On 16th January 2018, tragedy struck our lives with the loss of our eldest son Jacob. An exciting cyclist, who would be preparing for his second season riding for National B team Steel Davis Via Roma. Last year I raised money for World Bicycle Relief (the details are at the foot of this note) by racing in the 4-day event De L’Oisans Trophee, raising just over £4,000.
On Sunday 30 June this year I will undertake an Everesting Challenge just outside Cirencester, Gloucestershire.
The concept of Everesting is pick a hill and ride repeats of it in a single activity until you climb 8,848 metres – the equivalent height of Mount Everest.
The hill I am targeting is The Dane Lane Climb; https://www.strava.com/segments/721250. Jacob and I climbed this frequently together, Jacob taking the KOM (King of the Mountains) in July 2017. Each climb will be just over 1 mile, have an elevation of 100 metres, which means I will have to climb (and descend) Dane Lane 89 times! May as well do 90.
This is likely to take me between 16-20 hours, approximately 200 miles and obviously around 8,900 metres climbing.
For those unfamiliar with Jacob’s abilities, as well as wining many local races and time trials, in 2017 he took part in an international 4-day event, the De L’Oisans, winning the Grimpee Alpe D'Huez race (a time trial up the famous Alpe D’Huez) and finishing 3rd overall in the Trophee.
Below is what I completed last year;
Le Trophée de l’Oisans is a tough challenge spread over one week covering more than 400km and 12.000 altimeters. It is made up of four challenges:
Friday 29thJune 2018
Documenting this journey in greater detail has taken me some time due to the life changing event in January 2018. I had planned these 10 days with my eldest son Jacob after he performed magnificently at the event in 2017, finishing 3rdoverall and winning the Grimpee time trial up Alpe D’Huez. An achievement I feel even more magnificent given the face he only started cycling competitively 3 years before.
Tragedy struck in January 2018 when Jacob passed away.
I knew I had to continue with the Trophee and try and make Jacob as proud of me as I, and the rest of the family, are of him. Winning wasn’t achievable for me, nor a podium place, but if I would aim to give it everything. Supporting World Bicycle Relief UK whilst riding was the obvious choice. This would ensure I knew something good would come from the effort.
So, on the 29thJune 2018 I left the UK shores, with the expected first of many coffees. This was a day of travelling, the ferry from Dover and then the 800+ kms to Le Bourg-d’Oisans.
Day 1: Saturday 30thJune 2018 – 25.2 miles 3,018 feet elevation
Jacob’s best friend Rory Gilling was also taking part in the Trophee. Rory and Jacob mainly competed against each other on the road, which forged a wonderful friendship. Rory had ridden the Trophee 3 times previous and had provided me with some advice and assistance, which I was thankful for.
So to the first ride, setting out on the morning from Bourg toward Allemond where Rory was staying. This was my second time in the Alps, having climbed both Alpe D’Huez and Mont Ventoux with Jacob in 2015.
Today was the short climb of Villard-Reculas, which arrives at Huez and then allows for a decent on the lower part of the famous D’Huez climb and then the return to the apartment just outside Bourg. The afternoon was registration for the first 2 events, The Vaujany and Prix Des Rousses.
Day 2: Sunday 1stJuly 2018 ‘The Vaujany’ – 108.2 miles 16,658 feet elevation
A 5:30am alarm call, porridge and coffee. Rory and I set off to the start of The Vaujany event, 100+ miles, 16,000 feet of climbing taking in 4 major climbs. Col de la Morte, Col d’Ornon, Villard-Reculas (plus the less threatening Col de Sarenne) and a mountain climb finish of The Vaujany.
We set off at 7:15am, a brisk pace and 20 plus km downhill or level before the first climb, in the cover of shade. This climb was ok, steady power of 222 watts for 58 minutes. We then descend toward Col d’Ornon.
This climb was exposed to the heat and 18km of steady climbing began. Again, this wasn’t too bad, but the heat was beginning to get through now. 44 minutes, 202 watts...slowing down now. At the top of Ornon was Rory’s partner Sophie with my second bottle of electrolyte. Most welcome! Half way point, 3 hours 15 in.
I managed to get into a group on the descent, with mostly much better descenders than myself, but it was good to be able to draft for a few kms. The next climb was a back route toward Alpe d’Huez. 121 km in, 5 ½ hours.
