We are a group of friends who enjoy cycling together - every three years we find a new way to torture ourselves on bikes and then decide to get sponsored so that people can watch us suffer.

So after LEJOG (Lands End to John O’Groats) in 2004 and LeKnees (The Atlantic to The Mediterranean along and over the Pyrenees) in 2007, we are now asking you to support our L’Express ride: Paris to Venice in 2010.

Sunday, 10 October 2010

Major blog update with new photos

We've finally got round to adding lots more photos to the blog, so please check it out again.

Also have added lots more images to the Gallery page that can be found on the main website (see link top right). The web site itself will be updated soon (we promise) with more details of the day-to-day routes so anyone interested in following in our tyre marks should also look there.

Many thanks again to all our supporters and those who have sponsored us.

Final calorie figure - currently estimated as 66,755 per cyclist over two weeks.

Tuesday, 21 September 2010

Home Safe

Just to let you know that we are now safely home.

The L'Express team came back from Venice to Paris on the overnight sleeper service on Saturday night, which was an interesting experience. First the bikes had to be dismantled and parceled, which went fairly smoothly in a quiet corner in Venice station (yes, there is just 1 quiet corner there, and we found it!).

We had booked a 6 birth couchette which, as there were 6 of us, meant it was a bit snug. Roy and Jeremy's bikes fitted in a space at the end of the top bunks which goes over the passage way, but John C decided that the best way to make the space work was to sleep with his bike! We're not sure what his other half will think of this devotion to his machine, but we have to report that, despite being scrunched onto half the width of the bunk, John actually seems to have had the best night's sleep of all the adults. The little supporters, true to form, slept like logs, Jeremy and Blogging Support were in the bottom bunks which are a bit odd having the seat head-rests dangling over them, and didn't do so well in the restricted space, possibly also due to being nearest the footwear... Roy meanwhile, managed to sleep on and off, and, being in the middle bunk, was able to enjoy a wonderful view out of the window as we sped through the night, and then as the sun rose over the French countryside, bathed in morning mist.

Arriving in Paris to a beautiful sunny morning, the guys were able to re-assemble their bikes in the sunshine on the raised concourse outside the station.

All machines survived unscathed, though Jeremy's mudguard was a bit squished and needed surgery. Cyclists and walkers then split up to travel via pedal power and Metro into the centre of the city. The team had a great time pedaling along the Seine as the river-side roads are closed to motorised vehicles on Sundays, and as a consequence are fully of happy, un-stressed cyclists, roller bladers and runners. We were aiming to meet up a cafe that Jeremy and Blogging Support had enjoyed on the evening before we'd left on the trip. Unfortunately we were too early for it to be open, so we moved to an adjacent cafe which looked splendid, having retained it's late 19th Century fixtures and fittings, and did a lovely coffee and croissant breakfast (second breakfast for some of the group!). We then met up again at Gare du Nord with the support team taking a quick detour past Notre Dame to give the little supporters a little culture. Despite being given a "this is what you are looking at, this is what it is called, you might have heard of it because of this famous story..." talk as we past the great Cathedral, by the time we met the team at Gare du Nord, the junior members of the party had no memory what so ever of what they had seen, and were only interested in the possibility of an ice-cream!

So - the team finally broke up, as Roy and John C hadn't managed to get on the same Eurostar as Jeremy and co. All had a safe journey back, and are now looking forward to sharing tales of their exploits with anyone who's interested, especially if they are interested in donating to our good causes as well.

Friday, 17 September 2010

Watch this space

We still have loads of photos to look through and add the the blog. Don't worry, we won't load them all - just a few of the best.

We'll keep an eye on the comments, so if anyone reading this is interested in knowing more detail about the route to try it for themselves, we can answer your questions. And of course, if you've enjoyed reading the Blog, please consider clicking on the link to the charity ride website and making a donation to one of our 4 nominated charities.

