Storm clouds gathered above the Palmera Hotel in Cap D’Age.
Lee & I were tucked up in bed in a luxury room, snoozing away whilst our fellow cyclists battled through the storm (aboard a plane no less) to make it to the start line of the epic ride across the Pyrenees to San Sebastian beginning in the morning.
It was an ominous beginning. As the sun rose the next morning (in a kinder looking sky) 50-odd bleary-eyed, storm-battered dentists pulled on lycra, pumped up tires and assembled on their bikes outside.
Lee and I were working on behalf of Just Pedal to help guide this merry band (all with freakishly good teeth) 750 km over the next 5 days. The dentists had been brought together by the Straumann group and were raising money for Bridge to Aid – a charity training medical staff to deliver emergency dental care in remote communities in Africa.
Conscious of my undersized lateral incisors (yes, an orthodontist helpfully pointed them out to me as a teenager), I flashed a no-teeth smile to my group for the day – Group 3 – and we headed to the beach to dip our wheels in the sea. That done, we turned our handlebars to the distant hills and started to pedal.
Day 1 was a kind day. It was pretty flat, there was barely any wind and the dentists were in good spirits. 50 km in, one rider admitted that that was the furthest she’d ever ridden a bike (having first got on a road bike 6 months previously). 100 km in, Mark, Bridge to Aid’s representative, told me about his very painful neck – he’d fitted a bizarre near vertical stem to try and raise his bars and ease his pain which sadly didn’t seem to be helping much. 132 km down, 600 ish more to go.
Day 2 was a bit of a beast, a 162 km epic including an ascent of the Col du Port. Now in charge of Group 2, we took things a bit faster. We battered ourselves into a strong headwind before I stupidly ended up racing up the mountain. Oops. I lost in a nail-biting sprint for the sign and was not the only cyclist with very sore legs on the descent. 294 km down, several hundred more to go.
Day 3 constituted a bit more of a rest day, but the heavens opened and made the morning thoroughly miserable. The route would have been beautiful, winding alongside a river, but the rain made everything blurry (yes, even without wearing glasses). But Group 3 maintained good spirits. There were six chaps accompanied by myself & Isobel (my fellow ride leader). Lunch was like reaching heaven. Hot plates laden with lamb stew and couscous warmed us to our cores and raised energy levels enough to complete the day’s ride. 418 km down, less than half to go!
Day 4 was the one all the dentists had been dreading and the one I had been looking forward to. I was secretly pleased to see such a large group of dentists in fear. We were headed up the Tourmalet. Another day at the office for me, was a day of torture for them. Payback time for that root canal last year! Hurrah! We set off early, just as the sun was up and headed out of Tarbes, towards the snow capped mountains (yes, snow, it was pretty cold).
We stopped for a coffee at the bottom of the climb, I added layers to my slightly chilled body whilst others took their warmers off in anticipation of the 17 km climb. The pro’s manage this climb in about 54 mins. As back-marker for the day, I was in for a significantly slower ascent. This, for many dentists, was their first ever mountain. And what a mountain she is.
The top was lost in fog and fresh snowfall littered the slopes above. We climbed. The dentists ascended into their world of pain whilst the smile on my face got bigger the higher we went. Soon the dentists were scattered across the mountain, rolling from side to side in an effort to summit the Tourmalet. The effort was monumental. The determination was clear. Every single one of them was going to make it, the broom-wagon was not an option.
After 3 hours I rolled over the summit with the last two riders – Heidi & Graham. The sense of achievement was just incredible. The other dentists cheered them over the crest and we posed for a victory shot.
After warming ourselves with hot chocolate and cake, we wrapped up (yep, I added more layers) and we hit the descent. We got to the lunch break at 4 pm, we made it to the hotel at 7:30 pm after 12 hours and 150 km of pedaling. 568 km down, 1 day to go!
Very, very sore legs accompanied the final 182 km day. Whilst the were no mountains to climb, we were in the Basque country and it was very very hilly. I described it as a roller coaster, others described it (after the fourth quite hard climb of the morning) as ‘ridiculous’. But pedal the dentists must, and pedal the dentists did. After 160 km and with the end tantalizingly close we were treated to a 10 km climb. This time it was Steve’s turn to suffer. His body was giving up; he’d managed to pull his shoulder out of line on Day 1 and by the final climb of Day 5, sitting on a bike was excruciating for him. I found him walking 4 km from the summit. I offered to call him the van. He categorically said No, there was absolutely no way he was getting in the van. When the pain subsided enough for him to pedal, he pedaled. When the pain got too much, he walked. He rolled over the summit to a football crowd of cheers. We could see San Sebastian. The end was in sight.
After 750 km a triumphant bunch celebrated on top on Monte Igueldo, looking down on San Sebastian. It had been an incredible trip. I had witnessed people push themselves beyond what they thought they could sustain and witnessed a group, many of whom didn’t know each other at the start of the trip, unite to complete their cycling challenge and to raise a load of cash for Bridge to Aid.
So the next time I have to go to see the dentist, I’ll sit back, open wide, think of that day on the Tourmalet and apply Rule 5.
Thank you Straumann, Bridge to Aid, Just Pedal & the dentists for an awesome trip!