A Tale of Two Cities…
I was joined in what soon became known as The Group of Champions by ITV’s Tour de France presenter and acclaimed author (he told me to write that bit*) Ned Boulting. As we rolled out of suburbia and through the stockbroker belt, Ned proved to be as entertaining on the bike as he is on the telly and in print. He also fancied a bit of pace, so when Group Four stopped at 25-miles for a comfort break he suggested that he and I moved up to the swifter group three. I politely pointed out that unlike him, I was riding all the way to Paris. (He’d made up some excuse about presenting the National Championships on ITV4 or something so he’d be heading home from Folkestone. A likely story.)
Anyway, I tearfully waved Ned adieu and settled down to getting to know the rest of Group Four (G4). I’d say that G4 was close to your typical sportive field – riders of varying levels of fitness and experience mainly out to – sort of – enjoy themselves. As well as a big bunch of riders each of the groups were chaperoned by Vitus riding, Chain Reaction Cycles kit wearing Ride Captains (RC).
On the front of Group Four we had Jon ‘Eddy ‘ Lewis (check out his clothing range!) and at the back David Williams. As I was – in my head at least – patron of the peloton I obviously didn’t get to spend too much time with either as I was being protected by my ‘squad’…
Most of my interaction was with Gareth Wilson. Every few miles I’d hear Gareth’s Northern Irish brogue imploring riders to stay on the right side of the white line or reminding us to ride in pairs rather 12-abreast. By the end of the three days Gareth was pretty hoarse – and to be fair much of his shouting was also of the encouraging kind! In fact, the HotChillee Ride Captains are a big part of the appeal of this event – they do a brilliant job. Although I’m not convince by their yellow oversocks…
And the chaps had their work cut out – in theory riding in a big peloton is one of the joys of cycling. Grab a wheel, get a rhythm going, sit in the draft, take a tun at the front (I did Eddy, honest…) Like I said. In theory. The reality, of course, is that most of us never get to ride in a group larger than three or four. How many huge groups do you see in a sportive? I’ve even heard tell that the art of group riding is dying out among clubs. That meant despite the RCs best efforts it could be a little hairy at times – over-lapping wheels, erratic lane changes, swearing (okay, that was me…)
As the ride wore on, the group did – with some notable exceptions who I won’t name and shame even though the names on the back of their numbers are etched deep in my memory – get the hang of the etiquette. In fact on Day Three Eddy, Gareth and David led for a good few miles at a scorching pace. It was truly exhilarating and I doubt there was a single member of group four who wasn’t, at one time or another, imagining that they were Wiggo, or Cav, or Sagan flying along in the core of the pro-peloton. Brilliant.
Back to Day One and the ride to Folkestone. The weather forecast had been for persistent rain – it was June after all – so most riders had gone for the rain jacket option. It didn’t rain on the first stretch but under strict orders from the Ride Captains we weren’t allowed to try any of that fancy taking off jackets while riding, so boiling in the bag was the order of the day until lunch.
The stewing in our own juices upped itself a notch before nosebag in Lamberhurst thanks to the day’s biggest climb. Lovingly described as The Wall, but more accurately Kidd’s Hill, this was the first chance for the peloton to let off steam. It was here that I realised Cycling Plus publisher Richard Schofield and Dave Lane, MD of Paligap, might have been doing some hill work… It hurt!
After lunch it was on to the Eurotunnel at Folkestone, but before that we tackled Goudhurst Hill, used by the Tour de France in 2007. As this took us through a town it meant plenty of incredulous locals standing and staring. I think some even cheered! The finish of stage one, if I’m being honest, felt like a slight anti-climax.
Pulling into service stations is never that exciting is it? However, once I’d got over the lack of fanfare and podium girls, it truck me that I’d just ridden 161km, in relative comfort. Get me! After that it was on to Eurotunnel – on a coach, our bikes were transported separately by DHL. It’s quite a logistics marvel is L2P.
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