“Lying in bed in the hotel room I can hear the rain hammering down outside” is the opening line in Stephen Roche’s recently published book “Born to Ride”. 25 years later 460 riders gathered to commemorate his incredible Triple Crown win by riding the 2012 London2Paris Hotchilee event. The night before the start all of us were looking out the window at the rain hammering down.
Across the seven groups riding to Paris, the atmosphere was electric despite the inclement weather, helped along by knowing that in Group 7 were team of hand cyclists whose journey to Paris would far exceed the pain and suffering I was about to experience by racing in Group 1.
A glance around Group 1 gave a count of several ex-pros, a triple crown winner, a current world MTB champion and double world paralympic cyclist. But reassuringly, next to me were several riders I’d raced alongside in Group 1 in previous years.
Lets get the weather out of the way, we had a lot of it on-route to Paris. Wind, rain, lashing rain, buckets of rain, rain blasting wind and a touch of sunshine. Waiting in Dover to board the ferry found a handful of us seeking refuge in the back of a truck while the sound of thunder and lightning were almost drowned out by the rain hammering down on the remaining 450 riders who stood outside. The upside to this was a pretty clean bike.
One of the things which brings me back to the L2P (this was my 5th year riding) is the people you meet on the road or in the bar. In this case it was the Brasserie on the ferry to Calais, where ahead of us in the queue was an Ardbeg clad, lone cyclist who we adopted to join our table. Being in the marketing business for some of whiskey and champagne’s best brands, the conversation over food was not dull and ended with an organised tasting of champagne.
As with most of my rides, I set a few simple goals, for L2P2012 they comprised of: racing the whole way to Paris in Group 1, not crying over my handlebars and not falling asleep over my beer. I am proud to report back that I achieved all my goals and despite it not being officially reported, managed to nab 3rd spot in the ladies race.
While the organisers chose to only report on the first two ladies places, giving the false sense of a two horse race. It was a hotly contested race between the four ladies who started in Group 1 and by Day 2 only a few seconds separated the top three positions. Annette Loubser, who rode in the Pro ranks for 8 years, showed top form taking the pink jersey off Tanya Slater who fought hard to retain the jersey she’d won the previous 2 years.
I often question my sanity for punishing myself by racing in Group 1, being dropped on the climbs, pacing back in the red zone to get back on. But then a snippet of etiquette makes it all worth while. A heavy cross wind tore at us on Day 2, sapping our energy and with tired racers clinging on at the back of Group 1, I found myself being outmanoeuvred and driven directly into the line of the cross winds, this was timed to coincide with pair of dying legs attached to my hips. As a heavy gust of wind blew me off the wheel ahead of me, I drifted backwards despite pushing as hard as I could on the pedals accompanied by some tennis-style grunting. It was then I felt the hand of god, well the hand of a god pushing me back onto the wheel and looking back saw Stephen Roche giving me a little help to get back on. Maurizio Frondriest (an ex-pro and world champion) then took up the windward side and offered me that little respite from the wind to allow me to hold the wheel. So that’s what riding in a Pro-peleton is all about. Sign me up, I’d love to be a pro cyclist.
It’s also why I keep a little budget aside every year to ride the London2Paris, where else can you ride with the stars, reunite with old friends and make a whole heap of new ones in just three days.