The joy of collective memory spreads like fire among the five cyclists sat in the boardroom of RCUK Towers.
The topic, a 36-hour return journey made last year to Paris and to the Champs-Élysées to watch the final stage of the Tour de France, soon centres on the vehicle employed for the purpose.
“A Land Rover,” one of the riders recalls.
“An eighties Land Rover,” adds another.
“A 28-year-old Land Rover,” a third member of the party clarifies, “running on vegetable oil”.
The room erupts with laughter.
By the time you read this, frame builder, Ricky Feather, and four friends will be riding up the slopes of Mont Ventoux to position themselves for the arrival of the peloton on today’s fifteenth stage of the hundredth Tour de France.
The Ventoux, whose 1,912-metre summit is reached after 28 crippling kilometres, holds few terrors for the quintet, some of whom have ridden its barren slopes before, albeit at far lower speeds than the peloton
The quintet – Feather, Andy Matthews, Adam Wright, Jake Turnbull, and Adrian Hogan – left the north on Friday morning, and called in at RCUK Towers on Friday afternoon shortly before boarding a weekly Eurostar train from St Pancras to Avignon. Today’s plan involves rising at 5am and riding on to the slopes of the Giant of Provence.
When the race has passed, Wright, Matthews, and Turnbull will ride to the Alps, while Feather and Hogan, the latter equipped merely with a Caradice saddlebag and a credit card, will ride to Paris to arrive in time for next Sunday’s finale.
The Ventoux, whose 1,912-metre summit is reached after 28 crippling kilometres unfolding at an average gradient of 7.8 per cent, holds few terrors for the quintet, some of whom have ridden its barren slopes before, albeit at far lower speeds than the peloton. “I went with my girlfriend,” Turnbull recalls. “It was quite easy. I just went at her speed. It took about four hours. She was on an eighties road bike with about three gears.”
Matthews, part of the team at Kinoko Cycles, has heard from a colleague that while the slopes of the Ventoux have been barred to traffic from the preceding day, cyclists are able to ride up it until just hours before the arrival of the race. “We shouldn’t have too many problems,” he says, “other than that it’s a bloody big hill.” Wright reveals that they plan to camp by the roadside.
‘I’ve drawn up the route,’ Matthews deadpans. ‘I don’t recommend looking at it. The first couple of days are bloody hard.’
This will be their second Tour-inspired road trip in as many years. Finding themselves at a loose end on the eve of Bradley Wiggins’ coronation as the first British winner of the Tour de France, they decided to drive to Paris in the aforementioned Land Rover. “None of us was working that day so we thought we’ll go down to Paris and get some sun,” Feather recalls. Turnbull rejects RCUK’s suggestion that the trip may have relied more on spontaneity than a rigorous examination of logistics. “We did plan it the day before, so it wasn’t that last minute,” he smiles.
While this year’s trip has been given greater consideration, it is unlikely to resemble a military exercise. Hogan admits that his Caradice saddlebag will contain little more than a couple of t-shirts, a pair of shorts, sun cream and a credit card; Matthews will rely on little more to tackle the Alps, supplementing Hogan’s list with shower gel and “bits and bobs” in the way of tools.
Feather will be aboard his Continental bike, built for the Rapha exhibition at last year’s Bespoked Bristol, and winner of the show’s Best Road Bike award, fashioned from Columbus XCR stainless steel and equipped variously with a SRAM Red groupset, and wheels built with Ambrosio rims, Sapim spokes, and Chris King hubs.
Wright will ride another of Feather’s creations, this time made from “all sorts”. The downtube is Columbus Spirit; the chainstays are from Columbus Max, the seat stays, Columbus Life. “It has a Dedacciai tapered top tube that’s big at the front, but tapers back to meet the seat-tube. The headtube looks proportionate. It’s got a big internal headset,” Feather explains. “It’s a bit of a mix. I just wanted something really stiff and fast.”
Hogan’s machine has already been documented on RCUK: a Reynolds 725 chassis, fitted with a custom-made, nickel plated, 4130 handlebar stem, and decorated with a Yorkshire rose on the non-driveside chainstay as well as the Feather Cycles head-badge, denoting the owner’s county of origin.
Matthews will also be riding a distinctive machine. The 6’7” Lancastrian will ride a 66cm, disc-equipped Tonic Fabrications ‘cross bike, built in Portland, Oregon by Tony Bachelor, and exhibitor at the city’s famed North American Handmade Bike Show (NAHBS).
Feather will be aboard his Continental bike, built for the Rapha exhibition at last year’s Bespoked Bristol, and winner of the show’s Best Road Bike award
Asked to divide the appeal of their expedition between the opportunity to witness the hundredth Tour de France and the adventure of riding in France, and almost all of them arrive at a 50-50 split. While there is more than a dash of “Five go mad in Ventoux” about their journey, there will be plenty hard riding involved. “I’ve drawn up the route,” Matthews deadpans. “I don’t recommend looking at it. The first couple of days are bloody hard.”
Exactly how hard becomes apparent when they compare the profile of their second day of riding with last weekend’s White Rose Classic, an experience described by Hogan as “physically, the hardest thing I’ve ever done in my life.” While the 120-mile sportive through the Yorkshire Dales included 10,000 feet of climbing, the second day of riding in France will cover 113 miles with 15,000 feet of climbing. “So, twice as hard,” Matthews summarises.
The quintet will be far from alone among British cyclists travelling to catch a stage or more of the hundredth edition of cycling’s greatest race. Thousands more are likely to travel the comparatively short distance from the UK to France to share the road, perhaps only at a distance of a few hours, with the heroes of Le Tour.