Day 14: Campolongo Sul Brenta to Venice

We woke up to unexpected dark as the shutters in the apartment had been very effective, so we were a little later than usual in getting going. Breakfast was again an excellent, all you can eat of cereals, last night's dessert remnants (including tiramisu!), breads, jams, honey etc. Coffee was bad though (in case you think it's all roses!).We consumed quickly as we needed to get going, finished packing, paid the bill (75 Euros for all of us), and set off.
We awake to mist and murk at Campolongo
 Campolongo. Our little apartment for the night is in the building on the left. This is looking back the way we came the previous evening.
 Campolongo. The view from our apartment window.

The morning was very misty and murky with the surrounding mountains only appearing in brief glimpses. It was actually raining as we started, but warm and humid. We reached Bassano quickly, only able to detect the exit from the valley by a slight brightening of the light. The rain was slight at this point as we swept out of the town. Down the wrong road as it turned out! But this was not a problem, as it was probably a quieter route than it would have otherwise been and only added a couple of kilometres.

We picked up the road to Castelfranco easily after a short stop to buy brioche and almond pie at a delightful patisserie in Rosa (sadly we couldn't afford to buy the whole shop). This road was busy with lorries commonly passing too close for comfort. We made good progress though and passed through the margins of Castelfranco after about 40 minutes of cycling. The next section was on main roads, so for about 5 km was unpleasant, and we needed to pull aside on a couple of occasions to let traffic pass. The next road was fortunately wider, much less busy and almost pleasant.

We continued to make good progress until midday when we stopped for lunch at Scarze. Here we were entertained by parking escapades and trying to fend off some small biting insects that left John C's legs rather battle-scarred.

Continuing, we were amused to find that our end point kept getting closer by more than the distance we were cycling, so from initially expecting to have to do 90+ km, we now only had to do 79. The outskirts of Mestre were reached at 1.15pm, in dry but overcast and sticky weather. We managed to get through the town fairly quickly to the point where we reached the final road - an umbilical chord of road and rail that becomes a long bridge (causeway) linking us to Venice. We could find no cycle route so braved the dual carriageway. Traffic fortunately was fairly light. When we briefly did pick up a cycle route, this disappeared as if by magic, and we found ourselves making up a route that made its way around the University. A short burst of more dual brought us to the causeway, where there was a cycle route of sorts, comprising the gap between the crash-barrier and the  parapet. This was find to begin with, but then narrowed and became corrugated - a mild form of torture for tired and saddle-sore cyclists.

 Only the final causeway to negotiate ...

We are there!!

Finally we were there, passing the Venezia sign (brief photo stop) and into Venice itself. We rolled up to the bus station at 2.25pm to a delighted welcome from Blogging Support and the Little Supporters who were just starting to wonder where we'd got to. We had FINISHED.

Our day was polished off nicely when we sat this evening in a Venetian restaurant watching the boats go by in the rain, wearing our new L'Express t-shirts. Several people commented and were amazed at our achievement, including the owner, and keen cyclist and fan of Giro d'Italia and Tour de France himself, though he confessed that he was very pleased with himself if he managed to cycle from one end of the Venice Lido to the other and back in a day (22km)! As we left, a lady dashed up and pressed a £20 note into Roy's hand as a donation. True to form, we emerged into a complete downpour which is still going on as I sit typing this back at the hotel. Tomorrow we return by sleeper to Paris and then by Eurostar to London - we're not cycling home, despite what one of our questioners at the restaurant suggested!

Vital Statistics
 91km, 57miles, 4 hours 9 minutes in the saddle, 162m climbed, 3916 calories used, average speed 21.9kph (with wandering on foot at end included in this).

Total distances so far: 1464km (Jeremy), 903 miles (John C.)

Thursday, 16 September 2010

Day 13: Trento to Campolongo

Very brief post tonight as both Jeremy and Blogging Support are working on mobile phones in Italy, and it's crazy expensive!

So - cyclists had a great day today, with a steady ride through spectacular scenery in lovely weather. They are now about 8 km out of Bassano, and hope to reach Venice tomorrow, on schedule. This is about 50 miles of cycling, so they hope to meet up with Blogging Support and the Little Supporters at Venice Bus Station sometime mid-afternoon. The plan then is to return to Venice Mestre - the last settlement on the mainland, as Venice doesn't officially allow bikes in, so it's simpler to park them at a hotel in Mestre. Mestre itself is choc-a-bloc with cyclists, so we're hoping that the team can identify some tame ones on the way through to get advice on the last part of the journey, as this is over the bridge that just links Venice by rail and road.

