I’ve been home for nearly a week now and I feel the time is right to wrap this all up in some way.
Total distance: 2,270 miles (3,632 km)
Total climbing: 152,774 feet (46,565 metres), or 5.25 Everests
Total riding time: 161 hours (add approx. 2 hours per day to get elapsed time)
Average moving time: 14mph (22.6 kph)
What you will notice is that distance and climbing are of course the same as the pros, but the riding time is considerably less (Chris Froome finished in 86 hours). But as I am fond of saying, I am twice their age so I can take twice as long!
Firstly, when I got home on Monday I burst out laughing when I opened the front door and saw this:
It brought home the point that we had not been following “yellow arrows” at all. We’ve been referring to our signs in this way for three weeks and it never occurred to me that the arrows should be described as black!
Nevertheless, I of course followed the arrow into the living room where this sight was waiting for me:
Cool huh? The evening got better as we were all together as a family for dinner in the garden – chilli con carne and champagne! Then my friend Pete came round with another bottle of champers. Hic!
My week since then has consisted of sleeping, catching up on Tour de France highlights, snoozing and watching some live stages. I did get out of the house to collect my bike and also to clean it, but that was more or less it. On Friday I thought I was recovered, but a short ride to the pub where Babs was celebrating the end of term, plus a pint and a burger, meant that I was once again snoozing in front of the TV in the afternoon! I think I’m OK now – certainly I don’t want to sleep the summer away!
To Saturday then, and a warm welcome from club mates as I turned up for my first Bigfoot ride since coming home, which was much appreciated. The inevitable questions got me thinking how can I possible answer “how was it?” in a few short words. I was initially at a loss as to what to say as so much has happened!
I think my overall summary has to be that it was a rollercoaster of an experience. Pushed to the limits of physical and mental endurance one day, followed by some of the best-ever rides and great times on a bike the next.
I was asked “did I enjoy each part of every ride?”. No, I did not, but then it would have been unrealistic to think otherwise. I expected that some sections, or even whole days, would be a long slog and they were, especially into the wind and rain in the first week. But that just helps you appreciate the good days all the more. The same is true of the accommodation and to some extent the food provided by the hotels too. With a trip like this, if you can’t take the rough with the smooth then you shouldn’t take part.
Another common question was “would I do it again?”. The words that tumbled out of my mouth were “there’s no need”. And there isn’t, though I know of people who have repeated the exercise years later.
“What’s next then John?” I have no idea, though I will take part in Ride London 100 as part of a Bigfoot team next weekend. Cycling for pure enjoyment will be the order of the day for now though and I have no plans to ride across America or anything silly like that! Saturday’s club ride was great, smashing my PBs on some local climbs just for fun. In a few weeks’ time my fitness will have waned a bit, so I shall enjoy it while I can!
The events of the tour are all fused into one in my mind and I will have to go back to my blog and the photos in order to differentiate between many of the days. What has stayed in my mind are the following highlights and, for balance, low points.
The mountain stages obviously stand out favourably for me as one who prefers climbing to descending, particularly those which I knew from past experience or my recon mission in May – step forward Stages 5, 9 and 17. I really enjoyed Stage 17 (the Galibier) stage but what surprised me was how little I enjoyed the following day in the mountains – Stage 18 to the Izoard – despite it being one of the prettiest. I think cumulative fatigue played a part here, and particularly all the traffic, but the climb itself was a good one. Commentators have been saying how hard the Izoard climb is. That’s true, but it’s harder if you are racing it whereas I was just pacing myself, so in fact that climb was the best part of that particular day for me.
Other stages I really enjoyed were the short Stage 13 – not because it was short but because of the challenges, the Mur de Péguère in particular. Also the flat “holiday” ride in the Dordogne (Stage 10) stands out, as does the arrival in Le Puy-en-Velay (at the end of Stage 15) where we were treated to a magnificent view of the town before descending from the top of the final climb. And of course the last two rides in Marseille and Paris were pure pleasure.
On the other side, I mostly remember the first week as being a soggy, windy ordeal (except for Stage 5 and the Planche des Belles Filles and Stage 9 with its three HC climbs). Last year I rode the first 9 stages and I think that overall those who rode just the first 9 stages of the 2017 edition got a raw deal in comparison. The first “rest day” was also tricky because of the long transfer from east to west that we had to do, which put real pressure on us to get done all those things that we wanted and needed to do, such as getting clothes and bikes clean.
I did not ride this in a vacuum of course. I was in the company of a great team of riders and support crew and the camaraderie we all enjoyed played a massive part in the success of the tour and I will be forever grateful for that. That, in fact, will probably be my abiding recollection, long after more painful memories of wind, rain, cold, heat, steep climbs, tricky descents, busy traffic, dull roads, tiredness and shortness of time have dissipated. Notice that I never mentioned hunger. I never went hungry! And I hope I never forget the beauty and majesty of God’s creation that I witnessed too. Some of the places we were privileged to ride through were truly spectacular.
Also, I did not ride this “blind” in the sense that I knew from previous experience on the Tour de Force what was coming. After riding half of the tour last year, I put into place all the various learning points that I had recorded. Notably, I did take care of myself during my training, going for massages and doing more stretching than I’ve ever done (which admittedly wasn’t difficult to achieve!). Taking a washing line and pegs helped deal with wet kit more efficiently and having two pairs of cycling shoes meant I never had to start with wet feet! This also helped on the day when my cleats failed and I was simply able to change shoes at the next feed stop, leaving cleat change faff to a more convenient time. I was mentally prepared for late finishes, safe in the knowledge that Sarah does an excellent job of making sure there is food for everyone, no matter what. Consecutive late finishes still take their toll though and it’s great when the pattern is broken and there is time to enjoy the occasional dip in a pool before dinner.
I took less energy bars and gels because they were not needed (except for on a few mountain stages) and instead I took my winter jacket, which came into its own on Stage 9 (I should have had it in my day bag for Stage 8 too in retrospect). Taking a portable charger was very helpful and enabled me to maximise time on the coach for writing my blogs without the phone dying. It also meant I could get to sleep at a reasonable hour rather than staring at a screen late into the night.
One point I noted last year and which I ignored was that I still took a book – an easy to read biography rather than a complex novel, so it was easy to pick up and put down when I fancied, which admittedly wasn’t often.
Finally Stage 7 will be an abiding memory because this is when Dequane and Martyn visited from Westminster House Youth Club and rode with us in some horrible conditions. If you have heard the Team Dimension Data riders on the Tour de France speaking about how much they appreciate the strong link to the Qhubeka charity (changing people’s lives, mobilising them by providing bicycles), the cynic might think that they are contractually bound to say that. However, having had a close-up view of the good that the money raised by the Tour de Force does for the William Wates Memorial Trust and the charities that it in turn supports, then I can well imagine that this wider perspective is valuable to them. After all, and as I have already said, it is only a bike ride, albeit one that helps disadvantaged members of our society fulfil their potential.
I’m grateful for all those who have sponsored me so far and as I write I am just a little bit short of my target, so if you have enjoyed the blog and would like to add to the cause, then my page (below) is open until 31 August 2017.