Stage 1 of the Tour de France 5th July 2014

2.50am, Saturday 5th July 2014. The Crown Hotel Harrogate. This was the earliest I had ever got up for anything in my life. I’d stayed up all night on many occasions, had many early mornings and interrupted sleep, but to actually get up for anything this early was a first. Usually if you need to be up at this time you would not go to bed and sleep later. I didn’t have the luxury to even think about that though. I was going to be riding the first stage of the Tour de France only hours ahead of the professional peloton.

Marie Curie Cancer Care were the official charity of the Tour de France Grand Depart. I had first learnt in November 2013 that they planned to organise a ride for the Tour de France. Andrew Walker who had helped me with previous fundraising events had been to a presentation by the charity and thought I may be interested. I heard nothing more about the ride until late January 2014 when I was sent details of the ride by Marie Curie. Marie Curie were creating the Power Peloton for the Tour de France. The riders of the peloton must be able to ride the 190km of stage 1 of the Tour de France at an average of 17mph. This seemed quite possible. Each rider must raise a minimum of £19,000 as this would pay for a Marie Curie nurse for one year. This second part seemed more difficult. For the three years before 2014 I had raised about £3,500 each year and that was hard work. Was £19,000 in less than 20 weeks possible?

I mulled it over in my mind speaking to as many people as possible to get their opinion. The overwhelming opinion of my peers was to leave it well alone as raising that much money in such a short time was impossible. I took no notice of the advice and finally agreed to do it. I had to sign a contract to say that if I didn’t make the £19,000 I would personally make up any shortfall. This focuses the mind somewhat! There was no going back.

No going back maybe, but I soon learnt that I had no control over my destiny. No sooner had I signed the contract than I received a telephone call from the charity. ‘It’s off’ they told me. The Tour de France Hub, a collection of all the local councils together with the police, fire and ambulance, 14 authorities in total, could not guarantee safety on the closed roads prior to the race going through. A week followed where I waited to see what was going to happen. I couldn’t start my fundraising, I couldn’t mention it to anyone, and it was now late February. Time was running short.

Finally, as February melted into March the powers that be agreed that the ride could go ahead. We would be riding on closed roads, with a service van to the front and rear, and two motorcycle outriders who would control any ‘official’ vehicles on the route. On March 11th, with only 16 weeks to the ride, I finally had my fundraising launch lunch for local businesses in York.

The fundraising took up a great deal of time leaving me little time to train. I first rode part of the route on 22nd March with the Clifton ‘Three Peaks’ Spring Tour. From that point on I rode as much as I could up in the Dales.

Following all the fundraising and training I found myself meeting up with the other riders of the Power Peloton at the official Tour de France opening ceremony in Leeds on the Thursday before the ride. On the Friday we were taken on a 30 mile ride just to see how we all rode together. On the return to the hotel in Harrogate we had a riders briefing. This riders briefing was when it first struck home that we were riding stage 1 of the Tour de France. The briefing was very formal and we were presented with the road books which all of the riders, teams and journalists receive. As a group we were taken through the route by Graham Baxter who was leading the ride for Sports Tours International. We were told that we must stay a minimum of 3 hours ahead of the main peloton and if we dropped off or had a mechanical we would have to go into the van. Each of us was presented with our ‘Power Peloton’ kit and official Tour de France armbands to show that we should be on the route to any overzealous marshals and police who the ‘Hub’ had forgotten to brief. We were now all set for the 4am start on Saturday morning.

I had a fundraising event already organised in York at the Ye Old Sun Colton on the Friday evening. Some friends were organising it but I had to go there to rally every last pound out of the enormously generous benefactors supporting me. I was back in Harrogate for 9.30pm. I laid out my kit and went straight to bed. I was asleep by 10pm and slept through to my 2.50am alarm call.

Porridge for breakfast, bikes on the trailer, and onto the bus heading for Harewood House. I looked through the rain soaked windows at people still coming home from their pre-Tour revelry in the pubs and clubs of Harrogate. Today the Tour would start in Yorkshire.

