Tour de France 2009 Blog

It's All Over... The Final Post
Day 31 - There, and then back
Day 30 - Are we there yet?
Day 29 - One last big climb?
Day 28 - What difference does a day make?
Day 26 - I just don’t know…
Day 26 - Geez I’m a whinger…
Day 25 - Is this really Murphy's Law?
Day 24 - No rest for the Rowan
Day 23 - Every day a surprise
Day 21 If I die before you read this…
Day 19 - Gonna be a long day
Day 18 - Paying Dividends
Day 17 - A rest day, to watch the race!
Day 16 - I should have a video camera
Day 15 - A bit of a rant…
Day 14 - Need Sleep…
Day 13 - Disappointing
Day 12 - A bit of a let-down
Somewhere in Spain...
Day 11 - All roads lead to…
Day 10 - What a day, What a night!
Day 9 - The Wind, The WIND!!!
Day 8 - I think I should have bought different shoes…
Day 7 - Some thoughts on Goals
Day 6 - Things are looking up!
Day Five - This is harder than I thought...
Day Four
Day Three
Day Two
I'm finally leaving!
Day One
The day before...
Stage 1
Knee pains...
Key Sponsors On Board!
Well, time is drawing near...


Transcontinental!

posted 8 Feb 2017, 02:33 by Rowan Mc Murray

A quick update to bring you news that I'm going to race what I think is the toughest bike race in the world! It's called the PEdAL Ed Transcontinental Race No. 5, and it starts in Belgium and ducks across to Greece, taking in a few hills and with absolutely no support. It's gonna be great, and of course there is a new blog, which you can see over here!

Tour de France Wrap

posted 5 Nov 2009, 07:39 by Rowan Mc Murray

Well, here is what I said it was all about:

The Event:  The Tour de France is the most widely watched annual sporting event in the world.  It grips the hearts, minds and imaginations of millions around the world every year.   As the masses sit in front of their televisions they dream about being able to do something like that themselves, but are convinced that they never could as they settle deeper into the sofa. 

This is the event, in contrast, that will inspire the millions:
Rowan is going to ride the Tour de France.  There are a few key differences:
  • Rowan is not a professional cyclist.  He has no bus full of mechanics and masseurs driving around behind him, and is not being paid hundreds of thousands of dollars for this.  He is just someone who got sick of sitting on the couch.
  • Rowan is going to ride further:  As well as completing all sections of the actual race route that are accessible, the majority of the transitions between stages will be covered by bike.
  • Rowan will primarily be riding on his own.  While it is quite possible there will be others on the road, and indeed towards the end of the tour others may be venturing out just to join Rowan, there will not initially be any organised bunch that Rowan will be riding with.
  • Rowan will not be on a 6.8kg race bike and carrying nothing, he will be on a touring bike, carrying everything he needs over the coming three weeks.

Statistics:

    • Days: 23 (4th July to 26th July 2009)
    • Distance (km): 4463
    • Average KM/Day: 194
  • Max KM/Day: 258

In fact, things didn't quite turn out that way, but not too far off.  I ended up doing a few less km overall, but quite a bit more on some days.  I got lost a few times, took the wrong course a few times, met a lot of great people and had a great time.  Overall, a SUCCESS!
 

Breaking News - It isn't all over!

posted 14 Aug 2009, 20:41 by Rowan Mc Murray

The Tour de France is, but the Tour de Timor is just about to begin, and I am going to be racing in it.  I will be updating this site with news, so stay tuned!

It's All Over... The Final Post

posted 9 Aug 2009, 12:32 by Rowan Mc Murray


Well, here it is, the very last post for this blog.  I have ridden the Tour de France (well, most of it…  I am happy enough to call it even when allowing for the luggage as well) and returned home.  I have been back over a week now, long enough to settle back into a more traditional sort of a routine. 

I have not yet got all of the pictures up on the web, but am hoping that they will get there over the next couple of days.

Obviously I don’t have much that is new to add in this post, but I just wanted to put it up to answer a few of the questions I have been hearing more frequently, so here goes:


Q: Weren’t you tired?

A: My word I was, weren’t you reading the blog?

 

Q: What happened to all of those great pictures you took?

A: Actually from a photographic perspective it was a terrible trip.  Not sure why, but my early pictures just were not coming out.  I swapped cameras half way through, and my later pictures still weren’t coming out, so I guess I have to take the blame myself.  Even worse, with the second camera, I had a big shutter lag and slow shooting speed, so I tended to miss the subject!  Still, the pictures are now getting on the web.  Hopefully they will all be there within the next couple of days, at http://picasaweb.google.com/tourletour so if you want to have a look you are welcome to.  The ones I judged to be better are in a separate folder.

 

Q: How long will it be before you get back on the bike?

