Category Archives: France

For most of the next week…

…I’ll be sat on a bike riding across 700km of beautiful French countryside, including some very big hills, with some of the best people I’m privileged to know. It’s all for charity of course.

To hear a bit more about it and to follow our exploits, take a look at Les Veloistes Gentils blog.

One week to the mountains

Click on this for a bigger version

So it’s just a week until 12 members of Les Veloistes Gentils set off on the club’s 2009 adventure, cycling 630km from Perpignan to Biarritz. But as this image shows, it’s less the length of the ride which is a challenge, more the height. The highest point on the ride (weather permitting) will be the Col du Tourmalet at a shade over 2,100m. In all, between sea level by the Med and the same on the Atlantic coast, we’ll be climbing (and descending) more than 9,500m. Which sounds like a lot to me.

In addition to the Tourmalet, we’ll be crossing three famous Tour de France cols, the Col de Portet d’Aspet (1,069m), Col de Peyresourde (1,569m) and the Col d’Aspin (1,489m).  I know for a fact that the latter three cols are clear, and while there’s every chance the Tourmalet will still have a decent amount of snow cover, the invaluable local knowledge provided by Chris from Pyractif gives us hope that we might be able to sneak our way over (if the legs keep going). I’m hoping I’ll be able to thank Chris in person as he may well join us for the leg over the Peyresourde and Aspin.
Final preparations are underway here at Les Chapelles. I bought 96 litres of Vittel this afternoon (it’s the water of champions you know), along with numerous cereal bars, sachets of fruit compote, loads of individually wrapped sponge cakes and a huge amount of Haribo. Should keep us going for a couple of days at least.
Thanks must go to holiday company Pure France which has helped with some sponsorship, and sll those people that have already dipped their hands in their pockets and donated money to our two charities, Action for Children and CHASE. You can still sponsor me of course! You’ll find my Just Giving page here.
I’m hoping to post a few pictures and words here during the ride itself – if I can find wireless access – and also tweeting now and again.

The Tourmalet, take one

view-from-the-tourmalet

All things going well, I should find myself at the top of the Col du Tourmalet in the French Pyrenees twice in 2009. I’ve already ticked off one visit: a couple of weeks ago while skiing with the family. This picture shows the view looking west from the Tourmalet, which is 2,115 metres above sea level. I arrived by chair and button lift.

The second visit will be a tad more difficult, as I’ll be arriving under my own steam by bike. That’s if all the snow has melted by early May, which is absolutely not guaranteed. And that I can actually make it up the damn thing. Plans are well underway for this year’s charity bike ride by Les Veloistes Gentils, which I’ve mentioned a couple of times before. We’re travelling from the Mediterranean coast near Perpignan to the Atlantic coast at Biarritz, starting on May 3rd.

One thing common to both visits will be that the journey down from the top will be significantly more fun than the journey up there!

We’re raising money for two charities this year: Action for Children (the new name for NCH which we supported last year) and CHASE. Both are extremely worthy causes. I’ve set up a Just Giving page here – any donation, however modest, will be very gratefully received.

Wish us luck!

Les Veloistes Gentils

lvgjersey-smallAnyone who has spent any time at all on this blog or, indeed, around me over the past year will know all about The Bike Ride. The result of a drunken chat between me and my old mate Mark (original back story here) it turned into something rather more significant and worthwhile, as ten men good and true raised nearly £12,000 for charity by cycling from London to south-west France. More stuff on the adventure here and here.

As you can see below, we had such a fantastic time (and have clearly forgotten about the tired bits) that we’ve decided to do it all over again in 2009. Slightly tougher route this time though…

One thing that we did decide during the ride this year was that our happy little band needed a name, and that name is ‘Les Veloistes Gentils’. We went for a French one because France plays such an important part of what we get up do and, frankly, it sounds cool.

‘Veloistes’ isn’t actually a real word. The French word for bike is velo and the word for cyclist is cycliste, so we’ve combined the two. Nice, huh? The most literal translation for ‘gentil’ is ‘kind’, but it actually means slightly more than that. ‘Gentil’ is about kindness, sure, but also generosity and respectfulness. All round good stuff. And it certainly describes every member of the little equipe that we formed this year. One member of the team, young Tim, has designed the rather lovely logo that you can see here and which will adorn the jerseys next year. There are even rumours of tattoos…

It’s an exclusive little club and one of which you can only become a member by participating on one of the rides, which I very much hope will be an annual event for many years to come. Les Veloistes Gentils already looks like it will be expanding in 2009 as we’ve had a few more sign up for the ride. Who knows how large it might become in the future?

Next year’s ride

It’s almost six months since our intrepid little gang of very amateur cyclists set off from Hampton Court on our jaunt down through France to St. Emilion, but I’ve bored you about that before.