We started from Harewood House at 4am. The roads were officially closed and we had the vehicles to guide us through the dark and rain. We set off at one hell of a lick. We rode as a tight group ticking off villages and empty pavements that in only a few hours would be standing room only. As we entered Otley we saw a group of silent Tourmakers being briefed. They had plastic bag hats and kagool’s to protect them from the rain. The same at Ilkley, but this time a cheer from the assembled Tourmakers as we rode past. The world was starting to wake up. To the Power Peloton it felt like midday. The Power Peloton continued to ride on quickly. We were ahead of time. At Skipton, Greg Green, a lifelong friend of mine had rented a cottage on the road out of town to watch the Tour. I saw a solitary figure on the pavement on the road. ‘Come on Hughesy’ he called as I rode by. I later learnt he then went straight back to bed! At Kettlewell one of the riders got a puncture. We stopped as a group and one of the mechanics in the van did the fasted puncture repair I have ever seen. The wheel was off, and repaired in moments. We had a bite of an energy bar and were off.

Soon we were at the base of the climb to Kidstones. Up until now we had not seen many spectators, only my friend Greg at Skipton to be precise. As we reached the top of the climb at Kidstones the spectators were starting to appear.

I had ridden this road a number of times and I had read the road book that we had been given yesterday in the hotel. I knew there was a sprint at Newbiggin just off the descent from Kidstones. As we approached the sprint section two of the riders had moved slightly ahead. I tucked in behind them and made my move as late as possible. I crossed the sprint line under the gantry first. It meant nothing to anyone but me.

The rain was now slowing to a light drizzle and the ride to Hawes had us picking up the pace again. The crowds seemed disappointing but I hadn’t realised how early it still was. This was going to change from the point of hitting the foot of the next climb, Buttertubs. Suddenly there were masses of people all making their way up the climb on foot, and also on bikes. The lead van and motorbike cut through the crowds but no sooner had they gone through, than the crowds moved together again. We all had to zig-zag up the climb in and out of the crowd. Concentrating on this however took any thoughts of pain from the climb away. Before I knew it we had gone over the steep cattle grid section and were approaching the top. The crowds at the top of the climb were incredible. The descent was swift but we had to be careful as people were walking up the other side too. We regrouped at the foot of the climb and rode on. At Reeth we stopped and were given a hot pork pie. This was magnificent. Energy bars are good but hot pork pie from Reeth bakery is better!

The next challenge was to be Grinton Moor. The crowds were similar to Buttertubs but it was even busier. It seemed that every field between Muker and Grinton Moor was full of tents. The world was camping in Swaledale. The Power Peloton broke up a bit over this climb so it was everyman for himself fighting through the crowds. As I rode over the small stone bridge followed by the adverse camber I saw a familiar cycle jersey in the crowd making their way over the moor. Clifton CC from York is my club and three riders were riding ahead. I passed them and called out a hello and was greeted with a loud ‘Allez, Allez!’ This really raised the spirits. From then on I kept on seeing Clifton CC shirts and hearing my name called. Before I knew it I was on the outskirts of Leyburn.

The ride before Leyburn had been wonderful. No matter how many times I had ridden the route, no matter how wet the start of the day had been, riding on the closed road and watching the route come to life had been something special. It was however about to become even better.

As the Power Peloton entered Leyburn the road was drying and the sun was getting warm. Barriers were either side of the pavement all along the route. The pavements were full of people and the atmosphere was building. Our gruppetto flew through the town and there were cheers. This was great fun. We ticked off the villages and towns as once again our speed increased in direct proportion of our excitement. Sweeping into Ripon any tiredness in the legs was overtaken by excitement. We approached Ripley Castle roundabout and on towards Harrogate. The atmosphere in the Power Peloton and the crowd was crazy. ‘This is the Tour de France. Today! On the roads we ride all the time. NOW!’

