At 7am (after another 5.30am alarm call) the cyclists of Wembley Park Cycle to MAPIC 2019 roll out into another chilly morning. It’s not quite dark and the valley we make our way through is mist-shrouded and mysterious. It's an opportunity to wake up tired muscles and find a rhythm again in the saddle. The first morning's stage is all about the Gorge de Verdon, and about 35k after setting off we arrive at the start of the gorge, with bluffs and a small town hanging off their sides. From there the group is allowed to go at its own pace to tackle the 18k climb.
And what a climb it is: the surroundings are stunning, from high limestone cliffs on either side of the gorge to the first glimpse of the river with mist hanging over it far, far below us. It is beautiful and breathtaking and it makes the long climb a much less painful experience.
A swift and speedy - but very chilly - descent takes us to the first coffee stop of the day at 55k. We are treated to a second breakfast courtesy of an out-of-season hotel. The hot chocolate and pastries go down a treat and everyone attempts to warm up before heading off again.
The next stage, at 72k, starts with a long, long descent (reversing all the kms we have just climbed) down the chillier side of the gorge, but before long the group is out in the sun and heating up in many layers of clothing. This time, we ride as one in order to keep the group together and the peloton looks tidy and works well as it heads south and east. After 30k, we regroup to shed layers and stock up on water and food: hydration and carbs are the only way to keep going on a long stage. Now much more comfortable, the riders weave through pine clad valleys and small, ancient villages. Tunes, chats, the wheel in front keep people going when energy levels flag. Finally we reach lunch and everyone takes advantage of the sun to warm up while eating oversized baguettes and downing Coke (one of the nicest things you can drink when you’re hot and thirsty from cycling). As ever, we are ably looked after by the crew and the Roadside Therapy sports injury therapists, who ensure that everyone has what they need and keep the aches and niggles at bay.
Although only 34k long, the final stage of the day - and of the event - presents more challenges in the form of two long climbs. But equally, the long and sweeping descents along smooth, fast roads feel like they are speeding us ever close to our destination. It is not long before Med unveils itself as we make our way into the other-worldliness of glossy, high-end Cannes. It's a steady ride in the warmth of the sun along the seafront and to the front of the Palais des Festivals on the Croisette, head of international retail property conference MAPIC.
We have made it: three days, 520km, 6500m of climbing and more than £50,000 raised for charity including Coram. It has been an incredible journey: tough and tiring, hot and cold, snowy and sunny, through three beautiful national parks. Teamwork, teasing and tunes have been the three main forms of encouragement which have helped everyone to make it through their low moments and to relish the high points. Join us for the ride next year!