Simon’s Cycle Shorts are now available to buy in both paperback (£8.39) and Kindle (£2.99) editions from Amazon. HERE

 

On the 2nd Sunday of July 2016 at the mountain resort town of Morzine in the French Alps I witnessed an event that could only be described as a miracle. A small band of men bound only by their loyalty to each other and their adherence to the cycling code, planned and executed the perfect bike race; despite having an average age of 36 years, an average waist of 36 inches and a combined cycling experience of only 36 months, they contrived to ‘win’ the 2016 Etape du Tour. For those not in the ‘know’ about this new cycling Everest, the Etape is designed to give 15,000 road cyclists a chance every year to ride one of the gruelling mountain stages of that years Tour de France. The event comprises a couple of hundred kilometres (all road riding is measured in kilometres because it has a continental European heritage and it sounds a longer distance than if you express it in miles) of torturous mountain climbs ridden non stop a week or so before the professionals complete the same route – albeit at a decidedly faster speed.

Now, if this tale of an extraordinary feat by mere middle-aged men in lycra sounds to be no more than the muddled ramblings of an ageing race bike, then please, bear with me. I was there; I saw it. It was me that was appointed to report the events of that day.

The team, as they were to become, met one evening by accident. Dan, who had recently moved to London from Bristol, walked into a bar in the City and, after accidentally bumping into James Hosta who was nursing a bruised shoulder from a recent bicycle accident, then knocked a jacket belonging to Joe Port – who was with James – onto the floor. Whilst politely apologising for his clumsiness he couldn’t help but get caught staring at a low cut blouse waiting at the bar – being worn by a girl from the office of Ray Amis – who, yes, was also with James and Joe.

“Mate!” Joe was from Sydney, “You oughta look where you’re going and not go where you’re looking.” After more sincere apologising from Dan, the three gradually realised that he was actually quite a good bloke. More importantly, he rode a bicycle and, by the sound of it, followed a similar code to them; He only wore Rapha cycle clothing and his bike was Black. It was good start.

Less than two years later the four of them and us four bikes arrived in Morzine on the Friday before the Etape. The four of them had booked a room each in the most expensive accommodation in town, Le Mas de Couttetaz, and arrived in two large Mercedes estate cars with enough equipment to run a whole Tour de France team. Dan Grant, my rider, travelled with James, and Joe and Ray were together in the other car. We bikes were properly positioned on the roof in specially made Tour-type roof bars. Everything was right; the tyre decals lined up with the cap-less valves; bar tape, saddles, tyres, everything was black; even the rear quick releases were perfectly positioned at the angle that bisected the seat and chain stays. All that was missing were the sponsorship decals on the black car doors.

Dan was the youngest and fittest member of the team and it had been decided that he would be the finisher. The first three mountain climbs were to be led by his team members – the boys in Black; Rapha-clad, scientifically fuelled and expensively trained for nothing else but to bury themselves for the team; they were to perform the duties of the domestiques. The final points of the plan were laid down late that Friday evening in the hotel bar.

The Saturday morning ride had no more purpose than to shake off the drive from London and make sure that we bikes had survived the trip intact. The serious training had all been completed in the months before; the coach and the nutritionist who’d been employed to ensure that the demanding training plan was adhered to and that they reached the event in perfect condition, were now gone. It was down to us to execute the plan. We, the bikes, were ready for anything but, to be honest, and despite what our riders were saying, we weren’t expecting anything really special. These guys were pretty good by the time of the race but their talk was bigger than their legs and even with the impressive weight losses, their bellies still softer than their saddles. They might have done plenty of trips to the Alps to test their climbing and work on their plan but they weren’t really competitors – well so we thought.

Just so you know, we bikes were all top of the range road bikes and our riders hadn’t skimped on anything – they could afford it. I’m a Trek Madone 9.9 – Dan the Estate Agency owner calls me ‘Mad One’; James, the off-shore tax specialist who treats Dan like a son, is the oldest of the group and the only one with any riding experience, rode a Pinarello Dogma (like the one ridden by the Sky team); Joe Port, the wise-cracking Aussie bank trader (known to the others as ‘Ritchie’ – after the famous Aussie Tour rider Ritchie Porte) rode a blingy Cannondale; quiet and thoughtful Ray Amis rode the unmarked German Bike with the electronic everything – the other three of us bikes thought that he’d got a motor hidden away somewhere in his down-tube but if he had, he wasn’t letting on any more than Ray was. Ray was an accountant so he was used to hiding things.

The four of us were all black and the four of them rode only in black Rapha kit. We were quite a sight.

I don’t know exactly what happened on the Saturday evening before the race because me and the other bikes were safely tucked up in our rooms. But I do know that Dan came back around midnight with a pretty American girl and they played around a bit before going back to the bar downstairs with the others. Ritchie’s Cannondale told me that something similar happened in his room although he couldn’t see exactly what. But they were all in bed by 2am – which was pretty good for them when they were away together. They were clearly focusing on the race.

So what happened? How did they manage to get Dan to be first past the post at the finish in Morzine? Well, they had a plan. Intelligent men, they executed the plan with the ruthless professionalism that only exists in men of their calibre. The plan, combined with a little luck – winners always make their luck – an attention to detail bordering on obsessional (it wasn’t just their guns they shaved!), and a combative team spirit put them in the position they needed to be for the second half of the race when the field thinned out. If the team ‘spirit’ meant bullying their way past slower riders in the early kilometres with angry shouts and judicious shoves when necessary, then so be it; the black train steamed through. Little Dan was the natural climber who’d learned over the months beforehand to conserve his energy over the early climbs whilst the others led the train. They motored up the first climb, Aravis, with Ray leading the way before passing the baton to ‘Ritchie’ for the Colombine – I’m guessing the German battery was running low on juice by then. James manfully hauled them up the third climb, Ranaz, before descending like a pro for the final climb of the day. By then, the three of them were spent and Dan was left to crest the Joux Plane alone and burst over the finish line in Morzine in front of the cheering crowds. It was all about the bikes; it was all about the preparation. The money men triumphed.

Well, that was how it was supposed to happen. The truth is that the awesome foursome overslept. None of them thought to organise an early morning call – where was Siri when you needed her? By the time James woke the others, around ten, the leading riders, who’d left at 5am to get to the start in Megeve, were half way through the stage. Sneaky Ray suggested that they could still be seen as winners if they were able to sneak onto the course for the last few k’s to the finish line, but the others decided against it. Besides, no one would know that they hadn’t even started the ride because no one apart from the other competitors actually cares who finishes in the Etape.

 

Simon’s Cycle Shorts are now available to buy in both paperback (£8.39) and Kindle (£2.99) versions from Amazon. HERE

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