A: My plan had been to get home, lock the bike in the garage and then not even look at it for a week.  When I got home my first priority was getting to my German language class.  I dropped just about everything in the garage, and ran (all right, walked slowly) upstairs to have a shower.  After getting cleaned up, I needed to get in to the university, where the classes are held.  I got to the door.  My walking shoes were sitting there.  My bike shoes were right next to them.  It is about 3km from home to the Uni.  A bike is just such a practical form of transport.  All up it was about 45 minutes before I got back on the bike.  This was, however, just for commuting.  They have a great habit here in Germany of closing major roads to cars every now and then, so that people can use them to ride or rollerblade along.  They did that on Sunday with a road just near us.  So of course, Niki and I went for a very slow and cruizy ride along it.  That was my first ride for pleasure, but it was deliberately kept nice and slow.  And then yesterday, I noticed my race bike sitting there, looking neglected.  So I took it for a quick spin.  That one was also kept slow, but not deliberately this time.  I figure soon I will want to get some speed back!  Actually, if you read the other questions, you will see I want it very soon…

 

Q: What long term effects will this have on your riding?

A:  I love bike touring, but at heart I am a racing cyclist.  Due to various events it has actually been over a year since I last raced my bike, but the last road race I competed in I won, and I am determined that it will happen again.   This will have given me a good base to build on, but absolutely destroyed any speed I had.  So now I will be very slow for a little while.  Hopefully though with work I will get some speed back, and ideally even keep a bit of the endurance that I will have built up.  We will soon see.

 

Q:  What are you going to do next?

A: I am going to the Tour de Timor.  As I said in my earlier entries, I see this as a great event.  It will be something that benefits the world, and enriches the lives of many people.  I think it will also be great fun.  So I am going.  In the mean time though, I am back to looking for a job here in Germany.  If anyone knows of a vacancy for a good Renewable Energy Engineer, I would love to hear about it!

 

Q: How did your German test go?

A:  I hadn’t spoken German for a month, but with a lot of cramming and revision help from Niki, it went well enough in the end!

Day 31 - There, and then back

posted 28 Jul 2009, 14:12 by Rowan Mc Murray   [ updated 28 Jul 2009, 14:28 ]

Well, it is all over.  I got to Paris.  I rode around the Champs Elysee (around, not on, it was closed off and there was no way I was going to get on to it), I waved to the Eiffel tower and I took my own picture in front of the Arc de Triomph.  It was all good fun.

I got into Paris just in time to see the race looping around Champs Elysee, but there was simply no way I could even get within sight of the finish line, it was that packed.  I would have to wait until I saw it on tele that night to appreciate just how big Cavendish’s winning margin was.  He really is astonishingly fast.

Contador certainly deserved the win he got, he was extremely strong for the whole three weeks.  This now gives him four wins from the last four Grand Tours he has raced, and he has a lot of time left to make it more.  It sounds like he will be on a new team next year, an d hopefully for him it will not be as divided as his team this year has been.  To win under those conditions is a great achievement.

It was also great to see Armstrong back.  Sure, it did a lot of damage to Contador’s team, and he didn’t win, but just getting on the podium is a great achievement.  It sounds as though he will be racing for a new team next year and it will be interesting to see what kind of form he comes to the Tour with.

I was a bit disappointed about Andy Schleck.  Not that he didn’t perform brilliantly, and second place is a great result, but over a year ago I had picked him to win this race this year, so I really would have liked to see that.  Maybe next year…

As for me, I was still in Paris.  I was feeling a bit of pressure to get home, and knew that riding would take a very long time, because my legs were just exhausted.  The first thing I did on arrival in Paris was to go and ask about the train out that evening.  I was told that I needed to go to a different train station to find out about it.  But that actually it was now sold out.  Oh, and that there was absolutely no train that would take my bike.  Sorry about that.

I decided to go see the race anyway, since that was why I had come.  As I said, it was great, but then I headed to the right train station, to try and figure something out.  I found someone who told me that the next train was 6:59am, and it would cost 20 euro to take my bike.  Fine.  But he couldn’t give me a ticket, I had to go somewhere else.  I went there.  They said that no, the next train I could get on was at 9:09am.  But the bike would be free, I just had to get there half an hour early.  And yes, she could sell me a ticket there and then.  I decided to accept it as the best I would do.

I spent the night in Paris enjoying the post-tour celebrations, then turned up at the train station in good time.  The conductor looked at my ticket.  All good for me, but what did I think I was going to do with the bike?  After thinking about it for a while, he said it would be fine, but I needed to pay for it as well of course (and it was 20 Euro).  So it all worked, but I did wonder if I shouldn’t have just booked the train for the night before and then fought the fight over the bike when I was standing on the platform.  It is pretty clear that no-one actually had a good idea of the rules.  The conductor is the guy you have to convince in the end, because if he is happy it goes no further than that, so I probably should have tried it.  As it was I got back around lunch time, and had missed the first of the two revision classes for my German test.  Since I have been in France for the last month, a bit of revision wouldn’t have gone astray, but hopefully it will work out.

