johnny is on 42, 25, but he’s stronger than me. Some have lower but others not. We’re a racing club, we don’t go big on triples and the like. Round the hairpins. Not too bad. Sheltered. This is ok. 

Now out onto the exposed road as it clings to the hillside to our left. The wind is not being channelled too badly down here. We can do this. Johnny and Andy G ride away. Don’t follow. Go at your own pace. Stay within yourself! On and up it goes. Steve suddenly passes me. Don’t surprise me like that. We exchange pleasantries and he soon puts distance between us. It’s steep but doable. Other riders are in the distance. Tiny specks of yellow or blue amid the greyness. Still it climbs. I can’t sit down. Back is killing. Wind catching us harder and harder as we rise. There’s Mark. He’s walking. I know he has ridden over this several times, and never walked. Can I make it to him? Now it’s one leg at a time. Left leg down. Right leg down. Two miles an hour? Wind stronger. Rain lashing at us, or is that sleet. Here’s Mark. “Go on Gez.” I’ve only got a few more pedal strokes in me. Look up – oh God there’s ages yet. The road bends to the left. What’s this? Johnny has stopped. He is leaning against the crash barrier. Stopped dead with his head down. The wind has caught hold of Rory and Steve and slammed them into the crash barrier on our right, allowing them a spectacular view of the steep slope into the valley below. Andy is walking. Now Steve is walking. Right, I don’t need any more encouragement. I unclip and I’m off. No wonder! We are now catching the full force of the gale. Hard to walk. Thank God I’m on SPD’s. Most on road shoes, struggling to even walk. They are trying to walk up the grass to the right of the road, but it’s covered in icy snow. 

As I get to Johnny he tries to set off again. He veers into the road, the wind whips at him and he is forced right round, feet unclipped, legs dangling wildly out to the sides, while he cries “whoooaaah!”. He looks as though he is performing some sort of slapstick comedy routine on a bike. We watch, fascinated. Somehow he stays on but is now heading down the hill and can’t stop. This is crazily bizarre. He manages, with both feet down and brakes full on to stop in about 100 yards. It should be funny but nobody’s laughing. The Volvo comes through. From in the car, Brandon sees us all. All off our bikes, scattered across the climb. He says to Les. “It’s broken them. All of “the Crewe” are off their bikes. The best we’ve got.” They stop at the top. Brandon comes down to push bikes. But you need your bike to hold you up. The bike has become a crutch. Nobody wants to let go of their bikes. At last we reach the Volvo. Christ it’s cold. Les has opened up the back of the estate. We huddle and shelter. Brandon feeds us cake. Les says he admires us, and that medals should be struck. Steve, Rory, Jim and Paul go on. Then Pete goes and Mark follows him. We wait (me, Andy G, Johnny) for Ian, Andy P and John to come up. Feed them cake. We’ve done it. Over the Bwlch on the worst day of the year, probably the worst April day for years. We had to walk the last part, but on this day ropes and crampons were more appropriate equipment than bicycles.

A cry of “Let’s get to the pub” and we’re off, descending to Vyrnwy. Now it must get easier. What misguided fools. Freezing cold with heavy rain / sleet falling. Hands frozen, can’t feel my fingers. None of us can feel our fingers. I can hardly brake. I smack my hands against my legs; got to get some feeling in them. Now the road rises and I need to change down. Can’t feel the levers, so maul the bike over the rise. I’d forgotten that the first part of this “descent” rolls up as well as down. Bends, sheep, potholes and stones washed across the road. Now the proper descent. Wow it’s tricky. The driving rain makes it difficult to see what’s on the road as I struggle to bring my speed down with hands and brakes that are just not coping. Johnny passes me, throwing his bike from one side of the lane to the other as he corners, and is soon out of sight. How does he dare descend like that in this weather?

