The Craic is mightier than the Col

(Read time: one double espresso and two Biscotti)

I am so bloody hungry!

It’s not the type of hunger where I fancy a nibble on a bag of the finest rice crackers the supermarket can offer… Or that a cheeky slice of toast laden with Nutella can eliminate. No, this is a deep kind of hunger where my body is craving absolutely anything that I can put my hands on… the more calorific, the better. Perhaps petrol soaked cashews would be perfect right now. It’s the sort that no sooner have I finished a plate of sausage and mash, with a side of sauerkraut as I just have (and yes, I know, my taste for food is as weird as my dress sense!) than I feel the need to stick my face into a bumper sized bag of Bugles and a tub of Tzatziki. And that wouldn’t be so bad, however I have been eating all day every day, for the last 4 days. My metabolism has taken off like a greyhound chasing a very fast rag on a wire for the 18.45 at Monmore Green.

Now, this hasn’t happened on its own, and there’s clearly a reason I’ve brought this up (you clever little sausages had worked this out, hadn’t you?!?!). Yes, this has happened as The Lanterne Rouge (our unique club of 4 friends) have just returned from biting off substantially more than we’d have liked to be chewing – the Raid Alpine. I won’t pretend everyone understands what a ‘Raid’ is… or the nuances of the Raid Alpine… as clearly despite reading endless amounts of pre-ride information, we didn’t really understand what we’d committed to. But for the sake of clarity the Raid Alpine was 6 days of cycling, from Thonon-Les-Bain (near Geneva) to Nice, across the Alps collecting a number of ‘Tampons’ along the way. Yes, Tampons.

I have written previously that stats aren’t cool, but to put this ride in perspective, I think the stats are certainly quite important. If for nothing else other than to demonstrate how much we’d bitten off, and how much chewing (as well as soul searching!) we had to do. 404 miles in 6 days is nothing special… but combined with 57,000 feet of climbing, it certainly is special. Plus, within these many feet you’ll find the Col Du Galibier, Col d’Izoard, and the two queen climbs the Col De Iseran (44 km of climbing through Val D’Isere) and the Cime de la Bonnette (the highest paved road in Europe at 2,803m!)… it is therefore VERY special indeed.

I’m not one for being overly proud of my achievements (I’m normally just astonished!), but on this occasion, I am at least letting myself celebrate privately (other than this blog!) while eating myself out of house and home in the process. However, while I am celebrating, please don’t think I believe that I am now a ‘pro-cyclist’. The truth is far from it… if anything it has underlined how I am certainly not ‘pro’. Being the first on the road in the morning, and the last to the hotel in the evening demonstrated that collectively we were certainly not the best prepared or fittest cyclists on this organised, 18 strong, boot-camp through the Alps, organised by Marmot Tours. It’s worth noting that our Raid Alpine was booked hastily, in the minibus, on a very natural high on the way to the airport having successfully executing the Raid Pyrenees, and our first key learning, I believe at the end of day 1 after cresting the Col De La Colombiere, was… don’t book the next one until we’ve slept on it. It was already hurting more than we’d imagined it could.

Now, while I am the first to admit that we were not the best prepared or fittest on the Raid, one thing that The Lanterne Rouge are collectively brilliant at is ‘standing out’, and in our opinion for all of the right reasons. Aside from our awesome kit (which I designed, so I would say that, wouldn’t I (if you’d like one designing for you, drop me a line!)) we have one mission – to have fun. Cycling is certainly secondary if not tertiary to our trips. They are holidays, and holiday time is precious, especially for those who have families, and are taking time away on their own, so we collectively always make the most of it. Therefore, to us the ‘Craic’ is certainly as important as the ‘Col’. You won’t find The Lanterne Rouge drinking mineral water at dinner, and nor will you find us ‘delicately’ debating the merits of SRAM Vs Shimano, and the disappointment that Shimano don’t cater for those with an FTP w/kg of 1.0 (seriously, this argument really did happen!). We will however be laughing heartily at the many cock-ups of the day, childish jokes, and debating the merits of beer or wine and the impact of mixing the two on your sleep patterns, and then putting the theory into practice.

At this point, I should say that, while the Raid Alpine was a little (a lot) too much at times… the Marmot Tours team, both en route and in the planning and co-ordination, were nothing short of magnificent! Phenomenal communication and flexibility in the build up from Kerstin, combined with top notch facilities (both the tour vans and the hotels) and a tour team who made me feel nothing but welcome joining them on this mission… it was just the ticket, in particular when everything else was truly bent out of shape. Helen and Simon, I owe you big time!!! Thank you! I shall certainly be using Marmot next time… and if you haven’t, you should too.

We also like nice people, and we like to recruit associate members along the way… the Yorkshire Raiders (who collectively with the Lanterne Rouge are known as the Col Choppers… a long story!) and the latest members, Taff and Lou. Associate members are those who we’ve ridden with, enjoyed their company, share a passion for cycling, and most importantly had a giggle with on the road. One of The Lanterne Rouge guiding principles is… start together, and finish together, whether last, or first… we don’t care. We ride as a team, made up of many individual (and some unique) talents… and sometimes better resemble The Red Arrows rather than a well drilled cycling team as bikes and riders disappear in all directions off roundabouts. But crucially, our banter, singing, and outright banal stupidity serves us well in making the miles tick by and gradients bearable… and having conquered the Raid Alpine as a team, become proof (if you needed it) that the Craic is truly mightier than the Col.

Not a bad principle for your next cycling holiday… if you are that way inclined!

(Oh… I forgot to explain the Tampon… it’s a stamp, in a booklet to say you’ve been where you said you’d been… that is all!)

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