Tour de Force 2006 – like the Tour de France but better!
The Tour de France conjures up all sorts of thoughts and emotions. Some believe it to be the toughest physical test, a three week barrage of punishment for the body, full of theatre and incredible stories. Whereas there are those who believe the modern era has done it no favours and cycling now lacks the panache and appeal of yesteryear. Wherever you sit on the fence if you had to the chance of a lifetime to ride it all – ‘Comme le Grand Tour’ – would you go? 2,600 miles, averaging in excess of 100 miles a day (that’s London to Bristol daily), 21 days, 42 degrees heat, one day you have to climb in elevation the equivalent of ¾ the way up Mount Everest (5,000m) hotel to hotel ‘out-of-a-bag’ living and to top it all the mental anguish of leaving your family behind for nearly four weeks.
It did not take me too long to decide the challenge was the sort of thing that made life colourful. I jumped at the chance to be employed as the support rider for many different ages and abilities of cyclists who were able to select which stages they wished to ride. Be it one flat stage in Brittany, a short time trial distance of 35 miles, a full week in the Alps or try like me to ride every single centimetre. I was soon to be renamed ‘Le Berger’ – the shepherd.
This was all to be in the aid of the William Wates Memorial Trust. A fund set up in memory of the son of a very prominent local family, who was tragically killed in South America ten years ago. Individuals were asked to raise at least £1,000 no matter how many stages they wished to ride. They excelled, as we raised a total of £373,000 to help inner city children who were less fortunate than William.
Training meant having to go up and down Box Hill ten times in a row; riding to Devizes in Wiltshire to a friend’s house on a very cold February morning; finding 25% hills in Devon to practise on; teaching people who had not been on bike for ten years or more; giving good advice to those who were taking it seriously; helping the young and creating a team of ‘Old ‘n’ Bold!’ for the more senior riders, 74 being the elder statesman! Our busiest day by far was the time trial from Vitre to Chateau Briand we had 55 riders all complete the stage safely.
For those of us who strived to complete it all (4 out of nine) we kept our sanity by being insane. Singing Queen songs whenever the opportunity arose, listening to Ted Jackson (who came fourth in ‘Opratunity’, Channel 4) hit the high notes of Nessun Dorma in a square in Bordeaux, wondering if there was any mileage in a new T.V. show ‘I’m in the pelaton get me out of here!’ and hoping that no one noticed our daily routine of cream application.
Personally I can not wait to go and support the professionals as they leave from London this year. I feel a remote affinity towards them even though I am fathoms of leagues below them. English, French, German, Belgian, and Russian, it may not be popular, but even the American riders deserve all the support they can get. Each will have his own monumental, epic, even heroic journey ahead of them. If they are not gracious in their methods I hope they are caught equalled with the balance to ensure the methods used to find out how they cheat are true and correct and that it is reported on sensibly.
So with the experience behind me I now can but bow at the men who do what they do on a bike so much faster and better than me, chapeaux as they say in France…… Anyone fancy a bike ride?