I must immediately warn readers that this blog is nothing to do with planning or housing. I recently spent 7 days as part of the Support Team for ‘Bike for Bobby’ bike ride. An epic 3500 mile ride for charity in honour of Sir Bobby Robson and being undertaken by 2 pals of mine, Phil Gray and ex NUFC full back, Robbie Elliot. I was asked to write a daily blog and the following paragraphs give my thoughts on 5 days of brutal riding.
DAY 13 SOMETHING IN THE WATER AT EVIANS:-
Day 13 from Evians les Bains started with the boys being interviewed by some senior guys from the Hilton Group. After a fantastic welcome the night before it was clear Hilton are the going the extra mile to help. Despite still looking green and unable to keep food down Robbie still got on the bike and both he and Phil pedalled hard from the off.
Although the temperatures hovered around zero a clear bright sun set off the stunning Alpine scenery and lifted morale. After riding around two sides of Lake Geneva the boys hit some brutal mountain climbing through the beautiful snow laden landscape before descending to Lake Neuchatel. Here the the exertions of the ride on top of 3 days illness with no food finally catch up with with Robbie and it was necessary to pop into the local hospital. The diagnosis was reassuring and again he shows iron resolve to get on with what needs to be done.
The day ends with most of the crew sleeping in a van after a much needed hearty meal.
DAY 14 THE BULLDOGS MEET THE ALSATIONS:-
Day 14 started with simple geography lesson. When you stay high up in the Alps in November its absolutely freezing at 6am. Despite sleeping in the van and having nothing more than a coffee and croissant Phil led the charge closely followed by Rob who still couldn’t face any food. Both were wrapped up like Michelin men to keep the biting cold out.
What followed was another brutal test of their resolve. Two and half hours of relentless climbing. Close to 1000 metres uphill in one sapping stint. And not once did the temperature get above freezing as the snow reached over a foot in depth.
After a much needed hot chocolate and some food it was back in the saddle. More climbing until the long awaited summit at 1300metres. Hair raising descents on icy roads tested the nerves until they re- entered France riding through some beautiful historic Alsation villages. Another food stop at Wittesheim lifted the boys spirits further knowing a long flat section through the Rhine valley lay ahead.
This was where the boys really put the hammer down. Averaging 22 miles per hour and doing the last hour in the pitch dark they demolished the last 50 miles thereby getting them back to Strasburg and back on target schedule for the first time since day 3. A great reward for a Herculean effort.
DAY 15 OH LORRAINE LORRAINE:-
So did the doctors magic wand work? In a word…No.
Day 16 started with Robbie still looking and feeling under the weather. And what little breakfast he could face was swiftly rejected. Phil was also looking beaten up as he arrived at breakfast at 6.50am. It was a national bank holiday in France for the ‘day of the dead’. Both were getting into the spirit by looking half dead themselves.
So probably best to have a rest day and regroup? No chance. After a swift check out the boys were rolling again just after 7.30. Three hours hard riding followed on terrain described by them as ‘rolling’. To others it just looked horribly hilly. A coffee and grub stop in the beautiful market down of Phalsbourg lifted the spirits.
Unfortunately it was short lived. As they swept through a series of historic Alsace/Lorraine villages the 80 kph wind and rain came. Being soaked and freezing dipped the mood and the fact that virtually every shop and cafe in France was closed didn’t help.
Finally an open pizza restaurant was spotted. Only problem was that the doctor has ordered that Robbie eats only natural food. Luckily a banana sandwich was rustled up whilst the team enjoyed French fries and hot chocolate. Proper team spirit!
The wind picked up even more in late afternoon adding to the frustrations caused by numerous annoying and time consuming road diversions. When you are following a route painstakingly plotted on a GPS system such diversions can cause huge problems.
As night fell the boys turned the pedals relentlessly before arriving to another great welcome at the Hilton Luxembourg. Even better Robbie managed to see a Doctor and got a cow sized intravenous drip which delivered immediate results.
Two monster days in the saddle encompassing 4 different countries has put them bang on schedule.
‘Chapeau’ ….. as they say in these parts.
DAY 16 LUX IS NOT FOR LUXURY:-
For Popeye it was spinach. For Robbie Elliot it is clearly saline, taken intravenously.
After being injected with nearly an ocean of the stuff last night all eyes were looking hopefully at the potential effects. Within an hour the answer was clear. Robbie is back to health.
Day 17 was down to be a rest day. Nothing could be further from the truth. After 15 minutes the rain came, after half an hour the 80 kph winds came and after an hour the mountains came. All of them stayed around until close of play – 7 hours later.
A monumental and incessant show of courage and guts followed. Despite one mountain constantly following another the determination to stay on schedule never waned. When god handed the balls out he gave these two more than their fair share.
Nothing much else to report – just head down backside up to tick the miles off and stave of the cold.
And the rider’s verdict at the end….
“That was awful – my legs have been totally numb for 3 hours” said Phil.
“Some fxxxing rest day” was Robbie’s considered view as he gave a great impersonation of a drowned rat.
Day 17 DUTCH COURAGE NEEDED:-
Day 17 provided a welcome refresh in that Team 3 arrived from England to join Team 2 for their last day. The extra pairs of hands proved extremely useful as the day progressed.
The whole day revolved around two words – rain and courage. November rain to be precise. The type that is freezing cold, torrential, incessant for hours and accompanied by 75 kph winds. Within 20 minutes both boys were sodden and frozen to the bones. They actually wanted steep hills in order to generate a modicum of body heat. In that regard they were lucky. The Ardennes mountains kept on giving – hill after hill.
Lunch didn’t happen. They both agreed that stopping would actually cause them to get colder so it was simply mars bars and hot chocolate eaten whilst riding.
Around 3ish the weather eased slightly and the worst of the climbing was completed. However there was surely no chance of completing the remaining 60 miles to get them to Eindhoven? Wrong. The hammers went down and mile after was ticked off at around 22kph average speed enabling them to be finished and showered by 8pm.
Then came the big treat. PSV Eindhoven were so impressed with the boys efforts they magnificently donated 17 match tickets for the game against Heracles to the whole of the crew. Watching the game in the superb Philips Stadion and remembering how much Sir Bobby had enjoyed his huge success there was the perfect end to a gruelling day.
Day 17 also marked the end of my involvement. An amazing experience, I will never forget.