A lot of people had asked us why we were doing this ride, and as we sat in Greg & Austin’s flat watching the lightning through the window, I think all of us questioned this. However, the mood was high. Arousing jokes were made as Chamois cream was liberally applied and mountains of pasta were demolished. A break in the weather allowed us to hit the road (and one unnamed rider a parked Nissan) for a gentle spin to marble arch. We arrived, as the rain did, to be greeted by a group of hardcore fans. After a quick sneak into KFC (difficult in cycling shoes) for the first of what was to be many desperate loo breaks, I was ready.
Failing to synchronise watches, we set off by Greg’s 8pm, making a lung busting grand total of 100m before our first red light. One of dozens that stopped us developing any form of rhythm in the first hour. The UK stage flew by after that though, with the team averaging well above the required 15mph. Marked only by Bish failing to unclip and falling into my handle bars. In his defence, he hadn’t been on a bike in three weeks.
The groups spirits were buoyed by being allowed on the hour earlier ferry, although the rule that you have to ride your bike onto the ferry meant I nearly missed it as I hit the steep entrance ramp in far too high a gear. Excessive stretching and carb loading followed on the channel crossing.
France becomes more of a blur. Led on by Bam’s increasingly damp mascot – a sheep strapped to his handlebars – we hit the rolling hills. And headwind. I think everyone had their own highs and lows in that period, suffice to say there were more lows. Certainly on one stretch of road where we had to ride single file due to traffic, my eyes began to sag and strange half dreams entered my head. Nothing on the hallucinations of Austin in his slippers by the fire place at home, but still pretty surreal and, in hindsight worrying. Luckily Bish interrupted the monotony by crashing again into a ditch, leaving him rather muddied.
Oli marshalled us through the down times with a limited pro plus supply and a Red Bull for Austin, which probably caused more distress than it was worth. The weather wasn’t helping either. Hail punished our lycra-clad legs and storm clouds chased us along never-ending undulating roads. Everything seemed against us. Even when the dark clouds were safely behind us, the rain defied the basic principles of meteorology and continued to drench us.
There were some good moments; watching the boys try to eat the incredibly dense energy bars that need a litre of water to wash them down (impossible on a bike) and the urine stop where six of us were relieving ourselves by a long drive way as the house owner rolled up (his wife found it amusing).
The idea we weren’t going to make it to Paris disappeared at about 10 am, but then the calculating began. On a bike you have a lot of time to worry. We had lost the hour we made up with the ferry and the crippling headwind was causing us to fall well below our required average speed. It was not just for suspense that Greg’s blog posts were so negative. Breaks were cut and “Heroes Made” – Oli Jepsen 2012. All the while I was convinced Tom’s knee would give up any second.
And then Paris. It was left to the GPS to guide us in. No one trusted Bish. Unfortunately, I couldn’t see straight enough to read the words on the screen. So the constant questions of how long left were answered with complete lies, that no one in the group even half believed. A route was suggested to pass down the Champs Elysée, an extra 3km. Austin quickly squashed this idea with a string of expletives. Instead, a slightly dubious (and possibly illegal) manoeuvre brought the Arc d’ Triomphe into view.
Bam got a puncture. Bish nearly died as he tackled an 8 lane roundabout at a right angle to traffic. Then upon arrival the police quickly escorted us from the scene.
But we had made it with 29 minutes to spare.