FROOME FOR IMPROVEMENT

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All those months of hard training & leg shaving has paid off for our Head of Design James Greig. Last week he along with the #Froomeforimprovement team completed their 1000km ride to the Alps of the 100th Tour de France…

It was an idea conceived in the pub one cold evening last November. The week before, Prudhomme had revealed the route of the 100th Tour de France – the penultimate stages would roll through a part of the Alps which Harry knew well. Two beers in we’d decided the five of us would fly down there to watch it. By the fifth round we’d scrapped the idea of flying and shaken on riding the 1000km route through northern then central France, over the Jura and finally ending up in the Alps.

Fast forward eight months, to 6am on July 12th, eight of us packing a Jeep full of tents, flapjacks, cooking equipment, spare tyres, copious amounts of chamois cream and everything else we could imagine we’d need to keep us going through long days in the saddle. At that moment I was beginning to regret the inebriated agreement. After that day in November, we talked a lot, but we weren’t doing much by the way of training rides and a crap spring didn’t do much to help that. Tuesday and Thursday mornings were set as training time, as well as one big ride on Sundays, but the text message excuses from each of us rolled in as fast as the rain rolled against the bedside window.

The start of the racing season got us worked up for what we would get to see later in the summer. Wiggins out, there was much talk of Froome as favourite for yellow in Paris as we’d roll out on our 6am rides, one of us normally turning up knackered from working too hard, hungover, or both. There was plenty of room for improvement. Froome for Improvement we joked.

Accepting we can always do better took the pressure off a bit and is a good mentality for this kind of adventure, we were only semi-pro. We were all of different cycling abilities and strengths, and our aim became making sure we all got to the Alps together and had a laugh along the way, rather than dividing into a fast paced breakaway and a grumpy bunch two hours down the road.

We were James, Harry, Ross, Tom, Shaun and me (another James) with Ben and Bennie who’d given up a week of their summer to drive a support car. We’d not really given much thought to sponsorship, but Bennie had suffered from Meningitis as a kid, and as people kept offering to sponsor us – probably doubting we’d make it – we pointed them towards Meningitis UK.

Packing the Jeep that morning, after Tom and Shaun suffering a burglary and an on-foot chase, we finally peddled out of Shoreditch in London two hours later than planned. Kitted up in Vulpine team jerseys and clipping in, there was a sense of relief that we were finally on our way. Heading through rush hour traffic was grim as ever and we got out first taste of navigating using iPhones mounted on our handlebars. A few wrong turns later we were soon rolling through the Kent countryside, practicing our through-and-off and perfecting our banter. Unfortunately we weren’t rolling quick enough, the late start and unexpected drugs search of our bikes at Dover (nothing performance enhancing to see here Guv!) meant we missed our ferry. We got ourselves onto the next one, but we were already living up to our namesake.

There isn’t much exciting to be said about Calais, unless you’ve had two beers on a ferry, it’s sunny and you have mates around you to ride with for six days. The roads in France were how we remembered; wide, smooth and in the setting sun we cheered the French.

We arrived at camp, and ate well.

Day one was a good day.

The following four days were very much the same as each other. Rolling past cornfield after cornfield, occasionally punctuated by a wind farm, later becoming fields of peas and then the grape vines of Champagne. There was a monotony to these days that I enjoyed, a simplicity to turning legs, eating flapjacks, chatting, laughing and thinking.

By the end of day five we’d reached the foothills of the Jura mountains. The landscape had changed; fields of corn became fields of cows and flat, straight roads became rolling ups and downs and tight corners. Already tired legs were challenged as we pulled up our first proper Col in the pouring rain…

A taste of things to come in the Alps the next day.

The last day would take us to our finish line, the village of Le Grand-Bornand also the finish line of the following day’s Tour stage. We’d not get there without a day in the Alps first, and that meant ascending Col de la Colombière. I love climbing, but didn’t know what to expect from a Hors catégorie climb. I grew up in west Wales, there’s a lot of steep stuff there, how could it be different? Well, Wales is beautiful and rainy, but the Alps are in a league of their own and rainy. As we rolled closer to the base of Colombière there was an unspoken sense of anticipation, we stopped and ate pastries telling ourselves we were fuelling-up but actually putting off what we were about to do.

We’d said we’d stick together on this last climb and for the first quarter we did. I was finding it hard, the heat was baking and constant traffic streamed past us. As is the way in the Alps the weather can change in minutes and as we turned a corner the heavens opened. I love riding in the rain, cold precipitation cooled hot muscles and I felt stronger. A few turns later I was on my own, I didn’t know if I was ahead or behind the guys. A clack of thunder preceded near silence but for raindrops on tarmac and sound of cow bells ringing. Mist rising from the forests below and cloud clearing from the peak, I had a moment.

The final turns to the top are near 20%.

I assume it hurt, I don’t know, I was too overwhelmed.

We flew down the descent to our final destination. 1044km of road had past beneath us on our adventure from London to the Alps.

That night we celebrated.

The next day our reward, we’d see Froome in yellow.

Find out more about the FFI Tour and sponsor at: froomefroome.cc

A short film about the trip will follow later in the summer.

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