|Breaking the bike down and packing it|
|All packed at the airport waiting for check in|
I dumped my bags in my room, my bike box in the bike room and met up with my brother who had arrived from London hours earlier. I was directed to the dining room as the hotel staff were waiting for me to eat before they could clean up. While having dinner I met Adam Denton (Mr mHealth Grand Tour). He went through, the rules and instructions and the brief for the following days stage. I met Paul Buchanan our fearless leader and founder of Team Blood Glucose, who helped make it possible for us to be on the tour. After building my bike Paul came to our room and gave us our goody bags. We had a fully branded kit for Team Blood Glucose with our sponsor Accu-Check emblazoned on the sleeves. We also got a kit from Daily Dose and a Frio wallet to help us look after our insulin on hot days. We got our mHealth tour shirts too and most importantly our Dexcoms.
|The Dexcom G4 receiver on the first morning (a little high)|
|The Dexcom G4 sensor and transmitter|
The Dexcom G4 is something I have had my eye on for a while. Sadly it is not covered by most health care providers and as the recommendation is to change the sensors once a week it can get very expensive. Paul had arranged for every Diabetic participating in the tour to receive a Dexcom G4 starter kit so that they could do the tour safely. When you are on your bike for 10 hours a day having something like this is more than just helpful its a life saver. He gave us a lesson in how to attach them and how to look after them. Annoyingly when you first use them you have to wait two hours and then give it a blood glucose reading. It was already late and that meant we were going to bed and going to get woken up at 2am by our new toys. Pretty bad since we were waking up at 630 to ride 175Km the following day.
|TeamBG and Adam (r-l Rob, Andy, Adam, Paul, Veronica, Simon)|
I was actually woken up again in the middle of the night with a huge pain in my calve muscle. No idea what it was, but thankfully the physios were on hand to sort it out in the morning. No idea what it was and it didn't give me any more trouble after that, but not the best way to start the tour.
|Andy and Joel on the climb|
The following morning we met everyone from TeamBG at breakfast and got ready for the day. Everything was labeled: bike, helmet, bags, bike box, and day bag. Water bottles filled, tyres pump, everything adjusted, people weighed. Bags dumped in the right pile and out the door. Each day we packed up and our main bags were put in a pile to go to the next hotel, then we had day bags that followed us around all day. At each stop there all the bags were there. If we needed anything they were there, when we were done at the stop they were dumped in the out bag, and taken to the next stop.
|Andy leading the group with Nikki, I am 3 back on the left|
The time had come, a quick TeamBG group photo and off we went to start the day. We started riding as a decent sized group. The TeamBG guys: Myself, Andy, Paul, Simon, and Veronica were joined by some of the Etisalat guys, Nikki from Novo Nordisk (the company) and Joel the mechanic and guide. It was a good size group and we started off in slightly chilly weather at a slow pace. There was a slight kick up out of Castres to warm the legs before about 10Km on the flat. I was happy conserving energy at the back of the pack ahead of the first big climb. This climb was about 13Km long but not very steep, only rated at a Cat 2. As the climb went up I stayed back with Paul who was suffering with a fractured wrist from a fall earlier in the tour. We climbed slowly and I was happy to see that my training was really paying off, as I climbed without putting in too much of an effort.
|Paul and I taking our time.|
Eventually we caught Andy and stopped for a clothing adjustment. Andy went ahead and eventually caught up with some of the others on the descent. Paul and I continued slowly stopping along the way for a some pictures and a dropped chain. Finally we were on the downhill and starting to have some real fun. Paul, previously a motorbike racer, is an excellent descender taking the corners beautifully at speed, I was having to work hard to keep up, though I had an advantage on the straighter and flatter roads. We rode down to Carcasonne together in time to catch Howard, the photographer, posing some shots with Andy, Veronica and Simon in front of the castle.
