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Day 1: Tour de l’Oc

The first day of the Tour de l’Oc has been a shaming experience.

An orderly peloton

That’s not because of any ill-advised stunts on two wheels, or holding back the peloton through early-onset exhaustion. Rather it’s the result of the garment I’ve been forced to spend the day in. I suppose it could have been worse, but Lycra lederhosen – however apt for someone called Schmitt – is not something you want to sport in front of the entire team at Maison Chapoutier and then pose in for the endless photographs at the start of the challenge.

Of course no one cared to mention that I hadn’t personally selected the clothing. And after a few hours wearing it, I forgot what I looked like, that is, until one noticed locals in cafes pointing and sniggering whenever we stopped to check the map, or, at one point, for a much-needed espresso.

Why was I singled out for this unfortunate fashion item? On arriving at the hotel in Tain l’Hermitage yesterday, and following a very brief swim, I managed to lock myself out of my room. This meant appearing in front of the cycling team – including our ‘emperor’ and organizer, Andrew Hawes – almost naked (I had nothing but a tiny hotel towel).

The only upside of this shameful day is that I get to award the item to someone else. My initial thought was to hand it on to Mentzendorff’s Alan Montague-Dennis. He’s one of the most likeable and charming members of the wine trade, but, his matching Rapha cycling gear – right down to the water bottles – does mean he’s in danger of appearing a little vain. And this will certainly banish that.

The jersey, with its new owner

However, I’ve decided to pass it on to the same person who elected that I should wear it on day one – so Andrew Hawes will wear the lederhosen for day two. Petty perhaps, but satisfying.

I should add that there has been plenty of cycling today – 140km in total. It wasn’t until just before lunch however, and after a 500m climb – done at speed with Mentzendorff’s James McKenna – that I felt I had sweated out at least one of the two bottles I (think) I drank the night before, courtesy of an incredibly generous M. Chapoutier. Sadly, Michel himself was not there, but we were still treated wonderfully, and poured copious amounts of 2004 Ermitage.

Andrew Hawes – aka the emperor – talks us through the route for day one.

Towards the end of today whole parts of my body had lost feeling, and then we spotted tomorrow’s challenge – Mount Ventoux. Today’s 500m climb was a 7km ascent. Tomorrow’s will be three times that in distance, four times that in terms of altitude. Then there’s the wind – which can be physically and psychologically extremely destructive.

I’m not normally daunted by climbs. Tomorrow’s ordeal, however, is genuinely causing me concern.

Before I sign off for a cold beer and pasta, I just want to say a huge thank you to my supporters. I know who all of you are and I’m extremely grateful and touched at your generosity.

And here’s my sponsorship page for those that might feel moved to support me.

The first sight of Mount Ventoux – tomorrow’s ordeal


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