Introduction (7th to 9th Sep). This trip report is dedicated to my Dad, who just recently has some health problems. I hope you enjoy reading this, Dad, I was thinking of you whilst I wrote it - Love, Victor. This trip report is in 9 parts: this introductory post, then 1 post per day of the 7-day tour, then a concluding post. I took heaps of photos during the trip, about 400 during the 7-day tour, and more than that either side of the tour, in Toulouse and then Geneva, so the photos that follow are a very small sample of the whole. Enjoy! I love riding bicycles up mountains, so much so that early this year I signed up for an assisted cycling tour taking me through the French side of the Pyrénées, then on to Mont Ventoux, then to the French Alps. In other words, I travelled over 17,000km (then the same going home), just to ride about 600km in 6 days. Sounds crazy, I know, but it's the only way I could do these iconic cycling climbs I've always wanted to do. The Tour. The tour is one of those conducted by a company called Le Domestique Tours (link here: http://ledomestiquetours.co.uk/ ), and the name of the tour is KoM TdF (link to tour here: http://ledomestiquetours.co.uk/tours/king-of-the-mountains-tdf/ ). The idea is to guide us through various mountain climbs that featured in past Tour de France events. Certainly, after doing this tour (or about 3/4 of it, since my legs couldn't manage more), my respect for the professional cyclists who do more than this in a week, and at far higher speeds, has increased. The tour company gives you the option of using one of their hire bikes during the tour instead of bringing your own, an option I chose, because it's just too inconvenient to bring my own bike across the world (and on several connecting flights), and I just would have been stressed about it getting broken. One of the others in the tour group (Will) chose this option also. The hire bike is a Ritte, a lightweight full-carbon road bike, and I found it quite nice to ride (except for the saddle on it). The entire tour is over 7 days; includes 20 climbs; covers 760km; and has 20,700m climbing. Shut Up, Legs! As I mentioned, my legs couldn't manage more than about 76% of the distance and 72% of the climbs (580km and 14930m, respectively), but I'm happy enough with what I did, considering that my training for this tour wasn't anywhere near as thorough as it should have been. I struggled with motivation for it, given that in the months leading up it, winter reigned here in Melbourne. Although it wasn't a particularly cold winter, it just reduced my motivation to train. My overall tour covered 6 days (I sat in the tour van for the 7th), and was as follows: Code: Day Distance Climb Peaks 1 58.67km 1556m Hautacam 2 96.5km 2954m Col du Tourmalet, Col de Aspin, Col de Peyresourde 3 42.84km 996m Col de Mente 4 95.39km 3337m Mont Ventoux (from Bedoin, then from Malaucene) 5 176.05km 2838m Col de la Homme Mort, Col d'Espreaux, Col du Festre 6 110.47km 3249m Col de Parquetout, Col d'Ornon, Col du Glandon de la Croix de Fer The climbs I skipped were: Code: Day Distance Climb Peaks 2 28km 1000m Luz Ardiden 3 35.60km 600m Col de Portet d'Aspet 7 117.70km 4191m Col du Telegraphe, Col du Galibier, Alpe d'Huez The reason I skipped the second climb on day 3, even though it was a relatively easy morning (because we needed to allow time for the long transfer from St-Girons to Bedoin for the Mont Ventoux rides the next day) is that the saddle on the hire bike was causing me a lot of pain, and this made the ascent up the Col de Mente so difficult that I couldn't take any more after that. For the Mont Ventoux rides the next day, I used my own saddle, which fortunately I'd had the foresight to bring with me, and the difference was dramatic! The bottom pain just vanished, and I got my motivation back. Even the climb from Bedoin up Mont Ventoux, considered a difficult climb, was a lot easier due to having a saddle I was used to, and that continued for the next 2 days also, so I'm glad I brought my own saddle! I regret skipping that last day, since it was probably the most spectacular of them all (but I still took some photos of these peaks, as a reminder of what I could do in the future). Unfortunately, my legs were pretty worn out by then. The People. There were only 6 people in the tour group, including myself, so it was easy enough to get to know the others. These were: Barton (from Colorado, USA); Michael (from Colorado, USA); Michel (from London, UK, and French); Will (from London, UK, and English); Steve (from London, UK, and English); and of course myself (from Melbourne, Australia). Of the above, Michel was the strongest climber, with Steve and Michael not far behind, then Will and Barton, and of course someone had to be the weakest climber, so for this tour it was me. Overall build didn't seem to be relevant to the climbing ability, because Michel, Will and Steve were all my height (about 1.9m), but Michel I think weighed about what I do (78kg) while Steve weighed about 100kg (he mentioned it once). The tour was led by Kyle, another Englishman, a chef who also did