Blogging Support would like to put in a good word for the folk of Mestre, who have taken us under their wing. We've now been walked from buses to our hotel from 2 different directions by helpful locals. They've kindly put on a Food Fayre in the piazza in our honour, and we can vouch for the fact that they make fabulous icecream and sell it well into the evening.

Hopefully we'll be able to give a full account on Friday when everyone is together.

Day 13 write -up (finally):

Fresh from our experience of our inability to get out of Bolzano the previous day, we were determined that the same thing would not happen in trying to get out of Trento. So after breakfast in our luxury 4* hotel (an excellent all you can eat with great scrambled eggs - and we weren't the only cyclists there stuffing ourselves), we loaded up in the hotel garage and headed back into town where we had seen a book shop with lots of maps during the previous evenings wanderings. We initially found another shop with a map stand, but the owner made a fuss when we started to look at the maps to see if they were suitable, so we moved on to the original target. There we found the maps we needed: a detailed map of the early part of the ride, and a better scale one for the whole day.

 Trento centre
 Heading out of Trento; the Mountains loom

The detailed map lead us to a road that we could see rising steeply away from the town. An elderly gentleman watched us looking at the map with interest, so we went and asked him if we had the correct road. There followed 5 minutes of mutual not understanding, although we got the general drift that he was suggesting an alternative road. We were concerned that his route would involve us in negotiating a main road again, so in the end we continued with our original plan. After about 500 m of steep climbing, however, the reason for the gentleman's concerns became all too apparent; the slope steepened to an impossible angle (John's Garmin suggested 27% before he got off). After a short but brutal bit of pushing we got back onto a more manageable slope and cycled on, up and out of the town.

The climb initially took us to Civezzano, a small town set in the side of the valley. Our initial pass through revealed no obvious food sources, which surprised us considering the size of the place, so we turned round with the intention of heading up into a part of the town with the church (often a better bet). John immediately noticed a small hole in the wall sort of a shop that contained fruit, so we got some bananas, tomatoes and peaches (all of which proved to be delicious). We moved on up and searched backwards and forwards, surprised at the lack of food shops, until we found a Co-Op. Food was purchased! Just in time too, as they shut for lunch promptly on our departure. 

 Roy doesn't look too amused at our suggestion for a new way of carrying the food ...

The most detailed map we had was good enough to indicate the presence of cycle routes and cycle-friendly roads on it, so we continued to navigate our way on these, the route taking us passed a very beautiful mountain lake, ending up in a small town at it's head called Levico Terme.

We knew we were near to our main target - a cycle route that would take us all the way to Bassano that the gentleman from the previous evening had hinted at. After a brief debate we decided to press on until we had found this route before we indulged in lunch. Fortunately we had no repeats of the previous day's experiences, and very soon found ourselves cycling on a route with a good surface, quiet with frequent benches and generally well signposted. Satisfied that we were safely on route, we stopped for some well-earned lunch.

The route after lunch became increasingly spectacular. The valley we were in was characterised by steep sides and high mountain peaks, with a rich agricultural land at its bottom and scattered villages and towns. The cycle route alternated between bike-only wide paths and quiet shared country roads, mostly with excellent surfaces and good signposting.

When we went through towns, we found signs to 'Bolzano' kept us right, even though we were zig-zagging through residential areas with a high potential of getting lost. At one point we saw a sign saying we were on the Munich to Venice cycle route! As we carried on, the valley got narrower and narrower, the mountains drawing in and becoming more gorge-like. We stopped for a coffee / hot chocolate and snack at a cycle-friendly route-side cafe near Tezze - an example of effective advertising as we had passed signs for it from 4 km out which made us instantly want to stop there.

