PROPS 2017 World Famous Bristol to Bordeaux cycling challenge

Here lies a commentary of the 2017 edition of the World Famous PROPS Bristol to Bordeaux cycling challenge. It’s now getting on for mid October, and so a few months have passed, this means the memories are coloured by either rose tinted specs or intense pain brought on by such activities.

Riders ready? Watch the gate…

Day 1

My favourite Lord of the Rings film is Fellowship of the Ring. It’s the one that goes one environment, to another altogether. i.e. green pastures and hobbits having fun, to Orcs, battles and the splitting of the party. That is a real road trip.

B2B17 Day 1 was a little like this. It started on a sunny Bristol quiet morning, stuff happened, and I subsequently went to bed somewhere in the English Channel, having cycled, chatted and eaten a bit.

Leaving Temple Meads was a familiar affair. My commute goes that way, and heading out of town in small groups along the Bristol Bath cycle path was very relaxed. I made conversation with those around me, and dodged commuters whizzing down into town. Yikes!

Having taken the 80 mile option, Somewhere near the Bristol Ring road, we peeled off from the others, and congregated in Cleve Rugby club to board the minibuses.

Whilst the ‘extremers’ as we came to know them (those doing 125 miles every day), were heading North into the Cotswolds, we were being ferried South East towards Westbury. On arrival we waited for our bikes to arrive, and used the time to fill our bellies and pockets with various sugary sweets. There were nerves, as we were all dressed up, but hadn’t really ridden yet.

We were off! And started the usual cycling process of making friends, chatting, and clumping together with riders of similar speed/interests. There must be an adjective for this?

England in the summer can be a splendid place. Riding towards Salisbury in such weather is sublime, as the lanes along the river valley were beautiful. One rider told me later they thought the English leg was the best of the 4!

“As long as I breathe, I… eat”

Can’t remember who said that. Some French bloke? Mmm, maybe it was me? Lunch on Day 1 was memorable. Being 1-2 hours ahead of the extremers, we had first dibs at the lunch as it was being prepared. The spread was quite amazing, and a continual stream of platters of various food was delivered far quicker than we could eat or fill our pockets. I learned quickly that cycling whilst overfill was not actually that sensible, but I was happy.

After a massive lunch, we set off towards Romsey, and Southampton. It was sweltering, and the water stops laid on by the amazingly welcoming B2B volunteers was well needed.

Sponges, sprays and buckets were in constant use.

Support

The volunteers manning the feed stations, water stops, lunch gazebo, and various other checkpoints, were the most friendly warm hearted souls you’re likely to encounter. You really felt supported, which really helped the morale. The Physios were fantastic, and the folk manning the kitchen deserve special mention too.

English folk are odd, or is that me?

230 days of the year I moan that the weather isn’t warm enough. Then for 4 days in July, I’m moaning the weather (in the mid thirties it felt), was too hot! Oh well, I guess I just like to moan. It was amazing.

I was one of the first groups on the road, which had the advantage of turning up at HMS Excellence before the hoards. What this meant was:
– we could get a massage without too much queuing
– we could shower and relax and change into civvies early,
– and generally bum around eating and drinking, watching all the other riders pour into the rendezvous point.

End of Day 1. Now relax

We had ridden about 80 miles. We were relaxed, warm, and well fed.

Personally, I must admit I did enjoy the amount of fettling and general tinkering going on with the bikes. Even using wet wipes on the chains. I felt a little guilty for my steed, but knew I’d given it all it needed beforehand, so I used my time constructively looking for more cheese baguettes!

After some fun with the minibuses (one had broken down), we started the very slow queue to get on the ferry. It was hot, but the mood was good and although we were a quarter in, it still felt like the real adventure was just about to start.

I’d had a lung infection the week before, and was coughing all the way down to Portsmouth. My lungs are a bit of weak point for me, and I was worried if they’d be worse in the morning, and contemplated if I should carry on. I did. And they did get worse, but I got through it.

Everyone has their own personal battles I guess. Inhalers at the ready…

Saint Malo bound

On the ferry, I felt in a massive holiday mood. The weather, the people, the entertainment, the thought of even MORE food in their canteen. We enjoyed a relaxed meal and then chilled out. I can’t remember what time I returned to the 4 man bunk room, with 3 other cyclists sharing about 7 foot square and 4 fold up bunks. Ho hum! Sleep it is then.

