Reflections – The Raid Alpine 2022 by Rory Chappell
I was part of the support crew for a group of five cyclists as they took on The Raid Alpine. 770km long. Over 18,000m of climb. Geneva to Nice. I had never even heard of such a challenge, nor would I have thought it would be possible to do in 10 days on a bike! But our cyclists did. On the 30th June, a warm Thursday morning, Alison Anderson, Claire Lehman, John Anderson, John Wilkinson and Roland Valori set off.
I was the co-pilot in the van’s cockpit, alongside my oldest school friend, Callum Anderson. The last tour we went on together was to South Africa in 2015. Before setting off, we had compiled a playlist ‘Bon Voyage,’ which consisted of what we considered to be the greatest driving songs… in the world. And à la Top Gear’s Seriously Cool Driving Music, it did contain most of your dad’s favourites. So the soundtrack was ready, now for our chariot: a blue 2015 Volkswagen California. Sparing the technicalities, it was a very comfortable van with terrific air-conditioning.
A lot of the days felt the same when you were doing them, blurring into one: we get up, load the van, buy lunch, meet the cyclists for said lunch, drive to the hotel. It is only when you stop and think about the days that you appreciate that each was as unique as the last. This is in no small part to the utterly breathtaking scenery. If you mention The Alps, almost everyone is going to describe snowy mountains and skiing. But in summer, it comes alive once more. The snow, having melted away, reveals lush green grass and a network of tarmac weaving its way up the slopes like a vein up an arm. It is now the cyclists come to play.
It is relentless. They power up these hills, with seemingly no end in sight. The mountain switchbacks slowly ascending them to the summits. The summits where the views are at their most dramatic and well worth the pedal power. When I say pedal, I mean accelerator pedal. Callum and I would often have the pleasure of waiting at the top for the cyclists to arrive. But, after admiring the view for 10 minutes, our attention would start to waiver. We are products of the social media generation after all. That said, we made a brilliant new game: pick a rock and try hit said rock with another rock. I’m writing this down here so no one steals our million-pound idea.
When the cyclists would arrive, we’d get out lunch: ham, cheese and bread. This sounds so simple, but when you have French cured meats, soft cheese and fresh pains, simple is best.
The rest of the food was more spectacular. It is not often I go away and have no bad meals. Normally there is an ugly duckling, but we were treated to some amazing cuisine. A personal highlight, and what may be the best steak I’ve ever had, was on Day 4. I asked for saignant (rare) and it was sublime. The drinks did not disappoint either. Plenty of red wine and rosé as you would imagine, but what really surprised me was the quality of beer. I am a beer drinker, but my assumption of France was that beer is not really on their radar. Always happy to be proved wrong though. Some of my fondest memories of this tour was at the end of the day, the sun is setting over us and the group is sat around the table, chatting, laughing and joking, sipping on a cool beer. Like I said, ‘simple is best.’
Now I could’t reflect on my time driving down France without discussing said driving. The roads were incredible, but filled with some very questionable motoring. I am happy to report, neither Callum or myself added to such question. However, one man in particular definitely made up for our deficit in poor road practice. On Day 8, the longest day of all, some maniacal driver decided the best time to overtake Callum on a narrow, mountain road, was when Callum was in the process of overtaking a cyclist. The guy turned into us, leaving a long scrape down the side of the van. He blamed Callum for the incident and was not impressed with us for not speaking fluent French. Anyway, whilst scary at the time, it makes for an amusing story now, one I am sure Callum cannot wait to tell our friends at the pub. Maniac!
Before I finish, I have to say what an absolute joy it was to be part of such a journey. I did not know what I was getting myself in for really. I am not even within touching distance of a cycling novice and have little knowledge of the French Alps. The only thing I had in my arsenal is my surprisingly competent spoken French. Thank you Mrs Thomas!
Most importantly though, is the reason we were all there – to raise money for Cure Parkinson’s. There was another tour doing The Raid Alpine in 6 days, three cyclists who had Parkinson’s. Callum and I supported the 10-day tour, which had two cyclists with Parkinson’s: Alison, Callum’s mum, and Claire. Watching both of them power up the mountains was a pleasure and truly inspirational. And to top it off, the final night in Nice, we were joined by the 6-day tour. It was a tasty meal, with everyone celebrating their fantastic achievement and delivering great speeches. Callum and I obviously couldn’t resist a night out in Nice, one of which rendered Callum the most hungover man I have ever seen the following day. I only took a few pictures of the specimen.
After being home for a couple of days now, the heights of the Alps feels so long ago. Funny how quickly you adjust. But what will stay with me is the laughing and joking, bumps and scrapes. An incredible and unique experience few people will ever have, shared with an epic group of people. I would do it again in a heartbeat, but the cyclists? After 770km travelled over 18,000m of climb? Give them a bit of a rest!