We were brought to a halt at the Flamme Rouge, one kilometre from the finish. It seemed that our enthusiasm had got us to this point too quickly. The finish line had not been painted yet! We laughed and joked with the crowd and then after 20 minutes, which seemed like an age, a French motorcyclist approached us and told us that we could proceed. At the briefing in the Crown Hotel in Harrogate the day before we had been told that we must roll over the finish line together. There was to be no racing. We all set off together in a line across the road. Our support vehicles were to filter off the route at about 150 m from the finish.

1KMFlammeRouge

From the ‘flamme rouge’ the Power Peloton couldn’t see over the second of two hill crests before the finish. The crowds were getting even deeper and when we crested that second hill we saw down towards the finish. Suddenly we were met by a wall of sound. People were cheering, waving, banging the advertising hoardings, and generally yelling their heads off. I had never seen so many people and was genuinely scared. The sound was so loud that we could not hear each other. Not that we were saying anything. Like my fellow riders I had a smile from ear to ear.

The finish came all too quickly. The Power Peloton rolled over the line. Cameras were pushed into our faces. Jules Bellerby from Radio York who I had done a number of interviews for my fundraising pushed a microphone towards me, asked me how it went, and I answered with comments about this being a once in a lifetime ride and that the hot pork pie at Reeth has the highpoint!

Next stop the podium and photographs. What a finish. What a day.

Podium

After going back to the hotel for a shower we were then in the grandstand to see the professional riders of the Tour de France cross the line. I didn’t want this day to end. I had another fundraiser planned that evening at ‘Your Bike Shed’ in York. After the race had finished I got back into my kit and rode home from Harrogate. The sun was shining brightly and the rain of the early morning was a distant memory. The roads were empty and it was the most wonderful ride back to York.

The fundraising continued. As I close my fundraising I am at £24,541. How I managed to raise so much money is a whole other story. If anyone wants to support me, they still can at http://www.justgiving.com/mjdhughes. Thanks for reading this. I know it is a bit long drawn out but it could’ve been even longer. Every turn of the wheel is imprinted on my memory. I’ve tried to be as brief as possible!

At the finish in Harrogate2

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Rest is as good as a change

After riding up to Leyburn on 12th April I was still needing to cycle over Buttertubs. Buttertubs was the only steep bit of road that will be on Stage 1 of the Tour de France that I hadn’t ridden up. The ride with Clifton CC in March had provided me with a very wet and cold experience of Kidstones and Grinton Moor as well as a few other hills that managed to sap the legs. Not doing Buttertubs on that ride however was playing on my mind.

On Tuesday 15th April however I was working up at Hawes and had planned to meet Jules Bellerby from Radio York. Jules wanted to get an idea what it would be like cycling up Buttertubs. He met me at a rather busy Hawes on market day and we made our way out of town. The weather was perfect. Clear blue sky, warm but not too warm, and very little breeze. We very quickly went north, that is to say up. The road before the cattle grid gets steep very quickly and you want to get off. The thing that keeps you clipped in is the knowledge that after the cattle grid the road levels out. I had been told this. I had no knowledge of this, or any other piece of tarmac on Buttertubs. By the time Jules and me had made it to the second cattle grid, signifying that the road was going down the other side of Buttertubs it was time to turn back and head for Hawes.

The roads here have been resurfaced for the Tour so the descent was terrific fun. Jules described it as ‘like flying’. He was not wrong.

At the same time as I was cycling up Buttertubs my bike of choice for the Marie Curie Power Peloton was having new wheel bearings. With the Bank Holiday looming I was hoping to get some long miles on the bike with new bearings. I had family visiting for Easter however so I only managed two training rides. Those rides were quick. The wheels were like silk. I thought I would feel uncomfortable having missed out on some training but the rest with my family seems to have done me some good. The amount of food I ate in their company however was not good.

