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Bruce takes to the saddle for COGS4CANCER

posted by Julia O'Brien

Bruce Maltwood, Director at Sarnia Yachts, shares the highs and lows of his latest cycling challenge, raising vital funds for Cancer Research UK.

The COGS4CANCER ride is a yachting industry charity ride that has raised over one million euros since 2013.

Cancer Research UK has helped to fund research which has led to cancer survival rates doubling since the 1970's. The charity hopes that cancer outcomes will continue to improve in the next 20 years.

Joanne Evans, the London regional manager for Cancer Research UK said: ‘Thank you from the bottom of my heart on behalf of everyone at CRUK, but also everyone who has been affected by cancer. United we are stronger than cancer and together we will beat cancer sooner.

‘I look forward to supporting your next challenge, but in the meantime enjoy your well-deserved rest.’

The Build Up

‘A discussion at a sunny Monaco Yacht Show last year seemed a distant memory when I stepped out on a dark, wet morning in November 2016 to start my training program for the COGS4Cancer ride from London to Antibes.

‘Training on a tiny island where the highest hill only totals 100 metres seemed an ominous task for a ride covering 1,500 km and over 15,000 metres of climbing. Considering that Everest is only 8,848 metres, the training alone was going to be tough, not to mention fitting this in around work and family life.

‘Travelling to London to meet the rest of the riders I had mixed emotions including excitement and apprehension but was glad I had 10 months of training in my legs.

‘We met at Cancer Research’s HQ in London where we heard more about the amazing work that they are doing to tackle this terrible disease which touches almost every one of us.’

Day 1, London to Portsmouth - Distance 154km - Climbing 1,850m

‘To avoid the worst of the rush hour traffic in London, we needed an early start so the group of 30 riders could arrive in Portsmouth in time for the reception and ferry to Caen. Teams of 10 were lead by riders from UK pro teams who kept the pace steady.

‘The going was still slow for the first couple of hours due to traffic, compounded by tentative riding while we all worked out each other’s bike handling skills and how to ride as a group.

‘Glorious sunshine with mild temperatures meant high spirits were maintained and the stunning scenery in the South of England was shown off at its best. The route took us through the South Downs with a welcome pit stop in Haslemere for lunch.

‘We rolled into the centre of Portsmouth for a reception hosted by David Store Navigational Management and a late boarding of a ferry to Caen to start the main part of our ride.’

Day 2, Caen to Condeau - Distance 160km - Climbing 1,303m

‘After three or four hours sleep we rolled off the ferry into France to be greeted by the amazing team of Gourmet Deliveries who would be organising snacks and lunches for the duration of the ride to Antibes. The Octo tema of Mark & Debs would also be providing refuelling stops morning and afternoon.

‘Anyone who has taken part in similar challenges will appreciate how motivating it is to know that a wholesome meal will be waiting at the designated lunch point, especially in those dark moments when you feel that the tanks are empty and there is still a way to go to the next break.

‘With a support team of osteos, nurses and mechanics we stood the best chance of getting everyone to the finish line in Antibes.

‘Every single person had given their time voluntarily, ensuring that every penny raised goes directly to the designated charity.’

Day 3, Condeau to Cheverney – Distance 131km - Climbing 790m

‘By the third day, our legs were aching during the first hour or so of the day, especially in the cool, morning temperatures which often only a few degrees above freezing. Several riders were also carrying injuries so the osteopaths were kept busy and we were grateful for their support.

‘Doubts about getting everyone to Antibes started to emerge as the numbers of injuries increased daily. Thankfully, a strong tailwind helped to maintain a good average speed whilst reducing muscle strain and the sun shone, so spirits were high as we headed south past Orleans.’

Day 4, Chevernet to Saint Amend Montrond – Distance 134km - Climbing 914m

‘Another early start but the sunshine soon brought the temperature up to around 15 degrees. A relatively flat day again provided an opportunity for injury recovery and to prepare for the big climbing days ahead.

‘Another fantastic spread from the team at Gourmet Deliveries together with refuelling stops morning and afternoon as we edged closer to the centre of France.’

Day 5, Saint Amend Montrond to Vichy – Distance 117km - Climbing 1154m

‘Rain and low temperatures greeted us as we prepared to set off on day five at 7.00 am. Hot coffee for the morning break and a hearty lunch kept us all going, along with the prospect of a nice hotel in Vichy with a pool to soak our aching muscles.

‘A couple of falls as we approached the hotel added to the injury tally, but luckily I have so far managed to avoid illness or injury myself. I am feeling pretty strong still and grateful for all those months of training which have put me in good stead. You can never rest on your laurels however, and the daily ritual of creams gels, potions and vitamins helped to keep the body in one piece.

‘I joined a fast group after lunch which helped us to arrive nice and early in Vichy leaving time for a hot bath and a quick nap to help the recovery.’

Day 6, Vichy to Le Puy – Distance 165km - Climbing 1,889m

‘A flat morning ride followed by an afternoon of climbing with beautiful scenery saw us ride through Livradois-Forez Regional Natural Park on our way to Le Puy, the home of lentils.

