TIP’s ‘Fat Bottomed Boys & Girls’ (FBB&G) has successfully completed yet another challenging charity bike ride, this time in the South of France.
The ride took place from the 4th-6th May and this year, the team were riding in the name of the Dougie Mac hospice in Staffordshire.
The team came home feeling proud after once again smashing their target. The total raised for Dougie Mac currently stands at over £53,000!
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Read below as Mike Furnival recounts a memorable few days:
Tuesday 3rd May
The massed ranks of 40 ‘honed’ athletes gathered at airports around the country in preparation to be airlifted to Marseille on the South coast of France. This year’s group in Manchester included many battle hardened ‘bon vivants’ who knew broadly what to expect and relaxed with a pint of Guinness or two in the departures lounge. The ‘newbies’ were easily identifiable by their lime and sodas, fresh orange juice and the odd diet coke! However, there was the distinct stench of worry in the air, mainly around the physical demands of the tour, but there’s also that nervous anticipation of sharing a tight twin room in very tight lycra with someone you barely know for four nights!
Amazingly these days, the flight left Manchester and landed on time in a very sunny Marseille in mid-afternoon. The large group commandeered a fleet of delighted Marseillaise taxi drivers for the 60km journey to our starting destination on the other side of the city.
Le Fregate Provence is a golf resort that is normally closed at this time of year, the good Lord only knows why but we were in France and got a stonking accommodation deal on the back of it so ‘bonnet de douche’ as Del Boy would say.
Dave had arrived a day ahead to help Lee unload the bikes and establish the base camp. He’d also set up Dave’s Shave and Tattoo Shack to apply temporary tattoos to all the competitors. Simple enough rules: no tattoo, no room. Moreover, Dave had found a delightful vineyard directly next door to our accommodation. This was only going to end in tears on the eve of a 120km ride over 4 big hills.
Many bottles of wine later the group sat down for a calorie-packed meal and an early night thanks to the French custom of promptly shutting their bar at 10pm and dispatching us all to bed... probably for the best but not before some boxes of wine were bought and stashed in the trailer!
Wednesday 4th May
Our tour leader, Adam, who looks like he’s just left the most successful boy band in the world, had insisted on an early start as there was a ‘meaty’ day ahead. ‘Meaty’ had a few of us worried as it didn’t sound particularly encouraging, or rhyme with ‘Easy’. The nerves started to build as we looked around at each other crammed into our tight new spangly cycling tops. I think the sizings were a little askew as Mo Farah would not have squeezed into an XXL!
Our tour guides, Adam, Deena and Matt, decided that we would split into three cycling groups to spread everyone out and keep similar abilities together. Green for the good riders who could travel at >20mph, amber for the riders that could average 15-17mph and red for anyone not meeting those parameters. Sort of makes sense, except we were left with 3 riders in the green team, 2 in the amber team and 21 in the red! At this point it should be noted that the goats numbered 6 with the usual 5 being joined for the first time by one of our own, a very brave Darren Lomas.
It was like a scene from the Life of Brian as people were interrogated and cajoled on their ‘real’ ability and reluctantly got bullied into the amber and green teams. Finally, we all agreed to see how it went with a promise that we could reshuffle if people were struggling. Off we went!
Adam was completely correct. We now know what ‘meaty’ means in ‘boybandcyclospeak' - it means ‘very tough indeed’.
Day one was lots of riding with four big hills totalling 4,000 feet of climbs. Whatever colour team you were in, it was ‘meaty’!
However, it was also absolutely beautiful as we came through the rolling hills of Provence down to the beautiful beaches of the Cote d’Azure, passing through Bandol, Toulon and Hyere before stopping on a great beach at Cavaliere for lunch. Once refreshed we set off for the afternoon leg into St Tropez where we finished at Le Klube in time for a much needed drink around the pool. Everyone dug in throughout the day to arrive safely and in the forecasted time. The team groupings seemed to be ok for the majority.
Even Dazz seemed to have bedded in with the goats, content to graze at altitude again the following day.
