Spokes 2008 Events & Write-ups  

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Pyrenees Peaks Venture Ride
Day 1
by Gareth Thomas
Target for today - Cols de Barderes, Soulor and Aubisque. The last two feature as Tour de France destinations on a regular basis.
We all headed out from AG on a bright, warm day - for some the first day for the huge cols and only the second day on our bikes in France. Apprehension and excitment gripped us all.
For one, Martin, the grip was somewhat tighter as it managed to snap his chain before reaching the first big climb. Naturally disappointed and unable to fix the chain on the road he had to return to AG to the bike shop - something he seemed to enjoy doing as he did it many time later! Luckily it was all downhill from where the chain had snapped. On top of Soulor some of us sampled our first truly peasant fare - rough bread and chewy bayonne ham whilst other sunbathed outside and gazed on the distant Aubisque. Meeting up with Glen who had already forged ahead and done the col he warned us of the unpredictable wind which had knocked him off his bike three times.
Oooohhhh! We proceeded to the famous col - a mountain zoo passed us by - bell hanging cows, pigs and horses Chris crossed the roads playing chicken with the tourist cars. The col itself gave us magnificent views all around. The site paid tribute to the TdF by placing 3 large metal bikes by the side of the road.
Now the return via Col de Soulor. At the junction below the actual col a few of us decided on an alternative route to AG. On the first downhill section I managed to come off the bike on a corner covered in loose gravel. Fortunately I took the brunt of the crash and the bike was fine apart from a slight bend to the handlebar. My fellow travellers ,Chris S,Tony, Sandra (later to become a personal nurse!) and Jim looked at the body damage. The amount of wincing was serious enough to stop me cycling further.
A restaurant at the top of the col allowed some cleaning up but gave us the address of the doctor in the village below who was telephoned to expect me. We all cycled back (another downhill of the Soulor) and whilst being seen by the doctor the others struck up a conversation with an English family living next door who offered immediate help. The doctor advised me to return to Lourdes hospital for further checks and the English family kindly gave me a lift with the bike to AG from where I taxied it to Hospital. The service was brilliant - no queuing, half a dozen medics to treat and see me for about an hour including the nurse who had to rub the vaseline into my groin (my shorts were shredded but managed to give some protection?!).
My main concern was missing the gargantuan and sumptuous feast back at Hotel Beausite. Luckily for me they had kept some food back for me and by the time I had returned the rest were still on the cheese course.
So 10 stitches later (interestingly my own hospital seemed to have lost one of them when they removed them) one very sore person went to bed at the end of a most exciting day!
My personal thanks to Sandra who did a sterling job of dressing my wounds for the rest of the hols and I still don't want to see the bloodied arm photo and also to all my fellow cyclist who showed great sympathy!


