When Iain first started training for the Etape back in 2007, he warned me that he wouldn’t be around much. He spent a lot of time on the bike trainer and out on the roads and I spent a lot of time doing stuff without him, cooking dinner to be ready when training was over for the night and encouraging him to try to get a few early nights and eat/drink a bit less. He seemed to appreciate both the support and the permission to get out there and do it without feeling like he was abandoning me.
The payoff for me is that he was so obviously enjoying himself, throwing himself wholeheartedly into the exercise and devising training plans, routes and timings and spending up big on bike kit. I tried to keep his feet on the ground a little with gentle advice about not overdoing it, keeping the credit card expenses down to a dull roar (what is it about men and Wiggle?) and motivating him when the ‘I need a rest day’ card was played too many days in row.
I’m a cyclist and cycling fan anyway, so there were lots of bonuses from Iain being in the Etape du Tour – not least a free team jersey – and going to France for the event was the main one. It was amazing to see that quantity of cyclists together as well as the thousands of people who’d turned out to support them. At the breakfast stop I took my cue from another cycling widow next to me who had a large flag, and held up my sarong printed with enormous sunflowers so that Iain would see where we were standing with his food in enough time to be able to pull over to us across the steady stream of riders. She’d done it all before and we were able to exchange stories and advice, which was good for morale. There was tons of local support on the route as well and it was inspiring to stand by the side of the road in a small village where the band had turned out to play the riders through. It seemed like it was very much a carnival atmosphere for them, to be repeated on a similar scale a week later when the Tour de France itself powered through. Also inspiring to watch the riders at all stages of the race where we spectated, especially on the finish line where many of them chose to sit back, put their hands in the air and spin over the line like their were Tour de France stage winners – not Iain! I had the video camera going from the minute he came into view as I knew he’d be head down, powering for the line, crushing everyone in his wake – and he was. Nothing to do with the fact he can’t ride no-handed, I’m sure. (I taught myself to do it a couple of years ago in Battersea Park, just in case I ever win a bike race.)
Anyway, all this inspiration rubbed off on me, and by Christmas 2007 I was enthused enough about getting a road bike to ask my boss to put a tax free bike scheme in place (www.cyclescheme.co.uk) and bought a Specialized Elite. It’s not quite a case of ‘If you can’t beat him, join him’ but I rode the Etape Caledonia with Iain (well, a couple of hours behind him) in 2008 which felt like a great achievement for me. I didn’t spend hours training but worked on the basis of a nice equation Iain picked up early in his training: you should be able to ride in one long outing at the weekend the same mileage as your total weekday commuting miles. It just meant not catching the bus on rainy days and keeping the miles in my legs building up. I wasn’t going for any sort of time, just a finish without walking up any hills, and I managed that proudly.
Another opportunity for me to explore cycling through Iain’s training was in Spring 2007, when I suggested tying in a possible advance training ride for Iain in ‘proper’ mountains with an activity weekend for me in the Pyrenees. This worked very well and we flew out to Barcelona with the bike box and were driven up into the high mountains for a few nights with Activities Abroad. Simon, the activity provider and Jo, his gourmet cook partner were very welcoming and Iain was able to get out and ride a couple of Cat 1s and an HC (the steepest mountain type in the TdF: Hors Categories, literally ‘too steep to categorise’) I, on the other hand, was driven to a ski station, given a mountain bike, and taught to ride it at speed for 17km downhill. I have never had so much fun on a bike in my life! We discovered several things – firstly that I was more fearless than Iain downhill and secondly that he needed to get his brakes upgraded as soon as he got home. In 2008 I admired Iain’s ‘beautiful madness’ riding the Marmotte in the Alps last summer but had no desire to join him uphill. He did say I would love the Col du Lautaret which is 36km of downhill but I decided I would need someone to drive me up there.
Coming up to last Christmas, Iain’s enthusiasm for training was waning a bit but I heard about a new idea, a spinning studio opening in Putney (www.pedalstudio.co.uk). I decided to join and got stuck in when they opened in January. Under the tutelage of spinning instructors who are also cyclists themselves, I quickly started to feel more energised and positive on the bike, and have been getting quicker and quicker on my commute with weekly sessions (cheers Richard!). New records break every week and I am no longer scared of going uphill (well, not the ones on my commute anyway). I even matched Iain’s time up Kingston Hill the other morning (although he wasn’t there to race against. We need to measure it properly for it to count!). During the early part of this year, Iain hasn’t been as motivated as in previous years, mainly due to illness and injury. I can’t force him to go out and train, when I know he should be on the bike if he wants to reach the targets he was aiming for, and I’ve found that all I can do is be enthusiastic and set a good example in my own riding. We’ve been out for a few rides together, and he even dragged me up Box Hill one day. We’ve also bought a tandem which is immense fun and if I think he needs to train harder, I can just sit back a bit and make him do all the work. He’s had less time to ride it now his training is full on and in earnest for TRAT and the Marmotte but when it’s all over we shall be out and about on it – roll on July and August!
In June, I’ll be willing him on while ‘cut-out Iain’ moves swiftly up the UK map on the wall in our kitchen (he made it for me during his John o’ Groats to Land’s End ride last year so I could mark his progress). In July I’ll be joining him in Bourg d’Oisans to cheer him on in the Marmotte again, and I am planning to ride up Alpe d’Huez while I’m there. I will need to hire a bike but I can’t stay so close to that cycling mecca and not take the opportunity. Again, the only target I have is to reach the top without getting off and walking. The only way I won’t do it is if Iain makes me cycle up the Lauteret – I much prefer the payoff of the 35km downhill to having to come back down the 21 hairpins of the Alpe!
Three years ago it would never have crossed my mind to do anything other than watch the Tour on tv, marvelling as the riders power up Alpe d’Huez at insane speeds. Now I’m actually planning to do it myself and it would not have happened without being part of Iain’s cycling odyssey. It’s a privilege to support him, learn from him, and be inspired by him! Chapeau!