For the total trip my bike computer showed that I had ridden 4065km and climbed a little over 45km.  There were a few times when I didn’t have the thing running, so you can probably allow a bit more than that, but I think it is enough as it is.  In the whole time I had only one flat tyre, used one bottle of chain lube, broke 16 spokes, replaced one wheel, rebuilt one pannier mount and ate 2,638,721 gummi bears (estimated).  There were a lot of times when I was working very hard and many when I was utterly exhausted.  There were even a few times when I wasn’t enjoying myself (though not many).  I learnt a lot of lessons, and will try to write a few of them up and answer a few of the more frequently asked questions I got in my emails over the next couple of days.

I had some great sponsors, got a lot of help from a lot of people, and met a lot of fantastic people, some of which I hope to count as friends for many years yet.  I also got a lot of fantastic emails, and I thank everyone who took the time to write.  It will take me a while to get to actually replying to them all (especially as I am now studying flat out for my German exam), but I promise it will happen soon!

Thanks for listening,
Rowan


Day 30 - Are we there yet?

posted 26 Jul 2009, 13:55 by Rowan Mc Murray

I have met a lot of fantastic people on this trip.  I have also met a very few I could have done without.  I have been amazed by the number of Aussies I have met.  Some of them have made me flat out proud to be Australian (g’day Steve and family) but there have also been a few of them who have made me cringe just a bit.

Having spent the night on Ventoux, I naturally stayed to see the race finish.  This was where it was all going to be decided, and I had a box seat.  Literally.  As in, I was in a box.  Most of the fencing had been blown over as I climbed the hill the night before, and when I woke up they were re-building it around me.  They were building it a lot stronger this time, with lots of reinforcement, with the effect that I was in a little box formed by the steel fencing and the rock wall I had huddled against for shelter as I slept.  But at 700m from the finish, it was a great spot. 

As it turned out, not much changed on the GC, but it was certainly not for want of trying.  Basically everyone who had been a chance for the podium, except for Kloden, came by in the same bunch (all right, Wiggins was just off the back of it, but not far enough to make a difference to his position) with the three who would get there within arm's length of each other, but you could see in their faces that they had all been working hard and fighting for the last 21.3km of climbing.  I don’t know why, but something about seeing a group of guys who have been working for that hard for that long and are still absolutely determined not to quit amazes and inspires me.  It was brilliant.

Of course, not everyone was racing hard up Ventoux.  The rules of the race state that you have to finish each stage within a certain percentage of the winner’s time to be allowed to start the next stage and so continue the race.  The percentage changes according to what sort of stage it is, but for the guys who are not racing for GC, and aren’t going to win that stage anyway, there is really no reason to try and reach the finish any faster than this.  You need different physiology to be a sprinter compared to what you need to be a climber.  Sprinters generally are heavier, with lots of fast twitch muscle, but they tend
to climb slower and suffer a lot more.  So they won’t win mountain stages.  Also, there are domestiques on every team.  These guys do the work of fetching food and drink from the team cars, chasing down breaks, and sheltering the lead rider of the team from the wind until the crucial moment arrives when the lead rider will do his thing.  There is actually a lot of prestige in finishing the Tour in last place, because it is an indication that at several points you have worked so hard for your team that you have just had nothing left, and so lost a lot of time in finishing the stage.  So these guys generally won’t win mountain stages.  For this reason, at the tail of the race, there is usually a bunch that forms with the aim of riding to meet exactly the finishing cut-off time.  This lets them get through the stage as easily as possible.  They may only be twenty minutes behind, but they ride in a much more relaxed manner, often chatting and enjoying themselves.  It is not quite so exciting, but it is part of the race and I had to wait for it anyway.  Then there are the following cars.  And always hundreds of Gendarmes.  Basically, lots of people who have to be off the road before I am allowed on.  And when they had all passed, I was still in a box.  I could jump the fence OK, but in this instance I needed enough time to lift the bike over, lift the bags over, get myself over, get it all reassembled and then get underway before someone drove into me.  It took a while.  Not that long, but a while.