At last I see the lake, and I’m down. We wait at the junction. What a place. Soaking rain; freezing cold. The wind is gusting, unbroken, straight up the full length of the lake and hitting the big trees at the end. And we are behind them. Through the trees you can see the grim grey water of Vyrnwy, whipped up into a turbulent sea of choppy waves. It looks utterly forbidding. There is debris everywhere. A branch flies past us. We have to stay to make sure they all turn right. Come on! Just now this is an awful, dangerous place. Ian and Andy P go on. It’s cold. We’re shivering. At last we see the lights of the Volvo. A final mighty gust hits the trees – they lean menacingly towards us. Please stay up. John’s here. We go. Rain heavier. Soaked. Feet and hands suffering. The road round the lake is covered all the way in bits of onifer trees, branches, twigs, green spruce, pine cones and stones. Some unavoidable, like a carpet laid across the road; just have to ride through them. Please, please don’t puncture. It seems forever to get round it. Every road is now somehow twice its usual length. Where is the dam? At last it appears, and there are Ian and Andy P. Left across the dam, and right onto the road to Llanfyllin. Less debris; surely we are through the worst.

Rain torrential. Struggling into the wind. All soaked through. Still bitterly, unseasonably cold. Can’t wait to go uphill again; maybe it will warm us up a bit. On and on we go. Sheep on the road. Six of them, adults and lambs. They decide to join us, and run with us, as welcome as loose horses in the Grand National. They tire; they are going to bring us off. We hurl curses at them, and they go. Rain, rain, rain. Roads awash. Fields awash. Another junction. Are we all together? No. Wait. Cold. Shiver. Here he is. Go on. I pass John F and he says in a strange, helpless, desperate voice, “I’m cold; I’m just so cold.” Still heavier it rains, and we slog onwards. The junction for the Llanfyllin road arrives. Two go on, the restwait. All together again and ride through Llanfyllin. There’s Mark at the side of the road. He joins and on we go. I know it is less than 3 miles to the pub and I push on. At last I’m on the climb up to the pub. Up the final few yards and there is the Volvo outside The Stumble Inn. Never was a pub more aptly named. Where are the other bikes? I lean mine against the front wall and go in. Les and Brandon inside. Where are the others? Les says this is it. No one is here. Mark comes in, and then Ian, Andy G, Johnny and John F.

We shiver uncontrollably as we remove wet tops, gloves, hats, overshoes. Brandon orders pots of tea. We can’t speak properly. Roast dinners are ordered. We stagger about and shiver. People in the pub watch us with confused, wary expressions. John F is by the log burner, bent over, contorted like a possessive Gollum with his precious. Finally we sit and drink our tea, spilling it down our chins and across the table as our hands shake stupidly. Where are the others? Have they gone on? They could not possibly push on for home. Johnny says Andy P stopped in Llanfyllin. Ian says he spoke to people sheltering at the lake, and they had seen cyclists going straight on at the dam. Why? There’s no road through there. Mark says there’s a café down there. Ok, so they must be in there. Do they remember where this pub is? Mark is concerned for Pete, who he had passed and so should have been between him and the Johnny W group. Where is he? Why had we not seen him? Food arrives: we eat; we stop shaking, but we can’t shake off this feeling of unease. Andy P comes in. He stopped at a café in Llanfyllin. He’s ok, still in good spirits. Then finally, a shout of “here’s Steve.” Thank God; they are here. “This will be interesting” his dad says as we wait for Steve to come in. The door opens and in he walks. I look at him and think that I’ve seen that facial expression somewhere before. And suddenly it hits me. He looks just like Turkey Mark does as he climbs off at the top of a killer climb. He’s even got the same mad, angry swinging strut that Turkey Mark does when he’s had enough. He strides across the pub, face like thunder, throws his soaking gloves to the floor, stands and looks wildly at us, and growls, “What the f**k is going on?” The pub goes quiet and we all stare at him in silence; and then we all fall about laughing hysterically as we realise, in that simple question, Steve has just about summed up the day. Steve’s face relaxes into a smile and he shakes his head resignedly as he sits down and joins us. Jim and Pete come in, both looking strong. Then Rory and Paul. They are suffering. They look as though they have the least clothing on, and Paul shakes uncontrollably.

