14 Oct The Diary of Soigneur -The Pedallers of the Pyrenees
Day 1 Sat.
After a flight from Glasgow to France via Dublin, we arrive in the French coastal town of Biarritz where the sun is splitting the sky and there’s not a cloud in sight. The Patrouille de France (France’s equivalent of the Red Arrows) are practicing overhead.
Some of the support crew are already starting to cook tomorrow’s lunch, while the remaining riders are arriving from the airport. Everyone gets settled, later we have a meet and greet, where we discuss how the week will unfold and I get to meet my new massage partner. Then its dinner and off to bed, ready for tomorrow.
Day 2 Sun.
First thing in the morning, I start my new daily chore of getting the riders’ nutrition sorted (filling water bousers, laying out gels, electrolytes, chocolate, etc.), then its breakfast.
Once the riders are all prepped its time to repack the van before everyone heads down to the waterfront to dip their toes in the Atlantic before setting off.
Today I’m navigating, checking maps and trying to make sure we have the right route. Once the riders are ready, we’re off and the tour officially starts. Throughout the day we keep leap frogging the riders, stopping every so often to check they are on track and have everything they need.
The first day is a simple ride with no climbs to break everyone in. Late in the afternoon we arrive at our hotel in St.Jean le Vieux and the crew serve lunch. As soon as we arrive, I set up the massage tables then wait for the riders to eat and shower, then we start massaging – each rider takes a 15min slot and we take 7 riders each. As soon as we finish I pack everything back into the van, a quick 5min shower then down to dinner, time for some chat then bed. This is basically how the week will continue.
Day. 3 Mon.
We took a few wrong turns today in the built up areas but soon recovered when we got to the open roads. Time for the first climb, Col d’ Osquich.
That complete, it’s off to Col de Marie-blanque where, halfway up, we pulled over onto a grass verge and ended up stuck in mud without any phone reception. We frantically tried digging our way out but eventually the tour coordinator came by and together we managed to get ourselves free. Note:- massage towels give good traction to wheels stuck in mud!
Further along during our descent, we also got stuck behind a heard of cattle that didn’t want to move.
Finally, tired and dirty we got to our hotel and it was time to start massaging again. 5min wash then down for dinner, chat and bed. My snoring has become a slight issue and we may have to look at new room arrangements.
As we head further into the Pyrenees mountains the scenery is becoming more and more spectacular.
Day 4 Tues.
Early start today as rain forecast in the afternoon and the riders don’t want to be descending Col de Tourmalet in the rain. The stars were amazing in night sky this morning. I’m getting into a routine now and all my chores are done.
Today we start off well but take a wrong turn and end up on a parallel route to the one we were are supposed to be on. With a lot of luck and a prayer as we pass Lourdes, we managed to catch up with the riders in time to have a water stop.
The ride up the Col de Tourmalet is amazing, the scenery is fantastic. Everyone makes it to the summit, although one rider is struggling with a back issue.
The weather closes in and the temperature drops, there is a whiteout as clouds come in, now everyone needs to descend before the rain starts
The riders are decending at up to speeds of 50mph. At one point a flock of sheep come into view through the mist on the opposite side of the road and as one rider comes near them a set of car headlights come at her through the mist on her side of the road. Near miss averted, everyone makes it down safely. At the bottom we stop for lunch.
Next Col de Aspen. A twisting, turning climb but everyone makes it ok. Warm weather gear on as the rain has started on the decent. We head down to set up our massage tables. Then it’s into our usual routine.
Day 5 Wed.
Late start today as weather is bad. After yesterday, we are staying closer to the riders or other support cars. Its my turn to drive, I have my route planned in on my mobile.
Our first climb of the day was the Col de Peyresourde, where the weather was starting to turn as everyone was nearing the top. The cafe at the summit was closed, so no hot drinks or food.
The weather continued to deteriorate but the decision was made to push on and get to the restaurant at the top of Col de Mente, this also turned out to be closed and by the time the riders making it to the top of Col de Mente they were really feeling the cold.
We quickly unloaded as much as we could from our van to allow the riders to get in and have a quick heat, change clothes then set off again on a cold wet decent.