I knew where I was going.  I knew the nearest train station that actually had trains running to it.  I knew it had a reasonable number of trains, but I didn’t know what time they stopped.  I suspected it was fairly early, so I was trying to push along at reasonable speed.   Then I met the Aussies.   The first one was OK.  His opening line of “Parly voos Anglish?” was at least a pretty good try (probably better than a lot of mine…) and he was fairly polite about it.  It turned out they were lost, and weren’t really sure where they were meant to be going.  They had a map, but they had thrown the better version out, to save weight (I am not saying there is anything wrong with this, I may well have done the same.  I’m just telling you their situation).  I think though they had got to almost the top of Ventoux (they got stopped just before the summit, glad I had gone earlier) about 11am and then been drinking in the sun all day.  It seemed to have made the second one just a little bit obnoxious.  He seemed to decide pretty quickly that since I was trying to help, it must be my problem that he was lost.  They also changed their minds about where they wanted to go several times.  It took a while to get it sorted out.  I am not sure why I spent so long helping them, knowing that I was short of time myself.  Possibly it was because so many great people have helped me so much on this trip (and the rest of my life).  Possibly it was because at the moment when I tell French people I am Australian I get a pleased reaction of interest and appreciation, and I was thinking that if the French people met these guys then that reaction would change.  Probably it was a bit of both.  Regardless, it took a while.  Finally though I was back on my way.  The town the station was in seemed to have been transformed into one huge amusement arcade, with dodgem cars and ferris wheels and dagwood dog stands (are these things everywhere?) blocking just about every road, and to be fair, I probably spent as long winding my way through it as helping the Aussies, but it didn’t sting as much.  I missed the last train in the direction I wanted to go by about two minutes.  As a Brit I had been talking to on Ventoux about Wiggins getting fourth had said, ‘oh that is the worst possible result’.  Obviously it isn’t actually, but it is probably the most annoying.  But there was still a train headed the other way, to Avignon.  Of course, I had heard of Avignon.  It has the Avignon train station in it, and that is a big train station, with lots of lines.  I had a feeling I had heard something else, but I wasn’t sure at the time what.  Regardless, lots of lines sounded better than one, so I went there.

I got there as the booking office closed.  People were still being served inside, but no-one else was getting in.  A shame.  I was struggling to figure out what trains went where (the departure board didn’t really correspond very well to the departure list) when a guy with a bike in a Bondi Running and Tri jersey asked me how I was going.  Of course, he turned out to be Canadian but he also told me he was getting out of town because it was just chaos with the Festival, and there was no-where to stay.  But I didn’t want to catch another train.  I also didn’t want to spend a fortune on a hotel room I would barely use, but happily I found a good campsite, so that was all good.  I was back at the train station bright and early, in the hope of getting on the mystery train that had no information except a destination fairly close to where I wanted to be.  No go.  The next train for me was 12:39, and went to Paris.  This meant, essentially, that I won’t really get to ride the last stage.  Since it is basically flat and, other than the sprinting, ceremonial anyway, I wasn’t that disappointed, but it did seem a shame.  Still, I had a good breakfast, met an interesting guy who told me what the Festival was actually about (my first impression of Avignon had been that it was a nice place, but they really needed to stop people putting up posters, they were everywhere.  Of course, the festival is a theatre festival, and has over 1000 show running.  This explained why so many of the posters looked like they had been designed to be easy to take down in a couple of days…) and saw a bit of the town.  Then I still had a few hours.  There only seemed one sensible way to spend them.  I got on my bike.

Actually, there is pretty much always more than one sensible way to spend a couple of hours.  I also had a nagging worry.  As I said, I understood throwing out the map to save weight, and I was basically happy that everything I had bought I had used.  But there was one item that hadn’t been used for the original purpose.  I had ridden past a lot of great spots to swim over the last 4 weeks, but always been pushed for time.  The only use my swimmers had got was the night I was camping somewhere I was pretty much positive I would be woken up and asked to explain in the morning, and couldn’t find anything else handy to sleep in.  I was riding beside the Rhone.  I love rivers, particularly ones that flow fast and clear.  The Rhone starts as a series of tiny pristine mountain streams that gradually merge and wind through some huge cities across a lot of France (as well as other places) before reaching the Med.  It was clear, but I really didn’t know how clean it would be here.

Keen readers may have noticed there was no mention of washing on Mt Ventoux.  This is because by the time I finished it was freezing cold, bright daylight, and the only places I couldn’t see people were off the edge of the mountain.  So I had skipped the whole washing process that night morning.  Last night had also been a pretty average effort.  I was about to get on a train to Paris for three hours, where I was pretty sure I would have some lucky person next to me.  I didn’t know how clean the Rhone was, but I was pretty sure it was a lot cleaner than me.  The swim was brilliant.  The water was crisp and clear, the river wide and fast, the sun shinning, it was great.  When I noticed the time and headed back across to where my gear was I remembered that I was pretty fatigued through my whole body, but still I felt great for it.  I am on the train now, and funnily enough there isn’t actually anyone next to me, but there probably will be at the next stop.  All good.  So my ride today will have been a fair bit shorter than the stage, and in the wrong place, but I am not worried.  I will still ride up Champs Elysee, and feel as though I have ridden (most of) the Tour de France.

