A year on the bike: Ashley Quinlan’s most memorable rides of 2017

From the Cote d'Azur to the Col du Glandon, via breakfast in Burnham

With the end of the year fast approaching, RCUK’s team of writers will be looking back on three of their favourite rides of 2017. Next up: Ashley Quinlan.

From testing pro-level race bikes on the stunning Cote d’Azur, to tackling Tour giants to cheer on the peloton and a full gas breakfast ride on local roads, here are Ashley’s top three rides of 2017.

Lapierre Aircode first ride

At RCUK, we’re in an immensely privileged positon to do what we do and experience brand new technology ahead of everyone else (well, apart from test pilots and the pros), and do it in some dreamy locations too.

Of all the rides at product launches this year, the pick of the bunch has to be a two-part spin around the Cote d’Azur aboard the sparkling new Lapierre Aircode. This ride had everything.

Perfect weather with clear skies? Sure. Great roads to ride on? Yep. A state-of-the-art Dura-Ace R9100-equipped aero bike? Of course. A peloton of European bike journalists headed by ex-Finnish National Road Race champion turned FDJ Directeur Sportif Jussi Veikkanen? Check.

When these ingredients come together – the weather, the bike, the route, the people – magic is bound to happen. And so it was.

Stunning weather, great roads and top-spec bikes… what’s not to love? (Pic: Jean-Luc Armand)

We roll out in the morning, covering the same inland loop of the previous day’s Pulsium first ride, and the Aircode is singing. It’s proving itself to be addictively rapid, and I attack sections of the Col du Blavet with real vim.

All the while I’m laughing and joking with my colleagues and grabbing photos of the valley and distant views of the coast that now, deep into winter, rekindle fond memories.

In the afternoon after lunch, instead of following the prescribed route we head south from Fréjus, and up the shortish Col du Bougnon as we make a beeline for the coastline. Jussi announces that he can smell ice cream (can anyone?) and, rediscovering his old legs, puts in a spurt and leaves me for dead. He’s over the top and heading down the other side before I know what’s hit me.

Ashley puts the Lapierre Aircode through its paces on the Cote d’Azur – a perk of the job (Pic: Jean-Luc Armand)

Part way down the other side, we reconvene. “Nice, eh?” he chirps. All I can do is shake my head and start laughing – I’ve got a long way to go if I want to be able to test this guy, even in retirement. Maybe next year.

Soon, we’re looking for a café as we roll along the beachfront, and before long discover Le Cercle, Les Issambres beachside restaurant down a small carpeted driveway. This isn’t a time for coffee, though – it’s early June, and summer has well and truly arrived. Right then…

“Un Café Liegeois, s’il vous plaît!”

Earlyriders for Burnham breakfast

As the saying goes: some days you’re the hammer, some days you’re the nail. This day I’m the hammer.

There are two days when I went full gas for 100 per cent of a ride in 2017. The Somerset 100 sportive in mid-May, and this ride with two local clubmates that left out of Bath early and headed over the Mendips before a blast along the edge of Somerset Levels to Burnham-on-Sea for breakfast.

Two weeks previously I’d returned from the Lapierre Aircode and Pulsium launch, and I was in probably my best condition of the year. It never got better than this.

To try to miss the peak of the afternoon heat later on, we depart at 8am. The morning is cool, but I’ve left the gilet at home knowing that I won’t want to be carrying it later. I’m feeling good.

The three of us roll out on a well-travelled route along the A39 and I’m at the head of proceedings. There’s a gentle breeze swirling but nothing too bad. Yet, I’m punching a hole into it and I find myself enjoying the process of driving us forward.

Only on occasions do I give up the front – not because my companions aren’t willing, but because I’m loving the role of domestique for the day.

Breakfast with a view… and a well-earned one too (Pic: Ashley Quinlan/Factory Media)

Dropping down Cheddar Gorge and riding along the southern ridge of the Mendip Hills, I plough on as the temperature rises. I feel great now, and we’re 50km into the ride. It must just be one of those special days.

