We had a 9am departure and I managed to be late! The Tour de Force runs like clockwork and if you are late you pretty much have to fend for yourself (within reason!). I did have the distraction of having my stitches taken out but that is not much of an excuse. The sliding iron bar gate at the entrance to the hotel car park was firmly shut when I arrived at 9.03 and I could not work out how to open it. A french cyclist rolled up who was nothing to do with our group and I thought he would be able to help but he was similarly flummoxed. Approaching panic stations I decided to push every button on every panel I could see within sight and miraculously I heard an electric motor start up and the gate started to open.
Mightily relieved I cycled as quickly as I safely could and managed to catch up the tail group within half an hour or so. We passed through some beautiful countryside on yet another warm and sunny day. Our first major stop was Versailles where we had lunch. Versailles is the epitome of old fashioned planning and opulence. Apparently Louis XIV (I think?) had grown tired of smelly Paris with so many poor people and built Versailles as place where he could live in the style and comfort he wanted. He did a pretty good job and it is well worth a visit.
We cycled on into Paris and I felt smug when I realised some if the riders who had joined us just for the ride into Paris were struggling to get up some of the hills. These were mere bumps in the road compared to some of the challenges I had conquered in the previous few days!
As we crested one of the ‘bumps in the road’ the Eiffel Tower appeared below us – not long to go now! The roads were quiet as it was a Sunday morning and very soon I arrived at a meeting point where Rosie and Mum and Dad were waiting. It was a very very special moment in my life. That long overdue big hug with Rosie was delivered at long last – very emotional.
I had a lovely hug with Mum as well and then my first ever hug with Dad (I think he thought he could get away with a handshake – sorry Dad!). Photos were taken and we were a pretty happy bunch of cyclists as we stood around grinning away and slapping and hugging each other as it dawned on us as to what we had achieved.
Then an uneventful ride up the cobbled Champs Elysee (very uncomfortable!) to the Arc de Triomphe where there was more back slapping, hugging and picture taking before cycling the short distance to our rather smart hotel. Some went on to ride the circuit the Pros do at the end of their Tour from the Arc de Triomphe back down the Champs Elysee and through a tunnel. I decided not to tempt fate after all I had been through.
That evening we all met up again for a celebratory cruise on the Seine – champagne, beer and wine – as much as you could drink.
Humorous speeches and awards were made. Some of the riders had got together and organised a whip round for the support team Quite rightly they were thanked wholeheartedly and presented with a card each which had been signed by every rider. The Tour would not have functioned so smoothly without their tireless efforts to keep the whole thing on track – as well as looking after high maintenance amateurs like me.
It was good fun and there was lots of chat about how a bunch of strangers faced with the same challenge can come together and form a formidable group. I felt very proud to have been part of that group.