After that, I am not sure what will happen.  I looked at booking a train out of Paris, but was told I couldn’t book my bike in, but that it might be possible from Paris.  So I will check that out.  Riding is also an option, but I kind of should get back as soon as possible for my German classes (I have forgotten all of my German while in France).  I will see what happens.  This entry is particularly long, sorry.  And it isn’t even the last.  I will let you know what worked out with the journey home, but I promise I will be a bit more brief!

Cheers,
Rowan

Day 29 - One last big climb?

posted 25 Jul 2009, 06:28 by Rowan Mc Murray

So yesterday I was still not feeling 100%, but I was hoping it was good enough.  One of the biggest goals of this trip has been to get to a good spot on Mt Ventoux to see the race.  I think Contador is probably too strong to loose the yellow jersey now, but with one mistake that still could happen. 

Certainly I think all of the other podium places will be decided today, on Ventoux.  For those who don’t regularly follow the tour by the way, tomorrow is the last stage, but there is a tradition that says in terms of the GC (general classification, the yellow jersey and overall win) the last stage is basically ceremonial.  I don’t like this tradition.  I think if you are going to put 21 stages in a race, you might as well race them all.  Certainly if I was ever the guy in second place coming in to the last stage, I would be working my heart out.  The chances of anything changing would usually be very low, because the last stage is usually flat and designed so that there will be a bunch sprint on Champs Elysee for the finish, but I don’t see that as a good reason not to try.  Respect for tradition might be, but frankly it isn’t even much of a tradition.  It has only been around about 20 years, and for a lot more years before that there was a tradition of racing.  In several previous years the lead has changed on the last stage, so that sounds like an older (and better) tradition to me.  But the fact is that this year the order at the finish of today’s stage will pretty much remain unchanged tomorrow. 

So this is it.The final showdown.  I really wanted to see it live.  But yesterday, I felt pretty ordinary.  I decided on a radical plan.  I would have a very slow day yesterday.  I would sleep in.  I would drink a lot.  I would eat as much as I could stomach, but extremely selectively (except for the tofu sausage.  I really don’t know what happened with that.  I have to learn to read French menus better).  And then, in the afternoon, I would set off.  I was not going to push hard, just go at a pace I felt I could sustain.  The key objective was getting there, not getting there fast.

You may be wondering why the afternoon.  There were a few reasons.  For a start, I wanted to sleep all morning.  Secondly, I have spoken to a few people in the last week or two who have recently climbed Vetoux.  I met some guys from the Manly Cycos (based in Sydney, Australia, of course) who gave a pretty vivid description.  One of them said he didn’t know if he was in Heaven or Hrell.  He had just climbed Ventoux, which for any racing cyclist is a huge achievement.  But at the same time, it was a horrible place to be.  It was blazing hot, and the wind was just constantly hammering them, swinging constantly so that it came from every direction.  This didn’t really sound pleasant.  I realised that by setting out in the afternoon, I would be doing this climb in the very early morning.  It would be much cooler, and hopefully a lot less windy. 

So that was my plan.  I was really pretty keen, and as I rode the phrase “Ventoux or bust” came to me.  Then I thought about that phrase for a while.  The thing about Ventoux, is that several people have reached the bust point on it.  It has climbed a number of lives, with the most famous probably being Tommy Simpson, who died on it in 1969 while trying to win the Tour de France.  Some things are worth dying for.  Climbing Ventoux is not one of them.  So I changed my phrase.  Ventoux, or feeling really sorry for myself, and like it would just hurt too much to go on.  A bit soft, I know, but there you go.  I would give it a shot, and see what happened.

Gthe approach actually didn’t go too badly.  The nutritional side of things had worked out pretty low, and I was generally staying away from the flat feeling of before.  But I was going very slowly.  Not as slowly as yesterday, but very slowly.  Then I reached the base of the climb.  Everything slowed down.  And slowed down more.  I was creeping along.  It was now well into the morning, and I had a huge climb ahead of me.  I kept peddaling.  The km markers were gradually passing.  I would start looking for each new one about 5 minutes before I hit it.  Someone had written numbers on the road as well.  I am not sure if it was deliberate or not, but they were wrong.  This didn’t help my mental state.  And my theory about the wind had been wrong.  In terms of temperature, things were good at the base.  It was 23 degrees (celcius, of course) when I started climbing.  But the wind was blowing hard, and it had a big chilling effect, that got bigger as I got higher.  It was also, as I had been told, very gusty.  It would swing 180 degrees with no warning.  With the tent and panniers the wind has a huge impact on the bike, and I was getting blown all over the road.  But it was closed to cars, and nice and quiet, so I pushed on.  I thought about leaving the gear at the bottom, but really wanted to be able to stay at the top if I got there.  The climb is 22km long, and although it starts in trees it ends up well above the tree line, with a bare rocky kind of landscape.  Super exposed.  At the 6km (to go) mark, I was blown all the way across the road, and had to put my feet down to avoid the ditch.  I got off.  I started walking.  A few hundred meters later I had a bit more shelter, and I could ride again.  The rest of the climb alternated,between riding and walking, but I made it in the end.  I got myself and my 45kg bike to the top of Ventoux.  I saw the dawn spreading across the land, and the sun rising.  It was fantastic.  Absolutely brilliant.  The view is just breathtaking.  I had a huge sense of achievement (yes, I know I walked a bit, but it was with a heavy bike as well, so I think it compensates). 