|Group shot at the castle at Carcassone|
|The first rest stop|
This was the location of the first rest stop. The support staff were awesome the whole time. They made sure we were OK, the physios were there too. We filled our bottles stuffed our pockets with energy bars and gels, and ate from the snack table. After this short break the five of us from TeamBG headed out for the next segment. The weather was warming up and the road was predominantly flat. We were riding through some beautiful countryside, from straight tree lined roads to over grown railway tracks and vineyards galore. After 40Km the road started to kick up with two short climbs one right after the other. By the top of the first Veronica, Simon and I had left the others way behind. We stopped at the top to discuss what to do, I was told that usually Paul catches up on the descents so we should just continue. At this point Team Novo Nordisk came flying past, which meant we were running really late. I raced off down the hill after them. I wasn't prepared to push myself too hard and wished I had been more prepared when they caught us as I would have loved to have ridden with them for a little bit. Sadly by the time I hit the next climb they were gone and I was all alone.
|Riding through wine country|
|The photographers always set up the best shots|
|straight tree lines roads|
Finally able to ride at my own pace, in perfect weather and fantastic location. Not only that after 120Km, the longest I had every ridden in one day, I was feeling great. Largely because of my training and also because I had made sure to measure my effort. I regularly reached into my back pocket to check my Dexcom readings, taking care to eat and drink when needed too. The second of the short climbs peaked and I descended down to an intermediate plateau. At this point I caught some riders, Stefan and John, who were also part of TeamBG. I rode with them for a bit John was struggling and Stefan said I should go on ahead while he waited for John. Shortly afterwards I began the big climb to lunch. Again out on my own with no one in sight in front or behind, I got into a rhythm and spun my pedals up the hill. It was about 9Km of climbing and a pretty smooth gradient. This is what I had been training for and now I was finally doing it. I couldn't have been happier.
|Team Novo Nordisk catching us|
|...and their gone|
The weather was sunny but not punishingly hot and the views were fantastic. Much of the climb was tree lined keeping me in the shade. I looked down at my Garmin, heart rate a little higher than I would have liked into the 150s, but as I was nearing the end of a long day and had a short rest ahead while I had lunch I felt happy to push a little. I was seeing the results in my pace, climbing at around 16-18kmph up a pretty consistent 4% gradient. Finally after about 25 mins of climbing I could hear the noise of people talking and plates and cutlery clattering through the trees and turning a corner I saw everyone having their lunch in a clearing by the side of the road. A short while later the others made it up the hill in ones and twos. I was pleased to see Andy was in good spirits when he arrived at lunch.
|Claud the Bulter menu|
|Filling my plate with carbs|
|Their awesome van|
This was my first experience of Claud the Butler, a food truck dedicated to providing good food a cycling events. The guys from Claud the Bulter had been following the tour around every day in their retro Citreon van, providing good food and great coffee, an essential part of any cyclist's diet. This was a great time to sit down chat to the other riders and, for some, to get some much needed relief from the physios. I took a small amount of insulin and a large amount of food, there was still 45Km to go and plenty of climbing. Here I met up with Andrew Green my cousin Mark's brother in law who works for Orange. It was nice to catch up with him.
|Andrew Green gets some physio|
|So does Andy|
Due to a reasonable amount of faffing I had sent Andy, Paul and Nikki ahead while I was still refilling water bottles and stuffing my pockets with energy gels. I continued on up the hill stopping to take a picture as Howard came past in the van trying to snap some action shots of me. They waited while I got going again and took some great shots. Re-energized by lunch I was setting a good pace and soon I caught up with the others on the false flat at the top of the climb. They were tired and I decided to push on ahead. This is where things started to get hard, having ridden 145Km so far and on a shallow climb and riding into a head wind. No one around me to take a share of the work, though I did ride with Andrew Green for a bit he was struggling with a sore knee and couldn't hold the pace. The climb started to head upwards and my Garmin no longer showing the distance in 100m increments was moving up very slowly kilometer at a time. Every time I looked down it was disheartening to see I was still on the same kilometer despite feeling like I was moving relatively fast, for an uphill at least.