Day 2
by Sandra Shaw
A good news and very bad news day.  Gareth's arm was not too painful, although he did take the day off his bike, but sadly Stewart had to plan his return home after a sudden family bereavement.
Breakfast witnessed a lot of discussion about who would go where and with whom, complicated by would any of us go anywhere, as persistent overnight rain was rather off putting.  In the end Jen, Stewart and Martin went to Lourdes, with our team translator John to help negotiate about leaving Stewarts possessions at the bike shop where they could be loaded on the return Bike Express.
The rest of us headed south on the bike path (it was flat) to Pierrefitte-Nestelas, and the main road to Cateret. This was a very busy ski resort, complete with drizzle, where we found necessary hot chocolates before continuing to the Pont d'Espagne.
Sue declined the extra climbing, instead completing an 'End to End' of the cycle path to Lourdes and a shopping trip to the lovely Lidl. I am reliably informed that she attempted to compete with Gareth's injuries by falling off her bike, but failed as the bike was stationary at the time. (I'm also told that Glen tried to sabotage his own day by getting lost in the Casino car park within the first 500m from the hotel.)
It was a hard, wet climb, a bit too hot with not enough food, too many cars and million hairpin bends.  Luckily I needed to stop and look at the waterfalls and take photos before my legs gave out completely.  On reaching the cable car station I had to eat as fast as possible sitting on some lovely concrete steps to get over the shock that we had another 2km to go before reaching our destination, the Pont Espagne. To be honest I nearly didn bother!
It was worth it and only 1km really an impressive waterfall for team photos, then an increasingly off road section (reminded me of the Lake District) where everyone lost just about everyone else. Tony and I were pleased to disturb a bear in the woods (definitely), but Jim got rather worried when Chris M disappeared off the front (the only time on the holiday?). We waited, tried to phone and decided not to chase him further, when suddenly a vision erupted from the woodlands a nice helmet cover Chris!!
Our descent was rapid, but very cold, as Tony, Jim and I returned for early showers. Stewart was still with us to enjoy his final evening with local refreshments and a rugby celebration. Gareth and Stewart had had a nice day by the river with the fishermen and some pizza, then purchased most of the local pharmacy to be applied painfully to Gareth's wounds.
Our evening meal was as fabulous as ever, but I will not bore you with the seemingly endless conversation about the Modern Household Olympics created by Martin, Gareth, Stewart and Carl I think it was a bit of a man thing, as I certainly didnt get it!


Day 3
by Tom Jones
And so it was that one of the most famous cols, if not the most famous on the Tour de France circuit, was within our reach. The signpost at the crossroads in the centre of Luz-St-Sauveur read Col du Tourmalet and pointed to the road leading up and out of town. Overnight, the electric shutters in Hotel Ardiden were highly effective and completely eliminated any external light source. In blackness we were left to contemplate the day ahead. Outside, looming, the Pyrenees awaited our next assault.
Silently and with meticulous care Glen was busy preparing, under soft artificial lighting, his daily ration of energy drinks. Stirring that morning, my first thought was that we had been imprisoned with no form of natural lighting for some dreadful wrongdoing but, worse than that, I then realised it was time to prepare for the legendary Col du Tourmalet. With my nod of approval, Glen was free to depress the shutters switch to reveal a bright sunny day with the warm sun burning off the early morning mist. What a lovely day it was going to be!
The dining room tables were prepared for breakfast and our merry hostess brought tea and coffee on our instructions......eventually!  There was actually plenty to eat and I can't imagine why impossibly hard toasted French bread was offered and systematically returned to the kitchen by one and all. More importantly, our stomachs were suitably filled and we were nearly ready for the journey ahead.
Much activity was now taking place at the front of the hotel. Tony was feverishly working on his brakes and there was that tell tale smell of lubricant in the air. Expectations were rising by the minute.....
