Wednesday 3rd March. Cardiff - Carmarthen. 110km. Done: 2263 km. To go: 625 km. Weather: Dry but cold.
5.30pm and have just witnessed the most emotional finish of the tour so far. Today was NOT as advertised - 30km flat and fast and then it went horribly lumpy, with 2100m of vertical, including a 2km climb at 100km that maxed at 20% and averaged 15% all the way. A brutal day (actually 117km), which if billed accurately would have got some to bed before 4.30am last night.
Greg Sim's group just arrived, after their customary lunch stop - at the Mason's Arms (Strongbow, scampi and chips, jam roly poly and custard today - and karaoke), with Freddie Flintoff in tow, and Charlie's Angels - Michelle, Lee and Elizabeth - who all shed a tear at the end. Plus Kevin, Tom and Matt. And no walking. If Freddie works as hard on his rehab as he works on the bike he'll be back.
Fred had started the day by visiting Shane Warne's hair clinic, and coming clean about his cross-dressing. Yes, it's fancy dress day. I am convinced the 'lure of the tour' is too much for all sportsmen, so the chance to do anything that vaguely replicates it is irresistible. Former Welsh rugby captain Colin Charvis joined today - an experienced cyclist, but no surprise because he can't drive, so he appeared in his commuting kit which appears to include a pot-holing helmet. Something was up, he had six punctures before the first feed stop. Ian Hunter rode with us again. Ian played for England and had a reputation as being one of the fittest players around. He walked away from rugby at 30 with an injury, but said sitting down with his mates was just like yesterday. As they say, you can make new friends, but you can't make old friends.
I am not making this up. Ieaun Evans, Welsh rugby icon, is Honorary Chairman of the Welsh Tourist Board. On the fiendishly clever bike-lane approach to the Severn Bridge yesterday he asked two english guys 'Where's Wales?' This was 200m after a sign that read 'Welcome to Wales'. More fines last night, including Dave who got lost in Reading (taxi to finish) and now managed to ride to Bristol (as far as the Park and Ride) rather than Cardiff.
Mike Ryan said it was our third toughest day, after the fight into the mistral, and the 900m climb to the ski resort. So it's actually the second, since the ski trip was off-piste, and not on the official route.
We lost Paul Kimmage today, but Peter Mather and Stewart joined us. Peter may run BP but not much in his tank at the end, though the boa looked good. Stewart will not be a candidate for the yellow jersey in our group. I am contemplating his award. To put it into context he hadn't been on the bike for six months. So possibly the Stu Sutcliffe award for picking the wrong group? The Thora Hird Stairmaster award for walking up the first climb, and several thereafter? Or maybe the Samuel Becket award, for waiting? At the end he said 'my feet really hurt in these shoes'. I explained 'they're not designed for walking'.
Not many people know this. Samuel Becket loved cycling and as a young man idolised the French cyclist Roger Godeau. Asked what he was doing hanging around after a Paris race, he said 'waiting for Godeau'. (Thank you...I'm here all week...)
Bonzo has retained ownership of his Kajagoogoo wig. He does bear an uncanny likeness to Limahl, but is not 'too shy'. Though last night he was too....... and paid for it today. He is relentless, on and off the bike.
A huge sense of achievement for all who finished today, quite rightly. And it really is 'only' 73km to Fishguard tomorrow, when the new victims, sorry riders, arrive - and this great crew are bussed back to London. On paper this looked like the 'M4 run' but so far a 'tour' classic.
Andrew Croker is part of the core team accompanying former England rugby union captain Lawrence Dallaglio on every leg of his epic 2,770km Cycle Slam which started on 12 February in Rome. They're riding between Nice, Paris, Twickenham, Fishguard on to Rosslare and finally Edinburgh. The aim to is to raise £1M to be shared between Sport Relief and the The Dallaglio Foundation. You can support the Cycle Slam at www.dallagliocycleslam.com.