Wed 27th January - 15 days to go.
My mind keeps drifting to my parallel existence with Team Sky boss Dave Brailsford. His singular mission to put a man (not Contador, that would be too quick and too easy) in the yellow jersey in Paris compares with our more pressing challenge, to get 260 people across Europe in the depths of winter. Bradley Wiggins is Mozart to Dave's Salieri, I am the elephant to Lawrence's Hannibal. Only slower.
How do we shape up? Pinarello v Giant. Adidas v Nike. Kask v Giro. Fit v Fat. We face different challenges. Just where do you put your iPod in a skinsuit? Can you get SKY HD on a team bus? I too have been asked challenging questions over the last few weeks. 'It says on the kit list I need arm and leg warmers, why?'. 'Doesn't a Garmin just complicate things? - of course, you're right, just bring a sextant'. 'I don't like road tyres, they're too quick'. And last but not least a long debate about the merits of cycling shoes v trainers, and finally establishing that the reason the cycling shoes were not working was (guessed it?) - 'trust me, they do work better with cleats. Have you tried skiing without bindings?' I ask.
If you learn by mistakes then I am the world's most knowledgeable cyclist. I am the man who set off on the 1994 Etape with no phone, money, gilet or even the name of our hotel. I hitched a lift from four Welshmen in a Vauxhall Astra at the base of Tourmalet, and rode down the other side (they were camping at the top to watch the Tour) in the dark through La Mongie in a hailstorm of gnats, and got back at eight thirty. Pros too are a wonderful source of advice and technique, but they see an Hors Categories climb as like going upstairs, we look at it with same feeling as Mallory or Irvine when they first set eyes on Everest. You learn tricks and technique from them, but survival is not on their agenda.
But our merry band is coming along nicely. The mystique of riding long distances is evaporating for most as they realise that it can be done - Dr Simon arrived home on Sunday to find he'd ridden 96 miles so turned round and rode another four up and down the road just to knock off a hundred. That said I've only seen about 50 of the riders, maybe the rest are at home with their feet up?
There is a book to be written about undertaking sporting challenges with your wife. Is this story true? A couple were life long tandem riders, him on the front, her on the back. He took the bike in for a service and they rang up the wife to ask if they wanted the 'usual' set-up. What's that she asked. Well, you have a bigger chain ring than him. I wonder what hit him first when he came through the door?
My better half Joanna is the only woman riding the full 2800km - somebody yesterday gave her an enamel shield badge that says 'Head Girl'. Enough said. She is currently top of the fundraising leaderboard www.justgiving.com/joannasbigride. Any marriage that can survive bridge ('I bid spades, why didn't you lead one?'), golf ('what do you mean, don't step on your line, how could I possibly know what that is?') and cycling ('I KNOW white is not the easiest colour to keep clean') is a good marriage. I just don't remember the bit in the vows that said 'to have and to hold and to lead out'. I asked he if she needed anything else to get through the ride. 'Jewellery'.
One man down today. My lifelong friend George has skied since he was three and hasn't fallen over in maybe twenty years, and was airlifted off the slopes in Verbier today on his first run. Cruciate damage. Out for months.
We had a drink with superstar chef Tom Aikens last night, who is coming on stage 5. On Sunday he RAN 48 miles. He's in training for the Marathon des Sables - six days of straight marathons in the desert, with two on Thursday - carrying everything for the week except water. Sounds absolutely ghastly.
Support Lawrence Dallaglio and his fellow cyclists as they embark on this mammoth ride by donating via www.dallagliocycleslam.com . Net proceeds will be shared equally between Sport Relief and the Dallaglio Foundation.
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