Rory sits down, does not remove wet clothes, stares desperately into the distance to an imagined far off land of warm home and comforting mother, puts his head in his hands and for all the world it appears that he will break down. Andy G quietly tells him to take off his wet top and sit on the floor by the radiator. Rory obeys. It may be worth continuing to live. Paul joins John F by the log burner, but he can’t stop shaking. Meanwhile Ian has quietly found himself a chair right in the middle of the pub and immediately fallen asleep. Fast asleep. All this madness around him and he sleeps soundly, contentedly, like a dad in a deckchair on the beach. More food is eaten; tea and coffee drunk. We recover. Now we have to leave. Extra tops are ransacked from the Volvo. I put on 7 tops and think is it enough? We put back on our cold wet hats, gloves, overshoes and rain tops. What does it matter? In 3 minutes outside we will be soaked through again. We call out “Thank you landlord.” He jokes with us about next years trip. We tell him he’ll never see us again. Only joking (I think). A lady customer shouts out that her car is registering the outside temperature as 2 degrees. She takes no pleasure in this, only looks concerned that we may not make it.

The wind whips us as we stand and gather our bikes. No improvement then. The rain lashes down, and we go. Just the same. I was wrong, it only takes two minutes to soak us through. Pete and Steve on the front. Steve, usually so careful not to half-wheel his adjacent rider, is constantly half a wheel in front of Pete. It feels good to be behind them. There is some shelter from the gusty, biting blasts. Can’t let Pete stay there. He slows on a rise and I go through and join Steve. Blimey it’s hard here. I chat with Steve. The warmth of the pub, the roast dinner and hot tea are still working, and we joke about the day. Steve says he regressed to being a sulky 12 year old at Dinas Mawddwy. He had his dad with him, and he wanted his dad to ‘sort it out’ and take him home. We chuckle at the thought of this. We ride on. We cross the River Vyrnwy. It’s full. It looks more like the Brahmaputra. Fields on either side waterlogged. The rain is unrelenting. It has been lashing it down for over 5 hours. Llanymynech recedes behind us (our old club run stop). We are within club run distance. 40 / 45 miles to go? Can we do it? Steve not talking now. The pace goes up and he’s half wheeling me now. I feel a kind of tense, aggressive energy from Steve, and I see him check his computer. He curses quietly and I know he’s seen how little distance we’ve covered since the pub. 

He pushes on and the pace goes up again. Water everywhere. The road: one of those bumpy, uneven, stomach wrenching surfaces, and all of us hurtling along; crazily splashing, plunging through huge puddles, veering wildly to the centre of the road to avoid lakes of water on our left. All happening in a sort of twilight world of grey; cars passing with headlights blazing white flashes across the waterlogged road. This is hurting. I can’t ask him to slow. Try the big ring. On we push into this bloody gusting, soaking headwind. Steve wants to get home. He’s killing me. I’ll make it to the junction at Knocking. Mark shouts a joke about “Knocking wing mirrors off”, a reference to last year’s ride. Nobody answers. Here comes the junction. I slow and as we move onto the Ruyton road Jim joins Steve on the front. Through Ruyton and then Baschurch and turn for Burlton. I’m hurting. Are the others? Andy G with Steve on the front. Rain hurling down. Cross roads and on towards Loppington. A shout from behind. Paul’s not here and the car’s not here. Steve goes on. Jim and Rory and Mark and then Andy P continue. We wait. Someone says Paul has had it and they are somehow trying to get him and his bike into the car. We continue. Now all split. Huge lakes of water across the road. Blindly freewheeling through them, hoping to avoid hidden potholes, stones, dead animals.

