Guest blogger John MacLeary is in the final stages of his preparation for the legendary Étape du Tour cyclosportive.
Now in its centenary year, the gruelling 181km (113 mile) event will see 9,500 riders set out on Sunday (18 July) from the town of Pau to climb three peaks of the Pyrénées, finishing on the 2,115m Col du Tourmalet – one of the most fabled Tour de France climbs.
Here John gives us an insight into where his body and mind are at as he approaches the long day in the saddle. And as soon as he’s rehydrated and his muscles have stopped aching, he will let us know what this year’s experience was like…
When I signed up for my first Étape du Tour, 18 months ago, I approached the challenge ahead with no experience of cyclosportives, no experience of long-distance cycling and – like a typical bloke – a massive dose of bravado.
To say the ‘adventure’ was a disaster was an understatement.
After picking up a serious knee injury that resulted in me spending more time on the physio’s treatment table than the saddle – training for the Étape was, more or less, non-existent. Despite this, I did actually manage to make it to within seven kilometres of the summit.
Undeterred, I signed up for this year’s challenge and, come January, threw myself into training with gusto. That said, it hasn’t been without incident.
Two crashes – both my own fault – sidelined me for six valuable weeks in early spring.
The first resulted in me having slight concussion after flying into the back of a stationary van at high speed. It did, though, teach me a very valuable lesson: always wear a helmet.
The second, a fairly innocuous fall in the rain, propelled me to A&E at higher speed than Mark Cavendish in a bunch-sprint finish, with a pair of broken ribs. No lesson to be learned from that, other than don’t fall off the bike. A good tip, I feel.
Injuries and mishaps aside, training for the Étape – which this year visits the iconic Col du Tourmalet as the Tour de France celebrates its 100 year anniversary in the Pyrénées – has been, largely, positive. Well, I’ve actually done some training. Always a good start.
However, with just over a week to go till E-Day, my natural concerns are starting to fill my mind.
Sleeplessness – caused by worry about a lack of training – is kicking in. As is every incline en route to work which, living in London, are pretty much non-existent.
Worries aside – and there are many – I assuage myself with memories of last year’s challenge.
Whether or not I succeed (or more likely fail), I constantly remind myself about how much I enjoyed last year’s ride through Provence.
And this, as I constantly remind people, is why I ride my bike. For fun.
I’ve tried, in the past, to beat myself up about what lies ahead – the hellish journey into the toughest mountains known to the warriors of the road we call ProTour cyclists – but what’s the point?
With just over a week to go I can only satisfy myself in the knowledge that, if my legs don’t have what it takes by now, then the best bike, kit, or energy bars in the world won’t do the work for me.
Am I scared? Yes. Can I complete the toughest stage of the most gruelling stage bike race in the world? Mmm, maybe.
To paraphrase a certain Bez, the maraca player in the band Happy Mondays: “gotta give it a go; what else is there to do.”
See you on the other side.
By guest blogger John MacLeary, cycling writer for The Telegraph