Tuesday 2nd March. Old Sodbury - Cardiff 86km. Done: 2153 km. To go: 735 km. Weather: Beautiful.
Delayed start since still a little icy, but a short day and no rush.
The final tally on the Listening Company from yesterday. Well, we counted them all out, but we only counted one in, at 6.30pm, a staggering four hours after the bunch. Full credit to the lad who soldiered on, but his team mates went early, with the earliest bailing out at 6km. Mmm.
Michael Vaughan joined us for the day, and looks like another cycle convert - and very strong on the bike, fresh from skiing. I asked Josh Lewsey at breakfast if he was bulking up for his Everest trip. "Do you know, whatever I eat, no matter how rubbish it is, all I do is put on muscle." Funny isn't it how quickly you go off someone.
Still couldn't really eat but raring to go this morning. Clear blue sky, tail wind, and a lovely route that took as along the cycle lane over the old Severn Bridge, past Celtic Manor into Newport and along the coast road to Cardiff.
Graham had dropped out of our group today with a Grade One hamstring tear, and we have a good fast unit. Paul Kimmage is here but off to London for a Matt Hampson dinner - he is writing his autobiography with him, to be called 'Engage'. He is a ventilator dependent quadriplegic - the same as Christopher Reeve - who was injured at the age of 20 in 2005, while training with England U21s. An extraordinary story. If you want to know if Kimmage is up to this task just read the book he wrote with Tony Cascarino - Full Time.
William from Giant is with us, Joanna - of course - and then two others. Ian Hunter - not the Mott, the Hoople one - played for Northampton and England and in cycling terms is a diesel. He's big and likes to be on the front. Malcolm Wyse is with me and likes tucking in - he runs Read's Hotel in Majorca, which is a great spot for a break, and if you want to ride he has 22 Giant bikes on hand. Check out www.readshotel.com or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Liz Hufton (Triathlon Plus), Jeff Jones (BikeRadar.com) and Jamie Wilkins (Procycling) lead the Future Publishing posse
We also had the cycling equivalent of a state visit with the powers that be from Future Publishing (Cycling Plus, ProCycling, Triathlon Plus and BikeRadar). CPlus Editor Rob Spedding, who encourages me relentlessly to keep writing, which I really appreciate, and COO Simon Wear (joining us for the final stage) shamelessly show off their fancy bikes. The fact that all eight arrive tooled to the hilt with Garmins and Assos winter kit tells you all you need to know.
The final coast road from Newport to Cardiff is flat and fast - and bizarrely populated with wild horses and Shetland ponies. By this stage there are two groups out front, ours and Lawrence's, and we tank along all the way to Cardiff. Joanna unfortunately has a small tumble on a roundabout, and bangs her knee, but seems OK.
Forecast good, all happy. Another Pizza Express party tonight....
Freddy Flintoff Ate My Fruit Pastilles...
Is it normal to be jealous of people who've ridden over 2000km in less than a month? Envious of a group of riders who've endured Italian blizzards so severe that they had to shelter in a farmer's barn? Probably not. But I am. Today a group of us from Future's cycling magazines and websites joined the Dallaglio Cycle Slam for a day. Obviously we picked a gloriously sunny, warm even, day and one of the shortest legs. But it's the thought that counts isn't it?
Of course, I now feel like a complete fraud – sitting at home writing this rather than preparing to get back on my bike tomorrow for a far tougher 113km ride from Cardiff to Carmarthen. I know what I'd rather be doing.
The Dallaglio Cycle Slam is a hugely impressive feat. To the non-cyclist, the headline acts are people like today's 'celebs'. Former England cricket captains Micheal Vaughan, first time on a bike for a long time today, and Andrew 'Freddie' Flintoff.
Michael Vaughan smiles at the start with his blue glove
Andrew 'Freddie' Flintoff says good morning
Flintoff joined the Slam earlier this week and is staying on his bike until Dublin. He might not stay on it much after Dublin – Fred admitted this morning that he's not convinced cycling is for him and admitted to that 'favourite' complaint of new riders, tenderness in the gentleman's area...(My claim to fame is that he gratefully accepted my offer of Fruit Pastilles at the top of the day's major climb.)
And then there's Dallaglio himself. Skinny non-rugby types like myself expect ex-rugby pros to be big, but Lawrence is a towering presence. And not just physically – it's obvious that everybody on the Slam has a monstrous amount of respect for the man whose name is on the cars, jerseys and, hey, tour bus! It's equally obvious that Lawrence also has a monstrous amount of respect for the people joining him on his journey. He greets them all with a friendly, but no doubt pretty firm handshake, at breakfast and makes sure that they're feeling good and up for the day.
Lawrence Dallaglio and his shoes are ready to roll
Here's a man who as one of the best in his field has been there and done that, but now he's doing something outside of his comfort zone. Yes he's enjoying it, but he also admits it's hard. It sounds bloody hard at times – like the time the blizzard had the group huddling in space blankets in the Italian shepherd's shelter. Stories like this – and there are a few accumulating – can make it easy to think that the people joining Dallaglio as he attempts to raise £1million for Sport Relief and The Dallaglio Foundation must be superhuman. But that's the thing with epic events of this type – all of the extraordinary people taking part are, in the best possible sense, ordinary.
The core team riding the whole way with Lawrence, for instance, isn't a carefully picked bunch of recently retired pro cyclists capable of dragging the big man up mountains and delivering him to the finish. It's a group of completely normal (I think...) men and women who simply love cycling and wanted in. And sure, the cricketing/footballing/newsreading guests might catch the eye, but everyone else riding is like you and me.
Stuart, for instance, is by day the commercial director for a confectionery company and has only been riding seriously for six months or so. Now he's riding from Twickenham to Fishguard and in four straight days on the road has notched up his longest ever ride and his first...four straight days on the road! Properly inspiring stuff.
And that's the problem – I've come away wishing that I was staying on. Seeing the team spirit among the riders in red out on the road was fantastic and as a day visitor left one wanting more, wanting to be part of it. Guess I'll have to hope Lawrence and the team fancy putting themselves through it again.
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.