Merlin 1000; 14 cyclists, 14 Cube Bikes, 2 support crew and a detailed route covering four countries, over a distance of 1000 miles. Why would we do this as everyone said that punctures and saddle-sore would haunt us! The challenge and team building we thought were good reasons but also to raise awareness for charities that are close to our hearts; The Royal Navy and Royal Marines Charity, The RAF Benevolent Fund and the Forces Childrens Trust.
The route was nothing short of daunting starting from RAF Benson in Oxfordshire and ending up in the centre of Milan. Day one was a gentle 76 miles to catch the night ferry in Portsmouth and then the journey began through France (St Malo, Chateaubriant – A Brit finally wins Wimbledon), and then onto Tours.
I must remind you that the Cyclists are a lottery of both seasonal and amateur riders and by the time that most had reached Tours they had cycled further than they have ever done in one ride! 117miles on the third Stage!
Initially the riders had formed a gaggle however as the cycling progressed a structured peloton had formed.
After battling the traffic in Tours we then followed an exact copy of the stage 13 of the Tour de France (another leg over 100 miles), this took us into Saint-Amand-Montrond. I was really delighted to see a tiny yellow sign marking the finish line of the Tour, what an anticlimax!!
The next following morning silence descended on the riders, this was no doubt going to be one of the hardest days so far; 110 miles but also 1445m to climb! We figured that you just had to get angry at the hils!! Roanne the next stop never looked so good!
The next day was a shorter day into Lyon however we still had to battle with a 5/6% incline for 5 km. The hill was on a Tour De France leg and so campers surrounded the road, cheering us on and keeping us going!! There was no way that I was going to stop now! Lyon was not dissimilar to the Wacky Races but once we found the English Pub and our hosts from the RAF association, we could relax with a beer!
The next day we watched the Tour de France pass through (so quick)! We then headed off towards Belley after one of the chaps had thought that menthol foot cream was Chamois cream! I won’t say anymore other that the soundtrack of this stage was Jonny Cash’ Ring of Fire!!
Belley – Evains-les-Bains. I think that most of us found this to be the hardest day. Legs are hurting, the saddle sore has kicked in and the fatigue levels are now significantly higher. 2 huge hills and then undulating (in a big way) until Lake Geneva, which was a fabulous sight!
The cycle to Brig was stunning and mostly completed via cycle paths next to rivers and lakes. We rested for a day in Brig where the looming Simplon Pass (a high mountain pass between the Pennine Alps and the Lepontine Alps) towered down on us. Stunning but Painful.