We realised that our progress through the day had been moderately sedate, even though we had had no major climbs. This was due to following a cycle route, we thought, which with all its changes in direction and need for careful attention to signs, was not the most efficient way of getting from A to B even though it was probably the most pleasant. After some discussion, we decided to aim for a camp site we knew about at a place called Rocca, up a side valley. We headed off again and soon the valley had become a Gorge, wide enough just for our quiet route, the river and a busy motorway on the other side. As we passed the narrowest point, our path turned into a construct suspended from the Gorge wall over the river with a mesh roof to protect it from falling rocks. After this point the valley began to open up again.

We passed an insignificant-looking junction that seemed to just lead to the busy road, now a dual carriageway. Carrying on past a busy quarry (where they could be seen to be stripping the scree from the base of the valley-side cliffs) JR then realised he had made a (rare, honest) map error and that we needed to head back to the junction if we wanted to get to the camp site. We did so. But once at the junction we quickly decided that we wouldn't risk it. Even though we only needed to use about 1 km of the dual carriageway, we decided if was too dangerous. The lanes were constricted, visibility at the junction was poor and the traffic was going fast. So we turned round and asked how we could get over to the road with the camp site. It turned out we would need to head further back the way we had come - a route that would add another 10 km to our route - 10 km we would have to do again in the morning too. It appeared that the quarry had taken over the route we would otherwise have taken and that was marked on our map.

The only option we had, therefore, was to keep going and find another guest house or hotel for the evening (we knew there were no more camp sites ahead of us). We set a new target of Valstagne, the next town of any size in the valley. Some 2km short we passed a B&B sign, but decided we would doubtless get more choice where we were heading, so carried on. What fools! On reaching Valstagne, no sign of any accommodation at all. It was turning into the previous night all over again! We asked in a shop that specialised in outdoor activities, thinking they were sure to be helpful. But they weren't, suggesting we would need to get all the way to Bassano. So we headed off again, almost resigned to another late night. However, shortly an accommodation sign appeared at the side of the road - rooms in 2 km. We saw further signs as we entered the village of Campolongo sul Brenta. Eventually, however, signs disappeared and it was only John C's sharp eyes that spotted the place.

So we found ourselves in a mini-apartment for the night, across the road from a guest house and restaurant that owned it. Great food and a good night's sleep, once we had got fir of most of the mosquitos that had taken up residence there ...

84.88 km, 53.53 miles, average speed 18.2 kph, max 39.5 kph, 4:39 hrs in the saddle, 690 m climbed, 4096 calories used.

Wednesday, 15 September 2010

Day 12: Saltuzio to Trento

Back on High Tech tonight, but keeping it short and sweet as we had a very long day.

We broke camp in good style this morning - after nearly 2 weeks we're getting quite good at it. However the uncertainty of Jeremy's hub played on our minds. We managed the steep climb out of the camp site without incident, then Jeremy managed to cycle the remaining distance into the town of Merano without once stopping pedaling - quite a feat when you're not used to it. Once into the town, however, we had to stop and start quite a lot, and eventually wheel the bikes through the centre in search of bike shops, by which time the hub had become completely unusable. The town is a Therme (hot spring spa town) and has splendid buildings galore with a backdrop of mountains. 

 Merano nestles in a valley surrounded by high mountains. It is a Therme with many attractive old and new buildings.

We eventually asked a policeman about bike shops and were directed to two close by. The one that looked most useful fortunately had a knowledgeable mechanic who spoke English. At this point the hub had given up completely, just whirring round without actually moving the bike! It would need a new wheel we were told, but they didn't have any Campag ones. Fortunately they knew of another shop that might help. We followed directions and ended up at a very good shop run by a complete Campag expert and it was just as well we did. 'Yes we can repair it' he said to our shock and pleasure. And he proceeded to not only fix it, but also check out the hub as a whole. It was just a simple 2 euro spring that had gone. This was replaced and the wheel now runs more smoothly than ever, proving that it really is cheaper to get an expert in the end.
Merano also has a bike shop where they fix Campag kit! We wait in the sun and surrounded by high mountains whilst JR's bike is fixed.

All bikes now roadworthy, we headed south towards Bolzano, picking up a cycle path that ran on very good surfaces along the top of the river defenses. 