It’s at this stage where the heat really hit me. 93°F/34°C on the climb, then only a short relax until a 5km climb Col de Sarenne, which was completely exposed to heat and a dust bowl. It’s during this climb the heat peaked at 97°F/36°C. The descent was the most technical and arm hurting experience. Gravel, steep, hairpin bends...think I
preferred the climb!
Once the descent was complete, it was now 35 kms of a mix of downhill and flat roads to Vaujany. Tired, hot and low on fluids, it was going to be a long 35km.
At the foot of the final climb (only 5km and 9%...but if looked like 90%). Cramp now set in, I crawled to the 4km remaining sign and my legs stopped. Time to stretch. Got back on the bike, another few hundred meters, cramp again, I stood out of the saddle to the 3km point and a water stop. Drank and drenched myself and off again. Just after the 2km point was a water tap. I had to stop again, water and a word with myself. I’m here for Jacob #forjay, and to get bikes sent out. Get back on your bike and finish. Eventually reached the penultimate bend and Rory and Sophie gave me the encouragement I needed to finish. 7hours 40min in the saddle, 8 hours 14 on the course.
The 5km climb was littered with cyclists also struggling. You may read this and wonder how with only 5km to go can you keep stopping, well, I thought the same when I heard of people abandoning with 2km to go in a previous year. But most completed and also would feel a sense of pride in completing the course.
Today was much more difficult than I had expected. The heat that was with us for most of the day, long climbs that provided little opportunity for rests as I wasn’t in a group for most of the riding and poorly managed hydration on my part. Being honest, I fuelled as if I was riding in the UK and this was a mistake that cost me over an hour.
Day 3: Monday 2ndJuly 2018 – 20.8 miles 2,012 feet elevation
I had received some excellent coaching from Dan Guest and one thing he advised was not to have a total rest day. Yes, have easy rides between the 4 events, but don’t stop totally as this would more likely lead to more fatigue and stiffening legs. So, today, 2 rides.
One of 18 miles taking in part of the climb toward Le Freney (through the tunnel and back). Still took an hour, despite the short distance.
The second, the 2.8 miles round trip to Bourg to meet up with Rory, Sophie and Tim for an ice cream. This type of riding I could get used to…
Day 4: Tuesday 3rdJuly 2018 – 29.2 miles 3,474, feet elevation
Another non-race day, but more effort today than yesterday. This time I decided to do the first part of climb to the Glandon, aiming for Le Rivier d’Allemond and hoping there’d be somewhere for a coffee in the village.
I enjoyed this ride. The familiar route out of Bourg toward Allemond and then passed The Vaujany turn (not happy memories…yet) and into forested and sun-protected route. The climb was steady and quite busy. Most going all the way to Glandon, but that was another day for me.
After about an hour and 15 miles I arrived at Le Rivier and luckily enough there was a café bar on the side of the road. Time for a photo stop and an espresso. One thing I’ve learnt is when you’re on the bike and stop for a coffee, an espresso is a better way to get that caffeine fix as you don’t take in the liquid of an Americano and I’m not a ‘milk in coffee’ person anyway for any other style.
It was then a fairly relaxing descent toward Allemond and Bourg. I say fairly relaxing as it takes some getting used to knowing you can allow gravity to take control for more than 2 minutes! Descending is a skill that Jacob would have made me better at. I couldn’t follow him for long…within seconds he was gone.
Day 5: Wednesday 4thJuly 2018 “Prix Des Rousses” - 26.1 miles 6,571 feet elevation
Today was the Trophee’s first ascent of Alpe D’Huez and my first since riding it with Jacob in 2015. I say riding it…we started off together, by bend 2…well, you should know the rest.
I felt fresher for this one. The climb of Alpe D’Huez followed by the descent of Villard Reculas to the Vaujany...final 5 km at 11%.
The day started with a 5-mile warm up…and only 66 feet of climbing…The start being just before the start of the Alpe D’Huez segment. This race was a climb up Alpe D’Huez, a loop at the top to make a part descent and finish the descent of Villard-Reculas and across the reservoir to ascent The Vaujany again. This time a longer ascent than race 1.
Today was truly a race to power day. Taking the Alpe D’Huez ascent within my sweet spot, keeping around 220 watts, aiming for an hour but now wanting to blow. I kept within sweet spot efforts, using the hairpins as a sling shot (still people not cutting the corner). Great to climb an iconic climb as this, but didn’t have time to read any of the hairpins. Just steady power...At the top was Sophie with more water and then the safe descent of Villard. I did feel that I probably could have put a little more effort in.
