We stayed in Orleans last night to avoid a big drive to the Etampes stage start this morning and it took less than an hour to get to the start point which was pretty good. Myself and the crew were in justifiably good spirits and the banter was in full flow. It had progressively accumulated after nearly four weeks on the road together, reducing our mental ages to half what they should be! There were constant references to the film Full Metal Jacket and I ended up being Private Joker (or the sergeant) whilst Andy was Private Pile!
Banter aside, it was an important day of course, one that required a focus sufficient to arrive safely in Paris, negotiating the Champs Elysees in the process. At the very least I had an obligation to finish well for the charities I was representing and all of those people who had supported me and been inspired along the way. I wasn’t about to fall at the final hurdle!
The pros would have the luxury of closed roads in Paris meaning no danger in the tunnels or roundabouts during their eight laps of the capital. For me of course, this wasn’t the case and it was too dangerous to attempt all eight laps, so in order to replicate the same distance I started the stage many kilometres before the official stage town of Etampes outside Paris. I then had one mini-lap of the circuit to complete safely before I would be able to meet my parents under the Arc de Triomphe and relax.
All was going to plan before for a mechanical problem struck 20km from the finish. My left shoe cleat – a Speedplay – snapped off on a short climb and I couldn’t re-engage my shoe in the pedal at all! It meant that I would have to ‘limp’ to the finish as best I could with the left foot literally gliding over the pedal. I had to be very careful but managed nonetheless! If that had happened at any other stage in this tour it would have been very difficult to find a replacement in France. Phew!
Entering Paris and seeing the EiffelTower in the distance for the first time brought a sense of joy to my tired body. Physically I felt lacklustre, but I was now desperately close to the Arc. I stuck to the Tour course through the massive and glorious Place de la Concorde before winding my way up the Champs Elysees in my big chainring, weaving in and out of the (frankly crazy) traffic. The last 1km felt effortless today and it was fitting that both my parents were there in perfect timing to greet me.
Time in the saddle: around 5 hrs
Feelgood factor: 8/10
ipod tunes: Spirit – Waterboys / Bolero – Ravel
Conditions – very humid 30 degrees
Apres Tour – some final thoughts:
I now see the professionals who actually do this for a living as:
– Prisoners of their own passion for this sport
– Like convicts of the road
– Kings of the king of endurance sports
Shortly after I finished in Paris I was interviewed on the radio and asked why I chose to ride the Tour (to do something so crazy!). Well, like many extreme physical challenges and the mindset it takes to pursue them, the suggestion that there is a choice in the matter misses the point entirely. People compete in the Ironmnan / Ultra Ironman, Marathon Des Sables, climb Everest etc for a number of reasons, of course, but fundamentally because such challenges are there to be pursued in the first place. They want to push themselves – learn more about their capabilities, inspire others in the process, for good causes and so on. If this still doesn’t make sense then there is always football, rugby, tennis… all enjoyable pursuits but not to be confused with the above!
To borrow the title of a well-written book on cycling, ‘A Beautiful Machine’ – that’s what the Tour de France is in a way. It’s a three week long machine that pushes arguably the fittest athletes on earth to their limits. I have a deep and genuine respect for the athletes who choose this brutal sporting professio and also for the sheer elite nature and grandeur that is the Tour de France.
For this reason I always wanted to attempt the course as professionally as I could with the resources I had…to do it properly no matter how hard, and inspire / help people in the process. I’ve come pretty close I think, or perhaps I’ve even achieved this. I need time to reflect now, look for a new job and experience civvy street for the first time in four months!
A special thank-you to all who have supported me on this epic challenge – for those who would still like to support the causes I have ridden for, my charity page will be open until early October.