Pain, Pleasure & Reward: Completing the Raid du Massif Central cycling challenge, by Marmot Tours cycling holiday guide Graham Hey

Preparing for a Raid Cycling Challenge

In my earlier news article I described the months of preparation I’d put in to getting to the start line of the Raid du Massif Central. At 1,000km and with 17,000m of ascent in 6 days, through some of the most ruggedly undulating countryside in France, it more than lived up to its billing as one of the toughest Raids in the Marmot Tours programme!

One week after successfully completing the Raid, along with 17 other happy finishers, I now feel ready to write a summary of my Raid experience! The muscles have repaired, I’m still eating like a horse, and my backside has “just about” lost the memory of over 44 hours in the saddle. “Just about”…..

My Raid Experience

My Raid experience started a little differently to all the other participants. Prior to any Marmot Tours holiday there is a huge amount of work involved in getting our fully loaded vans and clients to the start point of the trip. So whilst everyone else was travelling to Lyon, myself, James and Tim, the other guides on the trip, were stocking and positioning the vans, and then getting everyone to the start point at a lovely hotel just outside Roanne.

By the evening of Day 0 (travel day) everyone was in place. Bikes were assembled in the hotel car park, and all the group headed out on their own little try-out rides (including two group members who’s try-out ride nudged 100km!). I even felt a little bit of peer pressure and took my own bike out for a spin. The group looked awfully good and very well prepared.

Day 1

Day 1 and we assembled for pre-Raid photos outside the hotel. There was a jolly, holiday like atmosphere to the group. However, the nerves were palbable. This all added to the experience!

And suddenly, we were off! All those months of preparing and imagining what it would be like, and we were on the first climb within 15 minutes. Through the rest of the morning we cycled at our own speeds, observed each other’s different riding styles and made decisions about how we wanted to ride with others.

As the Week goes on

Throughout the week the riding ebbed and flowed. As we settled in to a routine of eating, riding, recovering, more eating and finally sleeping the process of doing a Raid started to unfold. Experienced Raiders laid it out for me. Days 1 and 2 are generally no bother, Day 3 you start to feel tired, Day 4 will be the hardest and then it gets easier once you are through that.

Psychologically I agree with that summary. However, this Raid has a unique characteristic that challenges the “getting easier” assurance. The final two days have nearly 360km of riding in them, and by the time I got to do Day 5 I was digging deep. Very deep. The final day of 182km was a huge ride. With over 3000m of climbing during the day my body was being asked questions it had never previously been asked to answer on a bike.

Towards the End of the Raid

Still, this is one of the attractions of doing a Raid. Going to places you have never been before! By this time in the trip we were all looking out for one another and the power of group riding has never been more important at times like that. As I rolled over the finish line in Mazamet I was very, very grateful to the other riders I had shared my time with during the day, we’d all helped each other and it would have been a very lonely last day without that company.

I’ve tried to summarise my learnings from successfully completing the Raid. These are in no particular order, and I am sure others will have more!

Top Tips for Completing a Raid Cycling Challenge Successfully:

Good Preparation

  • Good preparation was key to being able to ride the equivalent of 6 cyclosportives back to back. I did a lot of “event specific” preparation. It isnt just about riding lots!

Recovery is Key!

  • It was every bit as hard as I expected, although in a different way. Although the cycling was tough on the legs, I generally got some good recovery before dinner and was always trying to get to bed early. However, I never really got enough sleep and that started to catch up with me on Day 5 when my average speed started to suffer and everything felt a lot harder.

Limiting Alcohol Consumption

  • I never sleep well after drinking alcohol and so I avoided it completely until the end of the Raid. That worked for me, for others I know it makes no difference – if so enjoy it (in moderation!) as of course it adds to the holiday experience.

Calorie Intake while Cycling

  • I was astonished at how much food I ate. Even now, one week on, my calorie intake is still higher than normal. A good job the vans are well stocked and fruit and snacks are always available!

Limiting break time

  • Managing the amount of time at van, coffee and lunch stops is a fine art that experienced Raiders have mastered. You can lose an awful lot of time during the day that would otherwise be spent on your back recovering in the destination hotel. The only day I really faffed around was the last day, the final ice cream stop just had to be savoured!

Finding a Suitable Cycling Partner

  • I enjoy riding in groups, and I also enjoy riding by myself. The Marmot Tours ethos is very much to ride at your own speed. The dream is to find someone else who is riding at your own pace. But be prepared to compromise, as on the flat bits and when you’re feeling tired it’s great to have others around you. And at times, if you want to be on your own, just do it!

Best Clothing for Cycling

  • I tried to take a minimum of kit. This meant washing clothes every night, but that is generally no problem as the vans carry airers and we guides are very used to hanging out bib shorts in the breeze! Having less kit means less repacking in the hotels, easier mornings as a result, less stuff to lose or leave behind, and happy guides who don’t have quite so much luggage to carry up stairs!

Nutrition for Cycling!

  • Proper lunches are very important. Not only should they provide the right nutrients for a comfortable ride in the afternoon, but they remove the temptation to snack. Energy bars, gels, cake etc are all well and good but eventually your guts will tell you they need an omelette!

A Fantastic Experience

As you can probably gather from this, I really enjoyed my Raid experience and it was great to complete a Raid on 2 wheels! I’m now looking forward to leading the next Raid du Massif Central at the end of July – one thing for sure, I know every inch of the route and I’ll be drawing on my own Raid experience to cheer everyone on!