On we go. Rain heavy as ever. We pick up Andy P and Rory, then see Mark ahead. We’ll catch Mark and ride together. A shout! What now? Puncture. Shit! How can we change this? Hands frozen, everything soaked. I go back. Andy P, Rory and Pete go on singly. I hope they catch Mark. The Volvo is here. I see Paul in the passenger seat, trying to get warm. Somehow Les and Brandon have defied the laws of physics and squeezed another person and his bike into an already full car. Les is sorting the puncture. It’s chucking it down and Les has given his waterproof to Rory. He’s getting soaked. He’s rushing. Too much air in the tube. He tries to stuff it under the tyre. “It’s creased Les. It’s got to go back in right or we’ll be doing this again in 5 minutes.” He tries again. Better. Tyre on. Thank goodness, a track pump from the car. And we’re off. The Volvo passes us. Do we want to slip stream? No chance! The Volvo is waved on. We turn into the lane for Whixall. BANG. Down goes Ian’s back tyre again. It was pinched. It is 5 minutes later. Now the car’s not here and they wont know where we are. Johnny is sorting out the tyre with Ian. John F is shaking.

Still raining hard; wind gusting across flat, wet, exposed fields. We are desperately cold. I look at them all. There are only five of us left. I think, we are almost done in and there’s still well over 20 miles to go. Johnny’s gloves are off and his hands look a strange sort of black and blue colour. He’s fighting with the tyre and inner tube. He looks up and past me into the distance, his face contorted; half hidden under his sodden hat, and I’m reminded of photographs of polar explorers. Thousand yard stares, not wanting to face the reality of what is happening around them. I think, “This is the End” and I hear the Doors’ fatalistic strains in my brain. “This is the End.” The tyre wont go back on.

It’s one of those twatty deep rims that make it so difficult to stretch the tyre over. It would be hard to do this in your warm kitchen. Out here, now, in this rain and with frozen hands it’s impossible. I ring Les and explain where we are. He says he’s on his way, but I know he wont find us. I take the wheel from Johnny. I’ve got my soaking wet , cold gloves on. I think horrible, evil, murderous thoughts about that tyre, and then I grab it and squeeze every last bit of life out of it and suddenly it’s on. It’s on the rim. “Check it!’ Johnny says. We check it, me and Ian, our cheeks nearly touching; peering in together at what seems to my slowly numbing brain to be a rather fetching blue rim tape under the tyre. No sign of the tube. It’s ok. Ian pumps it up with a mini pump. Another 20 I say. He’s knackered, but keeps going. Just 10 more. It’s enough. And we go on. We say, we’ll be like war veterans, unable to talk about what we’ve been through, except with those who went through it with us. People will say “they never talk about it”. But we know they wouldn’t understand. It’s too weird and horrible to relate.

Water everywhere. Huge lakes. Now too big to freewheel through. Have to pedal and plough on through them. Complete silence. Then Johnny says that it looks as though its brightening in the distance. He’s right, the rain is easing. Maybe we’ll get there. Out onto the Wem road. Shall we go through Prees? That back lane could be impassable. We decide on Tilstock and past Prees Heath. As we pass each side lane, I look across and see nothing but water. They look more like canals than roads. A stop just before Prees Heath. Ring Brandon and explain the route we are taking. Last road will be Coole Pilate. He says he’s got it. I’m about to turn the phone off when I hear him ask brightly, “Hey Gez, do you think you’ll be having the usual burn up at the end of Coole Pilate?” I say “no, no I don’t think so”, in a weary, heavy hearted, tired to my bones sort of voice. Brandon says “no, no I suppose not.”