After a welcome dinner and a couple of beers to quell the exhaustion, the quaint French tradition of shutting the bar early saved significant cost and much essential energy to ensure a good night’s sleep was had by all. This was all going rather worryingly well.
Thursday 5th May
One output of limited alcohol consumption, an early night and a fitful sleep is an early start. So we all woke early, bright eyed and bushy tailed. As a result, the boy band leader decided we could set off early for our next destination in Cannes. Not such long mileage on day two, but there was the formidable Mont Vinaigre on the other side of Frejus - the highest point of the Esterel mountains. High on confidence, we made a few adjustments to the teams. Crozzy went completely Braveheart and decided to join the Goats. Jonah saw sense and begged to join the Ambers.
A lovely steady cycle out along the coast road took us through the fabulous resorts of Port Grimaud and Saint Maxime before stopping for lunch in San Raphael. All relatively flat with a slight headwind, pas probleme.
Fully refuelled, we headed inland to a brown sign that read ‘Esterel Mountains’ before turning a sharp right up towards Vinegar Hill.
Adrenaline pumping, for 15 kms we kept our heads down and legs driving as the some of the front teams merged into one. Vinegar Hill was a test for even the most experienced riders, however, the teamwork and support for each other saw every single person pass the test and reach the top without serious incident.
The feeling at the peak was amazing, only beaten by the 15km downhill slalom into Cannes on the other side.
Elated, a large leading group reached our hotel earlier than forecasted around 3pm. Most checked in and showered to prepare for dinner while a couple of us walked around the nearby marina to catch up on calls, emails, etc. As we walked, we passed a tattoo parlour quickly followed by The Quays Irish Bar, it had a sign outside that screamed:
Tonite… Karaoke from 9pm!! Should have known really...
Friday 6th May
An unsurprisingly quiet breakfast around 7.30. A few nods and the occasional grunt to signify the international language of hangover.
I think they shut the bar around us at some point in the morning to the chimes of Angels, Hey Jude or Sweet Caroline. I honestly can’t remember.
Unsurprisingly, the Irish don’t follow the French traditions of temperance.
The confidence of the previous day had evaporated as Crozzy resigned from his brief Goats commission and everyone tried to focus on a last day finish in Monaco. At that moment it seemed like a million miles away but after 30 mins steady unwind towards Antibes, the sweat glands finally did their job to displace the Guinness, Kronenbourg, Crème de Menthe Frappes and Jager Bombs. The journey from Cannes to our only stop in Nice was mainly flat and mainly cycle paths which are easily navigable but require 100% focus. The refuel stop in Nice was extremely welcome to recharge ahead of a last push up a 20% incline hill at the start to Eze before dropping down into Monaco. Eze is nicknamed the ‘Eagles Nest’ due to its position high over Monte Carlo and sits >400 metres above sea level. We know all this stuff now!
The hill to Eze will never be forgotten. We cheered everyone to the top before getting our breath back and starting the steep descent together down into Monte Carlo. Dave had somehow arranged permission from Albert for our truck to park in the pit lane of the GP circuit and for everyone to get changed in the pits. However, before getting naked he had one more surprise. He had also got permission for us all to do a lap of the circuit! Like little kids, we whizzed around the Monaco F1 circuit, squealing through the tunnel. Just needed lollipop sticks in our spokes!
The end of these rides is always a joyous yet deflating experience. Joyous for a moment to enjoy the achievement of the challenge with a great group of people, deflating that it’s the end of an amazing journey.
There’s only one way to deal with these mixed emotions so we adjourned to the Rascasse bar for a couple of beers and something to eat before Lee signalled his departure with a full Monegasque motorcycle cortege to lead him out of the city. Terry Thomas bid us all good bye for the last time. ‘I say Ding Dong!’
Watch the video here.
Finally, I’d just like to say a heartfelt thanks to a wonderful group of people that have all contributed to probably the best FBB&G challenge that we’ve ever done.
Your efforts have raised more than £53,000 in extremely tough times for a charity that are so grateful. It’s fair to say they are absolutely overwhelmed by your support.
Again, thanks for a memorable week. Lets hope we can all ride again in the not too distant future.
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