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Après le Déluge – What It’s (not) Like To Ride the Tour de France

There’s no party atmosphere at the top of the Hautacam. No collective jubilation and no private sense of euphoria either. Maybe that would come later. For now the focus is food: Honey bread, salted crackers, orange segments, whatever there is. Then the rain, which had been kind enough to wait until I’d crossed the finish, begins again.

“Go and get your medal.” The older gentleman at the bottom tells me. “You’ve earned it.” I’d free-wheeled the thirteen kilometres down the mountain to the village, thinking the whole way not of medals but dry clothes, and stopped to ask him where the car park was.

“I think I’ve earned a bath and six beers.” I reply, resting my leg against my front wheel for warmth, the rim on fire after eight miles of firm braking. I didn’t think I had, actually, earned anything, I just really really wanted them. I certainly didn’t think a medal was in order. I thank him and roll on.

No sport revels in the vocabulary of martyrdom quite like cycling does. But I had just ridden 150 kilometres – 95 miles in old money – of which half were uphill, and at least half – not exactly the same half and at my own initiation, but still – during which I would say I had suffered.

And all I could think was “What was the point of that?”

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The Prologue

Tomorrow is my 30th birthday. To mark the occasion, while I will permit myself a small glass of champagne (and probably a little cry) celebrations must be muted and existential crises need to be, if not entirely averted, then at least postponed. For at dawn on Sunday morning I will spray on a layer of lycra, don a pair of boots not made for walking and join several thousand others at the start of this year’s Etape du Tour. Ninety miles and some 30,000 revolutions later – barring disaster – it will be over. Continue reading