This time last year I was preparing for my first `long distance’ cycling event. I use the term advisedly because, although the 50 mile charity ride seemed like a major challenge at the time, I’ve realised it was pretty minor compared to the range of remarkable things that people are doing on bikes.
Our attention may be focussed on success in the Olympic velodrome or on the roads of the Tour
de France, but you don’t need to be Bradley Wiggins, Chris Froome or the like to do something worthwhile on a bike.
Bitten by the cycling bug, I’ve gone on to tackle both London to Brighton (56 miles) and the Ride London 100 mile event. At the latter during an enforced stop I had a passing encounter with Geoff Whitington and his sons Anthony and Ian. The film these gents made, Fixing Dad, shows the power of sport to transform a life.
A few weeks later I was lucky enough to be invited to sample a cycling-themed break in Morzine by the Savoie Mont Blanc tourist board.
Whilst there I tackled both the Col de L’’Encrenaz (1433 metres) and the Col de Joux Verte (1,760 metres) between Morzine and Avoriaz. As someone who lives in East Anglia, an area not known for its mountain passes, I thought I’d done rather well until I encountered writer and keen cyclist Rolf Rae-Hansen. In comparison with the mountains that Rolf rides up, my efforts were but foothills.
Rolf lives in Edinburgh, within driving distance of some pretty testing Scottish mountain road, but his cycling ambitions are located much further south, in the Alps.
He is a man obsessed by the legendary climbs of the Tour de France and its Italian cousin, the Giro. In his book The Breakaway: Cycling the Mountains of the Tour de France Rolf vividly describes the trials and tribulations of tackling these hills with a friend.
Although there are mass participation events along some of the roads, usually the day after the professional riders, Rolf and his pal decided to tackle them alone. No cheering crowds or support vehicles for them. Just pockets stuffed full of food and heads full of youthful optimism and heads full of self-belief. On the more famous climbs they had plenty of company but on some of the more obscure ones it was just them and the hills, apart from an occasional bemused French or Italian driver.
It’s a painfully honest but entertaining account of their adventures which will have you thinking differently about friendship and what is possible on (or off) a bike.
If you want to know what it’s like for the pros to tackle some of the most famous (or infamous) challenges in sport, read the biographies of Bradley Wiggins, Chris Froome, Mark Cavendish or Geraint Thomas.
If you want to know what happens when others are inspired to emulate their deeds, read Rolf’s book.