Fancy cycling 1,800km with 30,000m of climb from France to Croatia, via Switzerland, Italy and Slovenia? Yup, us too, so we sent Kudos Cycling's correspondent Catie Friend to find out from the horse’s mouth what it’s like. She interviewed Lawrence Dallaglio, Andrew Ridgeley and Warren Smith in Verbier during the 2018 Dallaglio Cycle Slam and caught up with Warren again once it was all over.
On a sunny May evening in Verbier, I sat opposite three smiling, chatty men, who had just cycled in from Chamonix, over the imposing Col des Montets, Col de la Forclaz and up the 8km climb into the famous Swiss ski resort we call home.
It was only day two of 15, so despite some fairly punishing climbing in the heat, they were full of beans and happy to chit chat about the day, the charity and their shared love of cycling.
All three of them spoke warmly about their cycling life. Ridgeley recalled seeing the Alps in the summer for the first time two years ago; how majestic they were and how astonishing he found the scale of it all. Smith pointed out that due to the fantastic winter we had they were cycling over cols, marvelling at the contrast between the bright greens of summer and the lingering snow patches.
They were enthusiastic about the impending three five-day stages (a stage in Slam vocabulary is five days long, not one as per the Tour de France) that would eventually see them all arrive safe and sound in Split, Croatia, and looking forward to various elements along the way. Andrew Ridgeley, formerly of pop duo Wham!, was looking forward to some friends joining him and Lawrence Dallaglio, former England rugby captain, was excited to be cycling past the stunning Italian lakes of Como and Garda. Warren Smith, owner of the Warren Smith Ski Academy and ski coach on The Jump, was just happy to be back on his bike exactly one year to the day since a horrific cycling accident almost kept him off games for life. Friends, scenery and a working body; is there anything else you need for a good bike ride?
Well, as it turns out, an amazing support crew is also vital - as all three found out along the ride. I caught up with Warren again after the ride was over to get a view of how a three-week ride across five countries changes you.
Inevitably, as with any multi-day ride, there were highs and lows. Cycling over the Simplon pass into Italy in torrential rain, where the second climb of the day was akin to riding upstream in a river, was a definite low. As was the climb from Slovenia into Croatia in 41 degrees, where the ever-present support ambulance had its work cut out helping wobbly, dehydrated cyclists.
They all found Croatia tougher than anticipated. The expectation that once over the Alps it would all smooth sailing down the coast and into Split was rudely smashed with some climbs of 24%!!!
Physios and support crew kept them all on the road, especially Ridgeley, who came off downhill and was on crutches for a couple of days and Smith, as his recent injuries niggled on and off throughout. Following his 2017 crash (at 70km/h downhill when a tyre blew out), he was keen to look after himself as much as possible. Surprisingly, the broken hip he sustained gave him the least trouble. To protect his badly injured knee he was careful to spin when he could and to pull up on his pedals as much as possible to avoid putting too much power through the joint. Daily post-ride ice baths and visits to the physio in week one meant that by week two he was feeling fit and by week three there was no further fluid build up at the end of each day.
The tendon replacement in his shoulder seemed to prove the biggest niggle, causing quite a lot of pain, but with physio and acupuncture throughout he says it feels stronger than it did and will just take time to heal properly.
I asked how three weeks on the road changes you, physically and mentally and Smith gave a typically thoughtful response. He claims to have grown in confidence as a cyclist, although having witnessed him cycling downhill like a bat out of hell on my day out with the Slam, I’m not sure how one becomes more confident than that… However, he had the great privilege of riding stage two with a fast, experienced group that included Austin Healey, former England rugby player and none other than Chris McCormack, two-time Ironman World Champion.
He says they took the time to teach him about proper peloton riding (not something McCormack learned in Kona, one assumes, as long distance triathletes are forbidden from drafting). Smith likened his five days with the “fast boys” to being a child riding with its parents. Constant encouragement, lots of pointers and no doubt a few moments of frustration on both sides! He seemed so grateful to them for building his confidence as a cyclist and despite being on the edge of his comfort zone all week, was thrilled to be able to pass on his new-found knowledge to the group he rode with for the final stage.
