I was over-joyed when I was informed the Company were going to acknowledge and reward my 25 years loyal service by nominating me as our representative for the 2016 Dallaglio Cycle Slam. But I soon realised this wasn’t going to be a stroll in the park; this would involve 5 days cycling, covering nearly 600km and climbing over 15,000 meters taking in one of the toughest stages of The Tour de France. This bike ride wasn’t about a bunch of Lycra-clad twits who’ve been sponsored to take a week off work. It was about a true test of physical and mental endurance to raise money for a really worthwhile cause (The Dallaglio Foundation, RugbyWorks, helps teenagers who have been excluded from mainstream education by working with them over a period of three years, to get them into sustained education, training or employment.). Giving up wasn’t an option!
The weeks of training and stress of preparing myself for this challenge were over. This was it, I was about to undertake one of the toughest challenges in my life. My bike had already been packed onto a Bidvest Lorry (logistics support sponsor) and was en route to San Sebastián. We were scheduled to set off at daft o’clock Sunday morning, so I had arranged to spend Saturday night at a nearby Gatwick hotel. Two familiar cycling buddies greeted me for an early airport breakfast before we embarked on our flight to Toulouse on EasyJet (a sponsor). I could sense a feeling of excitement and apprehension kicking in as I made my way for the speedy boarding gate greeted by our inspirational host and founder of the Cycle slam – Lawrence Dallaglio. I was too nervous to even consider requesting a drink to calm myself on the two hour flight to Toulouse. After several hours on the tour bus, accompanied by endless singing led by Andrew (WHAM) Ridgely – more of him later!) We eventually arrived at San Sebastián; a resort town on the Bay of Biscay in Spain’s mountainous Basque Country. Wellknown for world renowned restaurants helmed by innovative chefs.
“To be a cyclist is to be a student of pain….at cycling’s core lies pain, hard and bitter as the pit inside a juicy peach. It doesn’t matter if you’re sprinting for an Olympic medal, a town sign, a trailhead, or the rest stop with the homemade brownies. If you never confront pain, you’re missing the essence of the sport. Without pain, there’s no adversity. Without adversity, no challenge. Without challenge, no improvement. No improvement, no sense of accomplishment and no deep-down joy. Might as well be playing Tiddly-Winks.” Scott Martin.
After our team debriefing from the Slam organiser, a larger than life character called Mocky, the Head physio; Rooster, the team Doctor Simon and paramedic (who had gone as far as to bring in a fully equipped ambulance over from Germany), we received our first cycling brief from our tour technical director, Ben Wilson – a former GB road squad member and professional cycling coach. We were issued our team cycling kits and branded gilets, and I was introduced to my roommate for the tour; Will Smith, Head Rugby Coach- affectionately known as the gentle giant. I later learnt that Will had never ridden a road bike before, and in spite being incredibly fit, he was in need of some advice. All of a sudden, any tips or advice I could offer was in demand! From what to take on the bike to the benefits of chamois cream!
Day 1 San Sebastián to Biarritz: 83.2km / 1857m
The first day of the 2016 Slam gently eased us into the event with a delightful ride that covered a few small Pyrenean foothills before taking a coastal ride into the beautiful seaside resort of Biarritz. It should have been beautiful if it wasn’t for the rain! My clean bike was about to get very dirty!
I was selected to join team 2, captained by core rider Bill Carey-Evans; a veteran Slammer, an extremely successful entrepreneur, who grew up on a farm in North Wales – I later discovered we went to the same University – but at different times. Bill, a gently spoken man, who coped with any form of steep gradient by switching on his two Bluetooth speakers mounted on his bike at full volume! Fortunately the rain stopped as we approached Biarritz, and I was happy to retire to my room and elevate my legs up against the wall. Why? One of the main differences between amateur and professional riders is not the amount of training they do but their quantity and quality of recovery time. When they are not riding, pros will focus 100% on recovery, knowing that is when their bodies adapt and they become stronger. For amateurs like me with work, family and other commitments, doing nothing is rarely an option. However, I have learnt that if you fail to schedule in enough recovery, you will stop making progress, and increase risk of injury. I knew that within 20 minutes of finishing the ride, it was vital to take on some carbohydrates and protein to kick start recovery and I needed to elevate my legs. During this time window, your body is especially receptive to these macro-nutrients. The carbohydrates will be channelled to re-stock your body’s glycogen stores and the protein will be used to start repairing the micro-trauma to your muscles. I wish I could have taken a picture of Will and I propped under a pillow with our legs in the air whilst sipping a recovery drink! Everything was going so well, until I realised this was not just about cycling, this was about raising money and having the stamina to socialise at the bar and survive on very little sleep. This really was an endurance test!