Ever since we finished the ride there’s be an appetite to do it all again next year, and after mulling over the potential route for a while, I think I’ve finally settled on it…and it’s something of a cycling classic. While starting in England was nice to do this year, to a man the lads weren’t that bothered about including a UK stage in next year’s ride. The lighter and more respectful traffic along with the better surface of French roads and, frankly, the adventure of being in foreign climes on our bikes has resulted in an agreement to both start and finish in France.

But we still needed a proper ‘journey’, so the one we’re going to try is cycling from the Mediterranean Sea to the Atlantic Ocean. If you click on the little map above you’ll get a clearer view of the proposed route…and those of you who know your geography (or, indeed, your cycling!) will also know that it’s rather hillier than this year’s ride. In fact, it takes in two of the Tour de France’s most historic climbs, the Col du Tourmalet and the Col d’Aubisque.

There’s a lot of excitement amongst the group, plus not a small amount of anxiety. These aren’t small hills! I get particularly nervous when I look at the route profile and the numbers on the left-hand side of it. In this year’s ride, we didn’t get more than 200m above sea level…and 200m doesn’t even appear on the scale of next year’s profile! And given I live in one of France’s flattest regions, training might be an issue…

Still, life’s nothing without challenges. We’re starting the ride on May 3rd 2009, which is four months before my 40th birthday, so this might be a last hurrah before a steady slip into sedentry middle age…

700km, two punctures, one crash, a lot of Haribo

Supping a cold beer on a sunny Tuesday afternoon in St Emilion…it’s remarkable how the pain and effort of a near 700km bike ride over five days melts away. 

It comes right back the next morning though, I can tell you.

Regular viewers will know that for the past few months I’ve been organising a charity bike ride between London and St. Emilion.  Well, last Friday was the day of reckoning as the ten riders gathered at Hampton Court Palace along with our trusty support vehicle driver Nuts (not his real name…).

To cut a long story short, we all made it to the finish.  We had one crash – spectacular but no serious injury – two punctures, a little bit of rain, plenty of sunshine, a lot of laughs and some extremely sore limbs.  We’re all very aware of where our perineums are and have boosted sales of Sudacream and Haribo to new highs (Haribo soon to be repositioned as the elite athelete’s energy boost of choice).  British drivers are as dangerously impatient with cyclists as French ones are respectful.  A fresh baguette filled with butter, cheese, ham and Dijon mustard is the world’s best lunch, without question.  Vittel is the water of champions (but Chateau d’Yquem ’95 is otherworldly). There are some extraordinarily good and generous people around.  There’s a deeply meditative quality to the sound of ten well-prepared road bikes whirring along an otherwise silent French country road in the sunshine.

I can’t wait until I get the chance to do it again.  And best of all, in addition to having an amazing trip, we raised somewhere in the region of £10,000 for charity. 

Can’t be bad.

Groggy Froggies

sarkozy.jpgI read on Decanter.com today that research has found the French to be more moderate drinkers than previously thought, and that historical figures have been inflated to the benefit of the increasingly powerful French anti-alcohol lobby.  You can imagine, I’m sure, the heat of the debates that take place between the anti-booze lobbyists and the French wine trade bodies…

I think it’s a fair argument.  The previous statistics have simply divided the amount of wine sold in a country by the number of inhabitants (presumably of drinking age, though that isn’t made clear) and doesn’t take into account wine bought that isn’t drunk (i.e. stuck away in cellars) and even includes wine bought in France by tourists.

Certainly in our experience of living in France we’ve found that the French drink nowhere near as much as the British.  The lack of a binge drinking culture has been well documented, but even beyond that they don’t seem to be as regular drinkers of even moderate amounts of wine.  Hell, we’ve even got a friend who – and now in her early 30s – claims that she’s never been drunk in her life.  She’s no teetotaller, just never drinks enough to get hammered.  How odd.

Still, as President Sarkozy lands on British shores today, it’s nice to see that some Frenchies can get stuck in when they want to.  A happy combination of topics which allows me to link to a lovely little video of Sarkozy turning up a bit late for a press conference at a G8 conference after a long and clearly bozze-fuelled lunch with Putin.  Smashing stuff.  I imagine he and Phil the Greek will be hitting a few of Windsor’s boozers tonight.

It also striked me that Carla Bruni must also own a fairly hefty pair of beer goggles…

Bike ride route…finalised

6a00d8341c78e853ef00e54f119c348833-640wi.jpgMy regular reader(s) will know about the charity bike ride I’ve been organising.  Others can read about it here

At various times over the past few months I’ve been poring over maps (old fashioned offline ones, too) trying to finalise the best route for our little peloton to take on its way from London (well, Hampton Court) to St. Emilion.  Some aspects of the trip are set in stone.  For example, we’re on a ferry from Portsmouth to St. Malo and will also be stopping at my house for one night.  Beyond that, it’s pretty flexible.  Not too flexible, though, as my general route planning methodology has been based upon the flightpath of the crow.