On the next climb, Col de Portet d’Aspet, the weather was letting up a little but closed in again as they got to the summit. There was a shelter with a fireplace and I managed to relight some dying
embers which helped give a little heat to the incoming riders. Just after we started the descent, one rider had an issue with his bike and we eventually had to take him and his bike back down to the hotel, where everyone had already arrived. In previous years Hotel Eychenne would normally do everyones washing but their washing machine had broken down and so the organisers had to gather everyones washing, take it to a local launderette, get it washed, dried and then back for dinner.
Meanwhile, we were back into our evening routine of massage, dinner and bed.
Day 6 Thur.
Late start today. Got my daily chores done, even managed to ask for drinking water in French “Monsieur, boire de l’eau, s’il vous plait”.
Bit of a chill this morning but clouds are lifting. The bike that was out of order has been fixed and I’m busy helping to stretch off the rider with the back issues with a few lumbar rolls. His handlebars have also been raised on his bike to help reduce the stress on his back.
So we’re off. Flat ride out to start until we all meet up at Aulus-les-Bains, a few riders are having serious problems with chaffing but an application of cream seems to sort it out. It’s time to start climbing again, this time Col de Agnes.
Tight twisting turns and hairpins in this climb but the views were even more stunning than Col du Tourmalet. On the mountain tops you can see large eagles circling around, amazing to watch.
Everyone makes it up ok and the weather is great. It’s like being on top of the world.
Time for the riders to rest, eat, chat, replenish their food and water, get some photos then we’re off on the descent.
Then its straight into the next climb, not so high this time though, to Port de Lers. The weather is still good but the descent is tree lined so a bit cooler for the riders, who are flying down, then a flat cycle back to the hotel for an early finish.
At this point in the week, you can feel the difference in the riders legs – quads, calves and I.T. bands are getting tighter as well as a few backs and shoulders, they are more sensitive to the massage now and I need to use much lighter techniques. Back to my routine, then I find some time for a beer, chill for a few minutes then bed.
Day 7 Fri.
Early start today, up at 5am to write this diary, look at maps and do daily duties. Sunny with cloud, cold but temperature rising. It’s a long flat road out to start. 20km out, there’s a phone call to say we’ve left with the key for the hotel’s bike shed. We have to go back.
Using the motorway, we managed to get there and back and meet up before the first climb starts. Small towns and villages open up to a wooded climb to Col de la Croix des Morts.Then the winding decent.
Lunch stop in Axat, where we were issued coloured afro wigs to cheer everyone on for the climb up the Col de Jau
During the climbs, we try to cheer and distract the riders from their constant slog. I fashioned a kilt from a tartan car rug, found a small log to use as a caber to toss then jokingly threatened to lift my kilt as they passed.
It worked, I got a few smiles on that steep climb. The views and twisting road on the descent down the D14 was amazing. Then it was off to the hotel for the last day of massaging, by the pool. Then dinner, where I had my first and last taste of escargot!After dinner we all headed into town for some drinks, then bed.
Day 8 Sat.
Nice and sunny today, mainly a flat ride to the finish in Collioure. Then the riders will head to the water to jump in the Med. and celebrate with some champagne. Good, positive atmosphere with everyone down at the harbour for the finish and a lot of riders acknowledging the difference all our massage and support work has made to their week, “honestly, my legs wouldn’t have made it if I hadn’t got those massages every night”, “thanks for helping me with my back this week, Stu”.
I even ran into a retired physio from the French Rugby team!
That all done time to head for lunch. Now that all the riding was done, large amounts of ice cream were being devoured.
Once the bikes and vehicles were secure, we had a crew debrief before dinner, looking at all the positives and negatives of the week and how to move forward next year
I managed to work on my French again today, “j’ai laissé ma clé dans ma chambre” – “I have left my key in my room”. So dinner done, we had a few speeches and a song then it was time to dance! Until the bar staff told us that the Gendarmerie had requested that we stop. So over to the hotel for a party until 02.30am then bed.
Day 9 Sun.
Longer lie in, then up for breakfast, wonder about the town and the local market and chill until it’s time to head to the airport then home to Glasgow via Stansted Airport.
Thank you for an amazing experience see you all again soon!