In 1772 the French explorer Saint Alouarn arrived on the west coast of Australia, if he had stuck around and made a decent job of claiming it for France, Sydney and Mont Ventoux in Provence may have had something in common. As it is, the 16,540km that separate Sydney and Mont Ventoux means that they are worlds apart.
My mid-life crises will have me scaling new heights this year. I have signed up to ride 6 stages of the Tour de France with a great charitable organisation called Tour de Force. We ride the same route as the Tour, a week earlier. The stages I am doing are the Alpine stages, the first being Stage 15 the ride up Mont Ventoux, then a series of stages through the Alps ending up in Paris on Bastille day.
Consistent with other activities that my advancing years have led me to, the decision to take part was the easy bit. From 16,000 km away the challenge of riding long distances up big mountains is not that scary.
Riding my push bike around Sydney is thoroughly enjoyable, it is warm, seldom rains and there are lots of interesting places to visit and scenery to ride around. As an extra bonus, having ridden my bike consistently for the last year and a half, I can now negotiate the hillier climbs in Sydney’s North and still function for the rest of the day without having to lie in a darkened room.
Whilst Sydney offers many distractions it does lack a significant 1,900m mountain on which I can train. In fact I have only ever been up close and personal with any real mountains once in my life. This was on a skiing trip when I was considerably younger and I spent more time in a bar looking out at them than actually skiing on them.
On a trip to Adelaide over the summer holiday I had the opportunity to test my legs around the Adelaide Hills. I started to get a bit more of an insight into what I have signed up for, longer climbs, steeper gradients and still not a real mountain in sight.
The first stage I ride in July is 242km across France, it ends with the 20.8km ascent of Mont Ventoux. This has me a little nervous, so as with my previous training regimes, a bit of a mad mist has descended. I am now planning my free time around long rides, lots of sleep and quality time with the family.
Robyn and the girls are surprisingly supportive of my endeavours. After each ride they also take a keen interest in my performance, “Did you have good legs?”, “How far did you climb?” and “What was your average speed?” are all fired at me with straight faces. I am not sure if they are taking the mickey, so I have taken to giving them a full ride report with the threat of a test afterwards.
Despite the lack of any mountains in Sydney, the real advantage I do have is that I can get out on my bike all year around. The majority of the riders who will take part (you can do a few stages or sign up to ride the whole thing) have to train their way through a northern winter. I think hours in a cold, damp, garage on a turbo trainer takes real commitment.
My friend Tom, who is to blame for all of this (he has been a long time bike advocate and a previous participant) was in Australia with his family in January. We did some decent rides around Sydney and Adelaide. Being able to go out on your bike without multiple layers was a real novelty for him and he had a real appreciation for what I have been taking for granted. It is easier to cycle with the sun on your back and in dry conditions rather than in the cold and wet.
Unfortunately for him, it was bought crashing home when he walked off the beach in Adelaide and 24 hours later was negotiating the snow in England. His kids decided that sand was better than snow. I definitely agree.
You can support my foolishness by making a donation to a very worthwhile cause at http://www.bmycharity.com/benreeve2013
The Tour de Force has been created by and for the William Wates Memorial Trust and is their main fundraising event. All monies raised by participants and their supporters goes to the WWMT whose mission is to help the most disadvantaged young people keep away from a life of crime and violence and fulfill their potential. This is achieved by giving grants to charities that engage young people through the mediums of sport, arts and education.