We cross the A41. Ash then Ightfield. Yes the rain has stopped. The sky is a lighter grey. No less wet. Lanes flooded, splashing water all over us. Audlem Road. Still a headwind. Now Coole Pilate. We’re going to make it. A third of the lane done. Puddles and potholes. If any road sums up the desperate state of Cheshire’s lanes, Coole Pilate must be it. Riding in the middle of the road, both sides crumbling away; potholes in potholes. Then a cyclist appears ahead coming towards us. The only other one we’ve seen all day. A woman: in a singlet; bare arms and plunging neckline. How strange. She passes by. And then BANG! Even at this battered stage of his fatigue, Ian has been compelled by some uncontrollable primeval force to take his eyes off the road in order to ogle at her chest, and promptly hit a pothole. Yes, same back wheel again. Puncture number three. We are now a bit hysterical. As we get off our bikes, Johnny wants to know how the f**k Ian has managed it this time? Andy G says (in a somewhat ill humoured tone which is unusual for Andy), that if Ian didn’t stare at every passing woman on a bike he might notice the crevasses in the road and avoid dropping down them; as if Ian has been ogling half dressed women cyclists all day long. John F makes the observation that “that woman must be the biggest village idiot round here, wearing just a vest on a day like this!” Ian, most apologetic, asks if anyone’s got a spare tube, as he has run out. We are standing in a field gateway and there’s mucky water and mud and old hedge clippings everywhere. The mud gets in the tyre and bits of old thorns stick to the new tube. Me and Ian rouch over his back wheel, feeding in the new tube and picking off bits of stones and thorns. We are like two old chimpanzees, on our haunches, bent over, grooming away at the wheel rim. Eventually I force the tyre back on by wringing its neck, and we cycle on. The end of the lane comes at last. 

John F says he’ll head for home and pick up his bag later. We cross the Weaver and there’s my street. And so at some time past 6 o’clock, me, Johnny, Andy G and Ian get off our bikes in my front drive, alongside the Volvo, and walk into the warm kitchen. Anne, Les and Brandon are waiting. Hot tea and cakes. Extraordinary day. Astonishingly tough ride.

I was compelled to write this account because the ride on April 29th was so exceptional. Some of the riders that day had over 30, 40 even 50 years experience of social rides, training rides, racing, touring and trekking, and none could recall a day that compared with it. What was so unusual: how unseasonably cold it was; the length of time it went on for; its unrelenting severity; and the fact that the weather gods had conspired to time it, and direct its full ferocity, to coincide exactly with our journey time and direction. Everyone who took part in it behaved commendably, and it’s a tribute to their tenacity that we all got through.

In summary.....

20 riders in total set off from Dolgellau with 2 people in the support car, and on a normal day 20 riders would have arrived back at my house in Nantwich 7 or 8 hours later. On this day 2 riders caught a train at Machynlleth and 6 riders caught (by coincidence) the same train at Welshpool. All returned to their own homes and retrieved their belongings later.

12 riders went over the Bwlch and rode to the pub stop at Bwlch y cibau. After the pub stop, 1 rider

managed to squeeze into the Volvo before Loppington. 3 riders called loved ones from near Wem: 

2 from a pub and one from a petrol station, and were rescued. 3 riders rode all the way, straight to their own homes in Crewe, Shavington and Sandbach (four, six and ten miles on from Nantwich respectively). 4 riders made it directly to my house.

And one rider, John F, rode home to his house in Wistaston, (expecting Steve to already be there) only to find no sign of Steve, and consequently he could not get in. He then turned round and rode four miles back to my house, retrieved his bag and rode the final four miles back home. (I was told later by my wife that John seemed a trifle tense and that he lacked a lightness in his humour).


This years weekend to Dolgellau attracted a group of 22 enthusiastic riders. The weather was also suitably enthusiastic so well done John W. for securing such a good overall deal. 