So, Easter is over, the nights are getting lighter and the miles will have to increase. Gradients will also have to crank up. On top of this the fundraising needs to get moving again. Lots of planning over the past weeks now needs to start paying. A gear will have to be moved up as we enter May.  

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Still nights, grey clouds, and lonely roads

As I mentioned in my last blog, with the nights opening out and staying lighter longer, you suddenly feel as though you have more energy. I am not too sure if this is self delusion or just an unfettered lust for life. Either way it helps with the motivation. Last week provided me with some great evenings and I managed to get around my 26 mile training loop in ever increasing times. Cold blustery winds in your face and a slight pang of hunger, which are the unavoidable partners to early evening rides, don’t help when trying to improve your fitness. The two 26 miles rides I had this week however were on dry roads with only the wisp of breeze.

Friday evening was the Clifton CC Awards evening at ‘Your Bike Shed’. This venue is a cyclists cafe with a maintenance shop next door. It isn’t just for cyclists but they are using it in their droves. So are the general public, eager to rub shoulders with the cogs and chains whilst sipping an Americano, my drink of choice. The evening went well. I was able to promote the Marie Curie Power Peloton and ask club members to make as much noise as possible on the route of Stage 1 to keep me going. There was a great response. The air is starting to thicken with magical Tour powder and there is a sense that something big is just over the horizon.

The old cycling hands who have watched the Tour for years keep saying ‘people don’t realise how big the Tour will be.’ I think I am on pretty safe ground when I say, the people who run the Tour don’t realise how big the Tour in Yorkshire will be. Everyone without exception has gone Tour crazy. Even those who are still saying they hate it! It hasn’t even started yet.

To explain this fact, we come to Saturday morning. This would normally be a club ride day for me, but I need to go up to the Dales. I must cycle the roads I will cycle on Stage 1. Saturday therefore became a lonely ride from York through Boroughbridge, Ripon and Masham to Leyburn. I had made reasonable time (3 hours 30 mins) for the 55 or so miles. I sat in the tea shop, mending the zip on my jacket with safety pins, when I realised that every motorist that had passed me had done so at a safe distance, no one had tail-gated me because they were too lazy to adjust their speed as they approached me, and I’d also had a couple of waves from passing motorists. Had I been transported to France or were drivers becoming more tolerant of cyclists?

I came out of the tea shop to be greeted by a scene straight out of the Wizard of Oz. Grey bubbling clouds above and the wind biting at your ankles at it scurried along the kerb clinging to the corners of the buildings. I retraced my tracks back via Masham, Ripon and Boroughbridge, and I was back in York having covered the 108 miles with a little over 1000m of climbing at an average 15.5 mph. I was still on my winter bike, it had been a miserable day for the weather, so I was happy with that. I could do better.

Sunday presented me with obligations that didn’t allow a cycle. My week had been good though, showing improvement on the training rides and a century ride that produced no problems for me. Things are going in the right direction but the weeks are ticking by. After Easter the winter will be forgotten. It will be just unseasonal weather then and I will have to lump it. The only answer is to ride and when I’m not riding I will need to rest. From now on I need to be able to show improvement after every ride. Shorts will be the order of the day and my winter bib tights will be put away until October. From now on I must cultivate my tan lines.

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April showers bring the light nights

The clocks finally sprang forward on Sunday 30th March bringing gloom back to the mornings but added light after work. In the first week of April I have been able to get out on the bike at night and it feels wonderful. I have a 26 mile loop around York which at this time of year takes me about and hour and a half. The height of summer will see me bringing that down to near 1 hour 20 minutes. Until the sun is on my back and there isn’t a trace of breeze 1′ 30″ is where it will stay. I manage to get out from work a little after 5.30pm so on even the most gloomy of night I am arriving back home safely in daylight.

I will do this ride twice or maybe three times a week and it is noticeable when I go for my longer rides at the weekend that my legs don’t feel as heavy. All miles are good miles and being outside is much better fun than the turbo trainer.

