Treated like a Pro

One of the best things about this camp is the care you get given by the support crew. It makes training totally different when you can just get your training gear ready and roll out for a swim, bike or run. No other worries – what food you’re going to eat, washing your gear, packing up the van and moving on. Without any fuss, everyone’s bag magically turns up at the next destination.

Ian and Julie work tirelessly all day to keep everyone fed and watered. Somehow they manage to keep smiling as well. Julie even rolls by in her van with 90’s tunes playing. I wasn’t sure about some of her singing to start with but it’s actually starting to sound good now. Ian is always there with a description of the next climb or descent, and has put a few bikes back together for people.

There’s also Tim – doing his morning physio and health checks, plus EVIL massages that put you back together.

Ollie keeps everyone up along the route each day, picks up supplies, and provides local knowledge from his years living here.

Tim and Ollie have also taken a load of brilliant photos.

They have MADE the camp.





First Day

We had a 5.30 a.m. meet before driving to do a swim race in the Mediterranean off Carry-le-Rouet. It was definitely wetsuit conditions – Adam’s wetsuit hadn’t arrived and 2 strokes in his speedos was enough before turning around and calling it a day.

I feel pretty confident in water and have done a fair bit of ocean swimming but was soon struggling to breathe properly (a mixture of crappy sleep and travel may have caught up with me). About 400 metres from shore I started to have a full-on panic attack (the first I can ever remember having in water) and I was glad that Louis and Rob were swimming near me. I’m not sure why I felt more confident following someone who had been rerouted from London to Marseilles via Madrid (Louis), but it seemed to settle me down. I worked bloody hard to stay with them for the next lap and a half.

A quick breakfast and we were off to Vaison la Romaine via Mont Ventoux (167km with 3,100 m of climbing). John wanted the group to stay together for as long as possible and he set the tempo at the front for the first hour or so. I was right at the back of our group of about 15, yo-yoing up and back with my heart rate still jacked up from the swim. This wasn’t the controlled start I had planned, so dropped off the back after our first stop and made friends with Louis. We had a much more relaxed ride to the bottom of Mt Ventoux, chatting about his adventures and experiences from previous Epic Camps.

Ventoux took me about 2 hours to climb, ticking along just below ironman effort. The final 16km have an average gradient of 8.9%, and when you’re riding them it’s difficult to comprehend the 60-minute ascents of Tour riders. A quick photo at the top and then it was a great descent to our hotel. I didn’t hit the speeds of the 90-100 kph descenders in our group (Phil, John, Julian) but reached 70 kph a few times.

Mt Ventoux-min


After reaching the hotel I noticed the sting on my arm had blown up during the day. It now looked like I had been doing curls on my right arm only for about 6 months. Tim, our resident physio and medical advisor, recommended a visit to the hospital after dinner. Despite having been on the go all-day looking after us, Ian and Julie still drove me down there to get checked out.

Tim had been worried about a bacterial infection in my arm and I used a mixture of my best pigeon French, pigeon Spanish and shouting to explain what had happened to the doctor (“YOU KNOW – BUZZZZZZZZ”). “Non, non, non, non, non” was his reply to my suggestion about “bactérien”. It was an allergic reaction apparently and so our first day of Alpine cycling ended for me in an appropriate way – with a drip of antihistamine in my arm for 30 minutes.


Arrival in Marseilles

A 48-hour journey from Chester to Marseilles (courtesy of a British Airways flight cancellation) was perfect preparation for making a horrible mistake soon after arriving. Smugly, I thought I was mentally prepared for this and told myself that I would not do anything stupid on the first day.

John recommended a 40km loop from the hotel and this seemed perfect to check the bike was in one piece. I was soon admiring the scenery from high up over town. As I looked back at the road a manhole cover raised about 6 inches off the ground rushed towards me. A nice skid narrowly avoided disaster – mistake 1.

The roads here are a reddish-brown colour (or my eyes think they are anyway). What I didn’t realise was that that the speed bumps in Aix are also dark red-brown, with no white lines to help you distinguish them. I’m a bit colour blind at the best of times and so I didn’t notice an evil bump at the bottom of a hill. Some late braking and a jump saved the bike and me – mistake 2.

I thought it was time to slow down a bit and potter back to the hotel. There was one more surprise left though, as a large buzzing insect flew into my arm and left half its’ backside there. It had a decent sting and it must have looked like I was having a minor fit as I flapped around trying to get it off my arm. Weaving down the road wasn’t the best way to potter home – mistake 3.

I’m glad I was prepared for not doing anything stupid on day 1 anyway.