Trois Etapes 2014 – Part 2 – Suddenly! France!

Sunday, 3 August
My first night in Lourdes was shared in a room with two other Soldier On riders; a tight yet restful night after trying to get sleep the day before without much luck.  After breakfast Adam, Matt, Justin and I met Andy and Jodie for a coffee in down-town Lourdes.  Although we were still down two riders (they were en-route from San Sebastian) a quick walk around the busy square followed before we decided a lazy spin to get the legs moving after all the travel was needed.

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.:Mucho posing:.
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.:The Berm in France:.

The easy 63.5km ride saw us head out to Luz-St. Sauveur for some sight-seeing and a taste of the Pyrenees’ weather.  This was the ride in which it finally sank in that we had actually made it to France and in a few days time would be representing Soldier On in the Trois Etapes.  The ride out was quite an emotional experience for me as it was the culmination of months of training, many set-backs (physically, emotionally and mentally) and a few late minute changes to the travel that threatened to delay our arrival.  The ride was very enjoyable and we all soon found a nice rhythm riding together after a few weeks apart.  Not wanting to push too hard on the first day in France, we headed back to Lourdes to catch up with the other two riders, Dan and Shane, as well as team driver Bruce.

Dinner was a casual affair at a local restaurant (not called a French restaurant in France) which proved challenging for this vegetarian; luckily salads are quite common in most European countries – albeit with an excess of tomato and cheese.

Monday, 4 August
The next day’s ride was a typical coffee ride that would see the entire team, and driver Bruce, explore some of the local countryside over a relatively easy 47km.  There was of course a couple of ugly ramps leading up to a hill-top church including a nice little 28% stretch that left me trying to bite my front wheel!

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.:Not a bad view:.
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.:More posing:.
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.:Cafe time:.
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.:Cafe time:.

For the first time since the Trois Etapes was confirmed, Team Soldier On had it’s full roster and was gearing up for the race in four days time.

Tuesday, 5 August – My 33rd Birthday
The plan was simple…  Breakfast and then an easy ride to the Col du Tourmalet followed by a quick descent back to Lourdes.  But like all simple plans; this one wasn’t.  Not even 10 minutes into this ride and I was separated from the rest of the group thanks to some red lights and me not knowing the route out of Lourdes.

Suddenly I found myself riding alone and heading out of Lourdes towards the airport; definitely not the way to Tourmalet.  After stopping and some back and forth messaging later, I decided I was too far away from the team and went for a solo ride instead.

I spent my 33rd birthday riding the French countryside; not a bad day at all.

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.:Hayley and sunflowers:.
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.:France!:.

Wednesday, 6 August
A very unexciting day of eating, resting and tapering for the three-day race.
Lourdes put on a fantastic day of sun and warmth; the perfect day for a slow and steady ride to spin the legs.

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.:#Euro:.
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.:Fountain lean:.

Thursday, 7 August
With the entire Soldier On team finally in Lourdes, photographer Matthew and manager Clare arriving the night before, it was time for us to have a look at some of the unknown sections of the race; this time in the cars!

We drove up the Col du Soulor, Col de Spandelles and Col du Tourmalet.  I can honestly say after the day-trip I was dreading each of the climbs, especially the goat track that was Spandelles!

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.:Col du Soulor horses:.
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.:Not a bad view on the way down from Col du Soulor:.
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.:Col de Spandelles was intimidating:.
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.:Géant du Tourmalet:.
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.:Team Soldier On and the Géant du Tourmalet:. https://www.facebook.com/matthewconnorsphotography
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.:Much beard and much hair:. https://www.facebook.com/matthewconnorsphotography
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.:Team Soldier On and manager:. https://www.facebook.com/matthewconnorsphotography
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.:Tough guys:. https://www.facebook.com/matthewconnorsphotography

In the afternoon we set off for another short ride to keep the legs fresh for the first stage of the race the next morning, this time we were joined by coach Scott Sunderland.