Physically, he is delighted to report post-ride, he feels ski fit and ready for a summer on the glacier with his coaches, but I sense that the mental boost that these three weeks on the road gave him has been the biggest gift. Following the crash that could have had very much more serious consequences, he went through months of operations, rehab and some very dark days. Bad dreams and fears that his career may be over have been replaced by a confidence that he says came from riding with positive people. On top of the skills learned on the ride, being able to talk about the accident with cyclists who have also had crashes (although, he admits, his seems to have been gold medal standard compared to most) appears to have been as therapeutic as the physio and the ice baths.
A mixed group of people, from many walks of life, including “celebs” from the worlds of sport, music and film, could be a difficult one to unite. However, with all of them reduced to the simple task of turning their pedals every day, cycling has a levelling effect. Regardless of status, ability or fitness, the shared experience on the road as well as the encouragement afforded to each person, fast or otherwise, there appears to have been no personality clashes. No mean feat with some of the characters I met on my fantastic day out with the Slam!!
I finish the interview with three impressions of Warren’s ride:
1. He LOVES cycling downhill. I mean he really, really loves it! He described riding some of the corners like being on skis, having to get your weight shifted to the sweet spot and flying round them.
2. He had some favourite new rides, such as round the lakes in Italy, but what he took away from this was how much he really wanted to explore more routes in our adopted home canton of Valais and take advantage of our doorstep.
3. He said that three weeks of cycling can make every day a little like groundhog day but that without fail, two hours into the day, once the wheels are turning and the rhythm has been established it becomes like a moving meditation. Switch off, let your mind wander and just pedal. Sounds magical. Sign me up.
Warren, Andrew, Lawrence and many, many others raised over £1,000,000 for Dallaglio RugbyWorks during this ride. The charity supports young people in the UK excluded from mainstream schools by teaching them life skills such as respect, punctuality and discipline through the medium of rugby.
It is not too late to donate to Warren’s page by clicking here and if you are inspired to take part in 2020 (it happens every two years) then you check out the ride on www.dallagliocycleslam.com
For top tips and advice on how to train for such an event and how to be prepared as possible, please contact us for some great riding and coaching in the Swiss Alps.
- Physically prepared - ride fit including core strength exercises
- Technically confident - riding in a group at speed (peloton), descending techniques, braking points, how to climb confidently and how to ride in wet conditions
- Mentally strong - dig deep and tips for getting up that final climb
- Nutritionally - what your body wants and needs. Eating correctly and keeping hydrated
- Preparing your body and muscles for multiday efforts - get in the habit of doing yoga before and after a long day in the saddle. The beers can wait!
- What to wear - don't leave it to chance!
- Bike fit - probably the most overlooked aspect. Bike position is vital and will help stop painful knees, back, neck, wrists and other sensitive areas!
Please contact us for some great riding and coaching in the Swiss Alps with our expert team. email@example.com
Some cycling facts
Lawrence Dallaglio: Custom built, handmade Legend by Bertoletti, Bergamo, Italy
Warren Smith: Scott Foil Premium, 6.2kg
Andrew Ridgeley: Trek Emonda Project One
Lawrence Dallaglio: BMX
Warren Smith: Tomahawk
Andrew Ridgeley: Metallic green single speed
If you only had one last ride in you…
Lawrence Dallaglio: The Stelvio
Warren Smith: RAAM (Race Across America)
Andrew Ridgeley: The Lands End Loop
Andrew Ridgeley: Mark Cavendish, Sir Chris Hoy (for their Olympic success)
Lawrence Dallaglio: David Millar (who took newly the retired rugby player for his first bike ride)
Warren Smith: Sir Bradley Wiggins (who learned to ski with Warren in 2017)