I don’t think I’ve ever fully explained how we both came to take up cycling. Here’s the short version of events.
We had moved permanently to the south of France in 2005 hoping for a slower pace of life as we wound down to retirement. My beloved had expressed a desire to improve his golf handicap and his tennis game. While I wanted to spend more time on my many interests.
In reality, it was difficult to find partners to play tennis with when my beloved had time available or book golf tee-off times that fitted in with his limited down time. Consequently, he bought himself a cheap racing bike from Decathlon and regularly rode around nearby Cap d’Antibes.
Our first Christmas in France I bought my beloved a subscription to Vélo magazine. When the first instalment arrived in the post it contained a flyer advertising participation in L’Etape du Tour (amateur participation in the Tour’s most difficult stage). Believing my beloved needed a challenge, I signed him up and promptly forgot about it.
A few months later my beloved received confirmation of his place in l’Etape, stage 15 of that year’s Tour de France, 187km (117 miles) from Gap to l’Alpe d’Huez. He was sceptical of his ability but I assured him that with the right planning and preparation, masterminded by yours truly, he’d have no trouble. It really was a case of « ignorance is bliss. »
I researched local cycle clubs and he joined one in a neighbouring town that was well-organised and had plenty of good local riders. I spent hours searching the internet for kit recommendations. At that time Assos was regarded as the gold standard – it probably still is. I put together a training plan, again something I’d found thanks to Mr Google, and bought him a more serious 9and more expensive) racing bike. He was all set.
My beloved mentioned to a long-standing business colleague what he was attempting and the latter suggested that he should undertake the ride for a dental charity. To support fund-raising efforts, the colleague would publish regular updates on my beloved’s progress in his leading UK dental magazine.
My beloved’s chief campaign manager (aka me) swung into action with the begging bowl. People were most generous – I’m a hard woman to say no to. We raised sponsorship of goods and services to the value of Euros 80,000 and I wrote a series of humorous, tongue-in-cheek articles for said magazine. Articles which later enabled me to acquire a UK press card.
My beloved’s training was going well, he was (finally) managing to keep up with some of the club’s riders. In early May I decided we should take a look at the route in some detail and cycle as much of it as conditions permitted. We based ourselves in Briançon at the foot of the Lauteret, the second and by far the easiest of the three ascents my beloved would be expected to conquer.
I drove the support car either driving behind my beloved or ahead, then waiting until he caught up. I was part-way up the Lauteret, still on a relatively gentle incline, when my husband swung over and got off the bike muttering that this was a foolish idea. I agreed with him and said something to the effect:
Look, no one would be in the least surprised if you didn’t take part given your age.
This immediately galvanised my beloved, who was 50 at the time, and he never once complained again!
Over that weekend he successfully ascended the Lauteret, l’Alpe d’Huez and a large part of l’Izoard which was still impassable in early May. This early reconnaissance gave him the confidence that he would be able to complete the challenge.
On the day of l’Etape my two sisters also turned out in support on what was an exceedingly warm day and, although my beloved had a wobble at the base of l’Alpe d’Huez, he successfully completed l’Etape within the time allowed. Others were not so fortunate. I still remember their sad faces pressed against the window of the dreaded broom wagon.
He went on to take part in l’Etape the following year, held in the Pyrenees, which turned out to be much more difficult than the one the previous year in the Alps. He’s not ridden l’Etape since but, given that this year’s is on home turf, he’s risen once more to the challenge and I’m back in the support car.
While my beloved appreciated my support, after completing l’Etape he suggested I too might like to take up riding. I told him that if I could manage at least 60km on my old bike (Euros 50 from Decathlon) I would order myself a road bike. The rest, as they say, is history!