More experienced now, following gruelling energy consuming ascents on earlier days, I set out early with Martin Steer to stock up with goodies for the ride. We would visit the Casino (supermarket) and then join the group when it arrived at the town centre crossroads. It was only when Martin casually asked me to confirm the French emergency telephone number (112 from mobiles as you all know) did I realise that I had failed to bring my mobile. This unnerving question and my missing mobile memory flash coming together was too much to ignore and back to the hotel I sped.........out of breath but just in time to pocket my mobile and be ready for the take off time at.... 10am. Now I had a new concern: no food or energy bars for the big climb ahead.
Happily, my concern was short lived as Martin had read my thoughts and presented me with a selection of bananas as the peloton cruised into Luz town centre. I hoped I wouldn’t have to use the emergency telephone number (now stored in my mobile) to repay him.
We took off with intent from Luz and, whilst I failed to return Martin's good deed, it was Jim, once again, giving his time and attention to those of us in need. Unfailingly, he was there sweeping up the issues and initially providing mechanical assistance for Martin S at the roadside, even before we reached the outskirts of Luz. Then a little later, seeing me labouring with 17kms to go, his insistence that I share his salt tablets brought me new life. No momentum was lost as the operation was carried out in motion, demonstrating an agility more associated with the balancing techniques of mountain biking. Job done, Jim (will fix it) moved on.
With salt tablets in my water bottle and bananas in my back pack I was now beginning to feel up for the climb ahead. Then a curious sound caused me to brake.....my precious bananas had flopped out of my back pack and lay in my trail on the tarmac. Ignoring my new found rhythm, and with survival in mind, I stopped and retrieved them so gratefully swallowing them down later to give me that essential energy boost.
We climbed away from the cool river basin, out of the shaded valley, through Bareges and into the blazing sun and after that most of the remaining climb became a blur. They say I was not hallucinating when a stunning young lady, impeccably turned out all in white, cruised past me effortlessly and smiled. I can't actually remember if I managed to smile back!
In high spirit the whole group assembled at the col summit to cheer us in with Jenny dodging the traffic to take photos of us crossing the line. Even the Kiwi guy with his heavily laden bike seemed extremely happy to see us arrive. How understanding everyone was when, in all the excitement, I simply forgot I was wearing those new cleated shoes and fell sidelong into the dusty verge. Sue came to my rescue and helped me untangle myself from the bike. Luckily there were no prizes for most embarrassing moments!
In a supporting gesture Carl informed me that he too had found the last kilometre very tough although I secretly thought that of the last ten! At the final marker with 1km to go, the numbers 1000 could be seen painted on the road surface (for those who were jostling for position and who might fail to look up) and this was the trigger to give it your final effort. My hunch is that there were those in the group who did just that and on the very steepest section of the climb too. No wonder the translation for Tourmalet is bad route. It was of course a wonderful sense of achievement for everyone. Under the commemorative cyclist sculpture the plaque read Le Geant to Tourmalet etc........pour que vive la legend du Tour de France which you can translate for yourself. It was without doubt the place to be and the respect for those there on the day and for those who had been there through the history of the Tour de France was very evident in the faces around us.Sweet coffee and hot chocolate in the roadside cafe brought senses together again and talk of more cols that day were far from my mind. Others saw it differently and whilst some coasted back to Luz others set out for more challenges.
For the record, the distance from town centre to the col summit was 19km, climbing 1404m to the col high point at 2115m at an average gradient of 7.4%. Glen's official difficulty ratings schedule gave it a 138 rating which put the Tourmalet up there with the toughest of all the cols.
That evening, after Glen and I tracked down people to a pizza restaurant in town, it was revealed that Sandra had cycled on to take on the Col d'Aspin and then to return over the Tourmalet. In so doing she achieved her own goal and also fulfilled her promise to do the Tourmalet for Stewart. Nice one Sandra!
The day came to a close with the sound of friendly chattering (not shattering) and the tinkling of beer glasses from below our shuttered window.


