Saturday 27 September 2014

Manchester to Florence

Sat above Florence having a cappuccino and a moment to reflect on an amazing adventure. I was going to use the word trip or maybe holiday but neither would describe this journey nearly aptly enough. 

Pre adventure in Manchester I had a feeling that distance and climbing would be easy (ish). I am cycle fit and ride often and had just come off the back of doing a 200mile Coast to Coast trip. I had had 8 weeks notice of the adventure and was confident my preparation was adequate.  I knew I would drop some weight and become fitter before the mountain climbs we had in store. 

The first few days were pretty easy going.  The Belgians are lovers of all things two wheeled and on many occasions we took priority over everything on the road with no anger or animosity. It was one of the nicest parts of the trips as the roads became more aggressive in Italy.  

Most days I struggled in the heat on the continent. We were exceptionally lucky in that we had beautiful weather all trip. The temperatures ranged between 22 and 31 degrees each day. I figure that I struggled due to dehydration and a lack of calorie consumption. The food on the trip was pretty awful after leaving the ferry.  Not enough veg or salad and far to much junk.  I think it's fair to say I won't be eating pizza or pasta for a few weeks on my return lol.  I am sick of the sight of bread rolls. Cuisonts and salami!  The coffee however had been exceptional across the trip much to my delight!

By around day 4 the average speed of each day had settled to around 13mph and many hours of riding and stopping for food and water followed. It was pretty relaxed and I spent my time trying to help people and keeping spirits high with some Crossland humour. The group had two distinct abilities to it and a lack of cohesiveness when riding really did let us down throughout the trip. The Garmins also insisted on taking us down some awful off road cycle tracks which really made me angry on occasion due to having my pride and joy buffeted about. 

Apart from the above the days were filled with some absolutely stunning riding. Most days held some deceptive totals in terms of the climbing we had done and the friendly Garmins added a few miles here and there for good measure. The countryside in all of the countries Belgium, France, Switzerland and Italy was epic. My particular highlight was the climb up Col St Bernard, which is the third highest peak in Europe to cycle I am informed. I am not a climber at all. I weigh far to much and gravity is my mortal enemy. It was the best and worse 17 miles of my life. It delved into every nook and cranny of my character as I climbed alone with the percentages increasing then lulling then ramping. It was a fantastic, once in a lifetime experience and I came through it. It is perhaps the single best and biggest achievement I have accomplished on my bike. The decent on the other side was battled for and was an absolute stunner. We decended for miles and miles through tight hairpins and roller coaster fast straights through the most idyllic mountain scenery. Overtaking cars and sweeping through the corners at break neck speeds. The descent took nearly an hour to complete and by the end my hands were numb from clinging onto the bars and squeezing the breaks trying to extract every wheel spin of speed. The photos I have taken were mostly on the ascent as I was concentrating on not getting my descent wrong and flying off a mountainside. 

The other days were also memorable for other reasons. The 8 person team we had was composed of some real characters and this kept us mostly in high spirits. A real feeling of friendship and unity developed, which although tested at times due to the extreme nature of the trip, will be something that lives on with me until the day I die. 

I will probably never do an eleven day cycling trip again in my life. It was a mentally and physical taxing trip it tested and pushed me to my limits. I have a far better knowledge of myself and a bigger new found respect for the professionals who ride for three weeks during the Grand Tours at top speeds. 

Massive thanks to everyone who made the trip possible, the people on the trip and peoples kind messages of support they genuinely  really helped. 

Hope you enjoyed the read!

Ps Wiggins al akbar (for the M2F group)

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