Monday, July 30, 2018

Capping it all off!

The team were joined for dinner by some family and friends after the final stage, and then I left the hotel to stay in an apartment with Sarah.  It was strange to be away from everyone after almost four weeks together.

I'd left my bike at the hotel, so we returned there for breakfast, and again, it was fascinating to note my relief to be back there - funny what becomes familiar, and how dependant we can become.

We'd always planned to see the race finish, but given our proximity to the start (it had been a relatively straightforward 4km ride there the previous day), I suggested we go there as well.

Stu, Bruce, Steven and I were the remaining riders, with Paul off to Malaysia, Mike and Aaron independently to Italy, and Jason back to New Zealand.  Jonny dropped us all off, and Sarah and I wandered around with Stu, eventually laying claim to a 1 metre span of fence in a big courtyard.

Stu - what an amazing rider, man, and friend
While Stu and I chatted, Sarah darted off to watch the publicity caravan pass, then eventually we hit paydirt, and the riders started filing past to sign on. 

Mikel Nieve chatting to Mikel Landa, with eventual stage winner, Alexander Kristoff just behind
Dion Smith seemed to approach the stage from behind, but we were excited to see Jack Bauer riding past.  He ignored our first cries of "Jack, Jack...", but when I shouted "KIWI", he turned with a big smile, contemplated pulling a u-turn, and shouted "I'll be back!".  He did return, and seemed very happy to linger, and had even been following our own progress around France.

Jack chatting to Stu
About half the first riders had not come past, but we were indeed on the main thoroughfare. 

Geraint Thomas, vainquer
Many riders had completely neutral expressions on their faces, and didn't interact with the crowd at all.  The French riders were popular, and Romain Bardet was one of very few that did stop! 



Winner of the Mountains jersey, Julian Alaphilippe, with something for the after-match?


Best U23 rider, Pierre Latour, talking to race director, Christian Prudomme

Unfortunately, Paddy Bevin hadn't made it through the tour, but the fourth NZ starter, Tom Scully, dropped by for a chat with Stu, who knew him well from racing in Canterbury.


The crowd went somewhat wild, when current world champion, Peter Sagan arrived.  It was very cool to see perhaps the rider of this generation, and undoubtedly an all-time great, pass by only centimetres away.

Peter Sagan, Champion du Monde, 2015, 2016, 2017



Nairo Quintana, Sarah's favourite rider
We started seeing more and more riders filing past on the race route just down the way, and it was clear the riders were about to get going.  Sagan was on his way back, when I spotted a pen lying in the middle of the path, and just on the corner.  Being slightly OCD, I motioned to an official to move it - probably not a hazard, but you never bloody know.  He misunderstood, picked it up and gave it to me.

Providence perhaps.  I'd also plucked a Skoda-sponsored cap out of the hedge when we spectated briefly on the Stage 2 route.  When that was waved by Sarah at the Skoda-sponsored green jersey wearer, he stopped.  I handed her the pen.  She gave it to him.  He signed the cap.


Peter Sagan, making someone else's day, too
The amazingness of it all was apparent, but it probably hasn't fully sunk in how magical that moment was.  When we caught up with Dr Fish, he noted he'd got signatures from riders 20 years ago, but I'm not going to let that diminish those precious moments watching the best riders in our sport get ready to do their thing.


I'm about to return home, with some incredible memories, and a few incredible mementos.  It was a twist of fate that Sarah caught two caps flung from the caravan, that Jack signed both, and that together, we have two beautiful daughters.

I can't think of a better place for the green cap to reside than Oli's workshop - I've thought about him so much during this trip, not only because my bike has run like a dream, but also because I know he will  have been constantly thinking about me, riding the stage he'll watch on TV the next day.

Bromance is a wonderful thing, and I've developed a few new ones on this trip.  Relationships and experiences are where its at folks, but things from time to time embody those.

The stage start was the perfect way to round things off.  We returned to the hotel, and it was an emotional moment saying goodbye to Bruce and Stu, and Julie and Jonny in particular, people I'd all connected with, and will look to see in the future.  Sarah and I left together, and didn't seek out the race on TV.  I'd seen more than enough.

Signing off, from France.


* * * * * 

This blog describes a fundraising project for the Mental Health Foundation of New Zealand.
  • Nearly 50% of New Zealanders will experience a mental health problem in their lifetime, and one in five will have experienced a mental illness this year.
  • Depression is set to overcome heart disease as the biggest global health burden by 2020.
  • The Mental Health Foundation (MHF) is a charity that works towards reducing stigma and discrimination associated with mental illness. We provide free support, training, and resources for anyone who is going through a difficult time, or for people who are supporting loved ones.
To make a donation, visit https://events.mentalhealth.org.nz/fundraisers/sifter.  Any contribution, big or small is greatly appreciated, and will be put to good use by the fine folk at MHF.