‘The weather improved with sunny skies although the temperatures remained cool as we headed down towards the Ardeche. The whole support team were doing an amazing job at keeping us all going and in high spirits, injuries eased and optimism that everyone might complete the ride was growing.’

‘The usual banter between riders continued through the whole ride and friendships are forged on this kind of trip, especially when it comes to supporting each other in those dark moments when the legs don’t want to work anymore and another towering climb appears in front of you.

‘In these moments you find out so much about yourself and how far you can really go which inevitably is a lot further than your head lets you think you can.’

Day 7, Le Puy to Valon Pont D’Arc – Distance 145km - Climbing 2,021m

‘With the anticipation of riding through the Ardeche, everyone was keen to get going. The first riders set off at 6.30am, and we were climbing straight out of the blocks so the morning was tough but the beautiful scenery took our minds off the pain in our legs.

‘Straight up to 1000 metres within the first 20km wakes up the system but is not ideal for the older riders such as myself who ideally need the first hour or so to warm up! The views were indeed well worth the effort and a stunning 25km descent in the afternoon made it all worthwhile.

‘Discussions that evening turned to Mont Ventoux which is an optional extra for those riders wanting to test themselves on a 20km climb averaging approximately 10-11% in gradient - steeper than any 100m climb in Guernsey. Only 11 riders are tempted to do it, including myself - I volunteered in a moment of madness!

‘I knew that plenty of carbs and an early night was a must if I was going to stand a chance of completing it.’

Day 8, Valon Pont D’Arc to Malaucene – Distance 143km - Climbing 3,268m

‘While we were waiting to set off in the morning I could see the peak of Mont Ventoux in the distance and the magnitude of what I had agreed to do suddenly dawned on me. A flat terrain in the morning definitely helped as I hid at the back of the peloton trying to save every bit of energy for the climb up Ventoux in the afternoon.

‘100km still takes its toll no matter where you are in the group but I felt that I had preserved my energy as much as I could for the afternoons climb. The 11 Ventoux riders set off separately after lunch, each one of us deep in our own thoughts thinking about what we were about to attempt.

‘This group was the fittest of the bunch, and suddenly I felt like I was perhaps out of my depth. We stopped in the village at the foot of the climb to fill water bottles and pop gels and energy bars as part of the preparation for what was to come.

‘I set off first with a rider of similar ability and was immediately shocked by the steepness of the climb, even in the first kilometre. With my bike already in the easiest gear and my heart rate climbing fast I questioned whether I was going to be able to get to the top.

‘The gradient was relentless with markers letting you know the average gradient for the following kilometre, they all seemed to be over 10%. I pulled ahead of the rider with me and continued to bury myself kilometre after kilometre. Only when I got to the half-way point did I even think that there was a remote possibility of making it.

‘A group of three of the strongest riders came past me shouting encouragement as they passed but I was in a world of my own and struggled to get any words out. Two other riders gradually came past me, and I expected the others to follow suit. I kept these two riders in my sights for the rest of the climb, and to my amazement, no one else was even in sight let alone catching me.

‘With the support team filling our water bottles and camera crews/mechanics shouting encouragement I crept closer to the top. With a few kilometres to go, the tower at the top of Ventoux came into sight, and I then knew it was in touching distance. Still each turn of the pedals seemed to sap every ounce of energy I possessed.

‘Reaching the top was an emotional, albeit freezing, moment so we had only a brief pause to take a picture or two and put on some layers of clothing before we started the welcome descent back down to the hotel at the bottom.’

Day 9, Malaucene to Moissac  – Distance 155km - Climbing 2,139m

‘With another big climbing day ahead I wondered how much I would have in the legs after Ventoux the previous day. I felt surprisingly good as we rolled out from Malaucene and settled into a steady pace for the day’s ride.

‘Breath taking scenery accompanied us for most of the day matched by high spirits knowing that we had almost completed the challenge. A couple of minor incidents occurred, probably due to the tiredness but nothing to prevent us all reaching the end.’

Day 10 Moissac to Antibes – Distance 150km, Climbing 1,805m

‘The final day arrived. All the climbing happened before lunch and, with legs feeling like lead, I had a couple of very dark moments when I didn’t feel I had anything left. Each climb seemed to drag so the final descent into Greolieres for lunch cames as a huge relief.

‘A 60km descent in the afternoon meant a steady cruise into Antibes, or so I thought.

‘A headwind most of the way down meant I still had to peddle. Then, with 5km to go, I hooked up with some very fast riders and we smashed it all the way to Antibes with speeds approaching 50kph.

‘It was a fast and furious end to an epic adventure that had pushed me harder, longer and higher than I had ever been before.

‘An emotional reception on the international yacht quay to the sound of the yachts blasting their horns and crowds of cheering supporters was a fitting end to a ride I will never forget.

Bruce was sponsored by Sarnia Yachts. The COGS4Cancer cycling challenge raised €294,920 towards research into cancer. There is still time to donate, go to: https://www.justgiving.com/fundraising/cogs4cancer 

‘Would I do it again? Let's wait and see…’