Some of the photos have been kindly, in some cases unkindly, supplied by John Gallagher

John Gallagher

Steve Parish

Dave Allbutt

Martin Parish

Dan Dix

Terry Baker

Mark Davies

Steve Fidler


John Waddilove

Andrew Grace

John Fidler

Ian Wilson

Russ Barton

Craig Conroy

Jez Barker

Brandon Edgeley

Matt Duncalf

Les Whalley

Nick Barker

Mark Namgauds

Dave Gillo

A weekend in Church Stretton


The Church Stretton weekend away was a classic with many varied ingredients:

1. Turkey fell off twice, both were totally avoidable.

2. A pleasant ride out through the Cheshire and Shropshire lanes.

3. A good brew-stop at a roadside tea-caravan - Turkey's rucksack needing some minor fettling.

4. Some good climbs at the Stiperstones and over Long Mynd.

5. Nick Barker's rear inner tube blew-out on his new bike when descending the Long Mynd.

6. A cracking hotel to stay.

7. A superb curry.

8. A surfeit of beer enjoyed by all.

9. Terry Baker's heroic ride from Nantwich to Church Stretton early on Sunday morning, arriving at 9 a.m.

10. Terry's bike had rear tyre / brake problems. The rest of us kept warm inside a bus shelter for 30

minutes or so waiting for him to catch-up.

11. Terry's woes continue in trying to adjust his brakes, with encouragement from all of us this time.

12. Another good brew-stop in Ironbridge - after 18 miles but at 11:30.

13. A minor navigational error - how big is Little Wenlock? There can only be one road on this earth

called "Dog in the Lane" - but we saw it twice.

14. Late lunch in the greasy spoon at Long Lane.

As you can see, we packed a lot into the weekend and a good time was had by all.


John G (TTFN)



Trip to the French Alps

In the beginning……………… Wednesday 31/08/11

It’s amazing how easy it is that two or three pints of bitter can cloud one’s judgement and perception of reality. So it will come as no great surprise to read that the eight eager, with a dollop of apprehension, athletes lining up on the pavement ready to embark on a cycling trip to the French Alps included.

· John Gallagher

· John Fiddler

· Ian Wilson

· Les Walley

· Andy Grace

· Mark Davies

· Jim Stringer

· Steve Parish

· Brandon Edgeley

Yes, I know that is nine but Brandon had a domestic crisis that prevented him from making the trip and came along to wish us luck. Still every cloud has a silver lining, but more of that later on in the confessions of a bike dismantler section.

Are we there yet Dad…………………? Thursday 01/09/11

The journey down to Dover was a good one enabling us to catch an earlier ferry than the one we had booked. This was useful time to have in the bank as the scheduled stop for croissants and unscheduled stops for roast poulet always seemed to take longer than John G had accounted for. Although I am sure John G, Andy, Les and Ian didn’t mind one little bit waiting in that lovely lay-by whilst the others dined on roast chicken at the local supermarket.

The squat and the palace……………..

Barcelonette was finally reached at 4pm local time after 900 miles and 22 hours of driving and in order to preserve the natural balance of the universe the party was split into two groups:

· Andy, Ian and John G – they will now be known affectionately as Camp Gallagher(order)

· Les, Turkey, John F, Jim and Steve – to be known as Camp Chaos

By the time the two opposing sides had sorted themselves out into order and chaos it was too late to trundle into Barcolonette to eat out so Ian donned his chef’s hat and apron and produced a superb bowl of pasta and French bread from ingredients purchased from the local supermarket. As an aside I thought he looked as attractive in his apron as he does in his cycling kit. You have to realise it had now been 24 hrs since last seeing a woman. The wine and two cheap French tarts that tagged along with the pasta and bread went down a treat. I’m sure there is a joke in there somewhere but if I told it I would have to charge twice as much for writing this article. As all highly trained athletes are prone to do, beds or pits, depending, were used to their full advantage in readiness for tomorrow, Friday, a climb of the Col de la Bonnette.