Saturday 5th April I didn’t have my usual Club Run with Clifton CC but I was down in South Wales. I met up with my friend Greg Green. We have been friends since the age of 11 when we fought for a lost key only to discover neither of us wanted it anyway. I left my Dad’s place in Tonteg at 7.15am on Saturday and rode to Cowbridge. We did a great 25 mile loop of the Vale of Glamorgan then I cycled back to my Dad’s and took him to Sainsbury’s. Very important part of the training, Saturday shopping in Sainsbury’s. Total mileage 48. Total for the week 110 miles. Not excessive mileage but it felt great being out in the light after what seemed to be an eternity of darkness. Bigger week from 7th April onwards. Let’s see how I get on. 

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Mad March Cycling

I started march not knowing if I was going to be riding in the Marie Curie Power Peloton or not. The idea of taking part in riding the first stage of the Tour de France only hours ahead of the pros had been mentioned, but as soon as it was agreed the rug was pulled. The frustration of building your hopes up to have them flattened becomes appealing however when those hopes are built up again. Achieving such a pleasurable reaction to a situation most people would dread is probably why I am a cyclist.

In brief, the Marie Curie Power Peloton is doing the unimaginable. Who ever thought that the Tour de France would allow amateur riders to spearhead the opening stage of the Tour de France? You would hardly go to a French restaurant and have a starter made by a student fresh out of domestic studies. That however is exactly what is happening. I will be attempting a souffle prior to the fillet mignon.

The reason for this is easy however. Marie Curie Cancer Care are the official charity of the Grand Depart Tour de France. What a charity they are too. Their nurses go into the homes of the dying when life expectancy is no more than three days. Many times the patients don’t live for those three days. In whatever time they have the Marie Curie nurses make sure that their patient and the family get everything they want and prepare beautifully for the inevitable. Such kindness mixed with strength is a rare commodity but each Marie Curie nurse has it.

I have pledged to raise £19,000 by riding the Marie Curie Power Peloton. This will pay for a nurse for one year. What better way to prepare for the professional peloton and three weeks of cycling at its pinnicle than 25 also rans raising an improbable amount to help countless patients and their families?

After the first week in March it was confirmed that the Power Peloton was on. I’ve therefore been building up my training and have completed 568 miles this month. The highlight of the month was a two day trip to the Dales with my cycling club Clifton CC. The weather was awful but the cycling was fun. However hard the Power Peloton will be I hope the weather is not as bad in July.

Those of you who are reading this, please tell your friends. Marie Curie help countless people to have a safe and contented death. It may be difficult to talk about but it is something that we all deserve. The smallest donation will help me get to my total of £19,000. Please give generously at http://www.justgiving.com/mjdhughes or text MJDH64 (amount) to 70070  

When I finish the Power Peloton I will then be riding with Marie Curie from London to Paris. A unique year for me when I am able to say that I started le Tour and finished le Tour. Magnifique! 

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Happy Mother’s day Mum

Sunday 30th March 2014 is the first Mother’s Day that I have experienced not having a Mum.

My Mum, Patricia Hughes, died on 2nd July 2013 after battling cancer. She was 81.

Mum, was always the strongest member of the family, asked for nothing, unfortunately she didn’t get much, and gave everything to everyone. She was also as hard as nails so never suffered fools gladly. Those she loved, which were many, received as much love as one person could give.

On the Saturday before she died the family were asked to come to the hospital, where my Mum had been rushed in. The news we were given my Mum knew about before she was told, and we all fully expected. The doctor told us that unfortunately her lungs had total white out on the x-ray. This meant that they were no longer working and there was no recovery. Death was imminent.

My mum had been a nurse before she retired, and knew exactly what was coming. She had discussed the situation with my sister who is also a nurse and both women had the unenviable professional knowledge that this could be a very uncomfortable death.

Modern medicine and excellent nursing staff can make this period comfortable however.

