The View from the Van…

What you’ve all been waiting for – Alastair Forbes’ account of the Tour from his and Matt Browning’s perspective while supporting week 2 of the venture…. (‘vigorous’ language alert!)

The Arrival of the Sunshine Team

Flew into Basle on Sunday evening about 9:30. Picked up by Andy Mac & Rachel, who spent the trip back to the hotel giving us invaluable but rather alarming tips as the best way to manage our Little Lambs.

Day One– The Rest Day

Most people end the week with a day off. We started with one. To give us a flavour of the extraordinary affair that is the Tour we all tooled off to watch the Professionals ride through. This took the form of walking halfway up a bloody great hill to stand at the side of the road for 2½ hours in the pissing rain with a succession of Skoda’s driving past with inanely grinning promo-people throwing useless crap out of the window. Eventually the real thing arrived and a series of bikes came past, most of them hidden from public view by police cars and outriders. After a further half an hour of waiting for all the stragglers to pass we all trooped back down the hill.

Day Two – Stage 11

The real thing now. No MCaney’s to advise us.

We left the hotel and drove ninety minutes to drop The Lambs off at the start point. A useful start in my mission to educate the locals as to the correct side of the road on which to drive. A little game of chicken with a 38 Ton Artic combined with my co-pilots squawks convinced me that the educational mission should be restricted to Anglo-Saxon abuse and gestures. We then went shopping for the frightening amount of food and drink needed to keep the Lambs pedalling. This is not as easy as you might think since most French shops seem like Brigadoon – only open once a century. We then made our way to the first stopping point .

Finding and feeding the lads was easy today and the Sunshine Team were coming to the conclusion that this was going to be a doddle. Our first hint of trouble ahead came when we found ourselves thundering up the motorway to our hotel for the night in order to book in and make puppy –dog eyes at the manager in order t o be allowed to sit down to dinner late. This accomplished we thundered back down the motorway to collect The Lambs before another charge up the bloody road to meet the deadline for dinner. We need to improve on the logistics. Yeah, right. We’ve got two chances – thin and sod all

Day Three – Stage 12

The van is developing a character all of its own. It smells like a Turkish wrestler’s jock strap. Had expected a certain odour bearing in mind the amount of sweat involved in this venture, but this stench is biblical.

The Sunshine Team dropped its first bollock today, (apart from a couple of roundabout hick-ups, which don’t really count – no one got hurt. Despite my best efforts). We had forgotten to add salt to The Lambs water on the previous day, so we decided to average things out by doubling the dose today. Good thinking, yes? No. The Lambs don’t complain much but they did today riding up Mount Horrible parched with thirst. Good thing they did moan though – we were planning on doubling the dose again tomorrow

Journey’s end today was St Etienne. It sounds a charming name, but don’t be deceived. If France had piles, that’s where they’d be. It is an armpit of a place. Again we had an untroubled day feeding and watering The Lambs but as yesterday the problems arose in the latter stages. In the evening we had broken away from the route to race to our hotel. Again we employed our boyish charms to try and keep the kitchen open, but without success. So we thought a meal in St Etienne would serve our purpose. Nine-Thirty in the evening and the entire shithole was shut. Back to the hotel where our brave boys had to content themselves with the remnants of the van food and the Sunshine Team contented themselves with half a dozen beers.

Day Four – Stage 13

Bit of a Dark Night of The Soul for the Lambs. After a trying day yesterday Pete and Martin were experiencing doubts about their ability to finish today. There was a plan to omit the first 50K and try and make it up somehow later. We of course had no doubts as to their capabilities but we were in no position to judge – after all we hadn’t ridden all day in the baking heat before going to bed without a decent meal. Happily they rallied and decided to give it a go. With the success that we had always known would result. Not that it was easy, today was hot. Very hot and humid.

On the brighter side a major source of the revolting van smell has been isolated and expelled. Turns out it was some soft cheese that Matt swears improves in flavour as a result of fermenting in a roasting hot van for two days.

We had been unable to contact the hotel by phone all day so decided to try and find something in Grenoble. Unfortunately we ended up in a two hour traffic jam. So, we had the Lambs being in vital need of regular pit-stops, and The Team running late. Thankfully Andy and Rachel were in the area so kindly did the shopping for us. Cheers M’Dears!

The whole affair ended for the Lambs with a sodding great mountain.

At the 9:30 conclusion we still had to drive to Grenoble and the joy of attempting to find a hotel. We eventually found one, but not before Pete had shown off his skills as a rally driver around the city. You think a van can’t corner on two wheels? Think again.

Day Five – Stage 14

Today is the day I think of as the Alps day. The Lambs had already been up some pretty dramatic slopes, but today we were pretty much up and down mountains all day. At breakfast Pete was surveying the map without joy as there were three hill climbs, one of them 32km in length. Hills aren’t his favourite subject. You’ll read in his blog about the wonderful scenery and its true; words can’t describe it fully. What you won’t have read was a particularly gruesome description of the blister on his arse that he treated us to over breakfast

Another gruelling day finished at about 9:30 but this time we had had the foresight to contact the hotel and tell them we were going to be late, so we enjoyed the first decent dinner in two days in Risoul. We then travelled for 1½ hours to the hotel. Which was in darkness. It seems that with our pigeon French we had failed to understand that we were supposed to use a keypad on the back door and then make our way to our rooms. Instead we knocked up the proprietress at one in the morning. She was in her night attire. She wasn’t best pleased. She was even less pleased when Martin dragged his case noisily across the flagstones and I slammed the van door with a crash you could have heard in Paris. Considered asking for a nightcap but thought better of it!

Day Six – Stage 15

I was fully expecting a bollocking from the Dragon Lady this morning. Fortunately she seemed to have calmed down. In any case I grovelled with a will as I paid the bill and all was peace and harmony as we departed Tallard. Mind you I don’t think I’ll be returning any time soon

The Lambs had informed us that today would be potentially even more challenging than the last few as it was long, the day was hot and there was a chance of the dreaded Mistral wind blowing. We were not delighted by this news as this was our last day on duty and we were buggered if they were going to countenance failure on our watch. I reminded Pete that I had purchased an Alpine walking stick, (you know the ones, a big knob on one end and a sharp spike on the other) with this very thought in mind.

As it turned out the only wind that blew was right behind them and what with that and the ever present threat of the spiked stick, our brave boys arrived in Nimes. For once the hotel was a) on the same continent and b) open, so we had already booked in and had the keypad system properly explained to us so we were able to relax for an hour or two in Nimes.

The Return

After an extraordinary week The Sunshine Team returns home today. We just had time for one more panic. For some reason both Matt and I thought we were flying at 2:00 pm and planned our morning accordingly. It was only on checking our boarding passes that we realised we were flying at 1:00pm.

In a way the last minute rush and hair-raising trip to the airport that ensued was an appropriate end to our week in charge of our Little Lambs!

I wrote this little epistle, and usually I wouldn’t presume to put words in the mouth of my co-conspirator Matt Browning, but I know I speak for us both when I say that we have both been filled with admiration and awe for what Pete and Martin have already achieved and will achieve. it’s been a privilege and a pleasure to be a small part of the adventure.

Thanks boys we had a ball, we really did

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