Raid De Pyrenees
When you find yourself in the departure lounge of Dublin Airport, trying to spot some like-minded individuals that you’ve never met before, you know it’s the start of an adventure.
Days. 720km. 100 hours. 11,000m climbing.
There were two things that I never questioned:
- Will the trip be well organised?
- Will it be enjoyable?
Six of us met in the departure lounge before the flight and introduced or reintroduced ourselves to each other. Martin was anxious that everyone made the flight and was in regular contact to make sure everyone had turned up. 6 anseo, 1 absent. The question was: where’s Tom? As it turned out, Tom had his alerts off and his phone on silent. Panic over for now. All aboard and heading to Biarritz.
We were met at the airport and swiftly transported to the first of our overnight stays. The following morning, the 100 hour clock commenced at our official start point. After a few pictures and a few words of encouragement for each other, we nervously set off, mostly into the unknown. We knew the days would be long, and we knew the cycling would be tough.. and we weren’t disappointed on either front. By the way, it was lashing down rain.
There was a good mix of abilities and a great mix of personalities, which made for some great laughs throughout the week.
We eased out the coast road for an hour or so on some rolling roads. We then turned inwards towards the mountains. I had signed up quite late to the trip, after my wife Grace convinced me to do so. I hadn’t really studied the maps of the daily climbs. All I knew was that the first 3 days were between 170-185km, with some climbing throughout the days. In hindsight, this was a very good decision for me.
It is hard to describe what it’s like climbing some of the most famous mountains in the history of cycling. But for me, this was about 8 lads on bikes and the most important member of the team, Terry – the driver of our support van, going on a trip of a lifetime. The scale of the mountains and scenery takes your breath away as you ascend higher into the clouds. I’m sure that everybody was worried at some point about the days or the miles ahead, but nobody was disappointed. The support we got from Martin before and during the trip gave us the confidence to face each day.
Everyone shared the load. When it came to the climbs, we all set our own pace to reach the summit. We re-grouped at the top, and cycled on to the next town or meeting point where we received our stamps. This was to prove that we indeed had followed the official route.
As with Martin’s training plans and triathlon camps, nothing is left to chance.
It quickly became apparent that each cyclist had little to do each day, other than focus on cycling. Martin had everything organised from breakfast to our evening meal. The hotels were ideally located for each days finish point and the next days starting point. This was great as it didn’t take us off course and add extra mileage to tired legs.
There was a good mix of abilities and a great mix of personalities, which made for some great laughs throughout the week. My admiration for the lads on the trip grew as the week went on, for many different reasons. Some showed some real cycling ability going up the mountains with speed and power. Others showed real guts and determination, grinding up some seriously steep, long climbs… with smiles on their faces and a positive attitude. The trip wasn’t without incident but thankfully, it was without accident. 9 lads, no spills. An achievement in itself!
It is difficult to explain how we laughed each day and harder to do the funny stories of the trip justice. One that stands out for me was when Tom Foran took a wrong turn and ended up in Andorra. He proceeded to cross the border to have his picture taken with the sign showing Andorra alt. 2408km. Col Du Tourmalet is 2115km.
On his return to the ground he was asked ‘where the fuck were you??’ His reply of Andorra was met with disbelief until he showed us the picture. The disbelief turned into hysterical laughter, and relief for Martin.
On day 4, the last climb of the day wasn’t too steep. However, we were on wide open roads with a seriously strong head wind for nearly 2 hours. As we reached the summit it was everyman for themselves, as we knew it was the final climb before a good descent into town. We reached the top several minutes apart as the tiredness had taken hold of everybody at this stage. We were busy sharing stories of how strong the headwind was when Sean Leavy arrived and explained that it was ‘the breeze from the med!’ It was a ‘you had to be there’ kind of moment, but I had more pains from laughing on that day than from cycling.
Sean strolled into the shop and came out with an ice-cream for everyone. Sure, we were only 100km from the beach after all.
On our arrival into Cerbère, there was no fanfare or crowds lining the streets, but our sense of satisfaction within the group was amazing. A few man hugs and handshakes all round. We finished the trip with the group comfortably under the time limit.
A swim in the sea, some excellent food, and a good few beers to rehydrate – obviously.
A great bunch of lads led by Martin Kirwan – Focus on Fitness, were none other than David Connolly, Val Brooks, Terry Grimes, Sean Leavey, Shane Power, John Gleeson and Tom Foran. It was a pleasure to share the roads of France with them.
The trip was organised with every aspect focused on the cyclist. Terry showed some unbelievable patience in the van and was on hand every day to assist with food, drinks, puncture repairs, clothing changes and moral support. As with Martin’s training plans and triathlon camps, nothing is left to chance.
If you want a serious cycling challenge, this is the trip for you.
hope Grace convinces me to go again next year!
Special mentions for my roommate Val, thanks for the cycling hat. And to Dots my teammate for the upcoming 555 challenge next year???