Stage 21 (2018 Tour de France, one day ahead)

The final stage into Paris was short, but not without its challenges.  Firstly, we had to travel about 700km to get to the start, and then, we had to quickly come to grips with Parisian drivers.




The transfer post-Stage-20 was meant to be simple, especially for us riders.  Roger left with the bikes as soon as they were packed in the van after the TT stage, and the two vans dropped us at the Biarritz railway station after we'd had a chance to shower.

Unfortunately, a fire in Paris had disrupted TGV services, including hours, and, long story short, around the time we were scheduled to arrive into Gare Montparnasse in Paris, we were boarding a regional train to Bordeaux.  By the time we arrived there, our crew had been waiting several hours, and with the TGV situation still not resolved, we were driven to Tours.  We managed 6 hours sleep, before knocking off the remaining drive in the morning.

The good news was that my tummy bug had gone as quickly as it had arrived.  By about 7:30pm, I'd begun to feel hungry, and the first food I'd eaten in 24 hours stayed put.  When I suited up for the ride, I was feeling well enough to enjoy it.

Roger (in green) farewelling Matty
Jonathan had touched base with the women's manager, and they'd welcomed us to ride with them.  When we arrived at the start venue just before noon, it was clear that they were well organised, with motorcycle escorts.

It was great seeing these guys on the road each day, doing the same thing as us, but fundraising for muscular dystrophy support
It was nice to meet the Chargé d’Affairs, Roger Dungan from the NZ Embassy here in Paris, and he and his family gave us a nice cheer when we rolled out near the back of the peloton.


Aaron had an unfortunate puncture, but the rear motos not only waited for him, but also radioed ahead and the bunch was slowed by the forward marshalls.

There were a few scheduled stops, and the bunch grew dramatically throughout the ride.


It was weird to all of a sudden be in a bunch of a few hundred, but when we reached Paris, it was clear that we were much better off in this peloton than we'd have been on our own.

It was also clear why the professionals choose to enjoy this final stage, rather than continue racing.  Of course the stage honours are on the table, but for us, and no doubt them, it was an opportunity to enjoy one another's company, and to reflect on the significant challenges that had been overcome to get to this point.

I'd ridden on the Champs-Elysees before, and so was prepared for it to be a frustrating affair, and one which seems at odds with the rest of the event.  After riding so freely almost everywhere else on the course, we were forced to stop probably more times on this stage than we'd been virtually the rest of the trip put together.

Flanked by Mike and Steven.   Photo:  Nick Paulsen


Because of traffic concerns, we weren't able to replicate the exact course at the end, and we only did one abbreviated lap.  But it didn't matter.  Riding 8-abreast with my riding buddies of the last three weeks was quite a hoot, and while the uneven nature of the road surface made it somewhat hard to hold our lines, it was a fun experience.


My dear parents were at the side of the road yelling, and I saw Sarah (for the first time since Pornic, the night before we started), just before we finished.  It was wonderful to be reunited with them all before the team and I rode back to the hotel.

Happy couple, both looking forward to returning to normal life!

Donnons des elles au velo, J-1

As Paul so nicely put it:
By far the best part of the whole ride, for me, was the journey back to the hotel. Finally it was just us again, Team NZ, the average joe kiwis who had risen the whole damn tour. No entourage. I was free to smash the city streets of Paris just as fast as I wanted to go. Freedom on the roads. That is what cycling is about, that is why we do it. Fully unencumbered. It felt so good. I’ll remember the journey back to the hotel with team far more fondly than Stage 21 itself.
It made me realise I'd felt similarly, and it was one of many insights gained during this great opportunity to reflect on an amazing riding experience.  More on that another time.


Matty's take on it:



* * * * * 

This blog describes a fundraising project for the Mental Health Foundation of New Zealand.
  • Nearly 50% of New Zealanders will experience a mental health problem in their lifetime, and one in five will have experienced a mental illness this year.
  • Depression is set to overcome heart disease as the biggest global health burden by 2020.
  • The Mental Health Foundation (MHF) is a charity that works towards reducing stigma and discrimination associated with mental illness. We provide free support, training, and resources for anyone who is going through a difficult time, or for people who are supporting loved ones.
To make a donation, visit https://events.mentalhealth.org.nz/fundraisers/sifter.  Any contribution, big or small is greatly appreciated, and will be put to good use by the fine folk at MHF.