Sunday, 24 June 2012

SMIDDY PYRENEES' CHALLENGE- DAY 1

Saint-Jean-De-Luz to Assap-Aros
Distance: 165km
Ascending: 2466 metres
Ride time: 6hrs 50mins
Avr speed: 23.6km/h

Last night at 9pm the group sat down for a barbecue dinner prepared by Graeme and Neil. Whilst eating Neil did a brief on what we could expect for our 5 days on the road. He explained that the route would be extremely difficult and not to underestimate just how tough the next 5 days will be. I reminded the group as to why we were here, and in the many moments when the suffering looks like never ending, to think about their family and friends that are battling cancer and draw strength from that. Our suffering ends the moment we step off the bike, cancer victims don't have that luxury.

Declan Hegarty we are thinking of you!
Today's blog entry I would like to dedicate to a very brave and sick young boy, who is in hospital as we speak and is fighting his own battle against cancer. Just prior to leaving for this trip I paid a visit to The Royal Children's hospital to lend my support to a great friend and his sick little boy. I was lucky when Marty Hegarty came into my life through the 2010 Smiddy Challenge from Brisbane to Townsville. Marty and his brother Tony have hearts of gold and have always done their bit for Smiddy events over the years. Marty and Dallas's (Marty's Wife) 8 year old son Declan was recently diagnosed with a very rare cancer that attacks the spinal cord. Only one in 2 million people will ever get this form of cancer, and unfortunately Declan was its latest victim. The surgeon, who ironically is another Smiddy rider in Dr Martin Wood, who rode the Challenge with us last year, has removed all the cancer and Declan is now undergoing chemo and radiation therapy. At the start of today's ride I shared Declan's story with the riders. I know that Declan will be following these blogs, so this message is to you Declan. The lads are aware of your battle and over the next 5 days every pedal stroke will aide you in your recovery. Take care my little mate and I will see you on my return.

Missing bike saga continues.
Unfortunately it is still bad news for our good mate Peter DeAngelis. His bike is still nowhere to be found. Yesterday when we stopped at the Decathlon store Peter brought replacement bike shoes, luckily his helmet was in his brothers bike box, with the plan being to hire a bike so that he could start the tour. The hire bike that they got was eventually ditched as the test run confirmed that the gearing was stuffed. So plan B was to use a classic old steel framed retro machine from the 70's that was collecting dust at the farmhouse. Jimmy kindly donated his time to re-cable and tune it to the best of his ability. But regardless of a Jimmy miracle to get this beast breathing fire again, the bike weighs a ton, the gear levers are on the down tube and the brakes will stop him eventually after applying them with full force for a kilometre. All the lads are in awe of Pete and the challenges that lay ahead of him on this trusty stead. Watch this space...

The course today saw us leave the farmhouse at 7:30am and travel West for 2 hours to get to our starting point at Saint-Jean-De-Luz, which is the border town between Spain and France, also known as Basque country, the separatist nation that recognize themselves as neither French nor Spanish. Location wise it is set into the knuckle of the Bay of Biscoy, (Atlantic Ocean) is one of France's favorite beach holiday locations, which also attracts more of those horrible beautiful French ladies I mentioned back in my second blog! It's terrible what we are being subjected to over here... See highlights of the day below to get a feel for what our first day was like on the road, a very beautiful road, with very amazing majestic hills are alive type beautiful mountainous scenery!

Highlights of the day

Peter DeAngelis wins hands down the most courageous award; showing true Smiddy spirit by riding the clunker bike today over 3 cols (mountains) and doing it with the choice of just 1 gear thanks to the gear cable breaking in the first 20 kilometres. The nice thing about Pete is he could of winged and complained about how unfair life is that his bike went missing, and he would be entitled to that, but no, Pete went the other way, and made no fuss at all, excepted his predicament, and got on with the job. The group is so impressed with Pete and he has earned all our respect. Great job mate, we are all so proud of you.

Phillip DeAngelis went out in sympathy with his brother Pete. Phil came into the event with limited preparation due to his Achilles blowing up on him. On top of that he may have had a few too many waters that first night in Toulouse. Today he rode well but for the last 15km's a broken spoke made life a little tougher with some brake rubbing going on. Then with 5km's from the finish I noticed that he looked a little unsteady on the bike. He was on the verge of bonking (blowing up massively) so we pulled him over before he fell off his bike. 10 minutes later he was fine again but needed 17 muesli bars, 3 jars of honey and 16 bread sticks to get his sugar levels back up to normal again. Gutsy effort today champ!

Graeme, our esteemed tour leader, had a red faced moment today. After the group tipped their toes into the water to signal the start of the Smiddy Pyrenees' we pushed off for the start of our 150km day, but just 5km's into the ride Graeme could not decipher the course directions on his Garmin, and proceeded to take us along a road that was in the exact opposite direction to the way we should have gone. 15km's later and we had done a loop and ended up back where we had started from. I felt for old mate as I have done exactly the same thing -many times actually- during a few Smiddy training events, and I knew how embarrassing it could be. To the groups credit no-one complained and just laughed it off. Graeme felt bad but we assured him all was good.

Who needs salt tablets?
In my pre-ride brief I suggested to the riders if you are susceptible to cramping to bring salt tablets. No one did of course, except Jimmy and I, and we could have made a fortune by holding the riders to ransom for the many times today that they required salt tablets. Not starting until close to 11am, then losing a further hour getting lost, we began riding just as the heat was making its presence felt. With daylight saving here, it does not get dark until after 10pm, which makes the hottest part of the day between 2pm and 7pm. This, combined with the fact that we all came from an Australian winter to a European Summer, meant that at some point riders were going to have cramping issues.

Anna and Katrina today showed girl power to be proud of. Both of them handled the hilly course with all the aplomb of seasoned professionals. At one stage we passed some young female French teenagers and they yelled out to us. Anna explained to me later that they were saying "go the girls." And go they did. Awesome work out there today girls, always smiling and super positive and a joy having you in the peloton.

Jimmy saves the day when Pete's clunker bike gear cable broke; locked in the hardest gear, Jimmy did a MacGyver and used a stick to push the rear derailler across to an easier gear that allowed Pete to get to the top of that 710metre climb. While on the subject of Jimmy I really need to acknowledge how much work Jimmy does for any rider who needs help in a mechanical way. He is here not as a mechanic but as a rider who has fund raised 10k and earned his right to ride and ride only. But not Jimmy, who freely gives up his spare time to help others. All the guys sure are appreciative mate and we are indeed very lucky to have you.

Sharky's last words
It is now 11pm and tomorrow we have what will be the hardest day of the tour with two major climbs; the Col d'Aubisque is first at 1710 metres, while the Col du-Tourmalet at 2115 metres, both are Hors category climbs (meaning un-categorized) or bloody hard in anyone's language! The riders tonight had the choice of an easier day tomorrow and only doing the one climb. The easier option was discussed but outrightly rejected. We came here to climb and tomorrow that is just what we intend to do! My final words for this report is this; HOW LUCKY ARE WE!

See you all for what should be a epic report on an epic day tomorrow.

Sharky.

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