competitive cycling, and seemed pretty knowledgeable about cycling in general, and had some interesting tales to tell about professional cyclists he'd met. He was also a good source of knowledge about the various climbs we faced. The Routes. The 2 maps and elevation profiles below show the route we took over the first 3 days, then the next 3. Days 1 to 3 route and profile: Days 4 to 6 route and profile: Getting There. About a week before I flew to France, I almost thought I'd have to cancel the trip (which had already cost me a fair bit, due to the tour fee, flight fee, etc.), because I got a cold! Fortunately, I managed to get rid of it in time, only to get a sore throat only days before departure. With the help of some antibiotics, I got rid of that, too, and remained in good health through the trip there and back, and the stay in France. On Sep 7th, I boarded the flight from Melbourne, which was 3 legs: 13 hours to Abu Dhabi, 6.5 hours to Fiumcino Airport near Rome, then 2 hours to Toulouse Airport in Blagnac, about 10km from Toulouse, France. I got a surprise at Toulouse Airport: the "queue" (if you can call it that) for passport control was huge! It was at least 10 people wide, and went for 100m or so. The airport even brought in a few extra staff to try to reduce the queue a bit faster. I then spent the next 2 nights at the Holiday Inn Express near the airport recovering from my jet lag, and exploring Toulouse. It's a pleasant enough place, but not many landmarks. There's some nice old buildings, and the main square in Capitole (the centre of Toulouse) has a nice garden area, and a lot of park benches, used by many people. The atmosphere there is nice: Another nice park is Square Boulingrin: I also wandered down to La Garonne, and admired the river, crossed by the old bridge Pont Neuf: The public transport there is good, too. I had no problem buying an all-day transport pass on the 9th, valid for tram, train, bus and ferry, which I used to go into Toulouse city centre and explore. I like what they did with the tram tracks, too: At about 10:30am on Sep 10, Kyle picked up myself, Steve, Will and Michel from the airport, then drove us to Lourdes, about a 2.5 hour drive, meeting Michael and Barton there, and the first ride started in Lourdes (see Day 1 link for this). The tour then lasted 7 days, from the 10th to the 16th, with the transfer back to Geneva Airport on the morning of the 17th. General comments on the rides. On some of the harder climbs when my legs got pretty tired, I'd have to make a conscious effort to stay away from the right-hand side of the road, on those climbs where that side of the road had a very long drop right next to it. Coming from a country where traffic keeps left, this switch of sides took some getting used to. French drivers appear to drive as fast as Australian ones, however I never felt unsafe, because they are (in my opinion) more considerate and better drivers, and are clearly used to cyclists. Not surprising, given it's a country with a very long pre-motor vehicle history, and with a much larger percentage of cyclists than Australia. The roads in France, or at least the ones I cycled on, appear to be very well-maintained. They clearly spend a lot of money keeping them in good condition. This was certainly helpful on the lengthy mountain descents, where the fewer bumps there are, the better! The French I met were unfailingly courteous, and didn't comment on my poor attempts at speaking French. I'm afraid I wasted an opportunity to learn more French: I work for a France-based multinational company, and am surrounded by French people at work (and various other nationalities, too). There are even regular French lessons held at work, of which I did not avail myself (silly me). Michel did do some translations for us during the week, and didn't complain about it once. Thanks, Michel, much appreciated! During the week, we rode through a lot of small, picturesque French towns, and they were all well sign-posted, with a sign on each road entrance with the town's name on it, and another on each exit identical to the entrance signs, but with a diagonal red line through the name. A win for logic and common-sense! A lot of the better-known climbs were festooned with the names of various professional cyclists, writ large on the road, generally in light-coloured paint. Amusingly enough, one slogan that also appeared in various places on some of these roads was "FREXIT". It seems that some of the French are entertaining ideas of EU separation also. Cyclists in France have the option of wearing helmets, i.e. it's not mandatory like in Australia. Some exercise that option, and others don't, and nobody makes a big deal out of it. Australia (in my opinion) is definitely backwards in that respect. The hotels I stayed in at Toulouse, Geneva, and all the country towns in between, had one thing in common, unfortunately: hard mattresses! Well, that's fair enough, I guess, since if they were 4 or 5-star hotels, the tour cost would have increased accordingly. I was really glad to get back to my home mattress at the end of it, though: so soft!