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.:For the first time on their bikes, the entire Team Soldier On together with coach Scott Sunderland:. Photo courtesy of Mark Howard
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Trois Etapes 2014 – Part 1 – The Long Journey To France

My journey to France wasn’t as simple as three planes, two trains, a cab and countless hours spent on a bicycle.  My journey to France started on January 6, 2012; my last day as a soldier in the Australian Army.  Over the previous decade I had made many friends, shared countless experiences, served on foreign soil, and ultimately returned back home when others did not.
My decision to leave the Army was a culmination of differing opinions on what my career path should have been, the lack of ongoing and adequate support for my mental illness and not wanting to force my future wife to live in the shadow of a Australian Soldier.  Having spent my childhood as the quintessential ‘Army Brat’, I could not ask the woman who I would ultimately marry and have a child with, to follow me around Australia and put her own career aside.  So I left the one thing that had provided, up until my wedding and daughter’s birth, the most defining moments of my life; both good and bad.

In mid 2012 I started mountain biking, something that would ultimately serve to fill the huge void that had been left in my life when I hung up my uniform.  A tight-knit community of caring, encouraging and like-minded people enabled me to feel part of a team once again.  And in late 2012 I approached a the contemporary veterans group ‘Soldier On‘ and asked if I would be able to fund-raise in a mountain biking event called The Battle of the Beasts.  When the dust had settled and my aching body had calmed I had raised a substantial amount of money that would directly assist younger veterans like myself that were struggling with the visible and hidden scars incurred during our service in the Australian Defence Force.

.:Battle Of The Beasts 2012:.
2013 would see me design and commission a set of Soldier On cycling jerseys and participate in a full calendar of mountain bike events at which I would wear the Soldier On strip.  I would assist Soldier On at various veterans events and fundraisers and ultimately become a very vocal advocate and critic of contemporary veterans issues especially veteran suicide; an issue that has directly impacted my life and ongoing recovery living with depression and PTSD.
.:Racing with the mk1 Soldier On cycling jersey:.
Throughout earlier 2014 I continued to race and commute wearing the Soldier On colours.  For me wearing the Soldier On jersey was a way for the public to see Soldier On was active in the general community and to let other veterans know that they weren’t alone.  It was because of my somewhat visible presence across social, print and visual media that I was asked by Soldier On to participate in the 2014 Trois Etapes Pro-Am in France.  At first I was apprehensive as it would mean a change from my mountain bike to a road bike and many, many hours training.
First there was the Sydney to Canberra Remembrance Ride commemorating both ANZAC Day and the 60th anniversary of the opening of the Remembrance Driveway along the Hume and Federal highways.  This was soon followed by two training camps, one at Thredbo and then followed by the second at Tweed Heads; and a long-term training program to follow.  Of course life, work and injuries interfered with what could have been a relatively smooth timeline; but where would the fun be in that?!
Finally on Friday, 1 August 2014, after many months of training, preparation, stressing, emails and waiting… The time came for me to leave Canberra, Australia and travel to Lourdes, France.
I’ll spare you the intricate details of my trip, but rest assured 39 hours of travel is not an enjoyable experience.  Why 39 hours?  Well, as I mentioned before, there were the flights, the trains and the cab; and of course there was the the 30kg bag containing a bicycle and a very large amount of cycling related equipment and paraphernalia.  It is a fact an EVOC cycle bag is just not train, train station or train passenger friendly. Combine this with French people, a language barrier, jet lag and a person with an anxiety disorder and you have recipe for disaster.  Luckily nothing bad happened and we arrived at our hotel in the middle of the night.
After much stressing, a bad case of cankles and a long-awaited shower I finally went to bed knowing the next day I would be riding my bicycle in France!

TSO Training Camp – Tweed Heads

The month of June was incredibly hectic for me.  My job decided it wanted to try and take over my life and then my daughter, Celeste, decided she wanted to enter the world.  Only one of the those events was a priority in my life and it definitely wasn’t my job. My training as a result suffered and I barely managed to get a handful of short rides under my tyres before our second Team Soldier On training camp came around. The second training camp was based out of Kingscliff, just south of Tweed Heads near the NSW/QLD border over the weekend of 28-29 June 2014 .  The plan was simple; coach Scott Sunderland was going to make us climb some hills and ride some big kilometres akin to what we will be facing in France for the Trois Etapes. I don’t enjoy flying and certainly don’t enjoy flying with an expensive bicycle packed inside an expensive bike bag that screams “stack as much heavy crap on me as possible”.  While the flights to Coolangatta went off without a hitch (top effort QANTAS) – the flights home came very close to being labelled a cluster-f**k (thanks VIRGIN Australia) complete with delayed/cancelled flights and high-end bicycles being sent to the wrong state and being ignored by the Virgin airport staff!