It was also bloody horrible.  I was sweating like mad on the way up, but in the last km the road levels out quite a lot before one final steep pitch to the finish line.  Whe I hit that pitch, covered in sweat, my fingers were so stiff from the cold that I had to punch the gear lever with my fist to shift down.  The wind was horrendous.  I had to get out of there.  But I had seen a nice solid stone wall about 700m down.  It had about three tents in the lee of it, all of which were in various stages of being blown over.  I thought about my little tent.  I looked at the bright clear sky.  I put on just about every article of clothing I have with me, lay my sleeping bag down on the rocks, climbed inside and huddled up.

By the time I woke up there were people everywhere.  The guard rails, which had been blown over through the night, were being reassembled and reinforced.   There were people climbing the mountain on foot and on bikes.  It was all happening.  About 20 minutes later, the gendarmes started pulling people over.  No-one else was going up.  At one stage this was about the time I had been planning to do the climb.  I am glad I ditched that plan.  It would have been hugely frustrating to have got so close, and been stopped within sight of the top.  But I made it by about 4 hours.  Awesome.  So now I am waiting for the race to get here.  There seems to be a fire at the base of the mountain.  I expect it is a camp fire that has got out of control, and I really hope the wind down there is not like it is up here.  But hopefully all will be good.  I am on the right side of the road, about 700m from the finish.  If I see the cameras, I will give you a wave!

I still have no idea how I will get to Paris.  I don’t know how long it will take me to get down the hill.  I suspect it will be a long time before I am allowed on the road, but hope not.  My options seem to be to ride to the nearest train station and hope the trains are still running by then, or thumb down a lift.  I will probably try both.  I am not that concerned though.  By the time I will know who the winner will be, and I will get there eventually one way or the other, so all is good!

Cheers,
Rowan

Day 28 - What difference does a day make?

posted 24 Jul 2009, 05:09 by Rowan Mc Murray

Well, quite a bit, but possibly not enough.  Last night, I was in a shocking state.  I got a hotel room tha twas up two flights of stairs, and I could barely make it.  Watching the tour you can often see guys who have ridden hard for the whole race suddenly have one shocking day and loose huge amounts of time to their rivals.  Sitting at home it is easy to wonder why, when they have been keeping up all that time, they suddenly just loose it.  I am pretty sure that for the guys racing it is equally easy to wonder the same thing.  The answer will almost always be a combination of several factors, with fatigue and nutrition likely to be key amongst them.

Now the collapse I suffered yesterday wasn’t as dramatic as some of those you will see during racing, but for me it was a huge setback.  I really was feeling like I physically couldn’t continue.  My average speed was approaching single digits, for a fairly flat stage.  I was having a shocker.  I think that again there were a number of influencing factors, and that even the way I am doing this fatigue and nutrition were two of the biggest.  When I was leaving the town at the top of the last hill on Wednesday I had been sure I was going to make it to the finish, and so I had not worried about stocking up on food and water.  I did actually already have a bit of food with me, and a small amount of water.  Getting stopped 5km from the finish meant that I consumed all of these, and was then left for a couple of hours (the bunch was well strung out and took a long time to pass) without any more available.  The climbs of the day had been long and hard, but there had been a bit of rain around.  This meant that I was often climbing in a Gillette (sleeveless vest) and naturally sweating a lot, but when the road is wet under you it makes you less inclined to think of drinking.  So I suspect I was already a bit dehydrated, and then sat for several hours becoming more so.

Once the race passed I was overly focussed on getting to the finish, through the transition and then around the time trial course.  So I shopped quickly, and grabbed a fairly poor dinner from the first place I saw.  I was already going very slowly by the time I hit the ITT course (Contador’s time the next day would turn out to be slightly under half of mine, and no, this does not make me proud) and so by the time I finished there was no-where open to get more food.  After riding all day it is important to eat something to replenish your energy levels, and I didn’t.