|Stopping to snap a picture|
|The picture I took|
|up and going again, couldn't resist getting out of my seat|
At this point especially as I was alone I was in a battle with my mind. There was no way to stop I had to push on, I had to keep a good pace, I was tired, I was moving slowly, it was very frustrating. On top of this I was feeling a little sick from the energy drinks and gels. I told my mind to shut up, I told my legs to shut up, I told myself remember rule #5, and I carried on. I caught some others near the top and we rode the flat and slight down hill together to the next feed station. We arrived at the final stop of the day I waited around to find out what was going on with the people behind me. Paul and Nikki had been suffering so had jumped in the a car leaving Andy by himself, they assured me that he was fine and with other people (which he wasn't). The clouds had made it seem like the light was fading, but it wasn't that close to night time.
|Nikki, Paul, Andy and Simon ahead of me|
|The last col of the day|
|Andrew Green around the time I caught up with him|
Just one more 5Km climb to the top of the col du Chioula then a nice 10Km run down into the town of Ax les Thermes where we were stopping for the night. Checked my blood sugar, all fine, and I jumped back on my bike and headed on. I was still riding essentially alone but there were others near by which made me feel less alone. After 20 more minutes I was at the top. We were greeted by tour support staff who were telling us to take it easy on the run down. There was gravel and some people had already crashed. Not what I wanted to hear, I was looking forward to this bit, 10Km of downhill at the end of a tiring day is very dangerous. I zipped up my jersey and started the descent. It was great but I was nervous and that's not a great combination. I did hit the gravel at a reasonable speed, but not as fast as I could have been going. I nearly lost it but I managed to keep the bike steady and not put myself out of the tour on the first day. After that I could relax and enjoy a wonderful descent. Finally heading down into the town I was almost there, just a small kick up, a little punchy leg breaker, to get to the hotel. I was greeted by Simon and Veronica who had called it a day a little earlier and got a lift. I had made it, my longest ever ride, my hardest every ride, and I was doing it all again the following day but longer and even harder!
|The final descent|
|Really incredible scenery|
While I waited for Andy to arrive I got us checked into our room and I located our bags. I grabbed one of the torq recovery drinks and had a small amount of insulin with it. Andy arrived, looking massively pleased with himself. It was an epic day and we had made it through very well. We went to the room, showered changed and then got bused back into town as we were having dinner at the casino. More pasta! Adam gave us a briefing, underselling everything.
"Its a punchy and the weather is OK"
Neither of these things were true. It was steep and hilly and very hard and the weather was pretty bad, especially at the top. But that's all for another post.
To be honest I was having mixed feelings at this point. I was tired, but I felt great for having accomplished what I had done. I had extremely high blood sugar, in excess of 400mg/dl, and I was still eating even though I was still feeling sick. I took a small amount of insulin, reduced my long term insulin too and just tried to get down what I could. I need to store the energy away, it was going to be a really long day the following day and I couldn't not eat.
One of the things I found out from this experience is that eating and exercising does funny things. So while I was putting in all the effort on the climbs I wasn't digesting very much and I was burning off anything that was being absorbed. Additionally my body breaks down fats and glycogen to produce more glucose, to keep up with the demand. When I am on a nice long downhill or standing around at a feed station, or as in this case at the end of the day, my body can digest, but it is still continuing to break down my energy stores. The result is a delayed glut of blood glucose and it feels pretty terrible. The big problem after a day like I had is that I cannot take too much insulin otherwise I would have a hypo. Insulin sensitivity is increased in this case so it puts me in a strange situation. I toughed it out and got the first lift back to the hotel available.
Straight to bed after plugging in all of our gadgets to charge. I think I was asleep before my head hit the pillow. Not for long, at some point in the middle of the night my sensor woke me up telling me I was about to go low. Fortunately I had left my gummy bears by my bed for emergency midnight hypos. I guzzled them down and went back to sleep.
My ride details on strava
More pictures from the day mostly courtesy of HowardSayer.com