But it did leave with enough in the tank to tackle The Vaujany (though the ride to the foot of the climb again demonstrated my poor descending skills). 11 seconds over the hour of the Vieil Alpe segment (my target was sub-hour), but I reached the foot of the Vaujany feeling a lot better than 3 days previous. I set in steady again, 227w, a little steeper that d’Huez, but shorter. Every now again out the saddle as the gradients reached double figures, but still fresh enough for a little sprint at the end and climbing The Vaujany in 23 minutes...22 minutes quicker than the Sunday. Now some happy memories.
Today’s target was to complete the race in less than 2 ½ hours, so 2 hours 18 minutes was a success, despite missing the Alpe D’Huez target by 11 seconds.
Day 6: Thursday 5thJuly 2018 – 26.4 miles 3,120 feet elevation
So for another new experience, today’s ‘easy’ ride was to climb through Oz (no tin men here) to Le Bessay. Again, heading toward Allemond, but this time taking a right turn onto the Oz/Bessay climb.
This started as quite an open and steep climb, but progressed to a more steady climb averaging 8%. It climbed through the forest, but the trees were predominantly cut back to allow you take in the view. Once at Bessay, there wasn’t too much to look at, a nice photo opp at a car park, but without cycling into the village, nothing kept me here. So, it was the descent…still unable to reach 50mph, maxing at 45mph, some 10mph slower than the KOM had achieved.
Day 7: Friday 6thJuly 2018 “Grimpee” (Alpe D’Huez time trial) – 8.5 miles 3,737 feet elevation
Today was always going to be emotional and difficult, even with this being just a short climb. This time last year Jacob won the event, taking the other competitors by complete surprise as they had no idea who this young British lad was. Here he was, taking them apart, on roads they were familiar with.
The start was quite frenetic, and I’m not sure if my overall time was based on everyone starting or when I crossed the start line. The start of the race is straight into an incline, with competitors pushing to the front. I knew I was racing to power, so didn’t get carried away. For the first few bends, it was busy and not helped with the size of some the vehicles going up and down the road. This did cause a few seconds of delay for some of us, but also some welcome amusement watching a lorry that wouldn’t dare drive down a British country lane tackle the 21 bends of D’Huez!
Despite an early start, the sun soon came up and provided an unwelcome heat, but not overwhelming. The target of sub hour on the Vieil Alpe segment was my main aim. I felt good and was sticking to around 250 watts on this climb. As I ticked off each bend, the time was good and I felt good. But as we went round the final bend, it was apparent that we weren’t going to complete the Vieil segment as there was a detour due to the market.
Instead of the Vieil segment, I had the satisfaction of complete the Alpe D’Huez Full segment in 54 minutes 58 seconds and the overall race in 1 hour and 19 seconds, with the energy for a short sprint at the end. I later discovered I finished 9thin the over 50’s age group.
I’m certain Jacob would have won this race again today. I know he gave me a helping push and encouragement as I climbed.
Day 8: Saturday 7thJuly 2018 – 15.7 miles 2,448 feet
Another sunny day in the Alps. The weather definitely has been smiling on us this week, with the only rain being one late evening storm and an overnight down pour. By the morning, all dry and warming up. For today’s ‘easy ride’, pre the Marmotte itself, I chose to head toward Les Eymard for a short climb and a different route. Keeping it to around an hour and not wanting to take too much out of my legs.
The climb itself was nice and steady with a few switch backs, predominantly enveloped in trees, which kept the morning heat at bay. The aim was to ride until 40 minutes, so I could then descend and head back to Bourg in good time. There were a couple of other cyclists on the road. That’s one thing I found, if you go off the main routes and head to some of the lesser known climbs, the roads are almost empty, which, if you like the solitude, is a change.
A steady 235w average up Les Eymard Climb, no scares for the KOM, but that wasn’t the point. On reaching a break in the trees, I decided that would do, took a couple of pictures of the ever beautiful scenery and headed downward. Top speed still below 50mph…
Once back to my accommodation, the rest of the day wasn’t spent with my feet up, but as my wife, Rory’s mum, Heather had joined me on the Wednesday, we decided to head out (in the car!) to Grenoble for the day. It was a busy drive, quite a few arriving for The Marmotte as well as weekend getaways. In Grenoble, a nice afternoon in a busy town. Not the prettiest of French towns, but something different. And I definitely recommend the cable car, some great views of the city from the top.
