Six hours in and utter exhaustion has been replaced by desperation.
The French police have already attempted to stop the event, and the appalling weather conditions have resulted in competitors being treated for hypothermia.
I’ve trained for three long hard months to get to take part in the Etape du Tour, a chance for the public to cycle a stage of the Tour de France. Our gruelling task is to ride 209
kilometres through the Massif Central, from Issoire to the Saint Flour. So far driving rain and an energy sapping head wind has decimated the field.
At the first feed station 50 kilometres in, buses are crammed full of cyclists who’ve thrown in the towel, while others huddle together trying to keep warm and debating the sense in carrying on.
The carnage would make the front pages of the local newspapers the following day, with just 1,982 of 7,000 entries finishing. By the time I’ve reached the six hour mark, I’ve summited an extinct volcano, endured freezing mountain descents barely able to grip the break levers, and ridden through two ski resorts.
I’m at breaking point. There’s nothing left in the tank and there’s still another 50 kilometres to the finish.
The final blow is I’m behind the timing car. To complete the event legitimately, competitors have to finish the course within a specified period. Failure to do so results in disqualification, and it’s emerged the organisers have brought the times forward.
As I wearily discuss our predicament with cycling wingman Steven, the broom wagon rolls up beside us. It’s the bus of shame, mopping up those who’ve had enough and just want to be warm and not fighting step gradient and aching legs.
Right now it looks like the best place in the world. I’d pay for a seat and they can do what they want with my bike. But, no. A comfy lift to St Flour is rebuffed for me.
I could easily have lived with the shame. A little graphic description of just how awful the conditions were, a sprinkling of “the police made us stop”, and I might even have come away with a bit of credit.
However, to my utter dismay, some Churchillian words were delivered from Steven, now demoted from wingman to mortal enemy, and he disappeared off into the distance. There was no choice but to follow. Nearly three years on I’m heading to Yorkshire with my bike.
On July 5 Leeds will host The Grand Depart of the Tour de France. For the next three weeks the greatest cyclists in the world will take on 21 stages covering a staggering 3,656 kilometres, endure the infamous cobbled roads of Belgium and climb peaks in both the Alps and the Pyrenees.
From bit part players in the sport, British cyclists have attained a level of domination never seen before.
The heroics of Sir Bradley Wiggins, Chris Froome, and Mark Cavendish have helped ignite an explosion of participation and interest in the sport.
This year has also seen the first ever female Tour of Britain, with the likes of Hannah Barnes and Lizzie Armitstead flying the flag for the UK. In short, cycling is huge and it’s getting bigger.
Thousands lined the streets of Northern Ireland for the opening stages of the Giro d’Italia last month and Yorkshire’s Grand Depart is set to be bigger. And what a location for the peloton to being the race for the yellow jersey.
The first hint of the majesty of Yorkshire is revealed on the Carlisle to Settle train line. Its 72 miles of track follows natural pathways through the Pennines, offering breath taking views of the Dales.
Basecamp for a recce of the roads the peloton face next month is The Devonshire Fell Hotel in Burnsall. If you were to imagine an idyllic English village perched next to a river, complete with cricket pitch and a pub, this is it.
But in order to earn a beer the roads of Yorkshire must be conquered first. Our road captain for the day is cycling entrepreneur Richard Bye, whose firm Fat Lad At The Back is making the most out of the boom in cycling.
For the record the day’s numbers were 32 miles in a little over two hours and almost 3,000 feet of climbing. The highlight, if that’s the right word, Brootes Lane is a lung bursting crawl up gradients peaking at over 18%. But the effort is worth it.
At the end of the short but brutal ride, The Devonshire Fell is a welcome sight. The boutique bolthole sits on the edge of the Duke of Devonshire’s 30,000 acre Bolton Abbey Estate and boasts an award winning 2 AA Rosette restaurant.
After over 10 hours in the saddle we completed the Etape. I kissed and made up with my bike and Steven was reinstated as wingman. Cycling is addictive and everything about Yorkshire will help you get your fix.
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