Wednesday, 24 July 2013

Debrief


Two weeks have now passed since the Tour de Force rolled to a halt in the City of Light. I am pleased to report that despite the strongly felt anti-climax and cravings for post exercise endorphins, I have not started convulsing in my office chair or felt inclined to stick my head through my monitor just yet.

This is due to three reasons: firstly, my colleagues and friends have frequently indulged me by asking about the Tour, allowing me to continually relive the dream; secondly, I’ve had 15 stages of highlights packages to catch up on courtesy of Sky+ (the irony) and ITV4 – the yearly onscreen presence of Gary Imlach anchoring the TdF coverage settles any anxious veloist's nerves; and thirdly, I am just too knackered.

There does seem to be light at the end of the tunnel of tiredness. Having been reunited with the Colnago last Friday, now fully tuned and serviced, I tackled a couple of laps of the “Col de Richmond” on Saturday afternoon. A return to cycling the London streets was tortuous after the wide expanses of France and largely "Rapha MAMIL" free roads, but the legs produced some power and the heart rate barely raised an eyebrow as I danced up Richmond's measly ramps. It looks like the recovery is in full flow and there are some serious fitness benefits to be enjoyed.

This brings me neatly to answering the million dollar question that I have stalled on many times last week: so what's next? Well, here is my rational attempt at an answer. Immediately, lots of sleep and the growing sense of enjoyment of coming home from work, slumping on the sofa with the terrace doors open and letting the warm evening breeze into the apartment. Short to medium term, getting ready for Ride London on 3 August and seeing whether the Tour has made me a better bike rider, as well as re-learning how to appropriately socialise without wearing lycra. Long term, I'll be planning some goals both on and off the bike for 2014. I already have something brewing with a fellow TdF lifer, which will hopefully involve Italians, top-end coffee and some viciously steep mountains. Beyond that, who knows.

Having read some of the other riders' blogs it seems inevitable that this wrap up piece is going to tread a path of prophesying and emotionally charged musings. I will do my best, and who can blame us? The Tour de Force was an incredibly special experience to be involved with. For most of us it was our dream to ride Le Tour and immerse ourselves in the romance, beauty, drama and hardship of it all. The most intriguing part was always – could I really complete it? To combine this dream with fundraising for the WWMT proved a powerful combination. For us, the painful parts of the Tour thinly replicated some of the difficulties the kids face who are supported by the WWMT assisted charities. Whilst we all had each other to rely on when the going got tough, as well as our support networks back home, these vulnerable young people have nowhere or no one positive to turn to – a stark comparison and a sharp illustration of why WWMT’s grant giving is so important. The Tour de Force is WWMT’s flagship fundraiser and it is testament to the riders’ enthusiasm for the charity that the 2013 vintage is approaching raised funds of £400,000.

To finish this all too lengthy post, what did I learn from the Tour? For me this has not been a life changing experience, but more a vivid life enriching and affirming one. I was lucky enough to meet and ride with thirty-nine inspirational characters who rode the whole way to Paris. Whirlwind friendships were intensively forged in the peleton hot-house, yet serenely set against France’s cornfields, lush meadows and snow-capped mountains. As well as the cycling itself, these people helped hammer home three key points on the asphalt, all of which are transferable to my day-to-day living. Here they are, Baz Lurman style:

1. Anything is possible but it has to be earned. I've traced the seeds of my ambition to ride the Tour all the way back to 2007. It began with some fanciful thoughts, having been bitten by the roadie bug after some fairly amateur riding through France on my little brother’s rusty road bike. As I rode more and more, becoming stronger, better experienced and reshaping my build, these thoughts morphed into a pipe dream. As the ambition and passion continued to burn, along with the support of my girlfriend, friends, family and work, the stars aligned and I committed to ride the Tour in November 2012. After sacrificing a lot of time and energy, straining important relationships and pouring endless pounds into online bike shops, the pipe dream became a reality six years later. It has been worth every hard yard and penny spent.

2. Tread your own path and respect others doing the same. The Tour affirmed this in spades. Whether you are trying to stick with a group tapping out a pace which you know is too much for you or fancy riding with different people for the day who want to stop at every café to experience the regional variety of Magnum Blancs, have the courage to follow your instincts. Similarly, respect those with different goals to you. Laying it down on the tarmac everyday or cruising at tourist pace may not be your mantra but concentrate on your own riding and working with those around you.

3. Embrace the suffering. I have not come across any experience like being depleted on a twisting mountain road, where the only solution to end the ordeal is to keep pedalling up. It strips away all of life’s flux and presents you with a simple yet deeply divisive dilemma: stop or continue? Regardless of all the negative thoughts and screaming muscles, always continue. The suffering will stop –eventually – quickly transform into raw elation and relief, before dissolving into quiet satisfaction.

Actually I am mistaken; there were four points and the fourth is easy to succinctly state – whilst I’ll never be as fast as the Froome-dog, I love riding my bike.