My mother had already been told the news by the doctor. She had asked the doctor to tell my Dad, brother and me as my sister was driving down from Liverpool. When my Dad, brother Pete and me came back into the ward to see my Mum it was the first time I had ever seen her scared. My Mum was a tough nut, but knowing that your death was going to be within the next few days would scare anyone. She tried to hide it, always protecting her family, but it was time for her to be protected now.

Over the next few days the doctors and nursing staff could not have done more to make my mum comfortable. My family were superb in caring for my Mum and I know that she died a very peaceful death.

My daughter Lowri wrote a letter to my Mum to tell her how much she meant to her and read it to her before she died. This made my Mum very happy I know. My other daughter Hannah stayed up all night with me on the final night of my Mum’s life. We both sat by my her bed and this comforted my Mum.

The nurses that evening were remarkable. When I thanked them for the work that they do one of them told me that they do it for pay and I was doing it for love. This is the reason why I am raising money for Marie Curie Cancer Care. I want everyone to have as peaceful a death as my Mum.

Marie Curie nurses are remarkable people. They do not just nurse, they care, and they make the end of life for a patient and their family as comfortable as it can be.

If you want to help me raise money please go to my Just Giving page http://www.justgiving.com/mjdhughes where it will tell you about my riding stage 1 of the Tour de France on Saturday 5th July just hours before the pros. Thank you for reading this. Image

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Marie Curie Nurses don’t just nurse in the normal way

Lorna Clarkson is a Marie Curie nurse form Richmond North Yorkshire.

She was caring for a patient in the Richmond area. The lady had a lot of friends who were able to pop in and see her.

Whilst trying to offer drinks for her friends, her husband opened the glass cupboard and found a large quantity of patches that the patient had acquired to start sewing together to make a patchwork quilt.

The husband decided he would like to finish the quilt for his wife – a mammoth task and tried to fathom his wife’s sewing machine.

When Lorna arrived to begin her shift, he asked  if she had ever used one, he provided the instructions and Lorna helped him to thread it up and get started. Over the course of a few nights, they made good progress but decided to reduce the scale of the task and make a ‘throw’ rather than a full size quilt. Lorna arrived one night to see the patient proudly sat on the sofa under the beautiful hand-made patchwork throw along with  a patchwork cushion.

The husband had written a poem for his wife – he wondered if the sewing machine could sew text. He encouraged friends and family to sign their names on pieces of material and with Lorna’s guidance, re-set the sewing machine and learned how to stitch over the wording to produce a ‘friendship pillow’ that incorporated the poem and special messages. When the patient passed away, the treasured pillow was placed with her in the coffin.

Marie Curie nurses are normal people who do extraordinary things.

Please follow my blog. I will be writing about how wonderful Marie Curie nurses are and my training for the Marie Curie Power Peloton.

I will be riding Stage 1 of the Tour de France on Saturday 5th July just hours ahead of the professional peloton to raise £19,000. The money to pay for a Marie Curie nurse for 12 months.

http://www.justgiving.com/mjdhughes or text MJDH64 (amount) to 70070

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My new app for Action Medical Research

Well, I never thought I would have it in me to put an app together. I have though, and only one day old and it is doing the job for me.

My app can be downloaded at http://www.MikeHughes.appguppy.com I’ve created it to help with my fundraising for Action Medical Research. AMR is a charity that fund research into childrens diseases and illnesses. I started raising money for them in 2011 after a friend died of meningitis. AMR fund a great deal of research into finding a vaccine for meningitis so they were an obvious choice.

I raise money by cycling. to date I’ve raised over £6,800 and my target by the end of 2013 is to get up to £10,000. This year I am gong to be cycling 5000 miles. If you get the app you can see the events, and tours that I am going to be involved in. This blog will feature all the action, or lack of it from each of the events.

Keep with me, download the app, sponsor me, or just dip in and out throughout 2013.www.appguppyY2P Profile

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