On returning to Bourg, the football World Cup was in full flow with England, which meant a short trip to a bar to watch the game before an early night.
Day 9: Sunday 8thJuly 2018 ‘The Marmotte’ – 106.55 miles 19,069 feet 8 hours 35 minutes!
Quite an early start for The Marmotte, but as I was in the main group, not as early as Rory. His start time was 7am, mine was 8am! But still had to cycle to the start and get positioned. The start area was in the shade, so quite a chill. Arm warmers required. Showing the small world we live in, a couple of Stroud Cycling came to say hi. The conversation with them turned toward Jacob. They hadn’t realised I was his Dad, but mentioned both Rory and Jacob and how impressed they had been seeing Jacob’s results last year. They wished me well and told me they knew Jacob would be proud of me.
We set off, steady and then the pace picked up. Good to draft for as long as I could, managed all the way to the first climb. The Col du Glandon. I took this steady, 18 miles climbing, 175w, 1 hr 50m climbing done, making sure I kept to my fuelling and drinking strategy. The top of the climb was netrualised due to the technical descent. This gave me time to get water, quick photo op and carry out a mechanical repair. I foolishly changed brake pads the night before, but didn't 'true' them in, so was squeaking down every hill...to the annoyance of others. So, that was fixed and the tricky descent before heading to the Télégraphe.
This was a mix of shade and sun, nice in the shade, a little hot in the sun. A very busy climb, wide roads though, so the cars and campers didn't need to get too close... I kept a steady pace, still 2more climbs to follow. Climb completed in 57m 33s at 197w. At the top was a water point, so quick refill as I may as well descend with a full bottle...extra gravity right?
Short stop, photo op and descent toward the Galibier. The descent was more relaxed than earlier, still fast, but open roads that you could see ahead of. After a short descent, the foot of Galiber was another feed station. This time stopped for electrolyte and a bread roll (something savoury please!) The Galibier was the most difficult climb of the day, not the longest, but a steep last 2-3 km, no shade and 2,500m above sea level. I found this tough, especially the last 2 km...hot, snow (?) and less oxygen. 1 hr 39, 175w. At the top I probably stopped for a little too long, didn't actually need anything, but I knew what was ahead.
The descent was tricky, felt really steep at parts, sharp bends and I’m envious of the better descenders. Next year...40km of downhill, but once out of Galibier it was a head wind..no! At least downhill. This seemed to go on and on...hands and shoulders aching, through some long and dark tunnels and now a little fed up of sweet energy gels. Ah, found an oat bar, slightly better. Now the route toward Alpe D’Huez again...
This time it was much tougher, 33 degrees, 14km left and a 13% welcome. This was difficult, very difficult. I knew there was a can of coke at the end, but still had over an hour uphill to ger there. Struggled to get the power over 180w, definitely could have done with a 30t cassette...next year. Eventually reached the summit, 1hr 19m this time, 25 minutes slower than Wednesday, but a sprint finish. Completed, food and coke...
An emotional welcome awaited with Heather, Rory and Sophie. The end, 10 rides, 420 miles, 61,000 feet. I did it Jacob, we did it...love you mate, miss your you x
The week wouldn’t have been possible without the help of so many. Not just those who specifically encouraged or coached me for the racing itself, but everyone who sponsored me, wished me well and offered words of motivation and inspiration. The 12 weeks training were tough, but not as tough as the event itself and nowhere near as tough as the reason for continuing with riding and the Marmotte.
Jacob has left an unfillable hole in my life, my family’s life, his partners life, his friends’ life and cycling. Nothing can fill the void and I know there are so many others who have suffered the loss of a child and many more who tragically will. Every time I ride one of his bikes, I feel a connection as part of him lives on. I know he is no longer visible to us, but his spirit remains, the happy memories will over power the pain and sadness. The fact so many people will have been touched positively by the kind donations does help.
I’m not picking anyone out for personal thanks as I’ll miss some people out, so this is one thank you to everyone. I couldn’t have done this without your support.
Each £95 raised creates the opportunity for sustainable impact in the life of a someone in the developing world. Every donation adds to my goal, so please consider making a donation and help me reach my target.