A professional cyclist turned sports journalist has posted an illuminating account of life in the saddle with the Lawrence Dallaglio-led cycle ride for charity.
Dallaglio and a team of fellow riders, including sportsmen and celebs, are visiting every one of the Six Nations' rugby grounds before arriving at Twickenham next week. Journalist Paul Kimmage, who twice competed in the Tour de France, joined the Dallaglio roadshow for a few days before sharing his thoughts with the Sunday Times.
If you missed it, the whole article is here, but below are a few choice observations:
“True story. A 27-year-old Irish professional cyclist lies in a hotel bedroom on a Saturday afternoon in the Italian Dolomites. The 14th stage of the Tour of Italy has just finished and a freak snowstorm has decimated the field. Ten riders were forced to abandon the stage; 20 others face disqualification for finishing outside the time limit but the Irishman is feeling rather pleased. He has survived.
“He doesn’t smell or look too good. At the height of the blizzard he (rather unwisely) urinated on his fingers in an effort to keep them warm. His face and legs are coated in grit and snot. There is no hot water in the hotel to shower but he lies on his bed, content in the knowledge that in another few months this life as he knows it will be over. He’s going to retire and live happily ever after as a sportswriter.
“Twenty years later he finds himself back on his bike and battling against another snowstorm in Italy. His fingers have frozen to the handlebars, making it almost impossible to brake. His penis has shrivelled to the size of a pea. There is one question on his mind as he is handed a survival blanket and offered refuge in a farmer’s barn near Trevignano Romano: “What am I doing here?”
“It is 7.45am. The first stage of his “Cycle Slam”, a 24-day charity bike ride from Rome to Edinburgh in aid of the Dallaglio Foundation and Sport Relief, is about to begin. Forty-nine riders have signed up for the opening leg to Nice and as we roll out of Rome under thunderous skies and a downpour of sleety rain the chant is “Bring it on!” Spirits remain high during the first two hours but events take a dramatic turn as we reach Lake Bracciano. First a huge Alsatian takes a run at Dallaglio and tries to bite a chunk out of his leg and then the sleet turns to snow as the road begins to climb. Riding uphill in a blizzard was not that unpleasant; with the heart tapping at 170 beats per minute we were generating more than enough heat to keep warm. The problems kicked in once we started to descend.”
“Saturday Feb 13: Today Les Ferdinand realised that cycling is different. He thought those short spins up Highgate Hill in London would prepare him for anything.
He thought that 80-mile ride in the Surrey Hills would be enough to see him through. The longest stage of the “Slam” was only 20 miles further. “What’s 20 miles?” he thought. “I could easily squeeze that out.”
“After the nightmare start in Rome — “I wasn’t designed for these conditions. I’m from the Caribbean” — they had left Lake Bolsena at first light this morning and ridden the first four hours in fresh but pleasant conditions before the route became more testing and the weather turned cold. After 100 miles and almost nine hours in the saddle he had almost reached the finish at San Gimignano when he felt pain he had never experienced before.
His ass was like a ploughed field. It felt like someone had driven a stake through his neck. His thighs ached and were running on empty. Each yard felt like an eternity. But the thing that surprised him most was the loneliness. “When you play a team sport people sometimes talk you through a game,” he explains. “You get to that level where you are tired and you look knackered and somebody goes, ‘Come on Les, get in there for us’ and you just do it because somebody has said it to you. But when you are on a bike it’s pretty lonely out there and you’ve got to find that willpower.”
“Sunday, Feb 14: The rest day in San Gimignano has almost ended. It’s 11pm and Dallaglio is sitting around a table with Lee Dixon and Les Ferdinand with steam coming out of his ears. He’s telling them about the rat that deserted the ship during the team meal tonight. “He just got up and walked out without saying anything to anybody,” he fumes. “We booked this big table for the group and he just stands up and walks out!” I am that rat. This is my excuse. The table was reserved for eight o’clock. I arrived at the appointed hour and took a seat towards the back. For the first 20 minutes — despite repeated requests — I am ignored by the waitress and then she hands me a laminated menu with pictures of the food. I have not come to Italy to eat laminated penne. I have never sat in a restaurant and been treated so badly. I place €5 on the table for the water and nibbles and decide to take my leave. What was I supposed to do? Apologise?”
“Tuesday Feb 16: It is 5.35 pm when Les Ferdinand arrives at the Grand Hotel and checks the small Garmin computer attached to his bike. This is what it says — the 135.5 kilometres from La Spezia to Arenzano has taken him six hours and 37 minutes; he has climbed 1,900 metres for the day and burned 8,247 calories. This is what it doesn’t say — he feels like a train wreck.
“He follows Lee Dixon to a room on the second floor and they push the beds apart until they are touching opposite walls. It’s been a tough day at the office for Arsenal and Spurs. They peel off their kit and run the shower but Dallaglio and a number of other riders have pedalled quicker today and the water is cold.
Ferdinand breaks out the Sudocream and applies a lavish coating to his chaffed and bruised undercarriage, then fixes Dixon with a glare as he flops onto his bed: “I blame you for this.” Last October, the only bike that Lee Dixon had ever ridden was a Chopper when he was a kid.”