I also had a few minor problems with the bike that needed fixing, so I couldn’t even go straight to bed.  And of course my train the next day (although actually it was by now very clearly the same day) was leaving at 6:09am.  So by the time I had fixed the bike, washed myself, done my  laundry, put everything that had got rain soaked through the day out to dry and climbed into bed, I was looking at well under four hours of sleep, assuming I could ignore the guy snoring like a chainsaw next door.  Had I not been trying to follow the timetable dictated by the race I probably wouldn’t have tried to get on the bike the next day, and I think I would feel better for it today.  But I did try, with the poor results you would have read about, and so ended up skipping about half of the stage.

So now, I face the question of what to do today.  I could ride to the finish, and then ride back here (Montelimar, the start of tomorrow’s stage) and look at starting the stage.  Or I could catch a train.  Or I could just not watch today’s racing, and head very slowly and easily into tomorrow’s stage.  I think that last one is the one I am going to go with.  It would be nice to get well into it, but I am concerned about a total revolt from my body, so essentially I think I will just ride until I don’t feel like it any more, and then stop.  This may threaten my plans to be on Ventoux for the finish.  But there you go.  I will see what I can manage, and do that.  It is another hot and dry day today, and things will definitely be slow, but at least I hope for a nice ride!

On a slightly different topic, one of the guys I met on the way to Annecy on Wednesday turned out to be Richard Wharton, from onlinebikecoach.com.  Richard managed to get some awesome pictures of the race, none of which I will reprint here!  He also took a pretty good picture of myself (on the left) and some of the other guys we were stopped with, and this one I will reprint.  Thanks Richard for sending it through!

Cheers,
Rowan

Day 27 - I just don’t know…

posted 23 Jul 2009, 11:18 by Rowan Mc Murray   [ updated 23 Jul 2009, 11:20 ]

What is wrong with me.  Yesterday worked out great.  Despite a bit of a setback in getting to the finish line early I did get there in the end, and then made the transition to Annecy fairly quickly and easily.  There are several things that will motivate me to stay in a hotel.  One is nasty weather, another is sheer laziness, and a third is lack of electricity.  There are probably half a dozen more, but last night the lack of electricity was the driving force.  You see, in order to write this blog, to stay in contact with the world via telephone, to get my GPS to tell me just where exactly I am (and how to get where I want to be) and to ride all night by the light of my LEDs, I need to charge everything.  So sometimes that provides sufficient motivation for a hotel.  That was to be the case last night.

While waiting for the race yesterday I had met a bunch of people who were staying in Annecy last night.  They were positive that everything was booked out.  They had needed reservations months in advance.  This sounded sort of plausible, because today’s stage is the individual time trial (ITT), which is always one of the most popular stages to watch live, and it starts and finishes in Annecy.  I have a theory, though, that it is rare for all of the accommodation in a town to be booked out.  Certainly in the past people have told me that there was no accommodation to be had, and I have found some within 10 minutes.  Usually though it is the little places.  I decided to try my luck.  The other factor was that I had decided to do the transition to tomorrow’s stage by train, and it left very early, so I wanted somewhere near the train station (that is right, I actually left town before the ITT started).  The first five places I looked though did not seem promising.  They were all full.  The tourism information office was closed by that time of night, but had taken the helpful step of putting up a list of hotels with the location, number of vacant rooms and price per night.  There was nothing even vaguely promising there.  I was starting to think maybe I would have to camp by the lake after all, when I saw an old sign pointing down a back street to a hotel.  Two more backstreets later, and I had a hotel room.  This is one of my pet hates.  This place was run by a lovely old lady, and is actually doing pretty well tonight anyway, but she was definitely not listed by the tourist information service.  I think this makes it pretty tough for a small business, and I was glad to do my bit.

Anyway, with a room and a knowledge of the train times, nothing remained but to ride the course.  It is interesting.  It is very non-technical.  The first 20km are absolutely flat.  These will suit a real powerhouse type rider, a big guy like Cancellara who can get into a good aero tuck, then put the hammer down and keep it there.  But then the hill is actually quite steep.  Not long, but steep.  It might be just enough to make the difference in the final result.  I realise now though that they are nearly all finished, so I will have a look and see!

Today, I planned to ride Friday’s stage.  That way I could get a good night’s sleep tonight, finish off the stage and watch the finish, then head straight to Ventoux.  I expect to be riding through the night on Friday, but that is why my lights are charging now.  If I leave it until morning, I certainly won’t make it to the finish without being stopped.  And of course I want to finish early on Saturday as well, so I can figure out a way to get to Paris! 

The problem is, my body just isn’t working for me.  After saying yesterday how easyit all was, today it feels like everything is at about 25%, and it was just too hard.  I have been feeling a bit crook on and off, and today I just don’t feel good.  It means I have no appetite, with no appetite I am not eating, and with no food I have no power.  So the plan changed.  I rode half of today’s stage, up to Romans.  There has been a huge head wind all day.  I feel exhausted, like I can barely stay on the bike.  So now, I am catching a train to Montelimar.  Hopefully I am just tired.  I will try to get a really good night’s sleep tonight, then ride to tomorrow’s finish, and carry on as planned.  Will soon see if it works though!