Day 4
by Jim Moon
The day starts brilliantly, the weather is excellent and Steve (a flying friend with a car) very kindly diverts his own holiday plans to transport our baggage between the hotel in Bagneres and our apartments in Arreau. This allows us to cycle the shorter, steeper, route over the Col D'Aspin.
What a route! After the stark magnificence of the Col de Tourmalet (summit 2115 metres) on Wednesday this 'petite' Col (summit at 1489 metres) looks set to disappoint. Far from it, what Aspin lacks in size is replaced by even more astonishing scenery.
Leaving Bagnres the climb over Aspin begins gently with average gradients of 2-3.5% and the kilometre markers pass reasonably quickly. Five kilometres before the summit the slope steepens, the pace slows, pulses quicken, the cadence drops and gears grind. At this point our attention is diverted to the novice Pyrenean paragliders attempting fledgling flights; they look like albatross chicks accelerating uncertainly down their grassy runway; feet flailing, hopping awkwardly, and, as yet, failing to achieve the serene soaring of their more accomplished relatives.
Approaching the summit, breathless cyclists stare at breathless views through fever tinted glasses. Gradually the heat of the climb subsides. The riders remain captivated; this really is an enchanting valley. Martin Steer seems to have an affinity for this route (see later reports) and sums our feelings up "it just gets better and better!"
Lunch on the summit is generally a peaceful affair, punctuated by occasional interruptions from inquisitive goats and cattle, craving a treat. Finally, descending cloud and a gusty wind force our departure, the descent into Arreau is quite steep and we are hurried by the threat of spitting rain.
Due to our early arrival in Arreau the apartments are not yet available and the deepening thunder flashes suggest a cautious afternoon somewhere within sight of cover. One group forms at a restaurant for a prolonged second lunch; those with smaller appetites choose to wait in the market place.
The final few select an ice cream and/or coffee outside a cafe and settle to watch the thunderstorm. As the storm approaches the general view is that it will be severe, the cafe owners support this view and join us for the light and sound show. Tom is a notable dissident and suggests "it will blow over". Blow over it does, taking with it several of the cafe's umbrellas and sending us scuttling into the cafe for shelter. The cafe becomes a favourite haunt for the remainder of our stay.
Jim, the author of today's article, forms a (fairly) cunning plan and buys some veal (which turns out to be turkey) and pasta for dinner. The plan has one flaw (ok, ok! one fundamental flaw!), Jim's cooking experience is limited to oven chips. Luckily for us, Martin Pringle (a family chef in a former life) has been billeted with Jim and his unwitting victims. In place of the scheduled "salmonella tagliatelle", Martin prepares a feast which the fortunate few in room 103, Martin S, Martin P, Chris M & Jim, eagerly devour.