As luck would have it (or not) the third stage of this year’s Tour de France starts in St. Malo and heads to Nantes.  We’re not planning on going quite as far as Nantes in the one day, but can at least cover the first 85km of the stage as we make our merry way south. 

Anyway, if you’re interested, here are the routes mapped out on the wonderful Sanoodi:

Day 1: Hampton Court to Portsmouth

Day 2: St. Malo to Redon

Day 3: Redon to La Roche-sur-Yon

Day 4: La Roche-sur-Yon to Les Chapelles

Day 5: Les Chapelles to St.Emilion

Wish us luck.  We should arrive in St. Emilion on May 6th.  There’s still plenty of time to sponsor me, and you can do so here.

Sore arses and other ailments

tweedcc_web.jpgLast year my old mate Mark and I decided that we needed to undertake a grand physical challenge while we were both still in our 30s.  We decided that – as we did when we were at school together – it’d be a good idea to cycle from Mark’s house to mine.  We grew up in Hertfordshire, and the distance from Codicote to St. Ippolyts was about 10km.  In fact I imagine it still is.

The distance from Wimbledon – where Mark now lives – to my house in France is about 750km, depending on the Channel crossing you take.  It’s unlikely that I’ll be back by teatime.

Still, a challenge is a challenge and we’re doing it.  Not only that, but we’re going past my house and all the way down to St. Emilion, which seemed like a suitable place to collapse.  We’re starting on May 2nd and should arrive on May 6th.  We’ve even managed to convince some similarly middle-aged friends to come along too.  In all, there’ll be 10 of us hauling our generous backsides onto the unforgiving saddles of road-racing machinery of varying quality and vintage.  Should be quite some sight.

It’s all for charity of course.  Our headline beneficiary is NCH, and a very worthy one it is too.  Ken Deeks gave a moving speech about NCH’s work at The Flackenhack Awards last year and I can’t think of a better cause for which to be riding.

You can sponsor me here personally (all contributions very gratefully received) and if you represent a company and feel that having your logo stretched across ten slow-moving arses would be good for business, then I’d love to hear from you.  There’ll be room for the biggest of logos, I assure you.

Oh, I’m also after the loan of a van for a week.  Long-wheelbase Transit size.  Ta.

It might be the Sunday papers…

st.jpg…but is anybody reading?

Ask anyone who knows something about anything and they’ll tell you that the Sunday Times is influential, that it has significant reach into high-end demographics, that it drives recommendation and purchasing decisions…blah de blah de blah.

Well, it’s a myth.  Like dragons.  And let me slay this one once and for all.

I was featured in the Sunday Times yesterday (as was my family).  Not just a little mention either.  The first two words of the article were my name, the next one my age and the next four my occupation.  It then went on to discuss our life here in France…or at least the bit of it related to the rental of our holiday properties.  And there was a picture.  I was even quoted as using the word “caboodle”.

I don’t know about you, but if I saw someone I knew featured in the Sunday Times, I’d probably give ‘em a call.  Or send an email, or a text:  “Saw your ugly mug in the Sunday Papers…nearly hurled my cornflakes…”  That sort of thing.

Twenty-four hours on from the article’s appearance and what have we had?  One call.  From the Mother-in-Law.  And she gets to stay here for free.

My only conclusion – based on an admittedly small research study – is that the Sunday Times exerts no influence whatsoever over its readership.

Actually, that’s not my only conclusion.  Others might be that I have no friends that read the Sunday Times.  Or, more simply, that I have no friends.  But my Facebook profile tells a different story (OK, so this might be a slight flaw in my otherwise rock-solid argument).  I also recognise that the Property section comes fairly well down the Sunday Times hierarchy.  But surely it trumps Travel and Appointments? 

I’m also concluding that the purchase of the Sunday Times is purely a habit.  In the same way that I flick the kettle on upon entering any kitchen, a decent proportion of the UK population searches out a newsagent and buys the Sunday Times every weekend.  Both are largely a waste of energy.

Extrapolating my bitterness argument, I’m also going to conclude that old media is well and truly dead.  Indeed, the only positive result that will come out of the article will be due to this blog post, confident as I am that it has greater reach (and if anyone would like to sign up to my new training course: “How to extend the influence of traditional media coverage through the creative use of social media” than please drop me a note).

I said “caboodle” for Christ’s sake.  Surely that’s good for something?

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