July is a special month for fans of bike racing: It’s Tour de France month.
Special because not only is Le Tour the biggest bike race of the year but it’s also a race with an mesmerising, life changing power to it too.
And although I’ve ridden bicycles for as long as I can remember, it was only after first watching Le Tour that I truly fell in love with cycling. Its exotic locations, its passionate fans, a pinch of foreign mystique, the sheer scale of it – 5 days for a Test Match? Pfff. How about 3 weeks! Around an entire country! – and the audacious displays of athleticism that truly elevate riders above us mere mortals was an intoxicating mix.
So intoxicating, in fact, it made me trade in my hulking great mountain bike on which I’d happily explored the fields & lanes around my home in East Kent for a beautiful lightweight, metallic blue, steel-framed road bike. Along with the bike, I also bought my first lycra (yes, I’m sorry, the L-word) cycling kit and joined the local road club. Suddenly the boundaries of my world exploded outwards. I wasn’t just exploring the lanes near my home but those all across Kent. Up the chalk hills of the North Downs and over the chalk cliffs of the Channel coast.
Bike racing gave me some new heroes to cheer too: the Italians Gianni Bugno and Claudio Chiappucci and the all conquering Miguel Indurain. And it gave me some new villains to “boo”: the Swiss duo of Tony Rominger and Alex Zulle and the biggest villain of all, Bjarne Riis. Looking back now they villains for no reason other than they might beat my heros.
And, as teenagers are inclined to, I dreamt of becoming a professional cyclist. I dreamt of swapping the North Downs for the Alpes and of swapping my Mum calling me in for tea for Phil Liggett calling my name as I made it to the summit of the La Plagne. It was a dream I would achieve… or so I thought.
While clearly not lacking ambition, I was ever the pragmatist and thought trying my hand at racing might be sensible before signing a professional contract. This was Kent in the 90’s though and it didn’t have today’s packed event calendar so a weekly time trial was all that was on offer. Each Wednesday evening during the summer I would ride the 10 miles from home up to the Thanet Way to race 10 miles along it. Contre-la-montre. And every time as the Starter began his countdown from 5, I imagined myself emulating the feats of Indurain, Boardman or Obree as I tore up the course.
But I was dreadful.
The highpoint of my short lived “career” was recording a 24-25 (24 minutes and 25 seconds) for the 10.
Then, as happens with so many mediocre teenage cyclists, I passed my driving test and all but hung up my bike wheels.
I say “all but” because I still ride a bike for fun, I still ride a bike to commute to work and occasionally, ever so occasionally, I’ll ride a bike with whichever club I was a member of at the time. My days of dreaming of being a professional racer were long gone.
But I’m still hooked on bikes, I still dreamt about bicycles. Most recently of a bicycle that would fit my lifestyle. That I could ride comfortably to work whilst wearing my suit. That would transform me into a stylish cyclist. A beautiful lightweight, steel-framed bicycle like my first road bike. One that was easy to ride uphill and fast to ride down.
This, thankfully, was a dream that I would realise.