Days 2, 3 & 4

“It never gets easier, you just go faster.” – Greg Lemond

The pattern was set on day 1, and we rinsed and repeated 3 more times. It went pretty much like this:
– Extremers set off
– Classics (80 miles/day) get on board a minibus, for 30-40 miles.
– Lots of heat and sun baked roads
– Lots of riding, through France for 3 more days like this
– Lots of conversation, and wonderment
– Bit of dodging French drivers where needed
– Plenty of delicious food
– Great support from the happy helpers.
– Fun and frivolity in the evening meal/drinks
– Swanky hotels, or just hotels we made swanky by taking over with bikes and people.

Instead of details of Day 2, 3 and 4, I’ll break and cover some of the highlights. In no order whatsoever.

“Whenever I see an adult on a bicycle, I do not despair for the human race.” – HG Wells

I was a loner. I knew about 15 of the PROPS souls from the training rides, but had no allegiances, and so I was free to ride with whoever I felt was a good speed match and was most interesting to chat along to. There were plenty of options, and I rode with about 5 or 6 groups in all, and enjoyed the different riding styles and conversation of them all.

There were so many great folk on this ride. Stick any 70 souls together with a common
cause (and this one is great), and their connection will be amplified. Obviously I couldn’t chat to everyone. Some were just too fast! Maybe next time ;-).

Riding with the students

The students: Jordan, Craig, Stuart and Matt rode with us, chaperoned by Graham and Nick. I chose day 3 to ride with them, and really enjoyed the miles I shared with them. They are a really amazing bunch, and have such character, resolve and commitment. It really made any of our hardships pale, as we knew they were treading the same boards. There were bumps and grazes for them along the way, which amplifies their effort and achievements.

The first French roadside bar

Oh my god. Hot hot hot weather. Making distance and not wanting to falter. Then about 15 miles from home we see a PROPS water stop on the left and a bar on the right. Sorry PROPS, the bar called, and deux demis later we set off with rocketfuel in our legs. In reality we were probably going slower, but it felt good.

The Seaside

Day 3 from Nantes to La Rochelle area. This was a really tough day, for the heat was
intense, and some of the roads dissolved into heat haze in front of us. Some of the irrigation channels in the Vendée seemed so long, you could feel the curve of the earth.

Then as the miles crept on, I could sense we were approaching the coast, the air smelt fresh, and suddenly we rode into a wonderful vista, a golden sandy beach, and blue sea. This was so so welcome. We took photos and then cruised the final 5 miles to the hotel. Happy.

And into wine country

To prepare for a race there is nothing better than a good pheasant, some champagne and a woman. – Jacques Anqetiul

My lungs were getting worse, so the dream of riding the last 125 miles on day 4 wasn’t on so I settled for the final 80 mile option. I’m glad in retrospect, as I avoided the ride’s only rain.

Over the Gironde ferry, and onto the last leg through the Bordeaux wine region was sublime.

Like a perpetual motion machine, the hills sucked us down and caressed us back up the next climb, in a cyclic wave motion. The chateaus were becoming significant, and roses on the end of the vine fields marked any oncoming blight. It was a picturesque scene.

“Nothing compares to the simple pleasure of riding a bike.” — John F. Kennedy

In too quick a time, we came into Bordeaux, and were greeted by all the riders outside the hotel. A bit like getting to Rivendell in The Lord of the Rings, we were happy to be there and to see everyone, but slightly sad that the journey was over.

The Bordeaux evening

Just like a company Christmas do, the Bordeaux evening meal in the hotel was a really special affair. Around 100 people all celebrating their achievement. Food, wine and merriment in massive quantities. Even the speeches brought a tear to the eye. Jordan’s speech was one for the memory banks.

Finally, points to note:

  • Tuck position – it helps.
  • Slipstream – some folk have no experience of this. It also helps a lot. Use it.
  • Food – eat regularly, maybe not as much as me!

If you are doing the 2018 anniversary Bordeaux, you’re in for a treat.

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