This is guest post written by Helen Russell – Helen is a Great Britain age group triathlete. She is a former age group World and European Duathlon champion and European Triathlon champion. You can follow Helen’s preparations for Le Tour One Day Ahead at @helengoth and in her series of blogs for SportsCover Direct.
After having watched the Tour de France final stage in Paris on television for many years, it was surreal to recently cycle into the French capital on closed roads, over the cobbles to the Arc de Triomphe and along the Seine to the Eifel Tower. From 18-22 June I took part in the Cure Leukaemia London to Paris bike ride and along with 230 fellow riders cycled 500k over four days to raise funds to help beat blood cancer.
On the first day all the riders nervously assembled in Greenwich Park and immediately my old 1998 Le Mond Alp D’ Huez steel bike attracted some attention. I imagine some people were wondering if I would be able to cover the miles and terrain on such an old and heavy bike but I had faith in my trusted steed! Amongst recreational and club cyclists were a number of well-known sporting faces including West Bromwich Albion goalkeeper Ben Foster, former Crystal Palace winger John Salako and former Birmingham City defender Darren Purse. They had agreed to participate to support fellow footballer and leukaemia survivor, Geoff Thomas in his efforts to raise over £1m this year to fund a network of leukaemia research nurses in the West Midlands.
We all left London with the support of a team of motorcycle out-riders who secured our safe passage out of the capital. Once into Kent we followed a well signposted route that took us all the way to Folkstone to board the Eurotunnel and arrive in our overnight stay in Calais.
The next morning we all gathered for the first day of riding in France which would all be on closed roads. This was an amazing experience as it meant that we didn’t have to stop at every junction and worry about traffic, which meant that we could enjoy the riding even more. Being insured by SportsCover Direct also gave me peace of mind about riding in an organised event overseas.
There was a choice of three groups to ride with based on speed and I decided that I would prefer to take it fairly easy so that I could enjoy the scenery rather than look at someone’s wheel for hours! The route took us from Calais to Abbeville and then onto Beauvais before the final leg into Paris. One of the highlights for me was riding through the Somme area, past the WW1 cemeteries and through the poppy fields. This put my complaints about saddle soreness and aching muscles into perspective.
The French were so welcoming along the way, waving and cheering us one and welcoming us into their villages with hand-made signs. Even as we rode into Paris people cheered us on and the other road users didn’t seem at all put out by being stopped whilst over 200 cyclists took over the Arc de Triomphe island. The Eifel Tower was a welcome sight as it marked the end of our journey and the start of the celebrations. However, whilst most riders were having a celebratory beer and taking the obligatory photo in front of the Eifel Tower with bike held aloft, I and five other riders were a bit subdued. This was because as part of the One Day Ahead challenge we knew that next time we would be in Paris we would have taken the long route as we will be cycling the whole route of this year’s Tour de France to raise even more funds for Cure Leukaemia. Next time we get to Paris we will definitely have earned some champagne!
Helen’s Just Giving page is www.justgiving.com/HelenRussell-LeTour