Arriving at Burnham, we stop for a quick Instagram moment on the slipway, before heading back inland to our breakfast stop at a local farm shop a few kilometres inland. We’ve managed to average 30.7km/h over the first 77.5km. I’m pleased with that, and dream of keeping it above that magic 30km/h mark on the way home too.

The route takes us over the heart of the northern Somerset Levels, via the small villages of Mark, Blackford, Wedmore and Theale, through Wookey and onto Wells. It’s genuinely hot by the time we climb out of historic Wells up the grippy Horrington Hill. My partners Paula and Harry are flagging in the heat – conversely, I go well in these conditions.

I wait at the top, but already the average speed has dipped to 29.8km/h, while I know the route back is rolling and not conducive to fast averages. It turns out Harry’s legs are failing him as we roll back home. Instead of driving the pace on, I happily pace him back to Paula who’s gone on ahead.

We manage to maintain the 29.8km/h average on the way in – no mean feat given the 1,505m of climbing in a 138km round trip and I’m mega-satisfied with the day’s efforts. One of those all-too-rare summer rides where your form and the weather are both at the top of their game

Col du Glandon and Col de la Croix de Fer on Tour day

Overhead, helicopters circle like vultures, meandering their way closer and closer as they keep their eyes on the fortunes of the yellow jersey and his would-be challengers. The tension builds as we stand at the side of the road, having been in situ for the last two hours awaiting the Tour’s passage.

Exhilarating as it is to join the crowds atop the Col de la Croix de Fer and roar these heroes onwards towards Paris, in the process scoring a blurry cameo on TV, the ride up to this spot via the Glandon has been awesome.

For the day we cyclists are pilgrims. We all want to get as far up the road as possible, hoping to see the elite selection of riders doing what they do best. There’s a buzz in the air, and those who have camped and parked at the side of the road in their caravans are all in fine voice.

On days like these, cheers of “allez, allez” aren’t just reserved for the pros.

On the way up the steep lower section, I’m forced into churning a 36x26t gear. I bump into an old friend from my college days, who’s one of the campers. He’s travelled from his home in Grenoble for the day, and flags me down – frankly I’m glad for the rest and a chance to catch up.

Around 800m later I bump into Didi Senft, the Devil himself. It’s a surreal and slightly awkward encounter – he speaks no English at all, and I’ve only two words of German to contribute to any communication – having seen him jumping up and down in the corners of my TV screen every July as a child while sat with my father watching the Tour. Naturally, I take the opportunity to grab one of my very few bucket list photos.

A cycling pilgrimage to watch the Tour action unfold on the Col du Glandon (Pic: Ashley Quinlan/Factory Media)

Remounting, I set about chasing my cycling buddies, Andy and Jonny (who by this point are well up the climb), and around 30 minutes later I spot them just up the road.

I traverse the infamous mini descent within the Col du Glandon and rise up the steep slope on the other side, overtaking the swathes of riders as I meander up.

Col du Glandon, panorama, pic - Ashley Quinlan-Factory Media
Col du Glandon, panorama, 2 pic - Ashley Quinlan-Factory Media
Col de la Croix de Fer, panorama, pic - Ashley Quinlan-Factory Media

Eventually, we arrive at the Lac de Grand Maison – a quick pause to take in the view before dropping down again before the final rise. Here, the gendarmes are in full force, commanding us to dismount and walk the rest of the way. They’ll be lucky – there’s still 5km to go – so once out of sight we remount and carry right on going.

When we arrive at Le Chalet du Glandon, we pause for a Coke and an obligatory picture in front of the summit sign around the corner, not knowing what we’ll find 3km further up to the Croix de Fer. Thankfully there’s another bar here too, where I treat myself to an Ice Tea and baguette as we watch the caravan roll by and await the race’s arrival.


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