July is my most favourite month of the year. You might very well wonder why because as the wintry weather sets in many people here in the Southern Hemisphere are grumbling about the cold, wet and windy days and the increasingly long dark nights. For two weeks of the month we have school holidays so our routines become less strict as most of us in our household are on a break from work or university. I love travelling and have been fortunate to visit France on two occasions and loved the countryside as I drove from Calais to Paris and then south on my way to Switzerland.
Cold weather, holidays and travel aside, the real reason I look forward to July is because I know for 3 weeks 198 riders will be undertaking the most amazing physical and mental feat of cycling a total of 3660.5km in the Tour de France. This year’s race kicks off in the county of Yorkshire in the United Kingdom for the first two stages, then from Cambridge to London for the third stage before heading across to France for the final 18 stages.
This is my 12th year of sitting up in the middle of the night to watch the cycling. You might wonder why the interest in cycling and the Tour de France in particular.
Back in 2003 on one Friday night my husband and I were out filling in time while we waited to pick up one of our children at a party in Chapel Street. We met up with a past pupil of my husband’s. Anyway the young man asked how I was, knowing that I’d been unwell having been diagnosed earlier that year with breast cancer. He asked had I read an inspirational book written by a young cyclist who had experienced cancer and successfully overcome it with a variety of conventional and alternative treatments. At the time I had no idea who the cyclist was that we were talking about on that cold winter’s night and what affect reading his book would have on me, but agreed that I would look into finding out more. Over the years I have found out that once you have cancer people like to suggest things for you to do or read so as to increase your chances of overcoming the illness, like the consumption of particular food for example apricot kernels, so I am always polite as these suggestions are genuinely made for good and I exercise caution as to what I might do with the information.
Anyway the cyclist we were referring to was Lance Armstrong and a couple of days later I was very touched that the young man had gone out of his way to purchase a brand new copy of Armstrong’s book, It’s Not About the Bike: My Journey Back to Life and leave it carefully wrapped with my name at my husband’s office. I have to admit that a book about a sportsman was a rather different type of gift I am used to receiving as most people tend to give flowers, hand cream or chocolates. I started to read it and immediately was interested in the journey that Armstrong had been on since being diagnosed with testicular cancer at the young age of 25 in 1996. No matter what people think of Armstrong and his illustrious cycling career, I have to say I do admire what he did to overcome cancer and to get back on a bike. Ok so his career may have been improved somewhat by taking illegal performance enhancing drugs I’m not going to condone the use of any drugs, but he is still a remarkable man.
How could any one cycle up to 200kms each day for three weeks straight around the French countryside with only two days for rest? I have nothing but respect for Armstrong and each of the cyclists as I have no idea to the answer of how anyone could do that (with or without performance enhancing drugs I might add). The Tour de France is a race of elimination, as many cyclists have to pull out as the grueling stages take their toll. Unfortunately illness and accidents happen to cut short the dreams of many. Mark Cavendish one of this year’s favourites was in an accident yesterday and dislocated his collarbone. Such disappointment as months of training and preparation were dashed in a simple bike crash close to the end of the first stage of the tour. Someone’s misfortune is another person’s good luck as this crash allowed Marcel Kittel to take advantage and reach the finish line to win Stage One and the honour of wearing the famous yellow jersey. It will take a few days for the cyclists to settle before we have any idea who will be wearing the yellow jersey in Paris on the 27th July.
So the very kind and thoughtful gift of a book by a past pupil of my husband sparked my interest in Lance Armstrong, which led to my interest in cycling.