Marmite on the rocks…….or several alternative subtitles. Friday 02/09/11

The Col de la Bonnette is the highest metalled road (that actually goes somewhere as opposed to terminating at a ski station) in Europe at 2,800m or 9,600 feet in old money, rising 1,800 m over 22km from Jausier to the top. It has an average gradient of 8% - I can already hear you muttering under your breath get on with it man, get to the nitty gritty, who got to the top first? I find all that competitive codswallop rather irrelevant, nay childish, although Andy Grace may disagree slightly. As photos were taken and stories of human suffering swapped, Les and Turkey informed a rather bemused group that they had been pursued by a wolverine up a considerable length of the climb. Les used to be a fisherman before turning to cycling and I think Turkey is still on alternative medicines. The wolverines were eventually correctly identified as Marmottes or the slightly smaller ones as Marmites (I kid you not). Their dietary habits may remain a mystery for some time. Fish at 9600ft? Its little wonder the blighters look so hungry.

The descent of the Bonnette was as exhilarating as the ascent was gruelling. The group made it safely back in time to eat that evening in Barcellonette with John G proving what a tenacious character he is during an epic tug of war with the waitress and HIS fork. Supremacy was finally established and the waitress slunk off to count her diminished tip.

It had also become very apparent that climbing for considerable lengths of time on a 23 rear sprocket was not going to be possible and to that end the rest of the group, against my better judgement and of course conscience, persuaded yours truly to liberate a frustrated looking 27 rear cassette from Brandon’s spare(ish) bike (that is about as close as you are going to get to a confession).

The Flies, the flies ……………Saturday 03/09/11

The circular route taking in the Col de Allos(2,200m). Col de Champs (2,000m) and Col de Cayolle(2300m) looked like a piece of cake (albeit a rather large stodgy piece) on paper. The ascent of the Allos produced a problem that Monsieur Michelin conveniently left off his detailed map – flies. Each rider ascended surrounded by his own little cloud of misery, fighting both the gradient and the creatures that were hell bent on getting in your mouth, in your ears, in your eyes and up your nose.

Dinner of pizza in the village of Allos preceded the climb of the Col de Champs. The turn to the Col de Champs was craftily hidden by the French in Colmars. If it wasn’t for Andy both Jim and Steve would have stopped only when confronted by the Mediterranean Sea. The Col de Champs was not considered a major climb. This, I think , was a major mistake. Ascent in thick cloud and of course the obligatory flies. Descent in even thicker cloud using the white road markings as guides – scary. The ascent of the Cayolle (2,300 m) promised to be long, hard and interesting. It did not disappoint. Pursued by flies, dehydration and a duck billed platypus (Les is booked in at the opticians on his return) Turkey finally succumbed to madness by donning his birthday suit and sitting under a waterfall at the side of the road.

Bear with me now just a little longer and try to picture Pierre and Jeanette, an ageing French couple totally at ease with the small but comfortable world they inhabit. They were both war children and probably saw many atrocities committed by the Germans. They survived and lived to tell the tale. They are travelling back home after having eaten a particularly pleasant dinner with some friends in Allos. It seemed like a good idea to take the scenic route via the Col de Cayolle where halfway up is a small waterfall at the side of the road where Pierre proposed to Jeanette many years ago. As they approach this special place and gaze lovingly into each other’s eyes, there under the waterfall totally naked waving his arms around frantically sits a large pink man. The care home in Barcellonette now has 2 less vacancies.

Meanwhile on the sweeping descent Jim had decided to put his helmet manufactures claims to the test by leaping off his bike at 35mph and head butting the road. As by way of a memento for the mountain he left a bit of his leg and a lot of his shorts (see photo). By the time Turkey and Les had finished becoming as one with Mother Nature and started the descent of the rock-strewn Col de Cayolle darkness had fallen. Andy to the rescue in the sweeper wagon. This was to become a regular feature of the week. What a ride. Let me tell you now that absolutely nothing prepares you, whatever you have seen on TV or read in guides, for the relentless length of these ascents. They are all vicious brutes. Vicious.

