Finally made it to Paris this afternoon. Fantastic riding past Arc de Triomphe and Eiffel Tower. Can't quite believe we actually got here. This is how it happened.
What a day !
This was it – the final day, the last push, into Paris. Breakfast was a relatively quiet affair as we were preoccupied with conflicting thoughts about what lay ahead. Excitement and anticipation about the prospect of riding through the famous streets and across the iconic cobbles mixed with trepidation about overcoming the remaining hills and riding across the iconic cobbles. The only cobbles we had seen so far were on day 2 and they were monstrous blocks with wheel-swallowing gaps between – incredibly hard and uncomfortable to ride. Fortunately in that instance it was only a few short metres but in Paris the cobbles would be extensive. Alongside these emotions was a tinge of sadness – this extraordinary, intense, exciting and enjoyable experience was soon to be over.
Although we only had 65 miles to complete our challenge this last day was not going to be a breeze. The first 30 miles or so to lunch very much kept up with the now familiar pattern – beautiful countryside, quiet villages and almost endless hills. On occasions we found some rolling hills with gradients which allowed us to carry momentum and we enjoyed the sense of power and speed as we crested the hill at a pace and charged on down the other side. Conversely there were plenty of steeper gradients which put us into our lowest gear and left us grinding away feeling ever more tired as we struggled upwards. At one point we were all told to keep hard right and soon we found out why as the whirring clanking machine that was the fast group came zipping by – it was a little hard not to be envious of the ease with which they appeared to consume the hills. Tessa was convinced that her fast-cadence muscles were worn out, and my quads were aching by the time we reached the lunch stop.
I grabbed one of the crew as soon as we stopped and asked them to sort out things for Tessa (thanks Mark W) so that I could go straight to the physios. We might only have 30 miles to go but I needed every advantage to complete the course. I was on the bench in agony as the physio worked out the stiffness from my legs – with only limited sympathy and a strong recommendation to do more stretching (point noted and understood).
After lunch, to the strains of Rawhide, the whole peloton of some 240 riders headed out on the final leg to Paris. It was incredible to see the whole group together, a long line stretching into the distance with a single message standing out - cycling to beat blood cancer. Our admiration for the motorcycle outriders became even greater as we worked our way deeper into the heart of Paris – not stopping or hesitating for anything. A glimpse of the Eiffel Tower peeking above some trees and then back into the tight streets. Eventually we turned a corner and there at the top of a small rise was the Arc de Triomphe looking magnificent in the sunshine. We glided across the cobbles (they were thankfully much smoother than those earlier ones) buoyed up by the thrill of experience – sweeping around the Arc, cars pinned back behind a cordon of motorcycles, and back into the narrow streets. A few more turns and we broke out at one end of a wide bridge to see the Eiffel Tower ahead – over we rode and swung right, directly below the Tower and onto our final destination a few hundred metres away.
Medals, drinks, celebrations, congratulations , hugs and kisses and the risk of a few tears. We had made it – neither the distance nor the hills had defeated us – here we were in Paris. There are many things to remember and to treasure, the fantastic crew, the motos, the beautiful scenery (perhaps not the hills !), the welcoming bystanders – but most of all it will be the amazing people with whom we had the privilege to share a few days, suffering, laughing, encouraging, rejoicing – all determined to keep pressing on until the goal has been achieved – at its simplest, to get to Paris, but more enduringly, to beat blood cancer.
Thanks for coming along for the ride – it has been a pleasure.