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The Tour de l’Oc in pictures

A pictorial report of the highs and lows of the Tour de l’Oc cycling challenge over some of France’s toughest terrain. It’s also a chance to view the UK wine trade wrapped in lurid lycra, and a final opportunity to donate to The Benevolent: all this suffering was done for the drinks trade’s charity, which you can support via my fundraising page here.

It’s all about the kit: the riders make some final adjustments before we set off from Chapoutier’s HQ in Tain l’Hermitage.

Leader and organiser of the Tour de l’Oc, Mentzendorff MD Andrew Hawes, briefs the riders on the first day’s route. And yes, that’s The Benevolent’s David Cox in the background, who kindly flew out to see us off.

Which is faster?

Now in the saddle, things begin in an orderly manner.

Although it’s not long before they degenerate, and the riders are in need of support – which is provided thanks to the Tour de l’Oc physio called Andy.

Or just the healing powers of hot tarmac.

Andrew Hawes prepares us for day 2. This is the big one, we’re just 25km cycling away from the foot of Mount Ventoux, which represents 21km of unbroken climbing. Andrew is wearing the shaming lycra lederhosen jersey, which you can read more about here. (Next to Andrew is Mentzendorff’s Alan Montague-Dennis and James McKenna).

The base of Ventoux, which has become such a mecca for cyclists. Why? It’s considered the hardest climb of the Tour de France.

And it’s not long before I can see why…

At almost 2,000 metres, the top of Ventoux is barren.

And high enough to create its own weather.

It’s over: James McKenna and Patrick Schmitt rest at the summit.

Everyone made it up, and down (just).

Such efforts were deserving of a massage – something Mentzendorff’s Matthieu Barrère was happy to provide (even to the Tour de l’Oc physio, Andy).

Setting off on day 3 with James McKenna leading the peloton.

In contrast to day 2, this was level pedalling – we were crossing the Camargue.

Nevertheless, the combination of a headwind and the occasional ascent did mean that some required a helping hand.

The WSET’s Ian Harris before…

And after a run-in with a baguette.

After a long day, we arrived in Sète.

Getting ready for our final day’s cycling, after much faffing

… and knee strapping

Soon we were crossing Roussillon’s Agly Valley – fabulous to look at, but far from flat.

So it wasn’t long before we needed coffee.

Which helped power us past trees…

And towards the Pyranees.

Then it was over. Four days and almost 500km later we had reach our finishing point: the seaside town of Collioure.

Just in time for a dip

And a drink.

Before returning home. (The majority of the pictures used in this report were taken by Mentzendorff’s Lucy Holton, who managed to capture the spirit of the tour on camera between directing us and preparing lunch – thank you Lucy).

About the challenge

As previously reported by the drinks business, the Tour de l’Oc saw db editor Patrick Schmitt and 10 other members of the wine trade are to cycle almost 500km in four days across France for The Benevolent.

The aim of the cycling challenge is to raise a target of £30,000 of vital funds for the drinks industry charity The Benevolent

The ride began on Monday 1 June when the cyclists headed south from a start point at the M. Chapoutier winery in Tain l’Hermitage, finishing at Collioure near the Spanish border on Thursday the same week – and the challenge was dubbed the Tour de L’Oc, after the ancient name for the region, Occitania.

Organised by Mentzendorff managing director Andrew Hawes, this is the ninth charity cycle ride led by the head of the UK wine importer for Bollinger Champagne, and probably the hardest.

Taking in the punishing ascent of Mont Ventoux, the intrepid wine trade cyclists had to climb the 1,912 metre mountain, known for its barren summit and high winds.

The mountain is most famous as the hardest climb in the Tour de France, and nearly destroyed the 1970 Tour de France Champion Eddy Merckx, who rode himself to the brink of collapse, requiring oxygen to recover during the climb – although he went on to win the Tour de France that year.

Joining Andrew Hawes and Patrick Schmitt on the ride this year was the WSET’s Ian Harris, Simon Tester from The Champagne Company, Chris Matthews from Berry Bros. & Rudd, William Reed’s Andrew Reed, and Stuart Gillies from Gordon Ramsay Holdings.

Also joining the ride from Mentzendorff was James McKenna (sales director), Alan Montague-Dennis (prestige director) and Andrew Wilkins (business development controller).

Importantly, the aim of the cycling challenge is to raise a target of £30,000 of vital funds for the drinks industry charity The Benevolent.

If you would like to sponsor Patrick, please visit his fundraising page here.

And you can read his daily blog here:

Day 1

Day 2

Day 3

Day 4

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