I started commuting to work by bicycle 20 years ago, largely because of a threat of significant train strikes like there had been the year before and I was not going to be told when I could or could not go to work! The following summer I did my first London to Brighton ride organised by the British Heart Foundation. At that time, riding 54 miles was a major achievement for me (as it still is for many) and it took 6 hours in total, partly because of the number of riders on the road and the congestion that this caused at various pinch points, but also due to my lack of experience. Climbing Ditchling Beacon took me about 30 minutes including stops and I was overtaken by Batman and Robin on a tandem!
How times have changed. Over the following years I did the London to Brighton ride many times in the company of my two sons, Will and Tom. These were great times – particularly the final crowd-pleasing family sprint competitions along Marina Drive at the end of the ride – but by 2008 I was looking for further challenges. That is when I discovered Bigfoot Cycle Club in Hayes, near Bromley in Kent. Of course the irony was that Bigfoot organises annual rides to Brighton! But these days I’ll ride to Brighton and back and see it as a normal outing. Ditchling Beacon now takes me a little over 7 minutes on a good day, and I’ll only stop if I fancy an ice cream at the top.
Since I started riding with Bigfoot I have been inspired by the adventures of those with whom I have ridden and this has lead me in turn to head to the Alps and Pyrenees among other destinations. My fellow Bigfooter Hugh and I rode our first Marmotte together in the French Alps in 2010, and when he subsequently found out that it was possible to ride the Tour de France as an amateur, it was with a growing sense of inevitability that I knew I would one day be taking up that opportunity too. Although I will “only” be riding the first nine stages unlike Hugh’s complete set of 21 in 2014, I’m not ruling out doing the whole Tour one day. Indeed, my wife Babs has already rumbled me on that score!
So that’s the background. As to what kind of rider I am, well I am a 55-year-old who probably ought to know better but whose ambition has not yet exceeded his ability. The group with which I ride on a Saturday morning typically averages 15-16 mph over a variety of lumpy 45-50 mile routes in the North Downs, featuring up to 1,000 metres of climbing. So I see myself as a solid but not stellar performer, built for endurance and not speed and who is a better climber than descender. On the results lists of the sportive events in which I have taken part, you will typically see me somewhere around mid-table. The coming trip will be a real test of my ability, but more about my preparations for that later.