In Tandem with Africa and Asia

A teacher's journey over three continents on a tandem bicycle
8 minutes reading time (1633 words)

Stage 14: The beginning of the end - Cycling the Slam on a bamboo bike...

Olympia, Greece to Siena, Italy. 1350km April 23rd - May 4th

My beloved Thandie has done herself proud over the last 9 months, managing to carry me & some 150 stokers 11,000 kilometres through Africa & the Middle East. But the prospect of doing more than 1300km, with over 10,000m of climbing in 10 days on a 30kg steel bike didn’t appeal. This made the decision to dump her for a lighter, younger & better looking model all the easier…

In a similar way to walking into a bar with a leggy attractive blonde, my Zamboo certainly caught the eye of the largely male crowd of cyclists assembled at the site of the ancient Olympics for the start of the epic Dallaglio-Flintoff Cycle Slam. The Slam is currently taking Messers Dallaglio & Flintoff with a large following of stage riders all the way  back to London ahead of the London 2012 games.

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Loosing weight, fast: Thandie gets traded in for the Zamboo, with support from a Skoda.

‘Oi mate, that’s a beautie!’ declared Richard Bell (Belly), one of two colourful aussies on the trip. Belly had flown into Athens direct from Brisbane and spent the coach journey to Olympia trying to smash David Boon Record for beers consumed in a single journey. ‘Rugby Tour meets Tour de France?’ observed Charlie Norton, an old university mate who seemed to know a thing or two about both endurance drinking & sports. Charlie would be writing a piece on Dallagio & Flintoff’s ‘life after sport’ for his health for men magazine.

Rugby tour or not, the slick organisation of the slam was both impressive and a welcome break from my own largely independent voyage since South Africa. Lawerence introduced the support staff on the first night, noting that he was chuffed to have more back room staff on this slam than Clive Woodward had managed for the Lions Tour in 2005. Thankfully, it has been somewhat more successful and led by Mocy & Welly (yup, we were definitely on a rugby tour), the crew ensured that the only things the cyclists had to worry about was cycling.

A change of scene from Africa:

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Toilet & Bedroom upgrade (Dongela, Sudan & Primary School Library in Tanzania pictured above)...


Better roads (althought Africa's are improving & Europe's are getting worse!)

 

 Too many men in lycra…

For some, the cycling was more of a worry than for others. I was pleasantly surprised to note that not everyone was Olympic shape, meaning the pace would likely be more relaxed. 'King of the Mountains’ Alastair was gasping for air 45 seconds into the first hill, shouting to his group to stop: his heart rate monitor was warning of imminent cardiac arrest. To give him credit, Alastair dug deep & impressively carried on & managed to cycle the whole of the first week, proudly sporting the poker dot jersey into Italy. But there were some strong cyclists too and I was put into a group including Williem, a dutch ex pro cyclist & Tour de France mechanic (he was disappointed when a tyre change on day 1 took more than 90 seconds); Matt, a competitive Saffer oarsman who had won Henley. We were led by ‘team Crocker’: Andrew & Joanna are parents at Cranleigh School and are probably the fastest cycling couple within the M25 amongst thouse with combined ages in three figures.  Fortunately, I had Charlie & Rob Heck, a Beyond the Bike Stoker from Tanzania, to join me at the back of the group!

Team Croker on the Greek Coastal Road…

The first week would take us from the site of the Ancient Olympics, along some beautiful coastal roads, reaching the mainland across the Rio-Antirio bridge, heading north alongside the lakes of Amvrakia and Ozeros, then west below the Ambracian Gulf, before taking the overnight ferry across the Adriatic to Brindisi in Southern Italy.  

Getting a police escort over the magnificent Rio-Antirio Bridge: with Dennis Millard.

We covered around 400kms in Greece in 3 days before getting the overnight ferry to Brindisi and finishing the ride with just over 100km to Bari, the main City in South East Italy. On the first day, I finished the last 30k with Graeme Le Saux – we had both lost our group, picking up Ski guru Warren Smith & Rob Heck for the finish. Each rider had been given a GPS tracker emitting directly to the website so friends & family could follow progress back home. Graeme walked over me after the end of the day, busily talking on his mobile. His wife had called noting that ‘Lucy’ must have been a strong rider to keep up with him. I was using a tracker belonging to a no-show. ‘Well I’m standing next to Lucy and she has a beard & very big thighs’ he laughed.

