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600km, 4 days, 100,000 pedal revolutions

On Monday 6 June a small group of keen cyclists from a range of wine-related jobs set off for an intense four-day, 600km ride across France to raise money for charity.

The challenge, organised by Mentzendorff managing director Andrew Hawes to celebrate the Benevolent’s 125th anniversary, started in Champagne and finished in Tain-l’Hermitage at 5pm on Thursday 9 June, where the group were met by Michel Chapoutier.

It required at least 100,000 pedal revolutions, several testing ascents, and no let up in pace to hit the daily 100-mile plus targets.
Among the pack of 11 cyclists was db editor Patrick Schmitt. His daily reports follow.
Benevolent bike ride: one day down, three to go
122km, 4,000kcal, one double espresso and no arguments. It’s an extraordinary combination that only cycling could produce – especially in a storm drenched but mostly sunny France on an expedition organised by the wine trade.
Day one of the Benevolent bike ride is complete – as is an early buffet dinner preceded by half a case of Ayala and three rounds of lager in the Aube’s kitsch but comfortable Hotel des Pirates (Captain Pugwash meets Travel Inn with a dash of Johnny Depp and a lot of MDF).
Casulties: none. Battered egos: not sure; yet. Exhaustion: chronic. This is a serious challenge and it’s going to get a lot more painful but so far we’ve enjoyed breakfast at Bollinger’s HQ, struggled with a ceaseless headwind through the Côtes des Blancs and marvelled at the tenacity of guest cyclist Hervé Augustin, who accompanied us on day one with baggy shorts and sagging tyres and then treated the peleton to his first rate brut before disappearing with his dutiful wife back to Ayala to meet with a hoard of UK sommeliers. Chapeaux off.
Further updates should continue this week – wifi allowing.
In the meantime thank you to all my supporters – it is hugely motivating to know this ordeal will benefit the Benevolent.
Benevolent bike ride day two: Thunder, lightening and comté
Of course, it’s highly naïve to assume neatly planned itineraries should run without the odd alteration, but if someone had suggested day two of the Benevolent bike ride would incorporate Wizard of Oz style storms, 50km of solo riding into a headwind and a dinner complete with ’55 Clos des Mouches just after the Corton Vergennes ’08 with comté, there would have been an understandable element of surprise and anticipation.
And so it’s a pleasure to report that the second day – all 175-190km (depending on route) – of the Benevolent bike ride is complete.
The weather has been momentous: sheet to bolt lightning, intense rain to equal the intense hail, sun, wind, steam… And then there’s been the sheer distance: kilometre after kilometre of tarmac, some smooth, other stretches pock-marked like the Reichstag before restoration.
All has been endured, laughed about and cursed. It’s been exciting, horrible but wonderful.
Thank you to Burgundy for providing the backdrop and Chanson for the after party.
Please can tomorrow be easier.
Benevolent bike ride day three: Feeling the strain
Day three of the Benevolent bike ride and it must be said that the cracks are starting to appear in the fine veneer that can be comradery. This has been exacerbated by a stomach bug that has struck two of the team and slight over indulgence last night which may have affected people’s patience today.
Anyway the arrival at the unexpectedly luxurious Château de Pizay has brought the smiles back, while for those that opted – after lunch in Cluny – to take the “tougher” hill route (myself, “the dangerous brothers” and Mr Amps) this is the most beautiful ride so far and an arduous climb was more than rewarded by a thrilling snaking descent into Beaujolais country.
Overall today has been a 130km storm-but-not-wind-free run from Beaune and despite runny noses from yesterday’s soaking, dodgy bowels and deep-set exhaustion we are all still standing – and speaking.
Sad to think tomorrow is our last day but these limbs deserve a break.
Benevolent bike ride day four: The home stretch
The fourth and final day of the Benevolent bike ride was fittingly the most extraordinary and exciting, completed with cycling celebrities and toasted with magnums of Bollinger.
It was also our longest ride so far: four of us clocked just under 200km (we even considered a turn of Tain just to lay honest claim to the figure) having left Beaujolais just after 7am to ensure we weren’t late for Michel Chapoutier’s 5pm welcome.
It was in fact a day of two halves. Myself, BBR’s Chris Matthews, and the “dangerous brothers” (mentioned in a previous report and so named for their urge to compete, alter plans and generally add to the already considerable challenge) departed early to complete the entire final leg on two wheels.
The others – who had sensibly realised just how far and hilly it was – enjoyed a late and long breakfast, followed by the comfort of the coach as far as Condrieu before unloading the bicycles, kindly waiting for us, and then riding a glorious 70-plus km into Tain accompanied by former pros Charlie Mottet and Bernard Vallet.
Then there was the arrival, beautifully orchestrated by the team at Chapoutier, with cheering, photography and Champagne in that order, as well as a tasting and dinner on the hill of Hermitage hosted by the excitable Michel Chapoutier who fed us spit roasted suckling pig from his farm and white and red hermitage from double magnums.
In all we have clocked up (in extreme cases) as much as 640km, bypassing the 600km estimate. And that somehow fails to highlight the effort involved which included many unexpected climbs – up to 800m at one point – as well as testing conditions: storms aside we were plagued by a niggling headwind until the last 20 or so km of pounding the tarmac.
It’s been an incredible journey mixing pain and elation while thankfully – and amazingly considering some of the descents and dodgy roads – just one accident, with grazing the only outcome.
Thank you to Andrew and the team at Mentzendorff for the planning, herding and feeding. Thank you too to the sponsors – it really is hugely valued.
Time now to hang up the padded shorts, specially commissioned cycling jackets and sweat soaked helmets, stretch out the legs and enjoy the ride home on four diesel powered wheels.

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