It is a brilliant day in a brilliant holiday! Thank you, Tony and Jenny.


Day 5
by Mike Cranwell
After a week of hard riding the team were in prime condition, the peaks were appealing and the cols were a-calling. At ten o'clock everyone was gathered, eager for the start.
There was Jenny, on her latest more than adequate bike; there was Martin S with a different sort of bike, with many working parts. There was Martin P, who had signed up for the Pyrenean trip at the last minute when his planned trip to Mecca to see the Pope hit an unexpected snag.
The team were poised for action and at the signal from Tony, Chris M leapt off like a gazelle, if a gazelle had been with us and had been riding a bicycle.
I too would have made an enthusiastic start but I had come to realise that I could not continue to drink all night, every night if I was to cycle every day and so had decided to be sensible and have a day off cycling.  Which I did.
Which means that I cannot really report day's cycling cos I wasn't there. Join me again next trip for another in-depth, informative and insightful report.

Marvellous Majorca
A fab week of sun, sea and cycling, great time was had by all!

C2C and Reivers
Water, water everywhere but ner a drop to drink.. a fabulous 360+ mile week of exploring the C2C and Reivers routes

Devon Recce Ride
Devon coast to coast, or four men on a boat back to Cardiff.
​by Dave Miles
Day 1 Plymouth to Oakhampton 40 miles
An early start meeting at the station, where Ray nearly didnt make it due to alarm clock failure, to catch the 07.30 train to Bristol. Although 2 people and bikes were booked on this train, very friendly rail staff allowed the four of us on to what turned out to be a very full train.
Yelverton to Tavistock 10 miles and  this follows the edge of Dartmoor for part of the way with only a couple of uphill pulls before Tavistock.
After Tavistock its a gradual climb for about 5 miles mainly on quiet lanes to Lydford and then a gentle climb to Bridstowe. Just after Bridstowe its trail into Oakhampton crossing the Meldon viaduct with its spectacular views.
After a 07.30 hearty breakfast we left Okehampton and almost immediately  hit a steep hill out of the town. It was lucky we had an early night on Friday and hadnt drunk too much! For much of the ride to Hatherleigh (8 miles) though we went at a fair old pace through quiet country lanes. Going out of that town and on our way to Petrockstowe (15 miles) we encountered some tough hills-up and down. At Sheepwash Brian was attacked by a killer rat that nipped his sock. A local in a nearby cottage shouted out Well done son. I killed two of them buggers yesterday
From Petrockstowe we had an almost traffic free run on mainly flat old railway tracks  taking in:-
-Great Torrington
-Bideford-lunch stop
-Barnstaple (42 miles)
This part of the run opened up taking us over bridges spanning the Torridge and Taw estuaries- a beautiful stretch of the ride.
We moved on to Braunton ( 49 miles) and had to make a decision on sticking to the route through Georgeham and cycling close to Woolacombe beach or taking a more direct route to Ilfracombe. We choose the direct route-still part of Route(27)-as we had to meet the Boat departure time in Ilfracombe and we were a bit knackered!
We had some tough pulls through lanes to take us to Turnpike Cross. But were rewarded by almost 4.5 miles of traffic-free downhill to Ilfracombe(60 miles).
We relaxed in Ilfracombe. Brain had a rabies check and we boarded the Balmoral for an event free journey back to Cardiff.
Although we did the ride in 1 ½ days its a ride not to be rushed as the scenery is stunning with spectacular views along the whole route and the August ride will be a more leisurely trip. As much of the ride is on trails, then this alone will keep your average speed down anyway so you have time to enjoy it.  No wonder it was voted one of the top weekend rides in the CTC magazine.
Ray will be sending a separate note out in August to cyclists going on this event.
The friendliness of rail staff stopped when we reached Bristol as the guard on the 09.15 to Plymouth stuck rigidly to the 4 bikes per train rule and as there was already a bike on Ray and Brian had to catch the next train.  This meant that we didnt start cycling until 12.00.
As usual the route from the station wasnt that well marked so we did the usual faffing around getting onto the trail. However once on it its well signposted.
The ride to Yelverton 10 miles is mainly trail riding and follows the old Plym valley line.  Make sure you stop off at PlymBridge to see the peregrine falcons.
Yelverton to Tavistock 10 miles and  this follows the edge of Dartmoor for part of the way with only a couple of uphill pulls before Tavistock.
After Tavistock its a gradual climb for about 5 miles mainly on quiet lanes to Lydford and then a gentle climb to Bridstowe. Just after Bridstowe its trail into Oakhampton crossing the Meldon viaduct with its spectacular views.
After a 07.30 hearty breakfast we left Okehampton and almost immediately  hit a steep hill out of the town. It was lucky we had an early night on Friday and hadnt drunk too much! For much of the ride to Hatherleigh (8 miles) though we went at a fair old pace through quiet country lanes. Going out of that town and on our way to Petrockstowe (15 miles) we encountered some tough hills-up and down. At Sheepwash Brian was attacked by a killer rat that nipped his sock. A local in a nearby cottage shouted out Well done son. I killed two of them buggers yesterday
From Petrockstowe we had an almost traffic free run on mainly flat old railway tracks  taking in:-
-Great Torrington
-Bideford-lunch stop
-Barnstaple (42 miles)
This part of the run opened up taking us over bridges spanning the Torridge and Taw estuaries- a beautiful stretch of the ride.
We moved on to Braunton ( 49 miles) and had to make a decision on sticking to the route through Georgeham and cycling close to Woolacombe beach or taking a more direct route to Ilfracombe. We choose the direct route-still part of Route(27)-as we had to meet the Boat departure time in Ilfracombe and we were a bit knackered!
We had some tough pulls through lanes to take us to Turnpike Cross. But were rewarded by almost 4.5 miles of traffic-free downhill to Ilfracombe(60 miles).
We relaxed in Ilfracombe. Brain had a rabies check and we boarded the Balmoral for an event free journey back to Cardiff.
Although we did the ride in 1 ½ days its a ride not to be rushed as the scenery is stunning with spectacular views along the whole route and the August ride will be a more leisurely trip. As much of the ride is on trails, then this alone will keep your average speed down anyway so you have time to enjoy it.  No wonder it was voted one of the top weekend rides in the CTC magazine.

WELCOME TO Spokes CTC! ..CROESO i SPOKES Clwb Seiclo !!

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