Once on the way, we come across this ideal place for lunch built at the side of the cycle route that follows the river defenses.
The route to Bolzano is lined by orchards. This turned out to be typical of much of our route all the way to Trento.

This took us all the way to Bolzano, but not seeing any clear signs that the route continued, we headed to the road going south out of town, eventually finding that it was a "no cycles" road. There appeared to be no way south for cyclists! Fortunately, John then saw a roadside map of the area which showed a cycle route on it. We followed a route to get on to it, only to find that, within a few hundred metres of our goal, road works had blocked off access... Much frustration - we were beginning to believe that we were trapped! Once again, fortunately I had taken a photo of the map so we managed to work out another possible route - and this one worked. This took us on the same, defense-top route as before, all 55 km to Trento. 
The photo (taken at John C's suggestion) that saved our bacon. We eventually got on to the cycle route (bottom) using the Via Stazione (lower left) having been turned back by roadworks on Pfattner Str.
 The route continues along the river defense along the mountain-lined valley all the way to Trento.
As we cycle on towards Trento in to the early evening it becomes increasingly murky.

We found out from talking to a couple of very helpful runners that there wasn't a camp site at Trento as we thought there should be from the map, so we ended up at the youth hostel at about 7:30 pm. It was full. So was the hotel that we tried next. Then we went looking for some B&B's. No luck! We were beginning to think we'd have a night on a park bench when we were rescued by an elderly gentleman who appeared on a bike. He preceded to trail us through the town, riding Italian style (ie. ignoring traffic lights, one way streets and generally bossing the other traffic around) until we found a hotel with a room, though it was a bit pricey for our budget. No problem for our rescuer, who then negotiated our price down and finished by recommending the best route for tomorrow. Amazing! So after 2 hours searching, we ended up, at 9:30pm, finally with a room, and extremely grateful for our knight in shining armor. We've managed to get food now, and Jeremy is going to put his iPad to work looking for route options on our revised plan.

We're not going to quite make it to Venice tomorrow, but we should be close ....  

Vital Statistics
119.14 km / 78 miles, 6 hours 22 minutes in the saddle, but this includes a lot of walking around in both Merano And Trento. Average speed 18.7 kph, Max speed 41.3 kph, 324 m of climbing. 

No calorie count tonight as John C is fast asleep and I don't think I'd get a good reception if I tried to wake him to ask him...

Later update: 5767 calories used

Tuesday, 14 September 2010

Day 11: Langerfeld to Saltusio

Low tech post delivered by whispering into a mobile to avoid waking to exhausted cyclists in adjacent tents, so please forgive any misspellings!

We woke up this morning to mist clearing to blue skies, which was a pleasant surprise. It also meant we were treated to beautiful views of the mountains all around us, some with fresh snow on their peaks.

It was very cold as we packed up our stuff, but the glorious view took our minds off it. We got away by 9.30, and restarted our long climb to top of valley.

 Blue sky and mountains on the way to Solden.

At Solden the mountains that will accompany us for the final part of the climb show themselves.

This valley is a major ski area, so everywhere it set up for skiing with lots of hotels and guest houses everywhere, and shops selling skiing stuff.  We stopped at Solden - where the climb started in earnest, so we got a bit of extra food for lunch and put on sun-creme in honour of the better weather. Solden doesn't seem to be our sort of place, we decided, as we noticed that the fashion shop our bikes were proped against was selling designer-torn jeans for 229 Euros a pair, and t-shirts at 140 Euros each! Jeremy thought that for 229 E, they could at least have mended the jeans...

Solden is 38km from where we'd begun the 60km climb. Up until then, we'd been treated to mostly gentle climbing with just the odd steep bit, and climbed 1400m quite gradually. The sting in the tail is that the last 22km rises 1100m. As we left the rather soulless town the road got steep immediately, then then there was a brief drop and it flattened out, just to tease us before we started climbing in earnest. The way the road is laid out meant that it disappeared from view but we could see where it re-emerged a huge distance up the mountain, and just how steep it was! Fortunately for us, the climb was testing but not soul destroying. It also had some enforced rest stops - when we reached bit we'd seen from below, there was a customs point just short of the border - at over 2100m.