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.:Goodbye Sydney Airport:.

After arriving at the Peppers Salt Resort & Spa at Kingscliff we headed off to the local restaurant strip for dinner before heading back to our rooms to ready our bikes for the next day’s riding.

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.:Bikes ‘carefully’ stacked in the van for the first day of riding:.

On Saturday we set off about 20 minutes out of Kingscliff with coach Scott following us in the support vehicle and photog Matt zooming past us in the search for optimal photo locations.

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.:Team Soldier OnRiding around the Gold Coast Hinterland:. https://www.facebook.com/matthewconnorsphotography

The ride started easily enough with a few short climbs before suddenly becoming a decent 8km climb followed by some very sketchy (for me) descents.  I was definitely in the red zone early on in the ride and was finding it very hard to regulate my breathing and lower my heart-rate.

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.:Slowly but surely, up the winding road we climb with Scott close behind:. https://www.facebook.com/matthewconnorsphotography
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.:Eventually what goes up must come down … Thankfully:. https://www.facebook.com/matthewconnorsphotography

The months of training was certainly evident in the other guys, but as the ride progressed I knew I wasn’t keeping up.  Some more sketchy decents saw our driver Bruce (this time on a bike) overshoot a corner and meet the bushland up and close.

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.:The views would have been more impressive if we were able to take the time to enjoy them:. https://www.facebook.com/matthewconnorsphotography

As the day was drawing to a close and we were heading back to Kingscliff, I was steadily dropping off the pace and eventually pulled over and jumped in the SAG wagon with Matt.

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.:My bike having a lay down, just like I wanted to do:.

The evening culminated with a group dinner and short presentation to coach Scott.

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.:Thank you Scott Sunderland – cyclist/coach/ball buster:.

Sunday saw us step off from the hotel nice and early for a brisk ride before tackling some more climbs.  I pulled up reasonably well from the day before and was looking forward to some more riding.

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.:Ready to roll:.

The morning air was cool and very nice to ride in.  We eased into our first 20km at a nice quick pace with all riders taking turns at the front.

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.:Such an easy pace Dan found the time to flex for the camera:. https://www.facebook.com/matthewconnorsphotography

At around the 35km mark I knew I was in trouble.  In just two short days I had ridden further and harder than I had in the past three weeks.  My troublesome knee wasn’t the issue this time; it was my hip.  I had ridden past being uncomfortable and was now experiencing some fairly acute pain in my hip and glutes.  I made the hard decision to stop riding and once again jump inside the SAG wagon with Matt.

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.:Not quite happy/not quite upset/Just very disappointed:. https://www.facebook.com/matthewconnorsphotography

I watched the other guys ride from inside the van as Matt drove the van and took photos.  I was quite disappointed in myself for not riding through the pain; but considering I’ve just spent a week of intense physio and rest I’m glad I didn’t injure myself any further.

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.:The rest of team with Bruce continuing on with the ride:. https://www.facebook.com/matthewconnorsphotography
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.:Oh look it’s another photo oppertunity! – The greyhounds made it to the top of another climb:. https://www.facebook.com/matthewconnorsphotography

At the end of the weekend we were all tired (some sorer than others) but more determined for the Trois Etapes in August.

Please support us we head towards this once in a lifetime opportunity to raise awareness and much needed funds for Soldier On.

Team Soldier On Trois Etapes Fundraising Page

Trois Etapes 

Soldier On

Soldier On Cycling

TSO Training Camp – Thredbo

Over the weekend of 10-11 May 2014, I was lucky enough to attend the first Team Soldier On cycling training camp at Thredbo NSW.

