As I landed at Carcassonne airport, two things struck my mind. The size of the airport, a tiny establishment with a few check in desks, a luggage conveyer belt and a passport control booth (the beauty of Ryanair). But more importantly, oh crap, it?s raining.
Imagine my initial disappointment of getting up at 4.30am to catch a flight to a place where the weather is worse than in my merry hometown of Coventry. After I?d sat down for my emotions to recover, I rang Swift Racing manger, Stefan Wyman who assured me he was just up the road, on his way to collect me, and take me to the team?s base in Limoux, just 20km away.
As promised, Stefan arrived shortly after. ?Yeah, Limoux has a weird sub-climate. I?ve just left and it?s 15 degrees and sunny, it?s always rubbish here in Carcassonne; it?s strange,? he said.
We stopped off at my now second favourite place in France, Decathlon. Despite having a good deal of time spent in the bike trade, I?m still mesmerised by Decathlon and still end up buying stuff. This time it was a drawstring woolly hat; fantastic design, functionality and craftsmanship and all for four Euros. Stefan purchased some mini pumps and tyre levers because, apparently, some girls don?t know how to fix punctures.
After a short car transfer, the weather suddenly improved. Stefan was right. We were now in the picturesque town of Limoux, a typical French village, old houses, old cars and lots of old people. You know, the ones that stare.
We scurried down a host of side streets that, amusingly, are classed as roads. How a street that fails to be wide enough for even the smallest Citroen/Peugeot/
The majority of the girls from the team were arriving on a later flight from Stansted, so I helped Stefan put their bikes together while nibbling on bread and swearing because of dropped bolts. Some of the girls were staying in a hotel for the first night as PCA were staying in one of the houses that we were due to use after, but weren?t leaving till the next morning.
The girls arrived, unpacked and we went out for an hour spin. The roads are amazing and despite it now being overcast, it was still relatively warm. As male of the group, I felt it my duty to take on map reading duty. A task of which I performed with excellence. Probably.
Emma Davies Jones arrived the day before and had already been training and so took on meal cooking duty. Winning Commonwealth Games medals is not all Emma is good at; she also makes a mean lasagne. I dread the day when it?s my turn to cook. Pizza anyone?
It was out to the town for a quick chocolat chaud and back to bed. Stefan runs a good set up, everyone knows where they need to be and at what time. I knew I had to be in bed, as four hours sleep the night before means one unhappy chappy.
The group did a good three-hour ride on Tuesday, then I joined Emma Davies Jones for an extra hour with some interesting uphill intervals. It has to be said, the roads surrounding Limoux are the best I have ever experienced. It was also around the 18 degrees mark. UK team Plowman Craven and other UK based riders have all taken advantage of the superb terrain and weather. For Swift Racing, the location of Limoux is far more important than anything else. One of their biggest races of the year, the Tour de L?Aude is based around the surrounding area, and so gives the team an opportunity to recce the routes.
Quick shower, whack on the compression tights and then jacket potatoes for dinner. More chocolat chaud, some work, then more work, then bed. Wait, it?s 11.10pm. Bye.
All pictures by Adam Tranter