Ulster Cycling News

L’Etape du Tour 2010 by Jeremy Hofmeister MacLynn

July 2010, 10,000 riders,  a perfect morning, cool, no breeze, and a starting vista of the Haute Pyrenees.

Spurred on by a recce ride two days earlier, I began 9839 places after the first guy. Cruising along at around 26 mph, on smooth roads and a loose group, we began the first few hills. That's where I started to pull back through the ranks. 8000's, 7,000's...

Col de Marie Blanque, (1035m) was the first, first category climb. And I sat tight, heavy gear, low cadence and avoiding hyper-ventilation. Pine forests, either side, and out of the sun, 6000's. Just when it all seemed to be going well the road narrowed, and we hit a traffic jam (no cars, the roads were closed)  but thousands of cyclists. So getting over the last 2km was hindered to a walking pace, literally walking.

Descending, was spectacular, the mountainsides opened to reveal beautiful, lush slopes, where only a few remnants of snowcaps could tower above us. 47mph, between the hairpins. The next section dropped and flattened. The villagers were out, shouting and cheering, water and food stations were flocked by desperate cake, banana, apple, muesli bar eating, electrolyte quaffing gerbils.
Col du Soulor (1474m) for me seemed to be the most relentless climb. The false sense of security that many had at the bottom forced a lot of casualties. Exhausted by the side of the road, ambulances rushing people to hospital, the impending sweeper coaches and  Gendarmerie. My strategy to grind and pick off numbers really began to gain momentum, 5000's, 4000's, and occasional 0000's.

Over the top and dropping for what felt like a lifetime, the roads were bowling lane smooth, using both lanes, you could hug the apex of corners while others stayed in lane, conditioned by two way traffic. Still picking off numbers.

Team Sky and my good friend Steve Emery allowed me to pick up a 'natural', sugar free, palette cleansing lunch. A perfect tonic from all the sweetness. This was my fuel stop for the monster, Col du Tourmalet (2115m)

As we skirted the lower slopes, numbers of spectators by the side of the road began to grow. Irish, English, Scottish, Welsh, Breton flags...I cheered them all and they cheered back. 3000's.'C'monDulwich'. People started to recognise the Paragon club kit ,and shouted, all stoking my fires of fitness. It was time to get comfortable. The next two hours were tough, but again considered, and unforgettable.

Locals came out with water to re-fill, kids ran alongside, cooling down hot heads. The sun was now very high, the sides clear and the heat was into the 30's. In parts, where the crowds quietened, it felt like a funeral march. For many the joy and excitement had gone, this was a battle. I encouraged a few, but saved my energy. Some just stopped - others were helped. Bystanders, pushed some for 20, 30 metres, trying to give enough mental momentum to help the riders get out of the bonk.

It got hotter and tighter. Mid way I caught my old friend Steve. For someone who didn't like climbing he was having the ride of his life.  It was great to chat, and laugh, always a good way of chewing up the miles, but with hills you have to go for your own pace. One last push. I rounded a corner to see a zig-zag of climbs, riders like marching ants, and more camper vans than I'd ever seen. This was it, the last 8 km. The one where they say you can see the top but, if you're not a crow, it's a long way to go.

I stopped for fresh water, dumped the contents of one bottle. Washed my face, threw out all the crap I didn't need and off I went. I felt fantastic. A woman ahead of me took all the applause. And as the pilgrimage continued, I felt stronger and stronger, weaving through riders.

The last corner came. I sprinted over the line. Peep. My chip triggered the clock.
01:53:36secs for the climb.
08:46:58 in the saddle
2513 out of 10,000 riders
Bronze Medal

No cramps, no dramas, no accidents, no punctures, but spurned on by sponsors, my family and a little picture of Lark on my handlebars. 01:53:36secs for the climb.

Riders and bikes peppered the side of the road. I set down my bike, breathed in the spectacle of this place, smiled and had a little cry.

Challenges are always greater when you see them through, but when you have an incentive they're even better. One of the best days of my life.

The Tour de France passed through 4 days later in just over 5 hours. In Paris they finished with more than 90 hours in the saddle and 3,642 kilometres over three weeks.

Why I did it

My nephew Yannick suffered a brain haemorrhage at 5 months during treatment for his Leukaemia. One year later he was cured, but he was left with brain damage.

Next month he'll be nine and still suffers from learning difficulties. It's been a very difficult time for our family but he's a very happy boy and much loved by everyone who knows him.

On July 18th I'll cycle up three of the highest mountains I've ever attempted. 120 miles of major uphills, and it's against the clock.

I'd like to raise £1000 for Children with Leukaemia

I also did it for my son Lark and I hope I make him proud of me.

It is also for my father who is in his 70's, winner of a stage of the Ras Tailteann (Tour of Ireland) in his twenties, and still riding more than me with the Maryland Wheelers club in Lisburn.