Pra Loup for some…………..Sunday 04/09/11

Steady downpours do not put off hard men. Steve, John F, Turkey, Les and Jim being the exception. John G, Ian and Andy made the short trip of only 8km up Pra Loup (only 8km! who am I trying to kid). After dining, favourably this time, in Barcolenette Les dropped a bottle of wine but skilfully managed to catch it with his lips without spilling a drop. This encouraged several characteristics to surface:

· David Attenborough to stop looking concerned for his job (Les the smaller Marmottes are probably not known as Marmites).

· I’m very hot so I need to take my clothes off and meander around the campsite (Les photographic evidence is available).

· I’m now very cold so will invite Turkey into my sleeping bag (best not to dwell too long on this).

· I’m now feeling very ill (enough said)

Alpe du Huez or bust…………………..Monday 05/09/11

What a great day for climbing - Pra Loup in the morning then transferring to Bourg d’Oisans and climbing the shrine of Alp du Huez in the late afternoon. Andy, John F, Ian and Jim were proving to be the top climbers. What an amazing feeling to reach the top, what an amazing feeling to descend, what a dopey decision not to take a wind proof top.

The big one……..Tuesday 06/09/11

The Marmotte ride is considered to be one of the hardest if not the hardest on the calendar. I can now confirm this is so and this was our task for the day. Common sense had finally prevailed and the Alp du Huez finish had been trimmed of the end of the ride. This proved to be a wise decision, a very wise decision. The ride started at 8.00am with the less speedy climbers setting out first (myself, John G, Turkey and Les) with the intention of all coming together at the summit of the Col de Croix de Fer (2,400m). Refreshments were purchased at the summit café from Madame Grumpy and the descent down to St Jean de Maurienne started. Andy punctured at the side of an endless abyss. A front wheel puncture. It’s surprising how a 2,000 feet drop suddenly hones your bike handling skills. It was now mid-afternoon with the climbs of the Col du Telegraph (1,560m) and the Hors category Galibier (2,700m) still to come. Halfway round and past the point of no return. Enter Wills Wheels cycling club and tidings of great joy. The Gol du Galibier was closed. Never ever, EVER, buy your wheels from Will. John F was persuaded to cancel the taxi back and the climb of the Telegraph commenced. At the summit of the Telegraph John G elbowing John F swiftly out of the way took rather a shine to a large female unit of ample proportions, sorry but Mrs G is entitled to know. Late afternoon Valloire and the start of the Galibier (yes you’ve guessed it the Galibier was indeed ouvert and not ferme). Andy, John F, Ian, John G and Jim all gained the summit before me and I will openly admit to feelings of panic as during the climb my mental calculations revealed that I would be lucky to make it back to Borg d’Oision in the light. Jim was still at the top when I arrived looking decidedly ill. Thus began the epic descent of 50Km off the Galibier onto the Lauteret and into Bourg d’Oisan. 

With daylight rapidly fading some of those tunnels on the descent flashed by at speeds exceeding 40mph. Les and Turkey reached the summit just as the sun dropped. They descended onto the Lauteret in near darkness. This prompted a flash of inspiration from Turkey. “I’ll ring for help”. It could have been a dialling error or a faulty phone but either way a considerably surprised and greatly amused John Waddilove back in Crewe proffered his support and advised to not stop moving in case you freeze to death and ring Andy Grace who was much closer to hand. Andy G and Ian were true gentleman and wonderful pilots of the broom wagon. I did warn you this would become a regular feature of the trip. Everybody safe, everybody hungry, everybody in the only (just) open restaurant in Borg d’Oisan.

What a fabulous trip everybody made it to the top of every climb under their own steam and nobody died on the descents.

· John G (impeccable organisation)

· John F (impeccable car driving and climbing)

· Jim (impeccable helmet testing)

· Ian (impeccable French and pasta)

· Andy (impeccable climbing and patience)

· Turkey (impeccable sense of humour)

· Les (impeccable wild life knowledge)

· Brandon (impeccable rear cassette.

Ta! Steve P.