Cykelnerven is a yearly event that raises money for life-changing research into Multiple Sclerosis (MS).
Changing routes each year, the event takes cyclists on one of the toughest mountain stages of the subsequent Tour de France. In fact the events are so tightly knit that this year we witnessed Team Sky practicing on the same mountain route our cyclists had just taken.
I had the privilege of joining the event this year and it truly felt like the closest I’ll ever get to the Tour De France. Here is my experience.
On the first day we met all the cyclists in Bagnères-de-Luchon, I was immediately struck by the grandeur of the event, having 300 cyclist and then 50 support personnel descend on a town is quite the spectacle. Local residents were coming to see what all the fuss was about and when we filled the town square for the start of the first stage people came in hoards to witness our mini Tour de France.
The start was a great indicator of what was to come. Day 1 was a taster so the cyclists could adapt to mountain climbs. It was straight into stage 16 of 2018’s Tour de France, Col du Portillon. There was no flat cycling involved, and it was up the mountain; back down and then do it all over again. The support in between was first class, but when you are riding it’s just you and the mountain. A brutal awakening for any cyclist who thought they were in for an ‘easy ride’.
The cyclists were treated to raging rivers, 90km of mountain climbs and even a landslide that temporarily blocked part of the route. Cykelnerven really lived up to its translation, the Nerve to Ride.
Day two was the full 17th stage of this year’s Tour de France, it included the Montee de Peyradudes, Col de Val Louron Azet and Col de Portet. Chris Froome has described this as a ‘speciality’.
There is nothing quite like 300 cyclists, all dressed in matching gear, taking over a peaceful mountain top or an off-season ski village. These soon became a hustle of hot cyclists changing tyres, filling up on protein, changing cassettes or swapping gear for a fast and chilly mountain descent.
This stage took the cyclists to the Peyragudes Airfeild, famous for its use in James Bond: Tomorrow Never Dies. Riders also got to stop at Crêperie du col de Peyresourde, a famous respite for cyclists taking on these brave mountain climbs.
Finally riders were treated to the third and highest mountain of the day, the Pla d’Adet, this has to be one of the most beautiful views I have ever seen. Sitting on a top of the mountain overlooking Saint-Lary-Soulan was the epic finish to a tough day of cycling. Cycling through an out-of-season Ski City, the cyclists arrived on top of the mountain with just themselves and the views. This probably explained why they were quite at home relieving themselves over the mountain edge.
Today the cyclists took on two of the classic Tour stages, Col, d’Aspin and Col du Tourmalet.
During the early hours of the morning, the town and the Mayor of Saint-Lary-Soulan arose and set up their Tour de France race start to give the cyclist a send-off worthy of the Tour itself. The Mayor delivered his speech, the town came out to film and cheer. Part of me wondered if they actually mistook this for the Tour itself.
The first stop was Col d’Aspin, this breath-taking mountain gave the cyclists 360 degrees views over the Pyrenees. On top of this, the famous Pyrenean cows came out in droves to greet the riders, with several people receiving a celebratory cow lick for their first great mountainous achievement.
The next climb is the most famous and most difficult of the event, the Grand Tourmalet. This is 17.5km (not a typo!) of constant climb up 2,115 metres, with at most a 10% incline. This was a mountain climb like no other, forest merges into barren landscapes scattered with snow and abandoned ski huts. This then transforms into bends and inclines, with the only company being an out of use ski lifts and an occasional cyclist pushing their bike, beaten by the mountain. What awaits at the top is breath-taking. The scenery is spectacular and the welcome sight of supporters who are on hand to push or pull cyclists on their last legs and welcome them to the top of what may be their toughest ride ever.
The final day is another three classical Tour de France Climbs, including Col du Solour and Col d’Aubisque. These were the longest and highest elevation gains in the event and after 3 previous mountainous days the cyclists were in for a challenge.
Adding to the challenge was a heavy mountain mist over Col du Solour which blocked vision at just a few meters. The cyclists dug in and pushed themselves to the limits. Standing on tip of the peak, one by one cyclists emerged from the mist, they were met with fresh baguettes, coffees and blankets as they rested and prepared for the next and final climb.
As the mist got stronger and some spirits waned, the cyclists were treated to the realisation that their childhood dreams of doing the Tour de France had come true. Out of the mist the unmistakeable black and blue vehicle of Team Sky emerged. This was followed by two cyclists donning the same colours. Who were they? None other than the legends Chris Froome and Geraint Thomas. This was the icing on top of the cake for what has to have been the closest to taking on the Tour de France many of these cyclists may get.
My experience on Cykelnerven showed me exactly why it is self-styled the mini Tour de France, as well as being one of the toughest and most unique charity ride in Europe. It was an experience I will never forget and I cannot wait to return to the brand new stages and climbs in next year’s event.
You can find out more about Cykelnerven and register for the 2019 event here: https://www.msif.org/cykelnerven/
By Daniel Magson, Fundraising Campaigns Manager, the MS International Federation