Looking back towards Solden from near the customs post. Our road up is just visible on the right.

After that, the road made a very cruel swoop down 100m - before settling into a fairly steady 10% slope for the last 4km or so. We'd have settled for something flatter, but it wasn't as bad as we'd feared. The base of the 100m drop also had a curious bit of sculpture, a massive cube - with maybe 5m high sides, which held the impression of a human form - maybe someone who'd thrown themselves at the thing in frustration at losing 100m height?!

Jeremy and John C took just over 2 hours to get from Solden to the top of the Timmelsjach Pass. Roy took a little longer, but his team mates didn't mind, as they were happily enjoying the fare in the cafe at the top. All together again at the summit, the three of us realised that, at 2509m, we were higher than we'd ever been on bikes before. Even when we were in the Pyrenees, our highest point on the Tourmalet was lower than this.

As well as the cafe, the summit had a funny little concrete building which has been made to look as if it's almost floating and in the shape of a crystal. This had an exhibition about the pass, so we had a quick look before the long downhill.

JR and John C at the col cafe. We are happy, both to have reached the top and to find some warm shelter and food there!

Roy reaches the top. The crystal-shaped building contains an exhibition on the history of the pass.

A view into Italy from the crystal room.

The descent was utterly spectacular, giving clear views of the road below falling in multiple zigzags down a near vertical face with amazingly close and huge mountains all around. It was actually almost overwhelming in scale and an experience we won't forget.  The slope eventually calmed down, and gave way to a more gradual downward meander through lovely little villages and farmland.

 Here comes the descent, John C upper left.

The descent continues more gently further into Italy.

Then we came to the village of San Leonardo where we came across a huge traffic jam. We cycled past the cars for a while before realising that we hadn't had lunch, though it was 4 o'clock by now, so we sat on the grass next to the road and enjoyed our food. In all this time, the traffic didn't move but some emergency vehicles sped past. We packed up again and overtook the jam until we found the problem. There had obviously been a horrific accident. It looked as if a vehicle had become pretty much embedded in a wall, though we couldn't see for sure as a tent had been put up around the vehicle, though we could here the sounds of cutting tools from inside it. On reflection, we were very glad we'd decided to do the cafe stop and potter around the exhibition at the pass. (Sad note: a glimpsed headline on Day 12 reported a fatal crash with the car having been crushed in to a wall by a lorry).

The police started directing traffic through, but obviously the road was narrow and everyone was in a hurry now, so this didn't really leave room for us on the road. Fortunately a local cyclist turned up and showed us a nice quiet cycle-route we could take instead. We followed if for around 8-9km, some parts a bit rougher than others, but not bad, when suddenly there was a loud banging from Jeremy's bike hub and he ground to a halt. Fortunately his iPad showed that there was a campsite close by - only 400m away, in fact. So we quickly went to plan Z and stopped here for the night at Saltusio which is just north of Merano. Now we're in Italy, of course we went into the town for a pizza (very nice, and reasonably priced), and the clear night meant that as we walked back along the river, we could look up the valley and see the scattered chain of lights marking the settlements strung up the mountainside and showing us where we've come from. It all looked quite magical.

So - we're elated but we've got a problem. Essentially Jeremy can't free-wheel with his broken hub, so he's got to keep pedaling as if he's riding a fixed wheel. This pretty much rules out any more really steep routes, which means we probably need to ditch the diversion into the Dolomites that we had planned. Truthfully, this doesn't dismay us completely as we are all fairly exhausted after so many days in a row of hard climbing, and the early stop left us a long way short of our goal for today anyway. Our current plan is to see if we can get the hub mended or made more usable, which might work, since this is the country of Campagnolo equipment, and they will probably be delighted when they see the Englishman with the severe Campag fetish coming through the door. Jeremy's main worry is explaining the need for a working solution when he doesn't have any Italian, and only a smattering of German. We're all so glad that the hub didn't die at the top of the mountain!

Vital Statistics
78km / 50 miles travelled (short due to abrupt stop), climbed 1155m (started just short of 1200m this morning). 4627 calories used, 4 hours 32 in saddle, average speed 17.2, max speed 55.2kph.