Thredbo? Really?… Well that was my first reaction when I saw the week before the training camp that it was in fact snowing in Thredbo Village; exactly were our base camp was to be.  Combine this with one of the worst weeks of my working life as a civilian and I was not exactly enthusiastic about attending a Scott Sunderland training camp.

I drove down on the Friday night after work (in retrospect this was a very bad idea) and met up with some of the other guys at Cooma before heading to our accommodation in Thredbo; the Navy Ski Lodge.  The drive was itself was uneventful, white line fever had set in and the alpine roads were starting to look like a rally track.  Luckily we arrived at the lodge, unpacked and headed to the pub for some late night beverages.

Let’s get something out of the way early.  Thredbo is a very small town in the off-season.  The locals are young, in their early twenties and all work at the resort in some capacity.  The moment we stepped into the pub we stood out more than the bollocks on a bulldog.  This was fact not missed by the locals; both male and female.  After a few quick drinks we left and retired to our rooms for the night.

The temperature was colder than Canberra and the weather was expected to take a turn for the worse the following day.  The change swept through in the early hours of Saturday morning in the form of howling winds and pouring rain/sleet.  By the time we woke up it was apparent the rain was set in for the day and that the last thing anyone wanted to do was go outside and ride bikes.

Breakfast was a sombre affair and I soon took over the TV room and switched on RAGE; my usual Saturday morning routine.  The general (un-official) consensus was that riding in the rain and cold was not the preferable option against a warm ski lodge.  We broached the subject with coach Scott, who while enjoying a coffee, was in agreeance that riding in the terrible weather was not a good idea and we should get through some required administration and team tactics instead.

After a couple of hours spent in the TV room discussing our next few months and future Soldier On Cycling plans; it was time to break out the trainers and don the lycra.  What better place to set up than in the kitchen?

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.:Big Shane and Little Adam getting their sweat on:.
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.:Scott coaches Dan & Andy:.
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.:Andy’s power legs:.

I sat in the kitchen, ate my risotto for lunch and awaited my turn on the bike.  As I watched the other guys sweating profusely I regretted my decision to eat just prior to riding my bike.

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.:Chad vs Matt – IRL Matt wins:. https://www.facebook.com/matthewconnorsphotography
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.:With great beard comes great responsibility:. https://www.facebook.com/matthewconnorsphotography
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.:Chad vs a very excited Adam:. https://www.facebook.com/matthewconnorsphotography

After my turn on the bike I spent some more time with my hand in a box of BBQ Shapes and headed to the pub….to rehydrate.  Andy cooked an awesome pasta dinner for everyone and we discussed the next day’s plan.  Option A: Good Weather – drive out to Jindabyne and ride for a few hours including the climb back to Thredbo or Option B: Bad Weather – pack up, head to Canberra and ride around the Brindabella’s.

When we woke up to clear skies and relatively warm weather it was clear Option A was a goer.

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.:Much bike:.

A quick coffee stop in Jindabyne and it was time for some rolling in the Jindabyne hills with Scott dishing out some quality coaching.

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.:Putting on the layers & tearing them off:. https://www.facebook.com/matthewconnorsphotography
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.:Shane rocking a lime-green ear warmer:. https://www.facebook.com/matthewconnorsphotography
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.:Scott smiling thinking about the pain he can dish out:. https://www.facebook.com/matthewconnorsphotography
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.:I may have forgotten to join the bunch at the start of the ride:. https://www.facebook.com/matthewconnorsphotography
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.:Rolling down one the rare descents:. https://www.facebook.com/matthewconnorsphotography

The ride was enjoyable and we were quickly warming up on the climbs; but the flats and rare descents reminded us that we were still in alpine country.

The climb up to Thredbo was a quad burner and an exercise in heart rate management.  We took turns at the front and found our rhythm all the way back to the Ski Lodge.  Our first real test as a cycling team tackling some decent climbs similar to what we will be facing during the Trois Etapes later in the year.

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.:Andy leading out on one of the climbs:. https://www.facebook.com/matthewconnorsphotography
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.:The bearded MTB’r/wannabe roadie representing CORC:. https://www.facebook.com/matthewconnorsphotography

Stay tuned for more updates on Team Soldier On!

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