Cheers,
Rowan

P.S. Couldn’t post this earlier, and now the ITT is all over.  Looks like it was a great one.  Contador is riding amazingly.  To come through and win there by that sort of a margin is fantastic.  I will be surprised if anyone can make a difference on tomorrow’s stage.  It did me in, I admit, but I am not exactly a pro rider.  Also, the prediction is for tail winds for tomorrow, which should make it much easier.  So I don’t see any big changes happening.  But for Saturday…  As I see it, both Schlecks, Armstrong, Wiggins and Kloden could pretty easily win or loose a podium place on Saturday.  These guys will be giving it everything, and it should be awesome racing.

Day 26 - Geez I’m a whinger…

posted 22 Jul 2009, 07:29 by Rowan Mc Murray

So it is time to clear up some more misconceptions.  I have been getting some awesome emails, and I really appreciate it.  Sometimes I do feel tired and sorry for myself and the concept of quitting doesn’t seem that bad, but then I see some of the great emails and realise that no, I can do this.  Because it really isn’t that hard, and nothing has really gone wrong.  I have noticed though that a fair number of emails are saying that they are sorry things are going so badly for me.  But they are not.  I have had some experiences I could have done without, but most of them have been great, and overall I have been having an awesome time.  Without a doubt the darkest moments are when I am stopped beside the road, knowing full well that the caravan is not due for several hours, and that my precious daylight hours are being eaten away.  And at times like that, I can’t ride, it is the middle of the day and far to noisy to sleep, I can’t even catch a train, I can’t get any progress whatsoever.  The one thing I can do is write my blog.  So there is a distinct bias, with the blog being written in the darkest hours of the whole trip.  But even now, I am having a great time.

I have actually had a great day today.  I got a good start last night, getting most of the way to the top of the second climb for the day.  Then I got a nice early start, and had a great ride.  It rained a bit, but mainly while I was at the bottom of hills.  This is great, because it takes the heat out of the road and makes for nice climbing.  I still had a Cat.2 climb and two Cat.1 climbs to go today, and I was very keen to finish early so I can get to the time trail course early.  The problem is that it will be closed for a lot of the day, so ideally I would even ride it tonight instead of tomorrow.  I have pretty much decided that I will not watch any of the time trial.  It would be good to see, but will just make it too tough to get to Ventoux.  If I can ride the time trial course tonight though, and then most of Friday’s stage tomorrow, then I should get a good start on Ventoux, and should actually get up it.  That is the plan, anyway.  Today actually went very well on the bike.  I got over the first two climbs OK, and still hadn’t been stopped, but the legs were starting to feel it.  Happily, I met a couple of great guys at the top.  Sean (sorry if that is the wrong spelling Shawn) and Dan were out having a fun ride.  They were both in pretty good shape, and could have been climbing a lot faster than me, but chose to hang around for a chat instead.  This was brilliant, because they then paced me all the way up the next climb.  As I neared the top Sean opened up a bit of a gap, and I could see Dan just champing at the bit, but he generously hung back and chatted with me until I could see the summit.  By that stage I felt so guilty that I told him I would see him at the top.  He was out of sight within about twenty seconds, but he had essentially pulled me to the top of the hill, which was brilliant. 

I was thinking at that stage that I would make it to the finish, because it was basically one big long descent,.  This would have been great, because it would have given me time to go and figure out the train timetables, with the hope of training some of the transitions coming up, and still see the finish of the stage.  Unfortunately I met the wrong Gendarme on the way down.  Still, I am only about 10km from the finish, so hopefully I won’t get in too late.  Then of course it is a 40km transition, and then the 40km time trial.  I will see how I go.  But it has been a great day.  All of the rain has been quickly followed by warm sun, so even as I sit here I am warm, and drying out nicely.

The riding has also been brilliant.  I had briefly wondered why Col de Romme made it is a Cat.1 climb, when it was so short.  Then I rode it, and figured it out.  That is one steep little hill.  It also had a little bit of wind on it as I climbed it.  Specifically, gusts would hit me and just knock the bike sideways feet at a time.  Happily I had the luxury of a road closed to cars, so I was happy to keep going.  I had, unfortunately, hung my sunglasses off my handlebars.  A gust of wind blew them off.  I had to stop.  There was no way I was going to get going again where I was.  I pushed the bike 200m, around the next corner.  The hill was just as steep, the difference was that now it was a tailwind, instead of a side wind.  Starting was easy.  Brilliant.  Right, going to post this now if the internet works for me, if you are watching on tele I am about 10km from the finish, I will give you a wave!

Cheers,
Rowan

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