‘But, why?’ seems to be the most common question when people have learned about my undertaking to cycle 3 stages of the Tour de France route. It’s a valid question and at first glance this has the appearance of a mid life crisis combined with a bit of Bradley Wiggins induced olympic fever. But actually the origins run a bit deeper than that and cycling has actually always been lurking just below the surface waiting for an outlet.
Like most of us, I still remember my first bike – a 10 speed road bike purchased from Finches in Reigate. This was when a 5 speed cassette was a modern marvel and I thought it was the business. Then came the 1980’s, E.T and BMX. The road bike gathered dust and I lusted after 20 inch mag wheels and cro-moly (whatever that was … some sort of alloy I think) frames. ..And then I went to boarding school and that was pretty much that. There wasn’t a great deal of use for bikes at school except for the occasional long range pub visit and when your school was in the middle of a town they seemed somewhat unnecessary!
Fast forward a number of years and 2 things happened. The first was the acquisition of some over-active dogs whilst living in Singapore. They needed proper running and a combination of time management and climate meant that a mountain bike seemed like a good way of getting the exercise regime under control. I disappeared down to the local bike shop and reappeared shortly after the proud owner of a Kona Fire Mountain. Looking back it really wasn’t anything special and over the months I managed to break most of the components but it started a love of mountain biking and took me to places in Singapore that I would never have otherwise seen. Riding for a few hours through rain forest around Singapore’s central catchment area with just dogs for company was a rare opportunity to get away from the crowds on the island and I used to love those rides getting lost in the jungle.
The second thing was I read a book called 23 days in July. You can find it on amazon but in a nutshell it was part travelogue, part account of Lance Armstrong’s 6th Tour “victory” and part anthology of Tour legends and stories. I was enthralled by it and it just so happened that I read it a few weeks before the Tour de France that year. Suddenly I was fascinated by this event as I now understood the nuances and strategic intricacies as well as the history that made it so unique. I’ve loved watching it on TV ever since.
But why this? And why now? The seeds of this challenge were planted in 2010 by my friend Jake. He had never shown any inclination towards cycling or indeed exercise in general so far as I was aware and yet suddenly I received an email asking for sponsorship saying that he was about to cycle the entire Tour de France route in just 23 days. With my new found appreciation and understanding of the Tour, I was stunned that anyone would be so mad as to take this on but he duely completed in spite of knees that started to ache around the end of stage 2! In short, and don’t tell him I said this, but the whole thing was inspirational. Equally inspirational is the charity that we are all undertaking this for. William Wates was not someone I ever knew well although he was a contemporary of mine when I was growing up and we shared friends although were never friends ourselves. He died tragically whilst travelling in South America after leaving school and the trust has been set up to honour his love of sports and to try and provide opportunities to those less fortunate than himself. The Tour de Force has become the centrepiece (although by no means the only event) in the charity’s fundraising calendar.
So hopefully that gives you at least part of an explanation as to why I’m taking this on. It may ‘only’ be three stages … but I have no doubt it’s going to hurt…. a lot!