Each day finished with a Dallaglio led fines session. One of the more amusing fines was to choose who would ride the Pizza Express. Named after one of the sponsors, The ‘American Hottie’ was the Ferrari to Thandie’s Land Rover. With Harvey & Steve (the bosses of Pizza Express) riding on day one, it seemed appropriate to them to put the two aussies on for day 2 (St Georges Day), with their special Pizza express outfits coincidentally resembling convict shirts. Belly & Dono wore the jerseys with pride.

Tandems are clearly the new fashion: Belly & Dono on the the Pizza Express

My Zamboo performed admirably getting almost as much attention from passers by as Thandie had achieved in Africa. One of the main questions concerned the production process. Here’s a synopsis for those interested: The frame builders source the bamboo personally, going out into the local bush to cut it to ensure they get the correct size & quality. it is then treated, dried and put in a jig to get the right size.  The joints are wrapped with hemp and epoxy, dried and then sanded to perfection. Finally, it is painted with two coats of poly-euothene coat to keep it 100% weatherproof. I wrote a blog about my visit to the Zambikes workshop in Lusaka, Zambia back in September 2011 for those wanting more detail…!  If you're interested in a bike yourself, drop zamboo at line at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

From Panda food to racing bike: The raw bamboo is carefully selected before being assembled in a Jig. Pictures with Anton, who runs the workshop in Lusaka.

 

…Dallaglio put in a bid for the bamboo bike & beard. Graeme Le Saux & 'Lucy' with the Zamboo

 


Posing at the end of stage 1 with Rob Heck. 521 km, 4 days, 4750m of ascent. We'd come a long way since Tanzania!

No sooner than I had started to get to know some of the personalities of stage 1 than they disappeared after some Halfords sponsored hugging at dinner on the final night. I spent a relaxing day off enjoying a long seafood lunch with some of the core riders but we were soon back in the bar welcoming the next group of cyclists. There were less bellies and more gear and cycling stories being shared. I suspected people had picked their stages. Stage 2 involved 740km in 5 days with over 8000m of vertical ascent, including a particularly brutal 4th day of over 170km & 3000m of climbing. The 5 days would take us from Bari all the way to Siena in Tuscany, traversing some magical Italian landscapes & towns en route.

Stage 2: Julian Miall, Andy Duke & Joanna Croker enjoy the food festival in Perugia

As with such trips, the days seem to blend into one another but a couple of memories will remain for a long time.

-          For everyone, watching Freddie & his group roll into the hotel on day 4 in darkness at 9pm after nearly 14 hours on the road was epic and reminded everyone what the trip was about, especially after we had heard some of the personal stories form Taylor & Dave whose son & godson respectively were effectively being supported by the Dallagio & Flintoff Foundation, the two main recipient charities.

-          More personally, racing up a couple of climbs with Claudio Chiappucci, the legendary ex Italian Pro. At least I was racing… I knew Claudio was on my wheel but when he got out his mobile and started chatting away, I realised he wasn’t really trying. He was also interested in my bike and, after picking it up and sensing it weighed a little more than his top of the range carbon number, he noted that I had done well to keep up: ‘you must have veeery strong legs’ he laughed.

Claudio weighing the Zamboo…

We finished the ride in the magnificent central Piazza in Siena after winding for a couple of kilometres through the ancient narrow streets. It was sad to say goodbye to everyone but hopefully I’ll be seeing lots of them again…

With Freddie Flintoff at the end of stage 2.

Thanks again to the organisers of the slam and all the best to Freddie, Lawrence & the rest of the cycle slamers for their final few days into London!you

If you fancy a day's riding, my last day into London is July 14th  - a mere 60km from Cranleigh to London, taking in a couple of country pubs & Olympic Hills. Or you can support on http://www.justgiving.com/beyondthebike.

 

Stage 15: From Tuscany to a Car Park in East Londo...
Stage 13: From Red to Dead & Rising again…

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